June 3, 2005
News & Opinion: Good and Bad Habits
Steven Coveys The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peopleis an excellent book, a great guide for personal effectiveness that draws from a careful and thorough reading of many books in this field. Coveys classic is accessible, sensible, and extremely useful. Its little surprise that so many people cite his habits as tools that help them be more productive in their lives. Thats why Coveys new book, The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, comes as a bit of a shock. Its poorly written, confusing, and comes with a bonus CD that promises to add value but merely distracts. How bad is the writing? Try this passage on for size: "The solution to the problem is like most significant breakthroughs in human history--it comes from a fundamental break with old ways of thinking. The promise of this book is that if you will be patient and pay the price of understanding the root problem and then set a course of living the timeless, universal principles embodied in the solution outlined in this book, your influence will steadily grow from the inside-out; you will find your voice and will inspire your team and organization to find theirs in a dramatically changed world." Or in other wordshuh? I hate to bash Covey, especially, since, as the saying goes, 50 million fans cant be wrong, and especially more, cause I consider him a smart guy with a great deal of integrity. The self-help field certainly has its share of charlatans, which he isnt. So rather, let me point out something new from him thats really good. As part of the release of 8th, the Free Press has released a new version of 7 Habits, which we can call, um the 7.1 Habits. An excellent new foreword and afterword from Covey address a number of issues he has discovered in the process of helping individuals use the book. Refreshingly, Covey reveals his integrity by reflecting on the human challenge of practicing what he preaches. He admits, for example, that he finds the habit of Seek first to understand, then to be understood the hardest for him to follow. When Im really tired and already convinced that Im right, I really dont want to listen, he says. Such material adds a nice touch to an established classic. There are other useful new books in this genre. I tip my hat to The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield, the guy who sold eight and a half trillion copies of his Chicken Soup for the universe series. Im cynical about most self-improvement books, which often come across as cheesy or unctuous, and even a bit sad: stuffed with grand promises and gaudy stories, they often have a thinly veiled tone of desperation. Not so this book, which feels honest and candid. And indeed, dont we all seek improvement? Is business not about creating value, about the act of solving a need, making it better? Canfield shares many small, thoughtful, helpful suggestions for dealing with your demons. In everything from time management to goal setting to financial planning, he blends his ideas with concrete ways to realize them. He breaks down his thinking into 64 principles such as taking responsibility for your life and building a success team. And he defines success in a broad manner that touches upon all the key areas of your life. Granted, some of this is old, and some of it corny; but its also largely true, and so I guarantee that any patient reader will find much of value in the book. Generous in spirit and content, this book can help any reader take a new approach to the areas of life that comprise their definition of success. And okay, one more recent title thats worthy in this field: TurboCoach by Brian Tracy. I admit that of the three, this one feels like the one most likely to be hawked on QVC. TurboCoachs essential argument is to conceive of your career as a business and then develop the systematic principles and methods to max it out. He starts with useful material helping the reader define their business and mission, moves on to smart lessons on improving productivity, and expands the advice to growing the business. Worthy. Nothing stunningly original, but, hey, this stuff works.