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The time I’ve been devoting to watching videos on the internet this past week has less to do with publicity surrounding Youtube’s eighth birthday than with my new access to wifi and faster internet speeds.

Anyway, as well as the obligatory chortling at funny pet clips I’ve been looking at some corporate videos and, in a not unrelated field, those personal development briefings on how to get noticed at meetings or how to perform well at interviews and presentations.

I can’t vouch for how expert the ‘experts’ are, but they look pretty accomplished to me. They are invariably articulate and possess the self-confidence you would expect of people who make a living from telling others how to better themselves. They are also nearly always American.

This made me wonder what chemicals go into the American water to produce all these supercharged business professionals. Of course, America has a bigger population than Britain, and dominates the internet, so a casual search is always going to come up with high-end US practitioners. But the typical optimistic and energised delivery is so very non-British in its passion. If a capable Brit was given the same remit, the outcome would likely be flat-sounding platitudes: more David Brent than Dale Carnegie.

The self-help industry long ago made a huge splash in the USA, and I can detect its ripples throughout the marketing world (as well as other sectors) over on this side of the Pond, though on the whole we haven’t achieved the same panache.

As for why America loves self-help, I imagine the answer lies in its social history and with its veneration of ‘potential’, which is all you could rely on if you were the archetypal poor immigrant trying your luck in the New World.

Self-help is big in India too, judging by the titles of the most prominent books I saw displayed at bus station stalls. Is this down to the American influence, or does it reflect indigenous conditions in the Asian subcontinent? When a country’s economy starts going places, do the self-help gurus hitch a ride?

Youtube can’t help me answer this, but perhaps You can? Comments below, please!

cover of self-help book

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