May 14, 2011

Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All and The Soul of Leadership

It takes nerve to charge readers $22.50 for a book that lectures them about why they should give away their work for free. It takes even more nerve to write a book about why money doesn't matter and call it Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All.
Yes, Russell Simmons has moxie. Give him his due, though: He also has his finger on the pulse. He made his first fortune with Def Jam, a record label that did the seemingly impossible—sell rap acts to a white suburban audience. Then he started Phat Farm, a clothing line that brought inner city style to the hinterland. Later he branched into the movie business, even producing a remake of The Nutty Professor with a largely African American cast.
As Simmons edges into his mid-fifties, he's on to the Next Big Thing: enlightenment. To be more specific, enlightenment without those pesky restrictions on greed and ego. Call it Buddhism for the boardroom.
It's no accident that the endorsement adorning the jacket of Super Rich comes from spiritual baron Deepak Chopra, who has been working similar territory for what seems like several lifetimes. (Who knows? If you accept the Buddhist worldview, perhaps he has been.) Chopra's latest work in the great wheel of being, The Soul of Leadership, is itself positioned in the enlightened management genre. It's his 60th book. While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can contain their major insights in a single volume each, Chopra needs an entire shelf.
Unfortunately, he has yet to address the greatest riddle of them all—why anyone should think that Eastern mysticism will lead to material success. At the heart of yoga, Buddhism, and similar traditions—all previous Chopra topics—is the notion that worldly goods don't matter. But let's not nitpick. In deference to Buddha, who was, after all, something of a spiritual entrepreneur, let's explore some of the noble truths revealed in these business texts:
I. Success is elusive. In both authors' works, it's difficult to find concrete business lessons. And perhaps that's the point. For example, writes Chopra: "Your body is a constant projection of you in the world. Every cell eavesdrops on your thoughts." The author views our metabolisms as chat rooms, with epidermal cells listening in to what's going on in the cranium. If you don't understand what he means, your foot can explain it to you.
II. Be. And just keep being… While Chopra encourages leaders to "be here in the present," Simmons says to "approach all of your work with a smile." According to the authors, the promises that follow are worth it. Simmons assures us that "within a few years you will be able to transform from the unpaid intern into the multimillionaire CEO." Chopra vows that those who lead from the soul will gain the support of invisible powers and can expect miracles to happen—a useful strategy for any executive.
III. Work for free, seek enlightenment, bling it up. Simmons insists the first priority in life is to move toward enlightenment. Why? "Because the road to enlightenment is paved with gold!" According to Super Rich, if you attain a holy state, oodles of money will soon follow. Somewhat mystifyingly, Simmons also argues that people should work without expecting payback. He extols yoga, preaches veganism, and gushes over Transcendental Meditation even though he earned his money the old-fashioned way: by working 16-hour days and by promoting groups like South Central Cartel, fonts of deeply spiritual insights such as, "When I let these bullets fly, from this heat, you goin' die."
IV. The pain leads to insight. It's easy to mock Simmons for sprinkling product mentions among his yogic revelations or to snicker at Chopra's pseudoscientific bromides, which would be a lot more effective if he occasionally cited the scientific research he vaguely alludes to. Although anyone who perseveres to the end of both books will be struck with a revelation—we've heard a lot of these tips before. Usually from our mothers. And often before the age of five.
V. Appreciate the wonder. Do readers need Simmons to explain that people don't like being around grouches? Or to be reminded by Chopra that we should take other people's feelings into account? Probably not. Yet many remain eager to be reminded so long as such basics can be linked to making a fortune. Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and other enlightened-management tomes have espoused much the same advice for decades. The only thing that changes in these new works is the wrapper. Yoga, hip-hop, and references to cellular biology now dress up the same old pointers on working hard and keeping your chin up. Though give Chopra and Simmons some credit: Their books reawaken a sense of wonder—that such stuff still sells. That's something worth meditating on.

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