Don’t Quote Me

This is the first of a two-part series on quotes. Today we look at the dark side of collecting quotes.

There’s no empirical evidence to support this claim, but some believe that a guy named Adam holds the distinction of being the first human to start a collection of things.

Adam, as the story goes, lived in the way-back times – like “in the beginning.” And as a side benefit to being the first man on the planet, he got to name all the animals. So, he collected and named them.

“Fuzzy little critter with a fluffy tail eating a nut? I’ll call you a squirrel. Next …”

Since that time, people have been obsessed with collecting things – big things like land or even countries, small things like stamps, rare things like old coins, expensive things like fine art, and weird things like Christmas villages.

Me, I collect quotes.

I know what you’re thinking – “You can’t sell those on eBay.” And you’re right. Quotes don’t bring much on the open market. You aren’t going to retire off what you make from the shoebox full of them in your parents’ attic (although there was one fella who wrote a book based on just such a shoebox).

Still, I like quotes – quotes from movies and books and speeches and articles and historical texts – so I collect them. I keep most of them in Word documents arranged in folders on my computer. I have an entire document, for instance, just for quotes by comedian Steven Wright. (I suspect you’re suddenly thinking that collecting Christmas villages isn’t so strange.)

I’m not the world’s only quote-aholic, however – far from it. There are plenty of us out there, as evidenced by all the places to find quotes on any topic online. Dozens of sites are devoted to it. You can buy books of quotes. There’s no shortage of them in framed photos with eagles and mountains in the background. And you can flip open almost any nonfiction book (and some fiction books) and find quotes at the start of each chapter. Or go to any presentation by a speaker or corporate trainer, and you’ll no doubt see quotes scattered throughout their mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations.

Quotes on leadership – and most quotes relate somehow to leadership – are particularly popular.

In short, if you’re gonna collect something, quotes are a low-budget option with a high utilitarian value.

Ah, but quotes have their dark side. Yes, they do.

For starters, we’ve become overly dependent upon them, especially in business. We live in a world where original ideas are scarce, so we lean on the quotes of others to express our ideas for us. Rather than push ourselves toward a little creativity, we hit the easy button: Google me up a quote!

Another problem with quotes is that they can make fibbers of us because, news flash, Google isn’t perfect. The liars and the lazy roam the Internet like gnats, and they mix with the incompetent to infect the entire system with a truth-killing virus that spreads like a plague.

Yes, that description is a bit heavy, but I didn’t edit it out of this blog because, well, I really liked it. Feel free to quote me on it. But remember this: when “sourcing” a quote, a quick Google search is a sure way to bad attribution. So, make sure I’m the one who really said it.

Next week, Part II: Why the best advice on leadership sometimes isn’t so good after all.