Today I have an exciting announcement. Many years ago when I was a teenager, thanks to a local newspaper article about my experiences as a disabled person, I got the incredible privilege of having an amazing individual enter my life. This generous, patient, and extremely talented woman, Joan Darflinger, after reading about me in the paper, got in touch with me and offered to give me private, art lessons in my home for free. While I did not at all consider myself “artistic” at that point in my life and was not sure I would enjoy painting, I decided that it could not hurt to give it a try, so I accepted her offer. Over the next year or so, not only did Joan teach me to paint and discover my creative potential, but she also showed me a lot about how to live life the “right” way too. I will always be grateful for the kindness she showed (a complete stranger) and the lessons she taught me, and I am so happy now to be able to return some of her goodwill through Roll Models.
Joan has been asked to write a Walter Foster art book, which is a really big deal for those of you unfamiliar with the “art world.” The book is going to be called “Waterscapes,” and it will be by Joan Darflinger. It is going to be released this Fall, so be sure to be on the lookout for it, as you will be amazed at Joan’s talent. To help build up anticipation for the release of “Waterscapes,” the publisher of the book has asked that Joan start a blog. In order to get her blog going, she gave me the honor of contributing a Roll Models article that I had written about our time together to her website. I am extremely flattered that she would want my words on her blog, where all of her fans will see. Please take the time to visit her site, and perhaps order her book, so that I can begin to repay some of the kindness she showed me.
Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.
I am always careful with calling myself a motivational speaker when people ask me what I do for a living, because this term has gained a certain connotation over the last few decades. When people think of motivational speakers they often conjure up an image of a guy with a headset microphone drenched in sweat with his shirt sleeves rolled up, as he runs around the stage spouting platitudes like “be the best you you can be.” Since this is not what I do, nor is it something I want to be associated with, I usually call myself a professional speaker or, my favorite, a professional storyteller. This negative image of motivational speakers has not always been the case however, and today for Scott Drotar Literary Review Day I am going to be reviewing a book written by one of the pioneers of motivational speaking, Zig Ziglar. As a businessman turned self-help guru, he helped thousands of people through his motivational speaking and books. Today I discuss his first book that changed so many lives, “See You at the Top.”
Ziglar’s masterpiece on self-improvement may have been written over 35 years ago, but it is still considered one of the best self-help books on the market. This book’s timeless, universal appeal is obvious considering the fact that it has been translated into over a dozen languages, has been printed more than 50 times, and has sold almost 2 million copies. The book’s title, “See You at the Top,” is both a declaration that you will succeed and “reach the top” by applying the information in his book, as well as a clever way of breaking down this self-improvement method. Ziglar uses the analogy of climbing a staircase to represent the path to success. He identifies six different steps (get it? Stairs…steps…) that you have to ascend in order to make it to the top, achieve your goals, and recognize your full potential. These steps include things like setting goals, strengthening your relationships with others, and creating a healthy self-image. By mastering each of these six steps to success and applying them to your own situation you can make incredible positive changes in your life.
Part of what has made this book a classic in the self-improvement genre is the accessible, conversational writing style Ziglar uses to present the information. As you are reading it is almost as if you are listening to the advice of a close friend as opposed to reading a self-help book. He uses examples and anecdotes that really stick with you after reading them, and they are extremely helpful as you are trying to remember what you read and apply it during your day. He also is not afraid to talk about his own life and how the methods he is presenting have helped him achieve his goals. While a lot of writers do this and come across as egotistical or self aggrandizing, Ziglar does this in a way that is both humble and sincere, which only adds to the worth of the information he is sharing. Even though he does use his share of little quips and one-liners throughout, they do not take away from the lesson being discussed. Plus, since he was one of the first people to use platitudes like this, it seems like less of a cliche. So although I could have done without the catch phrases, it is not a major issue. The only other aspect of this handbook on success that may be problematic for some is his frequent references to his faith and Christianity. While I did not have a problem with this, it could be a deterrent to readers with different beliefs.
Despite the fact that he spawned a horde of platitude spouting copycats, Zig Ziglar is without a doubt one of the founding fathers of motivational speaking. The reason he was able to help so many people realize their full potential is readily apparent after you read just a single chapter of his first book, “See You at the Top.” The information that this book provides is something that everyone can benefit from. I have no doubts that it will still be considered one of the best self-improvement titles on the market in another 35 years thanks to its universally applicable advice. That is why this classic gets a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
As we grow up and become fully functioning members of society, our lives become more and more complex, cluttered, and chaotic. We are constantly being asked to do things by our boss, colleagues, spouse, and children, and as a result of this we end up getting pulled in a thousand different directions. Even though our intentions are good in trying to satisfy all of these requests, by spreading ourselves too thin we often end up doing more work but producing lower quality results. This lifestyle of putting in extra effort for less return will eventually take its toll on your happiness and even your health if it goes on for too long. In order to avoid getting burned out in this way we need to learn to simplify our lives, and that is exactly what this week’s entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review can do. This guide to a simpler way of living, “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown, will teach you how to remove the clutter from your life.
“Essentialism” is about figuring out what people and things in your life are actually important to your well-being and happiness right now, and then learning to eliminate everything else (the clutter). The author uses the analogy of cleaning out your closet to present the Essentialist way of thinking. He describes how when you go through your clothes in your closet, you typically have 3 piles. One for the items you will definitely wear and will keep (the essential items), one pile for the things that don’t fit or you will never wear again (the nonessential items), and one for the clothes you are not sure about (the reason you need this book). The method discussed in this book will allow you to effectively deal with this third pile, so that only the essential items remain. Mckeown does a terrific job of breaking down this process into easily digestible segments that allow you to absorb and apply the techniques gradually.
One of the things I liked most about this book was that the author makes it clear that his method is not a one-time event where you purge your life of the nonessential items and live happily ever after. Adopting an Essentialist perspective is a way of life. These Essentialist ideals have to be practiced constantly in order to be effective, because the world around you will always be presenting you with requests, and you must decide whether they are essential or not. While Mckeown does admit that it takes a lot of time and energy to fully adopt the Essentialist lifestyle, he also states that the rewards for completing this process are well worth the effort. Additionally, the various Essentialist techniques are discussed independently, and though the results are amplified when the skills are used together, you can implement only a few of them and still see an improvement in your life.
The one problem I had with this otherwise wonderful read was that at times his way of thinking was a little utopian. He talks about cutting certain people out of your life and refusing requests that are nonessential without giving much thought to the possible consequences for some of these actions. While maybe a few select individuals could get away with ignoring social niceties and saying no to their superiors at work (and he does discuss how to do these things tactfully), most of us have to endure a certain number of nonessential items in our lives in order to survive socially and professionally. His Essentialist lifestyle is wonderful on paper, but it would be difficult for most people to actually completely implement this way of thinking and maintain their way of life. Despite this overly optimistic perspective, their is a lot of valuable and applicable information to be gained from his method and way of thinking.
So often in life we get to the point where we are so busy that we end up working our ass off just to stay afloat. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way. By adopting and developing the Essentialist lifestyle, we can actually do less, but achieve more. This incredibly valuable information, coupled with the accessible way Mckeown presents his methods, are what make this such a great book. That is why “Essentialism” gets a 4 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
It feels like it has been forever since I last made an entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review. This week’s book, like many of the works I have reviewed, was something that I read as a result of my ever-growing TED talk addiction. I watched a talk by the best-selling author of “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” Jon Ronson, about psychopathy, and I was so intrigued by what he had to say that I quickly went to www.Amazon.com and purchased the book that spawned his talk, “The Psychopath Test.” The text version was even more interesting than Ronson’s talk had been, to the point that I had a hard time putting it down. This book is so thought provoking because it examines the pivotal question, and one that as a psychologist I have spent countless hours pondering, “How do you know you are sane?”
In “The Psychopath Test” Ronson takes you with him on his journey to examine the idea of sanity. He does this by looking more specifically at the mental disorder, psychopathy (sometimes called sociopathy). While technically psychopathy is not found in the DSM-5, the handbook containing all diagnosed psychological disorders, it is often lumped in under anti-social personality disorder. It is generally described as having a complete lack of empathy and conscience that allow individuals to function “normally” in society. These individuals are the epitome of “looking out for number one,” and they are often masterful social chameleons who can be deceptively charming, charismatic, and intriguing to achieve their goals. Since these people are incapable of conscience, they feel no remorse for their actions, and this means they will do anything and everything to get what they want. It is believed that psychopathy is untreatable, which means that once you are labeled a psychopath (which is done by taking a mere 20 question checklist), you will be treated as one for life. If the facts that psychopathy is not defined as a mental disorder and that a one-time, 20 question survey can give you this label forever doesn’t raise some red flags about the nature of this disease, and determining sanity in general, I don’t know what will.
While I don’t want to give away too much, Ronson uses these vague definitions and at best mediocre diagnostic criteria, as a jumping off point for his investigation into the world of insanity. He interviews a diagnosed psychopath who allegedly faked having a mental disorder to use the insanity defense to get out of a lengthy prison sentence, but ended up being diagnosed as a psychopath, which is lifelong and untreatable, and served over a decade in a maximum security hospital for the insane. He meets with a hugely successful former Fortune 500 CEO who, although never diagnosed with psychopathy, scored well above the threshold on the diagnostic test. It is actually believed by many that while in the general population the rate of psychopathy is about 1%, in the cut throat world of CEOs and hot-shot Wall Street brokers, where a lack of conscience is often an asset, the rate is as high as 4%. Ronson even meets with a convicted murderer, drug kingpin, and diagnosed psychopath for a polite lunch interview during his quest for the truth. These individuals are just the tip of the iceberg however (can you say scientologists?), as he leaves no stone unturned on his pursuit of uncovering the truth about what it means to be sane.
If the subject matter and the ramifications of the possible results of this journey through the world of psychology are not enough, the writing style of “The Psychopath Test” is also worth the price of the book. Ronson uses his unique, conversational style to put the reader inside his head to hear his thought process throughout the book. This is both entertaining and informative as you get to share in his inner dialogue as he converses with these criminally insane individuals over coffee. This style also does a great job of complementing the frequent dialogue depicting the many intriguing interviews he conducts with psychopaths and psychologists alike throughout the entirety of the book. I cannot think of much of anything that I would change about this look into our minds and what makes us the sane, normal people we think we are.
The question of what it means to be sane, as well as who and how we make this determination, is something that can drive you crazy (pun intended). Ronson does a magnificent job of shedding light on this quandary in a way that is entertaining and insightful. If nothing else, this book will make you start wondering which people in your own life would qualify as psychopaths, which is reason enough to pick it up. That is why “The Psychopath Test” gets a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
Before I get started discussing this week’s entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review, I want to first take a few moments to introduce you to the author of this week’s book, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell, in addition to writing for the “Washington Post,” has written several bestsellers, like “Tipping Point” and “Blink,” in addition to “Outliers,” the book I will be reviewing today, and he has become quite famous as an author who brings complex, interesting, and insightful topics out of the hands of academics and presents it to the public in an easily understood way. With his wild hair and unique mannerisms, he looks like he belongs in a chemistry lab rather than on television discussing spaghetti sauce for the masses, but once you hear him speak or begin one of his books, you will quickly see how engaging he is in discussing his work. To give you a taste of his charismatic energy I have included a TED talk he gave several years ago about people and how we make decisions.
I am sure that now that you have seen his passion for his work, and his talent for breaking down concepts into parts that can be easily understood in a way that is also entertaining, you can see why his work is so popular. This is the exact same style and tone he portrays in his writing, which is what has made his books so incredibly successful.
Now that you have seen the brilliance and enthusiasm that Gladwell brings to his audience, let us take a look at one of his most influential works, “Outliers.” This book is an investigation into what makes people successful. What are the factors that separate the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Robert Oppenheimer’s from the thousands of other gifted individuals that work in the same fields? While we would like to think that things like work ethic, intelligence, and determination are the major contributing factors in being successful, because these are things that we can control to some degree, this text suggests that this may not be the whole story. Looking at things more closely uncovers the fact that there are often elements at work that are completely random and out of our control, like the month you were born, where you grew up, and your family’s financial status during your childhood, that have a huge impact on whether you are successful. Here is an example from “Outliers” that illustrates this concept wonderfully. I have greatly simplified it for brevity, but I think you will get his point.
A disproportionate number of Canadian-born hockey players were born in the first three months of their birth year. The reason for this is that the age group you play youth hockey in growing up is determined by your birth year only, so children born on January 1st will play with and against children born on December 31st of the same year (almost a full year apart). For young kids a lot of growth and development can occur over a full calendar year, which gives the children born in earlier months a distinct physical advantage. This translates into those players getting more ice time, playing on better teams with better coaches, and so on when they are young. This seemingly insignificant advantage early in life just multiplies over time, as the good players (born earlier) get more opportunities to improve, and as a result get better and better, which is a phenomenon Gladwell calls, “accumulated advantage.” By the time these children are all grown and balance out physically, the disparity in ice time and quality of coaching over their lives has already determined in large part who will be most successful.
This is a perfect example of how something as seemingly inconsequential as your birth month can have a profound impact on your success and the direction of your life. While this does depict the role that chance and societal norms can play in your life, it also touches on another major theme from this book, the “10,000 hour rule.”
The idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill, the “10,000 hour rule,” is attributed to the researcher Anders Ericsson, but it has been fairly widely accepted by the academic community. This is the flipside of the coin so to speak, when compared to the idea that random chance determines a large part of how successful you are. Consider the “10,000 hour rule” the “nurture” to the “nature” of circumstance. Random occurrences and chance may play a large part in determining your success, but so does your willingness and desire to be successful. 10,000 hours is an extremely large amount of time to devote to any one task, and to help put it in perspective, it would take working 20 hours a week, every week, for 10 years in order to reach this point. There are many well-known examples to support this concept that Gladwell brings up. For example, Bill Gates (through a stroke of luck and random chance) had access as a young teenager to a computer system, and this was at a time when computers were luxury items for businesses and universities only. Over his teenage years, instead of cruising around town and talking to girls, Gates was busy geeking it up by experimenting and tinkering with computer coding. As a result, he easily amassed 10,000 hours of practice time using computers before even going to college, giving him a huge advantage over other individuals, and eventually leading to his enormous success. There are several other interesting examples of this concept in the book (one is about “The Beatles” that I found really interesting), but I will let you read them for yourself.
In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell tries to challenge the traditionally accepted notions about success, and make us think about and examine our lives and society. He definitely accomplishes his goal and presents several ideas for the reader to ponder as they think about being successful in their own life. This feat is even more impressive when you take into account the way that he can present this information to you in a way that is not only enlightening and educational, but also extremely enjoyable and entertaining. I guess this should come as no surprise though, since Gladwell reached the 10,000 hour level of mastery in writing many years ago when he worked for the “Washington Post” from 1987 to 1996. This is a fantastic book that provokes a lot of thought and a few laughs as well. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, non-fiction read, and that is why “Outliers” gets a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
It is once again time for me to present to you a tome of knowledge that you can use to improve your life. This week’s entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review is a book designed to give you the skills to best navigate the fast-paced world we live in before it passes you by. The author, Bill Jensen, is a world renowned speaker and one of the foremost authorities on simplifying how work gets done and finding ways to work smarter, not harder. In “Disrupt!: Think Epic. Be Epic.” he has taken information he obtained from interviewing more than 100 individuals who have successfully been able to change and adapt to our ever changing world, and then examined these interviews looking for the most common skills and habits that led to their success. In the end, he came up with 25 tools that you can use to stay ahead of our rapidly changing society, which he has compiled together in this book.
Over the last 30 years or so, the world we live in has started changing at a faster and faster rate. While it used to be that major technological advances and life changes occurred over months or years, with the invention of the internet and cell phone, we now have our lives changed by new inventions or ideas almost daily. These now frequent disruptions in our lives are something that you must learn to use to your advantage, if you want to be successful and happy. Jensen compiled these 25 habits to teach you to successfully manage this constant barrage of chaos and change. He breaks the habits into three groups. First, he discusses how to go about being successful and creating your own change. If disruptions are going to happen whether you like it or not, and they are, you might as well be the one running the show. The best defense is a good offense. Second, Jensen gives some strategies for riding the wave of change when it does sneak up on you. These tools help you control the chaos. Third, he presents a handful of general principles for creating a mindset that will allow you to make the most of the disruptions in your life and be happy in this uncertain, ever-changing world. Many of these concepts are things I have discussed in previous posts, like resilience and following your passion, but he presents them from a different perspective that I found quite interesting.
The writing style of “Disrupt!” is different from most books on topics in psychology. Jensen uses a conversational, laidback style that I found refreshing and enjoyable, and he does this without sacrificing the quality of the content. He is not afraid to put things in terms everyone understands, and he pulls no punches which is evident right away with chapter titles like “Do Epic Shit” and “Don’t Fight Stupid.” Both of which are great advice, but few authors would be willing to put things quite so eloquently. There are lots of anecdotes and quotes taken from the more than 100 interviews he conducted in preparing this book that were insightful and entertaining. The only issue I have is that while he claims that the habits are designed to help with disruptions in every area of your life, the vast majority of the examples and stories are about the corporate world. This does not prevent the information from being useful, but by diversifying the examples a bit, he would have made things easier to understand and engaged a wider audience.
The information contained in “Disrupt!” is something that everyone needs to know if they want to be able to keep up with the rapidly changing world we live in. Jensen has shared the tools you need to be successful and happy as you are constantly being faced with disruptions to your daily life. This book is a joy to read, and you will have no problem grasping, remembering, and applying these habits to achieve success in your own situation. The refreshing writing style and the quality and quantity of incredible content that is presented in this handbook on success is what earns “Disrupt!” a 4 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
You all know what day it is so say it with me…It’s Scott Drotar Literary Review Day! This week I present to you a book that looks at the very core of human nature and what makes us tick. Businesses and corporations are constantly striving to find ways to get the most work and return out of their employees. Companies frequently offer incentives like an increase in pay, bonuses, and more vacation time to motivate their workers to perform at a higher level. In this week’s entry, author, Daniel Pink, shows that these external rewards not only do not increase employee productivity, but they can actually diminish it in certain situations. He goes on to discuss the things that do drive us to greater and grander accomplishments, and how to apply this knowledge to your life. This week I examine the psychology classic, “Drive.”
In “Drive” former lawyer and author, Daniel Pink, attempts to answer the question of what makes some people perform better than others. What drives us? He begins by summarizing the current methods used by companies to try to motivate employees, which he calls “Motivation 2.0.” This approach, which has been the primary motivational strategy adopted by businesses, operates on the premise that people work harder to gain rewards and avoid pain. This is basically a “carrots and sticks” perspective on driving performance, and basically states that you can get employees to work harder by offering external incentives and punishing failures. While very few people would disagree with this point of view, and it can be effective in the right context, it turns out that there are numerous situations where this approach is actually counterproductive.
The business landscape has been undergoing a shift over the last 30 years from a world dominated by blue-collar, boilerplate workers to a world where employees with analytical and technical skills are in highest demand. Research has shown that with this change from mindless, robotic work to work that requires more critical thinking and creativity, has come a change in what drives employee performance. It turns out that external incentives can limit our ability to think critically and creatively, which will hinder performance in the types of jobs that are becoming most important, such as computer programmers, graphic designers, and engineering. In order to improve performance in this new corporate atmosphere, you have to offer, not external, but internal incentives. Pink discusses three internal incentives in his text, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Without giving too much away, employees will perform better when they are given control over the work they do, when they can better themselves, and when they are doing work that benefits others. He goes on to describe each of these internal incentives in detail, as well as how and when to apply them.
The information contained in “Drive” is so valuable that Pink was asked to give a TED talk about this topic. In his brief, 18 minute talk, he covers how the old, “carrots and sticks” method is no longer the best way to improve employee productivity, and how the use of internal incentives can be more effective in many circumstances. If you still are not sold on the fact that you can benefit greatly from this incredible book, here is the TED talk Pink gave in 2009.
“Drive” was a very enjoyable read in terms of writing style and the presentation of the information. Pink has a flowing, easy-going style, that allows him to present dry, technical details without boring the reader. Countless studies and findings are cited and examined, but the discussion is always kept at a level that any reader can understand. While the focus of the book is on increasing productivity in a business setting, and thusly the majority of the examples throughout the book are business oriented, the author also makes a point to show how these ideas can be applied in anyone’s life. Whether it be motivating your children, your spouse, or even yourself, these concepts can be effective in driving performance.
There is not much bad to say about “Drive.” It presents novel information that can benefit nearly anyone in a way that is accessible to almost everyone. If nothing else, this text will teach you how to get yourself to be as productive as possible, both at work and in your personal life. This is a reward that you should be interested in regardless of who you are and what you do. So, it is pretty much a no-brainer this week. “Drive” gets a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
It is Thursday again already, and that means it is time to make another entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review. This week I discuss a text that presents itself as a handbook on presentation and speaking techniques, but it is much more than that. While it is one of the better books on public speaking strategies that I have read, I think that its real value is as a collection of anecdotes, speeches, and quotes from some of the greatest speakers of all time. By combining these historical examples with the numerous speaking skills it introduces, this work gives the reader an enormous amount of priceless advice on public speaking to apply to their own presentations. This week I present the book, “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln,” by James C. Humes.
In his guide to becoming a great public speaker, Humes discusses 21 tools and strategies to improve your charisma and presentation skills. Although he writes from a perspective of presenting in corporate settings like client meetings, presenting to the board of directors, and motivating employees, the techniques he introduces are readily applicable to almost any public speaking event. Nearly every aspect of speaking is covered from developing your material to working on your verbal delivery to what you wear and your body language on stage. In addition to all of this great information and advice on the technical aspects of speaking, “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” also gives you numerous examples from some of the most influential orators ever, such as John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Shakespeare, to illustrate how to apply each skill. The stories and speeches selected come from a diverse range of professional and historical contexts also, which helps to show how these techniques are useful in lots of different situations. This incredible combination of technical, rhetorical advice and amazing, historical examples makes the information presented in this masterpiece easy to understand and apply to your own presentations.
As you would expect from an author who has worked as a professional speech writer, presentation consultant, and keynote speaker, the writing style of Humes is both enjoyable and effective. He does a great job of keeping his examples of each skill short and on topic by skillfully setting the scene for each quote and anecdote. This is an improvement over many books in the genre that make the reader digest pages of a lengthy speech where only one paragraph is pertinent to the current concept being discussed. I also felt like this text did better than most other books on the subject of speaking when it comes to breaking up the material into digestible sections. Each chapter is relatively straightforward and to the point while still giving you a host of information. The only thing that I took issue with in this book was the way the techniques are presented as equally applicable to all types of presentations. I felt like some discussion about how certain rhetorical tools are more appropriate in certain types of situations more than others would have been useful. For example, in the type of speaking I do, that aims to motivate and inspire people with stories, visual aids and slideshow presentations often do more harm than good, because they take the audience’s attention away from what I am saying. In the boardroom however, using PowerPoint to provide charts, graphs, and other supporting information is a useful tool to make your point. Providing these types of distinctions for each lesson would help the reader best apply all of the powerful techniques that are provided to their own work.
“Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” is without a doubt one of the top three books on public speaking skills that I have come across (and my “ebookshelf” is filled with books on this topic). I guess when the title includes two of the greatest orators of all time, you should expect nothing less. Whether you are an up and coming professional speaker or wanting to improve your presentation skills to climb the corporate ladder, this handbook will provide you with countless insights and examples to improve your craft. Although it could have included more information about situations in which each technique is most effective, there is nothing really bad to say about this masterpiece. Even if you are only looking for powerful examples of rhetorical tools throughout history, this is well worth reading. That is why I give “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
As you may have noticed as of late, recently I have been thinking and writing a lot about the idea of change. Although my current focus probably stems from all of the new, exciting events that have been going on in my life, change is an inevitable and essential part of life, and it is something that should be studied and understood. In keeping with this theme, this week’s entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review is a how-to guide on creating change in difficult situations. This week I present the intriguing book by brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, “Switch:How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.”
Chip and Dan Heath wrote this book in an attempt to help people understand how to create change in almost any situation. They break their method down into three parts and use the analogy of riding through the jungle on an elephant to illustrate each component. First, you must “direct the rider.” This involves giving clear and accurate information to those you want to make the change. This is when you are speaking to their logical, thinking brain. Second, you have to “motivate the elephant.” This involves getting in touch with people’s emotions and feelings to make them want to change. Here you are speaking to their hearts. Third, you need to “shape the path.” This involves framing the change you want them to make in the most effective way possible. This involves creating the best environment and atmosphere to make the transformation. If you point the rider in the right direction, get the elephant moving, and make sure the path is clear, you will have no problem getting through the jungle. Likewise, by giving people direction, making them feel like they want to change, and creating an environment that promotes change, you will be much more likely to succeed in altering people’s behaviors.
The method presented in “Switch” does a good job of breaking down the complicated topic of creating change. The writers have a smooth, enjoyable style that is easy to read and engaging, while also being informative. They use examples throughout the book to illustrate specific ideas within each of the three parts of the method. They also do a good job of citing and discussing the studies that provided the support for the concepts they discuss without boring you with pages of results. Overall, they found a great balance between writing a popular press type piece for the average reader and an advanced text for the academic. Regardless of your level of familiarity with the topic of change, you will find value in this book.
There were a few things that could be improved upon in this handbook on creating change. There were a few times where I felt like the idea they were trying to illustrate didn’t match up well with their example. I found myself having to reread and try to connect the dots, which was often difficult. I also felt like they would get ahead of themselves occasionally, and talk about a topic that they don’t explain until later in the book. The biggest problem I have though is that, while they give lots of information to explain their method, they do not provide much guidance on implementing it. I found myself wanting more information on how to apply their ideas in different contexts.
Chip and Dan do a good job of introducing a method for instituting change in various areas of your life. They break their method down into three distinct parts. You have to reach the minds, the hearts, and the environment of your target audience to have the best chance of successfully creating change. They do a wonderful job of presenting the information in a clear, concise way, but they were lacking in examples of how to apply their ideas, which is not good for a how-to guide. They also have issues with the order in which they introduce their topics, which was confusing at times. Despite the flaws, “Switch” is a great introduction to the concept of creating change, and it is definitely worth reading. This book gets a 3 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.
You are probably familiar with the thought provoking question, “Can God create an object so big, that even He cannot move it?” Brain teasers like this are something I have always enjoyed thinking about and discussing objectively with other geeks like myself. Pontificating about puzzling paradoxes like this is not only enjoyable, but it also exercises your mind and gets you thinking about things in different, often eye-opening, ways. This week’s edition to the Scott Drotar Literary Review is a novella that not only presents an interesting quagmire to consider, but it also goes on to pose an interesting life philosophy to ponder. This week I present “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams’s philosophical mind-bender, “God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment.”
Adams, who states at the very beginning that the ideas he presents are not necessarily his beliefs but merely a thought experiment, structures his work as a long dialogue. To sum it up, a delivery man gets to a house to deliver a package, and when he goes inside he meets an old man. The rest of the book is a conversation between the delivery man and this wise, old gentleman. They cover numerous concepts from philosophy and theology throughout their discussion (including the kitchen sink at one point), but one of the main focuses, which spawned the title of the book, is about God’s omnipotence. It is presented that for an all powerful God, the only challenge would be destroying Himself (a similar enigmatic inquiry to the one I asked above). It is proposed that in order to test His power, God annihilated Himself into a finitely infinite number of pieces, which in turn created the universe (a “big bang” if you will). All of the matter and energy in the universe are little bits of God, or God’s debris. The movement and action of the universe, which are governed by the laws of probability, is God trying to reassemble Himself. This is an interesting premise to think about, and it delves into numerous topics including free will, God’s will, and motivational psychology.
“God’s Debris” is a quick read, and everyone I know who read it did so in a few hours in a single day. This is partly due to the fact that the book is only 144 pages, but it is also a result of the clear, concise writing style of Adams. While a lot of texts on deep, philosophical concepts are filled with difficult terminology and dry, complex sentence structure, Adams manages to give a thorough discussion of these topics in a way that is straightforward and easily understood without sacrificing much depth. This is actually an example of another interesting concept covered in the book, “Occam’s Razor,” which proposes that the simplest answer is usually best. Despite the fact that the content of this thought experiment is complex and will leave you scratching your head, thanks to the accessible writing style and clear use of examples to illustrate each point, you will have no problem getting through this text with a good understanding of the ideas he presents.
Even though I am a fan of pretty much any book that makes me think in new, creative ways, I think “God’s Debris” is a great read. Other than the fact that I wish it was longer, I do not have anything negative to say about this brain tickler. If you enjoy thought provoking books and philosophy, you will get wrapped up in this book, finish it in one afternoon, and think about it for days afterwards. Since anything that makes you think differently is a good thing, this brief, powerful text is a real treasure for the mind. If you are looking to exercise your mind or a quick read for a plane ride, you should pick up a copy of this book. This week I don’t even have to deliberate, and I give Adams’s thought experiment, “God’s Debris,” a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.