Personalization or phony (or both): How do you know the difference?

guru albert Schweitzer
Brian Tracy discovered some truths by visiting Albert Schweitzer in Gabon in the mid 1960s. Notably, if you dig into Schweitzer's past, you''l find incongruities. Gurus have real value -- but you need to know when to stand back and think for yourself.

This afternoon I have a scheduled phone conversation with an internationally effective marketing and sales guru. I won’t prejudge the conclusion because what I see at the moment is the magical combination of marketing hype/bs with an under-level of solidly useful material.

The consultant cites testimonials from Brian Tracy as an example. Indeed, I recognize Tracy for providing the seed material that led to my second major life epiphany (which, like the first experience, happened in April). In a moment of truth, I absorbed into my thick skull Tracy’s?mantra: “I am responsible for myself . . .” casting aside blame and anger against any purported injustice to me in the past, and went about working on making things right. This turned out to be a crucial attitude shift, leading to my marriage and financial security.

Yet there was another side to the Tracy story, which stopped me from being a blind disciple. I interviewed him after one of his rah-rah presentations in Toronto, where?he proceeded to slag journalists, which seemed like a dumb thing to do in the presence of a journalist. He indicated?writers are looking for trouble and have no real substance behind their lives.

However, ironically, Tracy like me both grew up in Vancouver BC — he is about a decade older — and we both discovered our life visions through extensive overland journeys through Africa as young adults. The difference between Tracy and me is that my discovery happened to occur as a working journalist — and of course, I now happen to be one of a relatively small number of writers who developed enough sales and business-management skills to end up owning a publishing business.

My perceptions of Tracy, his clients and the disciple-following “self-help” world were also influenced by an interview a few years ago with Geoff Laundy, who travelled with Tracy for in his major African journey and today lives in San Diego (where Tracy also lives). It also seems the consultant I will be speaking with this afternoon also had lived in the San Diego area.

(Tracy and Laundy’s overland African experiences, leading them to a meeting with Albert Schweitzer in Gabon, far exceeded mine, but I still had the special opportunity to experience the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war conclusion as an expatriate journalist there.)

So, the question arises: When do you believe in the marketing message of these gurus, and when should you stand back and say enough: “This is phony. This is expensive. And this doesn’t teach me anything I couldn’t learn at much lesser cost through simple psychological counselling or a basic literature review?”

The best answer I can offer in response is to appreciate three rules:

The 80/20 principle

You’ll gain 80 per cent of the value from 20 per cent of the effort. You’ll spend 20 per cent of your money on 80 per cent of the value. BUT, going ahead and pushing out that extra 20 per cent will give you the edge because 80 per cent won’t do it.

In other words, you can probably get most of what you need without expensive upgrades and fee-paid programs. If you travel down the path of paying the high fees, however, you’ll make a commitment to the process, which leads to the next principle.

The greater the perceived personal risk/sacrifice, the more you will value the results

If you are scraping everything you have to go see your guru/expert, you’ll listen to every word, and follow every bit of advice you can soak up. If the guru has even an ounce of value/credibility, you’ll gain useful results and insights simply because of your attentiveness.

Conversely, if the expensive guru program is just an “expense account” item you can charge to someone else, or you are so wealthy that it doesn’t matter to drop $10K for a seminar, you’ll probably end up feeling you may have wasted your money, or even if you don’t, you won’t really get that much from the experience.

Gurus and marketers get to be great because they know how to upsell. You need to know when to take the bait, and when to run. In the end, you will achieve success when you can be confident you are thinking both rationally and independently.

I respect motivational speakers, marketing gurus and business experts/leaders. They’ve achieved success and authority and there are magical elements within their work that will lead to greater insights and achievements. But I hope you can maintain a critical perspective of this process, and know how to think and make your own decisions.

After this afternoon’s conversation I might hitch a ride with the guru. Or we may part company for good. I respect great advice and ideas. I’ll pass on the hype.

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