I’m going to break one of my usual rules of this blog – usually when I post a review of the Landmark Forum, I’ll talk about it and post a brief excerpt of the review and link back to where I found it, but in this case, the link requires a whole log in procedure, so I’m just going to put the whole Landmark Forum review right here – it’s worth doing because the review is so sane and so clear in describing the Landmark Forum, Landmark Education, and how they work. If you want to go find the original of this post, go to http://www.quora.com. The review is answering a question about what the Landmark Forum is – here it is:
DISCLOSURE: I’m still an active participant in various Landmark Education programs, although I neither work for them nor represent them in any capacity. I am also a friend or acquaintance of several high level executives at the company, and I think they would appreciate it if I say that this is my personal view and not a strict statement of fact.
I must admit that I clench my teeth whenever anyone asks a general question about the Landmark Forum such as, “What’s it like?” It isn’t that such a question isn’t sensible or fair. It’s just that it is very broad, and it’s open to a lot of responses that I’ve come to dread over the last decade I’ve been around the company that range from very airy positive-thinking-like reactions to really visceral anti-cult screeds.
Before I take a shot at the original question, I want to suggest that, if anyone follows on with a question in the future, it would be helpful if the question were concrete and related to some tangible problem or phenomenon. For instance, a really workable question would be, “If I’m having regular conflicts with my boss, does the Landmark Forum provide any useful methods of resolving these? If so, what might those look like as a slice of the course?”
So anyway, my description of the Landmark Forum will probably be unlike one you’d receive from its participants or the staff. I’ve spent a fair bit of time picking apart the experience, because when I like a product, I really like to know as much about it as I can. I’m a nerd. That’s what I love to do.
The Landmark Forum is a three day course with an evening event a day later. The course runs from 9am to about 10pm on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and a Tuesday evening. There are breaks every 2-3 hours for 30 minutes and a 90 minute dinner break. The original “Forum” was actually two weekends long, but it was found that it was very difficult for people to get two weekends in a row off, so the content was compressed into one long weekend. Hence the hours.
A typical course has from 75 to 200 participants in it. The room is setup in auditorium-style seating, and there’s a single leader who facilitates and leads the program. The number of people in the room is consistent with other “LGAT” (Large Group Awareness Training) programs, and the best way to explain the reason for it is to say that it allows everyone to see someone like themselves going through the experience of the program even if they themselves aren’t actively engaging at the time. In effect, it ensures that there’s always a living “mirror” of you in the room.
If you were to draw a flowchart of what happens in the course, the sections of the course all have pretty much the same design. Each section is about 90 minutes long. The leader will introduce a topic, usually including something shared from their own lives to illustrate how the topic might relate to the participants. The leader will then ask a question about the topic, and people will come to a microphone and share. During the participant’s sharing, the leader will begin to pick out the pieces in the sharing that relate to one of a handful of key theses of the course. There will be some back-and-forth between the leader and the participant which is a practiced method but totally unscripted where the leader applies the implications of the thesis to have the participant see something about how they’ve been thinking or acting that is inconsistent with how they imagine they really are – some blindspot of the participant’s persona. Usually this is a very positive experience for the participant as well as for the rest of the course participants, because the new knowledge is highly actionable. Sometimes it is upsetting, as deep personal insights often are. The course participants clap to acknowledge the sharer’s willingness to do something potentially personally uncomfortable. The sharer sits. Usually the sharing cycle repeats a few times until nearly everyone in the room is clear how the thesis relates to their own life. Then the leader asks the participants to choose a partner next to them and share. After that, there are often one or two more people who come to the mic to share what they noticed when they shared with their partner. Then the course moves on.
Given that, you’d probably be interested in what the various theses of the course are. Fortunately, the syllabus for the Landmark Forum actually does a good job of explaining them: http://www.landmarkforumsyllabus…
Because the course is meant to be applied to your own life and personal situation, it is hard to know exactly what benefit the course will have. For instance, I hadn’t spoken to my parents in a few years before the course, and they flew to visit me a month after I called them during the course. But you may have a very good relationship with your folks. I wasn’t very active in my community before the course. Right after, I took on a major accountability managing volunteers across a large part of Texas for an organization I’m a member of, and I received very public recognition for it soon after.
The majority of people who complete the course enjoy it and get value out of it commensurate with both what they pay for it and the time, effort, and potential discomfort they commit to it. Some smaller percentage of people who complete the course do not feel that they get a benefit from it, and when they ask me, I encourage them to contact their course leader and raise a complaint. The company has a decent history of resolving customer complaints relative to other service industries.
I worked for Landmark Education, and I frequently got asked whether it’s a cult. First, I’m a fairly devout Anglican, so I’m not sure I’d be comfortable actually being a member of a cult. But that’s my personal view.
Second, and more quantitatively, there is very little continuity of participation among potential customers and actual customers. For every person who registers for the Landmark Forum, they bring, on average, about one person as a prospect to register after they’ve taken the course. Of those people, only about 20-25% register for a future Landmark Forum.
The Landmark Forum comes with a free 10-session seminar which is three hours one night a week over three months that helps participants apply the content of the Landmark Forum over time. Over 90% of people who complete the Landmark Forum register for the seminar, mostly because it’s free. Some smaller number actually attend, and even fewer of them complete all 10 weeks.
There is a second course that the Landmark Forum is a pre-requisite for – the Advanced Course. Its structure is similar to the Landmark Forum, although there is a small amount of compulsory at-the-mic time for everyone, unlike the Landmark Forum where you can (and I did) stay in your seat the whole course. About 45% of people who complete the Landmark Forum register for the Advanced Course.
The third course in the curriculum is the Self-Expression and Leadership course which is a three month course somewhat like the seminar. The Advanced Course is a pre-requisite for it, and about 65-70% of people who complete the Advanced Course go on to do this last course in this particular curriculum.
So if you were keeping track, if there were 100 guests, 25 of them registered for the Landmark Forum. Of those about 12 registered for the Advanced Course. And of those, about 8 of them registered for the Self-Expression and Leadership Program. Of those 8, about 4 will go on to register in other curriculums like communication programs and such. There are only about ten major course offerings, so although there are a bunch of flavors of 10-session seminar, it’s hard to spend lots of time in courses.
The upshot of all this is that, after six months, fewer than 5% of people who walk through the door as a potential customer still have any relationship at all with the company. If it’s a cult, it has a really crappy retention rate.
There are three things that people seem to bristle at. The first is that the company uses word-of-mouth marketing exclusively, and participants are encouraged strongly to bring guests who might also want to buy a seat in a future Landmark Forum. There are two sides to that. On the one hand, it bugged me too, but I did really like the course, so I did it anyway. And it worked out. For some people it’s not such a great experience, and I can understand why they weren’t happy with it. It’s a real mixed bag. On the other hand, I’ve just written two screenfuls of stuff about the course. It really isn’t easy to explain to people, and it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself to mass marketing. It takes a lot to describe it to people. So there is a decent explanation for the marketing method. I do know that the company is working on new, less uncomfortable methods, but I don’t yet know what they are. So this may all change in the near future.
The second thing people tend to bristle at is the fact that the company runs an ongoing training program called the Assisting Program. People who assist receive coaching and face time with the Landmark staff while doing tasks in and around courses. It’s pretty ordinary stuff that you’d do assisting – straightening chairs and making nametags and whatever. The work isn’t exactly brain surgery. But it’s a great chance to be around people who essentially do personal coaching for a living.
I think people bristle at this because it looks very much like menial volunteering for a for-profit company. And I suppose, it’s possible to end up that way. I’ve certainly seen it happen. Having said that, most people who assist seem to really like assisting. I’ve done it for a long time, and although sometimes it’s a pain, I’m friends with a lot of people there, and we have really fun, rich relationships with each other. We have the sort of interactions that are deep and intimate and difficult to develop in the first place. So it can be great. And, although it’s never been intolerable for me, I’d wager that it’s happened to someone.
The last thing that people are bothered by will sound silly till you see it: there’s a lot of clapping. A whole lot of clapping. Even long-time participants will occasionally say to themselves, “Geez, this much clapping is sort of creepy and weird.” However, it’s just clapping. There’s nothing really going on underneath. People get happy and clap. They appreciate something someone said, and they clap. They like the leader and they clap. They clap to break up the sections of material. They’re just clap-happy. I’ve heard people suggest that it’s something sinister, but never once in a staff meeting did we say, “You know, we ought to get them to clap at this point so they’ll feel some particular way.” I would guess that at least once a week someone on staff says under their breath, “Jesus, enough with the clapping already.” Seriously, it’s just clapping.
One last thing: the Landmark Forum is not original content – 100% of it can be found at the library if you read through the philosophy and psychology sections thoroughly. Having said that, it takes a handful of valid ideas and creates practical uses for them. Some of them seem like they should be common sense, but I would argue that if sense were all that common, the world would run a lot better than it does. Can you get this information for under $500 in sheer dollars spent? Sure, if you were willing to study, you could get it for free. From a cost-benefit perspective, is it possible to do better than three days and $500? No. You would almost certainly come out ahead if you did the course.
Is the Landmark Forum for you? As I said in the beginning, I’m uncomfortable answering that question. I liked it, and thousands of other people like it, but you might not. It provides useful methods to deal with many common life situations, especially those having to do with other people. Odds are good that everyone has these sorts of situations and could benefit in those areas. If you want to know for sure, you might try asking a more specific question about something you’d like to deal with that matters to you personally.