Is self-improvement a con? (vote)

Interesting discussion taking place at Hugh Macleod’s blog re the idea of becoming remarkable. Is this idea really possible for everyone? Or is it just a pipe dream which makes remarkable income for the one selling the idea to everyone else?

The background before you vote…

Most of you know that many marketing gurus today have pointed out that to become successful, you need to either BE remarkable (=worth remarking upon) or you need to be marketing a remarkable PRODUCT. E.g. Apple’s iPod or iPhone are so cool that the owners of these gadgets can’t stop talking about them. And no one is paid a penny to do so. That word of mouth has generated attention around the world, like a good TV show loved and followed by the viewers.

In the above discussion, Seth Finkelstein, a smart man, argues that we cannot all be remarkable. Why? Well because there is always a lower half of a population, and the lower half is, by definition, not remarkable. Same for products on the market.

Therefore, selling the “remarkable” dream to everyone does mostly one thing: enrich the seller of the idea that anyone can be remarkable. And oh, buy this book to learn how to become remarkable in product, service, or yourself.

I posted that even if people couldn’t all be remarkable, making the attempt is perhaps a good thing, both for the person working to improve, and those around them.

SethF posted back, and this is the question I’d like to pose to you:

“Kim – Sadly, it’s not so simple. It’s like “self-improvement”. Can everyone improve themselves? Sure. But there’s a very big market in selling the *idea* to people, and too many times all that happens is that a con-man gets richer and a sucker gets poorer. I think a big problem is that there’s not nearly as much money in selling real self-improvement as superficial self-improvement. The catch is that “work at becoming remarkable” is NOT COSTLESS, and sometimes it’s a lot more probable that all that will become remarkable is someone’s else bank balance.”

Do you agree or not? Is self-improvement pretty much just enriching those who sell this dream?

Results: Is self improvement a con?

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • I think that self improvement techniques are like any other skill we learn. If you go to the seminar and then go back to your same old way of being, then it was a waste of time. If you go back to your life and apply the new knowledge to make even incremental improvements to areas of your life that you feel need work, then it was worth it. The man selling the skills is just teaching. It’s up to the student to apply what he/she has learned.

    BTW, this was a timely post for me since I just discovered a cool way to get access to leading self-improvement gurus 24/7 at a fraction of the investment I would pay to attend a seminar. Check out and let me know what y’all think.
    Kim – you should get on their faculty! You would be a great addition.


  • Kim,
    Of course not all self help is created equal. Be discerning! Beyond that obvious truth, you are both right. Seth’s point, however, is irrelevant. The fact that most people don’t benefit from personal development is akin to the statistic that most books purchased are never read thru, most audio sets purchased are never studied, in fact Brian Tracy claims over 50% of the cd sets sold are never even opened, believe it or not.
    So the fact that most people don’t follow thru doesn’t mean that any one specific individual can’t. Personal development is the essence of life itself. If you aren’t growing you aren’t really living. The ability to grow by choice is one difference between a human and an animal…the animal doesn’t have free will to make the choice to grow.

  • I said yes to the ultimate question, “is self-improvement pretty much just enriching those who sell this dream”? But I only agree insofar as people are willing to keep forking over $47 for this book, $297 for that ebook, $299 for this site-building product, $19.95 for this monthly lead generating service, $50 for training with their upline, even paying $5 per lead, but then don’t take the action necessary to improve either themselves or their businesses. The old Pareto principle, 80% of the business is done by 20% of the people, really means only one in twenty will do anything. It takes more work to improve one’s self than most people are willing to invest, even when they spend a fortune on all the other stuff.

    Otherwise, I believe that everyone should undertake to improve themselves because if they are not striving to improve, they are either stagnating or falling behind in the knowledge and skills necessary to become more successful. But it has to be an internal effort, not external, which can be achieved without making others’ bank accounts richer. Use your local library to find the books necessary to improve yourself.

  • I’ve bought many self-improvement books, tapes, CD’s, gone to courses, taken coaching, etc. Does it make someone rich? Sure! In the process I’ve become rich in more ways than one myself though. I’ve become patient, discerning, have better relationships and am all-around a happier and more effective business woman.

    If you don’t have a lot of money to spend I think Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles condenses millions of dollars worth of self improvement information into one easy to read book. Read a chapter a day and change your life! Would have saved me thousands had this book been around earlier.

    There are lots of freebies you can get online too but sometimes without reading the book or without attending the course, you won’t really understand it.

    Self development is never a waste of money in my opinion.

    Sharon Hoehner

  • Self improvement is very real provided it is coming from a very reliable source. I am proof that a person can be transformed if they actually apply what they have learned. It took me a LONG time to actually “get it”, but once I did it was like I used to be blind and then was given a miracle sight to all of the things I thought were fake. No one single person or company profited from this in my situation.

  • There are con men selling self-improvement, but there are also those who sell self-improvement programs with the genuine intention to help people.

    I’ve heard people in this business talk about self-improvement only in terms of how it will help you get rich. But self-improvement is different for everyone. Sometimes self-improvement comes in the form of being a better parent, being more honest, being a harder worker, helping to feed the poor, the list could go on and on. Can anyone say that a program that helps someone improve in any of these areas is a con or a waste of time?

    Joe Washburn
    MLM Is About You.

  • Sooo…What’s Mr. Finkelstein selling? His proletariat views? I guess all common folk who’ve invested in ourselves should elect him as our glorious socialist leader since he’s the only one smart enough to know what’s best for us. Then we can send him and his comrades all the money we would otherwise spend on self-improvement so the rest of us can all be equally mediocre.

    While Mr. Finkelstein is at it, he should consider shuttering the most costly (and possibly the most wasteful) institutions of self-improvement — colleges. How about converting them to low-rent living spaces so we no longer waste our money on bigger and better homes (lifestyle self-improvement)? Better yet, make them into hospitals for the additional people that will be sick after they drop their expensive healthy eating habits (wellness self-improvement) in favor of economical, mass-produced, efficiently packaged and preserved meals provided by convenience stores and fast food joints.

  • I do work on self improvement. I know my weaker areas and work to improve these. I pick what I need from any book, CD etc. Everyone is different so every self improvement program won’t fit.

    I’ve found I get a lot from real people, team members, friends etc.

    I agree with Walter.


  • Wow – Is this a subject close to my heart – By the way – Happy New Year everyone – Glad to be back after being gone for the holidays.

    I think everyone here has pretty much hit the nail on the head. The one thing I would add is that there are network marketing companies out there, without mentioning names, that teach you nothing but motivation, in order to keep you in the system buying their products and samples on the basis that one day you’ll hit it big. My experience this last year or so is that motivation alone, whether you read the books or listen to the tapes is not enough. What you need is a combination of the following.

    1. Excellent Products

    2. A great marketing system over and above the usual word of mouth, six foot rule.

    3. Neuro reconditioning

    4. Something to set you apart from the competition

    5. A blue print for success.

    6. A view of the lifetime value of what you are doing – and ability to keep chipping away at it, innovate and not let your ego get in the way of making changes to what you thought was great yesterday.

    I recommend Blue Ocean Strategy – an excellent book that talks about this in depth. There is a link on my web site under the recommended reading tab. Also OneCoach – the coaching company I am working with who help small business owners succeed. They teach business excellence – neuro reconditioning, quantum physics as it relates to personal growth, identifying your ideal customer and then all the tools you need to build a better business. They do this interactively on the phone in real time and through quarterly weekend seminars. It has changed the way I view myself and my business opportunity. Its an ongoing process. Juliette Gray

  • I want to quote what Kim said in her book.

    “I don’t know if it will work for you the way it did for me…”

    This applies to weight loss programs, discounted services, Costco and Sam’s Club memberships, lotions and potions, and yes, self improvement products and services like Dani Johnson, Tim Sales, or Dale Calvert’s.

    Just because anyone else has gone through all those products doesn’t mean it may work for someone else.

    People are different. They buy based on a story. Look at Coke for example. Does the average Coke drinker care about what the ingredients are? They drink it because everyone else drinks it. They drink it because it’s good. They don’t care about the technical garbage that’s used to make the soda. All the care about is if it’s good. Some prefer to drink Diet Coke because they have a preference of not wanting sugar in their system. Some prefer Pepsi or Dr Pepper to get the satisfaction they’re looking for.

    The same thing goes with self-improvement products. But it goes back to the disclaimer…

    “I don’t know if it will work for you the way it did for me…”

    Some people prefer Coke while others prefer Pepsi.


  • We need to study, if we want to grow. Nothing is for free in life BUT… personal development is a must study-discipline. There are already many free courses online.

    Okay, sometimes you’ll need to pay a huge amount of money for a course. But as long as you practice what you study, you’ll have your money back in more than one way.


    PS if you want some free traning, get into my “Self Improvement Basics” eCourse

  • I left the following comment at the link you gave just a couple of minutes ago:

    “I kinda see “Remarkability” in much the same way as one sees the traditional Christian concept of”Sainthood”: We each have within ourselves the capacity to attain it, whether we achieve it eventually or not.

    And in my opinion, this has a lot more to do with how we choose to govern ourselves when certain events occur, rather than some abstract law of mathematics.”

    Hugh MacLeod

  • I’ve spent lots of money on the stuff. Some worth it, some not. Did the trainers get richer than me? Sure! But I’d stop far short of calling it a “con”. A few bucks later, you learn what to watch out for. Like, WHY is the program/ebook being recommended? Is a trainer just promoting it to help a buddy in the industry, do they only recommend it to make $$ for themselves, or do they really use the stuff and actually believe in it? Is someone raving about the leads program because maybe, once you sign up they will have something to rave about? You have to read between the hype.

  • Hi Kim,

    I actually agree to a certain extent. Self improvement is not so simple as “All you have to do is attend this ONE seminar and it will change your life!” Sadly, however, that is what most people seem to think and quite frankly that is how a LOT of self improvement material is marketed.

    Does self improvement work? Yes. Is there a value in self improvement seminars and materials? Yes, I personally spend thousands if not tens of thousands on these types of resources each year and it’s a fundamental reason why my wife and I are self employed and make a six figure income in our 20s.

    That being said, I am not naive enough to believe that ONE resource is all I need to change my life. In fact many times using one resource one time is not enough. I could read a book or attend a seminar and then a year later read the same book or seminar and it’s like it’s a completely different book or seminar because I am a different person a year from now.

    That however, is how most self improvement materials are marketed. As a result, you have these people that just come to the seminar, get excited, don’t do anything with the information when they get home and look forward to going to the next seminar to repeat the same cycle.

    Roosevelt Cooper

  • By definition “remarkable” is in the upper percentile of the sample. Since it is a percentile, even if everyone reached a higher standard, the upper percentile threshold would also have been raised to a new level, thus the same relative number of people, products, or services sampled would be “remarkable”.

    In the 80/20 rule you simply cannot remove the tail as the same percentages continue to apply to the remaining group. i.e retaining better people, or firing the less productive ones does not alter the 80/20 relationship.

    The question everyone seems to be answering was never asked; “should we strive for self improvement?” or “Is self improvement worth the money(or effort)?”

    The question that was asked is “Do you agree, or not, that self improvement [or the concept of it] is pretty much only enriching those who sell the dream?”

    It is the job of every marketer to “sell a dream”. The moral and ethical question around the ability of their product or service to deliver that dream is as old as mankind. Some places and groups have even tried to regulate the answer by enacting laws.

    In a free enterprise system, the ultimate value of a product or service will be upheld by the marketplace, i.e. that price at which buyers are willing to pay is in direct proportion to what they percieve as the value of that product or service.

    But alas we have reached around and found our tail again. That is, the moral and ethical responsibility of marketering’s ability to influence a populations perceptions of value!

    Perhaps the answer will come to me in the bath…


  • The survey question is problematic. As some people will benefit from any and all self improvement programs, and some cannot benefit from any, so some will benefit from some. So what…next…

    Where the statisitical median falls is dynamic and really not all that interesting. We offer what we have to offer – and we take what we can absorb and internalize…and the dispersion is as individual as our age in minutes.

  • I love this question: Can everyone become remarkable?

    Why? Because it gives me a chance to maybe open another person’s eyes to the fact that we are all remarkable at birth. Every single one of us, even the so-called lower half of the population.

    Then as little, tiny, remarkable children we are put into pre-school then grade school, etc. Which works diligently, day after day, week after week, year after year, to homogenize all of us into people who take on the belief that we are not remarkable.

    Well, most do. About 20% are still able to remember who they really are, and go on to do great things. (like allow statisticians to create the Pareto Principle otherwise known as the 80/20 Rule.)

    Public school is designed, on purpose to extinguish the remarkability (word??), the fire, the curiosity, the entrepreneurial heart that resides in every human being at birth. Sound a little extreme or far fetched? Read The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto, free online at his website

    How does this relate to self-improvement being a con? This also creates a huge population of people who know something isn’t right, are not sure what it is, and seek out personal development materials and seminars, in an attempt to feel whole again.

    It’s not a con, but most people by adulthood are too well conditioned to believe they are nothing special, to really sink their teeth into the truth about their personal power. But many keep going back for more, in an attempt to feel remarkable again, like they did as little children.


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  • It’s like anything –

    “Gotta Wanna!”

    I ignored the MLM self improvement movement for my first 3 years in the business. Why?

    I was happy, I was already positive, I already had good self esteem and confidence. Big mistake.

    I was given the book Mach II With Your Hair on Fire and it changed my life. And, I began a journey of self improvement.

    It’s improved (no pun intended!) every aspect of my life, not just my business.

    And, I was ready for it.

    I bought the books, read them and acted upon them. Same with the tapes, etc.

    Just like you can lead a horse to water and no coerce him to drink, you can’t force self improvement and development on someone who is unready and unwilling!

    EXPECT Success!
    Jackie Ulmer
    Knowledge is the Path to MLM Success

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