Four Success Lessons from Humpty-Dumpty

Don't Be Hard-Boiled

This is Chapter 10 from the forthcoming book, Trajectory.

1.  Don’t Be Hard-Boiled

Humpty-Dumpty is most remembered for falling off the wall, of course, but his story has several other interesting facets that are not widely known.

Humpty-Dumpty was opinionated, pugnacious, and contemptuous of the opinions of others.  To put the best spin on it, he was hard-boiled.

Humpty-Dumpty considered himself an expert on whatever was being discussed – despite the fact that he had no practical knowledge.

There is a Latin name for this type of annoying behavior – ipse dixit.  If you express an opinion without practical knowledge, you might be called an ipse dixit expert.

Humpty-Dumpty was the first ipse dixit expert. 

What is an Ipse Dixit Expert?

In Lewis Carroll’s book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Humpty-Dumpty has a semantic argument with Alice about the meaning of the word “glory”. 

The specifics of the argument are not important – what is important is that Humpty insisted on an obviously incorrect definition for the word “glory” – and he defended that definition on the sole basis that he said so.

In other words, in his view, he was the indisputable authority on the matter, despite that fact that he was clueless.

A short passage from the book will help you understand:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘Glory,’ ”Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.

“Of course you don’t – till I tell you,” Humpty replied.

Ipse Dixit Defined

According to the concise Oxford dictionary of current English, ipse dixit, (pronounced ip-see-dix-set), is a Latin phrase meaning he himself said it.

In today’s most common usage, the term is meant to describe a dogmatic statement that has been asserted but not proved – one that is meant to be accepted purely due to the misplaced faith in the speaker.

It is frequently used in legal proceedings to suggest that an expert witness’ opinion is no more valid than the tangible evidence he can supply to support it.

Take Away #1

Whether you are an entrepreneur, a Social Media strategist, or an outside Social Media consultant, it is very poor form to be rigid in your opinions and contemptuous of the opinions of others.  Being ipse dixit – knowing everything, while knowing nothing — is the worst possible case.  In your relationships with others, success will always be better served if you adopt a position of responsible malleability.   You can be patient and open-minded without sacrificing something you know to be undeniably correct.  Just remain flexible, courteous and attentive.

2.  Make Sure Your Shell is Strong

How strong is an eggshell?  It depends upon the egg, of course, but if you balance four eggs on their end, and cover them with a board to distribute the weight evenly, the resulting construct will hold a great deal of weight.

Opinions are like eggshells.  Alone they are fragile, but when you amass a series of solid opinions, each reinforcing the other across a stable platform of influence, the result is powerful.

Three Rules About Opinions

I have three rules about opinions:

  1. Don’t express an opinion if you lack rock-solid proof.
  2. On the other hand, if you do have empirical evidence to support your opinion, don’t be shy.  Be courteous but forthright.
  3. Solid opinions are like strands in a rope – the more you bundle together the stronger they are.  If you have an area of undisputed expertise, expand on that expertise.  Express those opinions, write articles, give speeches.  The more you reinforce your valid opinions the stronger your overall reputation will be.

3.  Be Wary of Soft-Boiled Eggs

Lots of eggs out there are simply underdone.  They are soft-boiled.  Without empirical evidence of their positions, these experts are ipse dixit.

One of the interesting problems associated with burgeoning industries like Social Media — (remember the web design industry a decade ago?) — is that during the formative years the number of ipse dixit experts who appear is directly proportional to:

  1. The economic potential of success, minus
  2. The financial cost of entry, plus
  3. The lack of formal credentials criteria.

Since there are no formal barometers for Social Media credentials — since the financial cost of entry is negligible; and the economic potential for success is great — the only gauge of expertise can be expressed in one word:  Results.   The litmus test for results,  with development of a Twitter following as the target, should be as a minimum:

  1. 10,000 Twitter followers within 12 months, all of whom are active, targeted and engaged
  2. 2,000 Twitter updates on targeted subjects within the last year
  3. Inclusion on 500 lists

4.  The Proof is in the Eating

Ever try to make an egg soufflé?  Or even a sophisticated omelet?  For the unpracticed hand they can be difficult concoctions.  You can read a thousand recipes, devour cookbooks by the library full – but the real proof is in the eating.  So it is with Social Media.  There are hundreds of thousands of websites, blogs and articles about Social Media – each with their own approaches, ingredients and promises.  But the only reliable proof appears when those recipes have been prepared and consumed.  The proof is in the eating.

The best recipes on earth fail without salt.  The best recipe for Twitter success fails without a demonstrable result – and that result (the salt) begins with the number of loyal followers.

All Trajectories are About Results

All trajectories are about results.

When NASA engineers fill the Space Shuttle with thousands of pounds of fuel, and program its systems to deliver escape velocity at precisely the right second, they are aiming for an exact spot in space, called an insertion point.  When NASA hits that target they have achieved results.

When a quarterback drops back for a long pass, anticipates where the wide-receiver will be when he completes his route in the end zone, and lofts the ball high into the air, he is aiming for a precise spot in the arms of his receiver and six points on the scoreboard.  When he hits that target he has achieved results.

When a young college graduate, after spending years in study to get a law degree, sets his sights on public service and then works very hard to follow his dream, he is aiming for a precise position where those dreams can come true.   When the perfect position appears, he has achieved results.

In April, 2010, when I committed myself to Twitter accomplishment, I set my sights on 50,000 engaged and loyal Twitter followers.  As I worked nearly 10,000 hours toward that objective, I was aiming for a business that focused on Twitter as a highly professional approach to doing business in the world economy.  When I hit that target, I achieved results.

The point is this:  All trajectories have a starting point and an anticipated objective – a target.  It doesn’t matter what the target is — as long as it is determined through proper planning and strategy.

When you hit that target you have achieved results.

Why Does This Matter?

I have already explained in Chapter 1 why I felt compelled to build a sizable and engaged Twitter following before I had the temerity to consider myself an expert on the subject.

Today, with approaching 70,000 loyal followers, I feel comfortable with the expert moniker, at least as it applies to Twitter for business.

There are huge numbers of ipse dixit Social Media experts, who wax eloquently about, for example, Twitter’s value or lack thereof.  Many of them — on the basis of the above criteria – are not qualified to have an opinion, in my view.

In a recent, widely distributed article, a professional blogger predicted the Beginning of the End for Twitter as a Social Network in 2012.  This gentleman is respected within the online community, is a published author and speaker and his article was selected as a highlighted Social Media article by Alltop.  I certainly wouldn’t quibble with his credentials.

I disagreed with his overall premise, of course, but I was willing to keep an open mind and listen to his arguments, so I did a little research.  His reasons were interesting, but as it turned out he had a Twitter following of less than 7,000 followers after four years of effort.

This fact alone neither discredits his opinion nor makes him an ipse dixit expert — not by a long shot.  But for me at least, it begs the question: 

How can anyone without a substantial Twitter following have a meaningful opinion about what it’s worth to have one?

If you work on Twitter for several years without amassing a significant number of followers, it might be logical to believe that it is a failed strategy.  7,000 followers is simply not sufficient to develop Critical Mass – a mandatory component before long-term results can be realized.  Further, a 7,000 member following is not large enough to achieve Escape Velocity, allowing for Twitter growth after your daily activity lessons.  In short, I do not believe that is sufficient empirical evidence to form a valid opinion on the matter.

Take Away #2

As professionals, there should be a relationship between what we can say and what we can do.  As John Ruskin, the prominent social thinker and philanthropist said:

“The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don’t mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do.”

It is reasonable and fair to express an opinion about something we have actually done – but it is disingenuous to express an opinion about something we have not done, or have done insufficiently.

Take Away #3

I am of the opinion, in agreement with the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan that:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Business acumen dictates that results should be determinant when assessing success or failure.  Facts trump opinions every time.




About Michael R.H. Stewart
"Give me faith, freedom, resources, and a little time ... and I will make things happen that matter." Michael R.H. Stewart is a respected Internet executive with broad experience in all aspects of online business, with an emphasis given to social networking development, and company management. He has over 131,000 engaged Twitter followers. He enjoys 22 years of direct experience with corporate, entrepreneurial, governmental and non-profit clients, having advised them on all aspects of their online initiatives. Prior to his Internet career, he served as a Senior Vice President of AIG Marketing, doing business in 135 foreign countries as well as the United States. Stewart is an experienced public speaker and communicator, with worldwide experience; an expert on corporate branding; an accomplished writer, a creative thinker and problem solver.


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