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We live in a brand society. Build yourself a big enough personal brand, and you get away with crazy things. Be unknown, you are likely to offend even if you didn’t intend.

Let’s exemplify the paradox: gurus are often invited to enlighten an audience. Corporations for example send their up and coming executives to listen to innovation gurus. Sometimes the innovation guru points out how wrong they are doing everything. The message can be paraphrased as “you’re all a bunch of idiots”. The result? Wild applause and appreciation. How fresh the perspective! How insightful and thought provoking! The seminar is deemed as mind-altering and profound.

But as one of the biggest thinkers of all time said, “we don’t recognize that teaching is a major obstruction to learning” (Russell Ackoff). That is because learning cannot be acquired by listening, it has to be experienced. So listening to a guru’s past experiences will produce little learning. You will learn little from my mistakes.

And so, following one of these thought provoking sessions, each of the parties goes happily its own way, with the state of things pretty much unchanged: the guru is paid and his or her brand confirmed, while the audience has checked the corporate or personal check-box for “learning”.

Let’s keep applauding, it feels great, doesn’t it? Given the right setting, being called an idiot can be liberating. Not to mention that cozy group feeling of “I’m not alone in my ignorance”!

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