Author: Stephen R. Covey
My Overall Thoughts: This book is fantastic and changes lives. This is one of the first personal productivity books I ever read (some 20 years ago) and over the years it has made a big difference to me in many ways. Looking over it again to write this post I’m just amazed at how packed it is with useful knowledge. While it’s marketed as a business book, it’s more of a “how to run your life well” book. Just do your best to get past all the jargon.
Should You Read This Book?
If you have these challenges:
You’re having trouble figuring out what to do in your life or at work, trouble dealing with people, or pretty much any of life’s messier problems.
… then it might help you:
by showing how to find what’s important. by helping you work better with people and by giving you a better vocabulary and toolset to understand, communicate, and act on the important things in life.
But you might not want to read it if:
If you don’t have the ability to see past the jargon.
You have a specific tactical need in mind and don’t need such a wide ranging book.
What I Got Out Of This Book
Here’s some of the highlights that I got out of the book. There’s way more in the book than what I cover here.
But First, A Note About the Jargon
This book was immensely popular when it came out and I think in some ways it suffered from its own popularity. It was required reading for employees everywhere. Not all employees were interested and not all managers implemented the ideas well.
Explaining the book’s innovative ideas required Covey to introduce a new vocabulary filled with strange words. This new language was the easiest target for those who opposed the new ideas. As a result, words like “synergy”, “mission statement”, “win-win” were mocked and still carry an aura of “buzzword” but I encourage you to read the book and decide for youself.
I picked the book up of my own volition and I was therefore more open to its concepts. Despite others’ derision, I actually found the jargon useful. I was fresh out of college and new to the business world. For me the jargon was just a vocabulary of soft-skills and business concepts no one had ever taught me in engineering school. They were useful.
Your principles are at the center of it all.
Everything is built around them. So put time into understanding them. When you need to do any of the other stuff in life, you can use your principles as a compass.
We get to choose our responses.
In between “the thing that happens” and “the thing we do in response” we get to choose how we respond. We can learn to change our responses. There is a choice. This seems obvious to me now, but at 25 I remember feeling like I had discovered the secret to the universe.
One thing I think he should have made clearer is the difference between emotional response and acting response. Emotions are often automatic. Something happens and you just feel something. What he’s talking about (I believe) is the action you take – saying something, doing something, or choosing your mental perspective or allowing your mind to run away into different scenarios. You’re not going to choose your emotional response, that’s actually part of the stimulus.
That said, I think that if your response is to thoughtfully manage your emotional response I believe that your emotional responses over time to similar situations will change.
“The Circle of Influence”
This is a prayer-less version of The Serenity Prayer. On the surface it’s common sense. But the book goes into the amount of detail needed for you to see more of the implications it has in your life and to convince you to start being more mindful of it.
“Begin with the End in Mind”
Thinking about where you want to go, why, and drafting mission statements is something I do for nearly every project. This way, when there’s some question of “which way now”, there’s no debate – the mission statement answers it.
“First Things First”
The time-management matrix of important-urgent, important+not urgent, not important + urgent, and not important and not urgent was simple but eye opening. Most of the things I’m glad I have done and most of the things that people are impressed by my doing are things that came out of working in the “important + not urgent” quadrant.
For example: a lot of relationship stuff, side passion projects, exercising, eating well. These are the things that pay off in the long term but are easy to neglect because they are non important. Before the matrix, it was just a mess of “things I should do”. After developing the habit of seeing things through the matrix point of view, life got better.
Most things are not zero-sum. Set things up so everyone wins and you’ll get further than trying to take what everyone else has.
“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”
This is amazing advice. It is also hard to do. But when I do it, it pays off. If everyone did this then the world would be a far better place. He has examples and suggestions here that are enlightening, if not helpful. This is a category of work that deserves its own book but it really opened my eyes.
The word synergy gets such a bad rap. Which is a shame because everyone enjoys synergy when they are experiencing it. If mentioning the thing we want by name gets eye-rolls, how are we going to get more of the thing we want?
Maybe it needs a different name.
What is synergy? It’s the thing were I bring my ideas to friends and we brainstorm on them and they become far far better than any of us could have done on our own. It’s “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. It’s the magic of people working together and creating something amazing that none of them could do on their own.
I’m glad to have a word to explain this magic. Even if people make fun of it.
“The Third Alternative”
Here’s a riddle for you: There’s a problem at work. Two solutions are proposed. Person A digs in their heels for one solution, Person B digs in their heels for the other.
The riddle is: who came up with the solution that Person A is promoting? Who came up with the solution Person B is promoting?
We all know the answer to this. People have a very strong tendency to love their own solutions best. We all do it.
The Third Alternative helps break the impasse. Set aside both beloved solutions and ask “what’s a third option here?” This gets the two people on the same side rather than opposing one another. It invites synergy and co-operation.
People tend to dig in their heels to support what they see as the “best” solution. Very often, the “best” solution is their solution.