The problem with business and personal development books, inadvertently described in the New Yorker

March 23, 2016 by Joshua
in Education, Exercises

This week’s New Yorker’s article reviewing a book on personal and professional development was annoying and snarky, but revealed the problem with books on professional and personal development.

The book the article reviews, whose name doesn’t matter for this post,

has a format that’s familiar in contemporary nonfiction: exemplary tales interpolated with a little social and cognitive science. The purpose of the tales is to create entertaining human-interest narratives; the purpose of the science is to help the author pick out a replicable feature of those narratives for readers to emulate.

The article then complains that the book mainly points out common sense, like determination and focus help.

The problem is not repeating common sense. What seems common to one person, another is hearing for the first time.

The problem is believing that learning the science behind something will lead to your changing your behavior. It’s like when people think knowing physics will help you at pool because their physics classes had pool-related problems in school.

Practice and rehearsal improve skills, not theory. Learning theory reinforces the behavior involved in learning theory, which is reading and solving abstract problems, but those skills are self-indulgent and unrelated to personal development, except among people learning to read. How many physicist compete in pool tournaments? Probably none. Do any pool players study physics to improve their game? I doubt it. How do you get better at playing pool? Play more pool.

Likewise, knowing musical theory doesn’t teach you to play piano. Playing scales does.

Business, professional development, and personal development books that describe theory may make readers know more facts, but they won’t help them grow and develop.

That’s why my online courses lead you through exercises to develop your skills, like an athlete, dancer, musician, actor, or other performer does. If you want to improve your behavior, I recommend taking my courses over reading books on the subject. If you want to improve your leadership or entrepreneurship skills, my courses will be among your most effective options, because they focus on developing your behavior, not your analysis.

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