Book Review: How Good Do You Want to Be?

How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion's Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in LifeHow Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in Life
by Nick Saban

I will readily admit that my favorite motivational books are written by coaches at the top of their profession. In order to achieve their goals they have to inspire assistants and athletes with their vision and direct their actions to achieve excellent results. In college football’s Southeastern Conference, one of the toughest conferences to achieve consistent success, Nick Saban has won both conference and national championships as head coach of LSU and the University of Alabama and enjoyed success in the National Football League.

How Good Do You Want To Be was written before Nick Saban became the coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide but it is obvious from his speeches and results at the University of Alabama that he adheres to the principles in this book. A central theme of the book, and his coaching philosophy, is to focus on what you need to do to perform as a champion and not the results themselves. While this might seem obvious, too often people focus on external factors they can’t control and make excuses for why they cannot be successful due to the economy, environment, their upbringing, or a hundred other reasons. As Saban notes regarding the LSU national championship team:

We never talked as a team or as a staff about championships. We simply focused on the process of becoming champions. p.12

Throughout the book he describes in great detail the importance of maintaining focus, discipline, and healthy communication. His focus on developing effective processes and working the system is critical to business or team success. His principles of leadership are evident in the successful careers of coaches who once served as his assistants. He, in turn, credits Bill Belichick, who wrote the forward to the book, for being a positive role model who helped shape his approach.

I appreciate his focus on success in one’s personal life as a component of overall success. If you have great professional success but leave a trail of broken relationships in your wake you have not succeeded. He practices what he preaches and provides sound guidance in this book for integrating work and personal life.

The book is very well organized and it is easy to highlight the important lessons to learn and the takeaway points. Each chapter ends with a summary of the main points that is useful as a review list.

In contrast to a lot of motivational books that are heavy on platitudes and pep talks, Nick Saban’s process oriented approach inspires by demonstrating that if we develop a good system, focus on our preparation and the factors we can affect, we will achieve good results. His advice for dealing with roadblocks, difficult people and situations, and deficiencies through good decision making, not wishful thinking, is a welcome change from the “grit your teeth and bear it” philosophy of many motivational books.

If you are inspired by the book, I would also recommend you watch the DVD Gamechanger¬†(al)¬†which also discusses the championship approach as practiced by the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2009 National Championship season. The access to planning, practices, and his home life reflect what you learn from the book.

Roll Tide.

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Book Review: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

by Charles Duhigg

Though I have read many productivity books in the past, I don’t read many now due to the repeated advice, some of which seems like theory to the author and not their actual practice. I usually skim the books to look for a different approach but gave special attention to this one because of the author.

I was already a fan of Duhigg after the insightful book The Power of Habit. He typically presents good support material, diverse views on the topic, and a tendency to plunge below the surface of “accepted knowledge.” The book addresses productivity as it relates to motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data. He draws on research and anecdotal evidence from a broad spectrum of society, not just the business world as is the case with many productivity books. The author is a good storyteller and uses suspense very well to cycle between the narrative and the research. I found myself tense after reading the account of Qantas flight 32. The appendix is especially valuable because Duhigg describes the application of the productivity areas discussed in each chapter to his own challenges in writing the book.

Although Duhigg describes some techniques for enhancing the productivity areas described above, he mostly outlines the science and principles of improved performance, leaving the reader to determine how to apply them to their personal and professional life. I made several notes of techniques that I will integrate into my own productivity processes. Whether you use a Cove or GTD type approach, the discussion of goal setting and focus will enhance and mesh with the principles of those systems.

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Book Review: The Organized Mind by Dr. Daniel Levitin

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

by Daniel J. Levitin

Much of the valuable productivity literature I’ve read has been written by professionals with experience in personal or business organizational systems who teach lessons learned from consulting and coaching over many years. The Internet is bloated with blog posts outlining individual productivity systems or productivity tips that may be transferable, in whole or part, to the situation of the reader. Dr. Levitin, by contrast, has expertise in the inner working of the mind and approaches productivity and organized thinking from the grey matter out.

According to Dr. Levitin’s site, he “…earned his B.A. in Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science at Stanford University, and went on to earn his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon, researching complex auditory patterns and pattern processing in expert and non-expert populations.” Dr. Levitin has a gift for expressing complex scientific facts and theories in practical, but not simplistic, terms.

For productivity, Dr. Levitin blends neuroscience and the historical development of organizational systems to suggest ideas for improving data management, information filing and retrieval, and handling information. Like productivity expert David Allen, of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, Dr. Levitin suggests developing external systems that efficiently handle information so we can use our minds for more productive work. Whereas Allen focuses on the “mind like water” result of efficient external systems, Dr. Levitin focuses on why the mind achieves this state from a medical perspective.

Dr. Levitin’s section on the executive and daydream capacities of mental thought were extremely interesting and provide insight into some cognitive challenges we face because of the flow of information, technology, and the “multitasking” culture mentality. He also suggests ways to encourage either mode to engage for suitable tasks. His discussion of “flow state” and how to achieve it is very valuable.

Like “The Invisible Gorilla”, the book also challenges what we think we know about how our mind and memory works and what science has revealed. He provides medical insight into the notion of multitasking and what really happens in our minds and the mental impact of task switching on our productivity and efficiency. He also gives us a mind tour of dreaming and learning that is both education and useful.

An important part of this work is the discussion of critical analysis skills and decision making structures to help when we are bombarded with information. It is important to analyze the information package (source, potential biases, authority, etc.) as well as the content of the information itself. His discussion of Wikipedia helps explain the challenge of handling data wisely. He also provides a framework for helping patients and caregivers use medical tests and information to make better healthcare decisions with the diagnoses and research available that speaks to their medical need.

The Organized Mind is a user guide for the mind.

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