Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Curious Case of Self-Help Books

Lately, I have been reading a lot of books -especially self-help books :) Its actually fun to read those ;). For example, the latest one that I read was by Prof. Clayton Christen of Harvard Business School titled How Will You Measure Your Life?

A Harvard Business Review article with the same title was introduced to me during one of MBA elective classes. The article was just amazing that I was eagerly waiting to read his book. While I agree that he has done justice to the book, it was no as powerful as the article! That brought a thought to mind about how the self-help books are written (at least those I have read…)

Often, I feel Calvin was completely right on target :)

Calvin and Hobbes on writing Self Help books

In any self-help book, the author tries to

  1. Convince you that there are problems and its better to tackle those
  1. Convince that you are not alone in facing those problems; its universal
  2. While the problems may not be due to your fault; there is wide scope to improve
  1. The book gives sure short answers on how to tackle them

Lately, I have even seen many authors out rightly suggesting #4 in the above list is not possible and the book will only help you to think :)

My inquisitive mind suggested to read some of the old books on this topic - like those which are decades or hundreds' of years old - like the ones written by Dale Carnegie or James Allen. In one of our MBA elective courses on career management, we even went as deep as discussing the thoughts of philosophers like Socrates and Epicurus. It was fun :)

I believe if we see the modern books on self-help and happiness, earlier authors' and philosophers' thoughts are camouflaged in one way or the other as if they are writing it for the first time. May be the most value add is these authors make it so simple while the early philosophers'' thoughts were very deep. Considering these, I would think the essence of all these books or rather the best thoughts are --

  1. Don't whine about your situation
  2. Decide on priorities and move on
  3. If the course of action you took is not delivering results; just try another one

I am sure your immediate question would be - what if we keep failing on the courses of action we take? Just keep trying :)

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