What is the point? — We are so frazzled, so overloaded with thoughts and information and content and worries and problems and dilemmas and challenges and…Stop. Listen. Look. …Be still; be mindful.
I presented my synopsis of the newest Ryan Holiday book, Stillness is the Key, at the January, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. It is a very good book. But, more importantly, it addresses a very, very big problem. We are too divided, too distracted, too frazzled and unfocused. We need to be still. We need a little quietness. We need to stop, and think… The noise and the clutter and the bombardment of so much, of too much, is really, really hurting us in ways we do not fully grasp.
As with all the books I present, this book is filled with terrific stories. This one includes stories of Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Ulysses Grant, Marina Abramović, Tiger Woods. They all illustrated the value of finding ways to embrace stillness. (And, in the Tiger Woods story, what happens when you lose it).
So, let me just say that this is a book worth putting on your reading list, and reading…slowly.
In my synopses, I always ask “Why is this book worth our time?” Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This is a book that reminds us that the work that we do is work that we, as human beings, do. Thus, we have to take care of our bodies; our souls; us…
#2 – This is a book that beckons us to slow down, and be still, in a noisy, very fast-moving world.
#3 – This is a book that challenges us to specific practices – disciplines – to cultivate stillness.
And in my synopsis handouts, I include the best of my highlighted passages. Here are a few of those:
• And when basically all the wisdom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.
• This is, in fact, the first obligation of a leader and a decision maker. Our job is not to “go with our gut” or fixate on the first impression we form about an issue. No, we need to be strong enough to resist thinking that is too neat, too plausible, and therefore almost always wrong. Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?
• The best athletes, in the biggest games, are completely there. They are within themselves, within the now.
• Books, spend time reading books—that’s what she (Dorothy Day) meant. Books full of wisdom.
• Knowing what not to think about.
• Socrates was intellectually humble. In fact, he spent most of his life sincerely proclaiming his lack of wisdom. …Diogenes Laërtius would write that what made Socrates so wise was that “he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance.”
• Paul Johnson as a seventeen-year-old, decades before his own career as a writer, met Churchill on the street and shouted to him, “Sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?” Immediately, Churchill replied, “Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.”
• When we not only automate and routinize the trivial parts of life, but also make automatic good and virtuous decisions, we free up resources to do important and meaningful exploration.
• This book is an attempt to answer the pressing question of our time: If the quiet moments are the best moments, and if so many wise, virtuous people have sung their praises, why are they so rare?
• …The premise of this book is that our three domains—the mind, the heart, and the body—must be in harmony.
• …stillness–to be steady while the world spins around you.
So, how do we attain this stillness. Here are thirteen things to “do” that I gleaned from reading the book:
#1 – Limit your inputs… — A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.—HERBERT SIMON
#2 – Start journaling… — This is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.
#3 – Cultivate silence — “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise,”
#4 – Seek wisdom
#5 – Develop a strong moral compass. – Choose virtue. — Marcus Aurelius famously described a number of what he called “epithets for the self.” Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Honest. Patient. Caring. Kind. Brave. Calm. Firm. Generous. Forgiving. Righteous. — Virtue is not holiness, but rather moral and civic excellence in the course of daily life; pure rightness that emerges from our souls and is made real through the actions we take.
#6 – Conquer your anger — The point is that people who are driven by anger are not happy. They are not still. They get in their own way.
#7 – Realize we are truly all connected. – The less we are convinced of our exceptionalism, the greater ability we have to understand and contribute to our environment, the less blindly driven we are by our own needs, the more clearly we can appreciate the needs of those around us, the more we can appreciate the larger ecosystem of which we are a part.
#8 – Embrace routine — (one model is Churchill) — Routine, done for long enough and done sincerely enough, becomes more than routine. It becomes ritual—it becomes sanctified and holy.
#9 – Take a walk! — It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth. —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
#10 – Reflect more! – “If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the Information Age,” four-star Marine Corps general and former secretary of defense James Mattis has said, “it’s lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting.
#11 – Sleep! And Eat! And Walk! — The philosopher and writer Arthur Schopenhauer used to say that “sleep is the source of all health and energy.” — If you want peace, there is just one thing to do. If you want to be your best, there is just one thing to do. Go to sleep.
#12 – Find a hobby! – Fred Rogers had his swimming… Einstein had his violin. – Leisure; but not escapism…
#13 – Act Bravely — To see people who will notice a need in the world and do something about it. . . . Those are my heroes. FRED ROGERS — It’s the old Boy Scout motto: “Do a Good Turn Daily.” — Action is what matters.
And here are my seven lessons and takeaways:
#1 – Noise and activity and information; overwhelm; overload, will not go away. Stress will not go away. We must find ways to cope.
#2 – The practice of stillness is increasingly a business survival skill.
#3 – Silence and solitude – stillness – will not just “happen.” We have to develop the ability to cultivate such practices.
#4 – Stillness enables us to focus; to practice empathy. To be present. All of these are critical abilities for this era of overwhelm. (as in every era).
#5 – You have to actually do some of this – stop; listen; look. Be mindful; journal. Sleep. Walk. Do the actions that lead to stillness cultivation.
#6 – To state the obvious: the inner life (the interior life) shapes everything about us. Pay attention to your inner life. Shape it well.
#7 – And, after you cultivate your practice of stillness, you can be better at being present. You can be here. You can be aware. You can be.here.now…
It really is hard to stop, to be quiet, to genuinely focus, to…be…still. But stillness is the key. It would help us all to develop the ability to cultivate such stillness.
Here is an interesting serendipity. I present synopses of two business books each month at our event. The second book I presented in January was Trailblazer by Marc Benioff. He is a practitioner of mindfulness (stillness), and wrote of his practice in his book. It was a perfect complement to the Holiday book. (I will post my lessons and takeaways from the Benioff book soon on this blog).
You can purchase my synopsis of this book (soon to be uploaded), and many others, at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation from our First Friday Book Synopsis event in Dallas. Click here to see our newest additions.
You get in trouble when…you forget the basics.
Call the basics what you want. The details; following your systems; following your procedures. Whatever you call it, there seems to be a conspiracy in the universe to make us ignore, or abandon, or skip the details; to forget the basics.
This past week, I failed to put something into my calendar correctly. (Thankfully, just a phone conversation; but still…). It was my fault . I knew better. I know better. I had a system in place to do that. But, I was busy…distracted…being an idiot…and I blew it. (Yes, I have apologized, and rescheduled).
Think about all the things you used to do well, all the ways you used to stay on top of your work, and then… and then you got sloppy, you let your discipline(s) slip, you…forgot the basics.
Did you used to be more meticulous with your to-do list?
Did you used to work out more regularly?
Did you used to stop-look-and-listen better?
Did you used to…?
I speak; a lot. In my speaking, I deliver book synopses; many times during the month/year. I have had three people – people who like and appreciate and value my synopsis presentations – observe, and tell me about, a slight change in what I cover in my live synopsis presentations. It was not a change for the better. I had not caught it; had not realized it. I needed to. They were correct. Yep…another back to the basics move for me to make.
So, what about you? Where are you slipping up? Where are you letting things slip? Where are you not paying attention?
Are your systems in place?
Are you working your systems every day…every.single.day?
Don’t forget the basics; your basics!
Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.”
The problem with these books is that they attempt to provide a recipe for challenges that have no recipes. There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations.
There’s no recipe for motivating teams when your business has turned to crap. That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
It’s not easy.
It’s not simple.
It’s not quick.
It’s not easily mastered.
It’s hard – hard as in difficult.
You will make some bad calls.
You will make some whopping mistakes.
You will really mess some things up.
And, the circumstances of the uncooperative world will work against your success. And against the success of your team; your organization; your endeavors.
As I said…difficulty. Difficult difficulty!
Today, I read a blog post, prominently bandied about on different parts of the social media universe, on how to be more productive. It was – how do I say this nicely? – worthless. Practically worthless.
Oh, I did not disagree with it. But it was too…simple.
I’m not trying to be unkind here. I have written a lot of blog posts myself. A lot! Including this one, right now. And I’m trying to tell you, the reader, that’s it’s not that easy.
Will my blog post help you? Not much. Go and read a good book – a book that has been around, and is still useful — about how difficult things are. Read it carefully; slowly. Take your time with it. Ponder things as you read it.
Read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He only survived the Nazi death camps. That qualifies as difficult. (By the way, this book gets a lot of mentions as “the most important book I have ever read” in the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris).
Read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. He says that “Life is difficult.” Yep; it is! It is very difficult. (By the way, this book was the best-selling nonfiction book in the U.S. for about a decade, when it came out).
Become much more reflective. Ponder difficulty. Ponder your difficulties. Difficulties in your work life. Difficulties in other parts of your life.
And, yes, read The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. His point: the easy things are easy. It’s the hard things that will eat your lunch, and give you sleepless nights, and leave you dispirited.
Recognize that the difficult things are …difficult.
Acknowledge that you will always face such difficult challenges. When in the midst of your next one, say: “this is my current difficult challenge.”
There will always be the next such challenge.
And recognize that it will take some deep dives, into serious books, and into your own soul, to rise up to such difficult challenges.
That is all.
Note: though this blog is primarily prompted by lessons learned in business books, I also present synopses of books on social justice, and post about that subject also. This post is for Martin Luther King Day.
On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke under the shadow of the Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama. He had been part of a march from Selma to Montgomery.
It was a tense time. The large march in which he participated was preceded by an aborted march, dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” People were beaten. There was one person killed, Jimmie Lee Jackson. And, in the midst of that time, a young white woman civil-rights activist, Viola Fauver Liuzzo, was killed.
My wife and I have taken our own Civil Rights Tour over the last few years on our vacations. We’ve been to Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Memphis. We walked across the bridge in Selma. The bridge still stands, or course, still named for a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
I grew up, in my earliest years, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was long after I left there that I learned that the very elementary school I attended was partially named for a Ku Klux Klan leader in Florida.
On that day in 1965, when Dr. King and many fellow marchers arrived in Montgomery, the nation was in great turmoil Putting it simply, white people in the South – both Democrats and Republicans – wanted to keep the Jim Crow segregationist laws in place.
How deep was the desire to do so? Here’s an example: Robert Byrd, a Democrat in Congress, an organizer and leader for his Ku Klux Klan chapter, had written to a Senator from Mississippi Klansman in 1944:
I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds. — Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944 (Yes, Mr. Byrd apologized later; many times).
There were still plenty of people with such sentiments in 1965 Alabama, and throughout the South.
Under the portico at the Alabama State Capitol, there is a marker designating the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the President of the Confederate States of America. It was on that spot that George Wallace gave his inaugural address in Janaury, 1963: “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Dr. King stood a few feet from that spot, and delivered his speech, Our God is Marching On. (Read the full speech here), in March of 1965.
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)
How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)
Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)
Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)
Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (Not long) because:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)
His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on. (Yeah)
Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on. [Applause]
This particular line was remembered throughout the Obama Presidency because it was one of the phrases on the custom-made rug in the Oval Office: the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
After Dr. King’s speech in Montgomery, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, and it finally became possible for African Americans in the South to actually vote. Before this, poll taxes, literacy tests, threats of violence, and actual lynchings kept the black vote in the very, very low percentages. This changed things.
At the end of the video of Dr. King’s speech (the video is at the end of this post), the camera pans out to the crowd. This was ground zero for Southern racism. Down the street, visible though blurry, is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where a young Pastor named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the meeting the night of the arrest of Rosa Parks, December 1, 1955, which launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Just a bit further down the street from the Capitol, past the church, stands a plaque, noting the spot where Rosa Parks was arrested. Turn right at about the spot of the plaque, walk a couple of blocks, and you come the place where black human beings were once off-loaded from boats and sold into slavery.
And it was here that Dr. King gave one of many speeches, after the beatings, and bombings, and lynchings, and so many more threats, and called yet again for the arc of the universe to bend toward justice.
And just over three years later, Dr. King was dead, murdered by, as Jemele Hill tweeted this morning: Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered by white supremacy. That’s it. That’s the tweet.
Martin Luther King Day reminds us of our evil past; commemorates a heroic leader; and reminds us that the pursuit of justice is never ending. And so we go forth with the message that there is still so very much work to be done.
Note: there are many good ways to act, in a way that makes a difference for the better, to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. Since I read that the fine and court fees for Rosa Parks, for her arrest on December 1, 1955, totaled $14.00, I have been making two donations a month of $14.00 each. One to the Equal Justice Initiative (the organization started by Bryan Stevenson); the other $14.00 donation to CitySquare, a nonprofit in Dallas. May I encourage you to pick a nonprofit striving for justice, and make a similar donation regularly?!
This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.
You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best g**da** buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.
“Other People’s Money” (1991) — Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield (Danny Devito) Addresses the Stockholders of New England Wire & Cable Co.
For the tech giants, valuation is about the future. It also helps that each enjoys a near monopoly in at least one industry: music sales, web search, and book sales, for example. Similarly, for the energy giants, valuation is about the future—a future that too many speculators and investors see as dim.
Ellen R. Wald, Forbes (Feb, 5, 2018), Why Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are more Valuable that Exxon and Chevron
I know…I know…there is no “one secret” to anything. So, when I say there is “one” secret, I automatically set myself up to be rejected out of hand.
But, I am ready to make a statement that is close to absolute: the one secret to failing at a business is to be offering an obsolete product or service. The completely obsolete product will certainly fail to gain customers. The almost obsolete product, or the on-the-path-to-becoming-obsolete product, will also fail; it just may take a bit of time.
I remember sitting is a church board meeting in about 1982, in Long Beach, California. There was a heated discussion; very heated. The issue: where to spend our advertising budget dollars. The two options were: a weekly newspaper ad on the Religion Page of the Saturday newspaper, vs. paying for a larger ad in the yellow pages. I was on the yellow pages side of the argument, by the way.
(Note to younger readers – every house in America used to have, delivered for free to their house, a big thick book called the Yellow Pages, filled with nothing but listings/ads from businesses. I also used to look up telephone numbers for people in the white pages phone book, by the way.
Note to younger readers: there was a time when most homes in America received, delivered to their houses, a physical newspaper, with the news from the previous day).
There must have been a vast army of people selling yellow pages ads in those days. Today, you would be throwing your money away to advertise in the yellow pages. — Is there still a yellow pages? I have not looked at the yellow pages in…years. Many, many years.
And, though I do take a daily newspaper – a physical newspaper delivered to our home daily — I have not looked at the Religion Page on Saturday for years. Do they still have such a page? I need to check.
Have you seen the latest short article and video circulating from Business Insider about the fall of Blockbuster? Same story – obsolete. Obsolete product; obsolete processes.
As I write this at this moment, here is the value of the three most valuable companies:
Apple — $1.385 trillion ($1,385 billion)
Microsoft — $1.290 trillion ($1,287 billion)
Alphabet (Google) – $1.010 trillion ($1,101 billion).
And, for a while a short time ago, Amazon crossed the $1 trillion mark. (At this moment, it is $925 billion).
It seems like only yesterday that people wondered if any company would ever be valued at over $1 trillion. Three now are, and four haver crossed the mark.
I remember a few years ago (a little over a decade ago), Exxon was the most valuable company. Exxon, at this moment, is valued at $289 billion. Apple is $1 trillion, plus nearly another $100 billion, more valuable. Just breathtaking.
So, what’s the deal? Yes, a number of technology-based companies have failed; many of them spectacularly. So, being in the right business is no guarantee of success. But being in the wrong business – one that is obsolete (think yellow pages; buggy whips; video cassette tapes) – is very bad for business indeed; a guaranteed path for failure.
And, though oil is still plenty valuable, it is no longer the most valuable. Today’s cutting edge, done well, becomes more valuable than yesterday’s dominant product or service.
So, whatever else you consider about business success, remember to consider this: is my product of service in danger or becoming obsolete? If so, you’ve got some serious thinking, and shifting to do.
Read A Book; Speak Clearly and Effectively – Can you do both of these well?
It Couldn’t Hurt, could it? No one ever lost ground because they were good at reading books. OR because they were good in front of an audience.
We know this; but we don’t work on it. And that’s a mistake.
How long has it been since you’ve made a list of skills that you wish you were better at?
There is an increasingly amount of self-evaluation to tackle these days. To know what you can do well; and then to know what you could add to that list of skills, and traits… This is the ongoing challenge in this fast-paced world we work in.
The list of “hard skills” is long; how to use a spread sheet, how to write computer code, how to design slides, how to…
And, of course, there are other skills such as time management skills, and traits such as being an ethical person. (How do you trust any company led by an unethical leader, or leadership team?).
Here are a couple of skills that are obvious, but…too frequently ignored.
One such skill is the ability to read, and then actually learn from, a book.
Another such skill is the ability to get up in front of a group and hold their attention well enough to get your points across.
And, these two actually go together. It is pretty tough to be a good speaker without having something good and useful to say.
So work at both.
Don’t just read the next book you read. Study it. Underline it. Outline it. Find the key transferable principles and lessons. Put it into practice.
And don’t just go through the motions when you speak in front of others. Stand up straight. Belt out your words loudly and clearly. Construct your thoughts in a clear, compelling, fully understandable flow of points and lessons.
These are just two such areas to tackle. I suspect you have others. I know I do…
It’s time to get better at getting better.
My synopses are useful for learning the key lessons and takeaways from the best business books. And, if you look at my synopses handouts carefully, you might find a model for how to more effectively read a book. Check out our newest additions by clicking here.