This is Yoga for the Brain: Multidisciplinary Learning

In Praise of Multidisciplinary Frameworks for Better Thinking You need a broad-based understanding to succeed in today’s increasingly complex world.

Modern scientific and technological advances are increasingly born at the frontiers of more than one science disciplines.

It’s impossible to know everything. However, if you work to understand the basics of the biggest, most important paradigms in the fields of science, humanities, and social sciences, you can progressively expand your decision-making process.

A multidisciplinary methodology entails drawing suitably from multiple disciplines to examine problems outside of their normal boundaries and reach solutions based on an understanding of complex situations.

Multidisciplinarity Leads to Better Internalization of Knowledge

Multidisciplinarity allows you can transform a perspective in one discipline to expand your thought-frameworks in other disciplines. The renowned venture capitalist Paul Graham, author of the bestselling Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, said this best when he once wrote,

Studying things from unrelated subjects (multidisciplinary learning) is a lot like yoga for brain. You don’t actually get anywhere when you do yoga. You stand in one place and bend yourself in various shapes. But it makes you more flexible, so when you go out and do walk around, you can walk better.

“Cross-Training for the Mind” à la Charlie Munger

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) The great investor Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a big proponent of multidisciplinary thinking. This distinguished beacon of rationality and wisdom coined the term “latticework of mental models” to enable the “cross-training for the mind.” Rather than silo your mind just in the narrow areas you tend to concentrate on at college and work, Munger advocates developing a broad, functional set of interdisciplinary knowledge about the world, which can serve you in all parts of life. According to the anthology Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Munger said at a 1998 talk at the Harvard Law School,

If A is a narrow professional, B consists of the big, extra-useful concepts from other disciplines, then, clearly, the professional possessing A plus B will usually be better off than the poor possessor of A alone. How could it be otherwise? And thus, the only rational excuse for not acquiring B is that it is not practical to do so, given the man’s need to A and the other urgent demands in his life. I will later try to demonstrate that this excuse for unidisciplinarity, at least for our most gifted people, is usually unsound.

Many of the world’s leading companies in science and technology are employing multidisciplinary people for managerial positions. These people understand a range of science principles and methods and can synthesize the works of domain-specific experts to invent creative solutions to problems.

Idea for Impact: Pursue Multidisciplinary Thinking

People who think very broadly and comprehend many different models from many different disciplines make better decisions.

Pursue multidisciplinary thinking. Open your mind to new ideas and new experiences. Make new friends, travel afar, read more, and discover new stories.

Interact with people who work in different disciplines and dabble with the arts and the media. Let the new sights, sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, stories, and perspectives spark your creativity.

Become a Smart, Restrained Communicator Like Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, America’s founding father, statesman, and polymath, was a doyen of the self-improvement movement. His methods for self-mastery are worth taking a serious look at if you’re interested in getting better at anything in life.

In his wonderful Autobiography (1791,) Franklin discusses his once-foolish delight in spinning artful arguments and doggedly winning over his opponents.

Winning an Argument Aggressively is but a Short-term Ego Victory

'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' by Benjamin Franklin (ISBN 1492720941) As a young man, Franklin had a habit of fervently arguing his case in all matters and alienating people around him. He frequently ensnared his challengers with hard-hitting rhetoric:

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis’d it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

However, Franklin ultimately recognized that his take-no-prisoners approach of arguing was by no means endearing him to other people. His realized that his brash way of outwitting his challengers had been self-defeating.

Benjamin Franklin, Doyen of the Self-improvement Movement

Arguing, if it is to Be Constructive, Must Be Done Tactfully

In an attempt to develop amenable character traits, Franklin radically improved the way he interacted with others. He let go of all expressions of conceit and bold self-confidence. He stopped using words such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” in his speaking and replaced them with phrases that signified personal opinions—for instance, “It appears to me, or I should think it so or so for such & such Reasons, or I imagine it to be so, or it is so if I am not mistaken.”

I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire. [Alexander] Pope says, judiciously:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown propos’d as things forgot;”

farther recommending to us

“To speak, tho’ sure, with seeming diffidence.”

Learn to Resolve Important Issues through Sensible Discourse

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) Franklin realized that this measured conversation and gentler interactions was helpful in preventing conflicts and softening resistance in those he wanted to influence. He writes, “This Habit, I believe, has been of great Advantage to life, when I have had occasion to inculcate my Opinions & persuade Men into Measures I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting.”

This rule of skilful conversation and interpersonal relationships later became one of the foundational principles in Dale Carnegie‘s masterful self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People—specifically, that our ticket to success in life is the ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Persuasion is Not About Outmaneuvering Others and Proving Them Wrong

The ability to communicate effectively, plead your case, and influence others is one of the most useful skills for succeeding in the modern world.

  • Learn to resolve important issues through sensible and mindful discourse.
  • Be assertive where you must, but never aggressive.
  • Be open-minded, understand the other person’s perspective, and keep your emotions under control.
  • Never insult, disgrace, or cause the other person to lose face.

Views, opinions, and judgments can differ, and these can and should be discussed civilly. However, to debate such differences vigorously so as to cause bad feelings toward is not necessary and is almost always counterproductive.

Idea for Impact: Arguing for the sake of deciding a winner is never constructive. When an argument starts, persuasion stops.

Top Blog Articles of 2017, H1

Top Blog Articles of 2017 As this blog’s readership grows, popular articles posted in the first half of the year get left behind in my end-of-year list (2016, 2015) of popular posts. Here are the top 10 popular posts from the first half of this year based on email- and feed-subscribership:

  • Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments of Honest Thought and Discourse. The celebrated British mathematician, logician, and political activist wrote, “The essence of the liberal outlook is a belief that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments.”
  • Book Summary of “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!” Journalist Nicholas Carlson chronicles the fabled legacy internet company’s slide to irrelevance. Despite her extraordinary credentials, drive, technical savvy, celebrity, and charisma, Marissa Mayer arrived too late to right the ship.
  • Six Powerful Reasons to Eat Slowly and Mindfully. Cultivate a healthy relationship with food. Dedicating time to eat slowly, mindfully, and intentionally—and enjoying the pleasure of food—can make an enormous difference in your diet and health.
  • Learn from the Great Minds of the Past. If you wish to succeed in your life, there is no better source of inspiration than in the lives of those who have changed our lives and our world for the better. Biographies stimulate self-discovery.
  • Be a Survivor, Not a Victim: Lessons on Adversity from Charlie Munger. Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice-Chairman overcame “horrible blows, unfair blows” on the road to success. Munger counsels, “Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life.” Don’t operate life on the assumption that the world ought to be fair, just, and objective. You are neither entitled nor unentitled to good treatment.
  • The Only Goal You Need for 2017: Doing Is Everything. Most folks know what they should do: lose weight, start exercising, stop smoking, get serious about managing careers, find a romantic partner, start saving money, and so on. Yet they can’t seem to make themselves do. One of the most insidious obstacles to your success in life is the chasm between knowing and doing.
  • Competition Can Push You to Achieve Greater Results. Tennis legend Andre Agassi wrote in his interesting autobiography, “There were times my rivals brought out the best in me; there were times they brought out the worst. They probably helped me win things I never would have otherwise; they also cost me titles.” A certain amount of competition can be helpful when it motivates you and doesn’t result in stress or hurt your personal relationships.
  • Addiction to Pleasure is a Symptom of Fear. Whenever you seek pleasure, not only do you become dependent on the eagerness to find it, but also you create an existence of suffering, because pleasure is impermanent and fleeting. Buddhism encourages you to purge yourself of your attachment to pleasure or to any source of satisfaction that could trigger distress in seeking to make it permanent.
  • The Cost of Leadership Incivility. Steve Jobs’s advice to PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to “throw tantrums” at employees and “certain words a little bit more freely” to express passion is abhorrently misguided. Steve Jobs could throw temper tantrums because he could! However, a leader’s tone is the foundation upon which the culture of her organization is built.
  • How to Deal with Upset Customers. Nine guidelines that can result in a constructive interaction with an angry customer and restore his perception of satisfaction and loyalty. A failure to recognize and quickly respond to the needs of angry customers can make them feel ignored, frustrated, and powerless.

And here are articles from 2016 that continue to be popular:

  1. How Smart Companies Get Smarter.
  2. Stop asking “What do you do for a living?”
  3. What Will You Regret?
  4. Make Decisions Using Bill Hewlett’s “Hat-Wearing Process.”
  5. Destroy Your Previous Ideas (Lessons from Charlie Munger.)

You Too Can (and Must) Become Effective

Peter Drucker on Teaching Yourself to Become Effective

Peter Drucker (1909–2005) is widely regarded as the most outstanding thinker on the subject of management theory and practice. He was amazingly prolific—he produced 39 volumes on management and leadership and worked right until his death a week before his 96th birthday.

Drucker’s The Practice of Management (1954) played a pivotal role in the recognition of management as a professional discipline. In this influential book (see my summary here,) Drucker explained what management is and how managers do their jobs.

'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker (ISBN 0060833459) In his bestselling The Effective Executive (1967,) Drucker defined effectiveness as getting the right things done and efficiency as making resources productive. His pivotal message was that effectiveness must be learned because effectiveness is every manager’s job. That’s what are managers get paid for—“the executive is paid for being effective.” Moreover, “Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform, and not to please their superiors.”

Five Practices of the Effective Executive

Drucker devotes five chapters of The Effective Executive to five practices that have to be acquired to be effective. Introducing these effectiveness practices, Drucker writes, “Whenever I have found a person who—no matter how great in intelligence, industry, imagination, or knowledge—fails to observe these practices, I have also found an executive deficient in effectiveness.”

  • Effectiveness Habit #1—Know Where Time Goes: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” In addition, “Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.” Using the three-step time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting practice, effective executives know where there time goes. They exert themselves to make certain that they invest their time in line with their values and priorities.
  • Effectiveness Habit #2—Focus on Contribution: Whatever your span of responsibilities—supervisory, managerial or leadership—you are accountable to your ‘external’ stakeholders. These stakeholders measure your performance solely by your ability to identify opportunities and get things done through the resources you have. Drucker writes, “Effective executives focus on outward contributions. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?'” Effective executives have a clear understanding of their contribution and their results.
  • Effectiveness Habit #3: Make Strengths Productive: “Effective executives build on strengths—theirs and others. They do not build on weaknesses. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.” Effective executives understand and build on the strengths of themselves, their team, and their organization to make everyone productive and to eliminate weaknesses. The only weaknesses that have a bearing—and must be remedied—are the ones that hinder effective executives from exercising their strengths.
  • Effectiveness Habit #4: Live Priorities: “Effective executives concentrate on superior performance where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to stay within priorities.” Setting priorities is easier; the hard part is sticking to the decision and living the priorities. To get things done, focus on one task at a time or two at the most; three is usually impractical.
  • Effectiveness Habit #5: Systemize Decision-Making: “Effective executives make effective decisions. They know that this is a system—the right steps in the right sequence. They know that to make decisions fast is to make the wrong decisions.” For Drucker, decision-making was a matter of wisdom and sound judgment—making a choice between alternatives but seldom between mere right and mere wrong. “The sooner operating managers learn to make decisions as genuine judgments on risk and uncertainty, the sooner we will overcome one of the basic weaknesses of large organizations—the absence of any training and testing for the decision-making top positions.”

Idea for Impact: Teach yourself to become effective. Commit these five tasks to memory and practice them. Read The Effective Executive—it will have a profound effect on your performance.

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking


Thought-provoking questions: potential game changers that are not asked nearly enough

Asking Questions to Encourage Creativity “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted,” wrote George F. Kneller (1909–1999), the American academic and pioneer in the field of philosophy of education, in Art and Science of Creativity (1965.) Many people don’t know how to probe their thought processes with questions that encourage creativity.

Consider a brainstorming meeting where a new idea was received with comments and judgments like, “this won’t work,” “we’ve never done it this way,” “the customer won’t like it,” or, “if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?” Immediately, a dysfunctional pattern ensues. Defensiveness sets in and the meeting’s participants will resist making any more suggestions and will fail to explore those ideas that were previously made. (One of the key principles of “divergent thinking” for idea-generation is to defer judgment. Neuroscience has suggested that the human prefrontal cortex—the self-monitoring element of the brain—is less active when we’re most creative.)

Creative thinkers ask open-ended, accommodating, and exploratory lead-in questions such as,

  • “I wonder if/why/whether … “
  • “Perhaps we could … “
  • “That would work if/when … “
  • “In what ways can we … .” This favorite of mine was introduced by Edward de Bono, the lateral thinking pioneer and creator of the “Six Thinking Hats” method for group creativity. De Bono called this lead-in question the ‘IWW.’

Instead of declaring “we could never do this,” ask “IWW (in what ways) may people start to do this?” In practical terms, this rephrasing may seem a small thing, but it embodies a leap in unhindered, open-minded thinking. The former seems a categorical rejection; but the latter invites an exploration of possibilities and signals the beginning of the search for solutions to constraints.

Idea for Impact: The ability to pose meaningful—and often deceptively simple questions is the hallmark of creativity

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking Often, what leads a creative person to get fresh insight is the quality of questions he/she asks. Questions such as “I wonder if …” and “In what ways can we … ” ignite dialogues in your mind that can lead to creative insights and new discoveries.

The prospect for creative thinking expands when you can reframe restraining statements into creative questions. Consider the following examples:

  • Restraining statement: “We can’t possibly do that.”
    Creative question: “If it were possible, how would you do it?”
  • Restraining statement: “It’ll take too long.”
    Creative question: “If it’s time-consuming, how can I make it short?”
  • Restraining statement: “I can’t talk to her.”
    Creative question: “If you could talk to her, what would you say?”
  • Restraining statement: “I’m too busy to do this.”
    Creative question: “In what ways can we free up some time for you?”

During brainstorming, asking questions in a way that opens participants’ minds to newer possibilities can have a transformative shift in the creative atmosphere. When participants suspend their judgments, everyone in the brainstorming session will feel comfortable enough to explore creative solutions to constraints.

What it Takes to Be a Hit with Customers

  1. Be Trustworthy. One of the most important aspects of being effective at work is earning and upholding others’trust through your actions, not through your words. You earn trust slowly but can lose it in a moment—as Warren Buffett often reiterates, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Idea for Impact: Earn trust by making and honoring your commitments. Do what you commit to. Act with integrity. Do the right things for the right reasons.
  2. Responsiveness in Customer Service: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait Be Responsive. We live in a time and age of “instantaneous gratification.” People want immediate results—without delay or deferment. They don’t expect to wait. And if they have to wait on you, their resentment grows. Alas, responsiveness affects how people perceive you. If you’re slow, your customers will suppose you are indifferent or incompetent. If you respond promptly, they’ll assume you’re proficient and on top of your work. Idea for Impact: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait.
  3. Be Strong, But Flexible. Respect the rules and traditions but be adaptable to changing conditions. Be watchful and absorb from whatever you can learn—as General Electric’s celebrated ex-CEO Jack Welch once wrote, “The desire and the ability of an organization to continuously learn from any source—and to rapidly convert this learning into action—is its ultimate competitive advantage.” Idea for Impact: Flexibility with rules can be pragmatic in its own right. Learn to make rational decisions by balancing facts and emotions.
  4. Be Realistic, Not Overly Optimistic. Self-help gurus and the media have endlessly touted optimism as the “winning formula to success.” This obsession with cheerfulness has reinforced a false sense of realism and pragmatism. Optimists tend to overlook the reality—they develop a false sense of hope and become too attached to the possibility of positive outcomes. Unfortunately, realists are branded as skeptics and skeptics are quickly shunned as outcasts. Idea for Impact: Take an honest and levelheaded view, no matter what the problem. Embrace the possibility of failure. Plan for the downside. Don’t get caught up in trivial details.
  5. Be Likeable and Interested. Highly competent but unlikeable people do not succeed as well as their fairly competent but likeable counterparts. The American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou aptly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Idea for Impact: Be pleasant, enthusiastic, and friendly—make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello’ more. Listen. Be open and approachable. Appreciate the individuality of people. Try to be interested, not just interesting.
  6. Be a Good Salesperson - Much of success in life is really about selling yourself Be a Good Salesperson. Much of success in life—from getting a Starbucks barista to make a special no-whip, extra-foam latte with half a packet of Splenda to finding a spouse—is really about selling yourself. Every selling situation involves making a connection with an individual who likes and trusts you. An anonymous sales guru once said, “All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like… and that’s true even when all things aren’t equal.” Idea for Impact: It is useless to work hard and be creative unless you can also sell what you create. Learn to be persuasive. You can’t just talk people into things.
  7. Be Visible and Communicate Candidly. How you identify and respond to a problem or a crisis is the ultimate test of your character. If you do not communicate frequently, people will develop their own perceptions of the problem and its implications. Knowing when to step up your communications efforts to the right levels during difficulties can be a powerful tool in problem solving. Idea for Impact: Keep your eyes open for customers’ inconveniences, difficulties, and troubles as creative problems to be solved. Focus on problem solving. Be visible. Communicate and lead from the front. Learn how to handle upset customers.

Postscript: This Harvard Business Review article argues that, more than anything else, customers want just a reasonable solution to their expectations. Delighting them by “exceeding their expectations” hardly enhances customer loyalty.

“Crucible” Experiences Can Transform Your Leadership Skills

'Geeks and Geezers' by Warren Bennis (ISBN 1578515823) In Geeks and Geezers (2002), renowned leadership academic Warren Bennis and management consultant Robert Thomas interview 40 “geeks” (aged 21–34) and “geezers” (aged 70–82) to evaluate differences in their leadership values and success patterns.

The two groups vary in backgrounds, ambitions, and their role models. The geeks are more concerned with work-life balance than the geezers. The geezers formed their characters during the Great Depression and World War II and hence hold Franklin Roosevelt, Gandhi, Lincoln, Mandela, Kennedy, and Churchill as leadership role models. In contrast, the geeks tend to model themselves after their parents, friends, bosses, and co-workers.

Leadership “Crucibles”: Pivotal life-changing experiences that alter your thinking and actions

The statistics and analyses of geeks and geezers are a gross distraction from the book’s central idea: that all potential leaders must pass through a “leadership crucible” that provides an intense, transformational experience. Only after they “organize the meaning” of and draw significant lessons from their crucible experiences can they become leaders. They must also cultivate complementary leadership skills such as adaptive capacity and the ability to engage others by creating shared meaning, voice, and integrity.

All geeks and geezers interviewed by the authors had one thing in common: each had at least one leadership crucible. The authors explain that each experience was “a test and a decision point, where existing values were examined and strengthened or replaced, where alternative identities were considered and sometimes chosen, where judgment and other abilities were honed.”

The best leaders excel in their ability to create meaning out of adversity

Crucible Experiences Transform Leadership Skills Geeks and Geezers lays monolithic emphasis on the role of transformational crucible experiences in building leadership skills. The authors conclude that such experiences shape a leader; therefore, “great leaders are not born but made—often by tough, bitter experience.” The book implies that most leadership development initiatives (selection, training, mentoring, job rotation, etc.) are not as effective as they are touted to be. The book advises would-be leaders to develop themselves by seeking out crucible experiences at work, school, or in their communities to maximize their leadership potential.

One meaningful takeaway from Geeks and Geezers is a contemplative exercise: to reflect on some crucible experiences in the reader’s life and examine what he/she has learned from them. The reader may be able to create his/her own story and find his/her “leadership voice.”

Recommendation: Skim. Read the final chapter. Beyond the authors’ anecdote-heavy “research,” Geeks and Geezers will engage readers in interesting case studies of successful men and women who moved beyond the constraints imposed by trying circumstances and reshaped themselves. However, most of Geeks and Geezers lacks substance and practical application, especially in comparison to co-author Bennis’s bestseller On Becoming a Leader.

Beware of Advice from the Superstars


Steve Jobs’s Eschewal of Market Research

'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson (ISBN 1501127624) Apple’s Steve Jobs said in a 1985 interview, “We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.”

Twelve years later, he famously told BusinessWeek: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Throughout his illustrious career, Jobs eschewed market research and relied on his intuition. The aforementioned two quotes have become as legendary as the highly opinionated man himself. Reiterating Steve Jobs’ talent to see the needs of consumers before they themselves could, Apple’s Chief Design Officer and co-creator of Apple’s iconic products Jonathan Ive stated, “We don’t do focus groups—that is the job of the [product] designer. It’s unfair to ask people who don’t have a sense of the opportunities of tomorrow from the context of today to design.”

Take Away: Alas, many people who venerate Jobs have taken his message as a pretext to downplay the need for consumer research. Jobs may be correct, but his assertion is perhaps confined to the kind of pioneering products and services he introduced at Apple and Pixar. Most people who claim to be inspired by this lesson from Jobs’s career neither work in the narrow consumer electronics domain nor have their hero’s brilliant intuition and an extraordinarily gifted creative team to sidestep market research and customer input.

Stephen King’s Disdain for Outlines in Writing

'On Writing A Memoir of the Craft' by Stephen King (ISBN 1439156816) In the bestseller On Writing, celebrated American author Stephen King famously states that he never uses an outline to organize his thoughts. He describes the routine of outlining as “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored. … I don’t take notes; I don’t outline, I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamn thing.” King advised other writers to keep from using outlines.

Take Away: Legions of King’s fans assumed that since this technique works so well for him, it must work for them too. Alas, they were mistaken: they aren’t as talented as him and cannot work without generating a detailed outline for a road map of creative writing. What works for writers—amateurs and professionals—is the advice of Terry Brooks, another famous American author, who wrote in his Sometimes the Magic Works, “Perhaps the best reason of all for outlining is that it frees you up immeasurably during the writing process to concentrate on matters other than plot.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s Privileged Work-Life Balance

'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg (ISBN 0385349947) Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote a prominent career advice book and feminist manifesto called Lean In. Sandberg urges women to fight for gender equality and be assertive to achieve career success.

Sandberg’s writing has been criticized for being out of touch with the reality that most women face. She establishes much of her “you-can-do-it-too” counsel on her own experience as a successful woman who’s balanced her career and family through high profile jobs at Google and Facebook.

Take Away: Few people come from as privileged a socio-economic background as Sandberg to obtain two Harvard degrees, get an illustrious mentor at college, work on prestigious research projects at the World Bank, and acquire hundreds of millions of personal wealth by their mid-careers. Few women can aspire to be as fairy-tale affluent, talented, and privileged as Sandberg. Few can afford to hire assistants and domestic help to help balance the demands of personal and professional life. Few people have the benefit of working in the upper echelons of progressive corporate environments such as those at Google and Facebook that make it as conducive to “lean in” like her.

What Worked for Them Won’t Work for You

If you read about how successful people get successful, remember that the career advice that works for the superstars is not necessarily what will work for most ordinary folks. So, don’t be misled by their “it worked for me” advice.

If a specific technique worked for Steve Jobs, Stephen King, Sheryl Sandberg, or anybody else who gives you advice, don’t assume it will work for you too. Alas, you are likely not as naturally brilliant, gifted, endowed, or disposed as they are. Neither are you as privileged to have access to the resources they can tap into.

Beware of Advice from the Superstars In addition, in giving advice, superstars tend to understate—perhaps intentionally—the role that circumstances played in their success. On balance, much of success in life is a product of luck—being at the right time, at the right place, with the right people. Alas, what worked in their circumstances may not work in yours.

The Buddha taught prudence in such matters. He asked disciples to do what he taught only if it worked in the context of their own lives. He encouraged disciples to listen to his ideas, mull them over, try out what made sense, subsequently adapting what worked, and discarding what did not work.

The best way to educate yourself is by exposing yourself to a variety of success principles. Observe the top performers in your field. Then, identify, emulate, and adapt their effectiveness techniques to your circumstances. (See my previous article.)

Idea for Impact: Expose yourself to many success principles and consider what qualities, attributes, mental models, or approaches to life you may want to assimilate into who you are, even in part. Don’t expect to blatantly imitate a hero and expect the same outcomes: BE YOURSELF.

How to Give Project Updates to Top Management and Ask for Help [Two-Minute Mentor #7]

Project Updates to Top Management Top management is continually besieged with information and requests from across the organization. This makes it difficult to get their attention, especially when you need their intervention on a project.

To be effective in providing project updates to top management and seeking their help, it’s important to cut to the chase, simplify your message, and be brief.

  • Tell them where you are now in relation to the goals of your project. Don’t expect the big bosses to ferret up-to-date information about your project. Anticipate their questions and be ready with supporting data.
  • Tell them where you’re headed. Present your plans and tell them where you stand in relation to those plans.
  • Tell them how you’ll know when you’ve arrived at the goal.
  • Tell them how you plan to get where you’re going. Provide enough context to help the big bosses understand the challenges you face.
  • Tell them where you need their help and intervention. “Boss, we have conflicting customer specifications. I need your guidance about setting priorities.” Mention your recommendations and seek agreement. “Here is our recommended approach to the problem. Do you concur?”

Books I Read in 2015 & Recommend

In addition to a number of Rick Steves’ and Lonely Planet books for my summer-long travels across Europe, here are a few books that I read in 2015 and recommend.

  • Biography / Business: Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is an engrossing chronicle of the obsessive hard-driving personality of its founder-CEO and the company that has played the pivotal role in the shift from brick-and-mortar retail to online retail.
  • 'Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul' by Howard Schultz, Joanne Gordon (ISBN 1609613821)Biography / Leadership: Starbucks founder Howard Schultz’s Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul is an interesting depiction of Starbucks’ turnaround after Schultz returned as CEO in 2008. Read Onward for a case study of the founder’s syndrome in action and a self-congratulatory portrait of a charismatic entrepreneur and brilliant corporate cheerleader. Read my summary.
  • Biography / Business: Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is a biography of America’s current most audacious entrepreneur and Silicon Valley’s most prominent innovator. While the book details Musk’s bold leadership decisions, it also serves as a great reminder of how an extreme personality and intense success are not without their costs. Read my comments.
  • Decision-Making: Phil Rosenzweig’s Left Brain Right Stuff delineates distinct but complementary skills required for making winning decisions: logical analysis and calculation (left brain skills) and as well as the willingness to take risks, push boundaries, and go beyond what has been done before (right brain skills.)
  • 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' by Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton (ISBN 0393316041)Biographies / Mental Models: Physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman’s scientific curiosity knew no bounds. His academic life, acuity, life-philosophy, and ability to communicate science are inspirational to anyone pursuing his/her own life’s fulfillment. The following biographies capture his many scientific achievements, playfulness, varied interests and hobbies, and—perhaps most notably—his many eccentricities.
  • 'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835)Biography / Business: Sam Walton’s bestseller autobiography Made in America is very educational, insightful, and stimulating. Walton inspired legions of other entrepreneurs who thrive on managing costs and prices to gain competitive advantage. Read about an important lesson from this book about cost and price as a competitive advantage.
  • Decision-Making: Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 Rule advocates considering the potential positive and negative consequences of all decisions in the immediate present, the near term, and the distant future: or in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Read my summary.
  • Biography / Mental Models: Walter Isaacson’s A Benjamin Franklin Reader is an excellent collection of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most beloved founding fathers. Franklin was a polymath renowned for his lifelong quest for self-improvement.
  • 'The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere' by Pico Iyer (ISBN 1476784728)Philosophy: Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness argues the importance of taking a timeout from busyness. Iyer contends, “In an age of speed … nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention.” Read my summary.
  • Biographies / Art / Philosophy: Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life and Michael Howard’s Van Gogh: His Life & Works in 500 Images paint a vivid picture of the artistic genius and the troubled personal life of Vincent van Gogh. Ever Yours is an absorbing anthology of correspondence between Vincent and his brother Theo. Ever Yours sheds light on Vincent’s shifting moods, turbulent life, and philosophical evolution as an artist.
  • Management: Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s One Minute Manager is a best-selling introductory business book about goal-setting and giving feedback. Read my summary.
  • Biographies: Tenzing Norgay’s autobiography Man of Everest and Yves Malartic’s Tenzing of Everest portray the personal triumph of a poor and illiterate but ambitious, deeply religious explorer.

On a related note, read my article about reading hacks: How to Process that Pile of Books You Can’t Seem to Finish. Also see books I read in 2014 & recommend.