How to navigate the individual development market

IMG_20140206_183151 (2)You don’t need Google to tell you there are many techniques out there that help people understand and improve themselves. There are a myriad of philosophies and even more approaches – you can do tests and quizzes, take challenges, go through trials and tribulations.

You can look solely at understanding your cognitive ability, your personality, your level of optimism and pessimism, your level of introversion and extraversion. There are many things that claim to do all of this and more. There are even techniques that come close to delivering on more than one of these things.

So here is a tip sheet on navigating this complex and confusing market.

  1. Get clear on purpose. What do you want to do and why?

Some techniques help you do this, but there’s nothing that replaces reflection, even a fair amount of agonising. Do you want to become a better father? A more caring mother? Know what to do in your career? Improve your social skills? Get better at maths? What is the true purpose you are seeking. Find this out and you’ll save yourself a lot of time. (But be open to the possibility that this will change!)

  1. Find something that is a good match for your purpose.

Depending on the context, nearly all techniques have at least something valuable to offer. But stretched and crammed to fit a purpose that isn’t quite what’s intended, will always yield poor results. Take Myers Briggs for example. As a way to understand & reflect on your own personality, it can be very useful – as a recruitment tool, it can be disastrous. So be careful that you are really getting what you need.

  1. Expect to do a lot of work yourself.

There are no short-cuts to reaching your potential. Be very wary of anything that seems too good to be true. It is. Improving yourself is a necessarily tough and challenging journey. The best techniques provide you with something to re-charge by looking deeply into who you are. It’s not always pleasant – but I don’t know anything worth doing that’s easy.

  1. Don’t be fooled into thinking that what is popular is necessarily better.

Look at the artists that have made it into the Top 10 in the last 5 years. Enough said.

  1. Look at substance over form.

This is related to Tip #4 above. Some of the most reliable models and tools have no fancy graphs or pictures – they have a clear value proposition and do what they do very well: no more, no less. Look past the lovely marketing material and make sure you ask critical questions about the actual product itself and its application to your particular situation and needs. Is there substance behind the information or theory and a clear course of action on how to use the data to achieve your purpose?

  1. Don’t expect a silver bullet.

George Box said, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” I’m not sure what Box would make of individual development, but I think this quote has some relevance here. Don’t expect to find something perfect – it doesn’t exist. Models and techniques are as perfect as the clever minds that devised them. Do you know any perfect people?