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The Guru Effect: Why being a “How-to” expert will destroy your potential

The Guru Effect: Why being a “How-to” expert will destroy your potential

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.


+ Add Comment
  1. Peter,

    this follows the format of an author who can’t seem to write the second bestseller what’s driving the how-to comes from both ends – the how-to teacher and the how-to student. the push to make a million dollars is behind both ends – we’ve been taught to want to make a million dollars, when a number ought not to be driving our genius.

    then we teach folks how “not to go for the gusto” so they spend their lives taking how-to classes and rarely go do the what themselves.

    it’s ingrained via our bizarre school systems.

    very good article!


  2. what would you say about a writer who periodically releases a book on writing techniques? is this the same problem as the writer who now just shows you how to sell a book on social media? just trying to figure out the message a little better.

    1. I would say that applying abstract and idealistic criticism to any specific person is usually a mistake…. but I’d also take a good hard look at the authors of any Penguin Classic and see if they ever did that.

      It’s all a question of ambition. 🙂

      1. As a former employee of Penguin USA and a marketer of Penguin Classics via the academic marketing dept. – the answer is no because the Penguin Classic imprint is usually titles in the public domain (or published before 1923 or dead writers plus 70 years. ;). Stephen King did write “On writing” but I digress.

        I do get what you are saying, however and I love this post!!! It is exactly with what I’ve been struggling. I help people so I won’t have to focus on myself. I wrote one novel that didn’t sell as well as I thought it would. However my technique for selling it is what got me all the attention and mainstream publicity. So yes I agree, it is easy to fall into the guru trap and extremely hard to pull yourself out.

        It seems to make sense to give people what they want – not what you want to give them. I agree, however, that is a cop-out. This is exactly the kick in the butt I needed this morning!

  3. Hi Peter,

    That was a real shrink talk. Just what i needed to read.

    It is refreshing to hear a voice that goes against the conventional wisdom that many so-called gurus advocate which is to become a “Guru” after you have achieve what you have achieved.

    You have put forth a very interesting commentary on the whole scenario. And your arguments are very well put. And i must say, it resonated with me and I can relate to it.

    It made me pause, rethink & revisit my plans as an individual marketer on the web as well as a digital advertising professional.

    Your thoughts on moving on to build another real success instead of succumbing to the Guru Effect is indeed very pertinent as far as I am concerned.

    Great article. I am glad it kind of opened my mind. And only a shrink could do that 🙂

    Looking forward to read more of your insights & perspectives.

    1. Hey Wilson! Good to see you around again 🙂

      That’s my goal here… I’m not really saying that anything is right or wrong, but I am trying to encourage entrepreneurs like you to crank up the ambition. Make that next project bigger and better than the one before etc

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. “The tiny percentage of ultra achievers – the Oprahs, Bransons, Hsieh and Jobs of the world don’t publish how-to guides. They publish autobiographies.”

    Best. Quote. Ever.

  5. Well said and thank you!

    In my little world I have seen several “coaches” start to coach coaches on coaching and social media. Is everybody a “coach” ?

  6. Peter,

    I’m guilty of procrastination by reading, eating, and tweeting this post. But what’s one to do? You had me before I finished the title!

    Exceptional words promoting exceptional thought!


  7. Being online so frequently, I see this effect firsthand. I don’t see the A-listers doing this – ALL of them are busy working on their businesses. But I see it frequently in the B-lister and C-lister range… the wannabes.

    They believe teaching people how to do what they did a great goal, because it makes them fast money.

    What I believe it does is hold EVERYONE back. The teacher gets stuck teaching how-tos and never does anything more ambitious, and the students learn from the teacher enough to get stuck exactly where he is… because he never went the next level, and therefore they can’t either.

    So you have a mass of people stuck at a plateau… a B-list plateau.

    Me, I’m with the A-listers. They’re going places. And I want to go places too.

      1. Well, let’s define A-lister… and I’m sure we all have differing opinions.

        To me, A-lister doesn’t mean ‘big readership’ or ‘famous’ or someone who has a blog that’s been around for ages. It’s more than that (in my eyes).

        To me, A-lister does mean someone who has built a sustainable business, a huge, established readership, a reputation as a leader and game-changer, and someone who continues to expand, grows and get larger. Someone who continually builds an increasingly expansive empire.

        A good example is Copyblogger. To me, Brian Clark is definitely an A-lister.

  8. Well, this is very timely! I’m an artist, specializing in drawing in black and white. Over the past week, I’ve contemplated, even started an intro, for a book on how to draw. But now I’m hearing you say ditch the book and just keep drawing. Am I correct?

    Like several others have commented, I too like the “don’t write how-to guides, they write autobiographies” line. Brilliant.

  9. Tom Peters calls it “managed asset reflation.” THAT’S how a successful business turns around and sells/rents out its own “success.” Think Amazon.

    I don’t think Stephen King ever published under Penguin, but On Writing says Hi.

    Oprah not a guru? What planet are you from? Not only is she a guru, she is surrounded by fellow gurus: Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, etc. She’s just guru level 85 while 99% of the rest of the “experts” are wannabes (if being a guru were a game that had levels, anyway). Oprah is the mega-guru. Everything she puts out in all her channels of media is all about one thing: how to be successful the Oprah way.

    However… I still love your article because it really shakes the scales from the eyes of people who need to see better. Excellent stuff, man.

    Autobiographies, indeed!

    1. Hi Michael,

      I think we’re not quite on the same wavelength here. Amazon as an example… we’d be talking about a book (or whatever) on “How to build an internet company from scratch and takeover the retail world”

      …. Oprah never published a book called “How to get your own TVshow and become a media mogul”.

      Her message to viewers is transcendent of the format she succeed within.

      1. I get where you’re coming from. There are ways to make money off of how you made money or be a guru outside of the method you’re speaking out against. In the narrowly-defined way you’re using the word “guru,” no, Oprah isn’t one.

        1. Michael, I agree that making money teaching others how you made money isn’t a bad idea, either. But it would be limiting, particularly if it happens at the early stages.

          For instance, if Oprah would ever write a book on “how to become a media mogul,” it would be just that. A book. Or a business. One among a ton of other businesses she owns. It wouldn’t have divested her from her core business or redefined her as a “media mogul trainer.” (Or “guru.”)

          Same with Stephen King. “On Writing” came after tons of bestsellers. That one book wouldn’t have redefined him as a “writing coach” instead of a bestselling author.

          Where would Steve Jobs be now if, after the first successful iPod launch (before iPhone and then iPad), he decided to go into the “how to make a million dollars selling touchscreen MP3 players”?

          1. I think On Writing is actually different and not a how-to because it’s more a reflection of the craft of writing novels and Steven (Stephen?)’s personal process. He’s not really TEACHING, per se, in a “here’s how to write a great novel”. More like teaching by showing his experience.

            And yeah – publishing “How to be a famous TV show host” would just devalue credibility of people like Oprah and Dr. Phil. “My life as a TV show host” is far more exciting and revealing, I think.

  10. I love the quote; after all, what’s not to love?

    And yet…

    Not everyone is cut out to be an Oprah Winfrey. I’m not, for one. Some of us are teachers by nature. We’re motivated not by big bucks, but by the opportunity to educate and inspire.

    I make my living teaching and coaching self-employed professionals in mindfully growing their businesses. My promise to those who are more comfortable with personal growth than business growth is that learning to succeed in business will give you all the fodder you need to develop mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

    That said, there are differences between teachers and gurus. One is that the teacher is willing to learn, to be changed by the experience of teaching, whereas the guru is invested in a model she has not intention of changing.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think about this.

  11. Great article as always. And I love the comment – and differentiation of teacher and guru – by Molly. I am not sure I have anything like what it takes to be an Oprah or a Branston or even any desire to do so (despite my admiration). I do love helping my clients get to their own vision and version of their secret dreamy dreams for their personal and professional growth (including creating successful businesses). And some of that seems to be about sharing some of my avenues of success. Writing out programs helps me to clarify my teaching, see gaps and improve my offers as well as supporting clients in different ways… That said, it does take up acres of time! I will take on the challenge of looking bigger in the Dragon Year. Not sure how that could look, but isn’t that your point?

    Thanks, Gay

    1. ‘Looking bigger’ for the coming year is exactly what has been on my mind. Although my blog talks about various topics within the writing/marketing business because that’s my specialty, I often refer to my own efforts as ‘experimentation in marketing’. Just trying all manner of new things to see how it’s done and what works.
      My ‘big thing’, however, is unrelated to business and focused on my passion for volunteering with seniors. Success isn’t always linked to business or money.

  12. Great read… Hey I think you should write a book about it! Maybe pimp it out on Amazon. Just kidding. Good points though, wish more would take the high road, the IM industry disgusted me enough for me to walk away from it. I still have sites that make money, but all my efforts are into new babies, and not teaching how to make new babies.

    Great points!

  13. You know Peter, I found this post really reassuring. Reassuring because all around me I see people jumping on the path you describe here of moving away from their “thing” and into “how to” mode but it is a path that doesn’t feel right for me and I have resisted it to stay true to what I really stand for.

    I am currently at a place where I am about to take the next leap to go to a totally new level with what my business stands for and represents. So, your post made me more determind to stick to what I believe in and do business on my own terms based on my own values.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. Made a difference to where I am at right now.

  14. Really, really compelling post. And, a bit off-putting as someone that writes about people that I’ve discovered via social media. Incredibly challenging, as always.

    Thank you 🙂

  15. I discovered this through Jennifer Gresham and I’m glad she shared it. I have spent a lot of time in this new year unsubscribing to the ‘how-to’ list posts that have been cluttering my in box. Everyone likes to think they’re an expert after the tiniest glimmer of success. If only it were that easy.
    Thanks for keeping it real.

  16. Well Peter you did it again. This post is going round and round in my head and I have so much I would like to comment about.

    But what this post is really showing me is that to stay ahead of the game I need to put on my blinkers and stop watching what other people are doing and create a path that will put me ahead of the game.



  17. Haven’t read something nice for so long until I came across this post. Very nice! Just what i needed to read. I actually stopped subscribing, stopped following and ‘unfriending’ people as soon as they start writing how to’s on subjects they suddenly become expert at. Above all, this made me smile. Thanks 🙂

  18. Why does it have to be one or the other? I agree that, if taken to the extremes you’re describing (only becoming the “how I did this” guy), it can limit you. But I don’t think writing “On Writing” limited Stephen King. And now he’s making royalties every time the book is sold.

    Why couldn’t someone take a few weeks or even months to put together a solid infoproduct and then get back to their other work?

    In fact, I’d contend that it may even SAVE time in the long run. I have a friend who constantly gets emails from other people asking “How did you build this business? How did you get these contracts?” etc. etc. It would probably SAVE him time in the long run to just create an infoproduct breaking everything down, put it up for sale, stop answering those emails, and then get back to doing amazing things with his business.

    I guess I just don’t understand why it has to be either-or. Our educational paradigms are shifting, and people are discovering that they can learn things outside of a traditional education. One of those ways is through infoproducts and “gurus”. And while there are a lot of sleazebags out there, there are also guys and gals who genuinely have good information, information that it took them years of trial and error to acquire. Why shouldn’t they be able to sell that? And who’s to say it will keep them from doing big things in the future?

    1. Well said Kyle…

      I’d add a question here for Peter too;
      What’s your take on the position people like Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin – both had successful exits from businesses they started and then went the “how to / consultant path … not the “let’s go for round #2” option you’re proposing ?

      1. Hey Pete!

        I’ve tried pretty hard to keep specific names out of this – my intention writing this post isn’t to criticize individuals but to think critically about the way we ALL do business.

        That said, I think Seth Godin is attempting to build “round 2” with both Squidoo and The Domino Project – although neither have so far been as successful as Yoyodyne.

        Tim… too early to say, to be honest. I think we might see a 4 Hour Body empire from him.

    2. “Why couldn’t someone take a few weeks or even months to put together a solid infoproduct and then get back to their other work?”

      … why bother, if the other work is so successful?

      1. “… why bother, if the other work is so successful?”

        That’s a pretty ridiculous line of reasoning. For one, it’s a diversification of the income stream. Yes, their current work is doing well, but that doesn’t mean that it will forever. Having another stream of income passively working for you is never a bad idea.

        Would you apply this same reasoning to another investment that took the same amount of time? Say, real estate? Perhaps there is a fantastic deal on some investment property, but it will take a few weeks to put together the deal. Would you advise someone “Why bother buying this thing that will continue to make you money for years? Your other business is doing so well.”

        Your argument against becoming a how-to guru is that it’s “predictable, boring, and safe.” What’s more predictable and safe than becoming successful & then writing an autobiography? And I think boring is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people seem to find this information fascinating, or else they wouldn’t keep buying the products.

        1. Hey Kyle,

          In my article I draw a distinction between “How-to” guides and autobiographies.

          Also, just to put things in perspective (and since you used him as an example): Seth Godin sold Yoyodyne for $30mil … the average book deal these days is usually a few hundred thousand dollars. NYTimes Bestselling authors might get $1mil.

          And yes, as someone who work’s with entrepreneurs with access to investment opportunities and the capital to make them happen… it’s not uncommon for smart operators to turn down (or ignore) investment opportunities outside of their area of focus. It takes a lot of time to get smart enough to make real estate a consistently profitable investment strategy. Most entrepreneurs who are really crushing it in their own industry don’t have that time.

  19. I don’t think that blogging about blogging is necessarily bad, and there are some legitimate experts with really interesting observations about the world that are worth following, but too often self-proclaimed gurus do not offer much of value. You see these people on Facebook or Twitter with 10,000+ followers, and they want to present themselves as social-geniuses because of that. The reality of that is that many of these people spend hours per day following people who promise to follow them back and unfollowing the ones that stop following them to try and build up a large following over time. Or they try and use the types of companies found at to essentially buy more followers in lieu of building up relationships with people and offering them something of value. I don’t think that blogging about the internet or social media or blogging or anything else is bad. In fact, if done well reading a positive article about something fills me up with new ideas to reflect on. But if you find somebody that refers to himself as a “guru” or talks in the third-person or exhibits other signs of total BS, you should be cautious about that. Look for expertise…read a blogger’s previous articles to see if he’s an actual expert or a wannabe.

  20. I know you draw a distinction… and that’s what I’m questioning. How is an autobiography less “boring, predictable, and safe” than a how-to? Moreover, where is the line drawn? Many how-to’s are inherently autobiographical, and many autobiographies are full of detailed descriptions of how things are/were done. Is a book useful/not based on whether the publisher decides to classify it as one or the other?

    Also, I never used Seth Godin as an example. That was Pete.

    I’m not saying that entrepreneurs should take every investment opportunity that comes their way. But diversification of assets is generally seen as a good thing, as is passive or recurring income. Adding a how-to that continues to earn money forever may be a worthwhile investment of time and energy.

    I’m also confused by the fact that under “recent posts” there’s an article called “How to make money despite being creative” that links to… an infoproduct. What’s the deal there?

    1. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

      – F. Scott Fitzgerald

  21. Holding two opposed ideas in the mind is not the same thing as embracing two opposed ideas at the same time.

    You can’t on one hand say “this will destroy your potential” and then at the same time say “here, support these guys who are doing this (and thus, by your logic, destroying their potential)”. I don’t think that’s what Fitzgerald was talking about.

    1. I believe the post you’re referring to promotes a product my Mark McGuinness. A poet who, having realized he’ll never make a buck in poetry, runs a creativity consulting/coaching company to pay the bills and afford him the freedom to work on his poetry.

      1. How is that relevant? The product includes an audio report called “How to publish direct to Kindle and hit No.2 on the New York Times Bestseller Lists”. How is that not an example of the exact thing you’re calling out in this post?

        1. I think it’s relevant because Mark has embraced the one field where simply committing to his craft ISN’T a path to financial success. For him, “more poetry” simply isn’t an option.

          For me, “more therapy” IS an option – and that’s why I try not to succumb to the temptation of blogging about blogging.

          Also… the audio recording you’re referring to is an interview with a student/client of Mark’s.

          1. You think it’s relevant because it supports your argument.
            Billy Collins supports himself through poetry. So it’s POSSIBLE, even if it’s not easy. But you used the example of Richard Branson, a guy who started an airline and a record business… two industries that typically bleed money. He seemed to find a way to make it work.

            So you’re saying that if you decide you can’t make money at what you like, it’s okay to “destroy your potential” and sell infoproducts?

    2. Hey Kyle,

      What’s the link to your website? I’d be curious to learn more about what you do and your business, but I noted that the comments are coming through without a link.

      My experience with stopping game-changing work to create an info-product just to get rid of the “how do I?” questions that invariably come along when you reach a certain level is that it’s just not worth it. It generally means losing valuable time, resources and money that are better spent elsewhere – at least, from an entrepreneurial view. Action should equal returns.

      Anyways, it may be that you have a different experience with that, which is why I wanted to check out your site. Looking forward to it!

      1. I’m a youth speaker. I don’t sell infoproducts, nor does my business really relate to the conversation at all, which is why I didn’t bother to post the link to my site. It’s though if you’d like to check it out.

        I’m not saying you’re wrong 100% of the time. In fact, I think you’re right MOST of the time. But I’m just trying to push back a little and advise not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are infoproducts that I’ve paid for that have tremendously helped my business (in terms of real dollars and cents, not just good feelings about the future), and I hate to think where I’d be if those individuals hadn’t taken the time to write/make them. In fact, one of the guys I work with is another youth speaker who’s still booking gigs and doing big things in the industry, but he’s taken the time to document the lessons he’s learned on his journey thus far, and it’s helped me out a ton. It hasn’t stopped his rise to the top though.

        The problem with a lot of this stuff is that people get into it for the wrong reasons. A lot of the “gurus” out there have never done jack squat, but they know it’s an easy way to make money. I would contend that it’s entirely possible to be successful in your own business (and continue to grow there) while also teaching others. That’s the only point of what I’m saying.

        1. That’s a nice site – thanks for the link 🙂

          I agree with you… and I actually think you and Peter are saying similar things, at the end of the day (though with a lot of heat!!)

          He’s not saying “don’t teach other people how to…” because essentially, that’s what he does himself, right? And I have a course that teaches people how to write effectively for business… and I’m a writer.

          But both he and I are doing so in ways that lead the pack, that push people to do more and be more, and neither of us rest on our laurels. We’re both actively involved in growing our empires larger and larger – both for our own purposes, of course, and for the good of others.

          I think a HUGE amount of people jump online, get really comfy with social media, for example (hey, it’s a VERY easy scapegoat example, here!) and become “experts”. Then they write “how to be a rockstar social media dude!”

          And they stop there. And it’s bullshit.

          Because it essentially means they didn’t have the guts to become MORE. They just learned a skill, got good at it and stopped. They didn’t develop NEW ways of using social media. They didn’t create NEW mediums to socialize and network. They just…


          Tim Ferris, for example – “The four hour workweek”. He did it, he wrote a book about it… but he didn’t stop there. “The four hour body.” He went beyond (because if you think about it, what does a body and workweek have to do with each other? Not much!”) and said, “Where ELSE can I apply this four hour awesomeness? Where ELSE can I lead and grow my empire?”

          He could’ve actually become a “four-hour-workweek expert” and stopped right there. His body would’ve gotten old and fat. And he’d not have 2 minute orgasms.

          But he’d have a nice infoproduct…

          Ambitious? Not really. If Tim would have done that, he would have been copping out, sticking to what he knows and what’s safe, and plateauing in a nowhere land of some “expert” who eventually becomes a “has been”.

          Hm. I’m rambling. Food for thought. Off I go back to work! 🙂

          1. I agree. And if Pete reads this, I want to apologize if any of my comments came off with “a lot of heat”. I tend to be a pretty aggressive debater, but I wasn’t trying to be mean. I just think an extremist attitude towards ANYTHING is usually off-base.

            I’d imagine that if the three of us sat down and hashed this out over coffee, we’d probably agree on most of it. Especially the part about social media rockstars. Give me a break!

            The one thing I would hold against you (James) is the fact that you planted the idea of Tim Ferris and 2-minute orgasms in my head, which I now have to shake like a bad dream. Thanks for that. 🙂

        2. Heh, wondered why my ears were burning. 🙂

          For what it’s worth, I enjoy teaching as much as writing poetry, and see it as part of my craft as well as writing – but in a different way.

          I’d get bored doing the same thing all day every day: as Philip Larkin said (when explaining why he was a librarian in his day job) “you can only write poetry for two hours a day. After that, you just get into trouble”.

          Like you and Peter, I’d be suspicious of a ‘guru’ who hadn’t done anything other than teach. On the other hand it would be a poor teacher who never taught anyone how to do anything. 😉

          I would contend that it’s entirely possible to be successful in your own business (and continue to grow there) while also teaching others.

          That’s how I see it.

          1. Well said Mark. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

            That comment on poetry is really interesting actually. In part, because that approach is so far outside of my (and Im guessing most entrepreneur’s) awareness. Whenever I approach a new “thing” I want to master, I sort of smash it until I master it. For hours and hours if need be.

            It makes me think – what other skills/artforms could be mastered by talking a more mindful “less is more” approach.

            Damn. Now you’ve got me lost in introspection!

  22. No Kyle, I’m not saying that. I’m also done with this conversation – mainly because I have work to do. This is starting to feel a little like rolling in mud with pigs, if you’re familiar with the axiom 😉

    Final thought:

    “Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
    – Walt Whitman

  23. I highly apologize for pairing mental images of Tim Ferriss and 2-minute orgasms in anyone’s head. I acknowledge that might be a bit of a… well. *cough*

    My suggestion is to think of these items completely separately. Preferably not on the same day either.

  24. Kyle, two minute orgasms aside… I’m actually glad you fueled this discussion. When I write posts like this, they’re intended to be extraordinarily idealistic. I have a philosophy that most ideas/concepts should be “tested” in their purest, idealistic form… that that is where the best discussions and learnings come from.

    Are there exceptions to what I’m saying here? Absolutely. In fact, I’m probably downright wrong about a whole bunch of stuff! I’m also right. The best truths are paradoxical.

    Also, I’m not really trying to be *right* here. This article isn’t going to stop even one sleazy “how to get rich” guru from doing his or her thing…. but it’s made a few people think hard about what their vision for success is. And that’s why I wrote it.

    So thanks for the discussion 🙂

    1. Thanks Peter. I’m glad I could help fuel some discussion.

      Like I said, I think we all probably agree on most of this stuff. But I also think that our ideas become better and our philosophies more defined when we have people kick the tires and push back a bit.

      It definitely made me think about success, how I define that, and what my approach is to achieving it. So in that sense, mission accomplished for you!

      This was my first experience with your blog, but I’ll definitely be back, if for no other reason than to stir up more crap. Haha! 🙂

  25. I just read a very interesting post over at ‘InOverYourHead’ where Julien Smith wrote something, I though was quite articulate, relevant to this post and somewhat of a compromise (at-least a mental compromise for me)

    “I’m starting to figure out that the way your time should be spent is largely like a pyramid, with a wide base of learning, with a smaller level of acting on top of it, which is directed by the learning, and then on top of that, an even smaller level of writing about it. If you begin to live your life differently than the pyramid should be built, it becomes unbalanced and topples over.”

    I think this is a very solid balance… because as a son of a teacher; I think teaching is not only a good thing to do (in moderation) but does help solidify your own learning.

    HUGE CAVEAT: The act of repurposing the content you’ve just learnt into a teaching aid, like an ebook, is definitely not the “action” Julien was writing about (read: most “social marketing experts experience”)

  26. Amen Peter! Brilliant post…the “I made a 7-figure income teaching other people how to make 7-figure incomes by teaching *still others* how to make a 7-figure income…and now I want to show *you* how to make a 7-figure income by doing the same thing!!” crowd makes my skin crawl. Would love to see these folks get back to the innovation that got them there in the first place…

  27. Great post Peter. Jonathan Fields’ says in “Uncertainty” – that it can be scary to fail in public and we have an almost genetic predilection towards certainty but creating something new requires us to stick our necks out.

    This post is a great reminder to stick my neck out again and again rather than to fall back on known formulas.

  28. Wow Peter. This post is kinda like the exclamation mark I’ve needed to make a HUGE change in my business plans.
    For the last 3 years I’ve been studying the web, both free and purchased ‘how to’ material in the hope of developing my very own ‘soup to nuts’ how-to guide on starting online businesses.
    Over the last couple of weeks I’ve realized how utterly ridiculous this really is. I’m trying to be an expert on stuff I’ve never achieved consistently myself – based on how-to guides written by other people!!! It’s the antithesis of what you’ve just described and its SOOO WRONG!!! No wonder I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about my grand plans for the future! 😉
    So now I’ve taken my website down and instead I’m finally going to start doing some coaching. Pure coaching – where I don’t claim to have the answers – just the techniques to help others get to the answers for themselves. (After all – thats what I’m qualified to do!)
    It’s not an infinitely scalable model. It doesn’t have multiple streams of income but you know what – I don’t care. It’s what I can do and do well. I’d rather have no ‘internet presence’ and happy and successful coaching clients instead, than feel like a fraud trying to pretend to hold the ‘key’ to success!!
    Thanks for reminding me that I’m FINALLY on the right path! 😉

  29. Well, thanks, you just completely threw a spanner in my new website!

    I DO mean that in a good way. I had fallen under the sway of the gurus telling me I had to be a guru–and I was recoiling as I undertook it. I actually hollered in the car to myself yesterday, “I don’t want to talk about doing it; I want to DO it!” (I do comedy shows and speeches).

    I think the one legit reason for these guru products is: you need the dough. But even so, it seems like you could build your real business just as fast as a guru business.

    Thanks for the kick in the head.

  30. Is this like the overweight doctor advising me to lose weight? It reminds me of the college business professor. If he knows so much about succeeding at business, why isn’t she doing it? And then why do they settle for a professor’s salary? I abhor the term “auto-pilot” when it comes to business. It takes all the fun and creatvity out. We’d never get anywhere if we didn’t make the effort to go. Great article. Cheers!

  31. I once had an acquaintance from Phoenix come up to me and say “You know the problem I have with your stuff? You are like an infomercial teaching people how to create infomercials.”

    Needless to say, this gave me pause.

    So I talked with him about it. It turns out his assumption was that because I had quit my job to start a business, that I just turned around and taught others how to quit their job to start a business.

    I saw it differently. I am fascinated with human behavior and human potential. I have studied the field deeply from many angles. And the work I do with clients is highly customized and always requires deep study and learning on my part. My work with clients is the “art” part of my work — it keeps me exceptionally grounded, because who wants to fuck around with someone’s livelihood if you are not sure what you are doing? Helping someone quit a job they are not meant to do is very scary stuff. It feels like psychology and science and religion some days. The more I do the work, the less I feel I know, which keeps me fresh.

    It turns out my acquaintance had never actually read my book or blog. He formed the opinion on my brand name itself. But you know what? I am so appreciative that he was honest enough to share what was on his mind. It made me think about what I actually do, and what I am proud of in my work.

    I adore teaching. But I never just parrot back what I did, because I don’t think a lot of people would have the patience to blog quietly for 7 years while raising babies and building revenue at a turtle pace. It doesn’t make for a sexy sales letter. 😉

    1. Hey Pam,

      Thanks for the detailed and candid comment. This is a really great perspective to add to the dialogue.

      The thing is, even if I were to only consider your “Escape Cubicle Nation” tagline/book-title… you’re living the dream, as that tagline describes it, in a big way.

      You job is helping people escape. The whole “become a millionaire and buy a lamboghini from internet marketing” piece isn’t your space.

      My main criticism in this post is of entrepreneurs who become “gurus of the format of their success”.

  32. Found this article on twitter. Very compelling. Would those revealing secrets of the format help create others who have an object? And us that not ok?


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