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Why the puck are you using that hackneyed quotation?

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Wayne Gretzky

“Do you really think we haven’t heard this a thousand times? Uggh.”

Weary readers

For the second time in the last year, I was editing a business book that cited this overused, stale, moth-eaten, clichéd Gretzky quote. In each case, I told the author to take it out, please, or risk looking ridiculous. Author number one ignored my advice. Author number two still has a chance to save himself, we’ll see.

It’s not that the quote doesn’t make a valid point. It’s that we’ve been seeing it in presentations and writing since at least 1994. According to Google, “where the puck is going” appears on 394,000 web pages. Slideshare shows it in 4,448 slide decks. So it’s a fair guess that your readers have seen it before.

It’s not even original with Gretzky; he says he heard it from his father.

If it so nicely encapsulates the concept of strategy (figure out what is going to happen, then prepare for that rather than what’s happening now), why not use it?

Think about your audience.

At most 5% of them have never heard it before. Most of those have never taken a business course or are in middle school.

Another 45% or so will glide by obliviously, having learned nothing new. But the remaining 50% will wrinkle their noses and say “I can’t believe this author thinks that’s a fresh insight.” The more experienced your readers are, the more likely they are to have this reaction.

So, annoy the crap out of the smart half of the audience while looking insightful to a few newbies? It’s not worth it.

Maybe you’ve been in love with this quote for decades. But your relationship with it hasn’t mellowed, it’s curdled. This one is past its expiration date and has begun to stink. Toss it.

Find a better way to say it.

A few more musty quotes that mark you as an old hack

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

John Wanamaker, quoted by David Ogilvy in 1963

We understand. Advertising is targeted now. But anyone in marketing who hasn’t heard this is either juvenile or senile.

If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.

Henry Ford

So what, you shouldn’t listen to customers? You shouldn’t do surveys? Solving customer problems requires actual cognition, not just market intelligence. Ford knew it, and by now, we all know it, too.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

If it takes you 10,000 tries, guess what, you’ve failed. Most people that try and fail this many times are missing something important.

And finally, let’s peruse one more hackneyed Gretzkyism:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky, in 1983

This is indeed true. And as a justification for trying something dumb, it is misguided. I don’t think Wayne Gretzky imagined that this meant “Take the shot, even if it’s unlikely to go in.”

A little experiment

If you’ve heard all of these, please add a comment below that says “I’ve heard them all” and add a word like “many times,” “endlessly,” or whatever describes how they make you feel.

If one of them is new to you, add a comment and tell us which one.

And if there is another quote — not a metaphor or cliché, but an actual quotation — that sets your teeth on edge, please let us know what it is.

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  1. Heard them all, many times.

    But I have a quote question. Sometimes I’ve come across a quote that I thought was pithy and appropriate to what I was writing, but it was said by someone with zero public profile. Perhaps an academic, maybe a little-known author. While the thought is relevant, it’s unlikely that most people reading the quote will recognize the name. Use it or lose it?

    1. Use it!

      Whoever said it deserves recognition for their insight.

      It even helps if you say “Alfred Xyzz, who has been intensively researching marketing analytics for the last 20 years, said this . . . ”

      At that point you have cited a qualified person and mentioned his qualifications. Good for him and good for you, too!

    2. Use it, Andy. When you identify wisdom in prose, do you care from whence it comes? Who were Mark and Oscar before they were they were Twain and Wilde? And you can quote me on that!

      1. Hi Alan,
        The reason I questioned it is that it doesn’t carry the weight of a recognized name. I don’t want the reader to spend any time wondering who the heck is that.

        But I like Josh’s solution. Just add a bit more information to the name.


  2. When I see a blog post start with one of these quotes, I stop reading. More likely than not, I know what they are going to write.

  3. When do these become cliches? (For one of the best love songs, try “Cliche” by Fish off his brilliant solo album Vigil.)

    I had not heard the advertising one.

    My pet peeve on quotes is sourcing. Almost all on the inet are not sourced and attributed incorrectly. I wonder if the inet fails us in other ways?

  4. I’ve actually never heard the puck quote though I’m a good quarter century past puberty.

    Now that I’ve heard it, well, I think it’s dumb

  5. How do we feel about the Mark Twain quote (but probably not really) “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter?”

  6. Heard ’em. Also, I’m a little tired of the same “business hero” figures being trotted out all the time—what Steve Jobs did…

    Can we either find new, lesser-known heroes (which might include women or under-represented groups) or, better yet, dispense with the hero stories and focus on teams?

  7. I’ve heard them all 1000’s of times.

    And at the risk of sounding like a $h*t head I switch off when they come up.
    And I automatically judge the person as lazy because they could not be bothered to dig deeper.

    I work in marketing and I hate myself for saying ‘like Apple did’ or ‘Nike did’ so often because I’m marketing small and micro businesses, not ‘enterprise level brands’.