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Book Review: Shift by Jeff Hull

You have to love a book that manages to use the word asymptote in a non-mathematical context.  “Shfit” by Jeff Hull, an executive coach and Jungian psychotherapist, pulls that off deftly in his description of the Asymptote of Joy (essentially, there is always more joy to be experienced). 

There are many gems in this book.  I personally loved the exercise where you hold an uncooked egg (helps you feel grounded and pay attention).  There are substantive tests to take (are you a thinker, feeler or doer?), breezy stories to read of other people’s life shifts (many examples so you’ll see yourself somewhere), meaty psychological text (for those who like their research), and an overall poetic writing style (which keeps the book accessible to leisure readers like myself).

The subtitle of “Shfit” by Jeff Hull is Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear.  Hull talks about the stages of change and gives inspiration but also practical suggestions of how to deal with the different stages.  Mixing life and career examples makes the book relevant for different challenges.  The exercises at the end of each chapter are a good reference and handy as you hit a new stage or challenge and need to refer back.

I highly recommend the book.  Early in my career, I worked at a company that used Dr. Hull for executive coaching, so I had met him briefly over 10 years ago before reading the book.  I was intrigued at the possibility that high quality executive coaching might be available to the masses.  This book does not disappoint.  It’s engaging but substantive and with enough strategies that you want it for your personal and professional development reference shelf.

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Book Review: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

The subtitle to Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours” is You Have More Time Than You Think.  Indeed, that is the thesis she carries very convincingly throughout the book.  Vanderkam tracks people’s activities by the half-hour (real time diaries are included) to demonstrate that people fritter away more time than they think.  The upside, therefore, is now that you know this, you can choose your activities more consciously and get this time back.

I loved this book.  Full disclosure: Vanderkam cited one of my coaching exercises in this book.  But I shared the exercise in the first place because when Vanderkam and I connected (thanks to Peter Shankman’s HARO!) I loved the thesis of the book.  I have used time diaries for myself since the 1990’s and have recommended them to my coaching clients for 10 years now.  Like tracking your food intake or spending habits, tracking your time is very powerful in reshaping your self-awareness and priorities.

Vanderkam tackles both work and home activity as she looks at time spent.  She offers a lot of concrete examples and practical suggestions.  If you don’t have a high degree of flexibility and professional autonomy some of the strategies may be hard to implement.  But the intended reader is likely not in that boat so this is a small downside.  The book is inspirational and a great time management and productivity resource.  It is not structured as a how-to like a David Allen or Stephen Covey book, but it delivers a deeper message:  “168 Hours” is about making conscious choices, wise and meaningful choices about what we do with our time.  It’s not about doing more, but about doing what matters.

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Book Review: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

The tagline of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith is How Successful People Become Even More Successful.  Goldsmith asserts that successful people overlook their foibles and carry bad interpersonal habits with them as they ascend.  Invariably these bad habits become the obstacle to their next round of success.

Goldsmith describes 20 bad habits from Winning Too Much to Not Listening to Making Excuses.  At face value, these habits seem obvious and easily correctable but the book includes good anecdotal examples of otherwise top performers and how these habits can subtly interfere.  Goldsmith then offers a 7-step plan, including Feed Forward (the opposite of Feedback), which focuses on future change.

I was already a Goldsmith fan from his business magazine columns, and I can see why this book became one of his signature works.  It’s a breezy read, but comprehensive.  There will probably be 1-2 nuggets you can use immediately.  I particularly loved Is It Worth It — pausing before saying anything and asking if what you would say is worth it to say or just let it go.  I also loved how Goldsmith emphasized the interpersonal and how it’s the interpersonal skills that make or break you as you ascend in your career because the technical skills are often a given. 

I recommend “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, especially if you are at an inflection point and open to considering making a change.  It will help you identify potential areas of change.  It will also help you manage other people, up and down, as you’ll probably have more sympathy for other people’s struggles as you identify your own.

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Book Review: Googled By Ken Auletta

If you like business stories, you’ll like Googled by Ken Auletta.  It’s a year-by-year story of Google’s rise from inception to powerhouse.  Auletta asks the requisite provocative questions on privacy, copyright, and censorship, while also highlighting Google’s great achievements to date.  It’s a fast read, yet comprehensive.

As a coach, I was struck by Google’s employment policy of giving its engineers and some of its non-engineering staff 20% of their work time for personal projects.  This engenders loyalty to management and raises the creativity of the staff, a  win-win for company and staff.  How could we adopt the 20% policy in our own life and work?

Can we take a day of the week or 2 hours per day to step back from the day-to-day grind and reset, recharge, and refresh by refocusing on something different?

Can we encourage our teams (whether we are a manager or not) to take time to step back and work differently?

Is 20% enough or too much?  What is the right frequency — every day, once a week, or monthly?  How do we best spend that time?

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Book Review: Change By Design by Tim Brown

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, writes about design thinking in “Change By Design”.   For business book lovers, this is a must for its accessible but comprehensive overview of what design thinking is and for real-life examples in a variety of companies and industries. 

For job seekers and proactive career planners, I was struck by how useful some of the design thinking strategies are to career management.  For example, in early 2000 when I used to give live career visioning workshops, I used an exercise called Prototypes, where participants would identify people with careers or lives they wanted and try to use what they knew and admired the prototype to more quickly identify what they wanted for themselves.  Brown has a whole chapter on prototyping and its importance to efficient and effective discovery of potential solutions.  Brown also covers mind-mapping, storytelling and the importance of observatiob — all of which have important career management parallels.

It’s a good mind-stretching book and accessible even for someone like myself with no design background.  I was inspired and even hopeful after reading this, as it encourages creativity and the constant pursuit of solutions.  Brown talks about seemingly intractable problems in a curious, optimistic way that begs for ideas.  If “Change By Design” inpsires you to be as curious and inventive with your career and life, it is well worth the read.

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Book Review: Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi

Networking and relationship-building is the theme of “Who’s Got Your Back” by Keith Ferrazzi.  Ferrazzi is a networking expert and co-author of the earlier “Never Eat Alone”.  I am a big networking proponent but with “Never Eat Alone” even I found Ferrazzi’s strategies a bit intense.  With “Who’s Got Your Back” Ferrazzi dials down the tone and makes the subject more inviting.  There are solid tips, though not much new.

One thing I absolutely loved:  late in the book, he recommends that managers get 2 pieces of feedback:  1) what is one thing I am doing that I should stop doing; and 2) what is one thing I am not doing that I should start doing?  That is golden advice and applicable well beyond management relationships to goals in general.  If you are stuck, posing those 2 questions might provide a fresh insight.

Another great aspect of the book are the accompanying resources.  Ferrazzi offers goal-setting sheets and other handouts that enable you to start your own support network.  This prompted a friend of mine to create her own Greenlight group (Greenlight is the name of Ferrazzi’s consulting company), and I have participated in her group to very positive results.  So, if this book helps you to extend yourself, meet new people and deepen existing relationships, it is well worth the time to read.

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Book Review: Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim

“Escape From Cubicle Nation” by Pam Slim is a good mix of inspiring and practical strategies for people considering the transition from employee to entrepreneur.  If you are on the fence, the opening of the book is a good summary of the pros and cons.  I particularly liked how Slim doesn’t push entrepreneurship or any one particular path.

The practical info Slim shares (how to test ideas, how to pick the right legal entity for your business) includes a good basic overview but if you are serious about launching or have launched a business you will need further resources each step of the way.  Also, while I liked how Slim called out so-called business coaches who encourage entrepreneurship but may not give a realistic picture of the financial and emotional sacrifices, I was hoping this book documented more specifics on these.  Fo example, Slim chides Internet marketers who hawk overnight success products, but how long is a reasonable wait for success?  Slim recommends several months of savings, but does that mean she thinks you can replicate your corporate income in a business after several months?  That seemed aggressive to me, while the rest of her advice was straightforward and conservative, so this issue was one major place that left me hanging.

Still, “Escape From Cubicle Nation” is a motivational read with good foundational basics.  I wanted more but only because what was shared was good, solid stuff.

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Book Review: Harvey Mackay’s Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty

I finally read Harvey Mackay’s Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, after hearing it mentioned multiple times as the networking bible.  I can see why people feel this way — originally published in 1997, much of its advice is timeless.  It is a good, speedy review of good networking ideas and practices.  I especially liked the chapter where Mackay emphasized that personal and professional networks are separate.  He did say you might have overlap but you can’t assume that.  It was nice to see him set some boundaries, given how aggressive some of the other advice was.

In fact, the constant networking push might be too much for some (if not many) readers.  But this is a networking book so his all-networking-all-the-time approach is not unexpected.  He encourages readers out of their comfort zone — to try email if you’re a live networker, to approach different ages/ races/ backgrounds — and this is a good example of how Mackay pushes.

All in all, it’s a great review of networking concepts.  There isn’t much new here, though it was perhaps new at the time, and it makes a good refresher or reference text for those who are committed to making networking an integral part of your life.

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TPE’s Must-Read Books For Women Entrepreneurs

Mike Michalowicz of Toilet Paper Entrepreneur has canvassed women entrepreneurs for a list of must-read books for women entrepreneurs.  My pick is #128, Mother’s Work by Rebecca Matthias.  See the full list at 



Mother’s Work

Why It’s A Must Read: Mother’s Work by Rebecca Matthias is the story of the founder of Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity, essentially the founder of career maternity wear. Business lessons, life lessons and inspiration abound. Plus the anecdote of how she thought one of her young kids ate a cockroach while she was busy on a call makes me feel less guilty as a fellow working mom.

Thanks To: Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart Career Coaching

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Book Review: The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander

This is a feel good, motivational book but also with substantive advice, illustrative examples, and actionable tips.  I am keeping The Art of Possibility in the front of my reference shelf.  I may be biased as a former classical musician because the Zanders are artists (Benjamin conducts the Boston Philharmonic) so the creative and music stories really resonate with me.  But I think their easygoing and fun storytelling will hook anyone.

With 12 memorable frameworks to help the reader embrace Possibility as way of approaching life, The Art of Possibility is practical as well as motivational.  There are many gems:  Rule Number 6 for not taking yourself too seriously; Giving Way to Passion memorably encapsulated in Benjamin Zander’s story of the one-buttocked pianist (you have to read the anecdote to get the full flavor); and Being the Board about taking responsibility are just a few of my favorites.  I love the index of anecdotes at the end of the book so you know exactly where to find the one-buttocked pianist (page 118 in my edition) and all of your favorites. 

This is a must read.  I read a lot of business, self-help, non-fiction books and this is at the top of the list.  In this down market where anxiety and doom and gloom rule, this is an even more important and transformational read now.

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