Peddling Platitudes

At the moment, I’m listening to the new book by Inc writer Jeff Haden entitled, “The Motivation Myth”.  The premise of the book is that it will show you that external motivation isn’t something you need to inspire you or motivate you to act and be successful.

Let me get into some mechanics of the book before I talk about my feelings towards it and then ultimately to the point I’m want to make in this email.

I prefer to listen to books now rather than read them on Kindle.  I can throw them on 1.5x speed and listen to them on the bus or if I’m struggling to sleep, it lets me drop in my AirPods and do some “reading” without disturbing my wife (or myself) with bright lights from the screen.

So when I say I’m reading this book, I’m using reading and listening somewhat interchangeably.

Jeff Haden, the author, is a very prolific writer for Inc and is arguably their most successful regular contributor.  His pieces for Inc get millions of page views a month and he has learned how to write for that kind of audience but he’s also figured out how to get his stuff promoted by other people.

The fact that Haden is a prolific writer for Inc and he’s worked out the formula for how to write for their audience will come in handy in a bit as I go through my thoughts.

The book is about 6.5 hours in length as an Audiobook and I’m about 80% of the way through at this point.

The first two hours of the book were really good.  Haden poses this idea that people externalize motivation as a thing that happens to them, like some kind of spark and that ignites their fire for success.  The truth of the matter is, and I agree with this, that external motivation is not a real thing, it’s a myth.

For most people, you change your own understanding of what you want and adjust your perception of your current reality.  The variation between where you are now and where you want to be becomes recognized and successful people either consciously or unconsciously establish a roadmap to bridge the two.

It wasn’t just good because of my own cognitive bias – I didn’t like that part of the book because he was saying something I agreed with.  I liked it because he had a premise and made his argument very well using stories, facts and examples.

Unfortunately, by the time he started getting to the third hour of the book, it started to veer off into something I’ve seen before.

My review of Mark Manson’s ridiculously popular book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck ” identified this same flaw.

These books are both published by big publishing houses and the authors no doubt had to get to a minimum book size – probably north of 250 pages.  Their original thesis that they had for these books was something they could cover very well in under 200 pages.  But their publishers required more.

Being prolific writers with a substantial back catalogue of content, they just started rehashing their stuff in a formulaic way.

With Mark Manson, the back half of his book was all about dating which is what he had successfully blogged about for years.  He needed to fill out 100-150 pages, no problem, just go back and find some loosely related blog material, rewrite it, tie it into the general narrative of the book and presto, bigger book.

With Jeff Haden, the last half of his book would appear to just be the normal platitudes that work really well attracting the eyeballs of wantrepreneurs and fluffpreneurs on Inc.

The first two hours was good, the second two hours was just cliche and rubbish.  He started rambling on about fitness, then it was passion, blah blah blah…

But what did it for me and why I had to stop listening to it on my way home tonight, he dropped a line (almost verbatim) that I use ALL THE TIME… Except he was being serious and I use it as a punchline to mock Hopium Dealers.

He said he is ok with failing 1000 times as long as he doesn’t quit, because if he is only still failing then he just hasn’t succeeded yet.

Ugh… It was like those times where you’re outside walking and a fly flies into your mouth – you gag and want to throw up.  Even the best case scenario is that you’ve swallowed a disgusting fly.

That’s how I felt listening to him talk about failure.

The problem with this kind of writer, writing this kind of book is that they can’t stop themselves from falling back into their platitude formula.  They write so much in that style then when things don’t flow, their writing muscle memory kicks in and they start pounding out the tripe they’ve done every single day.

People deserve better than that.  Seriously.

For example, I recently read Dan Pink’s new book “When” and it was great.  Pink is an exceptionally talented writer and thinker, but his research skills are exceptional.  He is a great author because he treats writing them as the work of skilled craftsmen.

In “When”, Pink talks about chronobiology, goes into the neuroscience and gets to the deeper aspects of why and how people work the way they do.  He explores the nuance of the topic and you come away from reading it feeling like you can really improve your own performance by understanding your own chronotype better and adapting to it.

I raise this because clearly in an effort to fill pages, Haden talks about “how to be the most efficient in your work day” and in fact, he actually cites the EXACT same example the Dan Pink uses and the same research.

But like a platitude blogger, his use of the source material is largely incorrect, he misunderstands the data’s findings and relevance and then dumbs it down with gross oversimplifications to play to the platitudes he’s promoting.

Platitudes are dangerous for people who want to learn about building their own online businesses.  People trot out these oversimplifications because they’re easy for you to swallow due to the hope element.

But, they also use them, as this book demonstrates, because they’re so easy to write.  A prolific writer that churns this formulaic “Wantrepreneur Prozac” out on a daily basis with a clickbait title cand smash this stuff out in a book in no time.  They don’t have to apply any critical thought to the argument they’re trying to make at all.

So beware of platitudes because they dull your mind and the main reason that the author is generally writing it is that they just need to push out the content.

It’s the equivalent of junk food content, it will rot your brain.

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