I always look forward to the free Fast Company Magazine e-newsletter, Fast Take. The newsletter kicks off with a quote which links to a related feature and then offers a handful of articles related to the topic of the week.
Here was today's quote:
"What executives fail to realize is that the life-changing insights sold by the motivational industry are the source of their problems rather than the solution." - E. Lawrence Kersten, Co-Founder, Despair Inc.
It then links to the Fast Company article, Soul Assassins, about Despair.com - a very funny website that parodies the once-successful Successories - the famed company that designs, manufactures, markets and distributes business and personal motivational and self-improvement products. You have seen their posters which usually have a picturesque mountain shot with a word like "Achievement" and then a pithy saying: "Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."
Despair is the Saturday Night Live of Successories - it's more like Jack Handy's Deep Thoughts. Here's the intro to Soul Assassins:
"The posters started appearing in 1998 or so, parodies of classic inspirational motivational kitsch. They were sly, mordant pinpricks aimed at corporate America's healthily inflated self-image. Under a photo of two executive-class hands gripped in a manly handshake, there appears an aphorism - Consulting: If You're Not Part of the Solution, There's Good Money to Be Made Prolonging the Problem. Below a beautiful photo of a silvery salmon vaulting up crashing rapids into the open mouth of an awaiting golden bear, we see this legend - Ambition: The Journey of a Thousand Miles Sometimes Ends Very, Very Badly. Beneath a shot of a small circled group of race-and-gender-diversified workers performing a basketball team's traditional hands-in ritual, we read this reminder - Meetings: None of Us Is as Dumb as All of Us."
Other articles in Fast Company's Fast Take look into the world of motivational speakers and how sometimes coaches and people of this nature can actually hinder or hold back the individual's success. At its core, the motivation and self-actualization business is just that: a business. There are few speakers and authors out there that have a silver bullet or are saying anything new that hasn't already been documented by Napoleon Hill or Dale Carnegie. Much like choosing a diet or an MP3 player, consumers of this industry are defining their success by choosing personal guru "brands." This is not a complaint about the industry, quite the opposite. If you attend something as diverse and fascinating as The Power Within - which is taking place in Montreal on July 8th, 2005 - you will get everything from Dr. Phil to master negotiator Herb Cohen to up n' coming motivational genius, Mike Lipkin. That kind of mix, in a one day format, usually does change lives. And those lives should still be able to enjoy things like Despair.com or Dilbert.
The answer to the questions put forward by Fast Company is actually quite simple: the motivation industry is serious business with serious bucks and serious speakers. The people in this industry work hard to market and brand themselves. It's one of the hardest industries to build true brand equity in. That being said, even those serious speakers will tell you that you have to be able to laugh at everything. Including yourself.