The platitude pledge

Stop imagining that meaningless platitudes are content. Stop sharing them. And stop following or admiring people who use them.

What is a meaningless platitude?

It is a “truth” so obvious that everyone knows it.

When you share one, not only are you failing to generate any insight for your reader, you are communicating that you, the writer or sharer, have questionable judgment. You proclaim “I am an idiot, and I think you are, too.” Is this the message you want to send?

Today’s egregious example

A friend (who I now no longer trust), recently shared this on Facebook, from “Entrepreneur Mindset.”

Putting aside the grammatical errors, everything here is stupid, obvious, and perhaps even wrong.

Imagine that you are starting a business or trying to get it off the ground. Would this help you?

Who is the billionaire? Is this advice from Elon Musk, Jack Ma, Bill Gates, or Sam Walton? It matters.

As for the specific advice:

  • What is a good decision? Everyone makes hundreds of decisions a day — why stop at three? How can you make a good decision, as compared to a bad one? Is it possible to have a productive day without making three decisions?
  • Does anyone fail to think ahead? How do you think strategically? Isn’t it necessary to be opportunistic sometimes? Will this reminder actually help anyone?
  • Isn’t it better to do important things after you have enough information — that is, late, rather than early? Or is this about the time of day? Some people are more productive at 11 pm — should they attempt to do important things at 8 am?
  • What if your gut is often wrong? What if the evidence goes against your instinct? Should you still follow your gut?
  • What if you have trouble sleeping — what should you do then? If you should always get a full night’s rest, does that mean it never pays to do something great by pulling an all-nighter?
  • Did FedEx start small? Did the Interstate Highway System? Did Tesla?

Get angry at platitudes

This bullshit seems juvenile and trivial, but it’s worse than that.

By confusing people about the difference between actual carefully analyzed truth and made-up worthless platitudes, memes like this make people stupider. Actual smart people with useful experience need to waste time reeducating people bamboozled by baloney like this.

So here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Develop a platitude detector. When you read a saying like this, ask yourself, “Would anyone seriously not do this?” If everyone would agree, you’re reading a meaningless platitude.
  2. Pledge that you won’t write platitudes. If you find yourself stating the obvious, fix or delete it.
  3. Pledge that you won’t share platitudes. Don’t become a vector for idiocy.
  4. Pledge that you’ll call out platitudes. If a friend shares one, ask them why they think that was a good idea.

That’s the platitude pledge. And if you’ll take it with me, maybe we can spend our time on things that matter instead of sayings that maintain us at a constant level of stupidity.

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  1. “Stop imagining that meaningless platitudes are content.” Stop using the imperative form of address! It implies that your readers are idiots and you are the omniscient source of all wisdom and knowledge. It is the preferred form authoritarians have always used to command their subjects, and it is repulsive to people who know how to think for themselves. You are an advice columnist, not the Pope.

    1. Well, yes… and no. The effect is highly dependent on the specific usage. To advise is one thing, to command is another. Your opening paragraph consists of three unqualified commands. They are not presented as suggestions or advice, they stand alone in the form of commands. Further, on their face, they imply that you think your readers imagine meaningless platitudes are content, they share them, and admire people who use them.

      Now, I doubt you think or mean that, but that’s what it reads like. As a reader, that form of address repulses me. I’m not offended by it personally, because I understand that you probably didn’t mean what the commands obviously imply. What I’m saying is, it’s an obnoxious form of bullshit writing, one that does not accurately reflect your intended message, which is simply a critique of meaningless platitudes. The command usage, in other words, is an infelicitous way of communicating with your readers. Unfortunately it has become a common affect of journalistic writing in recent years.

  2. I believe it was P.T. Barnum said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. The same goes for entrepreneurs. I have had the dubious pleasure of working with several as a mentor and angel investor, Most are young, inexperienced, and naïve.

    Thus advice that seems platitudinous or obvious to you or even your humble servant may be news to them.

    There’s also this: In the fray of burnout battles, a reminder of the basics may be a helpful nudge.

    This apologia may ameliorate the intensity of emotions aroused by such memes.

    I applaud your discouragement of meme sharing. If we banned meme sharing, particularly of the political kind, social media would be a better place, as it would require super spreaders of viral posts to compose an original thought. That would cut the number of shares down substantially which is probably why it will never happen,

    1. So much advice from successful folks falls apart upon scrutiny. Survivorship bias, narrative fallacy, and scores of other contaminate our thinking.

      The Halo Effect: . . . and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers is the best book I’ve read on debunking business myths.