Reading – Week of November 4, 2013

The Authentic Swing, by Steven Pressfield

Writers and entrepreneurs love Steven Pressfield’s work. He’s written tons of novels, but two of his nonfiction books, Do the Work and The War of Art, have gained a cult following in these circles. Why? He digs into the single biggest impediment to creative success: resistance. All those inner voices you hear (My writing sucks! I’ll never sell this product! I’m in over my head!) keep you from completing (or starting) your great work. But Pressfield explains, artfully and convincingly, that these voices are just your primitive fears and are not real. Push through, mate, push through. Pressfield’s advice is wise, even life-altering, for creatives.

The Authentic Swing has a different but equally wise premise: You (yes, you!) have a voice, an idea, a style that is yours alone. You will not be successful until your work is 100% you.

What does the title refer to? The first novel Pressfield sold was The Legend of Bagger Vance. (Sounds like a great book—at least the way he tells it. But the movie, not so much—at least the way he tells it.) Anyway, Pressfield uses anecdotes about how he wrote and sold The Legend of Bagger Vance to create a golf swing analogy about writing and unique value propositions. Apparently, no two people have the same golf swing. Identical twins even have different swings. And golfers will not be successful until they strip away all else and go with their natural swing. (I’m a little skeptical about this, since it seems to me that millions of dollars are spent annually by golfers hoping to change their swing. But, that’s for another conversation.) Every writer has their own swing, their own voice, style and process. Go with it, embrace it, hone it, says Pressfield. And I believe him.

A couple of other books I read this week and recommend:

Tinkers, by Paul Harding – It won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, impressive for a first novel. The prose is incredibly lyrical, magical. And I loved the beautifully heartbreaking way it dealt with epilepsy and dementia.

Before Happiness, by Shawn Achor – This book spends a lot of time arguing why positivity in the workplace can transform organizations. For me, that’s singing to the choir. But I did find a few points very useful, including this tip, which seems trivial at first blush, but I think can really change organizational chatter: Start conversations with a positive topic before someone can start the social script with gossip, complaints or negativity.

Reading: Week of October 21, 2013

Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott

I picked up this book because I was looking for a formula of sentences that would make an upcoming difficult conversation go my way, the “Easy Button” for what would be a tough talk. Yes, Scott does provide a structure for opening such a dialog, but what I find most compelling about this book is the case it makes for engaging in fierce conversations on a continual basis, at work and at home.

According to Scott, much of what is broken in our companies, communities and personal relationships is the lack of willingness to talk about the real issues on our minds. And we’ve all gotten so good at it, that we actually think we are talking about what matters. Some questions Scott raises that get at how much fiercer our conversations could be:

  • What is the most important thing to discuss right now?
  • What topic do you hope will not be brought up?
  • What are you pretending not to know?
  • What topics are understood to be off the table but should not be?
  • What are you tolerating?
  • What are you thinking but unwilling to say?

Challenging stuff, these fierce conversations. But worth the risk, I’d say. This is a book to keep on the shelf and review every few months for a fierce reality check.

Reading: Week of October 7, 2013

Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche came across my radar recently via an interview on The Good Life Project. The leader of Shambhala (a community of meditation retreat centers) and a meditation teacher, he is also an avid runner. I was curious to learn how running and meditation practices could intersect or inform each other.

I tend to prefer books with very clear maps and progressions, and to my taste, this one weaves a bit. But that said, I found it impactful. Perhaps because of the weaving, when I’d finished the book I couldn’t recall any specific aha’s. But at the same time, I notice I approach both my running and my meditation practice (which is the more wobbly of the two) with renewed energy.

One concept of Mipham’s that I was particularly attracted to is the idea of creating an intention for a run. He says:

I believe that with pure intention, you can bring almost any activity onto your spiritual path. My intention in running is to benefit others. Thus running is a continuation of my spiritual journey…. Having such intention adds dignity to our run. We are no longer just one person running along a trail, in the countryside or on the street. Our mind and heart are extending further–even globally.

Running is such a joyful activity, that I love the idea of using that energy in a bigger way.



Reading: Week of September 16, 2013

Total Leadership, by Stewart D. Friedman

One of the happy surprises of the Global Business Travel Association convention for me was a seminar called Total Leadership. I attended begrudgingly because a colleague had arranged for us to meet with the presenter, Stew Friedman (a Wharton professor and author), that afternoon to discuss possible content collaboration with Executive Travel. The idea was to familiarize ourselves with his message.

I went into the meeting room a total skeptic, and I left totally inspired. (I love it when that happens!) Turns out that all these years I had bought into an outdated understanding of what it means to be a leader: a style known as “command and control.” Since that is most certainly not my style, I figured I was not a candidate for leadership. The seminar caused me to rethink what a leader is and does. Weeks later I have dug deeper by reading Stew’s book.

According to Friedman, leadership is best examined across four domains of a person’s life (not just business): work, home, community and self. Friedman suggests making changes (“experiments”) that impact all four domains at once. I love that this goes against the binary nature of the work-life balance question: the four domains are interwoven and can/should be addressed as such.

There’s a lot of meat to this book, and it’s meant to lead to action and change. Stew recommends a thorough go-through will take four months. I’m just getting started on that exercise, but it’s a process I’m enjoying.  After all, the promise of the book’s subtitle is hard to ignore: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life.

Reading: Week of September 2, 2013

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, by Phil Jackson

I was strangely drawn to this book, despite having minimal interest in the game of basketball. But Phil Jackson’s quirky approach to weaving his personal Eastern sensibilities and meditation practice into the super-commercial and Western world of the NBA has always intrigued me.

I picked up this book, then, for its leadership lessons and not for its  narrative on Jackson’s eleven basketball championship seasons in Chicago and Los Angeles. So full disclosure: I skimmed through much of the basketball detail. Still, there was a lot that held my interest on how Jackson inspired and coached diverse personalities, created a culture of leaders, and evolved each team as a “tribe” to its maximum potential. Highly recommended for those lessons. And if you’re a basketball fan, well, all the better.