Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Building an Intellectual Toolkit

Have you ever used a dime to adjust a screw? If you have, you've turned a coin into a makeshift tool. If not, you can probably think of other ways you have turned available materials into tools. Archaeologists have found evidence of tool making in early man. Even so, we frequently overlook tools that others point out for us. Let's look at some examples.

Anthony Robbins, Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy and other teachers of success deliver their wisdom to us in many formats. Their books, articles, audios and movies al encourage us to change and most contain tools for implementing that change. Sometimes the authors explicitly identify tools, but even if they don't you should look at the material for the tools included within. Here are a few examples.

Questions are tools when they get us to think about the challenges we face. If you don't take a moment to consider a question seriously, the value you can get out of the material is severely limited.

Exercises are sometimes included in or at the end of each section. Take a good hard look at them. If they are relevant for you, do the work. You may want to keep a journal for doing this kind of work in.

Lists are another tool authors use to organize things. Navy crewmen are taught to follow the written instructions, no matter what. If you don't have a battleshp at stake, following a list that religiously may not be essential, but it can be useful. By creating a list when you can thionk clearly, you're less likely to miss something when youre busy. If you do something different, it may be time to update the list.

Most people don't read these material, much less identify and use the tools they contain. Of course, most people don't want to be "most people" and you probably don't either. Successful peope do the things unsuccessful people aren't willing to do. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, here are a couple things you can do right away.

As you discover a tool, catalog it. Identify the source, the author, and the context in which the too applies. Build a virtual toolbox so you can get back to an idea when you need it for yourself or someone else. To a man with only a hanmer, every problem looks like a nail, but the more tools you have the broader your perspective can be and he easier some problems are to solve. When it comes to problems, only nails are really nails.

Do the work that others aren't willing to. At the very least, ask the questions that are posed to you even if you aren't willing to take action on them. If you put the question on the back burner, your subconcions may deliver the answers later.

Finally, keep in mind that problems are solved by people, not the tools they use. Tools exist to serve you, not the other way around.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban

Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter by Hal Urban

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great deal of the wisdom offered in this book is summarized in its table of contents. The book is organized ino twenty essays, each offering a lesson in its title and providing providing good thinking behind it in the essays. The book is simple to read and thought provoking. You can't ask more than that from nonfiction.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, September 21, 2009

Are you solving the right problem?

As a software engineer for many years, I helped develop systems for dealing with problems. One big lesson I took from this is that you have to be solving the correct problem.

One program I wrote reduced a pile of data to a one page report. The manager I wrote it for laid out the calculation as he wanted it, which is what my predecessor gave him. Sometime later, I was given the job of maintaining the report for a new manager. He didn't understand how the numbers could reach the result he was seeing, so I showed him the details of the calculation. My next task was to rework the calculation according to his new specifications. As far as he was concerned, the program was solving the wrong problem.

Take some time to consider whether your problem can be solved or not. After working on a Rubik's cube for a while, I realized someone had peeled off and exchanged a couple of the colored stickers, putting them on in a way that the puzzle could not be solved. Mathematicians have demonstrated that the value of pi cannot be calculated to the last decimal place because there is no last decimal in the calculation. In this case, they had the right problem but the problem cannot be solved. They settled for approximating a solution as closely as needed.

Sometimes nobody knows if a solution exists. There are a number of well known mathematical problems where nobody knows if a solution is possible or not. Solving one of these will make you famous in that community. The leading edge of science is almost all problems where nobody knows if a solution exists.

Whether our problems are logical, mathematical, personal or goals, your chances of success are much greater if you're focusing on the correct problem. If you don't know where you're going, any road will do, but you'll never know when you've arrived.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham

The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success The One Thing You Need to Know: ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At the top level, this book offers basic advice for improving your life in terms of something you can do. Buckingham draws on his expertise as a researcher considering alternatives and presenting real life examples to illustrate his points.

The book also offers key ideas for management and leadership, using similar illustrations to compare and contrast the roles against each other.

View all my reviews >>

Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
According to Thomas Friedman, "it's more important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs." He discusses how global warming, population explosion, and the flat world of instant communications combine to produe a serious threat and how America in particular must take a leadership role in addressing the issues this combination of circumstances created.

The book is well researched and the last chapter in articular makes a good case on the need for leadership. Some of the other chapters had more data than I was prepared to cope with. Friedman argues, correctly I believe, that we need to deal with issues harder than the couple hundred easy ways to be more green. THe book does a good job of explaining why. I would have prefered a little more on how.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Richest Man in Babylon

Richest Man in Babylon Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A part of all you earn is yours to keep. This one thought is the key idea offered by The Richest Man in Babylon, a classic in developing wealth. The information is presented as entertaining fables and its key ideas made easily bisible with large fonts.

The book focuses on fundamentals of wealth development as a gradual process. You won't find details of current financial tools, but you do get a framework for acquiring wealth. The book is an easy read that gives great advice.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Habits for Success

  • Act decisively. A decision doesn't count until you have taken action on it. 
  • Never leave the scene of a decision without taking an action to put it into place. 
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking doesn't let you deal with issues intensively. Try switching tasks instead.
  • Ask for what you want. Be clear and specific. Ask like you expect to get it.
  • Think long term. In general, the farther ahead you think the better your actions will be.
  • Plan the work, then work the plan. 
  • Eat the ugly frog first. If you deal with the most difficult task of your day first, the rest of this day will be easy. 
  • Write down everything. Don't let an idea get lost. 
  • Pay yourself first. Develop a habit of saving as you earn.
  • Learn continuously.  The world is changing too fast to depend on what you learned in school.
  • Improve continuously. Don't make a habit of repeating your mistakes.
  • Attract success. The Law of Attraction may be nothing more than psychology, but make psychology work for you.