No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

Like many of the phrases and bits of poetry I toss around, the title refers to the work of Van Morrison. For those who supremely honor his work, this particular album is right up there with "Astral Weeks," considered authoritative and inclusive of his range of talents.I found myself dwelling on the guru, method and teacher references over the weekend, while pondering self-appointed industry experts. I'm talking about those among us industrious enough to go out on a limb and position themselves as thought leaders and educators. Often they posture -- whether qualified or not, whether bringing enough firepower or not. In these instances, gurus, method and teacher are tongue-in-cheek attributions -- and my mind flashes on dilettantes and short-timers.

Once again as we launch a new year with seasonal vigor, I have been on the receiving end of marketing or missives from these folk that just make me cringe, laugh and cry in equal parts. This sort of opportunistic guru-fication and trainer-speak has gotten somewhat out of control in our industry. And, when these interlopers fail to adequately deliver for their clients and students, they dilute our collective credentials.

Sometimes the pretenders even profess a disdain for the actual material at hand as they seek to capitalize upon a market need for the expertise they are feigning or over-representing. "Clients are hungry for this expertise; I know just enough to position myself as a short-term solution." Economic ebbs and flows have helped fuel an environment of such flimsy representation, where people who just happen to have a few social tools and a Linkedin account, who only partly know our industry as practitioners, can position themselves as gurus on panels; digital marketing or media consultants; or trainers.

As I think about the most-respected and legitimate people in our industry who persist through good and bad times, who have heartily earned reputations,  I consider a few true principles to which they might subscribe:

1.    A Twitter following and Facebook fan boatload do not a guru make.
2.    Keep your material current and never canned -- no matter how recently you were in the game.
3.    If you've become more theorist than practitioner, find a way to keep a pulse on execution, on how the work of our business actually gets done.
4.    Teaching and training are not necessarily the same practice.
5.    Being able to adeptly keynote on a theme is not the same as being able to train a room of professionals for success in the real world.
6.    If you are going to use the C word -- "consultant" - in your positioning, adopt a self-aware stance on where your services start and stop, your boundaries on practice and execution, what you do and don't do -- and why.
7.    If you dislike the subject matter enough to turn to your peers entirely to give you the material - you probably should not be teaching or consulting on the subject in the first place. You words won't resonate, and you won't edify.

Someone reminded me of this great bit last week: "The difference between specialists and generalists is... Specialists know more-and-more about less-and-less until eventually they know everything about nothing.  Generalists know less-and-less about more-and-more until eventually they know nothing about everything." I love this. Self-awareness of your own motivation matters. Without true exposure, experience, method and heart -- you've got practically no business standing up as a guru, consultant or teacher



8 comments about "No Guru, No Method, No Teacher".
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  1. Alex Epstein from National Safety Council, January 18, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.

    I liked this post very much.

    I think you need to include "listen" more than you speak. as one of the true principles.

    I do believe that is what Van Morrison is able to do... to channel what he hears and add his own style and character.

    I invite you to read some of my postings at

  2. Kit Kiefer from Delta Dental of Wisconsin, January 18, 2011 at 11:45 a.m.

    Don't forget that other pearl of marketing wisdom from Van the Man (from "Common One"): "It ain't why; it just is."

  3. Roy Perry from Greater Media Philadelphia, January 18, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.

    Very well put. So well put, in fact, that the only possible upgrade would be to name a few names.

  4. Kendall Allen Rockwell from WIT Strategy, January 18, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.

    Roy, oh, oh, if only!


  5. Ralph Sherman from Madison2Main, January 18, 2011 at 4:47 p.m.

    If you've been around a while, especially in account service, you learn to walk the tightrope between specialist and generalist. Gurudom has been multiplied by some weird confluence of platform and our appetite for celebrity. It is a slippery slope. Occasional self-examination and a little humility will help us all keep it real. Thanks for your usual sensible thoughts.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 18, 2011 at 4:59 p.m.

    Gurus are for meditating; practioners do.

  7. Jay Levin, January 18, 2011 at 9:59 p.m.

    As someone who was in the guru business international and worked with all the players and has gone from mountain top meditating monk to C-level media, marketing and advertising exec I can say two things beyond a shadow of a doubt. First is your conclusion is bullseye. What you say, "First is that Self-awareness of your own motivation matters. Without true exposure, experience, method and heart -- you've got practically no business standing up as a guru, consultant or teacher" is powerfully true. Second. PL above couldn't be further than the truth.

  8. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, PR, January 19, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

    There are more self-proclaimed experts in my market than you can shake a stick at. I question the credibility of some of them and fear that their clients and workshop attendees are being bamboozled. I wasn't a front runner in adopting social media. However, I am years ahead of a lot of my peers in the PR business here locally, which really surprises me. When well-meaning business people in my network proclaim me as an expert I demur, saying that while I may have gotten an earlier start than some, I am still a student with much to learn.

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