Posts by year: 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000
Posts by month in 2013: Jan. Feb. March April May
Have you ever toiled over a project so much that even when it showed no signs of succeeding, you couldn’t let go? If so, you were a victim of effort justification. Have you ever asked a group of current customers what they thought of your product, then felt good that most liked it while only a few had complaints? If so, you might have insured those positive results with unconscious self-selection bias. Author Rolf Dobelli blames both instances of muddled thinking on our irrationality. His international bestselling The Art of Thinking Clearly presents behavioral economics, psychology, neuroscience research, and concise and relatable anecdotes to explain where we go wrong in our thought processes and how to think our way out of trouble.
According to Dobelli, we generally complicate our lives with doing, believing, and thinking in ways that seem to offer some kind of solution to our current wants and needs, but, over time, become a quicksand of contradictions. When we brush these contradictions to the side, we become increasingly irrational. He explains:
When we encounter contrasts, we react like birds to a gunshot. We jump up and get moving. Our weak spot: We don’t notice small, gradual changes. A magician can make your watch vanish because, when he presses on one part of your body, you don’t notice the lighter touch on your wrist as he relieves you of your Rolex. Similarly, we fail to notice how our money disappears. It constantly loses its value, but we do not notice because inflation happens over time. If it were imposed on us in the form of a brutal tax (and basically that’s what it is), we would be outraged.
No one wants to lose money, but we do. No one would do something “so stupid,” but we do. No one would think they jump to conclusions, but we do. The solution is working toward a clearer understanding of how our brains work, and the truth within a given situation. Dobelli’s book is a fascinating guide.
The short chapters (2-3 pages) are like brain puzzles that can actually change you. The stories will shock you as you recognize the foolish decisions you’ve made, but the stories will also inspire you to chuckle about the human condition. The big takeaway is that we all get too hung up about doing the right thing, making smart decisions, and becoming successful; reading The Art of Thinking Clearly will help you realize that a big part of every challenge is how complicated we ourselves make things. Dobelli guides us to simplify:
Forget trying to amass all the data. Do your best to get by with the bare facts. It will help you make better decisions. Superfluous knowledge is worthless, whether you know it or not. The historian Daniel J. Boorstin put it right: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.” And next time you are confronted by a rival, consider killing him—not with kindness but with reams of data and analysis.
The first thing John Butman, an idea developer, does in his new book Breaking Out is introduce us to the concept of the “idea entrepreneur.” These innovators are not so different from the Edisons of the world; they just happen to tinker with ideas instead of inventions, and have a deep conviction that those ideas deserve and must gain attention. The first step in doing so is to create fascination. “To break out … the idea entrepreneur must find the fascination, connect it with a fundamental human issue, find ways to express it, and be willing to reveal it,” insists Butman. The value of an intriguing personal narrative cannot be over-estimated.
The best way to ensure long-lasting influence is to spread your message—“An idea is not really an idea until it is expressed,” asserts Butman—through multiple mediums. The drive to bring an idea public is three-fold, Butman says: a healthy ego, the fantasy of instant and wide-reaching instant success, and a desire to do good and help others. But, only one of those drivers is a sustainable influence:
The idea entrepreneurs who remain on the stage the longest usually keep their ego in check, get over the fantasy (or never fall pretty to it), and come to the realization that the desire to do good for others will bring them the greatest influence in the long run.
Butman’s examples of these entrenched folks include Zig Ziglar and Cesar Millan.
My favorite section of the book is titled “Respiration.” It dispels that myth that the idea that spreads does so because of the popularity of the static idea. Instead, a valuable idea doesn’t stop evolving after the creator gives it life, but grows as it goes.
By respiration, I mean that the idea starts to breathe and take on a life of its own. A simple way to think about respiration: it’s when other people start creating their own expressions about your expressions. They talk about the idea. They write about it. They incorporate it or make reference to it in their own books, speeches, blogs, articles, and videos.
Respiration is the sum total of expressions about the idea.
Reaching a wide audience and establishing a solid platform to support future iterations is the idea entrepreneur’s responsibility, and Butman sees it as a worthy goal.
Today, the impulse to start movements, make a difference, and create change in the world may have become a far stronger and relevant interpretation of the American dream than the one that has held sway for so long.
Thus, he spends the last third of the book discussing what he calls “The Thinking Journey,” which reflects on the value of passing and planting ideas.
Breaking Out is populated by a surprising crowd of creatives—from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Eckhart Tolle, Ben Franklin to Blake Mycoskie (TOMS shoes), Mohandas Gandhi to Barack Obama--that reflects Butman’s belief that idea entrepreneurs “seek to influence the thinking of others, not repress it or dismiss it. They want change, not power.” There is no doubt that you will learn from Butman, and these inimitable “idea entrepreneurs,” no matter what your message and medium.
Nicco Mele opens his debut book with the following instruction: “Look around you.” It’s an especially poignant opener because the central topic of the following chapters—the internet—is perhaps the culprit behind our collective inability to do so.
The End of Big is broad in scope, as Mele delves into the internet’s role in dismantling big, traditional institutions. He begins with the big news entities, discussing the rise of distributed power via channels like Twitter and Facebook, and the simultaneous demise of large-scale traditional journalism. Mele depicts a two-fold effort against big news. The first part is the agility of the internet. Here he uses how the killing of Osama Bin Laden was broken to the public in contrast with events like the September 11th attacks, Watergate, and the assassination of JFK. The second part is money. The proliferation of media channels—the continued elongation of “the long tail” in the realm of news—has brought big news’ accounts receivable to its knees. Their readers are leaving, and advertisers know it so they’re leaving too.
The End of Big continues to give case after case of how the internet has opened the door for small enterprises to undermine once-invincible institutions. American democracy, centralized government, big entertainment, war, education, and corporations all come under Mele’s critical view. While his scope is praiseworthy, Mele’s ambivalence toward each “End of Big” is what makes the book so engrossing. For example, Barack Obama’s ability to quickly mobilize support online is a demonstration of the power of the internet, a method that did not exist 20 years prior, but it’s equally a demonstration of how any voice could gain such power.
Mele’s pros-versus-cons narrative of the internet’s role in fashioning the future of different major industries is a welcome tonic to the usual “it’s all champagne and roses” or “hell-in-a-hand-basket” perspectives. He describes himself as a tech nerd, and clearly the internet is a subject likely to appeal to a certain group, but Nicco Mele’s message is for everyone. Industries are changing, and looming large are important decisions regarding how we—individually and collectively—will greet, assist, or challenge these changes.
The book’s final chapter, titled “Big Opportunities?” offers up many possibilities. Mele discusses six ways we can turn the potential negative effects of the diffusion of power and influence into positive ones. The message is clear: the internet has empowered all of us, but we are only truly empowered if we accept the responsibilities thrust upon us. Rather than simply allow the future to happen, we must also shape it. Everything we do in life and in business will contribute to the ongoing construction of our hyper-connected future.
“I want to explore what separates the champs from the chumps,” says Adam Grant in the first chapter of Give and Take. Grant sets this up with an explanation of three different personality types on a spectrum of reciprocity: takers, matchers, and givers. Givers and takers are exactly what they sound like, and matchers are the ones in the middle who do a little of both. While we all know and probably dislike takers, and most of us really operate as matchers, Grant argues that there are great benefits to being a giver.
Leading this case-rich study on interaction is Grant’s demonstration of the phenomenon in which givers are both the best and the worst performers when it comes to measuring overall success. He begins with the case of David Hornik, a venture capitalist who takes a “giver” approach to pursuing his friend’s newest startup idea. Hornik doesn’t end up making the deal, and he initially attributes it to his approach. Was he too generous, too friendly? This case is a perfect opener, because it demonstrates both of the potential outcomes that givers can experience. Nice guys—givers—can certainly finish last. However, Grant later supplies a valuable coda to this story. After a few months had passed, Hornik received an offer to buy in to his friend’s startup. It turned out that his giver attitude (not to mention his reputation for success) were too irresistible in the long run. And this is an essential point: givers might lose some in the short term, but they usually win in the long term.
Throughout Give and Take, Grant gives a 360-degree perspective of givers and takers. He demonstrates the importance of distinguishing givers from takers and fakers, and how to operate like a giver without simply becoming a conduit for a selfish acquaintance’s will. And while you might feel compelled to help solve everyone’s problems, that compulsion might also harm you in the process, so he offers advice to givers to avoid the risk of being stretched too thin.
This whole idea of operating like a giver is especially relevant today. Many workers don’t consider themselves to be part of a team in the workplace. We might have inherited our parents’ or grandparents’ worldview, based on a manufacturing economy in which most workers operated independently of each other, completing their own tasks. The American economy today is more service-oriented than ever. According to Grant, more than 80% of Americans now work in the service sector. Whether we realize it or not, we are often working with people to produce results for people. How we interact with people on all sides of our work is exactly the point at which we can consider Give and Take.
Maybe “How will you get ahead?” is not the question to be asking. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I help?”
Many people consider multitasking a modern skill, or even necessity, that results in higher productivity, revealing one’s level of ability, improvisation, and creativity. In truth, the efficacy of multitasking is a myth. When we do many things at once, each task is done with limited effort. This same fallacy is true in terms of vision. We often think our vision can support a wide range of ideas, but instead, its power is diminished when we branch out into too many arenas.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s new book, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, argues that we need to focus on “ONE thing” rather than many things, both in terms of action and vision.
You only have so much time and energy, so when you spread yourself out, you end up spread thin. […] The problem with trying to do too much is that even if it works, adding more to your work and your life without cutting anything brings a lot of bad with it: missed deadlines, disappointing results, high stress, long hours, lost sleep, poor diet, no exercise, and missed moments with family and friends—all in the name of going after something that is easier to get than you might imagine.
And that is what this book promises: to make success easier for you to achieve. It is a book about finding and following one’s singular passion, and a practical guide to narrowing in on what tasks really contribute to success. The authors ask us to envision a line of standing dominos, telling us that when you focus on the “ONE thing,” it’s like a line of dominos that increases in size. That one regular-sized domino can knock down increasingly big dominos.
To discover your ONE thing, Keller and Papasan suggest you ask yourself this question:
What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
That’s the trick: your one thing must have a direct influence and impact on all the other things on your to-do list. And you can apply this process to any area of your life that feels overwhelming or unfulfilling. By “going small,” we can ask better questions, find more useful answers, and manage our work and life in ways that will bring us the same fulfillment faster (and less stressfully) than trying to do everything at once, or doing too much too soon.
The One Thing is as much a book on what not to do as it is a book about what to do. It has an incredible amount of insight into productivity, and how our productivity is tied to our energy and health. And the good news is, with this book in hand, we can start doing it (and stop trying to do too much) right now.