Hit CountersRank Noodle Why Kadampa Buddhism (NKT) Will Fail

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marketing Failure #4 - Failed Product Differentiation a.k.a. “taking over where others have failed”

As a point of clarification, there has been some feedback that applying marketing principles to Buddhism seems silly or inappropriate. Keep in mind, it is not Buddhism that we are exploring – it is NKT. The principles could equally be applied to any of the other Buddhist schools, or Jewish or Muslim or Christian churches. In all of these instances the church is trying to gather followers (customers) in order to function (stay in business). The church relies upon those customers for money, and the money is provided in exchange for a service. Many of these spiritual businesses have many, many millions of dollars in assets, they have real-estate holdings, employees, vehicles, offices, publishing houses, and they distribute CD’s, T-shirts and statues. This is a business and the business must locate and then retain customers. The survival of the business is contingent upon the continued inflow of money that comes from individuals who feel they are benefiting from the service provided. So, as we can see, as with any service industry NKT needs to market itself (its services, its publishing house, and its retreats) in order to survive.

In keeping with this idea, we must now ask where the new customers have come from. Clearly they had to come from some prior spiritual service provider. Perhaps Christian, Jewish or another Buddhist tradition. Many that are acquaintance of this writer came from the Christian tradition. However, the Christian path – Catholic to be specific – seemed to not provide the services some were looking for. There was a lot of “in-fighting” between groups and some hypocritical stances that seemed disturbing. Also, many of the individuals in the clergy did not seem to be living up to the tradition or were sometimes found to be in violation of basic moral principles. Over time People saw the tradition engaged in bickering and actual war in order to spread the message of peace. The members of the congregation no longer felt connected to the church, and it seemed as if some fundamentalist groups sometimes took the steering wheel away from the more easy going church members. So, they broke away and looked for a different path.

Upon arriving at NKT from some prior tradition the potential customer (i.e. necessary source of capital) is given a message of peace and equanimity. Brotherly/Sisterly love and harmony with the Sangha, the new parish. Mindfulness, serenity and decent cookies.
Then, slowly, this new tradition morphs into the old tradition. The student is forced to take sides on the Shugden issue and other promotions of sectarianism. The student is asked to pick between the Dalai Lama or Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The customer now feels as if she has returned to the same mindset she was trying to leave. Then the fundamentalist move in, the ones who are less dedicated to the spiritual path and more dedicated to promoting their fundamentalist beliefs. So, finally, the observing marketing minded person asks “what happened to product differentiation?” That is, the customer came to the new service provider after being disillusioned by his prior service provider, only to be met with the same disillusionments again.

If we were spiritually inclined we might blame the nature of samsara, that we cannot maintain pure objects in the desire realm. It may be our predicament that we morph all things into aggression and division. The psychologically minded might blame the individual who seems to “want” peace but keeps re-producing strife. The Buddhist might speculate that we will continue to impute division and disharmony on our world until we purify our mental afflictions. However, the marketing analysts would say that NKT needs to learn about product differentiation a.k.a. “taking over where others have failed” otherwise this will be another reason why the NKT tradition will not survive.

Next: Defensive Marketing Strategies as a way of life.
Followed by: NKT’s Failure to Control “Word of Mouth Marketing” and It’s Loss of Referral Sources

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marketing Failure #3 - Poor Sales Force Training

The last post brings us to our current failure of NKT’s marketing strategy. The sales force is not well trained. When a new product or service enters the market place the person who is “doing the pitch” is equated with the product – whether that is right or wrong. For instance, if a car salesperson is selling a Jaguar we might all assume the product is good. Dharma, of course, is better than that. However, the person selling the Jaguar represents the product itself. Maybe the buyer who knows a little about cars can overlook the flaws of the salesperson, just as the experienced Dharma practitioner can overlook the flaws of the NKT teacher. Unfortunately the target market – the new buyer – does not know enough to overlook the flaws of the salesperson and then dismisses the product itself because the presentation of the product was flawed.

NKT has purposefully cut itself off from the lineage of Tsongkhapa. The students believe that the “lineage” is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and the Dharma is his writings. The resulting myopic view is not the fault of the student but it leads to a very shallow understanding of the actual tradition. These students do not learn of Dignaga or Vasubandhu, Dharmakirti or Asanga. They have never tried to tackle Nāgārjuna or Aryadeva. Also, the NKT students not only do not read the original texts, they are dissuaded from such interests. Therefore, the do not develop the skills of unraveling The Madhyamakāvatāra or the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā. Not being exposed to the lineage or the thinkers who shaped modern Buddhism they are not receiving a full education.

As noted earlier, the NKT program does not involve traditional debate nor does it involve open dialogue in classes (see earlier post). Therefore, when the student develops a misconception or flawed reasoning they never have the error corrected. The error takes root in their minds, as they convince themselves their view is correct – and never challenged – and that view then filters and corrupts all of their future learning about Dharma, making all the new learning flawed. For instance, in attending an NKT teaching a few years ago, we were told by the teacher that “selflessness” means to be willing to give to others without any reservation. In his mind that was what “lack of self” or "selflessness" meant, and it was evident that he had not have any understanding of selflessness as described in the literature.

As a result of these training flaws, when NKT sends a teacher out into the community to spread Dharma, the teacher is not prepared. They did not receive a full education, and cannot “hold their own” with any moderately well trained practitioner. They do not know the lineage or the philosophers, they do not know any Tibetan, they do not know debate, and they have never been in a quality discussion group. Their philosophical conclusions are untested and their reasoning may be fundamentally flawed yet very deeply rooted (they are a teacher, after all). Therefore, when they are promoted to teacher and sent out to represent the product, they can make the product itself look flawed or illogical.

Just as we would be reluctant to buy the Jaguar from a salesperson who could not answer any questions, so it is with Dharma. The inferior teacher can turn off the potential student through a flawed presentation of Dharma. Also, the true lineage, the lineage of the holy masters, will die. This is a grave result and leads to powerful bad mojo for NKT. This arises from poor Sales Force Training.

Next: Product Differentiation a.k.a. “taking over where others have failed”

Followed by: Defensive Marketing Strategies as a way of life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marketing Failure #2 - Underestimating the Intelligence of your Potential Customer

In marketing this issue can take on several meanings, but we will only start with two. The first has to do with the fact that if you underestimate the intelligence of your potential customer, the customer will “see through” the product or the argument and realize that what is being sold is not what is being advertised. This issue falls under “Product Management” or under “Public Relations”. The second issue, though, may be that the potential customer wants more than the company is selling. Imagine that you are looking for a health club to join. You go to the geographically closest to your home, and do a “walk through”. Now your intent may be to compete in a world class competition. You envision yourself making breakthroughs and perhaps even becoming a top ranked athlete – a jewel in the arena. However, the club seems to have fairly outdated equipment, and it is also difficult to get access to the few good pieces of equipment. In order to use the better equipment the gym wants you to go through certain classes they have designed. It does not matter much if you have already had those classes, or in fact have used the equipment before. You must follow their structure. What is concerning to you is that it could take years under their plan to get to the good equipment, and you have only a very limited time in which to train. Naturally, wanting more and wanting it faster, you go elsewhere.

NKT presents two obstacles to the potential customer who wants more. While proposing that they are offering an “authentic tradition” they have done away with two of the most principle aspects of the curriculum of the student. The first is that they do not conduct debates. All other schools teaching Tibetan Buddhism have managed to incorporate debate classes into the curriculum, and it is only through such sparring that the student can test the depth of their skills. The NKT classes sometimes have paired discussion, at which times the students talk about work, or stress, or how their car is running. The student wanting to discuss the teachings, let alone debate the teachings, is the outsider. The teachers at the center may say “Geshe-la said that he learned 30% from classes and 70% through his fellow students” or some similar statement. However, Geshe-la meant through debate – on the debate grounds – not by “kickin’ it with his buddies”. So, the students who want more have been underestimated and cannot get what they need in this environment.

A similar obstacle for the student wanting more, or whose intelligence has been underestimated, is that the format prevents any question and answers during class. No one ever raises a hand or asks for clarification. The teacher reads from the book (which could be read at home, of course) offers a few personal anecdotes, and class ends. This could be a bi-product of a cultural issue. This format may have worked in Tibet, particularly when the student went to the debate grounds after class. Then the tradition moved to England, which is a less expressive group by nature, and here the debate format was dropped. By the time NKT got to the US the didactic presentation style was in place. No discussion, no debate, no individual meetings. In order to progress one must follow the specific curriculum of listening to the teacher read the book, typically two pages a week, until the book is done. 12 books to go. No questions.

This format underestimates the intelligence of the potential customer. Some customers want to ask questions, they want to learn faster or they want an authentic education. So, they get bored. Or, perhaps they have a concern about time. Perhaps they are training for a particular event (such as saving all sentient beings) and do not want to take four years having a book read to them. Or, and perhaps worst of all, the student who stays under this arrangement can develop a fundamentally flawed conclusion about a topic, and that mis-understanding is never corrected. The student may have, as many at NKT do, a basic misunderstand the concepts of emptiness, the role of Tantra, or the nature of cyclic existence. With no debate and no class discussion these misunderstandings takes root, and are never spotted, never corrected. If the student sticks around long enough she becomes a teacher. Thus, the lack of debate and lack of discussion open the doors for a future deterioration of the teachings. this is another reason why NKT will fail. Those that stay do not learn properly. Those that wanted to train properly went to another gym.

The next entry will be about training the sales force. This will examine the impact of some of the conclusion from above, specifically the result of the lack of debate and the lack of interaction with teachers.

Next: Sales Force Training

Followed by: Product Differentiation a.k.a. “taking over where others have failed”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Marketing Failure #1 - Mixed Product Line

The first good strategy of a good marketing campaign is to keep the product line and the corporate philosophy coherent. That is, the products or goods must match a corporation’s behavior. Therefore, if a corporation preaches environmental awareness or produces environmentally friendly products, yet spews hazardous waste into the environment there is a failure in its image. A failure in marketing as consumer trust declines.

NKT proposes two essential philosophies - bodhicitta and wisdom. Bodhicitta is a mind of compassion, often best exemplified by the Lojong teaches. Patience, giving and equanimity are proposed objectives. Rather than arguing we "give the victory to the other". The other NKT goal (like all Tibetan Buddhist schools) is a mind realizing emptiness. The world as we perceive it is a world of our own mental making. We must study and meditate on the "non-findability" of objects and of self.

Yet the NKT at the same time takes a very rigid and critical view of other perspectives. They promote protesting the Dalai Lama, firing teachers with different views and banishing students who follow other Tibetan lamas. It is as if they perceive these outside "threats" as inherently existing, and as if the Lojong teachings don't apply to our feelings about "some" people.

This is what is meant by a mixed product line. While proposing environmental awareness, it spews toxic waste into the environment.

Next post - Underestimating the Intelligence of your Potential Customer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Kadampa Buddhism (NKT) Will Fail

Kadampa Buddhism is a quick growing form of Americanized Tibetan Buddhism that has made several errors in recent years. While most of the teachings are sound, the packaging and marketing have failed over the years, actually alienating many would-be practitioners. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to begin our examination of marketing by examining some of NKT's marketing failures.