Thursday, April 27, 2006

Just do it! And they will, if need be.

Faithful readers will recall that in SHAM, as well as in a prior post to this blog, I spoke of the original conception of "self-help," which had little to do with touchy-feely psychobabble and everything to do with purposeful action (primarily in the areas of common law and mental health). The New York Times evokes that earlier conception of self-help in the title of an article about the tenants of several thousand Manhattan high-rise apartments and condominiums, who are gearing up for one of the greater joys of urban living--a strike, in this case by building-services employees. The Times notes that New Yorkers (historically unflappable and renowned for their resolve in the face of even the most extreme crises and hardships) are also queueing up to volunteer for the sundry tasks normally handled by union workers. These include "doorman duty, garbage detail and elevator operation."

The Times piece goes on to note that "there has been no shortage of guidance on how to prepare, including booklets with titles like 'In the Event of a Strike'...and 'Residential Building Preparedness Information' from the Realty Advisory Board. Both are replete with sample job assignment charts, sample notices to residents and sample signs.... They also include advice on topping off oil tanks in advance, checking boilers and water tanks, printing identification cards for residents, setting up a committee to check on the frail and elderly, collecting mail from the post office if necessary, talking to service contractors in case of emergencies, arranging for package delivery and more."

You notice it doesn't say anything about "keeping a positive mental attitude" or "walking like a winner!" The information being disseminated is pointed and functional.

See, this is why I get so frustrated when I hear about things like Meeting Professional International's 2004 online survey of corporate meeting planners and HR types, which showed that 81 percent of them would rather focus their meetings around a rah-rah motivational speaker (or some comparably frilly celebrity*) than around someone who can come in and impart hands-on, tactical, actionable expertise. Yeah, I know--hands-on, tactical, actionable expertise is tedious, especially when your convention is being held in Maui and your mind is already out at poolside, waiting for the 2 p.m. luau. But wasn't the whole point here to engineer success? To help people actually do better at their jobs and at life? That's something that--I say again--isn't going to happen merely by your standing in front of the mirror each morning chanting "I am successful and well-liked, I am successful and well-liked, I am..." (Nor is it going to happen by having someone stand in front of you and chant it at you.) Success is not, per se, a state of mind. Despite what you may hear from the likes of Tony Robbins and Oprah, I'd argue that a positive state of mind is far more likely to be the result of success than the cause of it. Sure Donald Trump has a "positive outlook"--he's a freakin' billionaire! And even though he's had his ups and downs, those ups and downs have played out at a far more exalted level than 98 percent of the rest of us will ever experience. So if Trump "expects the best," he has damn good reason for it.

Success is a process, and process implies action. Even when it means something as simple and pedestrian as opening the front door for your neighbors or taking out their garbage in a pinch.

* "A high-powered business executive" did come in third in the MPI survey. But what meeting planners usually want from such a figure is not "tactical" information, but more of an abstract, ultra-high-level pep talk. Companies don't bring in Bill Gates to hear him prattle on about how he overcame code errors in prototypical versions of DOS. They want to hear him prattle on about the "glory" of building a gunslinging, billion-dollar enterprise, the "energy" of the Microsoft environment, etc. So really, for my money--or theirs--this too falls under the heading of a "motivational speaker."


Rodger Johnson said...

Interesting post. Reminds me of Maria, a positive-talking, positive-thinking student who never broke her inertia. She failed my class by the way – twice! Dropped out of school, got knocked up (again!!) and I see her every once in awhile working at the corner 7-Eleven.

She talks about how Dr, Phil’s advice is getting her life back in order. How she’s feeling good about herself and knows that things are going to change. But when I ask her, as I did two days ago, what’s she done to instigate that change, she held up Life Strategies.

“I’m sure this will help me,” she told me.

Mind you, Life Strategies is one of Dr. Phil’s first forays into self-help after his nations appearance on Oprah. His advice to Maria is a pithy little life law: “There is no reality, only perception.” Which tells Maria that working at 7-Eleven, isn’t real, and that the welfare isn’t going to run out one day, and that if she doesn’t do something, I’ll be seeing her behind the corner for as long as I fill up at that gas station.

Steve Salerno said...

Bravo, Rodg. Well-thought, and well-put.

Anonymous said...

Yes this has always been my gripe against self help as well.. too mcuh talk, not enough action, even though I do think the pep talks can be helpful in the right context. It takes a blend. But keep calling it as you see it! Great blog.