|by Pierce Thorne
O Father, Who Art Thou?
Way back in 1984 my friends and I sat through the movie "Gremlins," a movie we quickly characterized as a two-hour advertisement for an upcoming line of plush toys.
Since then, "wolf-in-sheep's-clothing" advertising -- that is, advertising that pretends to be something else -- has gotten much better. Press releases appear as news stories. Full-page advertisements can be almost indistinguishable from the newsprint on the facing pages. Infomercials in the guise of a news magazine are commonplace. Haven't you been fooled by those important-looking manilla envelopes emblazoned with "For Official Use Only"?
Here's another example. Just before Christmas a colleague wanted my opinion of a book, and indirectly, on its subject. The book's author is described as "Best Selling," something that I guess is supposed to mean something. I've always been skeptical of the "Best Selling" label, though. It might mean the author has some important message. Or he might just be spouting something popular but otherwise unremarkable. More probably, it's prompted by a few 10,000-book orders by, say, the publisher's secretary. That's why I like to think of "Best Selling" as "BS".
The book my colleague wanted me to review is Robert T. Kiyosaki's "The Business School For People Who Like Helping People". If you don't know Mr. Kiyosaki, his "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books are the source of his BS (um, Best Selling) Author status. The author has many adherents who effusively sing his praises, and more than a few critics. Having read the book -- and the critiques -- I find more merit in the latter. One particularly sharp though strongly supported criticism is leveled by John T. Reed who presents the idea that Mr. Kiyosaki's Rich Dad is really a fictional character. It makes sense: Kiyosaki never names him (not even in the acknowledgements,) no independent research is able to identify this rich neighbor, and some trademark paperwork claims "the mark 'Rich Dad' does not identify a living individual."
I will say this, though: Kiyosaki and I are uniquely alike in that we both had rich fathers and poor fathers. Unlike Mr. Kiyosaki, though, my rich father was a figment of my poor father's imagination. A gullible bloke always lured by easy money and the "Rich, Carefree Life," my starry-eyed father was all too ready to spend the family's savings on one Get Rich Quick scheme after another. Mum and I came to understand that "Sure Thing" meant "Sure to Fail."
In the end the only thing Rich about my poor father was his name, though after mum threw him out she referred to him as Dick, and that often preceeded with an article.
Not Your Dad's Business School
You might expect a BS (Best Selling) author's book touting to be a "business school" to have some great insight into business, but there's remarkably little in the way of information in this work. In fact, there's remarkably little of anything in it. Here's a little taste:
When people ask me "did you start with nothing?" I reply "Yes, I started with nothing. I started with nothing 3 times." I say that because I did start with nothing three different times.
On the odd chance you don't have the time -- or patience -- to wade through the book in its entirety, permit me to make some editorial refinements. In fact, I think the entire 120-plus pages can effectively be reduced to the following three sentences:
That is the meat of the entire book. It's really just a 120-page advertisement for Multi-Level Marketing, or as the book calls it, Network Marketing Business. The book culminates in two rather shameless plugs: Chapter 11 is a thinly veiled advertisement for Kiyosaki's Cashflow board game, and Chapter 12 is just "product placement" for the Nightingale-Conant line of publications.
Just in case that was too subtle for the reader, an additional 16 pages at the end of the book are outright advertisement for the publisher's other products. As if that's not enough, the "empty" pages between chapters list more recommended reading, (conveniently offered by the publisher....) They're a publisher's equivalent to popup ads.
No dummy, this Kiyosaki. He openly admits that he didn't make his fortune by plunging into a Network Marketing Business, so we're clearly not being given any first-hand experience here. But that doesn't keep him from recommending them. For one, his books seem to be required reading for inductees into these Multi-Level Marketing schemes, and that in part appears to fuel his Best Selling status.
I mean, there's not much in this book in the way of scholastic wisdom. The tortured prose meanders aimlessly. I waded through the literary bubble-pack with the holiday enthusiasm of a kid opening a prezzie, eager for him to come to something... a point, perhaps? A tip? The book teases you with titles like "How to become Ultra Rich" but fails to deliver. Moreover, if you read with a wary eye, you come to find many contradictions, inaccuracies, and irrelevant digressions amid the inane recollections of seminar discussions.
Turning Facts on their Head
One particular jewel of sophistry concerns pyramids. An early part of the book explains a proprietary pyramid-like diagram with the irrelevant statement "The Pyramids of Egypt have survived for centuries. In other words ... pyramids are very stable structures." [p15]
But later the book tries to distance itself from pyramid schemes, citing instead that the "traditional corporate structure is really the pyramid ... A network marketing system is a reverse pyramid" [p54] (a structure I hasten to point out is inherently unstable, as all the inverted pyramids the Egyptians ever built have long since toppled into obscurity.)
Obviously I'm too simpleminded to comprehend his truth: are pyramids good things or bad things? If you argue that pyramids are good because of their stability, then one might reasonably conclude that corporations are good because they are stable, and that the Multi-Level Marketing "pyramids in reverse" are to be avoided because they're unstable.
Can the Truth Come Out and Play?
The book sets a tone of disdain for traditional jobs, using the same rhetoric many get rich schemes use: if you're an employee, you're working to make somebody else rich, (which the book assures us is a bad thing!) And there's truth to that: when was the last time a working stiff in, say, Microsoft Corporation retired a multi-millionaire?
No: we should work for ourselves, or "mind our own business," as the book tells us on page 30. To be an employee (or what the book calls having an "E" quadrant job) is to be a wage-slave. Starting your own business -- and specifically a Network Marketing business -- will set you free in the "B" quadrant. "A B or big business owner can leave his or her business for a year or more and come back to find it running and even more profitably," the book temptingly claims elsewhere on page 30.
That, by the way, must be a blow to the ego, knowing that your presence actually gums things up. Talk about not adding value; if I were in charge of this business, I'd look into a permanent pink-slip vacation for someone so inefficient that their absence improves things.
Still, if you set up one of these B-quadrant Network Marketing MLM businesses, the money just comes rolling in. "The beauty of a Network Marketing Business is that you want to create assets, which are other B's working under you and their job then is to create other B's working under them," the author tells us on page 53. On page 86 he claims "Even if you only earn 10% of what the other eight are doing, it is 80% you earn with no effort on your part." So what's this? B's aren't free after all? They're really giving their hard-earned money to other B's who are taking year-long vacations? Hmmm... So much for "you're totally free, working for yourself." In order to succeed, you have to get other B's to work for you, just as you're working for somebody else.
Except for having to pay both halves of employment tax, how does that differ from the corporate pyramid? You're still working to make somebody else rich. (But somehow we're not supposed to begrudge them that.)
Besides, we'll be rolling in dough, so who cares?
Or will we? On page 47 we learn "Sometimes you don't get paid for years, and other times you never get paid." Ah, the joys of Getting Rich Quickly. "The beauty of most network marketing systems is that you really do not make much money unless you help others leave the E and S quadrant and succeed in the B and I quadrants" [p53] So, the only way to easy street is to get a bunch of working stiffs to work for you, and the only way for them to make it is to get more working stiffs to work for them.
That sounds like a pyramid scheme to me. But wait! Pyramids are good, right? Or weren't they like those evil corporations? Oh, I'm so confused!
But eventually -- on page 91 actually -- the ugly truth finally comes out: "The facts are that 95% of the people moving from the E to B quadrant fail in the first five years." Later on that page Kiyosaki claims "I have lost millions of dollars of my money and my investors' money."
So much for easy money. This is sounding like one of my Dad ideas.
Pierce Thorne's Business School for People Who Like Helping Themselves
Forget about multi-level marketing pyramids... The way to fame and riches is by churning out a bunch of easily-digestible schlock and getting thousands of people buy it. Then keep tempting them with more schlock that promises much, but delivers little more than pleasant tasting "empty calories" and an inducement to buy more schlock. I figure I can clean up in the Business Speaker (BS) circuit with my own Fictional Wealthy FatherTM product line, offering that time-tested advice (by a fool, no less!)
Fool: "Mark it, nuncle : -
That about says it all, doesn't it? Add to that my very own BullFlowTM Board Game and I'll be raking it in!
Oh, darned. Not only have I given it away for free, but I didn't obfuscate it. Nobody is going to want to shell out $59.95 apiece to get a page of King Lear (plus $199.95 for the board game.)
Maybe if I pad it with 120 pages of nothing...