No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

March 28, 2009

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My all-time favorite album title is ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ by Van Morrison. Forget that it’s brilliant music by a world-class artist. The title alone rocks.

I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve considered discussion around the title ‘social media guru.’ Brand Dialogue suggests that you view anyone bearing this title skeptically. Jeremiah Owyang thinks that the tide of the recession will sweep the beach clear of many self-proclaimed gurus -and that this will be a good thing.

Others clearly view it differently. I just ran across yet another Craigslist job listing where a company was looking for a ‘social media guru’. I see the title used frequently without irony on Twitter and in profiles, and I hear it used as a compliment. And many people have deep expertise in the field – I’m lucky enough to have worked with a few and know a few more.

My own take is that I don’t like the term for a couple reasons. From a Geoffrey Moore perspective, we’re nowhere near all the way through the adoption curve on social media. Everything that you know today will change very shortly as the late adopters and laggards from Moore’s classic model start showing up. (Yes, the book was written in 1991 – peg me as a dinosaur if you like, but it’s the best model of technology adoption I know). I’m seeing this more and more on Facebook. The changes they’ve made to their interface are minor compared to the changes happening in the community as more aunts, grandpas and non-technophiles start SuperPoking each other – and me.

More than that, though, I don’t like the term ‘guru’ – for any field of endeavor. Okay, maybe Jesus and Buddha and a few others have truly earned it. But I don’t like the term applied to me. Really. And it’s more than just my Midwestern modesty.

I’ve been called ‘guru’ in several roles – sometimes around data analysis, sometimes around pricing and packaging, sometimes around product launch. All areas in which I’m proud to have some expertise. But the folks that called me ‘guru’ in any of those roles were rarely the greatest collaborators on the team. More often than not they wanted transactional discipleship – to get my expertise applied to their project or deal and to move on. Which is fine. We all have roles on the team, and I behave no differently when I need signoff from Legal or Finance on something. Except I don’t call them ‘gurus’, because I’m not there to learn from them – I’m there, openly, to get their expertise applied and move on.

I’ve spent the past half hour rewriting the paragraph above and trying to make it not sound cranky. I may have failed at that. But Van Morrison is famous for his crankiness. And he urged us to accept no guru, no method, no teacher. Some of us know more than others. We can and should learn from them whenever possible. But there’s more unknown than known, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.

“You can’t stay the same. If you’re a musician and a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works.” – Van Morrison

Photo by oddsock

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