Posts Tagged ‘stephen covey’

Call me fifty shades of confused! Why is it that so many books have numbers in their titles?

This question popped into my head the other day, sparked in part by the response by many independent bookstores to Amazon’s publication of Tim Ferriss’ latest book in his “4-hour” franchise: first workweek, then body, now chef. So I went over to the Amazon site and searched for books listing the numbers one to ten and found Ken Blanchard’s classic One Minute Manager; several “fives” (love languages, dysfunctions of a team; and a whole slew of “sevens” (habits, principles, spiritual laws, myths, steps, pillars, wonders….). Other than some books about the management approach known as “six sigma,” that number doesn’t appear to be hugely popular—or 2, 3, and 9 for that matter. But the trend doesn’t stop with the number ten. What, I wondered, would be the outcome if John Kador’s 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview got together with Vicky Oliver’s 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions?

Author Vicky Oliver has established quite a “numbers” trend with her books over the years, moving up from 201 smart ways to handle tough people to 301 smart answers to give during interviews, and now 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (by Skyhorse Publishing, who more recently published a book of hers with an even bigger number, “millionaire”).

Having had cause to read a number of business etiquette books recently, I agree with what’s alluded to on the back cover of Tough Business Etiquette Questions: Most of them are as topical and fun as a Victorian tea party! What Oliver has going for her is a witty take on 21st century etiquette concerning topics such as “Casual Friday,” handshaking when abroad, and who gets mentioned first when introducing your ex-boss to your current boss. She’s right, they probably don’t teach this stuff in business school (any school, come to that) and more’s the pity!

There’s not just wit but wisdom too within the book’s 370 pages (and Skyhorse has done such a great job of the layout, it’s a very easy and accessible read…the kind of book you can dip in and out of as circumstances crop up). I especially liked what Oliver wrote about that annoying habit of some folks to respond in a different medium every time, as in “You leave your client a voicemail message. He replies with an email. You email him back. He responds with a text message. You text him back. He sends you an IM. The two of you have had six communications yet still can’t find the time to meet in person. What’s going on?” As Oliver rightly points out, “Your relationship is strong” (otherwise you would have gotten zero response!), “but your closure skills are wobbly.” Perhaps it’s time to break the project down into parts that can be dealt with electronically, given that a face-to-face meeting looks unlikely any time soon, Oliver suggests.

But back to my original question. Why are we (authors and readers) so enamored with having books with numbers in the title? What is it about the “ten rules for…” format that nine out of ten blog posts and a significant number of magazine and newspapers articles offer these days? Is it, as Jillian Steinhauer bemoaned in a recent article, that “We risk becoming masters of our own triviality,” because of this seeming obsession with lists? Then again, maybe having “42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role” makes a honking big responsibility feel more under your control and less chaotic. And knowing you can become a 10-Minute Virtuoso for the instrument you have always longed to play, feels more manageable and accessible.

There’s the potential for an interesting debate here, but it’s one I don’t have the time or space to address. Suffice it to say, in the spirit of offering you—as an aspiring nonfiction author—pointers to making the book development process as clear and successful as possible, the “numbering” format is a very useful one. From what I continue to see when consulting with writers who are attempting to write their first book, it’s organization that scuppers them every time. Their material tends to be all over the map, with no discernible route for readers to easily follow and understand.

So, even if it ends up not being the way your book is finally structured, it’s always useful to come up with a list of core principles, steps, habits—or whatever is most appropriate—when brainstorming the content for your nonfiction book, and use those to organize your chapters. After all, it worked very well for Stephen Covey, Deepak Chopra, and Napoleon Hill. And given all those book awards, it looks like it has too for Vicky Oliver!

Flexible Focus #52: A sense of Significance

by William Reed on May 5, 2011

Urgency vs Importance

Stephen Covey provided the world with a significant dimension of perspective when he proposed the Time Management Grid in his book First Things First (1994), using a 2×2 Matrix juxtaposing Urgency vs Importance. Though it has now become common parlance, it was revolutionary at the time when Covey made this distinction, and plotted it in four Quadrants.

Quadrant 1 is Firefighting, both Urgent and Important. Quadrant 2 is Quality Time, Important but not Urgent. Quadrant 3 is Distraction, Urgent but not Important. Quadrant 4 is Time Wasting, neither Urgent nor Important. To give serious consideration to this matrix is to realize that an unacceptable proportion of your time and life energy is actually being wasted, and that there may be far too little Quality Time in your experience. This insight alone should give you pause, and motivate you to devote more energy to living on the right side of the matrix.

Additional Degrees of Freedom

We have already examined the limitations of the 2×2 Matrix in Flexible Focus #25: Assessing your situation with a Mandala SWOT analysis. A 2×2 Matrix can alert you to an insufficiency, cause you to reevaluate your priorities, or alert you to a missing element in your life. However, life is multi-dimensional, and most things in life do not easily fit into a 2×2 square.

What if you added even just one dimension, and looked at life as a 3×3 matrix, as a Mandala Chart? This alone gives you nine degrees of freedom instead of 4, and if you care to explore it further, the B-style Mandala Chart is 8×8, with 64 degrees of freedom. To anyone who values flexibility and freedom, by any measure 9 degrees of freedom is better than 4, and 64 degrees of freedom is better than 9, unless you prefer simple choices with everything fixed.

Additional freedom brings with it greater appreciation for flow and serendipity, lesser need for control, and a higher tolerance for ambiguity. The important thing is to determine what makes life better, more meaningful, and what serves to answer the bigger question of Why?

In Search of Significance

As shown in the illustration, there are 5 basic questions, which correspond to the five elements of Chinese philosophy, as well as the energy dynamics of our perception: What (Wood, Visual), Who (Fire, Auditory), When (Earth, Kinesthetic), How (Steel, Logical), and Why (Flow, Energetic). There is a sequence here, which is easy to remember if you think that Wood feeds Fire, which burns and returns to Earth, which hardens into Steel, and the whole process Flows.

You see this process at work in companies whenever new ideas are presented. Wood feeds fire, hence the question to ask after What you can do is, Who can help you do it? Unfortunately, many companies respond to new ideas with the cutting edge of steel, How can it be done? How can we afford it? How could it possibly work? Steel cuts wood, and How questions kill ideas as fast as they appear.

Companies and individuals who understand this process move forward and thrive, whereas those who don’t retract, shrink, and shrivel, eventually losing their creative edge. How has its place, but must wait its turn. This is why accountants and engineers should not call all of the shots.

Popular psychology tends to focus just on the first three, Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic, but this is only three of the five dimensions of our consciousness. The 3×3 Mandala has nine squares, adding a degree of subtlety to the five elements. To reach the level of significance, you need to ask quality questions, which are really quite fundamental, but seldom asked in earnest.

So what does a 3×3 Mandala look like, which reaches into the dimension of significance, rather than just urgency vs importance? The 3×3 Mandala of Quality Questions is simplicity itself. In three rows from left to right it reads: HOW TO, WHAT, WHY ME, then HOW, WHY, WHO, then HOW MUCH, WHEN, WHERE. Everything centers on WHY, which is the center and anchor point for your inquiry.

Through a Glass Darkly

Although the Mandala Chart is usually represented as a 3×3 Matrix, a flat board of 9 squares, this is merely a convenience to represent the concept on paper. The Mandala is often represented as a circle, or an all encompassing sphere representing the Universe, and everything contained in it.

In searching for a sense of significance, you might picture the Mandala as a crystal ball in which we can see our future, our present, and our past, albeit in misty or mystical form. The Mandala is a looking glass, and in it we see through a glass darkly, a phrase which originated in the King James Bible, but has been used in film, television, music, and literature, precisely because it reflects our experience. Only by looking deeper can we see more clearly and understand the real significance of our existence.