Book Reviews

The Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner

We’ve all encountered a hardheaded, stubborn know-it-all. This kind of boss or neighbor is a stereotype, it’s so common. Especially as kids, we all promised each other we would never end up like that cranky adult (insert your childhood example here). But I realized as I became an adult that attitude is actually the default destination.

stubborn man

As a child my natural state was not knowing—needing to learn. Just in case I wasn’t sure, grown ups constantly reminded me. But as I grew and learned, I earned respect. Eventually, people paid me for my knowledge—even gave me awards. And I remember the day, years ago, when I put down a cool looking book on leadership, thinking to myself, I know this stuff already. But a few months later a friend of mine told me what they learned form the book and I realized the price of my arrogance.

In his classic book, The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin says the primary barrier to progress is the illusion of knowledge and a dedication to expertise (or at least the appearance of it). Tweet This The best discoverers, Boorstin asserts, are not the smartest or most talented, but those who either have the discipline to remain “expert beginners” in their field.

And I’ve found the more I learn, the harder I have to work to keep learning. Tweet This Our tendency is to rest in our knowledge. The posture of a learner must be chosen.

As a parent, you can decided you already know your child. But today, when they tell you stories and show off their scribbling, what if you choose to discover who they are as if they are new to you? How would that change the way you interact?

As a leader, do you already know the best way to solve your team’s problem or your team’s vision? Or will you choose to open yourself up to learning new methods or even choosing a new path? Are you finished learning? Or can you humble yourself and walk today with open eyes and a curious heart? Are you an expert or an expert beginner? What posture do you choose today?

photo credit: Stubborn. via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakThe Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner

How to Protect Yourself From Toxic Relationships

My last post mentioned how crucial it is to keep contaminants out of our “fuel tanks”. I was asked, “How do you do that if the problem is a person, especially one hard to keep out like family?”

Book Cover - Boundaries

My answer: Read the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. This book has sold over 2 million copies for a reason. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend are psychiatrists with a Christian worldview. So get ready for a mix of practical psychology (e.g. the family you grew up in is key to understanding your current boundaries) and scripture (e.g. Galatians 6 on the law of sowing and reaping). Bottom line: this book helps you get clear on what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for, and how to talk to others about honoring each others’ boundaries.

For example, speaking only what edifies others is my responsibility (Ephesians 4.29). How someone else feels about what I say is their responsibility. Again, their feelings are not my responsibility. And many, many of us have been taught that it is our responsibility to keep the other person happy—or that it’s their fault if I feel bad. It’s not. It’s my job to manage my own emotions.

Another example is the danger of trying to help our kids (especially older kids) by shielding them from the bad consequences of bad decisions. By taking on too much of the responsibility for fixing their problems we rob them of the ability to take responsibility for their own life. We teach them that they can do what they want and others will handle the fallout.

Leaders not only need to manage their personal boundaries, but the organization’s boundaries. Some customer requests you have to say no to, even if there’s money to be made doing it. That’s not what your company has decided to be about. And healthy organizational boundaries won’t happen if the senior leader makes all the decisions. The boss can’t be directly responsible for it all and have fully empowered staff.

This book brings clarity to one of the most confusing aspects of life. I highly recommend this book. It’s on my short list of best books of all time.

Amazon link: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

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Scott WozniakHow to Protect Yourself From Toxic Relationships

Cautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller

I recently read the biography of John D Rockefeller, who grew up dirt floor poor just before the American Civil War (born 1839), founded Standard Oil Company, created one of the first major monopolies, and ended up one of the wealthiest men in the world.

It was well written, full of quirky characters and surprising strategies. I recommend it: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Rockefeller was a complicated man. On more than one occasion, when a small town general store wouldn’t agree to sell only Standard Oil kerosene, he authorized the opening of another general store across the street that sold everything at cost, making no profit until the other store went out of business. Then he raised rates back to normal and this new store only sold his brand of kerosene. It was not illegal, but it wasn’t very nice either. This, and many more clever, nasty things he did to grow his business.

Book Cover Titan John D Rockefeller

But before you write him off as a total jerk, you should know he was a tender, faithful family man and was also one of the greatest philanthropists of his time. But he hid his personal life including his giving, keeping the press away with walls and guards. So all the stories in his time were lopsided, written by his enemies. One example among literally hundreds of epic gifts: he gave the money enabling the founding of many of the traditionally black colleges and universities in America but asked them to name them after other people.

Some of what I saw showed me what not to do. But some of what he did inspired me, too. One example among many: Rockefeller’s life revealed that I held to a false competition between being aggressive and being cautious. I thought that being cautious meant moving slowly (among other things) and being aggressive meant moving quickly. But he showed that by paying attention to all the details and having plans to handle problems, he could move very quickly and do so with great caution. You can be aggressive and cautious at the same time. It just requires more effort. Tweet This

It’s easier to be cautious when you move slowly. And it’s easier to move quickly if you don’t check all the details. But if you’re willing to do the hard work, you can do both. You don’t have to choose between aggressive and cautious. It turns out the real choice is between working hard and taking it easy. And that’s a choice I made a long time ago.

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Scott WozniakCautiously Aggressive: Learning From John D Rockefeller

Beautiful Outlaw

Recently, my family cut down a Christmas tree, put on Christmas music, and decorated our house. And as I get ready for the biggest holiday of the American calendar, I think about the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus.

I hope you’re enjoying your own traditions of getting ready for Christmas. And whatever they are, I’d like to recommend adding something to your list. Read the book Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. I give this book 6 stars out of 5. It’s a fun read, not very long and written by a master communicator.

Beautiful Outlaw book cover

And it may be the most significant book I have ever read (outside of the Bible itself). If you’re looking for theology principles, such as salvation by faith or the mystery of the Trinity, don’t read this book. There are many fine books for that. Beautiful Outlaw is about Jesus’ character qualities and values. Using stories from the gospel books of the Bible, Eldredge draws our attention to Jesus’ playfulness, his ferocity, his utter disregard for being proper, and even his cunning. Yes, Jesus was not only cunning himself, he even told a parable encouraging all of us to be more crafty.

It turns out that Jesus wasn’t a somber, stereotypical holy man, but someone much more beautiful and more unexpected. Tweet This

I have read a lot of books about Jesus. I have even taught about Jesus a lot. More importantly, I have had a personal relationship with Jesus for decades. And with all that in mind, this book changed how I see Jesus. When I finished this book, I understood and loved Him more than I have ever before.

One way you could make this the best Christmas of your life is to get to know the person behind it all better.

AMAZON LINK TO THE BOOK: Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus

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Scott WozniakBeautiful Outlaw

The More Goals You Set The Less You Achieve

I recently had the chance to participate in an event where one of the other speakers was Jim Huling, co-author of the #1 best selling book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. (It’s a great read. I highly recommend it.)

4 Disciplines of Execution book cover

In his presentation, he said, “The more goals you set the less you achieve.” He showed results from the study his organization conducted that challenged me.

  • If an organization set 2-3 goals, they typically achieved 2-3.
  • If an organization set 4-10 goals, they typically achieved 1-2.
  • If an organization set 11-20 goals, they typically achieved 0.

The fewer goals you focus on, the greater the chance you will actually accomplish them. Tweet This

This is especially important to me as I sort through all the ideas generated from my life planning retreat. I’m a dreamer. So I came home with 11 different areas, each with a goal and key actions to get there.

Jim’s challenge is a serious warning to me. What’s most important? Sure, they’re all important. But what’s most important?

I honestly don’t know yet. That’s the last and maybe most critical phase of this process.

Do you know what’s most important for you next year? Have you been able to narrow your focus to 2-3 goals at most? If not, then I’d invite you to think deeply and pray hard. It’s what I’m going to be doing for the next several days.

Because the fewer goals I set, the better my life will be.

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Scott WozniakThe More Goals You Set The Less You Achieve

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown

I recently finished reading Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown.I’ve heard her speak twice (at TED and Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit) and have read all of her books. All her stuff is wonderful, but this book might be her best. It’s powerful, poignant, and practical–I’d give it 6 stars if I could.Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Brene’ writes with even more vulnerability than usual and with all of her spicy wit. She talks about what happens in us when we fall, when it’s our fault and when we get pushed down by others. With humor and humility, she shines a light on what goes on in our hearts and minds when our face is in the dirt, as she puts it. The book is full of stories, rich with universal truths, and offers practical, simple ways to “rumble” with these heavy moments in our lives.

This is not a book for only those going through a special kind of trauma. All of us have failed. All of us have been kicked by those we trusted. All of us know this pain. And what we do in these moments shapes us, defines our lives. Tweet This Our instinct is to run away from them, to wait for them to pass as quickly as possible. But she shows us the power and healing and hope found in opening our eyes. She calls us to rewrite the stories we tell ourselves and in the process rewrite our lives. She shows us how many have been able to turn losing experiences into learning experiences.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been face down in the dirt recently, maybe it’s because I’ve been down there a lot in my life, but for whatever reason this book really moved me. I cried multiple times. Yes, tears-running-down-my-cheeks cried. And I’m so glad I did. It was just what I needed, beautiful and healing.

I’m not saying you’ll cry if you read this. My wife loved it and didn’t cry. But if you’re face down in the dirt, this book might be just what you need. You don’t need to carry that pain and weight around with you anymore. And you might want to have some kleenex near by while reading.

Do your heart a favor and order this book now. [Amazon Link: Rising Strong] read more

Scott WozniakRising Strong by Brene’ Brown

Can You Really Make Your Brain Smarter?

A revolution has been going on in the area of brain science. About 10-15 years ago the idea that intelligence was determined by your genes was challenged. It started with a single research study showing that with a type of brain training people could increase their IQ. And it has exploded to hundreds of studies and dozens of books. Dan Hurley (author of Smarter) waded into the controversies and breakthroughs with one big question driving him: Can I make myself smarter?
Taking us on the journey with him, he explored all the methods for improving your brain. For example:
  • The Mozart Effect (listen to classical music)–proved to be false. Music can put you in a better mood and can help you on a test.
  • Exercise–proved to have real impact. Whether cardio or strength, exercise makes your brain work better. It is a physical organ, remember.
  • Lumosity (brain training games via app/web)–initial studies look very promising. With dozens of games, this company allows you to see improvement in your performance by playing 2 min games day after day.
  • Learning a new language–no improvement in any other area of brain performance could be found. You do know a lot more words, but that seems to be about it.
  • Learning a new musical instrument–seems to impact other aspects of intelligence. Several studies showed that this new skill has some crossover benefits to other skills.
The author picked seven things to try–those the research says have the best shot at improving brain function–and tried them for several months. Some he stuck with (exercise) and some he didn’t (meditation). He took a battery of standard intelligence tests before and after…but I’ll let you read the ending to see if it worked for him.
For me, there was one HUGE learning from this book. Hurley addressed the criticism that many scientists have made, namely that each of these brain training programs only gets you better at that particular test–that you can’t improve overall intelligence, only get better at particular skills. I’d heard that enough that I came to believe it–like the book I read on memory training where a guy learns to remember long lists of numbers, but couldn’t even remember lists of letters, let alone have a better memory in real life. Hurley shows that while this does happen when you use special techniques (like the memory guy did), these other approaches do increase overall intelligence.
I’m convinced. We can get smarter.
However, he does a good job explaining that there are limits. Genetics is still the largest factor in intelligence–we don’t all start identical. We do get to add to whatever we started with, though. And the studies show that those who started with lower intelligence scores benefit the most from training–they can catch up some on those who started smarter.
Well written and important, if you’re curious about the latest thinking on brain science, this is a great read for you.
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Scott WozniakCan You Really Make Your Brain Smarter?

The Power Of Pairs

Some believe creating great ideas, from science to art, is the work of a lone genius. Others argue that greatness emerges from a network, an environment that stimulates brilliance. (It’s the ongoing nature vs. nurture argument.) But I recently read a book that says when you look closer, you find great work is the result of pairs.
There have been famous pairs, like Jobs and Wozniak founding Apple and Lennon and McCartney at the heart of the Beatles. But many of the great creators of history were part of an unrecognized pair. Van Gogh’s brother did far more than send him money. He theorized and empathized day after day. They were roommates for a time and then constant companions for even more. Van Gogh’s mental breakdown happened after his brother moved away and stopped playing his part in their pair. Picasso was only able to paint with the intense help provided by his live in mistress of many decades. She didn’t just set up the studio and make the food, she helped him get through his near daily depression (the stories told of this by his friends are quite dramatic) and actually get into the studio to paint.
At the heart of greatness is two working as one.
My own life is a small-scale example to how powerful a partnership can become, including a friend who has partnered with me on leadership projects for years and another who is partnering with me to create a board game.
I do need to let you know that halfway through the book the author starts rambling, speculating on the nature of creativity and life philosophy. And by the end, when discussing pairs breaking up, he merely tells the stories of pairs who broke apart, offering no insights or framework to understand why or how to prevent it. If he had finished at the same level he started at, it would have been one the best books of the year for me. As it is, it’s still worth reading.
And whatever the quality of the book, I’m convinced that finding a partner who can co-create with you might be the key to creating something great.
Have you ever experienced a true partner in creation? I have and it permanently changed my life.
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Scott WozniakThe Power Of Pairs

Death By Meeting (Great Leadership Books)

Among the many leadership books I’ve read, a handful have stood out to me as the most practical and long lasting. I posted about one of those recently (LINK). Another of those books is Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

Like most of Lencioni’s books, it’s a fable—a story that teaches a lesson. It’s easy to read and kept my attention. And it changed forever how I plan and lead meetings.

Most of us spend a lot of our lives in meetings—boring, painfully slow meetings we survive using desert-trekking techniques (grit your teeth and put one foot after the the other). But meetings can be exciting and highly productive experiences. They can be engines of innovation and the key to cutting through bureaucracy. No, this isn’t hyperbole. I’ve crossed over the River Boredom into the Promise Land where the meetings really do flow with fun and progress.

One of the best maps on the journey to great meetings I know is this book. Two big ideas from Death By Meeting:

Different types of meetings shouldn’t be mixed. Each  meeting should be focused on one and only one purpose. Some of the most common meeting purposes:
Information sharing (structure and pre-work are the keys to this—do as little as possible in live meetings)
Practical problem solving (frequent, shorter meetings are needed for this)
Big issues/strategy decisions (1-3 times a year is normal for these longer meetings—save your big questions for these longer sessions)
Learning (1-3 times a year learning as a group can do wonders for your work group’s productivity)
Celebrating (commonly overlooked, this meeting type doesn’t have to be long, but shouldn’t be smashed into another meeting where it will lose it’s impact)
The catch-all meeting most of us have lived with muddies the purpose, wasting tons of time by diffusing team energy, not focusing it. You bounce from topic to topic with no clarity on what you’re there to do or how best to approach it.

An exception to this one-purpose-only rule: you can add moments of relationship building in any other meeting type without creating problems. Simple things like beginning with each person sharing 1-2 minutes answering questions like: What did you do over the weekend? and What’s the worst Christmas present you ever got?

At the heart of great meetings is productive conflict. No conflict, no need to meet. We already agree so why waste time talking about it. Meetings are intended to help people who disagree discuss and decide what to do. Great meetings require all three elements: 1) topic you disagree on, 2) healthy, rich discussions, 3) real decisions made.

There are  couple of practical aspects, but I think you get the idea. The Promise Land of great meetings does exist. Don’t settle for lame meetings anymore. 
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Scott WozniakDeath By Meeting (Great Leadership Books)