Woozle Hunting, Death Circles, and Selective Mentorship
“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”– Confucius
Remember the story in Winnie-the-Pooh where Winnie and Piglet go Woozle hunting in the snow? Piglet spies Winnie walking around a small grove of trees. He asks what Pooh’s doing. Pooh points to some tracks in the snow he’s following. Piglet asks if the tracks might belong to a Woozle. They decide to find out.
As they walk around a thicket of trees again, they discover more tracks. Have more Woozles joined the first? Again they go round, somewhat nervous now, and find the tracks have multiplied again. Now Piglet is worried. Maybe there is a pack of Woozles. He begs off to go home while Pooh presses on.
Finally, Christopher Robin arrives to point out Pooh is walking in circles and the tracks are his own.
“I am a Bear of no Brain at All,” declares Pooh.
“You’re the Best Bear in All the World,” said Christopher Robin soothingly. And they head home for lunch.
The point? Be careful who you follow. They may not know where they’re going any more than you do. Today, researchers refer to repeated citations of bad source material as a “Woozle Effect.”
Woozle hunts aren’t limited to children’s books and academic research. They happen in nature too. Army ants are blind and follow each other by tracking the pheromones of the ant in front of them. If the lead ant happens to loop back on its own trail, the ants can fall into a “death circle” until they all die from exhaustion.
After we had our first child, Gus, Wendy joined a mom’s group in our neighborhood. If you have kids, you remember this time. Your social life collapses around your family and other parents of small kids. Basically, the only people willing to tolerate wailing and diapers. Unfortunately, the new parent circles are great for generating Woozle-quality advice. It’s the blind leading the blind. One afternoon, after returning from spending time with Tami, Wendy declared, “I’m never following advice from a parent of one kid again.” Tami was following a bigger model– she had two kids.
One of the downsides of collaboration in our industry is the tendency to take advice from anyone we assume has relevant experience. However, a Biloxi agent asking a Bay Area agent how much they pay their assistant is folly. Pay scales are inherently regional. And when we’re not desperate for answers, we understand this. Wages in Southern Mississippi and Northern California have as much in common as pineapples and grapes. They are both fruit but the similarities end there.
Exercise selective mentorship. Take the right advice from the right people.
Here are five factors you should always consider: profitability, location, team composition, average commission amount, and primary lead generation strategy. If you can check off four of five boxes, you can probably take the advice. The singular criteria you should never ignore is profitability. There are countless strategies to scale your business unprofitably. Profitable strategies that scale are few.
As Charlie Munger says, “Learn how to ignore the examples of others when they are wrong because few skills are more worth having.”
Put more simply, don’t be a “Bear of no Brain at All.”
One question to ponder in your thinking time: What advice have I taken this year that I should reexamine?
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