You too can be a rich, successful self help guru, just study the seven habits that all righ, successful self help gurus develop.
The Seven Profitable Habits of Self Help Gurus
The title is a shameless parody of Steven R. Covey’s multimillion selling "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" of course. And why not, he is one of the leading exponents of a craft I am about to debunk.
Around fifteen years ago, as a consultant, I frequently used to come across people who would speak of Covey’s book in the reverential tones religionists reserve for their sacred texts.
The book (Covey’s book not The Book) was about success, or as D.H. Lawrence put it "the bitch goddess success," so it was perfect bedtime reading for the driven young executive because it seemed to offer the obsessively ambitious a shortcut to their goal.
Another book that made somebody rich bore the title "In Search of Excellence." This looked at the qualities that make a successful organisation.
In a society built of selfishness the self - help industry had tapped a rich vein.
It could be said that the books enslaved people as effectively as an addictive drug and the psychology of self help is certainly similar, the unfulfillable promise is there, the great secret will be revealed of how to achieve not the best time you ever had but: promotion, wealth, status, happiness, a fulfilling relationship, perfect mashed potatoes - no, scrub that one - and popularity. All anybody needs to do is read the book, apply its techniques and everything will just happen.
And if it doesn’t, you are a failure, loser, dick - head, a no - mark. Go down that road and you only have one place to turn. More self help.
Surveys have shown that despite the self - justifying claims of those who followed the advice offered in self help books, they have not actually done better on average, nor have their businesses. Publishers may produce the one person in a hundred who can truthfully say "after reading this my life took off." It is not in their interests to highlight the ninety - eight who have been subject to life’s usual ups and downs or the one whose life has fallen apart, who is living in a hostel, unemployed, bankrupt.
That the self help advice does not actually work is no surprise to those of us who approach all things with a healthy degree of scepticism. The advice seems remarkably similar across the board: make lots of lists so you look efficient; learn to shift blame (they call it delegating but there is a huge difference); sing most loudly when singing one’s own praises; work hard - well put in the hours at least; be a bully - again they are mealy mouthed, calling it assertiveness; manage your time effectively and most of all prioritise what you have to do. So here, so that you too can be a millionaire self help guru are:
The Seven Profitable Habits Of Self Help Gurus.
The first profitable habit of is State The Obvious.
The one that always gets me is "prioritise." Does a drunk not prioritise going to the pub. Does a great Dad not prioritise spending time with the children, a writer makes a priority of having quiet time at the keyboard and a biker will push everything aside in order to spend time on the road. We don’t think of these things as prioritising because they are the things in life that are important to us, that make life worth living. We prioritise going to work over doing things we enjoy because we need to keep a roof over our head and food on the table.
Give tips like "keep a diary so you do not forget appointments / birthdays etc." Everybody knows this is common sense but proclaim it as a great revelation. Recommend that people suck up to the boss, evade responsibility, shift blame and in times of difficulty always take refuge in bureaucracy and avoid having to make desicions. I remember one little video clip of a well known guru who showed how to deal with a problem like this:
Employee: We have a problem boss.
Boss: What is your problem Fred.
Guru (to camera) : See how the boss shifted that problem back to Fred and delegated responsibility. What is YOUR problem.
Well that’s fine except in the real world if a member of the team has a problem ultimately its the boss’ arse that is on the line. If that does not apply then the department is not functioning but simply playing politics.
The second profitable habit is Make Big Assumptions. Your readers are going to be ultra conformists so pretend that everybody except the losers is doing the stuff in the book. Play on people’s insecurities. You may doubt the effectiveness of this, surely you think, people are not so gullible?
Are the Scientologists making money? You see what I mean?
Not everybody in the world has to be insecure so long as enough are to make your book a best seller.
Next on the list comes Adding Value. Now there is not really much to a self help book, no plot, no character development, the writer can’t go in for long descriptive passages to create atmosphere or action scenes with plenty of short, snappy sentences. So how do they make a very thin book look very thick and thus seem good value for money.
Bullet lists, that’s how. Waffle on for a few pages about the importance of, say making checklists lists - and then summarise what you have written.
Why Make Checklists Lists ?
- To organise your thoughts
- provide a memo of the major points
- keep a record of progress by checking off completed tasks
- create a discussion document
- because lots of paper impresses the boss
- it looks important
and so on. It does not take many words to fill a page like that and the thicker a book is, the more impressive it looks.
Back up with your lists, a few spreadsheets and pie charts, you can make your advice seem far more important and thus add value to your reputation.
At Number Four is Be Patronising. Remember you are the successful multi - millionaire author of self - help books and your readers are going to be sad losers who wannabe you. Let them know how sad they are, let them know what a bunch of losers they are. Let them know their place in the food chain is like that of lettuce in the salad bar of life. They only exist to fill the empty spaces. Don’t worry, they will swallow it, after all they want to be like you.
Raise their self esteem by showing them respect and you risk losing a sale. The people who buy your book are nobodies and they can only become somebodies by giving you money.
Five is to write really stupid, trivial things as though they are big deal. There are no new ideas so why waste effort on trying to be original. A favourite phrase of self - help authors is "position yourself to take advantage of opportunities."
Now think about that... and you will ask yourself "what the hell does it mean."
Look, imagine it is lunchtime. You are passing a pizza shop and the aromas of onions, garlic, basil and tomatoes make you mouth water. So you go in.
Did you position yourself to take advantage of your opportunity to buy pizza or did you simply grab a bite of lunch? See how to inflate the mundane.
At six, sell something that does not exist. Its is difficult to be successful selling paint or cars or toothpaste. Everybody knows what they are worth, there are lots of outlets selling them and people can compare price, quality etc. But if you sell dreams and promises, all you have to do is convince people that your brand of advice will help them achieve their goal of success, wealth, happiness, promotion, a shag or world domination and you can name your price.
Probably the most successful companies in the early 21st century are investment companies and crackpot religions (sic). Investment Companies make billions but what do they sell? The future. Not just futures or derivatives or stocks and bonds but the future. Promises. Crackpot Religions are even better at selling something that does not exist, they sell salvation. From what? From the fires of hell, mortality, judgement, accountability? Or... from our insecurities?
A variant of self help is "lifestyle". Again it is something that does not exist and yet it makes millions for those who market it properly. Make cheap pine furniture from Sweden into "affordable modular lifestyle enhancing home equipment for the aspirational young professional" and you quadruple its value.
And the final highly profitable habit, you must always be positive. OK the self help writer knows that what they write is absolute claptrap, but in their who attitude when writing, addressing a seminar, giving a speech, or appearing on a talk show is one of utter assurance. These peoples’ certainties are more deeply embedded than those of a doorstep evangelist. And whatever question they are asked, like a doorstep preacher, they will have the answer right off pat. And they will answer fully and frankly not the question they have been asked but the question they wanted to be asked. And of course the answers will all bear a positive spin. Never allow a chink of doubt to show.
So is there any value in all the self - help books? Well here is what they do, its a very simple technique. Most people would like to be billionaires, so the authors look at billionaires. And people who have become billionaires tend to have a few things in common. Most of them eat eggs for breakfast for a start. And they love what they do, in fact they tend to be obsessed with it. Forget correlation does not prove causation, it will seem to if you point it out assertively enough.
Most of us eat eggs for breakfast at some time so actually eating eggs does not mean you will become a billionaire even though breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Similarly being dedicated to your career may get you a long way but it will not guarantee success on your own terms. Bill Gates loves software and Warren Buffett loves dealing investments. Are there not plenty of Software wizards living modestly and earning average salaries or investors whose love of dealing stock and bonds has lost them a fortune? Passion is not everything, talent is important too but luck, sheer chance, plays the biggest role. You have to be in the right place at the right time.
The same rules apply in business. I used to do business with EDS, a company that had a convention among executives, they wore dark suits with a white shirt of blouse and a self coloured tie or belt. Naturally one self help for organisations book cited this as one of the reasons for their success. But Microsoft executives often wear jeans and sweatshirts to work and this has been cited as one of the reasons for their success. So which one is right?
Is the secret of success in the self - help industry starting to reveal itself. All the self - help author does is look at Billionaires after they have become billionaires or corporations that are successful and point to things they have done as being the reasons why they are successful. If somebody could take a hundred ordinary people with ordinary lives and in five years make them all into millionaires or superstars or whatever then we would have a theory worth applying. It would still not be a panacea for the travails of life, for every leader there has to be a number of followers, for every winner there are a number of losers and for every billionaire there must be many people who are broke. The idea that through hard work and dedication anyone may be a success is a cunning piece of social engineering but it quickly collapses when you remember the difference between anyone and everyone and between may and will.