Over the short term, stories beat smarts. Over the long term, cautious beats cute.
The poor genius without a story never survives the short term to make it to the long term. Nobody understands him. Shout outs to “that guy at the party.”
The snake oil salesman appears seemingly from nowhere with a too-good-to-be-true story. However, if he gets too cute and doesn’t take the appropriate cautions, eventually the smart people expose him and he’s gone as quickly as he appeared. Shout outs to Clark Stanley and the FDA.
The long-con charlatan knows how to sell his story today AND be cautious in the long term. Watch out for them. Sometimes, when they get cute, the smart people eventually bring them down, but other times they carve out a cautious little corner to exist in for a long time. Shout outs to Bernie Madoff (he got cute by showing that he never lost money) and the homeopathy industry (who use the FDA language of not being medicine to still sell a product that looks an awful lot like medicine).
The visionary sees something in the long-term, weaves a vision that we can share today, and then takes us on a journey. She understands how to keep us on board and avoid the danger. She doesn’t have to be a genius, but history will likely remember her as one. Shout outs to Sara Blakey and Jeff Bezos.
The main difference between the poor genius, the snake oil salesman, the long-con charlatan, and the visionary is motivation. It’s Sinek’s “why.” The main similarity is that they all have a definable incentive structure in place. Furthermore, we can analyze each’s time frames and the context clues that surround them to understand where their risks are.
There are obviously more categories than just these, but the point isn’t to label everyone. The point is to start to define the broadest traits, so that we can think about who has influenced our own path, AND who has influenced the paths of others that we are dealing with.
Welcome to complexity.
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