43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

GTD 'cult'

so a friend of mine sent me this message. I am a big fan of GTD and find it very useful. I'm just puttin' this out there.

I was excited to sit down to read "Getting Things Done" today. It's a great gift. I was so excited that I even read the acknowledgments, to be complete about the whole thing. At the end of the acknowledgments I noticed that David Allen thanks someone named "J-R" for being his "spiritual coach."

Uh-oh. "J-R" seemed like it might stand for John-Roger -- the controversial cult leader and spiritual guru. And it does.


David Allen, his wife, and many of his employees are ministers in the MSIA (Movement of Spritual Inner Awareness), John-Roger's church:

http://www.ndh.org/template.php3?ID=65 http://www.davidco.com/coaches_corner/Ana_Maria_Gonz%E1lez/article14.html (employee quoting John-Roger)

Anti-cult websites accuse GTD of being part of a program to recruit people into MSIA. Their view seems paranoid to me, but you can read it for yourself:

http://forum.rickross.com/viewtopic.php?t=2193 http://forum.rickross.com/viewtopic.php?p=15025&sid=e3195755a2185f9b4710580921d3f527

Now, I'm not saying that Getting Things Done isn't a good book about priorities and organization. David Allen may have very good advice about that stuff. But I am saying don't go to a David Allen seminar, get mixed up with the David Allen Company, or get too involved with the hard-core GTD crowd -- at least not without taking some anti-brainwashing measures. Seriously. This John-Roger character and his followers are not a joke.

I learned about John-Roger a long time ago, as it happens, because in high school I read a self-help book called "Life 101" that he "co-wrote" with Peter McWilliams, the poet and anti-drug-war activist. In 1994, not long after I read "Life 101," McWilliams wrote an expose called "Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You." McWilliams left MSIA in 1994 after 15 years of being brainwashed. It turned out that John-Roger manipulated him into giving him co-authorship in return for keeping McWilliams alive. You see, John-Roger had the power to keep McWilliams alive because -- and this will surprise you -- John-Roger claims to be the incarnation of God on earth.

John-Roger has also made headlines in connection with Arianna Huffington -- who admits to being a close friend and who has been accused (though she's never admitted it) of being an MSIA minister as well.


mdl's picture

Moises, Thanks for the very thoughtful...


Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I enjoyed reading your arguments, which made me reflect a great deal on my earlier post.

In the end, I completely agree that GTD is a value-neutral tool. One could use the methodology for almost any end. And if GTD gives individuals more time to develop their own skills and spend time with friends, family, etc., then I'm all for it. In fact, one could think of GTD as a potential buffer against the mindless busyness that pervades so much of hypercapitalist culture. Rather than making us insanely productive so that our bosses can exploit us more, GTD could also a means for becoming more aware of our commitments and choices, allowing for greater independence and self-determination. Many people have found it liberating because it's a way to take matters into one's own hands.

So, in the end, I'm not against self-realization per se. Rather, I'm simply against the bogus language of self-fulfillment found in Covey, etc., which, like a great deal of self-help discourse, is really a means of making us more compliant consumers and workers. "Be an individual! Realize your full potential! Be yourself!" The language of individual self-fulfillment is arguably one of the most insidious ways in which marketers hook us in. When you hear these words, run! They signify the exact opposite of what they purport. They really mean, "Be yourself by buying what everyone else has."

In the same way, I absolutely abhor the euphemisms of the corporate workplace. Perhaps the worst is the way in which "team" has replaced "department" or "workforce." "Be a part of the team! Welcome to our team!" In its clinical dryness, the word "department" is actually quite honest. The faux-warmth and friendliness of "team," on the other hand, means exactly the opposite of what it connotes. The more often an employer uses the word "team," the worse the actual situation of employees. Think of the signs in McDonalds, Borders, etc. (in other words, minimum-wage workplaces) that welcome prospective employees to "Be a part of our team!" The word "team" isn't accidental. There's an icky, infantilizing psychological manipulation going on here, exactly akin to the type of manipulation used by high-school sports coaches.

OK, so after this long digression, back to GTD. What's refreshing about GTD and the way that DA presents it is its blunt pragmatism. As far as I can tell, there's very little of the saccharine language of self-help in the book or on the website. If anything, GTD is present as a no-nonsense, do-it-yourself methodology. Which makes me all the more surprised that DA is part of a New Age movement with a bastardized, syrupy version of Eastern philosophy (which is actually quite rigorous in its original context but quickly becomes all fuzzy and warm and happy-faced in its capitalist, Western context). This is what prompted me to take a closer look at the methodology. Hence my previous post.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »