Newsweek has a great series of short articles on the top 10 new thought leaders. I read about this on Twitter from Guy Kawasaki. He wanted us all to read about Steve Jobs by the Fake Steve Jobs. Yes, Kawasaki is correct – it is priceless. And Kim Kardashian wrote the piece about Twitter.
But I especially liked this piece about Malcolm Gladwell, written by the two Steves, the Freakonomics guys.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice—it strikes three times. Or at least it did in the case of Malcolm Gladwell, the man who singlehandedly invented a genre of nonfiction that has hatched a thousand followers. His first book, The Tipping Point, took a very simple idea—that “little things can make a big difference”—and cobbled together a great variety of stories, all related with care and flair, to argue the validity of that idea. Using the same crazy-quilt architecture, he followed with Blink, which explored the science of first impressions, and Outliers, which limned the secrets of successful people. With each book he intrigued us, challenged us, charmed us, and, most of all, engaged us. His taste is impeccable; he may be the greatest storyteller alive. He can make us care, deeply, about a subject as apparently banal as ketchup. What is his secret? It may be his devout embrace of the soft sell, the antithesis of the chest-thumping triumphalism that marks most business books. “Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade,” he declares in the preface to What the Dog Saw, a new collection of his New Yorker articles. “It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”
The fact is that it’s Gladwell’s head we seem most interested in peeking inside. If you don’t enjoy reading him, you probably don’t enjoy reading very much at all.
“A journey to China begins with taking the first step.”
“The best way to eat a whale is one bite at a time.”
With regard to New Year’s Eve resolutions, most of us fail to follow-through on most of those we make. There is a two-part strategy that can help us achieve what Jim Collins describes as a “BHAG,” a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Limit yourself to no more than three and preferably to only one.
Part 1: Begin the achievement process.
Let’s say that the goal is to reduce your weight to 52 pounds less than it is today by 12/31/10. That’s losing only one pound a week.
Let’s say the goal is cleaning a seven-room house with a two-car garage. Clean and clean out one room each week.
Part 2: Focus on incremental progress.
Forget about the ultimate goal, scale it down, and focus on losing one pound this week, another pound next week, and so forth.
Forget about the ultimate goal, scale it down, and focus on cleaning one room this week, another room next week, and so forth until the eighth week when you clean the garage.
If you make no more than three New Year’s resolutions (preferably only one), begin the achievement process immediately, and focus on incremental progress, there’s an excellent chance that you will achieve your ultimate goal(s).
And be sure to remind yourself each day:
“A journey to China begins with taking the first step.”
“The best way to eat a whale is one bite at a time.”
innovation + experimentation + collaboration can lead to a successful tomorrow – wisdom from Atul Gawande (from the current health care debate)
If there are any definites in this very indefinite and chaotic era, here is one: change is constant, and to get to what works successfully tomorrow requires a lot of innovation and experimentation and collaboration to make it to that successful tomorrow.
Recently, Atul Gawande — surgeon/professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School/international expert and leader on surgical processes/journalist for the New Yorker/MacArthur Fellow (the “Genius Grant”) – wrote about the Senate health care bill that just passed. Many have complained that it really only offers pilot programs to try out in hopes of fixing the problems. This is what he writes:
Where we crave sweeping transformation, however, all the current bill offers is those pilot programs, a battery of small-scale experiments. The strategy seems hopelessly inadequate to solve a problem of this magnitude. And yet—here’s the interesting thing—history suggests otherwise.
In the article, he speaks glowingly and factually about the great success story of the government provided “extension agents,” who work tirelessly to help our farmers increase their productivity. Their work is a textbook example of innovation and experimentation and collaboration. They try all sorts of new ideas, in many pilot programs, and they are always calling each other asking for advice on what will solve their specific local challenges.
The article tells the history of this long-running and ongoing and successful government program (officially the U.S.D.A. Cooperative Extension Service). The first agent was called an “Agricultural Explorer.” How’s that for a title?! Gawande includes this provocative paragraph:
Cynicism about government can seem ingrained in the American character. It was, ironically, in a speech to the Future Farmers of America that President Ronald Reagan said, “The ten most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ” Well, Lewandowski (a current extension agent based in Athens, Ohio) is from the government, and he’s here to help. And small farms in Athens County are surviving because of him. What he does involves continual improvisation and education; problems keep changing, and better methods of managing them keep emerging—as in medicine. (emphasis added).
Though the article is about the health care crisis, and the encouraging lessons to be learned from the government extension agents, the formula is clear, and provides quite a successful business model: innovation + experimentation + collaboration can lead to a successful tomorrow.
(Check out Gawande’s web site to read some of his earlier articles. He is a terrific writer).
Here are three of his key points:
1. Watch the guards, not the ball. They will almost always go to the point of attack on a running play.
2. When the interior offensive linemen (i.e. two tackles, two guards, and the center) stand up, expect a passing play. They cannot proceed beyond the line of scrimmage because they are ineligible to receive a pass. Usually they try to form a horseshoe-shaped space (i.e. “the cup”) from which the quarterback is able to throw the ball.
Note: If the QB is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it is a “sack.” If he is forced to throw the ball sooner than he wants to, that’s a “hurry.”
3. When the offensive linemen charge forward and begin to block defenders, expect a running play. Beyond one yard, they become ineligible receivers downfield and are immediately penalized if a pass is thrown.
I presume to add a fourth:
4. Watch what players do (and don’t do) on the sidelines during a game to determine how much spirit a team has. Are coaches conferring with players? Is the quarterback conferring with running backs and receivers? If the offensive team is on the field, are the defensive players standing along the sidelines cheering them on…and vice versa?
Note: In baseball, there is an especially apt phrase, “the 25-cab team.” After a game while on a road trip, if there is little (if any) team spirit, each of the 25 players departs in his own cab.
I highy recommend Oristano’s book, A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football.
Happy New Year!
Dallas-Plano-Irving moved up from # 23 to #13, (and Fort Worth-Arlington moved up from #29 to #12) in the 2009 list of best cites for job growth. Read the 2009 Best Performing Cites list here. (Texas has 7 of the top 15). The Huffington Post summary includes this:
Cities in the index were ranked based on how well they create and foster jobs, and the data used in the assessment reflected both long- and short-term measurements of employment, wage/salary, and technological growth.
Texas, it turns out, accounted for four of the top five cities in the report. The study’s authors suggested that the Texas metropolitan areas ranked so well due to their resources and technology sector, in addition to the “state’s favorable business climate and its ability to attract jobs and corporations away from higher-cost states…”
Well, they may attribute the good climate for jobs in Texas to those factors, but I think I know the real reason why Dallas jumped up so dramatically. Dallas is the only city with the First Friday Book Synopsis. Where else can you learn about two business books, once each month, in a compact, fast-paced, energetic, great networking, scrumptious buffet breakfast setting. Register here for the January meeting, (the SECOND Friday of January due to holiday conflict), January 8. This event is a great tool for business leaders/business thinkers/business innovators.
Ok — I admit that that’s probably not the key reason for the jump up the list. But it’s still a great monthly event.
“Life is difficult; don’t be lazy” – 2 great lessons from M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, maybe the best book I have ever read
Yesterday, Bob Morris and I both weighed in on this blog with our “best business books” list from 2009. (Our lists were very different – mine here, Bob’s here). So I started thinking about which books I have read that have had true, lasting impact on my thinking, and even occasionally my behavior. I keep thinking back to one book. I read it in the 1980’s, and though I do not live up to its teachings, I certainly remember them — frequently. I might even call it the best book I have ever read, because it gives me such profound life lessons.
The book is The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. (You can purchase the 25th anniversary edition at Amazon here). My well-read and fully-marked-up copy is in storage, but thanks to Amazon’s preview feature, I here include the greatest first page of a non-fiction book that I have ever read:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see that truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
From this book, I remember two great truths:
1) Life is difficult. When you accept this truth, then you can “expect” the next difficulty to arrive, and tackle it as it should be tackled – as the next difficulty on your list of difficulties. There is no life without difficulties! This is truly a great truth. (And, yes, very Buddhist – although you can find plenty of confirmation in Christian Scripture).
2). You (and all of us) are lazy – seek to overcome your laziness! In the book, Peck does not define laziness as doing nothing (couch potato laziness), but rather, laziness is spending time on the “wrong thing.” And the “right thing” is always beckoned by love. Here is the principle: Even if we work diligently on work that needs to be done at some point, if it is not the thing you should be working on at this moment, it is laziness. Avoiding the challenge that we most need to tackle is laziness.
Peck defines laziness as a failure to love. Here is a quote (lifted from a quotes page from the web; as I said, my copy is in storage): evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love.
So, as we think about the best books we have read in the last year, maybe it is time to revisit books that most shaped us – and to remember their valuable lessons. And if you have never read The Road Less Traveled, let me encourage you to do so. I believe it is worth the investment of time.