Does charging a premium for a service make an organisation less beneficial to society?

People seem to really get a kick out of Landmark Worldwide courses.  From what I’ve heard and read, the course gives people a new belief in positivity and possibility.  Helping people to be happier and more effective is no doubt a noble cause.  I cant help but wonder does charging £460 for around 40 hours of education diminish the “goodness” of a company?

On Tuesday I travelled to London to attend the Tuesday night gathering where Graduates of the Landmark Course are advised to bring guest who would benefit from… enlightenment?  I went with the expectation of a cult like atmosphere and was suitably sceptical and cynical about the benefits.  I had been told that if I attended the course: I’d finally be able to tap all of my potential, I could put all my emotional baggage in the past, nothing would be able to stop me doing what I wanted to, I would build an incredible bond with the other students.

On entering the room I was given a Syllabus of the course.  Though the topics were only briefly explained they seemed very similar to well known self-help ideas.  Nothing jumped out at me as being a novel concept, but perhaps they save the juicy bits for when you attend the three day course.

The presenter/guru/preacher took to the stage and got us all to welcome each other through the medium of clapping.  After introducing herself to us and sharing a bit of information about her life, so we could really connect, she asked the graduates to share some words (positive of course) about the course.  The feel good vibe was infectious, spreading across the room, though thankfully/unfortunately I appear to be immune to this particular strain.  Graduates were invited up to share the “breakthroughs” they had experience in the previous two days.  Sure the breakthroughs were impressive, bridges that lay destroyed for years had been rebuilt, people were feeling alive again in all aspects of their personal and professional lives.  Can Landmark take responsibility for these life events?  At the end of the day the bridges were rebuilt because the graduate wanted to rebuild them.  The presenter reiterated the point that the course is not about learning things you know you don’t know, but about realising the things you don’t know you don’t know.  If you know you don’t know something then you can either learn it or be content in not knowing.

All of this audience participation was interspersed with slick advertising videos.  Showing more happy graduates being happy.  Did you know Landmark has helped a diverse range of people, from Artists to Olympians to achieve their full potential?  I didn’t and frankly I don’t find it overly impressive.  It was after the third video where I have to admit I left.

One and a half hours of the three hour presentation was more than I could handle.  Maybe they were just about to discuss all the really deep stuff.  I doubt it.  What I took away from that 5,400 seconds of life I’ll never get back is that Landmark seems to have bundled self help theories and a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy with a sprinkling of some psychology (discussed in this lovely NY Times article) wrapped it up and stuck a fat price tag on.  I left feeling like this was not the benign cult I had been expecting but in fact just a nice reason for people who have a bit too much money and a weekend free to make a change in their life.

At least that was until I got a phone call from them today.  But more on that next time.

Until next time, if you’ve been impressed by my insight and journalistic talents, hire me?