The ‘Guru’ Trap

Sometimes you shouldn’t be excited when your favorite blogger goes full time at it.

Random observation that I find to be rather true. Person, likely a blogger because that’s where I see this happen, starts to write about a topic. It’s an important topic to them because they are really trying to fix something in their professional or personal lives. I think the biggest of these being software reviewers and productivity hackers.

Anyways, they start writing about these topics and the ways they are trying to find better tools in their lives. And their sites get very popular because what they are saying is resonating and helping a lot of people. Soon the sites are so popular and they are making enough money from them, they have such a passion for them, that they go ‘full time’ on the site and that topic. ((In writing this I didn’t have any one site in mind, but this is a common trend I’ve seen in the past decade.))

Now they are effectively a guru in some sense and people are excited about this because if they only got 20% of the person’s time talking about this before, they can’t wait to see what comes out now that they have 100% of the person’s time. Oh man.

And then things get weird. Because what was discounted, were the life experiences from that person’s other areas of life. How can one better teach others how to be productive and hold meetings, when they themselves no longer have meetings? Or when their only job is to talk and write about productivity? How can a software reviewer who really was known for say pushing the bounds of Excel, continue this if they start only blogging for a living and thus are not seeing the real world use cases for Excel.

The theoretical is not the practical, and thus the advice, while smart and sound, is less helpful overall. What was hugely popular is no less bad, but becomes more philosophical because the use cases are more contrived — there’s no practical application and experience the writer is gaining.

Or take this site as an example.

What if I wasn’t running a tech company with the iPad as my main computer, and instead I was just running this site? Well the needs, advice, and insights would be drastically different. Not always worse, but certainly less helpful to other business users.

Or what if (far more likely scenario I’ll admit) I took this site full time to write about backpacks. Suddenly I really have no where to go, to travel to, just sitting around needing a backpack to carry nothing more than an iPad, but somehow I need to contrive ways to use a backpack in what I now think is a normal manner? That’s worse insight, because I no longer have practical applications, and instead am creating hypotheticals in the hopes that they are meaningful for people. Now, I still know a shit ton about backpacks and can still tell you if it is ostensibly a good backpack or not. But I cannot tell you all the minor little things which will possibly annoy you, because I wouldn’t be using it the same way as most of the readers are.

None of this is to say that this is necessarily bad, but it is a trap. There be dragons there. And the advice on whole is less applicable to people than it was when the writer wasn’t “full time” doing that thing.

On any site, this one included, perspective and practicality can become exceedingly difficult when what made your insight valuable to begin with shifts because of your life changes. It’s harder to review diaper bags, when your kids don’t wear diapers any longer.

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