In the age of information tsunamis we have found a sort of new age comfort in the bits and pieces of famous lives. You know exactly what I mean. Any source of media aggregation will contain a staggering number of lists that contain the “secrets” to success, happiness, blissful relationships and economic prosperity that we hope will be our blueprint to the future.
These types of “The Six Secrets of Steven Jobs Success” lists, have a unique place in our reading for a good reason. Lists provide a sense of order to chaos and give us a meaningful thimble full of what appears to be understanding to an infinite number of things. They are interesting “productivity hacks” and hopefully make us think a little, but the idea that their various contents are directly applicable to our current reality is harmful.
It’s one thing to sit there on Monday morning at your local Starbucks and discuss the incredibly bad play calling of your teams coach and how he should have gone for that 4th down conversion, but it is entirely different to think that a shift in your corporate reality can come from a list of rather meaningless platitudes that were condensed from a persons life of success and failure. Pull enough bits and pieces, assemble them into a list of secrets and they somehow become a formula with the creditability of Newton’s Laws of Motion.
“To believe you can find direct success from a few tips, distilled from a full life is like looking at a books cover and saying your read the book”, according to Sean Blanda in his piece called The Narrative Fallacy.
Now if you approached these lists with a strategic plan that culled the various shreds of genius and looked for how they might apply in the context of your world, well BRAVO! Then if you chose to look at ONE to apply directly, to test it in a small context, well BRAVO! You have actually used the “secret list” as a prototype.
So, the next time you click on The 5 Secrets of Benjamin Franklin, just remember that those so called secrets were distilled from 84 years, filled with success, failure, joy and heartbreak that together formed the life of the most accomplished American of his time.