In 2009, when I was running my own indie game development business full-time, I thought I would invest in my own education and paid for the premium subscription content of a popular Internet business and marketing podcast.
I thought that I would get through the material quickly as I had the freedom to dedicate all of my time to it. Then I could cancel it after one month of payments. Maybe two.
I ended up sticking around for much longer, and I can’t say it wasn’t useful, but the entire time I felt frustrated by the format. I can’t quickly peruse audio and video, and that was what most of the content consisted of. And as for the content itself, I felt like I had to get through lots of “witty” banter between the hosts to get to the gold nuggets, if there were any.
But I can’t complain too much about the content. I was clearly not their target customer. It was meant for people who might have no experience with software or computers, so it might work for other people just fine.
There were forums populated with such apparently satisfied customers who wanted to learn what it takes to run a successful business, and some made some good success based on applying what they learned.
Except it seemed like almost each and every one of them was making their success by taking what they learned from the premium subscription and repackaging and selling it to others in their respective niches.
One person was doing OK with selling on eBay before she took up the lessons, and by the end of it, she was making a good living selling an info product on how to run a successful Internet business with basically all of the same lessons from this premium subscription. You know, but geared towards eBay.
And she was just one example. It seemed like no one wanted to apply the lessons to run their own existing business more effectively. Instead, they seemed to have stopped doing whatever they were struggling with before and started their new business as Internet marketing experts based on what they learned from a premium subscription information product about being an Internet marketing expert.
To be fair, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. To the right audience, these people WERE experts. They now knew something that most other people didn’t. I’m not a C++ expert when compared to the people who speak at CppCon, but I am expert enough when it comes to where I am employed, and especially when it comes to my family who are “not computer people” at all.
But the thing that bothered me about the other subscribers to the premium subscription was that their expertise wasn’t really theirs. They learned some tricks and techniques from somewhere else, but they didn’t apply it to their own businesses. So what do they really know?
At least I spend a significant amount of time actually using my expertise, so when someone asks me something about C++, I have some real authority and experience to back it up. They basically turned around and shoveled their new marketing know-how to the ignorant people who were willing to pay them for the information. “If you want to be successful, uh, here’s what these other guys told me.”
And boom. Now not only are they experts, but they’re commercially successful experts with a paying audience, which only grows their authority.
The personal development field sometimes has a bad reputation in this regard. Some people are great successes who might be trying to share some insight into how they became great successes.
But other so-called successful people really only seemed to have become a success when they started writing books and giving speeches telling other people how to be successful.
I subscribe to Sunday Dispatches by Paul Jarvis, and in this past Sunday’s newsletter he talked about the “advice gold rush”. Apparently seven years later the problem I described above has only gotten worse, and in many industries. Jarvis linked to a colorfully-titled article complaining about it called The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex:
Being industry famous should be the result of some contribution to the world that the industry respects and wishes to learn from. Or insights unique and useful that it genuinely makes people’s lives better.
Increasingly “creative coaches” and people with “keynote speaker” in their Twitter bios are making their quest to earn authority a higher priority than the very reason they got into this in the first place. Fueling the Complex is alluring catnip that feels like you’re advancing your career the same way answering a bunch of emails just feels productive.
I’m not innocent. I know I’ve done my share of contributing to the Complex on this blog, especially early on. I shared advice as if I had some experience actually applying that advice in my own work, and in reality I was just shoveling someone else’ manure.
But my most satisfying and gratifying work is when I wrote about my own hard-won experiences. When I write about my own failures no matter how huge or my own successes no matter how minor, they’re mine to share. I can say I know what I’m talking about and have some small chance that I’m right.
When I have those experiences, often that’s when I truly understand what someone else was saying all along. That’s when I can make the associations between someone’s advice and my reality.