Stories about Software


Those Who Can’t, Sell Tutorials on How You Can

I have a vision for what I want DaedTech (and myself) never to be.  I never want to have the “I made it, and so can you by following these [N] easy steps!” vibe, in any way.  If you ever catch me doing that, please gather with your pitchforks and storm my gate.

Here’s the thing.  Success is hard, specific, and custom to your own context.  But a lot of people don’t let that stop them from hawking it in $99 info products.

Fake It ’til You Make It… as an Expert?

I’m about to describe what I think of as an anti-pattern in the knowledge economy.  You’ve probably experienced this at least subconsciously, if you haven’t yet learned to actively recognize it.

This crystallized in my head recently when I signed up for something called “The Dynamite Circle” (it’s a community for established digital nomad-leaning entrepreneurs).  I was poking around and noticed this blog post, with a couple of great turns of phrase.

In describing a pre-quit-your-job, would-be lifestyle designer, they said:

You are buying products from blogs that make a little money on how to make a little money with your blog.

That produced almost a spit take from me, because I can picture this exact thing.  And so, probably, can you.  It has:

  • An oversize photo of the site proprietor smiling maniacally
  • Some polished-but-somehow-budget graphics
  • The typical “hero journey” landing page layout
  • And assurances that you, too, can make money through affiliate marketing, quit your job, and earn passively on a beach in Bali.

But, if you dig into any of the public metrics around the site, you see that it’s getting very little traffic.  What you’ve really got here is someone writing blog posts from a cubicle on their lunch break about how you can follow their lead to a beach in Bali.

Selling One’s Own Success Blueprint is Uncommon

Here’s another quote from the blog post I linked, in response to people expressing bitterness about The Four Hour Work Week being harder than it sounds to execute.

Less than 1%* of lifestyle designers make their money by selling eBooks and courses on how to be lifestyle designers, travelers, mobile business owners, or similar… Most lifestyle designers are too busy with their business to blog about it.

So, paradoxically, the people with the most time on their hands to teach you about blogging their way to Bali are the people who have had the least success doing so themselves.  Except, perhaps, for the occasional Tim Ferris-esque unicorn who did it, succeeded, and then decided to make an info product out of things that worked for them.

Understand, then, that most people who have used a playbook to success (99% according to Dan Andrews) aren’t bothering to evangelize that playbook for pay, or even for free except for the occasional random gratitude-tweet.

And Bottling Your Success for Sale is Actually Super-Hard

It’s sort of meta and weird for me to opine about whether or not I’m “successful” in life.  A lot of you reading might say that I am.

I walked away from my last job and my last boss more than 5 years ago, and have survived and thrived since.  I own multiple businesses that I can (and do) run from anywhere.  And I’m financially comfortable through all of this, sitting mostly atop Maslow’s Hierarchy.

But I’m not Warren Buffet, and I’m not gallivanting around the globe in a private jet.  I’m not really even “dev famous,” let alone some kind of influencer of renown.  I’ve carved out my little piece of the world, and I’m doing well enough that a lot of people ask me for advice.  I’ll take it!

But, here’s the thing.

If you asked me to capture how I’d come to this position, maybe with an “own your own location-independent business” info product, I’d be at something of a loss.  First of all, my path to this position is indirect and undoubtedly inefficient (which, ironically, might score a point for the cubicle blogger’s guide to Bali-dwelling).

So, while I certainly have the credibility of having successfully executed the play, it’s not as though I can just document my past 5 years and say, “here, do this.”

Secondly, and most importantly, my situation is not your situation.  My context is not your context.

Things that worked for me might not work for you, and might not even apply to your situation.  How, for instance, do I handle health insurance in the broken US system?  Expensively.  If you have a wage-employed spouse, you have a much better option than I do.  Take it!

So to put together such an info product would actually require substantial curation of my own experience and supplementing with that of my audience.

The Lesson: Read Success Stories as Tips, Rather than Blueprints

And that leads me to the real lesson here, and the point of the post.  We, as humans in the professional world, seem to be in constant search for a good system.  We’ll read a book like Getting Things Done and want to implement it as a soup-to-nuts system fro increased efficiency.  This is true in the productivity space, in business-building, and even in things like dieting, exercise, and growing a social life.

We want complete, tidy solutions.

But those really don’t exist.  And the more stridently someone claims to have one, the more likely he is to be the cubicle-Bali-blogger, rather than the seasoned hand sharing experience.

For instance, take Tim Ferris and the Four Hour Work Week.  The premise of his book isn’t, “do these things all in sequence and you’ll win.”  Rather, it’s “here’s a mindset shift you can make and a bunch of tactics that will help you as you do so.”

I think that we, in the software development world, tend to want the grand unified framework more than most.  Perhaps it’s because the kinds of minds that assemble classes into design patterns into architectures want an overarching system.  So I think we, more than most, are prone to serial checkbox ticking once we decide to go for something, and then to feel subsequently outraged and jaded when all boxes are checked and ultimate win is not realized.

Fight that.  Fight it by approaching any info product or system not as your path to joy, but as a series of ideas that may or may not make sense for you, in your specific situation, with your specific context.

That’s not nearly as superficially gratifying as something promising to hold your hand on your step-by-step journey to the Bali good life.  But it’s how life works and how you’ll find success.

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Scott Hannen
4 years ago

This intrigues me as it relates to Agile and Scrum. The more reputable Agile coaches I follow don’t attempt to impose a framework or processes. At the other end of the spectrum is Agile In a Box. It’s a thing. For 9 euros they will sell you a sixty-page “Scrum Notebook” which is a spiral-bound notepad with Scrum stuff you can get for free on the internet printed on some of the pages. It makes me want to both laugh and cry when I imagine the disappointment after someone purchases a Box of Scrum with a notepad or two and… Read more »

Erik Dietrich
4 years ago
Reply to  Scott Hannen

Agile in a box? I’m somehow both amazed and not that surprised to learn that such a thing exists. I’ve seen enough enterprise agile transformations to know things can get pretty obtuse, but it feels like everyone would have a point where they think, “okay, this has to be self-satrizing at this point.”

Matthieu Cneude
4 years ago

In my experience, the developers who wants “overarching system” are not very successful and end up creating a lot of flexibility, indirection and therefore complexity for nothing. What about the context, namely the business model?

Context is a big part of many equations. That’s why “success” (whatever the definition, which is not global either) is often linked to chance, since we don’t fully control the context we are in. It might be that people who can analyse contexts accurately have an advantage to see their goals succeeding, but to me this stay pretty random at the end.