On the prevalence of motivational quotes

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

— Plato

I love a good quote as much as the next guy, but something about using these sorts of sayings – particularly in a business context – bugs me. My personal favourite one to hate at the moment is the whole “fall down 7 times, get up 8” thing, mostly because if you fall down 7 times you have to get up 7 times. Getting up 8 times after only falling down 7 times is impossible.

Quotes in business are so prevalent that it has become incredibly difficult to find anyone’s actual opinion of them. Put the terms ‘inspiration’, ‘business’ and/or ‘quote’ anywhere near a Google search and you’ll get anywhere between 3 and 7 hundred million hits (I have a penchant for hyperbole, but in this case that number is accurate). And most of them are just pointing you at the Top 10/11/37/other random number quotes about business. Other than the odd preamble about how a good quote maketh the man (or, presumably, woman), no one seems to want to talk about them.

I find it interesting that we all just seem to accept this as a good thing. I’m also fully aware that I’m part of the same flock here, with my personal landing page spitting out a random quote every time you visit.

I suppose my problem comes when people substitute in quotes from the likes of Aristotle and Branson in favour of actual advice. I’ve even seen it done regardless of the contextual relevance of the quote – the point, presumably, being to make the writer/presenter seem more wise. I think that’s perhaps what I dislike the most – quotes as a shortcut to trust. If Person X is quoting the likes of Plato, and I understand that Plato was a pretty clever guy, then Person X must also be clever. Did any of you know that it wasn’t actually Plato who said the quote at the top of this piece, but Confucius? I don’t suppose it matters much either way to the overall message – Confucius was also wise, as Plato was wise…

Perhaps I’m being overly critical. In the words of another incredibly famous person “It takes less courage to criticise the decisions of others than to stand by your own.” Those seem like sage words. Should it bother me that they came from Attila the Hun, who is more famous for his slaughter of pretty much anyone who got in his way that he is for advice?

Quotes are great things. They are a shortcut to a particular feeling, or expression – and, yes, sometimes trust. They can be a way of quickly showing a reader, or a customer, or someone you are training that your views align with theirs. I’m certainly not saying that we should all stop quoting other people. But I do think that we should be a little more careful sometimes about how we use them. It is a very fine line between showing someone you’re on the same page, and convincing them that you are.

Quotes can be powerful things, and in the words of the late, great Benjamin Parker: “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

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