Build a blog, then blog about how to blog. Take your bricks-and-mortar business online, then run workshops on how to use twitter. Write a book, then give talks about the publishing industry.
This is the Guru Effect. When good entrepreneurs have one hit, then become how-to-guide gurus. It’s practically become a career plan for many.
The Guru Effect is destroying business success, more powerfully and subtly than anything else.
The Guru Effect is destroying your potential.
Successful entrepreneurs all have their “thing”. The thing they were successful at. They also have a story, typically, of what they did to make that “thing” the grand empire it is today. They have their achievement and the medium the achievement was created in.
This distinction between “thing” and “format” is essential.
Many entrepreneurs, after achieving some success, succumb to the Guru Effect. They start providing advice and commentary not so much on the area of their success, but the format they used to achieve it. Think Oprah giving talks on “How to get your own TV show”.
Social media has exacerbated this phenomena hugely. While captains of industry have been known to publish books, we now have successful business people leveraging social media to share their gifts with the world… only to turn into social media experts. It’s happening everywhere.
It’s a seductive proposition. If you become successful selling widgets using the internet… it’s very very tempting to spread the word about exactly how you did that. You’re on the cutting edge and know something others probably don’t. And after all, there are thousands of social media wannabes out there and you, with a success under your belt, have more credibility than all of them combined.
This is the Guru Effect.
When an entrepreneur uses social media (or publishing, or TV, or any format) to build something extraordinary. Then, an exit happens or they simply move on to the next thing.
More and more, that next thing is: “How I succeeded using <insert format here>”.
It’s disappointing. And it’s driven by fear.
Veteran readers of this blog will know that I’m obsessed with uncovering the world’s most subtle and insidious forms of self-sabotage. That mission has seen Sunk Cost Bias targeted, Premature Goal Sharing exposed and more. The mission isn’t over.
The Guru Effect is the most insidious self-sabotage I’m aware of. It’s leeching the ambition from our best and brightest – the entrepreneurs who have already done a lot.
When you create success, you also create a reputation. When you publish a book that becomes a best seller, it’s far more comfortable to publish a second book (or host a workshop!) about how to successfully publish books. We all know there’s a hungry market for the information. Does that mean you should do it though? Does demand for “the secret” mean it’s a smart move to step into those guru-boots?
If your goal is simply to make good money, sure. If you’re interested in having a high-risk shot at doing something revolutionary that might come with phenomenal pay off… then no.
The Guru Effect sees entrepreneurs move from one real success to second projects that revolve around teaching people how to create success.
The alternative, for really ambitious entrepreneurs, would be to create a second real success.
And, the point is, most successful entrepreneur’s first home run is edgy, risky and remarkable. Becoming a “how-to” guru is none of these things. It’s predictable, boring and safe.
Imagine for a second if Oprah had quit her TV show to run workshops on “How to pitch networks and get your own show”. Doubtless, that would be one hell of a seminar. It would also have been well within her comfort zone to deliver. The hypothetical question is: If Oprah made the decision to turn her career in that direction… would she have gone on to create the media-mogul empire she owns today?
The answer is pure speculation, but we all know the truth.
Imagine if Richard Branson had started giving motivational talks on building record labels in the 80s. We’d be living in a world without cheap transatlantic flights. Students wouldn’t have cheap prepaid cellphones. And Necker Island would be owned by some oil tycoon.
When you take the easy, comfortable road and rest on your laurels, everyone loses.
When entrepreneurs become gurus of the format of their success, rather than the object of their success, they’re dodging an opportunity to do something really big. They’re settling for a comfortable business built on minor rockstar-dom. It’s kind of like Jennifer Lopez judging American Idol – instead of recording new albums.
You’re probably wondering about me. As the shrink for entrepreneurs, I’m very aware that I walk a fine line from descending (and it is a decent!) into guru-hood. In part, I wrote this article to keep myself accountable – to nurture a courageous voice inside of me. This voice tells me that an ebook teaching wannabe coaches to build online coaching businesses would be a horrible idea.
I’ve built a fantastic business (that is utterly non-scalable in a beautiful way) doing what I love, using the format of social media. I blogged and I twote. It won me a waiting list of clients I can work with from anywhere in the world. How exactly I did this is a phenomenal story. At least, I think so.
I’m not interested in sharing it.
To succumb to the Guru Effect would be to place the format I’ve achieved my moderate success in, as the epicenter of my thoughts and focus. It would be to settle for what I know and what feels safe – rather than look for the next challenge. It means rejecting new formats and mediums to take the game to the next level.
It means only looking back in my rear view mirror, telling you what I see there.
Instead, I’m interested in exploring the cutting edge of psychology. I’m passionate about finding the intersection of social change and commercial success. I’m cooking up huge things in both spaces. That said, a certain part of my craft is undeniably “how-to”. How to think, better. But, what I’m working on now is irrelevant (or rather, transcendent) of format. It’s not about how to blog or how to tweet.
When you become famous for blogging about widgets, why not leverage your audience to fuel demand for a book about those widgets… or a tv show… or a retail distribution network!? Build a f***ing franchise! Why aren’t folks starting with the internet (it’s free!) and using it to build an empire? The people running the empire-sized corporations are desperately trying to do the reverse by getting into social media.
Why hasn’t anyone started the “little internet company that could” and grown it into a Walmart?
Needless to say, some people will do just that. They’re a tiny tiny percentage though – because most successful entrepreneurs are afraid. Instead of leveraging their success in one medium then leaping ambitiously to the next, they stay and become Gurus where they’re safe.
The tiny percentage of ultra achievers – the Oprahs, Bransons, Hsieh and Jobs of the world don’t publish how-to guides. They publish autobiographies.
You can’t be an expert on social media, publishing or TV if you don’t have credibility. Credibility comes from doing remarkable stuff within those mediums. And, if you can achieve the “be remarkable” part, then it’s utterly unnecessary to provide commentary on those mediums.
Give people at your funeral something more to say than “He knew twitter like the palm of his hand”.
Become an expert at being remarkable.
Then, despite being terrified (it’s scary and that’s okay), jump into a new and bigger medium that stretches you. Forget about telling people “how-to” and focus on doing yourself. Therein lies the opportunity to create something that’ll reward you (and us) with extraordinary wealth, freedom and impact.
Anything less is a cop out.