INNOVATE

Stop Studying Success Gurus. Do This Instead.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably looking for advice in all the wrong places.

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BY Michael Schein - 09 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

During the early seventeenth century, a group of students with the aim of satirizing the religious and political institutions of the day skillfully spread rumors about a nonexistent organization they called the Rosicrucians. As they presented it, these Rosicrucians were overlords who were literally invisible and who secretly controlled the whole of society. Over the next four centuries, the fervor caused by this elaborate publicity stunt would spawn all-too-real institutions like the Freemasons, inspire key aspects of the Enlightenment, and would ultimately become a cornerstone of the mythos that sparked democratic revolutions around the globe.

In the late nineteenth century, a woman calling herself Madame Helena Blavatsky beguiled massive crowds in New York City, and then throughout the world, with tales of the mystical wisdom she learned during her travels through the Tibet and India. Her claims were flamboyant, convoluted, and almost certainly false. Yet Blavatsky is responsible for the popularization of Eastern spirituality in the West, which led to mass interest in activities such as yoga and meditation. Today everyone from professional athletes to Silicon Valley billionaires to neuroscientists vouch for the benefits of these practices.

At the turn of the last century Frederick Winslow Taylor built his fortune teaching Scientific Management to manufacturers, a new discipline he created based on the idea of quantitative measurement as the key to improving industrial productivity. It has recently come to light that the vaunted "pig iron study" upon which he based his theory was almost entirely made up. Regardless, Scientific Management would go on to form the basis of the then-new Harvard Business School curriculum, which in turn formed the basis for the curriculum for every MBA program in America.

All three of these examples present stories of people engaged in what we would commonly call hype. Yet they are also all stories of people who irreversibly changed our world--often very much for the better.

Hype is a term fraught with associations--mostly negative. To "hype something up" is to make something look better than it is. Hype is distraction. Hype is trivial. Hype is empty.

According to common myths about success, making things happen requires iron will, single-minded vision, and tireless persistence. The truth is far more complicated. There have been many strong-willed, visionary go-getters whose ideas never made it past the walls of their huts. Bringing an idea to life requires hype. While the great inventors, engineers, scientists, and builders who worked on connecting the American coasts by locomotive and putting human beings on the moon should certainly get some credit, it was the hype artists who got people to show up and buy in that were truly indispensible. The media that entertains us, the religions that feed our souls, the companies that make our clothes, the movements that set us free, even the borders of the countries we live in--all of these are, first, and foremost products of hype.

With all of that said, there is a good reason hype has acquired such a bad reputation over the years. Sociopaths, narcissists, con artists, and other Machiavellian types are the most natural hype artists. They see the world through clearer eyes than the rest of us. However, this does not mean hype is inherently immoral. Much like a gene seeking to reproduce, hype is amoral--a phenomenon altogether indifferent to societal notions of good and bad. And like biological evolution, hype is a creative force.

Hype is not a mystical power, nor is it mass hypnosis or brainwashing. At the same time, it is not just another word for persuasion or sales. To be a hype artist is to interact with people based on how they really act rather than how they say--or think--they do.

If you're in business, there's no reason you have to be shifty, cruel, or dishonest. That said, it might be worthwhile for you to embrace your inner hype artist.