Einstein, the gold standard of references.  Quote him early and often; one size fits all applications.  Better yet, quote him while quoting celebrity CEOs.  In 2017 (as we see below) Albert’s words-of-wisdom paired with those of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, popular CEOs du jour, and hailed as sage business advice.  Ten years ago, Dr. Einstein’s wisdom might have been paired with quotes from Howard Schultz and Larry Ellison.  At the turn of the century, it’s probable his “partners” would have been Bill Gates and Jack Welch.  I’m not sure what the good Dr. Einstein would have thought of such pairings, though I suspect he would be puzzled by the powerful combination of celebrity worship and search engine algorithms that, at least in part, produced them.

Tom Peters’ 1982 bestseller, In Search of Excellence laid the groundwork for this phenomenon, giving rise to something I call, “balance sheet” celebrity.  Like a financial balance sheet, these “snapshots” represent a specific, business moment-in-time, though many, like Mr. Peters, feel compelled to draw from them longer term trend data and greater truths.  They do so at their own peril. Of the numerous companies cited as excellent by Mr. Peters, many faltered in the years following the book’s publication.  Those failures didn’t make In Search of Excellence a poor read; it remained a very interesting book, but not necessarily the “How To” guide that many took it to be.

Similarly, one cannot argue the current managerial successes of Messrs. Bezos and Musk.  No doubt, there is much to be gleaned from their business insights and directives.  Both CEOs, however, are far removed from their start-up roots.  The start-up world has changed markedly during the twenty years since Amazon and Zip2/Paypal were started.  These are two gentlemen long since inured to dealing with million and billion dollar transactions.  So, one should proceed with caution when reading their names in the headline of a small business advice column or article.  Chances are their celebrated managerial insights, like Dr. Einstein’s sayings, have been taken out of context (indeed, out of their moment in time) and bandied about as simplistic aphorisms or managerial crutches.

Beware of celebrity businessmen bearing start-up advice.


Even in topics beyond physics, Einstein was brilliant. Among his many observations was the absurdity (Einstein called it insanity) of doing the same thing again and again, yet expecting different results. As we begin to organize our strategic planning sessions over the next few months, how many of us are planning to do the same […]

Source: Einstein, Musk, and Bezos on strategic planning – CUInsight

Marc Slafsky