"What I do has to be, on some level, fun." That's what Timothy Ferriss says when I ask why, on his popular website, he digresses so often from his core message about mastering delegation (or "outsourcing your life," as he puts it). A sporty blond guy with a perpetual wry grin on his face—like he knows something you don't—Ferriss has lately been chronicling the three-minute breath-holding experiments he conducted under the tutelage of his pal David Blaine. "I'll put up a blog post," he explains, "because I find it amusing."
He also knows it'll get a rise out of people. When he noisily trumpets all manner of personal triumphs involving, randomly enough, kickboxing championships and tango dancing (he and a partner set a world tango-spin record on Live! with Regis and Kelly), he knows he's branding himself as the time-management expert who does crazy-ass stunts.
In Guru Nation, obnoxious trumps obscure any day. And in a way, the P.T. Barnum-esque antics of Ferriss and his cohorts aren't that different from the sort Carnegie—who changed his name from Carnegey so people would think he was related to the robber-baron Carnegies—had up his sleeve. Vaynerchuk talks of one day owning the Jets and typically punctuates his on-camera wine-tasting sessions by spitting into a metal bucket emblazoned with the team's logo.
Though Vaynerchuk and Ferriss have entrepreneurial backgrounds, business experience is hardly a prerequisite for contemporary guruhood. Intuition proponent Laura Day is (seriously) a psychic. Malcolm "Tipping Point" Gladwell, who put forth a similar trust-your-gut message in his book Blink and commands $50,000 and up to speak at business conferences, has spent most of his career as a staff writer at The New Yorker. And Lewis Howes played wide receiver in the Arena Football League—until a mangled wrist put his right arm in a cast for six months.
"I was on a couch—I went from one sister's house to my brother's house," says Howes of the unlikely genesis of his gurudom two years ago. "It was basically survivor mode. All I had was a laptop, clothes, and a couch. I spent about six to eight hours a day for six months learning about Linkedin and online marketing." That led to a seeming insta-career as a social-media consultant—one that produced a book (LinkedWorking) got him mainstream media coverage from BusinessWeek and Fast Company, and gave him the juice to launch a website and host conferences aimed at helping sports agents and marketers to network. Turns out that "Show me the money!" guys across the country were keen on finding new ways to interact.
The new-economy gurus, of course, are all about networking—and jockeying for position with one another. "I'm like a younger Gary V. or Tim Ferriss," says Howes. Dan Schawbel, a clean-cut, baby-faced go-getter—imagine Alex P. Keaton reincarnated as David Archuleta—who markets himself as the personal-branding expert for Gen Y, put, yes, Gary Vaynerchuk on the cover of his Personal Branding magazine. And though Schawbel is the author of Me 2.0—new-economy guruhood, oddly enough, always seems to require a dead-tree book—he can't recommend other books because, he says, he rarely cracks them open: "I get all my content from the Web. I skim like 500 to 1,000 blogs a day." Vaynerchuk likewise insists that "I've never read a business book in my life." Not even the tome written by the guy who was kind enough to give him a gushing blurb for Crush It!, Tim Ferriss? "I've never read one sentence of Tim's," Vaynerchuk says. "Not one." Still, that doesn't stop him from endorsing Ferriss: "I respect guys like him to no end, because if you're able to build something, you're able to build something."