Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Back in October I recommended this book and now here's a review I did of it. I hope you enjoy!

One of the things that stuck with me from this book was the example of thinking ahead to your own funeral many years from now and wondering what people would say of you. What would your family say. How would co-workers and friends remember you. To me it likened back the story of Scrooge getting a a visit from the third and final ghost. After seeing what would happen if he stayed on the same path what would happen he had what Stephen Covey calls a paradigm shift. A Paradigm is a term to describe a theory, perception or way of thinking. A paradigm shift then is a shift in that thinking or belief. Stephen Covey discusses this in great length in the beginning of the book. I found out about this book through a college course whose textbook* borrows and quotes Stephen Covey's ideas heavily. Though it wasn't required for my course I decided to check out the book because I liked the ideas it presented. I read through it once already and I'm now going through it a bit more slowly the second time. Granted even though Stephen Covey even says it's not a book just to read once and tossed aside and expect miracles. It's a book to learn from and be reference guide in the future.

For those who don't know Stephen Covey is. Besides The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People he has also written follow up books like First things First, The eighth habit and so on. At last count I believe the seven habits book has sold over fifteen million. He also has a M.B.A from Harvard and a Doctorate from Brigham Young University. He is well respected speaker with engagements around the world.
In the book he covers the now famous seven habits of highly effective people. The seven are:

1. Be Proactive - He talks of being proactive rather than reactive to situations and tasks. In his own Proactive model we have stimulus->response vs. Stimulus->Freedom to choose->Response. Stephen describes it from the book as " It means that as human beings , we are resonsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions."** In other words we should not be effected by outside stimuli but rather be guided by our values and beliefs. Reactive people are affected by outside forces. An example would be a reactive person having a lousy day because it's raining where as the proactive person would not be affected or would find a solution around it rather than let it effect him. The chapter does go much deeper into such things as taking responsibility for our decisions and that where we are today is due to decisions we made in the past. You are not forced to do anything and that you always have a choice. He also talks about what he calls is the circle of concern/circle of influence. He contends that many of us spend way too much time with stuff that is the outside circle of concern. Much of this is stuff which is out our circle of influence which is in the middle. We should work on what we can influence and change not what is only a concern. I've seen this many times at my current employment with many people worried or concerned what others are doing rather than being just concerned with what they can do. To me this is just a trememndous waste of time and energy.

2. Begin with the end in mind - I kind of covered this in the introduction. His basic idea is the have an idea or or picture in mind of where you want to go and how to get there. This is where you make your goals and then figure out how to get there. Much like planning a trip on a map. You begin with point A which is where you are today and then point B where you want to go. You then map out your best route. You also make your own mission statement in each of your life roles.
A particular quote from this chapter that struck me was "Through imagination, we can visualize the uncreated worlds of potential that lie within us".** To me that tells that we can create our own potential and that the only limit to our potential is ourselves.

3. Put first things first - This one is about setting priorities in our lives. This is where come to find out about the four quadrants of time (or self Management)>. In quadrant one we have Important/Urgent. Quadrant two we have Important/Not urgent. Quadrant three we have Not Important/Urgent. In the Fourth Quadrant we have Not Urgent/Not Important. In the first quadrant we have Urgent and Important which are items that need our immediate attention. These are things we can't ignore. In quadrant two we have which are Important but not urgent. These are items that though are important but they can be put off. These are preventative actions, planning ahead and maintenance type of items. In Quadrant three we have items that though are not important to us personally they are made urgent. These can be urgent meetings that have nothing to do with us and our goals. Doing urgent favors to cover for a friend or coworker may fall into this category. In the fourth quadrant we have the unimportant and not urgent. These are what I call time wasters. These can be trivial items such as playing too many video games , watching endless ours of TV or surfing for hours on the internet (I stand guilty as charged).
Of course Stephen urges us to concentrate our activities in quadrant two activities. Though Quadrant one activities will still have to be dealt with. As time goes by these urgent activities(or crisis) will be fewer and when they do arise you'll be better prepared.

4. Think Win/Win - This is the philosophy and frame of mind that seeks mutually beneficial outcomes to all our interactions. This is opposed to the idea of Win/Lose, lose/lose, Win,Lose/Win and so on. It means means both parties walk away satisfied and feel good about the agreement or outcome.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. - What this boils down to is to listen with empathy. To fully understand the other person totally before making yourself understood. I know I catch myself trying to but get across my idea or thought before the other person has finished what he or she has said. Therefore I wasn't totally listening or trying to understand them first. How can you fully make someone understand you if you don't understand what they want first? That I believe is what Stephen tries to get across.

6. Synergize - To me this comes down to is teamwork. Stephen's definition is that the "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".** An example of this can be the New England Patriots football team. As of this writing they had just completed a perfect sixteen wins in the regular season and are heavily favored to win the Superbowl. They weren't always like this for many years in there infancy they went through being a laughing stock, poorly managed, cheesy stadium and so on. In the mid 1990's new ownership took over with a commitment to win and build a dynasty. Through a series of coaching and player changes they started winning Superbowl wins didn't come at first. Then it seemed with coach Belichek and quarterback Brady things seem to come together. Now they have a state of the art stadium complex, three Superbowl Wins and looking for a fourth and now have management that's committed to win.

7. Sharpen the Saw- This one is about self renewal. This is about taking a break once and awhile to maintain your balance. It talks of renewing yourself not only mentally but physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally. Physically you should take time to take care of yourself. To eat well, get checkups and of course exercise. Mentally we should be reading,visualizing, planning and writing. Spiritually would should be studying, meditating renew or strengthen values. Socially and emotionally we should be emphatic to others. Taking time to develop relationships and such.

A basic them through the book is to work from being dependent on others. To independent then finally interdependent. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it it to others. There are many more inspirational and deep thoughts that Stephen comes up with throughout the book. I carry the book wherever I go now. I've got ton's of stuff outlined underlined and so on through out the book. I don't look at it like some kind of bible but more as a reference book. I read through the book and had countless "aha" moments when ideas or thoughts I agreed with or had discovered something new. This book won't be on my bookshelf long enough to collect dust as it generally goes where I do.


* - "On Course" 5th Edition by Skip Downing

** - "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey

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