Tuesday, January 23, 2007

(the) Nerve of Steele?

I'm always amused when a self-help guru shifts into serious pot-calling-the-kettle-black mode. A fine specimen comes to us today via this press release about life coach Devlyn Steele. "There are plenty of self-help gurus selling books, tapes, seminars, and programs that the millions who pay for them hope will change their lives, but certified life coach Devlyn Steele says reading a book or spending a few hours at a seminar are [sic] not enough," poses Streele, who is not only the resident guru here but also the official "press contact" listed at the bottom of the release. "People continue to flock to programs that claim to provide ways to improve their life in one way or another, and billions* are being spent. The reality is that there is no real evidence that these programs succeed... You cannot read a book or attend a seminar over a weekend, and wake up Monday morning with a new behavior. Learning and being able to change behavior and apply what you learned are very different."

Pretty damning stuff. Few minced words. And if he'd left it right there, I'd have no quarrel with the man who has "often been referred to"—albeit usually by himself—"as America's leading life coach." Of course, Steele doesn't leave it there. He's dissing the rest of the SHAMscape purely in preamble to his own buzz-building effort for something called Tools To Life. More on this in a sec.

Dissing things that aren't him is actually a favored tactic of Steele's. Among his targets, on another of his sites and linked pages (there are about 159** of them), is formal psychotherapy. Oh, sure, he's careful to emphasize that coaching is not therapy—CYA and such. But then—after invoking Freud—he subtly but efficiently explains why coaching is better: "Therapists are not there to give you magic answers. In therapy you look for your right answers, but this can fall short. In therapy it can take years to achieve goals. The ideas in coaching are to help you learn to take control of your life today. Regardless of the past, you can still make decisions every day to live a happier, healthier and better life. Coaches believe you can be in charge, be responsible and achieve results right now!" Condensed version: Coaching provides the magic answers.

Notwithstanding his marketing-savvy attempts to differentiate himself from the crowd, most of Steele's patter sounds like standard-issue Empowerment, flavored with those all-pervading latter-day motivational condiments native to The Secret. As Steele says on one of his pages, "We become what we think," and, "If you think success, success will happen." (Sound familiar?) He claims that success has definitely happened for his own Tools To Life participants, TTL being what he calls a "social networking" site that "provides the tools that self-help books and seminars fail to provide." He describes it as "the first web site to provide an actual 'toolbox' with a fully interactive, multi-media guided self-development program to enable you to grow and expand your life. You choose whether you work alone, with your friends, or with new friends through our support network. They provide the encouragement, feedback, and support missing from other self-improvement programs."

I'll give the guy this much: The site and its tools, per se, are free. I could find no particular hidden costs in any of the materials on TTL. And on the surface, at least, those materials are considerable. It's just, there's a certain overall non-specificity to the presentation that might easily leave a person (a) wondering if it's just an extended ad or "teaser" for something more, and/or (b) wanting for Steele's actual coaching services, which are not free: $250 for a 45-minute session. But we'll try not to be too cynical about this.

And to be fair, Steele does include a testimonials page on his primary site. "What Clients Say" showcases effusive feedback from "real" people with such crediblity-inspiring IDs as "Hope, actress," "George, a Captain of Industry," and the irrepressible "Julie," who is "so excited" because she got her "acceptance letter to the University of XXXX." I mean, what further proof could you need?

* No argument there. Currently $10 billion, projected to top $12 billion by next year, as per Marketdata Enterprises.
** I'm using this number as a "figure of speech." So if you're a fan of coaching, or Devlyn, please don't go counting up the sites and impugn me on that basis.


a/good/lysstener said...

Steve, I think the diet stuff is excellent; I circulate it among all of my weight-obsessed friends. Tho I have to admit I'm glad to see you get back to the "real" self-help content once in a while simply b/c it's more fun! Posts like this make it very clear how much hypocrisy and empty rhetoric there is in self-help.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Alyssa. You're not the only person who's commented to me (the others were off-blog) that "hey, this diet stuff is cool, but, um, the self-help stuff is kinkier and more fun." Thank you also for circulating the blog, which brings me to a second observation: We are getting dramatically more "hits" than we used to, weekly. But it is resulting in the sale of fewer books. (Usually there is a proportional relationship to the number of new SHAMblog visitors and the copies of SHAM sold that week.) That's not going to effect whether I keep posting diet material (there is more coming) and other material related to my new, "mystery project." But it's an interesting development to consider.

Anonymous said...

Can't identify myself, even as much as I'd like to, but we had an executive coach come in and talk to us at work, the usual motivational stuff plus some brilliant insights like "identify what you want and go after it." And I'm thinking, We took how much out of the corporate training budget to pay this person to say that?

Steve Salerno said...

Hmmm. Somehow I think I know who this is (immediately above), but don't worry, I'm not gonna "out" you. On the other hand, it could be almost anyone, because I hear similar stories all the time: the "we're actually paying this person to tell us that??" reaction. And remember, this is at a juncture in American corporate history when training budgets are declining, as a percentage of overall corporate expenditures.

Again, the mind boggles.