Category Archives: Consulting

Consulting and coaching issues

The Secret Is Out

The Secret Logo

If you caught it on Oprah, or saw the spot on NBC’s Today Show, or have been blown over by any of the other noise, you’ve heard about “The Secret”.

The most hyped book / movie / phenomenon since “The DaVinci Code”, The Secret is (as the many web sites proudly announce) a “New Era for Humankind”. Subtitled “Law of Attraction”, this book claims to be the holy grail, the solution to all life’s problems, the answer to all your dreams. Oh, puleesee.

This book/movie claims to be the holy grail.

Based in some weird science where, because “everything is energy, including you, me, and the sofa”, it really is simply just a new way of taking the power of positive thinking to the heights of hype. By the “Law of Attraction” all you have to do is will your way into a better job, a new car, a new life, and presto, you’ll get it. You see, the story goes, all that positive energy you are imparting through your positive thinking is effecting the physical world.

Created by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret is supposed to be a legacy from years gone by shared by DaVinci, Einstein, and all the great geniuses of history. They have kept this a powerful secret, but Rhonda is the one to share it with the world. From her web site:

One spring day towards the end of 2004, Rhonda Byrne discovered a secret – the secret laws and principles of the universe. Almost immediately her life was transformed, as she began to put into practice what she had learned. It seemed to Rhonda that almost no-one knew the things that she had discovered, even though the concepts could be found in almost every religion and field of human endeavour throughout history. And in that moment her greatest wish, and mission, was to share this knowledge with the world.

Perhaps the most telling part is this later paragraph of the “behind the secret” story:

And on that spring day in 2004, when a small, old book called The Science of Getting Rich was put into her hands, and Rhonda’s whole life suddenly pulled into spectacular focus, she knew exactly what her mission was to become.

No clearer statement of this needs to be made. The secret is “How to Get Rhonda Rich”. You see, Rhonda wanted lots of money, so she conjured up all of this metaphysical horse pooh, wrapped it in some fancy packaging, gathered up a bunch of “experts” (who coincidentally all wanted to get rich), and sold the heck out of it.

The secret is “How to Get Rhonda Rich”.

In fact, the most impressive part of this whole thing is not The Secret, it’s the marketing campaign. The publicity campaign is breathtaking. Multiple web sites (just Google for “the secret”), a “world-first” rollout of the DVD across the globe, a series of shows on Oprah, and on and on, make this one of the most expert publicity campaigns I’ve ever seen.

I have to give the people responsible, Rhonda and her firm called Prime Time Productions, a lot of credit. [ed: that’s a very telling company name, no?] Just getting past the phalanx of producers at the Oprah show is impressive. To leverage that into the world-wide “phenomenon” class is quite a feat. Spend a few minutes trolling their sites if you want to see this effort in action, they expose it all right there, with the press releases, the web marketing programs, and all.

The world’s thirst for “the answer” never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve written about this kind of scam before, and the world’s thirst for “the answer” never ceases to amaze me. But this one is especially virulent. I hope Rhonda and company ride this one hard, because it will be gone in a flash.

If you read much here on my site, you’ll know I’m pretty much a “power of positive thinking” kind of person. Just read the article here, or look at any of my constant preachings on the value of good visions for projects, and you’ll see that I believe strongly that you have to envision a future goal to get there. But this whole mess about scientific proof of positive energy, or that somehow Rhonda Byrne has a magic that you don’t have is simply hype.

To quote Dorothy:

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!

There you have it once again, The Wizard of Oz lays bare all of life’s problems.

Guy Kawasaki

Original Fox Logo
The Fox Logo

Back in 1991 I did a stint as the marketing director of Fox Software (the makers of FoxPro, the famous database system). I had been involved in the technical area for several years, designing and coding the user interface for FoxPro, for example, but I wanted to try my hand at marketing. It was a blast.

Fox had released FoxPro the previous year at a wildly successful Developers Conference. The conference was a Woodstock of PC database people, with the introductory demonstration of FoxPro getting a five-minute standing ovation replete with lighters held high. It was a tough act to follow.

It was up to me to put on the next year’s conference, with no big product to announce, and not a lot to crow about. So I scrounged around for a speaker and found Guy Kawasaki, the original “evangelist”, who had recently moved on from Apple to hang out his own shingle. I talked Guy into coming to Toledo, Ohio and speaking at the second annual Fox Developers Conference.

Guy Kawasaki

Guy was quite a good draw, and people looked forward to hearing him. Just as he was headed for the stage, I asked him if he needed anything. He thought carefully, then looked seriously at me and described a very specific set of Mont Blanc pens. There was a long pregnant pause until I realized he was joking, and after a good chuckle, I introduced him and off he went. I quickly had an assistant run down the street to the jeweler and purchase the pens, so that when he was done speaking, we presented him with the pens in front of the audience. I think we scared him silly.

Today, Guy Kawasaki is a speaker and author. Never suffering from a lack of ego, his web site is, as they say “all about him”. It boldly has a section called “Guy’s Golden Touch” that touts the startups that Guy has been involved with in some way. Not sure how the golden touch is working, but there are some interesting connections.

Guy’s blog on this site is always an interesting read. Although he is want to fall into the trap of making “Top 10” lists (see my post on that here) and some of his advice is a tad pedantic, he is a straight shooter with plenty of opinions on a broad range of subjects. I check the blog every week or so and often find something worth the effort. You might also find it useful.

List Makers and Fakers

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who break the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

Yes, that’s a funny line. It’s funny because it’s ironic to be sure, but like many things, it’s also funny because it is so true.

Letterman's Top 10

It seems like there are a lot of people making lists these days. There is David Letterman’s Top 10 List on the Late Show, Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (an entire industry, apparently), and an old friend of mine is brandishing his 23.5 ways to build teams. And in this time of political fervor right before the election, sticking people in one bucket or another seems obligatory if you want to win an election. There sure are a lot of people who feel a compelling need to compartmentalize.

Top 10 lists are the current rage in the blog world. There’s even a site that collects Top 10 lists, and one that attempts to list the worst Top 10 lists (a monumental challenge). It’s hard to poke around the net without hitting the Top 10 Marketing Mistakes, or Top 10 Ways to Get Hired, and on and on.

There are a lot of problems with these Top 10 lists. They generalize, stereotype, and play fast and loose with the facts. And of course, the world never seems to fall so easily into buckets of ten, and the lists are often strained. You see four or maybe six good points, and the rest of the list is padded with mush or duplicates just to make a list of ten. Or you see a list that’s really two dozen (or is it 23.5?) stuffed and shoe-horned into ten, just to make the somehow magic number.

But, the main problem with all this list making and labeling is that it over simplifies. Life just isn’t that easy, neat, and tidy. There are a lot more mistakes than ten in marketing (just turn on the TV for an hour), and the top 10 list for one situation is rarely the same top 10 for someone else.

Most of the biggest successes violate someone’s top 10 list

In fact, most of the biggest successes violate someone’s top 10 list. This is especially true in marketing, where “out of the box” is more than just a phrase, it’s a path to success. As soon as someone pens a rule that you should never do something, the next great success does precisely that.

So when I encounter one of these lists, it takes all the strength of character I can muster not to pick them to shreds. They must be remarkably easy to create since they proliferate like rabbits. My suggestion is that you ignore these silly lists, or if you must read them, that you call the creator to task for them. Tell them where they fall short, how they over-simplified, and how lazy it was to pass it off as meaningful thought in the first place. It may not stop this proliferation of these stupid lists, but it will certainly feel good.

Snake Oil Futures

I got a little bit of spam today from an acquaintance, someone who had been the moderator at a meeting I attended. I thought to myself, what a remarkable amount of chutzpah it takes to harvest email addresses from the minutes of a meeting you ran. As it turns out I was underestimating his bravado…


You see, he’s a “futurist”, one of those people who makes their living by predicting the future. That’s right, the same kind of people who read tarot cards, stare into crystal balls, and generally swindle gullible people out of their hard earned money.

Time was these people used to be shuffled off into the dark alleys and the county fair. But, because they are well spoken and wear a suit, “futurists” can ply their trade out in the open. No clearer example of the famous observation about fooling people can be found anywhere. These folks fool a broad swath of people, but not indefinitely. And me — almost never.

These folks fool a broad swath of people, but not indefinitely.

When I was first starting in business, I lived two doors down from another “futurist”. He was a very nice man, had a marvelous family, and was doing quite well. They had one of the nicest homes in town, drove very nice cars, and in general made me wonder exactly what he did for a living. So I befriended him to understand how one makes a living at this game.

His method was simple: print a monthly newsletter, give the odd speach now and then (always in exotic locales), write the occasional book, and in general make yourself into a name. And he milked the cow for all it was worth. He charged something like $1500 a year for his newsletter, and rumor was he had something like 2500 subscribers. That’s a clean $3+ million a year, just from the newsletter, the rest was gravy.

The person who spammed me today appears to be doing just fine as well. His mail today was about his latest book, published by a major house, so life must be OK. His website not only has what has to be the killer domain name in his business, but appears to indicate he’s doing just fine. Except that half of the links are broken, and the blog is dead. Seems like he couldn’t see that coming [ed: sorry, couldn’t resist].

Like most good psychics they scatter enough buckshot to hit something.

So how do these “futurists” pull it off? From what I can tell, they read the latest fiction, troll the internet, and in general ride whatever trend seems to be hot. Then, like most good psychics (best exemplified by John Edward), they echo what you say, and scatter enough buckshot to hit something. The best take on this was Will Farrel’s hilarious spoof of Edwards on Saturday Night Live in 2001. Five years later, I’m still in tears…

My acquaintence’s web site today is trumpetting his prediction of global warming back in 1987. I’m betting he was also predicting the end of the modern world in the late 90’s for the Y2K scare. “Missed it by that much…” [Don Adams, Get Smart]

But the main key to success in many areas like this seems to be to set a price that is just absurd. It appears that if you set a price in the stratosphere, people think “well, he has to be good, he must be right, people pay it…” And it works. Note to self: the more you charge, the less you have to justify yourself.

Note to self: the more you charge, the less you have to justify yourself.

To top it all off, and drive home the bravado angle, he has no credentials whatsoever. The only real job he’s ever had was teaching history at his alma mater. From those roots, he somehow has gained infinite insights into the future. Exactly how does one get credibility as a “futurist”? Best I can tell, you hang out a shingle, and crank up the crystal ball.

As I said, you can’t be short on chutzpah to be in the “futurist” game. Gotta admire the guts, but I wish I could keep a straight face when I think about it.