Monday, April 09, 2007

How to win, while also losing.

While I was away, someone (who asked to remain anonymous) sent me, off-blog, a lengthy critique of my attack on Patrick Cohn's private-label brand of Sportsthink. And as I framed my reply to this writer, I was suddenly struck by the degree to which Cohn encapsulates just about everything that's wrong with the movement's latter-day attempts to build a harmonious melody out of its array of dissonant themes. After all, the pure Victimization of the I'm OK, You're OK period by now has fallen out of favor except among certain fringe groups.* But the unabridged Empowerment of The Secret is too hokey, too "out there" for some folks' tastes**. This leaves today's more thoughtful SHAMsters scrambling to find a middle ground: a life plan that reconciles all of SHAM's disparate arguments into a coherent whole. Unfortunately, as we saw in Cohn's case, no matter the amount of effort or seductive language, the end results are the same:

Intellectual discord. Practical cacophony.

Consider what Cohn and his think-alikes are, in effect, saying: Try hard...but not too hard. Sure, you absolutely need the will to win...but you can't be so single-mindedly focused on winning that you're unable to rebound after a loss. Be a leader...but also know when to follow. And so forth. (Here's one of my all-time favorites, actually spoken by a motivator retained by my 1970s sales firm to enlighten us in the ways of high-level thinking: "Fly high, but keep your feet on the ground.")

Look, I know what these exhortations are trying to communicate, and they're basically nice thoughts. They probably represent the closest thing to an overall "mental game" that I myself would endorse, were I to gravitate to the dark side and begin writing books with a distinct how-to component (as my agent has long suggested, so that we both can begin making some real money). Trouble is, they're thoughts that defy quantification or formalization. Any such temperate, middle-ground system would have to express itself in terms of so many complex algorithms and sliding scales and if-then conditionals that said system (1) would be inaccessible, if not altogether inscrutable, to most humans, and (2) would have to be individually written for every conceivable scenario that might arise in any individual's life. And even then, there'd be variables that can't be accounted for in black and white (e.g. changing moods, or the different approaches we make to different people based on their personalities or our respective places in the pecking order, etc.). This isn't like assembling a doll house or adjusting the ignition timing on a '74 Camaro. It can't be "taught." At least, not in any way that's guaranteed to have personal validity and/or efficacy for each individual user.

Any guru who "tells you different" is misleading you in order to take your money.

* notably political demagogues.
** though not too many folks, apparently, given its perch at the top of just about every best-seller list these days.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the post you did about the guy who said "if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made." Like the TV ad goes, priceless!

Anonymous said...

It's typical for you Steve, to use what I wrote to you IN CONFIDENCE as a way of picking out a FEW WORDS here and there and using that as an excuse to go into a whole new tirade, yet without even answering or addressing my questions in the first place! It's just like the reviews I see of your book where you take CAREFULLY SELECTED facts OUT OF CONTEXT and use them supposedly to justify the point you were going to make anyway from the beginning. And isn't that just what you accuse other journalists of? If you want to talk HYPOCRISY and DISHONESTY, start with yourself, my friend.

Steve Salerno said...

Anonymous, I addressed your specific questions in an email directly to you earlier today, and you should be well aware of that by now. I did not divulge your identity or even divulge the contents of what you wrote to me, except to say that you had some problems with my earlier post about Patrick Cohn. Today's post is rooted ENTIRELY in my earlier observations about Cohn, and has nothing to do with the email you sent to me; indeed, if you read what I wrote, you'll see that everything in there could've just as easily been written without any reference to your email (or without your sending the email in the first place). Bottom line, I violated no "confidences" here.

As for your comments about SHAM itself... Let me point out that the vast majority of the book's SERIOUS reviewers--the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly and Booklist--wrote glowing reviews of SHAM. And despite the criticisms in the reviews Amazon (for whatever reason) chose as its "spotlights," in the overall, SHAM has been warmly received on Amazon as well, with a total reader ranking of 3.5 stars; it would probably be higher if I organized 5-star review-writing campaigns (or even paid people to write glowing reviews), like many of the gurus do....

Cal said...

In a related matter, one of my favorite players, Cal Ripken, from my favorite baseball team (the Orioles) has really entered the Sportsthink area. He has two books coming out. One is the standard "how to apply my successful sports career to business" and the other is a children's book based on the team's futile 0-21 start in 1988. He also has a child's baseball league that is a competitor to Little League. I admit I heard that he is such a nice guy that I would like to hear him speak and even talk to him, but it would be more to hear his tales about playing pro baseball rather than what advice he could give me on how to succeed in business and life.

Steve Salerno said...

Quick story re Cal Ripken (which is really deserving of a very long story, but I'll try to keep it short): Many of you may know that when I was at Rodale, my job consisted in part of trying to develop self-help books.... Yes, I just admitted that I was responsible for developing self-help books. In my defense, I took the job on a whim--money had much to do with it--but more to the point, I was under the impression that my actual duties would be very, very different from what they turned out to be. This is one reason among many why I lasted just 16 months; I think I was seen as a troublemaker, a heretic, from the outset. Also, at the time, as I explain in SHAM, I had no conception of how few people self-help books actually helped. Many of the insights presented in SHAM were the product of a painstaking putting-things-together process that only began with my exposure to Rodale and its methodologies. Still, I figured that if we were going to develop a how-to-succeed-at-life book, there was no better author than Cal. My working title was "Stay in the Game!", which of course played off Ripken's remarkable dependability as a player. (For those who don't know, he holds the all-time record for consecutive games played, with 2632.) I had a pair of face-to-face meetings with Cal and his reps, and got a beautiful, personally inscribed baseball that remains one of my favorite items of sports memorabilia.

Nonetheless, I knew the project was shaky back at Rodale when one of the senior guys to whom I reported kept referring to The Iron Man as "Carl Rifkin." (This guy, a senior v.p., eventually did learn that the first name was "Cal," but he kept calling him "Rifkin" to the bitter end.) My worst fears were confirmed when Rodale management refused to OK the $50,000 advance I had tentatively negotiated with Ripken and his people. Can you imagine? FIFTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS. That is NOTHING in today's terms, when you're going after top sports celebs. But Rodale thought it was "too much and too risky."

Of course, they later went ahead and did that lame book with Pete Rose, shelling out (reportedly) a seven-figure sum.

Cal said...


Wow! Only 50K! I'm surprised Ripken's reps would even tentatively agree to such a low figure. And Rodale turned that down?! What a bunch of dunces!

Steve Salerno said...

Prior to that, I had something going with Sparky Anderson for around $100K and they nixed that, too. I am quite sure we would've recouped the $100K and then some, just from sales to executives and other guys who were sports fans.

Ah well. Don't get me started. It was another life....

Anonymous said...

NOW I get it! You hate self-help because you couldn't cut it at Rodale. It all makes sense.

Steve Salerno said...

You know, normally I'd reject that comment because it's totally ad hominem and has nothing to do with the facts, as presented in SHAM and even in my previous comments. But I figure, what the heck; the small-minded visitor feels like he has an axe to grind, so let him grind it one last time.

swimming with cherries said...

I feel so let down all these great guys going out of their way to create a program to help the large person within break through my loser outer shell. What do I give back in return? NOTHING

1 I forget to write lists

2 I don't change my global

3 I forget to anchor when I feel

4 I must make it a goal to buy
the newest programmes

After all I can't blame the economy
its all my fault. I mean with my beliefs I'll never be a success will I?

How many people does this tripe destroy a year.

Has there ever been any incidence of the self-help industry driving people to suicide?

Building people up to believe that the only problem in their lives is themselves is a very dangerous game.

Where do you go when none of this stuff works and after twenty attempts you give up.

REMEMBER its all your own fault

Very worrying indeed