Category Archives: Book Review
My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.
What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?
To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.
He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers.
- Dogged and focused to the extreme
- Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
- Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
- Low-key, practical and democratic
- Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
- Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
- Ironclad controllers of emotions
His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up. They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselves. They didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye.
It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.
I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.
We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load.
Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.
But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.
Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?
Who are your water carriers?
“Truth be told much of what is going to happen will surprise the pants off you. It will be way better than your wildest imaginings.” —Hugh Jackman
The book, Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self, edited by Joseph Galliano, is a collection of letters written by well-known personalities to younger versions of themselves.
J.K. Rowling, Hugh Jackman, Stephen King and Alan Rickman, to name a few. What would these people who achieved success creating work we admire write to themselves?
“It is that very foreigness, that outsiderness, that feeling of being “other” that is your power, and your mutability is the gift.” —Aasif Mandvi
I discovered all 75 letters boiled down to the same themes:
- Life will be a big surprise. Don’t think that what’s going on now will be all there is.
- The painful stuff prepares you for the good stuff.
- The scary stuff leads you to the good stuff, so don’t run away from something awesome because you’re afraid.
- Love yourself and be your authentic self. Being “other” is your power.
- Listen to your intuition.
- Love what you do.
- Relax. Look for balance in your life. Don’t worry so much. Chill sometimes.
- That person you were heartbroken about? Not worth it.
- Do not—ever—tolerate abuse.
- Partner well with friends, business partners, spouses.
- Have compassion for your mother, father, siblings. Cherish them. They aren’t as awful as you think, and they’re doing their best.
- Never stop learning and asking questions.
- Give generously and freely, and share your passions.
- Don’t worry about: zits, hair, scars, weight, clothing, sexual identity, noses or thighs or any other particular body part. Don’t let those things affect your self-esteem. You are beautiful and perfect.
- But do take care of your health and, for heaven’s sake, ease up on the alcohol and drugs. Cherish your physical abilities and your body.
- What you do at sixteen will be considered cute or sexy. If you do the same things as an adult, it won’t be considered cute or sexy anymore. In other words, embrace the passing of the years.
- You’ll make mistakes. Should you warn yourself to avoid them? Probably not.
- Believe in angels. (Okay, that was just Steve-O, but I liked it.)
If, in future years, anyone asks you to give advice to your sixteen year old self . . .
Make your own unique messes, and then work out your own way out of them.
I pondered how many of these themes I still could write to my adult self and how many of them require us to make the same mistakes or missteps over and over before we learn.
In the face of that, all we can do is try out best to follow the advice. Relax, do the scary stuff, learn from the hard stuff, love and listen to myself, be compassionate and welcome whatever surprising events pop up.
Maybe angels will help.
What would you write to your sixteen-year-old self? You can write and submit your own letter to http://www.dearme.org/.
The book, Hurry Up and Wait, is a collaboration between Maira Kalman, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and the New York Museum of Modern Art. Described as an “anti-productivity manifesto,” the book combines paintings by Kalman, insightful words by Handler and photographs from the museum.
“You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses, but truth be told it doesn’t take that long to smell them. You hardly have to stop. You can smell the roses, and still have time to run all those errands before the sun goes down and it’s dinner time.”
I say, stop and read this book. Truth be told, it doesn’t take long. You hardly have to stop. You can read it and still have time to run all your errands before the sun goes down.
My favourite passage is this one:
“I’m just standing still, and then suddenly I think I am waiting for something. Once I’ve decided I’m waiting it’s like I’m not standing still anymore.”
The idea of idling transformed into action by mere choice appeals to me.
You know those times when you feel stuck? You know when you don’t know what’s coming next or what you’re supposed to do with your life?
No worries. You’re not standing still. You’re actively waiting.
So, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and wait, already.
I read a lot.
I read for fun and entertainment, of course. Right now I’m reading the Young Adult novel The Gates by John Connelly, for instance. I ready anything by Bill Bryson, and I enjoy a good action-adventure story from time to time.
I read “Build My Brain” books too, like Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull or Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. I even read books that I know will challenge me not to throw them across the room, like . . . anything by Richard Dawkins.
Right now, a group at my (progressive, inclusive, justice-seeking, mind-stretching, spirit-expanding) church is working through A God that Could be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet by Nancy Ellen Abrams. I can’t attend the book study group because I’m not available Monday evenings, so I thought I’d give myself the Bell Canada long-distance feeling and work through it online. If some of you choose to read along, that would be wonderful.
I’ll read the first three chapters and report back in.
I love the book The Alchemist, and I find its author, Paulo Coelho, inspirational as a writer and a human being.
Many people don’t agree. I made a visit to the “1 star” section of the Goodreads reviews of The Alchemist and discovered myriad variations on the “What a load of tripe” theme.
Those readers didn’t fall in with the fabled story of a hero journey. They didn’t buy the life wisdoms like the one quoted above. After all, since when does everyone in the universe get what they want? And what about good people who end up suffering?
Coelho recently responded to those concerns with this:
“I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings ‘there no other virtue than being brave’. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”
I think he means this: If you have the ability to complain about NOT getting what you want, then that means that you’re still breathing, and your story is not over yet. There’s still time.
Get busy. Work hard. Stop whining, because if you don’t, all you’ll get is more of the same. Fight past all those things you fear. Don’t let them paralyze you into inaction.
If you do, you might be amazed at the machinations of the universe.
Consider Paulo Coelho’s 25 Important Points. Read them here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/09/03/25-important-points/