Friday Round-Up: The Self-Help Sham

Over at BNET this week, I have two posts. The first is called 5 Things To Do With 5 Minutes (Other Than Read This Post). It introduces the concept of using bits of time for bits of joy, and has a few links to fun things to do at the office with 5 minutes before a meeting, like look at online art galleries, or read poetry. The “other than read this post” part is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but gets at this problem: many of us spend vast working hours following link after link. Bloggers know this (that’s why the BNET columns always have “Related” links at the bottom). But it can be a massive black hole of time. I’ve joked that I should write a post called “Don’t click on this link!”

The second post is called Why Most Self-Help Books Suck (And A Few That Don’t). I talk with Christine Whelan, a University of Pittsburgh prof who did her doctoral dissertation on the self-help industry about the problems with many self-help tomes, from made up anecdotes to the promise of easy solutions. She found a few that don’t suck (including 168 Hours!) and had her students test-drive their advice for her new book, Generation WTF. A discussion is starting at BNET on that one, so please go check it out.

As a side note, after writing that post, I finally decided to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937). I found it fascinating from a historical perspective, in that a number of the anecdotes involved folks who had, say, 4 years of schooling, but managed to make something of themselves. This no-school-but-got-rich narrative is very much American folklore. It also seems a lot less likely today (not to mention illegal in an era of compulsory schooling, though I know some unfortunate folks have such horrible schools that they get the equivalent of 4 years… in 12). I also enjoyed all the tales of people who wrote letters to famous people and got responses. Famous people have a lot more handlers now.

4 thoughts on “Friday Round-Up: The Self-Help Sham

  1. Did you think the Carnegie book was still worth reading for its advice, rather than just for historical interest? I keep thinking about reading that too.

    1. @CM – sure, it’s a quick read, and is a good reminder of certain principles, like that people enjoy hearing their own name, and you’re seldom going to win friends by announcing to people that they’re wrong. If you want people to think you’re a great conversationalist, spend most of your time listening and ask them questions about things they value about themselves.

  2. Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft isn’t in the “self-help” genre but might be a good read for many of the anxiety-ridden folks who seek out such books.

    1. @Eleanor – that was a good read, I enjoyed that one. I imagine the desire to work with one’s hands and see the results is one reason gardening (and perhaps chicken raising) is as popular as it is.

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