Monday, May 26, 2008

Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting - Lynn Grabhorn

Subtitled: The Astonishing Power of Feelings. I got a lot out of this book. It was recommended to me by my business coach - someone I seem to fight less and resist less these days. Now I ask him what book I should be reading and he tells me which one. I approach what he has to say with an open mind. Ah, yes, the mind! It would be easy to connect this book to the well know proverb: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs, Ch. 23, v.7)

What an idea that our thoughts and our hearts are somehow connected and rule everything that happens in our lives! I have an active life-of-the-mind, but Lynn Grabhorn argues it's really about what we feel. That positive energy, positive thoughts, deciding what we want in life rather than living based on "Don't Wants" is the key to success and happiness. And I do believe her. She uses the word "feeeeelings" throughout the book to emphasize her point that it's not all about analysis and strategy. She contends that what we feel every day feeds "The Law of Attraction." If you send out negative energy, that is what you attract back to yourself. Many times it's the very thing we don't want. But it's subconscious - we don't recognize our own negative thoughts, feelings and ultimately our behaviors. We have to work at feeling positive, because sending that energy into the world is what attracts back to us the very things we want the most.

It's a simple but powerful concept. Don't think it's easy. When you start to consciously "grade" your thoughts and feelings based on whether they are positive or negative, you realize we all subconsciously feed our negative monster without realizing that's what we are doing. Try going through the day aware of all your negative feelings - dirty dishes in the sink, terrible traffic, the slow checker at the grocery store, the cost to fill up our gas tank. We have lots of negative feelings over small stuff. Think about the big stuff: difficult boss, office politics, paying the bills, launching a business, poor relationships, planning the rest of our lives. How much is subconsciously infused with the negative? The "I don't want . . ."

I found the book very motivating and enlightening. I ordered 3 copies, one for each of my children. They may or may not read it, but understanding that what you put out there is what comes back is one of the essential lessons of life. And I am living more consciously aware of my positive and negative feelings and behaviors.

I highly recommend the book whether you are person who can deal with the metaphysical or not. Whatever you call it, the universal law that underlies this book is both valid and real.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Platinum Rule - Tony Alessandra,Michael J. O'Connor

Subtitled: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities - And How They Can Lead You to Success. Only the book is so much more than that. But you don't know that until you read it. You don't even believe that until you read it. My highly tolerant and very patient mentor has told me about this book for years. But it took a dramatic turn in our working relationship to actually motivate me to buy the book and read it. And now I feel like such a fool for not having read it sooner.

As the title suggests, this is a twist on "The Golden Rule" which we all remember from elementary school as being: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Only that's a bit misguided. Because how I want it done unto me might not be at all how you want done unto you. Hence the "Platinum Rule" is about doing unto others as they would choose to have it done. That is a deceptively simple idea. Because how do I know what it is that you want?

We have to learn first about our own styles of communication and motivation before we can understand what drives other people and how we must adapt our communication style to deliver what they require. In the very last chapter of the book, the authors point out: "By choosing how we act, we can encourage others to respond more positively. This works not only for adults in the workplace but for people of all ages in all of life's other arena's: home, school, sports, shopping, you name it! . . . Being the best person you can be by treating people the way they want to be treated pays off enormously." Deceptively simple, but you won't believe this until you read the book.

This was very life changing for me. Mainly because I had to look at, and then own, the personality type that I am: a Socializer. Or more precisely within the subcategories, a Directing Socializer ("The Enthusiast") on the borderline with a Thinking Socializer ("The Impresser.") After I got over being defensive about this assessment and climbed out of my pit of denial, I could start to understand the fundamental truths of what the book was saying. This is not to say that I agree with all of their broad generalizations about the four personality types, only that I agree they exist, and that learning to adapt to other people's communication styles and ways of thinking is extremely beneficial to everyone involved. This is sensitivity training at it's very best and it's very practical. This is very much a "how to" kind of book: First the what, then the why and finally the how.

My coach and mentor is a Thinker. He works so hard to make me understand, accept and implement what he knows to be true. And I resist. But I never understood until now that he is grounded in logic and I am grounded in feeling. He's brought me a long way, but I have to meet him halfway. And I couldn't do that when I didn't understand how we were approaching the same subject from different perspectives. He has worked to adapt to my communication style, but I never realized that there were different styles that needed to be adapted to!

Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a client who is also a friend. It was not a business related conversation, but in the middle of emphatically stating my opinion, Nancy said: "But it's not about you Catherine. It's just not all about you." And I was stunned, but totally got the message. It was a bulls eye. The center of my universe might be me, but no one else will be joining me there. And my coach has probably said that a hundred different ways in as many situations and I never heard the message. I understood he was speaking English, but I wasn't getting it. I got it now.

This book is invaluable. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. It can open up a whole new world of understanding in why we speak but are not heard, and why we "listen" but do not hear. We need to focus on the needs of other people - not just our own. This book shows us how to recognize what it is that other people need and to adapt our own behaviors to provide that level of communication so that they "win" and so do we. It is indeed life changing. Don't wait as long as I did to read it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz

Subtitled: Why More is Less. How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction. I heard Barry Schwartz speak at Brand ManageCamp '07 in Chicago this past September and was so impressed with his presentation I immediately ordered the book. It's taken me awhile to get to it, but it was worth it. There are so many wonderful concepts put forth here, backed up by excellent research and anecdotal illustrations. It's a very engaging book and his writing style makes it very easy to read. There are some similar threads and research in this book that also appear in Stumbling on Happiness (Mar. 08) and The Wisdom of Crowds (Dec. 07).

One of the most memorable and important of his theses is dividing people into those who are maximizers and those who are satisficers. They are fairly self explanatory labels but the book does an excellent job of giving examples of the types of behaviors exhibited by both. Maximizers tend to experience anxiety in the process of making choices: they are constantly assessing the "best" of the choices, sometimes paralyzed by considering the options both real and imagined, and often less satisfied with what they choose because of constantly considering all the options that weren't chosen. Satisficers on the other hand decide what is "good enough" and make their choices based on that standard and then move on. It's not that satisficers have lower or lesser standards, only that they can make a choice that meets the standard they have set and move forward without second guessing or regretting all the choices that were rejected.

When you grasp these concepts, suddenly you can see these behaviors everywhere. I spent a long weekend in Boston with two long-time friends from high school. I was explaining the book and this particular concept to both Stu and Wayne, who immediately assessed where they were on this spectrum. And it is a spectrum of behavior. Stu is on the maximizer end, I am on the satisficer end and Wayne was somewhere on the spectrum closer to satisficer than maximizer. But as we went through our 4 days together deciding what to do, where to go, what to eat, we were suddenly hyper aware of how we made choices and how that affected our level of satisfaction with the outcome. Being self aware of how we make decisions is key to understanding why we feel the way we do about the results.

Schwartz takes the position that we are overwhelmed with decisions both large and small on a daily basis. The number of choices we are faced with every day is vastly greater than what our parents or grandparents had to face: cellphone plans, 401(k) plans, paper or plastic, smoking or non-smoking, credit or debit, fixed rate or adjustable rate, the warranty plan or not, upgrade to first class, and hey would you like to super size that? We tend to assume that more choice and more autonomy makes us happier. But the research and statistics say otherwise. In countries around the world, the increase in material wealth and standard of living has not made people happier. In fact, the rate of depression and suicide has risen sharply in recent decades in countries like the United States.

Some of this is due to a difference in objective well being and subjective well being. Objectively, it's easy to measure that we have more of everything - food, medical care, better housing, education, transportation, technology. But subjectively, those things don't make us feel better. All the time saving devices in the world from dishwashers to computers have not made us feel that our quality of life is better, or that we are somehow happier than our grandparents were.

The book is quite fascinating and I got a lot out of it. The final chapter is suggestions on how to tackle this overwhelming amount of choice and sort out what is worth expending time and energy in deciding, and what is not. Maximizers tend to apply the same of amount of time and energy into choosing just the right coffee maker that they do in buying a car. Somethings are not worth the investment of that kind of time, energy and anxiety. We need to adopt different behaviors for the times in which we live and that's really what this book is all about. I highly recommend it.