Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

More than a week since Seth Godin’s latest book “We Are All Weird” came out, and I still can’t get myself to buy or read it. It’s been reduced to $ 2.99 on Amazon (e-book version) so not even price is an excuse. If you know me, that’s weird! I’ve been an admirer of Seth’s work for many years, I am a first generation member of his online club “Triiibes”, and his work has greatly inspired and helped both my business and the way I look at this world in general. So what happened?

Ever since “Linchpin”, a monumental turning point in Seth’s focus, he has carpet-bombed the world with more of the same: the “Domino Project” illuminating every aspect of his topic, workbooks, e-books, “Graceful” – a book that blew by me unnoticed – and now “We are all Weird”.

My issue with all this is: Linchpins have always existed, they aren’t Seth’s or anybody else’s invention, and repeating the message over and over again won’t change a thing: being special cannot be learned. If you don’t have the virus already you won’t even know about these books. It’s in you or it isn’t. It is a combination of character, pain level and a spark. You don’t need another book to bring out the Linchpin you already are. And that’s all that needs to be said about it.

My final turnoff was Seth’s blog advertising the new book: I kept on reading his synopsis waiting for ANYTHING new, a new angle, a new topic, a new idea. But: nada, it read like a summary of “Linchpin” followed by raving reviews written by some of my fellow Triiibes-folks (in other words: his most loyal fans). Adding those reviews sunk the whole blog from a level of “personal, heartfelt and urgent” straight to the bottom of “buy my book” advertising. All of his own lessons forgotten?

I continue to admire Seth for his earlier work, and for his always brilliant and creative mind, but he has lost me on his current path. The world didn’t stop turning two years ago, important transformations are taking place and I am waiting for the day when Seth will emerge from fighting his demon to contribute thoughts and inspiration to the things that really matter right now.

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Published as the second book of the “Domino Project” series, “Do the work” re-emphasizes in a concise and easy to read way the theme of resistance that Pressfield wrote about in “The War of Art” so impressively. While the latter is still a must-read, “Do the Work” may serve as either a teaser for the real thing or as your second building block to start off on your path as a “Linchpin” – an analogy used by Seth Godin in his book of the same name urging us all to live more self-determined and fulfilled lives than we do today.

“Linchpin” is leaning heavily on Pressfield’s picture of the lizard, a symbol of the reptilian brain, that is holding us back by creating fear of change in us all the time, and so it makes sense to have him provide the second booklet of the series. Other than Godin, Pressfield does, however, tackle the aspect of failure and how to deal with it, which makes “Do the Work” special to me. In a recent discussion I asked Seth about why he is apparently ignoring the fallout of failure (see also my previous review on “Linchpin” on this blog to get the details of my argument), and he answered that – given a choice between my gloomy hyperbole of having to deal with failure and his hyperbole of looking forward to eventual success, he’d prefer his. Fair enough, but the issue remains and if Seth probed this “hyperbole” among his most faithful followers in his “Triiibes” club he might change his point of view.

Either way, Steven Pressfield helps us stare failure in the eye, and despite is brevity  “Do the work” provides a clear view of how to be considerate of the possibility of failure, and how to deal with it when it happens – without falling victim to the lizard brain. As such, “Do the Work” is a necessary and useful addition or even a missing chapter of “Linchpin” you should definitely read.

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Seth Godin just launched the first part of a new series of manifestos expanding on the idea of “Linchpin”. It is titled “Poke the Box” and written by Seth himself; from what I understand more manifestos will be contributed by other authors and will follow in short succession.

The book is leaning heavily on the “Linchpin” theme and its message is probably best summarized as: Don’t be afraid of failing. It matters that you start things, and that you go all the way; some will fail but some will succeed. Then build on what works but when you reach the point where things shift from “adventure” mode into “routine” then go and do something else.

I think I never disagreed with Seth so much as on this message. His thesis culminates in borrowing the analogy of a dandelion, a flower relentlessly spreading its spores all over the place with the effect that some of them will make it, just as a matter of statistics. This works for dandelions receiving sunlight and water for free, but I’m afraid it does not work for humans. To their credit, dandelions don’t have a brain so they deserve a break.

Seth also touches on the aspect of capital; and while relentlessness and passion are important assets to succeed in business, without resources and money it is just not going to work that often. Retelling anecdotes of the few that made it doesn’t help either. There is always the story of the cancer patient who became a Tour de France winner, the small town acting talent who became a Broadway star, or the iconic dish washer turned millionaire. Fact is: while this is true for a fortunate 2%, the “rest” is left in the dust, ends up in poverty or with a second class career. Not for lack of starting but because EVERYBODY started. We’re not the dandelions, we are the spores. Making yourself visible in an environment like this without the right connections or the boost of “right circumstances” Malcolm Gladwell describes in “Outliers“, the question of whether or not you succeed is down to quite a bit of luck. There is a very thin line between winning and failing in life, and it is only partly in our control.

Luckily, we have a brain.

Pardon my Taekwondo analogies, but if you want to break a board with your bare hand you better get it right the first time. Not because your brain can not be brought to reset and build enough confidence for a second strike, but because after the first strike your hand is battered, and you are starting to feel pain and physical exhaustion. Maybe you even broke a bone.

When you start a new business, whatever it is, you will probably need some money. Fail and your financial resources diminish. Fail again and you’re broke. More importantly, your credibility gets invested in each of your endeavors. Without people who believe in you succeeding is not possible, be it as customers or investors. Even a satisfied customer from your first business will be irritated if you shut down on him / her, perhaps leaving a product unserviced or an urgent demand unmet. Shut down twice and you’ll be labeled as unreliable. And even Seth would think twice about investing in a person approaching him for funds for the fifth time, telling him dandelion stories. It just doesn’t work that way. And to decide to just forget about the audience you just disappointed and look for a new one is not everyone’s game, either.

So what about poking the box then? Poke it, but don’t poke it like a baby would. Take one step at a time, but remember your last step and reverse it if the result isn’t what you want. Look under the hood – who says you can’t open the damn thing and check it out?

Check it out because your box might be a bomb – and you don’t want it to go off in your face.

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To my complete surprise my blog post on Alice Miller received tremendous attention. Thank you for your interest in my blog and in the topic which is of the utmost relevance to today’s societies. If you have not read the blog yet, here is the link.

The earth-shaking message of psychoanalysis was that there are no “bad eggs”.  Criminals of all kinds, it was found, were victims of their own upbringing as much as they were perpetrators. This lead to two major developments in western societies:

  1. Abandonment of capital punishment (a.k.a. the death penalty). When we are able to look at criminals not as rotten eggs which you can only toss away but as misguided individuals, then all of a sudden there is a chance of reintegrating them to society. This was and is a hotly debated issue, especially when it comes to sex offenders.
  2. Dominance of the victimization aspect when pursuing crime. In a number of countries, mostly European, there was often as much empathy with a criminal than there was for the victim. Paired with a notorious shortage of funds, this lead to very mild or no punishment for criminals who were released back into the streets too soon. While the discussion was necessary the frustrating effect on crime victims, a feeling of paralysis and of being abandoned by the people in charge of protecting them were the results.

Looking at the above pic, and remembering investigations in the United States showing that a large number of innocent people are killed by mistake each year, I am firmly convinced that the first development is an important step in the evolution of mankind. We just don’t kill each other. Period.

The latter one was and is reason for debate, and the debates have always been polarized. Are the assumptions really true? Isn’t there reason to assume that a sex offender will always be a sex offender – is it an addiction? But if we release them and force them to put signs in front of their doors, do we really give them a chance to reintegrate into society? Should we accept that there will be errors? “Errors” meaning perhaps killed or raped children?

There is of course a lot of room between those severe crimes and other people who are sent to jail for theft and such. Not many offenders make it back into society, mainly because they simply go back to the same or a worse environment than before. Which would underline that the environment DOES in fact matter, and that investing in a change of the environment would be a better investment than money spent on more prison cells.

Designing environments that will teach our children to be honest and non-violent is something that we have failed at miserably in the past. It seems to be first and foremost task to create a more peaceful world.

What are the elements of such an environment?

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Alice Miller

Alice Miller, Swiss psychologist and author of the groundbreaking book “Drama of the gifted Child” died on April 14 this year at the age of 87, according to a press release by her publisher. Assuming that you’ve never heard of her, here is why her work was so important back in the early ’80s.

The late ’70s and early ’80s were the era of a discipline named psychoanalysis. Up to this point psychology had more or less favored the idea that children were born either “good” or “bad”. If a child was “bad” it wasn’t the parent’s fault, it was just one of those bad eggs we always hear about.

Psychoanalysis claimed the opposite: children are born as “white sheets of paper”, they are conditioned to be who they are during the first few years of their lives. This belief manifested itself in “anti-authoritarian” upbringing of children meaning that no limitations whatsoever were set to hinder the child’s creative and personal development. The idea was dropped quickly as most parents were intolerant to smashed furniture and drawings on the ceiling.  Important research discovered, however, that the early years of childhood are indeed crucial for who we will become, and how we view the world. In my opinion, the most important book written in this era was “I’m ok, you’re ok” by Thomas Harris which, 40 years after it’s first publication, remains a must-read for anyone searching for answers on why we act like we act.

Psychoanalysis lead to the conclusion that actually none of someone’s actions are their own “fault” – it’s the parents or, more broadly, the environment, that is to blame. Alice Miller sent me into a deep depression for a while before I realized she was wrong by claiming that not only are we “programmed” by our environment to do what we do after birth but we are also unable to reverse it in our lifetimes, leaving us with a margin of perhaps 20 – 30% room for individuality and 70 – 80% of induced behavior. A horrible thought and simply unacceptable to me.

Luckily, further studies carried out on twins who were separated at birth (by circumstance, not experimental design) showed a surprising amount of similarities despite of the completely different environments they grew up in, effectively refuting psychoanalysis altogether, which was the end of it.

What remains is the realization of human beings as hybrids of a mix of things:

  1. We aren’t born as white sheets of paper. We are born with a “pre-existing” personality of which we aren’t quite sure where it’s coming from.
  2. We are also born with specific physical and psychological conditions resulting from the time we were in our mother’s wombs. Stress, drugs, alcohol, traumatic situations or the opposite of those affect who we are.
  3. We are then filled to the top with our parent’s values, views of the world and behavioral patterns until the age of 5 or 6 at which we start discovering the outside world, thereby benchmarking what we learned from our parents against the reality we perceive.
  4. The really good news is: there is a LOT of room to change who we are after comprehending who we are. It’s hard and painful for most but doable.

Which is why, despite of her fundamental errors, I think Alice Miller’s work was so important: it helped spread an invalid theory far enough to prompt research to the contrary. Without the migraines she gave me as a teenager I wouldn’t have set off so persistently to prove her wrong. Thank you.

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The Anti-Résumé Revolution

The new book by Angela Lussier “The Anti-Résumé Revolution” can work as an inspiration for everyone, but most importantly for those who lost their job, those who are looking for a new or better job, those who are afraid of losing their job, or those who would like to take the big leap into self-employment.

As the title already suggests it is not about writing what one would consider a traditional résumé or starting a traditional job search. It is a work of art, a revolution, that will help you overcome the devastating blow of losing your job by reminding you of all the strengths and talents you have, gently guiding you away from losing your head or fall into a depression, to channeling your energy in activities that will build your self-esteem, determine your goal(s), what steps to take, which methods to use, and finally laying out a plan of action chopped up in digestible pieces and realistic goals.

She starts off by explaining why traditional methods are outdated and don’t work anymore and continues with introducing and explaining alternatives that, if you are prepared to go along for the ride, can lead to amazing results. Authenticity, eliminating doubt, building credibility and being honest build the foundation. Dare to be different. We all know that this can be quite difficult, especially if we desperately need a job, but done the right way, and Angela give some great tips, this can actually be your greatest advantage and greatest favor to yourself. From there she dives into topics such as building a network, how to do it (especially if you are uncomfortable approaching strangers), and why it is so important to have one. To branding yourself, why it is important to let people know what you can do for them, what services you have to offer, in which areas you succeeded. To language you should use or avoid in a résumé, how to prepare for an interview or any other important conversation for that matter, to make informed decisions or ask key questions. Last but not least you reach the pages where you landed your job and how to impress your employer and your colleagues. A tricky area, because many employees believe in being invisible and just fitting in is the best approach, however, Angela shows why this may not be your best bet and ways to shine and be seen as a real asset – and not just in your bosses eyes.

For the self-employee-to-be Angela provides some additional tools and tips based on her own experience. They may sound easy and mundane at first, but as soon as you read her chapter about Mistakes you will see how easily these simple but important rules can be forgotten in the heat of the action.

Angela knows that her approach is difficult “no one ever said change was comfortable”, because it means stepping outside your comfort zone, but her clear writing style, humor and personal touch make it easy to follow and a fun book to read. It is an adventure she takes the reader on, an adventure to finding fulfillment – and not just in your professional life. If you allow her ideas to enter your mind and life you will undoubtedly see change happen, change for the better. It is not a “one-fits-all” approach and she encourages us to manipulate her tools and ideas to make them work. Each one of us lives in different circumstances and has different goals in life, but these ideas are the tools to overcome what is called the “Lizard or Reptilian Brain” (an expression I stole form Seth Godin’s book Linchpin), the part of your brain that will always hold you back, because you are not sure what the outcome of your action(s) may be, what people may think of you. Please feel free to continue this list. It is a call for action! Action that will help us find a new job, a better job, a fulfilling job in a shorter period of time because we are different, and because we do things differently. But she also reminds us that we will only succeed if we define our goals, follow through with our action items and make them measurable, otherwise all these ideas remain a dream and unfulfilled.

If you are curious now and would like to read the book you can get it here. The book look like this:

…and if you like to see the making of, please click here.

Have fun!


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Linchpin cover I am grateful for the opportunity to review an advance copy of “Linchpin” by Seth Godin, marketing visionary and bestselling author of books like “Permission Marketing”, “Purple Cow” and “Tribes”.

At first glance, Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin” is one for the self-improvement section rather than the marketing shelf. But then, marketing is all about interaction, communication and relationships. Each of Seth’s books is about the essence of marketing AND people at the same time, two things that are inseparable. This one just zooms in a lot more on you, the reader.

Written in bite size chapters like all of his more recent books it is easy to read, although the weight of Seth’s words suggests that you spend more time on each chapter than with the previous ones. This particular style of writing is common to quite a few authors these days, Americans in particular, and I am not a big fan of it, especially as the key phrases of the book are being repeated quite often, mantra style.

Just ignore it and you will discover a work of art that is an impressive humanitarian statement as well, a book containing much of Seth’s personal life experience, a book that comes across as very authentic and honest. I have the privilege of knowing Seth and experienced first hand that the generosity he describes as a key factor of life in “Linchpin” is part of his own nature as well. Seth is not only giving examples of his (and other people’s) success stories, he openly talks about his defeats, too. Examples of “art” are ranging from Richard Branson to a man few people know who is serving coffee at a restaurant, both of which are equally relevant.

You should further ignore scientific inaccuracies concerning the reptilian (“lizard”) brain which Seth urges us to switch off as it fights our efforts to move forward and leave the comfort zones of our lives. I am not a scientist either but this part of our brain is there for a reason; it warns us of danger and triggers basic decisions such as “run” or “fight” subconsciously. I don’t think we can afford to live without these instincts and would prefer a concept in which we acknowledge and respect our reptilian brain and seek balance with it, knowing when to listen and when to overrule it. This doesn’t take away from the book’s message, though: Seth is more generally speaking of the “Resistance” as the phenomenon in our heads we need to fight, and I can go with that perfectly well.

The word “happiness” is not in the book per se but that’s what it is all about. Its vision of our future is an optimistic one, it does actually give you the tools to become a happy person but it also holds you accountable for creating the roadmap to your individual happiness by yourself – there is no other way, and I am sure he is right. The beauty also lies in the prospect of receiving kindness and gifts from other people including businesses and companies of all sizes who will benefit from having Linchpins like you as employees, or fade into mediocrity. Uninspired companies make average products, commodities, which customers buy at the lowest price, forcing companies to cut cost and become even more average. Rather than pushing a rock uphill, there is a fascinating way for each of us to start from the top of the mountain, like an avalanche gaining momentum with every step.

“Linchpin” will be available in everywhere on January 26, 2009.

ISBN 978-1-59184-316-0

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