Posts Tagged ‘plot’

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Atonement, Hancock, Bonfire of the Vanities…I guess we’ve all got our “sour grapes” list of movies that should have been good, but were not.

As Hollywood has long since shown us, there is no such thing as a sure-fire hit. The potential for creating a product with great characters, an exciting and emotionally gripping plot, and top talent is one thing; executing on it is quite another.

The same applies to books. This thought came to me as I began reading Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race, written by the CEO and Director of Client Services of consulting firm, The Syncretics Group.

On the face of it, this book had it all:

A sexy topic (ocean racing) linked to insights for succeeding in today’s rough and chaotic business world.

A fresh angle on a newsworthy story; as the authors point out, the media focused mostly on the tragedy of the 1998 event—of which more shortly—rather than celebrate the “David vs. Goliath” winning crew.

A “bad guy” in the form of loud mouth, “Ugly American abroad” Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle.

But less than a dozen pages in I began skimming the book, and put it down before things (presumably) got exciting. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with it; the book is well written, offers sound advice and promises a great adventure story. But it just wasn’t engrossing.

The first couple of paragraphs of the Preface began promisingly, pointing out that in the fifty-three years leading up to the 1998 Sydney to Hobart offshore ocean race—held every December 26th—only two out of the 35,000 total participants had lost their lives. But in 1998 all that changed: five boats sunk, “seven were abandoned at sea, twenty-five crewmen were washed overboard, and fifty-five sailors were rescued in an operation involving twenty-five aircraft, six vessels, and approximately 1,000 people.” The event had moved way beyond “extraordinary” to become “extraordinarily dangerous.”

Like a Hollywood screenwriter handed a best-selling novel, this was the fabulous material that Perkins and Murphy had to play with. But they ended up writing a book I wasn’t motivated to skim-read, let alone finish.

Which begs the question: Just how engaging do business books need to be these days? Well, I guess that depends on the purpose for writing them. Some books are written to add “author” to a CEO’s other titles, to help generate business for a consultancy, to have something to sell during events, or to gift to clients at holiday times. Perhaps their writers aren’t really looking beyond that level of success.

Whereas those authors looking for a more widespread, general business readership need exemplary storytelling skills. Some writers have this instinctively: Pink, Gladwell, Johansson to name just a few. Great orators like Steve Jobs and former President Bill Clinton share this ability also.

Sadly, by starting their book with a run-down of the America’s Cup and the Sydney to Hobart race, then introducing us to race veteran Bill Psaltis then his son Ed, the skipper of the winning vessel, then describing how the found their boat, then telling us about various crew members…well, by that time I’d decided it was time to take an alternative journey and go back to the YA novel I was reading. At least that plot had grabbed my attention on page one and wasn’t going to let me go until I got to the end of the book!

As I’ve hinted throughout these columns during the year, knowing how to tell a compelling story is not just essential for business book authors (at least, those who want a sizeable readership), it’s a vital business asset these days. As the author, I would have been inclined to start this book at the height of the excitement, then used back-story to fill in the gaps. As a reader, I would have cared much more about Ed Psaltis and the crew of AFR Midnight Rambler had I met them in the context of doing something extraordinarily courageous, stupid, or crazy, rather than the gentle run-up to the key events that Perkins and Murphy offer.

Which leaves me with just one question for you. What nonfiction book did you have high hopes for this year, that turned out to be a disappointing read?

This is the last Thought Readership review for 2012. Thank you to all those who have read and commented (you’re a rare bunch!) throughout the year. I look forward to sharing with you the good, the bad, and the ugly in books published in 2013. Meanwhile, happy holidays to you and yours!!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Flexible Focus #41: Your 100 year life span

by William Reed on February 17, 2011

The timeline of life

You periodically encounter popular sayings that life ends or begins at 30, or at 50, depending on the attitude and experience of the person saying it. It is a poor and arbitrary perspective really, and let’s face it, sour grapes living produces sour grapes sayings. Yet there are many people who lose the plot of their life somewhere along the way.

If you look closely there is a plot, and although life’s drama unfolds differently for each person, there are underlying themes that are remarkably consistent in a meaningful life.

This has been summarized by various philosophers in the past. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, suggesting that the way to find worth or value is through deep reflection. Confucius described the timeline of life as embarking on studies at the age of 15, gaining knowledge and skills by the age of 30, removing all doubts by the age of 40, knowing your Mission or Heaven’s voice by the age of 50, following your intuition by the age of 60, and gaining full mental freedom by the age of 70. He died at the age of 72, so presumably there may have been more to the story.

Many cultures establish rites of passage at different ages and stages. Let’s look at the full picture using the Mandala Chart.

Your entire life in Mandala perspective

The originator of the MandalaChart system Matsumura Yasuo created a framework using the 8×8 B-style Mandala Chart, called the 100 Year Life Span. He said that, “The past can be changed, and the future is fixed.” How can this be? Commonsense tells us that you cannot change what has already happened, and that no one can say for sure what is coming. However, using the Mandala Chart you can reframe what has happened, and you can pre-frame what is coming.

Starting wherever you are, you can place your life in the perspective of a hundred years. It is certainly possible to live to be 100. There are estimated to be around 450,000 centenarians living in the world today, and a UN Demographic survey predicts that by the year 2050, the world will have over 2.2 million centenarians.

Of course the value of a life is not measured merely in its length between birth and death, but rather in the quality of the dash in between, an idea immortalized by Linda Ellis in her now world famous poem, The Dash.

However, despite your best efforts to make the most of each moment, until you take the 100 year perspective, there are some things that you simply cannot see clearly. The 100 Year Life Span Mandala Chart can help you gain clarity from that perspective.

It takes a good 90 minutes to several hours to thoughtfully fill it out, but that is a small investment of time compared to the perspective it gives you. Think of it as climbing a mountain to the summit of your life, and getting the view of everything below. You owe it to yourself to go there at least once, and if possible at least once a year.

Approaching the 100 Year Life Span Mandala Chart

There is a method for approaching the mountain of your life. We begin by defining 8 periods of life, the DREAM Years (0~19), TRAINING Years (20~29), CREATIVE Years (30~39), REFLECTIVE Years (40~49), MISSION Years (50~59), DEDICATION Years (60~69), REALIZATION Years (70~up), and FULFILLMENT Years (100). These can be interpreted as you like, but largely correspond to the stages of how we find and follow our path.

You do not gain perspective by filling it out like a linear timeline. Instead you start where you are now in your life, making notes in key words and phrases for the 8 fields of life (Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Study, and Leisure), for your current age and stage of life.

In other words, you start in the middle, not at the beginning. Next you go back to the beginning DREAM Years (0~19) and do the same from memory for the 8 fields of life in each stage up to your current age and stage. Then you fast forward to the FULFILLMENT Years (100), and fill out the key words and phrases from the 100 year perspective. Lastly you work back by filling in the stages in between, which will take you from your present stage to the stage of FULFILLMENT. In this sense, you begin with the end in mind, and pull yourself toward it, based on a full appreciation of where you are now, and where you have come from.

Whether you start this process young and unsure of your future, or mature and with greater perspective, pursue this process with hope and enthusiasm. It will help you navigate and appreciate your life in full flexible focus.

The purpose of this process is not just to record the biographical details and make commonsense projections. Instead, it is to radically review and comprehensively revive your life in 8 fields and 8 phases. If that seems overwhelming, it will be less so once you have taken the first step, and done it for the 8 fields of life in your current 10 year phase.

Help yourself then help others

The world is full of people trying to save others, when they cannot even save themselves. Physician, heal thyself. If you want to help others with this process, first learn to help yourself. You will understand the process better, and be better able to give others appropriate and useful advice.

If you know someone who has lost the plot of their life, or has ended up in deep trouble in one or more of the 8 fields of life, then chances are it is partly because they have never taken the time to gain a balanced perspective, or really consider the consequences with flexible focus. It may not be easy to sort things out, but improvement in one area will have a significant and positive effect on the other areas of their life as well.

And if you want a boost in gaining the energy and attitude to live your 100 Year Life Span in a healthy, passionate, and prosperous way, read Dr. Eric Plasker’s The 100 Year Lifestyle, and The 100 Year Lifestyle Workout. Ultimately it is our lifestyle, the choices we make and the processes that we pursue every day which makes everything come out in the end. If you think, choose, and act wisely, then you will not only lead a higher quality life, but the legacy you leave may well last beyond a hundred years.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you are an iPad User, the current version of the MandalaChart for iPad App is now available for free in the App Store under Apple iTunes, and I have created a 100 Year Life Span B-Chart for this App in English, for which you can e-mail me to request a copy with the words [100 Year Life Span Mandala Chart for the iPad App] in the subject line. Otherwise you can download it here as an Excel Chart

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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