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Posts tagged book review
Why Flow Matters

One of the better books I've read in the last few years is Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. It's a doozy. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, does a fantastic and thorough job of showcasing how doing something that's a bit of a challenge makes you happier and more successful. This is a welcome idea in an age where everyone is telling you to chase your passion (including yours truly). Ultimately, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that we're happiest and best when we are pushed and we overcome some kind of obstacle. Of course, we must find this delicate balance of the "right" amount of challenge at work and at home, otherwise we can get very discouraged very quickly. In fact, the right challenge can give your life deep and incredible meaning.

His idea of "flow" is what's commonly meant when it is said that an athlete is in "the zone." Action and awareness merge such that nearly everything comes naturally.

Flow is a thick read, but well worth your time. Here are some quotes for you:

About Life and Leisure

  • A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.
  • The information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.
  • There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.
  • Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenge well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
  • Compared to people living only a few generations ago, we have enormously greater opportunities to have a good time, yet there is no indication that we actually enjoy life more than our ancestors did.
  • A person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieved a creative life.
  • Purpose gives direction to one's efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one's actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.
  • Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other. Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent. Before investing great amounts of energy in a goal, it pays to raise the fundamental questions: Is this something I really want to do? Is it something I enjoy doing? Am I likely to enjoy it in the foreseeable future? Is the price that I - and others - will have to pay worth it? Will I be able to live with myself if I accomplish it?

About Focus and Self

  • The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.
  • Every piece of information we process gets evaluated for its bearing on the self. Does it threaten our goals, does it support them, or is it neutral? News of the fall of the stock market will upset the banker, but it might reinforce the sense of self of the political activist. A new piece of information will either create disorder in consciousness, by getting us all worked up to face the threat, or it will reinforce our goals, thereby freeing up psychic energy.
  • It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.
  • Optimal experience is a form of energy, and energy can be used either to help or to destroy.
  • When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces.

About Why You Shouldn't Watch So Much TV

  • In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious "leisure" time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time - almost half of it for American adults - is spent in front of the television set.
  • Although average Americans have plenty of free time, and ample access to leisure activities, they do not, as a result, experience flow often. Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality. For example, TV watching, the single most often pursued leisure activity in the United States today, leads to the flow condition very rarely. In fact, working people achieve the flow experience - deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction - about four times as often on their jobs, proportionately, as they do when they are watching television.
  • The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
  • Most jobs and many leisure activities  - especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media - are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks.

About Work

  • Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.
  • The reason it is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience is that goals are usually clear, and feedback immediate.
  • Any skill worth developing requires that one invest psychic energy in it at the beginning.
  • Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal.

About Relationships and Community

  • Quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people.
  • Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a repositioning of goals.
  • A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self-realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails.
  • A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people.
  • A community should be judged good not because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges.
  • Contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year-old than to play golf with the company president.

About Writing

  • The point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.
  • Having a record of the past can make a great contribution to the quality of life.  It frees us from the tyranny of the present, and makes it possible for consciousness to revisit  former times.

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Book Insights: Paid to Speak

I finished Paid to Speak recently. In all honestly, this was the first book about speaking (other than preaching books) that I've ever read. My quick take is that it's a handy tool for anyone trying to build a speaking career. It combines both practical advice to keep in mind on stage with pointers to make you better at your craft, no matter how long you've been in the game. It offers advice on growing your business and marketing yourself, and it has true stories from professional speakers at the top of their game. Published by the National Speakers Association, each chapter is written by a different speaker. But, the entire book flows together nicely. It's something I'll keep on the shelf and reach for often as I continue on this journey.

Paid to SpeakSome quotes worth noting:

There is a tremendous freedom in focusing on connectedness, love, harmony, and being fully present. This is a critical aspect of eloquence through one central focus: Dare to be fully present and connected off the platform, every single day, and in every single relationship. Eloquence is a way of living, not simply a way of speaking. To be an authentic, eloquent platform professional requires speakers to focus on being authentic, eloquent human beings. - Glenna Salsbury

People don't want information...they want epiphanies. - Sam Horn

From now on, when you finish a story, always extract the key point (the hook) and turn it back to your audience (the hinge) by asking a variation of a "you" question such as, "Where have you encountered this? Is this going on in your life? How are you going to follow up on this idea? How are you going to approach this differently from now on?" - Sam Horn

Audiences want solutions to problems. - Max Dixon

Never make a story about the loss. It's always about the possibilities. - Max Dixon

Workshops teach skills, and speeches are designed to prompt thinking. - Lou Heckler

What's the best place to start? The good news is that it doesn't cost a dime - it's an internal commitment to take this business of speaking seriously. It's not a part-time thing for fun, it's not volunteer work, and it's not something to "try" between jobs. Do military fighter pilots "try" flying combat missions? Do doctors go into neurosurgery "part-time"? Do symphony orchestra conductors "give it a shot"? No! True professionals make serious commitments to their professional training, years-long preparation and study, thousands of hours of practice, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. - David Newman

Successful professionals reach out for help more often than average people - not less. - David Newman

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Ditch the Notes to Become a Better Speaker

When I speak, I don't use notes. This probably because all the early speakers and preachers I admired didn't use notes. They didn't read. When you don't read, as Seth Godin points out, your speech becomes better. It's more natural. Audiences connect with people that appear natural instead of stiff. We all like conversations more than we like lectures.

I'm lucky because I have a great memory. I can glance at something for a while and recall most of it instantly. This was great when cramming in college.

But, even if you're memory isn't photographic or able to recall anything in an instant (for a great book on how to memorize stuff, read Moonwalking With Einstein), you can still ditch the notes and become a better public speaker. Here's how:

  • Write it down. Taking notes is useful because you can look up information later. But it's also useful because you're involving another sense (touch) with the material at hand. Write out or type your speech (or at least the key points). This will increase the amount of time you're spending with your subject matter. You'll also be able to weed out the points that aren't interesting when you can look over the speech as a whole.
  • Get intimate. I'm keynoting a conference for small business owners this May in Florida. Even thought we're still 90 days out, I'm already thinking about the big concept I'd like to leave them with. I'm already making notes and lists of stories and analogies to use with them that are different than when I speak to nonprofits or colleges. Thinking about my talk (all or in part) for three months buries it deep in my brain so I can draw upon that content when on stage, sans paper.
  • Say it out loud. A lot. If you were to sneak into my house or hotel room the days before a speech, you'd see quite a rant. This is where and when I "perform." Especially for a new talk, I actually give the entire talk while pacing throughout my house or around my hotel room. I inflect where needed. I say it out loud. I time myself. I check my notes when I'm done to see if I forgot something important in this latest rendition. This way, when I step on stage, it's like I've already given the talk a dozen times.

The key to speaking without notes is to be very familiar with the topic at hand. If you're not speaking about something you spend hours a week studying, then you'll need to find ways to increase exposure to your content so that it easily flows from your lips and is as natural as talking about your kids, the weather, or your hobbies.

Again, I can't recommend Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer enough. He gets very scientific (and humorous) about the science of memory. In short, the more we can associate information with places, we're more likely we'll be able to recall it. This is why I write stuff down (so I can remember physically where I saw that point on paper) and walk through my house when talking (a key point I wanted to make might be associated with my guest bedroom).

Memorizing can be easy. This will make all of your speeches great.

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The Best Quotes from "That Used to Be Us"

that used to be usI recently finished That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. I am a huge Friedman fan and have been ever since a college mentor passed me an op-ed to read. Since then, I've read each of Friedman's books and enjoy his practical insight. That Used to Be Us is a great primer on what could be done with our political and economic systems in order to make America great again. Like many books of its ilk, if only half of what Friedman and Mandelbaum prescribe is done, the world could be radically different in a very good way.

Here, then, are some of the best lines from the book:

The bottom line: "Collaboration is important on the battlefield and trust is the cement of collaboration," said [General Martin] Dempsey. "And trust is the prerequisite for creativity. You will never be creative if you think that what you have to say will be discounted. So creativity cannot happen without trust, communication cannot happen without trust, and collaboration cannot happen without trust. It is the essential driver. And that is why you build authority now from the bottom up and not the top down."

Nations that don't invest in their future tend not to do well there.

In 2009 United States consumers spent significantly more on potato chips than the government devoted to energy research and development - $7.1 billion versus $5.1 billion.

We spent the rest of the decade [2001-2011] focusing our national attention and resources on the losers from globalization - al-Qaeda, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan - when our major long-term challenge comes from the winners, most of them in Asia. We devoted ourselves to nation-building in Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush when we should have been concentrating on nation-building at home.

[Veteran Republican campaign director Mike] Murphy then paused for a moment to recall one of the best pieces of advice he ever got from a wise old hand in the business. "Negative ads work," the old hand told Murphy, but then added a word of caution: "Do you know why McDonald's never ran a negative ad against Burger King, saying their burgers were all full of maggots? It might have worked for a year or two but then no one would have eaten another hamburger." The old hand concluded with this piece of advice for Murphy: "Never destroy the category." Reflecting on that insight, Murphy noted that just at a time when we need politics in America to be at its most credible and constructive in order to define and pursue the national interest, "we've destroyed the category."

As Senator Robert Bennett remarked to us, "We have great issues in politics, and then we have great diversions, and we spend most of our political time arguing over the great diversions and never facing the great issues."

The idea of risk is so tied to the idea of greatness - you cannot be great without risking yourself.

The role of the CEO now is not to dictate but to empower.

Exceptional, meaning exceptionally wealthy, powerful, and dynamic, is not a distinction that is bestowed and then lasts forever, like an honorary degree from a university. It has to be earned continually, like a baseball player's batting average. Too often in recent years, though, we have treated "American exceptionalism" as just another entitlement - just another thing we get to enjoy without paying for. Those days are over. America's exceptionalism is now in play. It is not an entitlement. It is not a defined benefit. To retain the exceptional status that Americans rightly value but wrongly assume is automatically ours, the country must respond effectively to its four great twenty-first-century challenges - the ones posed by globalization, the IT revolution, our large and growing deficits, and our pattern of energy consumption. Unfortunately, not enough Americans seem to understand the first two and too many want to deny the necessity of addressing the second two. The first two we need to look at so much more closely, and the other two we have to stop looking away from so insistently.

In a world in which individual creativity is becoming ever more important, American supports individual achievement and celebrates the quirky. In a world in which technological change and creative destruction take place at warp speed, requiring maximal economic flexibility, the American economy is as flexible as any on the planet. In a world in which transparent, reliable institutions, and especially the rule of law, are more important than ever for risk-taking and innovation, the United States has an outstanding legal environment. In an age in which even the cleverest inventors and entrepreneurs have to tray and fail, sometimes repeatedly, before finding the business equivalent of a mother lode, the American business culture understands that failure is often the necessary condition for success.

And there you have it. Ideas for making American great again. You can get your copy on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link).