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Passion, People and Principles

Sinning Gurus

post # 81 — May 18, 2006 — a Client Relations, Strategy post

When and if I am ever tempted to write another book (and I will be, I will be), I’m going to keep by me “The top 12 sins of Marketing Gurus (and their books)” the May 15 blogpost by Uri Baruchin, an Israeli marketing consultant based in London.

As a brief summary (read his post in full for explanation) his top 12 are

  1. Anecdotal evidence:

  2. Best practices:
  3. Sweeping generalizations:
  4. Sweeping negatives:
  5. 100% evangelism (or “I’m converted, let me go”):
  6. More bulk for your buck:
  7. New marketing is old marketing and vice versa:
  8. Rebranding of jargon:
  9. Fundamentalism:
  10. Evoking the geeks:
  11. Cliches:
  12. Round numbers:

I hope I don’t make too many of these mistakes in my writing, but I’d like to offer some defense of some of these practices.

First, the reason that so many authors and consultants use anecdotes, best practices, sweeping generalizations and sweeping negatives in their work is that clients, readers and other audiences want exactly that.

As someone who has written both anecdotal and “present-the-evidence” books, I can report that no-one wants to spend the time to follow a refined chain of logic, and no-one wants to be forced to wade through the accumulated evidence just to have the conclusion justified.

Instead, clients and readers are always asking for the key message, something they can absorb quickly and turn into a corporate mantra. Clients keep telling me they have a new strategy, when all they have is a new slogan, slightly adapted from the latest fad management book.

Yes, consultants (including me) make all the mistakes that Uri identifies so well, but I think that this is one time when the blame must be shared.

It’s not just consultants who are responsible for creating management fads and inventing new jargon and “pushing” them onto a reluctant audience. Just as frequently, if not more often, the clients and the readers (again including me) are “pulling” the fad approach by implicitly asking authors “What have you got that’s new, exciting and can be conveyed in a keynote speech?”


Carl Singer said:

Cute list — but Passion, Enthusiasm and a Belief in what you’re saying (or writing) is what really counts.

(Subject Matter Expertise is assumed.)

Successful communication is another matter.

posted on May 18, 2006

Uri Baruchin said:

Hi David, thanks for this great comment. Wasn’t expecting such a serious answer to a humorous post.

Not only i agree, but i will go even further…

I’ll repeat what i answered in my blog – many of those practices emerge because of audience and market demands, as well as the dynamics of marketing book & speaker industries. I would like to think most guru’s stumble into those practices rather than employ them cynically.

I wrote this list tongue in cheek – many of the “sins” are just effective rhetoric, and you can’t write a readable text or convince anyone without using that. The serious angle (which was not the focus of this post) is what happens when form overtakes meaning, when the market becomes addicted to this discourse and when many marketing ideas focus on self-marketing to the level of dismissing the dialectic nature of knowledge creation. Hopefully the web will take care of that in the long run, but probably not – because of echo chambers, and because some of the guru dynamic will prevail.

posted on May 18, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Uri, you may have been trying to be humorous, but you told the truth.

For example, I have many friends and acquaintences (spelling?) in the consulting (and general advisory) world who are going out of their way to invent new jargon (immediately followed, of course, by a “Trademark” sign) in the hope that they can build a differentiation based around their language.

They often do have great concepts to offer, but the attempt to make them look proprietary (and, as you noted, pretending that no-one had ever had those thoughts before) only makes them , in my view, look a little desperate.

By the way, the (related) new book by Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Trutrhs & Total Nonsense” is scarily on target.

All of us who give advice or write need to take a long hard look at what we do as a result of their analysis (and yours, Uri.)

posted on May 18, 2006

David said:


Thanks David, for your direct comments. I do believe many folks simply look for the next “new” idea and often create more jargon to support it…and underneath it is very little substance creating real change. This is why I say, “concepts, theories and new tips come and bo but the performance principles never change.” These principles I refer to influence everyone regardless of age, gender, personality type or skill/experience levels. I find from experience that clients have become “caught up” in labeling, looking for new jargon and for new tips to become the latest fad. When they take an honest look; they often discover that their attempts to apply “new tips” cause sporadic change at best. This causes them to continue their search for the “next thing”. We help put an end to this cycle.

Thanks for this article, David!

David B.

posted on May 19, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Glad you liked it, David B., but let’s not forget that it’s not just “THEM” the clients who are looking for the quick fix and the latest new idea. It’s all of US. Think of the billions spent on new weight loss approaches and fads, and millions of us go out and buy the books and videos, instead of doing what you say – pay attention to basic performance principles and stop looking for the “magic pill”

posted on May 19, 2006

David B said:

Hello David Maister!,

Yes…most people do look for the “quick-fix” and that is why my program (Perform In The FlowZone) does not focus on “quick-fixes” and does focus on the cause and effect performance principles that take the “quick-fix” out of the equation. In fact, the principles become the strategies that cause quicker shifts in what people think, feel and do.

You are correct. Billions are being spend on books, etc. but please remember that just because billions are being spent does not mean that people are seeing the shifts they want to see. One of the first questions I pose to clients is; “Have you applied tips in the past?” The answer is usually “Yes”. The next question is; “How long do the tips usually last?”. At this point the client begins to laugh because they already know the truth. They say “Not that long”.

My response is: “So why would I offer more of the same when you already know that quick fix tips aren’t getting you what you want?”

The irony is; the “magic” they often look for lies within the cause and effect performance principles because they are undeniable and the proof of their impact is already in their experience!

David B.

posted on May 19, 2006

Kevin Brennan said:

I agree with a lot of the list. I’ve seen much the same sins being committed by software development “gurus”.

Gurus are people who are trying to sell you on their unique expertise on a particular topic. The sales part is critical—the guru wants to get you to embrace an idea and evangalize it, not to simply understand and internalize it.

But is that bad? I think perhaps the line you’re looking for is crossed when the guru moves from selling the idea (to build enthusiasm for doing something) to selling the guru him- or herself.

posted on May 20, 2006

Eric said:

We live in a society that cultivates this qwest for the silver bullet. We want the secret and we want it fast. We want to change instantly even though we have reinforced bad thinking for years.

Often we grab onto something a “guru” says and it resonates with us at a very deep level. We forget that a chasm can exist between understanding something and putting it into practice.

Sounds like a great idea for a book!

posted on May 21, 2006

David (Maister) said:

thanks for everyon for continuin this conversation. Eric, everyone – do you really think that it’s the “society we live in now” that causes us to look for the silver bullet?

I have a horrible suspicion thaqt human beings always have been and always will be like that.

That’s why the few who can postpone gratification and are prepared to work to get somewhere are so successfull and always have been.

And, Eric – are yyou writing that book? Or shall I? or are we already doing so in our 21st century fashion by carrying on this conversation?

posted on May 21, 2006

david b said:

Hello Eric, David, et al…

In regards to the book Eric queries…I actually am writing a book on this subject…and it is a recurring theme in several manuscripts I have. If interested in a collaboration of some kind David M.; I’d be open to it!

David B

posted on May 21, 2006

Greg Magnus said:


Great post and f/u conversation. I think the quest for quick fixes and something new is partially due to a lack of inherent creativity in many companies. They hire marketing managers that look great on paper (i.e., MBA from an impressive school, worked with big name corporations, etc.), but they infrequently look for creative talents and hands-on experience implementing creative ideas. Companies then must fill their “creative void” using outside consultants and contractors; hence, the demand for “something creative.”

More importantly, the instant access to information and the increase in media choices has placed the “consumer” in solid control, not the marketer as in the past.

Is it possible that marketing directors want a quick fix to regain control? It won’t happen, persistence still pays as you opine.

Observation: There are now more opportunities to capture business and the challenge lies in “message management.” Given so many channels, it is a lot more work that requires a greater focus on operational planning, coordination of staff in multiple departments, and better than average project management skills.

I do believe the increase in the number of marketing outlets has shortened the fuse, but only for those that orchestrate consistent messaging across all marketing channels.

– Greg Magnus

posted on May 21, 2006

Carl Singer said:

SilverBullet-itis is a symptom of “management by wishing”—ofen something that cascades downward within organizations.

I have a neighbor (who shall remain anonymous) whose boss’s boss demanded (and staked everyone’s reputation) on acheiving a certification (CMMI level 3) in 3 months— it’s something that under the best of circumstances takes at least a year. His boss tried to inject reality into the estimate and was fired! So now he sits afraid to tell the executive that there is NO SILVER BULLET. But he has a wife and kids to feed so he cries on my shoulder.

My advice to him was to sharpen his resume and hone is interpersonal network. An unreasonable reliance on the Silver Bullet or Quick Fix coupled with management by fiat is a lose-lose environment.

posted on May 21, 2006

Eric Boehme said:

David (M): I think you raise a good point. The gold rush comes to mind. A lot of people put a lot at risk to become rich quick. The internet has been our gold rush with the promise that you can become rich in a myriad of ways.

I agree totally that those who are willing to work hard to accomplish their goals realize their dreams.

As far as the book. I think we are writing it now via a blog, which I am told is the easiest way to become rich quick. ;)

Great conversation going on this topic.

posted on May 21, 2006

Build An Ebook Empire said:

I think that most gurus are just trying to make a buck and don’t actually care about the consumer. They care just enough so we buy more of their products!

posted on April 28, 2007