Kind of. (After reading this, read this post for more background).
I enjoy reading (and I’m in my 20’s…apparently I’m rare) and I especially like reading books and topics about economics, human and consumer behavior, and the like. Just recently- yesterday, in fact- I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It’s a great read so far. Into the second chapter, and it is already posing the questions of when we should trust and distrust our adaptive consciousness.
Yes, it’s that intense.
In between chapters, I looked at the back of the book cover, and the publishing house describes the book as “psychology/self-help.” And the description is accurate. In it, Mr. Gladwell predicts that if we take his observations seriously, the world would be a better place. I’m sure people agreed, or else it wouldn’t have been a New York Times #1 bestseller.
But then I started to think- what changes are people doing?
But it’s not just his book. I’m not picking on Mr. Gladwell. I’m also looking at the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, Whale Done!, and many other self-help/ business help books that dive into the problems that permeate our society, offer solutions, become extremely popular, and seem to become stagnate.
How are these books so popular, yet people still develop poor habits, investors (professional and amateur) still make poor decisions and speculators are still idiots, and negative reinforcement still seems to be more prevalent (and effective) than positive?
First, I thought it may be the problem of Habit. When learning about consumer behavior, you come to terms to truly how difficult it is to break a habit. That’s the goal for most marketers and communicators- create a habit. Once the consumer view your product or service as something routine, it’s a done deal. Therefore I thought, that these books/lessons offer such a paradigm shift for people, that though they love the information, the poor habits these books highlight are habitual for the players who need to change.
Then I thought- if we are so unwilling to change, then why continually read?
Next then, I thought of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps people read the information, desire to change, but then conclude that their issues are so different, and the lessons and principles cannot be applied.
The truth is, we humans are an interesting bunch. In the US, the “Biggest Loser” is a monster hit,while our children become obese. We champion freedom and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while our fellow citizens suffer without homes, fight addiction without help, and leave hungry children without food or healthcare.
And we devour self-help books, entertain psychologists, applaud social workers and teachers, quote brilliant investor and inventor minds, and here we are- asking how we got here.
I wish I had an answer. But, based on this observation, I’m guessing the answer really wouldn’t matter.