“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.