The Paradox of Attitudinal Self-Help Books

Marketing author Seth Godin, who I respect a lot, recently published a new book. I want to point out a theme in his blog interviews (which he did instead of a media tour; I haven't read the book itself yet). With Gretchen Rubin there's this exchange:

Q: If you had to sum up in one sentence what you want a reader to understand from reading Linchpin [Seth's new book], what would it be?

Seth: The world wants you to be a faceless, replaceable cog in the vast machinery of production — but if you choose, and you work at it, you can become the sort of person we really need, an indispensable linchpin, a person who matters. The marketplace needs and embraces artists, creatives, initiators, challengers and movers. You have that skill, the challenge is unearthing it.

I.e.: Everyone is an artist, you just need to look within yourself and choose to be one.

With Chris Guillebeau there's this:

Q: According to Linchpin, how do I become an artist? (What if I don’t know what I’m really good at?)

Seth: You do art when you make change that matters, and do it via a connection with an individual. A great waitress or conductor or politician can make art. So can David, who cleans the tables at Dean and Deluca. Art isn’t the job, it’s the attitude you bring to the job and work you do when you’re there.

It's the attitude you bring to the job. The next question:

Q: Are we all really geniuses? If so, what do we do to stop choosing stability over genius?

Seth: Well, if a genius is someone who solves a problem in a new and original way, then sure, you’re a genius. And the first step to making that choice is to know it’s available.

You can't disagree: the first step to solving a problem is knowing you can solve the problem. Again, attitude.

But to actually solve a problem in a new and original way requires much more than just thinking you can do it. For example, to change the world, you need to become really fucking good at something. Yet, unlike Cal Newport's thorough analysis of deliberate practice, the best-selling self-help books don't analyze the research of becoming exceptionally good at something. They stick to attitude. Which is necessary but hardly sufficient.

Here's the paradox: the folks who really need an attitude improvement are probably not aware of alternative mindsets. They do not know they have a "problem," so they are not reading books and blogs about a solution to a problem they don't know they have. The folks who are reading books about how to "crush it" and become a linchpin, by the very fact that they're sought them out, are displaying initiative and spirit. What they need is not another attitudinal pep talk — they need help on step two and three and four.

So who is buying these books? Thesis: Already-motivated people who think just a tiny bit more motivation and inspiration will make the difference. But I'm not so sure it will.

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