You know the ads. You know the speakers. You know the schtick. The Get Motivated Business Seminar is coming to a town near you. That means famous people spouting scads of platitudes about becoming a Better You.
The keynote speakers certainly are all familiar names. People with whom the American public is so familiar that fame alone could be their selling point, and that is exactly what they’re selling.
The Get Motivated Business Seminar is basically fame in a bottle. The organizers hope you are willing to spend at least $1.95 (but in some cities a lot more) which in common terms is about the cost of a no-spill cap Gatorade, which if you drink it fast is about how long the motivation gained from a bunch of really famous speakers can be expected to last.
Here in Chicago, the Get Motivated Business Seminar is being held at the United Center. Of course the organizers would really love to pack the place. That is why you can take your entire office to this particular event for only $9.95. But just in case the speakers themselves are not that big an attraction, they offer free bonus gifts at the supposed value of $495. The Free Bonus Gifts include the downloadable version of Zig Ziglar’s “5 Keys to Igniting Motivation and Success” along with TWO special bonuses: Golden Rule Relationships and Gaining with Goals.
Now old Zig has been at it a long time. I personally know people who have genuinely been changed and motivated by Zig’s secrets to success in business and life. But somehow my cynical has always distrusted motivational speakers, stemming perhaps from the experience of people I know who lost thousands of dollars in Network Marketing schemes springing from motivational speeches on how the rest of the world does not really appreciate you.
I have attended and heard a few great speeches over the years. But few of those speeches have come out of the mouths of really famous people. And I have heard a few really famous people speak. One was rather drunk at our high school sports banquet. Another, a former President of the United States, could hardly be bothered with the effort of attending a regional Scouting banquet. Perhaps in the end it really is a question of scale. Despite the guise, perhaps the famous really can’t bring themselves to be bothered by the common people.
There are exceptions. Like the time I escorted a world class distance runner, champion of marathons in Boston and New York and Japan, who treated everyone with the same daffy charm and relatable manner. That guy I admired. And the impromptu speech he gave was full of anecdotal charm.
But the packaged motivated offered by the Get Motivated Business Seminar is something else. There is something patently unreal about heading to a big arena to be in the presence of famous people while they give the same canned speech they’ve given to thousands of other people in arenas around the country. The worship of fame in America is perhaps one of the undermining values that has ruined sports, politics and religion alike. Fame is poison in many ways to our sense of proportion, and therefore also our motivation.
So why do we think famous people have much to offer us? Can we realistically all expect success on par with Get Motivated speakers such as Joe Montana, winner of four Super Bowls? Is that the point here? Obviously not. The point is that we should all be motivated at our own scale by those more famous than us, so that we might be better people. But what if our heroes are secretly or publicly bad examples? The truth behind the famous faces sometimes hurts.
It is no real secret that men like Joe Montana and other athletes have dumped wives that helped them become successful. So what are we to learn from that? The lesson is that we sometimes forget what it takes to be really successful. And the price of success has other drawbacks as well.
Take General Colin Powell. He’s on the docket too. Four star general. Ace pitchman for false information for the George W. Bush administration that led us into the war in Iraq that has how cost our nation more than $700 billion for unclear reasons.
What is thus clear, and the lesson of General Colin Powell, is that must learn to forgive a few bad decisions (which Powell himself has admitted) if we want to get really motivated about war, or business. Then again, perhaps the Get Motivated Business Seminar is really trying to tell us that those two are one and the same. We can surmise that more than a few people think so, or they would not be so eager to attend.
The Get Motivated Business Seminar also features Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes magazine and a proclaimed expert on business trends and economic growth. Is it then surprising that experts like Forbes have not been able to help us prevent economic meltdowns like the one we just suffered? Yet here is Steve Forbes going around collecting money for motivational speeches on Business Skills. And who’s buying this apparently faux expertise? Suckers willing to plop down $1.95 to hear a man talk because his family money speaks louder than millions of people put out of work by corporations shipping American jobs overseas. He should be talking about a solution to that problem, because plenty of people with great business skills cannot find suitable work these days in America.
Here’s another winner. Rudy Giuliani will speak about perseverance at the Get Motivated Business Seminar. More than a few of us sincerely wish men like Giuliani, whose rigid worldview and harsh political attitudes are the volatile fuel of divisive partisanship in America, would persevere a little less.
Da Coach! The Get Motivated Business Seminar also features Mike Ditka, America’s favorite effusive, possibly abusive former head coach of the Chicago Bears. Well, Coach, no thanks. I’ll take my motivation from people with something other than football on their resume. Because while American football is supposedly full of great lessons in strategy and toughness, the truth is American football is nothing more than a prolonged 3-hour commercial interrupted by about 20 minutes of real action. With all that time to think in between plays, does it really take a genius to figure out how to win? Apparently it doesn’t.
The Get Motivated Business Seminar also features Terry Bradshaw talking about Competitiveness. You are invited to “come get in the huddle as he shows you his personal game plan for achievement and success.” What possible common ground does Terry Bradshaw share with the average American? I’ll give him this much: Though he is bald he does not where a toupee. For that we must grant him props for honesty. Perhaps he really is worth hearing.
The list of speakers goes on with Brian Tracy speaking on Sales and Negotiation, Rick Belluzzo on Management and General Stanley McChrystal as a Special Guest speaking How to Lead with Excellence. Too bad he revealed all his secrets to Rolling Stone magazine. Honesty is what got him into trouble. So there’s no real consistency here when you think about it.
Yet Time Magazine calls the Get Motivated Business Seminar an event featuring “The Motivational Dream Team.”
Harumph. We’d all be better off listening to the Matt Foley character played by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live. You remember Matt Foley, demonstratively hitching up his pants while he admits the fact that he “lives in a van down by the river?”
What Foley had to offer was a unique passion for the individual. And that’s valuable despite the fact that a huge chunk of corporate America (and perhaps a few politicians as well) seems to want us all to think alike, and therefore be motivated by the likes of Giuliani or a Ditka, whose “my way or the highway” management methods may have worked well in times of crisis or a few tense games but proved in the end to lack the subtlety for long term leadership. Let’s face it, neither of these guys holds a candle to the toughness, wit and the likes of Abraham Lincoln. Where are we finding our Lincolns these days? Surely not among the lineup of the Get Motivated Business Seminar. Lincoln probably could not even get elected in the modern era. Rush Limbaugh would take him down as a weak, nambie-pambie Republican lawyer.
What we need now (as Lincoln once offered) is a healthy dose of discerning cynicism toward false motivations and shallow values. So where are we to turn?
Matt Foley may have been a bit of a loser, but he was trying like hell to be honest about his motivations, so to speak, to the point of desperate hilarity. We suddenly realize the laughs generated by Matt Foley teach us more about ourselves than a whole pack of famous speakers hiding behind their huge and dangerous foibles while raking in the dough from suckers willing to attend the Get Motivated Business Seminar.
Because unlike Matt Foley, how many of these guys talking at the Get Motivated Business Seminar will demonstrate their real commitment to you, the average American, the way Matt Foley did when he said, “Now you kids are probably saying to yourselves, “Hey Matt, how can we get back on the right track?” And the answer is that I get my gear and move in with you. We’re gonna be BUDDIES. We’re gonna be PALS.”
Until General Colin Powell and the rest are willing to show that kind of commitment, I’ll keep my $1.95.