14 November 2015

Review of John P. Kotter's A Sense of Urgency

Wow! In a good way, wow! I have read several business/management/leadership books. A Sense of Urgency is unlike many, maybe even most.

It is simple without being dumbed down. It is heavy with usable ideas without a lot of incomprehensible jargon or pretension. It is written in clean, sharp and well-written prose.

If you run a business, or if you are breathing air, this book can give you tools to get that true sense of urgency that so many crave but don't know how to get. One reason, as Kotter points out, is because of a false urgency. That was an eye opener for me, even though I have long realized that a lot of action does not equal quality action. My misconception was that a lot of energy would lead to urgency, which it does; but, this is often false urgency. So, Kotter shows the difference between the false and the true, then goes on to give practical ways to gain the latter and diminish the former.

If you are looking for that little spark to get a fire under your organization's butt, you could do worse than reading this book. If you've had success and can't fathom why the drive and urgency are gone, it would behoove you to read this book. If you want to know how to motivate yourself and others, read this book.

It's a short read and is free of pompous, windbaggy words, so it won't pull you away from Wheel of Fortune or Criminal Minds for too long. And it may just free up a little time for you to more fully enjoy this thing called life.

01 October 2015

Thinking Big and Cheesy Fun Stuff

David Schwartz's The Magic of Thinking Big is good pep-talk stuff, and it's funny in a corny way. Maybe it's the age of the book, maybe it's just me. Some of the concepts are familiar from other self-help books. Because they copied Schwartz, right? That's probably what he'd say. 

I listened to the audiobook and had some extra fun listening at slower speed. It made the author sound like he was three sheets to the wind, and it was that much funnier because he's also trying to sound serious and profound. It helped me remember those parts....

There are a few other narrators. Some do pretty well, others sound like they're reading, which they are ... so I guess that's okay? Just sometimes it tends to pull me out of the book.

And but so, a couple of concepts I don't fully agree with, which doesn't mean they're wrong. I may agree with them tomorrow. And, his illustrations aren't always PC. I don't care so much about that, but I'm more sensitive to those things than I used to be. That isn't stopping me from getting the good stuff out of this audiobook. Some of which can be used immediately.

I don't think The Magic of Thinking Big is for everyone. For example, chihuahuas wouldn't get much out of it, since they already think they're bigger than elephants. Almost anyone else can probably get at least one useful idea out of it and, often, that makes it worth the time to read or listen. I was reminded of several tools which I had sorta forgotten about, so I'm glad I listened to this audiobook.

In the end, you have to decide if you like it or not. Don't let others choose what you read. That's part of thinking big and being in control of your life: deciding what you want/need to read.

Benjamin Disraeli said, "Life's too short to be small."

So, go live big!

The Magic of Thinking Big was recommended by Tim Ferriss (fourhourworkweek.com).

27 September 2015

Writing Life

Writing is almost like air and water and food for me. Yet, I have yet to make a living doing this thing I love more than (dare I say it?) chocolate. When someone asks me what I do, the first thing that always wants to tumble from my lips is: "I'm a writer." Then, in this oh-so-grown-up and serious world in which we live, I realize that the inquisitor wants to know how I put victuals on my family (Thank you G. W. Bush). Then, I sigh, because that's what you do when you're forlorn, and give them some long, rambling blah blah that bores them and me and the fishes of the sea. These latter have been known to drown themselves from utter boredom.

So, why is it so damn difficult to send my writing out into the world? Surely I'm the only writer who feels this way. I am the only person writing in the safety of anonymity. But, who, unlike the Earl of Oxford, hasn't money with which to pay someone to let me ghostwrite for them and to persuade them to keep my identity secret. Alack the day.... The question, then, should be: "What do I want from my writing?" And: "Can I get that by writing 'only for myself'?"

Maybe you've seen Anonymous. In that film, the Earl of Oxford tells Ben Jonson that all art is political and if it's not then it's mere decoration. I have been thinking on that since I heard it. It has gnawed and scratched the recesses of my skull. Is it true? Is it not true? Is my challenge that I don't like politics? Is my challenge that I like chocolate too much? If I write with these things in mind, how will that feel? Or, maybe the artist doesn't keep the political gobbledygook in mind, but rather it just sorta seeps out like the toxins in sweat. Perhaps.

I know I'm somewhat nervous about sending my writing out. All kinds of thoughts work on me. E.g. What if I'm delusional and this sucks so badly that it makes people want to rip their eyeballs out? What if it's sooooo bad that it's like I'm unconsciously putting all my garbage out on on other people's lawns? What if others hate it so much that I am forbidden to ever eat chocolate again? Ever!

I have read many horror stories. No, not Stephen King's fiction, but rather his non-ish-fiction memoir, On Writing. He talks about the rejection letters. Other writers do this, too. It's like:

"See my scar?"
"Oh yeah? Look at mine!"
"That's nothing! I've lost a finger!"
"Why's that guy pointing at the air?"
"I think he's trying to tell us that he's lost his head."
"Oh yeah? Well, I've had my brainchild story rejected a gazzillion and eighty times...."

I think the writers who share those anecdota are in a sadistic way trying to encourage us lesser mortals. My self-doubt demons always chime in. "See, real writers get rejected. What hope do you have? No one wants to read your drivel. You should "keep it secret, keep it safe." You wouldn't want to be responsible for someone hurting themselves by inflicting that on them..... And on, and on it goes.

But, I know I'm the only one who feels this way, so I'm sorry for subjecting you to all of this codswallop.


08 August 2015

Thoughts on Impermanence

So, I was thinking about the way things usually work out & I came to the conclusion that they rarely turn out the way I want them to.

Losing all of the essays I was keeping in the Blogger app, when my phone broke (I had 33 drafts), has given me a lesson in impermanence. The Dalai Lama, in the film Seven Years in Tibet, says something like: "If I can do something about it, worrying will do no good; if I can't do anything about it, of what use is worrying?" The essays are probably on my old phone, but I have no access to that phone, now. Crying won't help; screaming won't do any good! Impermanence wins again.

This is also a good lesson in acceptance. When things are not as you want them, it can be easy to feel bad & to give up & forget about your dreams. I know, because I've done that too many times. After my other phone died, I took some time to think about what's really important & what I should begin & continue to focus on.

We are never totally in control of all the lessons we'll have to learn & the tests are often way out of our hands. I think we'd be too lenient on ourselves if we could control what & how we're tested. We would let ourselves off the hook on too many things & we would give ourselves points when we don't deserve any. At least that's how I have been & people I know have been.

"Oh, well, I just have this little issue & I should really cut myself some slack. Being hard on myself won't help."

But, sometimes, if we aren't hard on ourselves no one will be & we'll just keep on "slouching toward" our private "Bethlehem".* Everything will stay the same, & we'll never reach that place where we can be born into our true life.

Something I used to hear a lot was: if you don't pass one of life's tests, you'll have to keep taking it again until you do pass. So... Will you let those little things become huge? Or, will you whittle them down to a manageable size & kick their butts?

Live everyday to the fullest & never give up on your true life. Ayer, hoy y mañana!

*See: W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

23 July 2015

Having Ears That Cannot See, Eyes Which Cannot Hear

The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. Bottom, in Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (4.1.211-214).

Blindness. I started it a few years ago, and having been distracted by other more pressing things, and not wanting to begin again after a rather lengthy hiatus, put the book on the shelf to gather dust along with my self-loathing for abandoning yet another obviously important and powerful book. I forced myself to recommence. I'm surprised I didn't go blind from reading for so many hours straight.

I got past the first part I had initially read and by then, I was all in: feet, hands, and all, up to the eyeballs!

This book, while a translation (which alone makes it layered), is seemingly simplistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one simply took the idea of voice, it would fill many pages with all of the nuances of meaning in that concept as it is depicted by José Saramago in this amazing novel. Yes, it can be read as simply a harrowing and interesting story.... But, why limit it; or yourself, for that matter?

Like Shakespeare's King Lear, this novel plays with the denotations AND the connotations of the words blind, and see. It also has fun and many memorable antics with such words/concepts as: hear, smell, taste, touch, balance, and fear, to list just a few. Particularly peculiar is synesthesia in lines such as "... blinding a man's sense of smell" (177). A reader would be rewarded by reading and rereading this work, each time focusing on a different of the senses as the theme.

Also, the ideas of clean and dirty, good and bad, right and wrong, self and other, us and them, are explored here, as are liminality, temptation and transgression. You would think the book would be several times thicker, something in the neighborhood of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, or William Gaddis's The Recognitions, or maybe, War and Peace or The Bible, but Saramago pulls it off like he has Hermione Grainger's magic bag (which holds a large tent among other things). All the desirables and the undesirables have found representatives in Blindness. I mentioned The Bible because there is a lot of allusion to that work in this one. Adam and Eve, the lepers, and Ruth's words to Naomi: "Where you go, I will go."

The ideas behind this novel may not be known entirely, but it makes me think of the things that are truly important. If tomorrow, all the world goes blind, it won't matter if you are rich or poor, have a job or are unemployed, own a house or rent. When all the world is blind your looks no longer matter. Who cares if you have the perfect body or are a little fluffy? To the blind a Rolls Royce is not much different than a VW bug; they are unable to drive either of them.

It's the life itself that is important, that is precious; your life and the life of other living beings. The Buddha has this pegged. For some reason, the capitalism of our age has become a blind consumerism, where even relationships can be thrown away and new ones sought when we tire of them. The people who become the protagonists in this story realize the importance of relationship/trust/friendship over material or over class or any other dividing concept. People are equaled out and relationships/friendships are important. These people may not have become friends had their world not turned inside out. That's something to cogitate on. The latest iPhone, or Samsung, or even the cheapest most looked down upon flip phone, would be worthless if all the electricity was suddenly gone. Blindness has challenged me to reevaluate my priorities yet again. This is something I've done several times in my life. Don't get me wrong, here. Having things is great. I'm just trying to remind myself and you to keep it real and balanced out.

Unlike me, Saramago reminds his readers of these things without getting up on a soap box. He lets the characters live it out. The idea of show, don't tell is interesting in this work. How do you show blindness? Well, obviously it can be done; Saramago did it. Yes, he told, too, but I could see the people doing the things his words said. And, I haven't seen the film....

My only regret, besides not having finished this novel sooner, is that I can't read Portuguese and so can't read it in the original. Yet.

I hope you check it out and I hope you enjoy it, in all its gruesome glory, as much as I did.