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October 2007

October 04, 2007

Slam job

350px smash
Anyone reading this blog knows I'm a strong advocate of David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, so this morning when my iGoogle home page turned up a new piece in Wired about Allen and GTD, I was eager to read it.

And read it I did. First came the shock - Allen had been a herion addict and a psychiatric patient?!? - Then with growing anger: seething, boiling anger, rage and outrage.

Wired had done a slam job on Allen.

Here's how to write a slam job boys and girls, but if you really want to see a master at work, read the profile by Gary Wolf.

First, hook in the readers who are interested in who you are profiling targetting with a run down of the person's success: 600,000 copies in print, many software apps, web sites, blogs and communities that share what the person advocates.

Now carefully start working in little slings and darts, like: "Some of them come to seminars like this. Allen himself is unsure if it helps."

Next, Be sure under the guise of describing what the victim advocates you trash what they advocate by distorting it, for example, by saying GTD is about 3 rules and this axiom:

Humans have a problem with stuff. Allen defines stuff as anything we want or need to do. A tax form has the same status as a marriage proposal; a book to write is no different than a grocery list. It's all stuff.

Keep tossing in those little snide darts;

  • "Allen has almost nothing to say on these topics..."
  • "Where earlier gurus tried to help their followers make their deep personal commitments explicit and easily accessible to memory, Allen is selling a kind of technology-enabled forgetting...."
  • "His techniques allow him the pleasure of having, much of the time, nothing on his mind."

Now that you've loosened up your audience, it's time to get down to the hard work of demolishing the man's reputation:

The only thing Allen was allowed to have in his possession at Napa State Hospital was a spoon. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was pretty accurate," he says of the time he spent as a mental patient, "and Napa was one of the good hospitals."

That ought to grab their attention! Let's see, what else should we say about a man who makes a large part of his living advising corporate clients? I know!

Bookbinder and Allen became close. Bookbinder taught him karate, and soon Allen was using heroin, too. He left his marriage, abandoned his academic training, and eventually found himself out on the street, practically penniless, "crucified psychically," as he would later put it, "absolutely at the bottom physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually." Worried about the radical change in his behavior, some of Allen's friends had him committed in 1971. At the mental hospital, Allen received stark lessons in simulated obedience. He learned to hide his psychiatric medication under his tongue instead of refusing it or spitting it out, and he studied what the medical staff seemed to want of him, so that they would pronounce him cured.

And if that doesn't do the job, Wolf next gleefully spelling out Allen's connection to one Sri John-Roger, New Age cult figure, concluding, "Allen was, and still is, a minister in the church."

And on and on in a similar vein.

This is a despicable slam job, Wolf, too well done to be anything but intentional. You've done a great job of taking the facts and quotes Allen freely gave you and creating clever links between them and various cons and cult leaders, of taking what Allen believes in private and using it to hang him in public - a co-mingling that to my knowledge Allen has never, ever done.

Anyone interested in GTD reading this piece and this piece alone would conclude Allen's a new age con artist/addict/nut case and run miles to avoid him.

Yet the truth is quite a bit different, isn't it? How many Fortune 500's are ongoing clients of David Allen? Why did his book sell 600,000? Why are there so many people from CEOs to stock clerks and everything in between who say GTD has been a practical, useful way to be more effective and has not one bit of the cultness you try to rub off on it?

This is a slam job, nothing more. Wolf should be fired.


  • Who?
    Bob Walsh, (Author, managing partner of Safari Software, Inc. a micro-ISV)
    Exploring the intersection between Getting Things Done and building a micro-ISV.
    Live from Sonoma, California USA.
    Once or so a workday.
    Because there's a way to get everything done, I just know there is!
    Micro Internet Software Vendor, a self-funded startup company: See mymicroisv.com for information and resources.
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