Recommended Reading

 21 Days to a Big Idea!

By Bryan Mattimore

2015, 156 pages

In 2015, Bryan Mattimore was hired by the librarians of the Chicago Public Library to help them work on their creativity. He challenged them to come up with a brand-new idea in just 30 seconds. They couldn’t do it. Then he led them in a little exercise.

He gave each of them two sets of cards. One set was nouns: man, boy, dog, house, socks, etc. The other was adjectives: fast, slow, tall, short, simple, fancy, dull, glowing, etc. He told them to mix and match the nouns and adjectives until they saw something that felt like a new idea.

In the next few minutes, dozens of interesting ideas were offered up. Some were crazy bad. Some were promising.

This is one of six or seven brainstorming strategies you will find in Bryan  Mattimore’s 21 Days to a Big Idea!

To use this brainstorming technique as a marketing or product-development tool, you need to work with nouns that pertain to your industry. If you sell vitamin supplements, for example, nouns like crowbar and space probably won’t be helpful. But you can and should be able to come up with dozens if not hundreds of nouns that will.

After you have your list of nouns, select one and run it against your list of adjectives until you find a good idea. If you don’t come up with anything, select another noun and do the same thing.

I’ve actually used this brainstorming technique many times and I can attest to its effectiveness. It may not give you instant gold, but it will get the mining going.

Another brainstorming technique Mattimore recommends involves asking yourself 6 simple questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. If you are a financial planner, for example, you could ask:

  1. Besides my current customer profile, who else might be able to use my service?
  2. Of the many investment vehicles I recommend, what is the most needed?
  3. When is the best time of day to contact prospective customers?
  4. Besides the media I’m currently using, where else might I find them?
  5. If a customer asks why I’m in this business, how should I respond?
  6. How can I take action on the answers to the above 5 questions?

A third technique is one that Mattimore calls “billboarding.” He says it is great for identifying a product’s unique advantages and consequently coming up with strong sales copy.

  • First, be clear about what your idea is and what problem it solves for customers in their everyday lives.
  • Second, list your product’s benefits. What are all the things it can do for your customers?
  • Third, pick out the strongest benefit your product has to offer.
  • Focusing on that benefit, create a catchy name for your product as well as a memorable phrase that captures exactly what it is about your product that makes it so special.

Example: A cardboard stroller for children.

The Benefits: It’s lighter and easier to move and transport than a regular stroller, but is still secure enough for you to trust that your baby is safe inside. It’s also less likely to cause injury if it falls over. And it’s cheaper. On top of these pragmatic benefits, you and your kids can draw on the cardboard, keeping them entertained and engaged during trips to the grocery store.

Thus, the headline of your ad could be: The Playhouse Stroller: Go Shopping and Your Kids Will Have Fun Too!

This is not a great book. It’s a good book. A quick read that will likely give you one or several useful tools to use to brainstorm better.

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Recommended Reading

A Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson

2003, 560 pages

 The title suggests the challenge. Who would have the nerve to write such a book? Of course, if you’ve read Bryson you know he’s not a “serious” writer. He’s just a very good one. And he has a sense of humor, some of which is pointed at himself.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is a tour de force. I enjoyed it immensely from cover to cover. It’s a big book but it reads fast. As promised, it’s an historical account of the history of the universe and much of human history, from the Big Bang to present day.

It took Bryson three years to research and write – but that seems like no time compared to the accomplishment.

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 When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

By Daniel H. Pink

2018, 272 pages

 Timing Your Day for Mental and Physical Peaks

It’s taken me decades to work out a daily routine that takes full advantage of my body’s natural chemistry. It took so long partly because I’m stubborn and partly because I believed that working non-stop for 18 hours was in and of itself a good.

Had I known what behavior scientists know today, I might have figured things out sooner. It turns out that my personal biochemistry is typical of most people.

In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel H. Pink looked at the results of about 700 scientific and academic studies and came to some interesting, though not surprising, conclusions.

Example from a Cornell University study of 500 million Twitter accounts: Positivity peaks in the morning, drops swiftly in the afternoon, then climbs back up in the evening.

Other studies show the same thing in reverse: Negativity rises in the afternoon and falls in the evening.

 Practical Applications:

  • Schedule your pep-rally meetings and sales pitches in the morning.
  • Want to scare someone? Do it in the afternoon.
  • Do the mindless busywork in the afternoon.
  • Take a 5-to-7 minute break every hour and a half-hour walk or exercise break midday.
  • Take a nap when you are tired, but only for 10 to 20 minutes. (It takes 20 minutes for caffeine to get into your system, so have a cup of coffee before the nap.)

 Note: These findings apply to 75% of those studied. The other 25% have different patterns. Half are larks, rising extra early. The other half are owls, rising later and working later. Larks are generally happier than owls. Young and old people tend to be larks and teenagers tend to be owls.

 

 

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 South and West: From a Notebook

By Joan Didion

2017, 160 pages

Not a novel. Not a memoir exactly. More a series of notes about a trip Didion took with her husband through the South and some notes she made during the Patty Hearst trial that turned out to be about privileged young women growing up in California. The thesis of the book, if there is one, is that the culture of the South, however backwards we feel it is, is steeped in history and likely to endure, while that may not be true of California’s very different culture. It is really well written: sparse and precise and at times poetic.

This shouldn’t matter in evaluating a writer, but it affected my judgment: Didion was a very attractive young woman who grew up wealthy and well connected. I believe I wanted to dismiss her as trivial before I read her. I could not. She’s a serious thinker and a very smart and skillful writer.

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Dress Her in Indigo

By John D. MacDonald

1969, 211 pages

A “Travis McGee” crime novel. My first. And, frankly, I was surprised at the writing. It was not film noir-ish, as I expected. But able and smart.

The style is quick and succinct and somehow modern. And the lead character, Travis McGee, is smart and experienced – a bit more than I wanted in some cases.

The story is about McGee investigating the last days of the daughter of a successful executive. The daughter – Bixie – apparently died on a trip to Mexico and the executive’s dying wish is to find out what she was doing there.

As it turns out, Bixie is still alive and is being held hostage by a rich older Spanish woman who wants to keep her as a sex slave. Arriving at that point in the novel, I was not surprised to find her still breathing. What surprised me was the sex slave bit.

I found it interesting that as late as 1969 MacDonald was treating lesbianism as an aberration. I found myself trying to recall my own feelings on the subject when I was a sophomore in college.

I read the book hoping to enjoy it like I’ve enjoyed the hardboiled fiction of Jim Thompson and Elmore Leonard. I’ll read another one since MacDonald’s popularity demands it.

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The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End

By Katie Roiphe

2016, 306 pages

 End-of-life anecdotes/accounts of a half-dozen famous people.

  • Susan Sontag: Influential lesbian. Beat cancer once. Fought to the bitter end. Arrogant to the point of finding it hard to believe she would ever die.
  • John Updike: Took his cancer stoically.
  • Sigmund Freud: Wanted to die rationally. Smoked 20 cigars a day.
  • Dylan Thomas: Romantic infatuation with death. Drank himself to death.
  • Maurice Sendak: Never felt loved by his parents, brought a dark sense of death and danger into his illustrated “children’s” books.
  • James Salter: Another American writer with a stoic approach to death. “Don’t dwell on it,” he told Roiphe during their interview. (He was her only living subject.)

With every passing year, I spend more time thinking about – or trying not to think about – death. Here’s a chance to discover how six of the more interesting minds of the 20th century thought about the topic.

Their deep thoughts on death are presented in a very easy but literary way, which makes the book a rewardingly quick read. And there are some good insights. Nothing new or profound, but heartfelt and unpretentious.

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Six Memos for the New Millennia

By Italo Calvino

1988, 155 pages

 Oddly enough, there are only five essays. They are on five qualities of literature that Calvino has identified: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. The sixth one was meant to be on consistency, but apparently he died before he could finish it.

Calvino’s thesis is that each one of these qualities has value, but it must also be considered in terms of its opposite. For example: lightness and weight. He appreciates qualities in literature that are light – as in nimble – but he does not deny that their attraction comes from the gravity that every good writer must feel.

His writing is sometimes pedantic, sometimes inviting. He impresses you with his erudition. He makes statements that are both interesting and vague, so they are hard to criticize or refute. At one level, I felt he was basically full of shit. But he did push me to try to understand literature through these terms and I rather liked that challenge.

This is a recommendation with a caveat: if you get to page 50 and feel unsatisfied, quit.

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The Fastest Way to Grow Rich… (and Not Risk Everything Else)

 

 

You’ve probably heard this story…

When I was 33, I decided to become rich. And I made that my supreme and overriding goal. There were plenty of other things that I wanted to do – like reading books and playing sports and traveling. But I made them all distant secondary objectives. The lion’s share of my time and mental energy would be devoted to getting rich.

This decision radically changed my life. I went from broke to kinda rich in about 18 months. I became a deca-millionaire about six years later.

Having a single supreme and overriding goal gave me laser-sharp focus and shark-like ambition. Day-to-day business decisions – once complicated – were easy to make. I simply asked myself, “Which is the option that will bring me the most money?” Presto! The choice was clear.

It was also easier to make other kinds of decisions. When a conflict arose between my supreme and overriding goal (like working all day Saturday) and something else (like spending the day with my family), I chose the former.

I didn’t abandon my other duties. I did them as well as I could. But they were always secondary. And it was always noticed. By my family and my friends and, late at night, by the other little selves that still lived inside my heart.

Making “getting rich” my supreme and overriding goal was ruthlessly effective. If I were restricted to a single piece of advice for wannabe millionaires, I’d have to offer that as my suggestion.

But you know – as I did even back then – that there are other ways of being rich. For example:

  1. You can be rich in your relationships with friends, family, and the community at large.
  2. You can be rich in health – with a robust immune system, strong muscles, flexible joints, and abundant energy.
  3. You can be rich mentally – knowledgeable and skillful but also curious, excited, eager to learn more.

If you want a life that includes these riches as well as a lot of money, you are probably going to have to do what I did when I turned 50. I created a rigid monthly, weekly, and daily protocol for spending my time.

Here’s how:

Start by spending about a week thinking about and then writing down every ambition, desire, and obligation you can think of. (My list was dozens of pages long.)

Then sort your list into four categories that correspond to the four ways of being rich:

  • rich with money
  • rich in relationships
  • rich in health
  • rich mentally

So, for example, in the “rich mentally” category, I put all of my self-improvement goals. That included writing fiction, learning foreign languages, mastering a martial art, etc.

The next step is to narrow each category down to one broadly defined main goal.

My four main goals looked something like this:

  1. My Primary Goal – I want to have enough money to support my desired lifestyle on passive income I get from my savings.
  2. My Social Goal – I want to be a good father and husband, have lots of good friendships, and contribute in some meaningful way to the world.
  3. My Personal Goal – I want to become a published writer, speak several languages, make a few movies, and become very good in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
  4. My Health Goal – I want to be in optimal health, both mentally and physically, so I can enjoy my other riches.

You may be thinking, “Aren’t goals supposed to be specific? Shouldn’t my financial goal be something like, ‘Have a net worth of $1.2 million in 6.3 years’? Isn’t that what the experts say?”

Yes they do. But I believe they are wrong. Your long-term goals should be broad because you won’t really know what you want until some time has passed. In other words, you will likely change those goals as you gain experience. And that’s a good thing. Because the pleasure you get from having goals is the pleasure of moving toward them, not achieving them. (If you don’t understand this last bit, don’t worry. It’s not important now. You’ll get it in a year or two if you do this seriously.)

Once you’ve established your four broad long-term goals, it’s time to determine your yearly goals. Within each of the four categories, you might want to list two or three or even a dozen. Under Personal Goals, for example, you might say:

  • Write a book on fly-fishing.
  • Complete a course in beginning Spanish.
  • Watch an average of no more than two hours of TV a night.
  • Learn to dance the Samba.

As you can see, these yearly goals are more specific than the long-term goals. But they are still fairly broad.

Now you are ready to create monthly goals. Again, they will be more specific. For example, to achieve your yearly goal of writing a book on fly-fishing, you might set your first monthly goal as, “Write the first 30 pages.”

Your weekly and daily goals will be even more specific. Weekly goal: “Write five pages.” Daily goal: “Write one page.”

By setting your goals from broad to specific, you increase the likelihood of success by decreasing the likelihood of failure. (If you fail to write one page of the book on Tuesday, you can write two pages on Wednesday.)

The reason for this approach is that it’s impossible to become wealthy in all four areas of life unless you can see very clearly – on a monthly and weekly basis – exactly how much work you have to do.

What happens to most people that try to achieve this balance is that some tasks tend to crowd out others. And as time passes, they fall so far behind on certain goals that they give up on them entirely.

Will you have time to accomplish all your goals?

I think you will. But you have to start off by being realistic. That means you need to recognize from the outset that of the four types of wealth, becoming financially wealthy will take the most time.

We all want to get rich by working four hours a week. But the reality is that you will probably have to spend the bulk of your time – as much as eight to 10 hours a day – pursuing your financial goal.

The good news is that it doesn’t take nearly as much time to make progress on your three other main goals.

Getting richer socially can be accomplished in just a few hours a week. It really amounts to giving your full attention to the time you spend with family and friends.

Health goals take even less time. It’s mostly about eating and sleeping well. As for physical exercise, you can achieve a high level of success by spending a half-hour a day exercising intensely.

Your personal goals? They will take some quality time. My recommendation is to devote the first hour or two of your day to personal goals… before you start to focus on making money.

If what I’ve said here is at all motivating, I’ve got plenty of books and programs I can recommend. (Including several I’ve authored.) But for now, take a few minutes to think about the following:

  • Of the four categories, only your health is not completely under your control. Becoming rich in the other three categories is entirely up to you.
  • Getting richer in any category requires purposeful action. Desire is not enough.
  • Any bit of enrichment in any category makes you feel better.
  • Nobody else cares whether you have become richer in any of these categories. But they will notice if you have. Only you should care. And only you can make it happen.
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A Book You Should Read (or Listen to or Watch)

 

I’m reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Actually, I’m reading it, listening to it, and watching the movie made from it simultaneously.

This is easy to do now if you are willing to pay to get a good book in audio form and rent the movie. (If there is one.) The obvious advantage is that you can get through it faster. But I’ve found that it also helps me get into it more deeply. And this, I think, helps me get more out of it.

Anyway… The Quiet American is a very good novel. If you haven’t read it, you should.

Graham Greene is one of those writers – like Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, and Vladimir Nabokov – that make my authorial ambitions feel vainglorious. He imparts more in a single sentence than I can in a paragraph. (Or a dozen paragraphs.)

The Quiet American is a touching love story set in an interesting period of history that reveals much about a culture and a country. It is, in this way, equal to The Great Gatsby.

While The Great Gatsby gives you an insider’s view of America during the late stages of the Industrial Revolution, The Quiet American shows you much about the beginnings of the Vietnam War. It was a time when the French were the occupying army and yet still in many ways doing the imperialist work of the USA.

Like Gatsby, the narrator (Fowler) is not the protagonist but a “reporter.” He has been separated from his English wife for five years while on assignment in Vietnam. His job is to document the futile attempt by the French to keep North Vietnam from falling to the communists. The protagonist, Pyle, a young American medical aid officer/spy, falls in love with the narrator’s paramour, Phuang. He eventually wins her from him and is then assassinated. That’s just the beginning.

The story is good but the writing – and by that I mean the density of thought and observation on everfy page – is what will make you feel, if you have ever wanted to write a novel, that you shouldn’t try.

Even when the dialog is polemical, it’s very good. For example:

(PYLE) “They don’t want communism.”

(FOWLER) “They want enough rice,” I said. “They don’t want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don’t want our white skins around telling the what they want.”

(PYLE) “If Indo-China goes…”

(FOWLER) “I know the record. Siam goes. Malaya goes. Indonesia goes. What does ‘go’ mean? If I believed in your God and another life, I’d bet my future harp against your golden crown that in five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they’ll be growing paddy in these fields, they’ll be carrying their produce to market on long poles wearing their pointed hats. The small boys will be sitting on the buffaloes…”

(PYLE) “They’ll be forced to believe what they are told, they won’t be allowed to think for themselves.”

(FOWLER) “Thought’s a luxury, Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?”

(PYLE) “You talk as if the whole country were peasant. What about the educated? Are they going to be happy?”

(FOWLER) “Oh, no,” I said. “We’ve brought them up in our ideas. We’ve brought then dangerous games, and that’s why we are waiting here, hoping we don’t get our throats cut.”

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How To Travel Like A Pro

I spend a lot of time traveling, often to far flung destinations which can offer beautiful cities, picturesque beaches, exotic food and foreign cultures. But sometimes it feels as if I’m being wheeled from one drab hotel room to the next, with the briefest of colorful blurs in between.

Ryan Murdock, has written a wonderful article for ETR, on “How to Travel Like a Pro”. He’s got great tips, for both the hardened road warrior and the casual tourist, on how to maximize your time and most importantly your experience.

If you want to understand a place, travel alone.

When you go with others, the trip is about the dynamics of the group. You seldom interact with the world you’re passing through. And the effect is magnified for couples. A couple travels in a self-contained bubble that others are reluctant to breach.

All of that changes when you travel alone. Your attention is focused on your surroundings. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have to speak up and engage the world around you. You’ll fall into random conversations with strangers, in cafes and on buses. And you’ll be completely drawn into the rhythm of that place.

One of the best parts of solo travel is the memories and associations each new place calls up. When I look back at my notebooks, those are the real gems. As I go deeply into a place, that place in turn causes me to look deeply within myself.

If you truly want those walls to fall down, it’s important to practice non-judgement. Don’t hold that place up against the standards of your home country or city, or you’ll never see beyond your own preconceived opinions. The world’s a big place, and cultures subscribe to many different standards of behavior, cleanliness, morality and personal space. Embrace this and enjoy it. And while you’re there, try to immerse yourself in your host culture’s way of life, even if only for a couple weeks.

Click here to read the full article.

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