Self Help And Other Sources Of Confusion

The old J.C. Whitney catalogs are long since gone.  Most of the teenage boys or men, depending on how one might wish to classify them, had at least one copy of that automotive catalog in their room.  Back in the fifties and into the sixties that catalog was a sort of bible for those who either were lucky enough to have a vehicle or own a vehicle on which they would work their genius for auto mechanics.  One could order parts for cars and trucks.  Edelbock manifolds, carburetors, pistons, and other wonderful stuff to transform the family sedan into the next speed racer.  Of course there were the plastic dashboard Jesus figures and other relics of good luck or fortune like fuzzy pairs of over sized dice that dangled from the review mirror.  and the catalog would never have been complete without the plethora of power increasing, gas saving, and rust restoring bolt on devices.  Every hustler, crank inventor, or “engineer” would guarantee an increase in engine performance and power of at least twenty five percent.  There were devices that would extend your gas mileage by five or ten or even a hundred miles to the gallon.  And don’t forget the additives than would eliminate the rust in your cooling system and friction in your crank case.  Why, that old straight six cylinder engine or 80 horsepower could be made to exceed six hundred horses if one added all the possible inventions while giving you one hundred and fifty miles to a gallon of gas.  And you could add air conditioning, unheard of for most production vehicles, even limousines.  Well, we all dreamed of that ’32 chopped and channeled Ford with the big block V-8 and racing slicks on the rear.  A few were lucky to settle for a 49 Chevy two door with the 256 cubic inch displacement straight six engine.  If your father hand lots of money you might find yourself with a Vette or GTO.  For the rest of us the only choice we had was the family sedan.  Embarrassment is your father’s Chevy II four door sedan with the three speed on a column and the small under powered four cylinder engine.  It could have been worse, it might have been an old four door Rambler.  Cool was a Plymouth Fury stage three, dork was a Ford Falcon.  Even a Corvair was cooler.

Well, so much for memory lane.  But the above reflects our perceptions of life very well.  You see, back then access to a vehicle defined your life in so many ways.  A guy that had his own car had freedom.  You didn’t have to ask for the car keys or justify your need for the family blimp-mobile.  Just owning a car set you apart from the other guys, gave you a bit more respect in the eyes of your peers.  It also helped you in the competition for the girls.  Now if dad had a really cool car then your position in life went up a few notches.  That’s why the J.C. Whitney catalog came in so handy.  You might be able to add a few items to the family sedan and raise perceptions accordingly.  High school was always about standing out from the crowd through the artificial values.  Being on one of the school sports teams helped your social standing, but not always.  If one was an outsider, not “born” into the clique, breaking in was damn difficult.  For the girls I suspect it was even harder.  The funny part of life is that so many of the in crowd never made it in life.  Those who went to college found themselves as small fish in a big sea.  By the time the seventies were in full swing the campus identities for university and college life had changed greatly.  Small college campuses gave way to larger enrollments.  Back in 1968 San Jose State College had an enrollment of less than ten thousand students, very few of them were night students.  By 1998, San Jose State University had an enrollment of twenty five thousand.  The days of small college closeness has gone and education has become far more impersonal when it comes to institutions.

So society changes over time, and with that change comes changes in sentiments and perceptions.  From before the turn of last century one could find many books homemaking.  Often the subjects ranged from the normal chores of cooking, cleaning, washing, canning, and sewing, to including topics on hobbies, house repair, and perhaps a few other mechanical arts.  I remember that we had several of these volumes in the house.  One might learn how to make electrical repairs or paint a house or grow and can tomatoes.  It wasn’t really until the late thirties one might find self help books on improving one’s personal life.  Yes, my mother had a copy of one of Norman Vincent Peale’s books.  I never read it.  But the late fifties saw an increase in such publication and Ladies Home Journal was full of such articles.  Can This Marriage Be Saved was the one that drew my attention.  My mother was a member of the Reader’s Digest religion.  She always made sure to point out the delightful articles I should read that would make me a better person.  Children aren’t so stupid.  Prescriptive advice has given way to guided advice.  Same thing, really.  Oh, I may get an argument on that comment, but understand that we often see others as having some level of attainment that we lack and so in order to attain that same level we need some prescriptive advice even if it is disguised as a discover of who we are.  It’s the social values that guide our wants and needs.

Now we have perhaps a million books written of the subject of how to do, become, or settle for what ever it is that we need to book.  There are thousands and thousands of blogs to instruct us and Ted  Talks, and expensive workshops and meetings that will tell us just what we need.  Except they don’t.  There is a blog that is run by an MBA grad who has dome a little management consulting.  Now management consulting is a hard racket to break into after graduation for the simple reason that one is an unknown quality.  The only thing you managed was your way through university and grad school, so what experience do you have?  Essentially consulting in the business world is prolonging the problem and being paid to be a part of the problem.  So the young man started a blog about “mastering the best of what other people have discovered.”  His thing is “wisdom” as told by charlie Munger.  I told you, hew obtains an MBA, otherwise know as drone working papers.  I’ve never seen an MBA program that was worth anything.  Just as the Army Officers Guide and the Naval Officer’s Guide cannot teach you leadership, so an MBA is no shortcut to hands on experience.  And much of what you do learn is counter to good business practices.  Leverage is great when sales are expanding, interest rates are low, and debt is easy to pay.  But when sales are down, profits barely alive, and interest rates rise, debt is a very heavy millstone around your corporate neck.

The real problem with all these self help and consulting businesses is that one variable so few individuals understand, individual differences.  This is why teaching creativity is so difficult.  what works for you, assuming you know what creativity really is, does not always work for another individual.  The successful self help book or program is both generic and general.  It cannot be specific.  If you want to learn how to operate a metal lathe, then the steps are quite specific and if you follow and practice them long enough you be become a good lathe operator.  Much of the self help genre is really self fulfilling prophecy.  That is what Neurol Linguistic Theory and therapy is all about, self fulfilling prophecy.  It has no scientific credibility or validity.  Yet thousands pay lots of money to take these courses and therapies with the belief that it will make them better.  It’s like those who believe in the power of prayer, that prayer can cure any disease.  I have news for you.  No it can’t.  for a few, the human mind with its ability to believe can sometimes reverse the course of cancer.  But we are talking the one or two percent of the cases and if you are one of those who relied on such a therapy and did die, then prayer obviously did very little for your body.  Human behavior doesn’t operate on a set of laws as motion and gravity do, it operates on general principles.  Human behavior is more about learning and habituation.  Almost all animated objects or living matter operate on general principles.  Even spiders spinning webs operate of general principle.  I have yet to see one using a tape measure in the construction of its web.  Birds who construct nests from twigs and leaves do not have architectural blueprints for the exact construction of that nest.  due to the nature of the building materials, the nest is more ad hoc than planned undertaking.

So how do I make myself a forceful, dynamic, and compelling personality able to overcome the objections of almost everyone?  You don’t.  You should have started back when you were one year of age, too late now.  We can improve our selves but only to a point.  If one is a man or woman looking for a good and decent mate one of the last places you should be looking is a bar or club.  If you want the hookups, the short relationships, then that is your place.  A lot of “self help” is common sense.  Our schools don’t teach us much in the way or worldly truth.  Diversity is not that everyone loves all the others who are different but really aren’t special.  Friendship, marriage, even religious affiliation is about group membership.  when two individuals start thinking of themselves as a group they are a group.  Being a member of a group means sharing the same goals and values of the members of that group.  The goals and values never are exact and don’t need to be.

Well, how do I get my executive to be more creative and exercise greater leadership?  Oh god, please.  What do you mean by creative?  Oh, we need new products that will get our customers attention.  Really?  If one is making and selling washing machines then why would you want to start making jet engines for passenger aircraft?  How is that creative?  If people need washing machines the what is wrong with making the best washing machines?  Creativity is how one makes the machine good or even the best at the same price as the competition.  the creativity comes from spending a little on research and development to improve both the design of how the machine works and how it is assembled.  As far as having your executive staff become more creative, well, do you really want accounting to get creative and abscond with significant funds for Rio?  Creativity for creativity’s sake is no solution and yet there are management fools who will go to any length to show creativity in the board room.  If it doesn’t contribute to bottom line growth the why worry about it?  Oh, we want to be leaders in the industry.  Then make a better product at a cheaper price, dummy.  The world will always need washing machines, but a lot of new technology turns to shit.  We never needed the Apple Watch.  It does so little in terms of function and has to work with your iPhone or iPad.  Why the hell did you need it?  You could have bought something more functional for a sixth of the money.  There is a difference between self help or management consulting and a constructive use of time, energy, and resources.


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