So I read about three nonfiction books a week, mostly biggification and self-work (what regular people call business and self-help). Rated on a scale of ducks: 1 duck = Stephen Covey (yawn) and 5 ducks = Malcolm Gladwell (do a little dance). Books worth reading are image-linked to independent bookstores.

The book: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful
The author(s): Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter.
The rating: 3 ducks

Marshall Goldsmith is a character, for sure.

He has a completely authentic voice that gets in your head and makes you feel like you’re right there in the room with him. Which is great and also sometimes not great.

It’s great because it’s so rare in a business book that you get the sense that you are interacting with a real, live authentic human being and not a talking suit. His larger-than-life personality is reassuringly present.

On the flip side, spending this much time with him can give you the distinct sense that he can be kinda unpleasant to be around at times. Maybe even a lot of the time.

Pluses

There are some powerful concepts in this book and some useful take-away tips. It’s certainly more exciting reading than the typically dull “do the right thing, be responsible, be creative” type stuff that you generally find in what I think of as “books-for-people-who-wear-suits“.

So I definitely got good value from my afternoon of reading.

Also, the actual point of the book is good stuff.

The point being: Hey, the qualities and personality quirks to which you owe all your success are — now that you’ve reached this level of success — no longer relevant. In fact, they’re probably even hurting you, so please be conscious and start changing your habits and patterns

Very good stuff.

And: bonus points for having a title that’s a perfect example of how to choose a title (memorable, contains a curiosity-grabbing hook, and sums up what it’s about).

Minuses

For all his harping on large doses of compassion, listening and gratitude (and the fact that he’s a buddhist), Marshall Goldsmith doesn’t really come across as being all that into practicing what he preaches.

It’s pretty amusing (but in a horrible, depressing kind of way) when he lets loose a round of advice on the importance of cultivating neutrality and letting go of the need to make destructive comments.

And then he proudly relates a conversation he had with someone who was having trouble moving on from past painful experiences in which he told this person to “take a quarter and call someone who cares.” Lovely.

Hey, Marshall, I was digging your “let’s let go of the need to make destructive comments“, at least theoretically, but now your destructive comments are totally bringing up my need to make destructive comments!

(Note to self. Ow. That whole compassionate thing: way harder than I’d realized. Not feeling it. Oh well.)

Yeah, so I’m willing to accept the concept that dwelling on the past is an unnecessary and sometimes even detrimental activity that’s mistakenly over-encouraged by our extremely pro-therapy society.

Let’s say you can still work on your issues without ever remembering or understanding what happened that created them. Fine.

But, come on. “Call someone who cares“? How is that compassionate?

Or … you know what? Forget about compassionate — don’t you even want to just be helpful? How is anyone supposed to be able to listen to your great ideas if you’re kicking them in the shins while you’re giving them advice?

Don’t you want us to listen to you?

Maybe it’s just me

Sometimes I found myself wanting to jump in and make suggestions, especially when he was describing situations where there were obviously crossed-communication-wires aplenty.

Specifically I was wishing he would read and apply techniques from Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication“.

(Aside: What is it with people named Marshall writing about being compassionate? Is it just me or is this a disturbing trend?)

Bottom line: you’ll get good stuff from his book if his macho “love me, love my tough love” approach doesn’t get on your nerves.

Despite the flaws, it’s still better than most business books and he’s really not as much of a jerk as he’d have you believe in the first half of the book. Though yes, my pleasure from the many gems in this book was definitely diluted by my somewhat negative impression of him as a person.

So if you can be open-hearted enough to not want to smack him … well, you’re a better person than I.

Plus you’ll learn a lot. And you can buy it used or get it from the library if you don’t feel like giving money to jerks (or people pretending to be jerks).

As my father says, it just encourages them.

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