Sunday, August 23, 2015

Roth, The Achievement Habit

Don’t try, do. Bernard Roth, professor of engineering and director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the at Stanford University, explains that there’s a big difference between trying to do something and actually doing it.

If you try to do something, it may or may not happen. If it does not happen, you might try using an altered strategy, and again it may not happen. Although this could go on indefinitely, usually it lasts until you luck out and succeed, get tired of trying, or get distracted by something else. Clearly this is a very unproductive way to go about your life.

If you are doing something, then no matter how many times you hit a barrier, or how frustrated your original strategy becomes, you intend to get the job done, and you bring to bear on it the inner resolve and attention necessary to fulfill your intention. (p. 77)

In The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (Harper Business / HarperCollins, 2015) Roth offers advice on how to make achievement your habit. Achievement is not, it should be noted, an endless chase for more—more money, fame, appreciation, love. It’s about solving problems. In fact, Roth believes that “life is basically a problem-solving activity, and you can learn to make both the process and the result better.” (p. 166)

The book is full of anecdotes from Roth’s life, which has obviously been rich, one of personal and professional achievement. The anecdotes illustrate key points in his argument, such as nothing is what you think it is (and, a corollary, you give everything its meaning) and reasons are bullshit.

Although he is part of the STEM community, he downplays the effects of statistics on our lives.

Statistics can show you trends, they can’t predict your life. … the odds have always been against greatness. If one were to decide on a career path just by the odds of financial success, we would have no movie stars, authors, poets, or musicians. … If you succeed, the odds are meaningless. Any path may have a 2 percent success rate, yet if you’re in that 2 percent, there’s a 100 percent chance of success for you. The long shots are often the most rewarding. (p. 88)

Roth’s book is a call to action. It offers ways to get unstuck and start solving problems, to change your self-image (for instance, to think of yourself as being more creative), and to experience all that you can. It’s an enjoyable, uplifting read.

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