Pat Williams, the GM of an NBA fanchise, has a book that riffs on UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's Seven Point Creed, given to him by his father Joshua upon his graduation from grammar school. He kept these rules in his wallet throughout his life:
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
These are pretty vague rules, hardly sufficient for a good life in my opinion (what about courage, discipline, gratitude, or prudence?). Yet Wooden was a highly successful man, living for 99 healthy years, producing many championship teams, positively impacting many young men. It reminds me of the editor of the Great Books series, Mortimer J. Adler, who's Synopticon is a very intriguing though flawed philosophy of life, yet, Adler himself was quite successful, and his influence was positive, influencing the Great Books emphasis at the University of Chicago.
Suboptimal hypotheses, rightly worked from, have produced more useful results than unguided observations. I think the key is to be intelligent, start from a decent set of assumptions, and work every day towards becoming a better man. If you use reality as a filter, you will do OK.
Alas, I think more often then not such maxims from famous people are used as signals as opposed to principles. I remember one NYT story about how these junk bond investors were all acolytes of the great Ed Altman, yet I have never met a junk bond investor who thinks highly of such models, and Altman's model is pretty lame, about as powerful as rank-ordering firms by Net Income/Assets. They wanted to project gravitas, so they paid lip service to the old man. Similarly, people highlight their idea is derivative from some esteemed source, but that's merely posturing.
Looking into this further, people might want to give credit to a person they learned how "not to do" something from.
And from another angle, maybe people want to mislead others simply by refering to a well-known (or hardly known, or non-existent) mentor.
I remember reading of two well-known musicians who claimed in interviews that they learned all they knew from a central teacher. It turned out the teacher's name (a play on words, I might add) never existed. They just got tired of answering the question and made up a name, leaving interviewers and editors with hours of fruitless research trying to find out about this "great" teacher.
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