Friday, September 22, 2006

Yes. And I also oppose motherhood, apple pie....

Rummaging through my closet this morning in search of a dress shirt that's (a) clean and (b) appropriate for television,* I got to thinking about how often I'm asked, by media types, why I "dislike advice books." During one particularly combative radio interview a year ago July, the host challenged me with, "How can you possibly be against personal growth!"

Folks...I do not "dislike advice books," and I certainly am not "against personal growth" (!) I do have a problem with the particular sub-category of advice books and associated programs loosely bracketed as self-help, for reasons I outline at great length in a book called SHAM. One of my biggest problems with self-help, in fact, is that it too often stunts personal growth (an irony also explained in my book). Even then, I think some self-help books and programs are less objectionable than others. It may surprise you to know that I think Tony Robbins' materials are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the genre. My gripe with TR is in the area of marketing and promotion, or a better phrase might be overmarketing and overpromotion; I think that Robbins recycles and delivers his (pricy) content through too many channels, and because his gullible core audience has been conditioned to regard their fearless leader in an almost cultish manner, they gobble up each "new" product in an unthinking, Pavlovian fashion. While we're on the subject, I also think that Tony incorporates too many schlocky touches that he doesn't need to incorporate: the fire walks, the on-stage gimmickry that reminds one of faith healing. To me, this reveals a certain lack of confidence in his material's ability to stand on its own merits--which a fair portion of it actually can. That's because it's actionable (e.g. "ask better, more specific questions and you'll get better, more specific answers").

Actionability is the key here. Let's use as an example a very pedestrian piece I found this morning that concerns your car's "check-engine" light**, what it means if the thing comes on, and what you should do, or not do, about it. In a lively format, the author provides a series of specific diagnostic steps you should take in sorting through this near-universal car owner's dilemma. (I know many people, myself included, who have driven with the check-engine light staring up at them for two years.) He doesn't give you a series of affirmations you should repeat in the mirror before talking to your car or your mechanic. He doesn't tell you that if you "expect" your car to run 200,000 miles with that freakin' light on, it somehow, magically, will. He simply walks you through the point-by-point process of dealing with your own warning light.
There is also, on AOL today, a feature on "how to marry a wealthy man," which I refuse to link to because I deem it, well, tacky and disgusting. (Besides, I'm not wealthy.) That said, it does contain some actionable tips for the golddiggers in AOL's vast audience.

More later, if I get back from the city in time and intact...

* Heading off to the city today to tape a FOX segment and probably MSNBC as well, in connection with SHAM's forthcoming paperback release.
** Come to think of it, can a piece about cars be pedestrian?


Anonymous said...

Ha! Good catch re: pedestrian. Very funny!

Anonymous said...

Funny post, good luck in the city, which I assume is New York.