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December 31, 2008

What Got You Here Wont Get You There

Finished reading, What Got You Here Won't Get You There.

This was an excellent book which took me an unusually long time to finish because it presented a lot of interesting thoughts. I'd read a few pages and need to set it down and think about it for a few days (which is, of course, what I'm hoping for in a book - I need to have thoughts provoked).

While most self-development books want to help you to "get there", this book is for people who've already gotten "there" and want to either increase their effectiveness or prepare for the next level. (Sounds like the summary of a Zelda cheat book.)

Instead of recommending providing positive actions (do A, do B, do C) one of the Zen concepts in the first half of the book is that if you've already achieved some modicum of effectiveness, maybe you need to learn to stop doing counter-productive things more than you need to add a few more marginal tweaks.

The author dwells on the paradox that the habits that have made you successful may be the barrier to future success. This makes sense to me. Once at a clinic in Pittsburgh I had lunch with Lance Armstrong's nutritionist, a PhD candidate (btw, never have lunch with a nutritionist, they look at the food on your plate and chuckle knowingly) and he said, "You know, the things that drive Lance Armstrong to be the best bicyclist in the world don't necessarily contribute to making him a very nice person", and he is right.

In the second half of the book Marshall Goldsmith lays out a path for improvement: Apologizing, Advertising, Listening, Thanking, Follow-Up, and Feedforward. Feedforward is his phrase for future-facing feedback; instead of asking for an autopsy of what when wrong in the past (which can't be changed), he suggests asking for suggestions for what to do in the future (which can be changed).

Two of the recurring themes I enjoyed in this book are the inclusion of family and loved ones in the sphere of people impacted by your "successful" habits, and the way in which his Buddhism illuminates paradoxes.

There's a very clever section about how dogs demonstrate the efficacy of sucking up - everybody professes to detest sycophants, but dogs are total kissups and we reward them for it, often greeting the dog before we greet our (less attentive, non-suckup) children. Also, there's a great koan by Tanzan about Two Monks And A Woman (Walk Into A Bar).

This is not a read for a first-job manager or recent graduate, but I think it's an excellent read for an experienced (code for corrupt middle-aged bourgeois) person that might benefit more from correcting some counter-productive baggage gained on the way up, than from a new Franklin Planner checklist.

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