Tag Archives: #businessbooks

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday – Here are my Seven Lessons and Takeaways

Stillness is the Key“People don’t understand that the hardest thing is actually doing something that is close to nothing,”Performance artist Marina Abramović said about the performance, after sitting still for 79 days.

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.


“There is no Formula for dealing with the Hard Things” – Ben Horowitz (The Hard Thing about Hard Things)

Hard Thing about Hard ThingsEvery 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 easy.
It’s not simple.
It’s not quick.
It’s not easily mastered.


It’s hard – hard as in difficult.
Genuinely 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.the-road-less-traveled-scott-peck

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.


Man's Search for MeaningHere are two more of my blog posts you might want to read:

“Life is difficult; don’t be lazy” – 2 great lessons from M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, maybe the best book I have ever read

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

Read A Book; Speak Clearly and Effectively. Can you do both of these well? – It’s time to get better at getting better.

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.

Reading well.
Speaking well.

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.

Leadership Field Manual by Jocko Willink; The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber – Coming for the February 7, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

The First Friday Book Synopsis
February 7, 2020

Here are just a few ways we have tried to describe our event through the years:

#1 — A great Park City Club breakfast — and, it really is a great breakfast!
#2 — Conversations with terrific people – people of substance.
#3 – Full, substantive synopses of two compelling business books. (and, books related to business issues).

“I love good books; and I read books
And share their core concepts
Primarily with people near Dallas
To help people become more literate
And know what to work on
To do a better job
To build a better company
And, ultimately, to build a better life.”

Randy Mayeux

Learn from the best books
Connect with the best people
While you enjoy the best breakfast buffet in Dallas

Like CliffsNotes on steroids
Like Power Reading a business book


Last Friday, we had another full room for our January First Friday Book Synopsis (yes, on the second Friday of January, because of the holiday).  I presented my synopses of Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, and Trailblazer by Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce).

{My synopses will be uploaded soon for purchase from this web site.  All of my synopses come with my full, multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handouts, plus the audio recordings of my presentations, recorded at our events}.

For our February 7 First Friday Book Synopsis session, I have chosen a brand new book on leadership by a very popular leadership author, and a “modern business classic.” The new book is by former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, his first book written without his usual co-author Leif Babin.  The other selection was first published in 1986, well before we began our First Friday Book Synopsis events in 1998.  I know that both books will be worth your time.

My synopses are thorough.  Each handout is 9-11 pages long, with sections covering:

  • the point of the book
  • why the book is worth your time
  • the best of Randy’s highlighted passages from the book
  • the best stories from the book
  • many key lessons and principles from the book
  • and, I always conclude my synopses with my lessons and takeaways

If you are in the DFW area, I hope you will mark your calendar now for our February 7, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis.  You will be able to register soon from the home page of this web site.  Here’s the flier with all the details..

Click on image for full, printable view

Click on image for full, printable view

Here is the January, 2020 New York Times list of Best-Selling Business Books – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger at #1; Atomic Habits at #2

The New York Times has published its first list of best-selling business books of 2020.  The Atomic HabitsJanuary, 2020 list, as always, has the top ten best-selling business books of the month.

Of the ten books on this month’s list, I have presented synopses of seven of them at our monthly event in Dallas, the First Friday Book Synopsis.  And, my former colleague Karl Krayer presented a synopsis of one other.  That is eight out of the ten best-sellers that we have selected, and presented, at our event.  We don’t miss many…

I presented synopses of:  Atomic Habits, Dare to Lead, Principles, The Infinite Game, Outliers, Extreme Ownership, and RangeRange was my selection for the best business book of 2020.  Obviously, I think it was a very good book in a year of many good books published.  You might want to read my blog post: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is my Business Book of the Year for 2019 – (Loonshots by Safi Bahcall is runner-up).

And Karl Krayer presented a synopsis of Thinking, Fast and Slow quite a few years ago.

RangeBy the way, there are some long-time best-sellers on this month’s list. (There frequently are).  For example, I presented my synopsis of the 2008 book Outliers at the January, 2009 session of the First Friday Book Synopsis.  Karl presented Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011, at the April, 2012 session of our event.  And I presented Extreme Ownership at the December, 2015 session of our event, the year it was published.

One other observation:  there is a shortage of women authors in this month’s list.  Alas, that is the case many months.  On this month’s list, only one book was written by a woman: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Here is the New York Times list of the ten best-selling business books for January 2020.  Click over to their web site for more info about these books, and links to reviews of some of the books.

#1 – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#2 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
#3 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#4 – Principles by Ray Dalio
#5 – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
#6 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
#7 – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
#8 – The Man Who Solved the Market by Gregory Zuckerman
#9 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
#10 – Range by David Epstein

We record our synopses at our monthly events.  You can purchase our synopses, with the audio recording, and the pdf of our multi-page, comprehensive handouts, from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

Stop; Look; Listen –- Stop; Listen; Look — Stillness/Mindfulness is the Key

u-g-Q1BO64Y0What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.


I have finished my careful reading of the two books I will present at the January 10th First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas (the 2nd Friday of January, because of the holidays).  The two books are Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday and Trailblazer by Marc Benioff.  One is written by a man known for his contemplative nature.  The other is written by a hard-charging, wildly successful billionaire.

TrailblazerBut they each carry one message in common.  In order to succeed, you’ve got to stop, listen, and look.  You’ve got to slow.things.down; often.  You’ve got to be mindful.  And each of these books includes some very helpful “this is how to practice mindfulness” suggestions that you can follow.

You’ve got to be mindful…  No; that’s not quite enough.

You’ve got to PRACTICE MINDFULNESS.  You’ve got to be mindfully mindful.  You’ve got to build in time, by yourself, and even in your group time, for practicing mindfulness.

I had a college professor who said that if you read an idea in one book, pay a little bit of attention.  But if you begin to see the same idea pop up in multiple books, pay a lot of attention.

Admittedly, sometimes people just jump on a bandwagon rather thoughtlessly.  It “sells,” so many people start repeating it.

But, maybe, sometimes the idea spreads because it really is important, and it works.

Marc Benioff practices it in his life, and in his work at Salesforce.
Ryan Holiday teaches it to businesses.

And Bonnie St. Jon, in Micro-Resilience, and Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement, talk about how they train athletes in practices that slows one down and helps one focus.  Which is one of the great values of mindfulness.DailyStoicCover

In my earlier life, I would practice what they call in Christian circles a “daily quite time.”  A time of focus for the day.  I have worked through the excellent, one-page a day – absolutely worth reading – The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday in the same way.

And, in one of the books I presented, there was a really simple exercise that I have adopted with some frequency. (Sorry; don’t remember which book).  Before you go into a meeting, sit alone, set your timer for just over a minute, and with your eyes closed, breathe in; breath out; paying attention to your breathing.

We are so frazzled, so overloaded with thoughts and information and content and worries and problems and dilemmas and challenges and…

Stop. Look. Listen.
Stop. Listen. Look.
Be mindful.

You might want to make this one of the areas you focus on in 2020.  It might be a life saver, and a business success builder.  And the people around you just might appreciate you a little more in the process.

Become (more) mindfully mindful in 2020.