Monday, July 03, 2006

An offer you can, and should, refuse.

There's something else in Robert Allen's latest solicitation that I'd like to address, and it's of sufficient moment that, in my view, it deserves a post all its own.

Toward the end, as he rouses to his finish ("the close," in sales parlance), Allen falls back on another of those "SHAM Hall of Fame" statements that's often said as though it were some timeless profundity and is never challenged: "For you to get different results in your life," he writes, "you've got to do something different." (Try it sometime during conversation: Wait for the appropriate context, then make the remark in any random crowd of people and watch the heads nod enthusiastically around you; you may even get an "Amen!" or two.) You'll more often hear this with the emphasis reversed: "If you keep doing the same thing, you'll get the same results." Or, in its strongest form: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." This last, by the way, is usually attributed to Albert Einstein (though others trace it back to a Chinese proverb), which just goes to show you, nobody's perfect. My point being that regardless of the exact verbiage or the pedigree of the author, this is one of those latter-day cultural givens that "everybody knows"...and, like most things everybody knows, it's incontestibly false.

Let's leave aside the fact that the axiom basically contradicts another cornerstone SHAM concept: the value of dogged persistence and "never giving up!" What about the fact that over time, people typically get better at doing "the same thing," and therefore reap entirely different "results"? What about the fact that people may be ahead of the curve, and thus "the same thing" that bombed a few years ago becomes "the hot new thing" today, when society catches up? Sometimes it's a matter of having the right stage on which to do the same old thing. One sort of hates to use a lowbrow illustration from sports, but the example that comes most immediately to mind is Dwyane Wade's response to reporters who seemed agog at his electrifying performance in the 2006 NBA All-Star game. Asked, more or less, whether he considered his heroics proof that he'd "arrived," Wade replied, "I'm just doing what I always do. I was in the right place at the right time."

If I had more time to put this post together I'm sure I could cite myriad recent case histories of products, services, whole artistic movements and the like that took years if not centuries to find their audience or otherwise gain traction.... Yeah, I realize that you, Mr. or Ms. Specific Individual, would prefer not to wait centuries to see your dream realized. But you get my point. You never know when these things are suddenly going to "click." In fact, the core notion behind the strategy Allen invokes in his email--"if at first you don't succeed, try something different"--is the bane of inventors and visionaries everywhere. On the other hand, you seldom know when the quest is hopeless until it's far too late. I'm reminded of the late Mario Puzo's struggle to find a publisher for his manuscript about a mob family called the Corleones, back in the late 1960s. Unimaginable as it seems today, he was famously rejected by dozens of publishing houses, reportedly including several houses twice. "Nobody would take me," Puzo once said in an interview. Finally Putnam offered him a paltry $5000 advance and we all know what happened next. The Godfather (book and movies) didn't just chronicle one aspect of American (sub)culture--it forever changed the culture as a whole, from the way we speak to the way we perceive the complexities, inconsistencies and gray areas of human behavior. The 1972 film, for which Puzo also wrote the screenplay*, is on every major reviewer's short list of the "best American movies ever made"; on imdb (internet movie database) it has held the number one rating, as the best American film ever, for as long as I've been using the site. Should Puzo have given up after rejection number 15 or 20 and "tried something different"? Hey, some might argue that he should have. But I'll tell you one person who definitely doesn't know the answer: Robert Allen. Nor do Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil.

You see, I don't dispute the premise behind Allen's statement: that there almost surely comes a point in most folks' lives when it would be to their advantage to abandon the path they've been on in order to try a new path. But the dilemma here is the same as it is throughout SHAMland: No guru can tell you when your specific time is, or what your new path should be. And no one-size-fits-all program can even provide much useful insight as you try to find personally relevant answers to that enigma. That is an area in which you must, indeed, help yourself....

* Director Francis Ford Coppola is given a co-writing credit.


Anonymous said...

Steve unless I missing something you contradict yourself. Sometimes you seem to be saying that people should stirve for what they want and recognize no limits like you do here. Sometimes you seem to be saying they should recongize that they can't have what they want. So which is it??

Steve Salerno said...

It is neither, Anonymous. And it is both. The fatal flaw in the movement--I tried hard to make this clear in SHAM--is that the two primary self-help camps tend to gather, respectively, at the "magnetic poles" of the movement: either you're a forever-victim and powerless over your environment, or you're fully empowered and the sky's the limit. (Some gurus will argue both points depending on their mood--I use Dr. Phil as an example of this in the book, on page 68; also see the section on "con-trepreneur" Joe Jennings.) The truth is somewhere in between. But you can't sell books with that message--"maybe you can do it, maybe you can't, you have no way of knowing till all the shouting's over." That is why I attack both camps--because they knowingly oversimplify the message in an effort to sell books and seminar tickets. And the oversimplified message they end up selling has little true relevance to daily life, and does no one any real good.