Gurus Should Spend Less Time Talking, More Time Listening

Passing of Gang Starr Iconoclast Brings Supposed Experts of Marketing Matters Into Sharp Relief

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Hadji Williams
Hadji Williams
It's been a little over two weeks since Keith Elam, one of the most accomplished artists of my generation, passed away.

As one-half of Gang Starr, Elam was truly a gifted emcee who pioneered an ill poetic street corner philosopher's eloquence not yet heard prior. Between his Gang Starr catalog and his groundbreaking Jazzmatazz work, he proved a source of seemingly unlimited rhymes. And his willingness to discuss everything from the writing process to manhood to parenthood to politics to crime made his lyrics truly universal.

April 19, 2010, saw the passing of perhaps the only non-east Indian who could rightfully call himself a guru with a straight face. Elam's death also got me thinking about all the other so-called gurus out here.

A while back I met a guy who'd penned the definitive book on Twitter. I know it was the definitive book on Twitter because he said so. And so had his publisher. The guy admitted to never having worked for Twitter. He hadn't even been using Twitter very long himself. But no matter. He had a book, a title, and full schedule of speaking gigs and media appearances to validate his gurudom.

Now, the easiest thing would be to insult folks like this. That'd be the one-off sure-shot that would garner plenty of RTs, comments, and e-daps. But instead, I want to try something different, beginning with a question:

What if all the gurus, particularly those of us in marketing, PR and social media, just said: "I don't know" -- out loud?

What if all the so-called trendspotting gurus stopped for a second and said, "Mr. & Mr. . Talk Show Host, to be perfectly honest, I just wrote this book to get a few speaking gigs and make some quick cash. But to answer your original question, 'I'm really not sure.'"?

What if we all told our clients we're not experts and added, "At this stage of the game, no one is an expert. The space is too new and too fluid. We're all students learning as we go. And fact is, what worked last year, or even last week, might not work tomorrow."

What would happen to all us gurus then? Would our billings get cut? Would we lose followers? Would we get less sex?

Seriously, what would honestly happen if we all took, say, six months, or 60 days, or even six days and just shut up -- and listened?

And by "listen" I mean, no more white-paper decks. No more self-aggrandizing tweets and blog postings. No more "Ain't I a genius?" podcasts. No more keynotes or panels.

In fact, no more anything that doesn't begin and end with listening.

Listening to people who are actually doing the things so many of us claim to have mastered. Listening to how regular people are actually living and moving and working and playing. Listening to people who spend way more time offline than on. Listening to people who buy more than they try to sell.

I once stayed in a house full of nuns in the middle of the West Side of Chicago. About twice a year, they'd take vows of silence while living in the middle of one of the loudest neighborhoods in one of the loudest cities in America; and all they did was listen. They still did their jobs -- taught classes, shopped, all that. But they didn't talk. They just listened. If they had something to say, they wrote it down.

I'm gonna try it myself and see how far I get. Something tells me there's a whole other world out there once I stop pretending I know everything.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to check out Guru's Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz catalog. It's good listening.

R.I.P., Mr. Elam.

And to all the other gurus out there: Shhhhh. Two ears, one mouth -- move accordingly.

Hadji Williams is not a guru. If you wanna know more about him, just Google. Recovering gurus can e-mail me at:
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