Daniel Goleman's writings about emotional intelligence (EQ) have become a central element of human resource and leadership development. That earlier work, its importance and wide scale adoption raised the bar for this book -- Focus. A bar that Goleman misses, not for the lack of ideas, but for the surprisingly disjointed approach and arguments of his chapters. Its a four star book - worth reading if you have the time, but its ok if you miss this one particularly if you have read other books about the brain, attention or social science. Here is why:
This book covers ground that others have already written about and explained. From the Stamford Marshmallow study to discussions about how the internet is rotting your brain, Goleman breaks little new ground nor offers really new advice or insight. If you have read other books about these subjects than take a pass as Goleman is late to the game.
There is little in the way of an actionable idea or framework in focus, beyond talking about the way the brain works top down or bottom-up. Unlike EQ, there is not simple way to practice or adoption. Sorry but there is no focus quotient or FQ -- probably for good reason -- but this is a major gap.
The overall book's organizations is more of a collection separate essays -- a compendium rather than a book which require great focus.
Sorry, this is a book that is worth reading, but not one worth putting to the top of your list -- like EQ
The book is well written with every chapter peppered with amusing examples and stories making it an interesting read. Most of us will agree that we are deluged by interruptions and distractions every step of the way. Be it the Email, or IM or text. Multiply by a factor of ten or hundred to see the interruptions a teenager faces. If any one had any doubt about the impact it is having on each one of us and the society as a whole, the book settles the issue.
But wait, how do I increase my focus ?
Do I do Yoga? . How do I effectively increase my focus while juggling between office work, Kids , pickup and drop off at school, Homework, Baseball,Watching NBA, America's Got Talent, shopping for Milk . Yes, superficial advice in the book like "walk in the nature" are good but they are not silver bullets. (Smart games > oh yeah, my kid will love it to improve Focus as he spends hours on it) The entire book reflects one side of the coin with no real solutions to improve focus. There are chapters on "Well focused Leader" .. It is a fact that the leaders get all the help, best training programs with or without reading the book...It is a common man like you and me who needs help .
The book would be a 4 star if it was written by anyone other than Goleman,but the benchmark set by him for himself in Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition makes me give this book three stars. Well, don't be disappointed. Do yourself a favor by reading other master pieces like Thinking, Fast and Slow and of course, the all time great The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth.
I've been studying the topic of focus rather intently recently, trying to find new thinking in the area. I've read Pomodoro technique, Eat That Frog, was working on GTD, and so Goleman's book arriving just at the right time was a lovely surprise. The book starts with relatively laser-like focus on the eponymous title of the book. But after four or five chapters he drifts away. I loved the first section of the book. Really well done. But I came looking for a book on the topic of focus, and I found a book that riffed on several topics of interest to Goleman, many individually fascinating, but only peripherally related to the central idea of the book. In some books, that is a perfectly acceptable approach. With a book titled "Focus", that seems inexcusable.
I loved some other parts of the book. He talks better than I've ever heard someone talk about the 4-sigma empaths. He points out the limitations in the 10,000 hour rule around practice, and discusses eduation issues well. He discusses leadership. And he conlcueds by annoyingly riffing on economically illiterate sustainability issues at the end of the book.
He also hits a bunch of standard psychology topics, as with most modern popular psychology books, which becomes annoying when you've read the rest of them.
The first few chapters were clear and insightful enough to give the book 5 stars, had it continued as it was. If it had had just one digression into a topic like hyper-emotionally intelligent folks...it would also have been worth 5 stars. But the comprehensive lack of focus, and the annoying obligatory environmental bits at the end push it down to 3.5 stars.
In part this book is aimed at helping readers become better at what they do. In this sense "Focus" is a sophisticated self-help book. Love what you do, do what you love and do it with focus and deliberate (and smart) practice and your life will be more rewarding.
In a larger sense this book is about saving the planet from the catastrophic threat of systems breakdown with reference to pollution, soil depletion and erosion, habitat destruction, global warming, etc.
The book is organized into seven parts. In the first, "The Anatomy of Attention," Goleman presents his ideas about "top-down" and "bottom up" drivers of behavior and how focus leads to "flow" which is "full absorption" in what we do. He makes a distinction between our attention being "hijacked" which leads to negative outcomes and our attention being deliberately allowed to drift, which leads to creative ideas. We find "balance" when we live our lives in harmony with periods of intense focus (but without undue stress) followed by periods of creative drift.
Goleman sees bottom-up drivers as coming from our more primitive brain modules and top down drivers as coming from the so-called higher brain modules such as the neocortex. These two systems must work in harmony for us to be successful and for us to be able to find and manage sustainable systems for the planet.
In Part II "Self-Aware" Goleman guides the reader toward seeing ourselves as others see us and gives a "recipe for self-control."
Part III "Reading Others" is mainly about what Goleman calls "The Empathy Triad," that is, three ways of being empathetic. Empathy comes from within ourselves and is partly the result of mirror neurons which allow us to feel what others are feeling. Interesting is the idea that sociopaths experience what others are feeling in their frontal lobes instead of in the limbic system. What this can lead to is the sense that the suffering of others is merely academic or verbal, which may be why sociopaths don't really care how anybody feels but themselves.
In Part IV "The Bigger Context" Goleman shifts to the "Patterns, Systems, and Messes" of the entire planet and what we can do to better understand what is going on. He argues that we suffer from "system blindness" leading to an inability to deal effectively with "distant threats" such as the earth's rising temperature.
In Part V "Smart Practice" Goleman shows us how to get better not just by putting in the highly touted 10,000 hours of practice but by practicing with a deliberate goal of improvement augmented with feedback.
Part VI is about "The Well-Focused Leader" while Part VII "The Big Picture" looks to how we can focus on the future and make things better for our children and grandchildren.
Goleman is as always both upbeat and caring. He is readable and you get the sense that he really cares about being a positive force for good in the world. The material in the book is mostly new and cutting edge. Goleman has done the homework and the field work as both a psychologist and a journalist. This is a book that reveals what contemporary psychology is about in a personal, hands on sort of way.
Some quotables (page numbers are approximate since I am reading an uncorrected proof):
"The signs of mental fatigue, such as a drop in effectiveness and [a] rise in distractedness and irritability, signify that the mental effort needed to sustain focus has depleted the glucose that feeds neural energy." (56) If you pay attention you can actually feel low blood sugar. It may make you shake a little.
"Self-awareness, then, represents an essential focus, one that attunes us to the subtle murmurs within that can help guide our way through life." (63) As Goleman writes a couple of pages later, these are "somatic markers" which are "sensations in our body that tell us when a choice feels wrong or right." The term is from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose books I highly recommend.
"In the mind's arena, willpower (a facet of `ego') represents a wrestling match between top and bottom systems. Willpower keeps us focused on our goals despite the tug of our impulses, passions, habits, and cravings. This cognitive control represents a `cool' mental system that makes an effort to pursue our goals in the face of our `hot' emotional reactions--quick, impulsive, and automatic." (88)
What Goleman doesn't emphasize about self-control or willpower is that if you don't have it you are not likely to get it. He cites the famous study by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel with kids trying to delay their desire to eat a marshmallow in order to get two later. The kids that were able to delay gratification did better in life than those who could not. The salient point however is that in follow up studies (as Goleman reports on page 87) the "'high delayers' who resisted the marshmallow at age four were still able to delay gratification, but the `low delayers' were still poor at stifling impulse."
"The longer someone ignores an email before finally responding, the more relative social power that person has. Map these response times across an entire organization and you get a remarkably accurate chart of the actual social standing. The boss leaves emails unanswered for hours or days; those lower down respond within minutes." (124) Goleman adds that an analysis of Enron Corporation emails revealed exactly this pattern.
Finally here is what I thought was the most fascinating factoid in the book. Computers searched an enormous number of keystrokes on Google for flu-related words like "fever" or "ache" to create an algorithm to predict flu outbreaks. "The resulting algorithm identifies flu outbreaks within a day, compared with the two weeks it typically takes the CDC to notice hot spots for the disease based on reports from physicians." (133)
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
Published in 2013 by HarperCollins.
Read by the author, Daniel Goleman.
Duration: 8 hours, 8 minutes.
Dr. Daniel Goleman is best known as the author of Emotional Intelligence. In many ways this book is less of a book about the importance of focus and more of a sequel to Emotional Intelligence. It is also a anti-global warming manifesto, an education reform book, a self-help book for business leaders who want to be the real leaders in their offices and there is a little bit about how people are able to focus their attentions a bit more and get better results.
That, of course, is the problem with the book called Focus. The primary topic should be the ability of people to focus and some hints to help you focus better. The book starts out with exactly this...well, focus. We learn how a store detective is able to focus on a crowded room full of bustling and sort out the normal shopping behaviors from the actions of a shoplifter. Goleman discusses how the give-it-to-me-now world of Tweets, Instagram, instant video makes our attention span short (I knew this already - I teach high school and my kids are on their phones all day long and I see the results).
But, then Goleman leaves this area of personal focus largely unexplored and veers into the focus of whole groups of people and uses global warming as his "focus" for this section. I listened to this as an audiobook on CDs and this lasted for more than a CD - well more than an hour of discussion about a topic that is basically off topic. He throws in a suggestion that schools adopt a global warming science project that probably would not hit most state's standards, goes on about carbon footprints, promotes websites that track your carbon footprint, tells how various companies have shrunk their carbon footprints. None of this, not one bit, not one iota, not one word is described in the blurb on the back of the audiobook. I got bored and started skipping whole chunks of text. To his credit, Goleman does point out that the concept of a zero-emission car is a misnomer since electric cars are charged up by an electric grid that is powered largely by coal and coal plants do have emissions (and if you get your electric car charged by a solar panel, there are emissions associated with the manufacture of those panels).
Then we veer into the world of corporate leadership and the book becomes an extended discussion of what makes a good leader. Turn out it is mostly paying attention the the feelings and needs of those that are following you - this is where the book becomes a sequel to his book Emotional Intelligence with a special focus on CEOs. I felt like I was not the intended reader (or listener, in my case).
Speaking of being a listener, the audio portion of this experience needs to be discussed. The author, Daniel Goleman, read his own book. I am always leery of this because sometimes the author may have a perfectly fine speaking voice but just should not read an audiobook. It is more than a reading, it has to be a performance. Goleman does a lot of public speaking (his website has a place to contact his agent to schedule Dr. Goleman to speak to our corporate gig about leadership, emotional intelligence or maybe even global warming) but public speaking is not the same as reading an audiobook. I cannot hear gestures or hear the fact that the speaker moved across the stage or stood up to put more emphasis on a point in an audiobook. It all has to be done with your voice. Goleman's voice is okay, but not great. He does not quite drone, but it is not really lively either. It definitely took on a nagging tone during the extended global warming discussion. Even worse, there was a bass reverb echo while he spoke that I could not get rid of no matter how much I fiddled with the bass in my car. It sounded like that echo sound you hear when someone is speaking to you on the phone in a small, enclosed room. A professional audiobook should not have this problem.
Note: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5. I was so relieved to finish this thing and it took me forever to listen to it.
on October 27, 2013
Ironically the book lacks focus. It goes from emotional intelligence to Dalai Lama and ultimately saving the world. I truly respect Daniel Goleman and his work but this book was not worthy my time and money.
on November 20, 2013
This book's title states a hypothesis that the author does not only fail to prove, he seems to hardly address it. What is switched for the bait? You get a slapdash collection of celebrity anecdotes with a science feel about them, a rundown of trendy notions and truisms such as having a positive mindset is good. This is newspaper writing to put one at peace with the death of newspapers.
Goleman either does not have a very scientific mind or simply has massive contempt for his audience. He tosses in at one point with little connection the notion that punishing children for bad grades unequivocally never works. Really? Never ever? Not in the slightest? Interviews with A-average students to prove it? Forget that. Goleman has no interest or ability to question or even add to any politically correct pop science theory.
Goleman does not seem interested at all in excellence. Fine. Can't condemn him for that. But then why the frick is the word in the title? We can condemn him for lying.
You would think this book would be packed with examples of those who have achieved excellence followed by analysis of how focus was the key element to their success. And you would be very wrong. You wound not even be in the same dimension of space, time or reality. This point is never considered much less addressed. Instead we get pages on the fun but totally irrelevant idea of a carbon handprint, which you will read about here and then never hear about again.
Goleman states as axiom the cliched notion that cavemen survived because they could not afford to focus, but modern people need focus for success. Really? Don't successful people have to juggle quite a bit? Can't excessive focus blind one to other options? Is it really focus above all AS THE TITLE PROCLAIMS that separates a loser from a winner? Goleman himself is not sure. So why then does he put the notion on the cover? To trick some business traveler in the airport to buy his book? To get corporations to book him as a speaker? Bullseye.
The only person to profit from this book is the author. The question of if and how focus is behind excellence and in what proportion is not addressed because Goleman does not have the ability or the inclination to answer it. Instead we get a pointless anecdote about Larry David's trip to Yankee Stadium. That will get a hoot at a Ted talk, I'm sure. But why pay twenty dollars for a lazily written book that exists only to be stuffed in a swag bag and re-gifted or donated at the first opportunity?
The ultimate irony here is not that you have a book about focus that lacks, well, focus, but rather that someone so self-righteous and concerned with community and footprints and handprints could produce a work so cynical and self-serving. There are bunch of recent pop science books on sociopaths. This book has put me in the mood for them.
on January 26, 2014
The opening chapters of this book do contain some insights but in the later half of the book especially there seems a lot of pointless filler that does not add up to much. The last 70 pages were excruciating in their lack of a point. I must also comment that the relentless desire to hold up CEOs as being some special breed of human is tiresome and unconvincing.
The opening chapters contained the rudiments of correlation to brain areas such as the effects of the amygdala, hypo campus and insula. Having studied these brain regions and the common best understanding, I conclude that he offered facile connections that were unjustified by the current state of the science.
Then, looking at the author's list of books, I came to the personal conclusion that the amount of padding in this book was secondary to an author having used up the stronger material he has and now he is moving to weaker, less well developed ideas that are really not justified.
on January 6, 2014
Daniel Goleman returned to Berkeley not long ago to speak to a large and enthusiastic audience at International House about the themes in his new book, Focus. Though he’d spent only his junior year as an undergraduate at Cal, his quips and asides quickly showed him to be fully in synch with Berkeley’s humane values. Though he never stated the point explicitly, it was also clear that Goleman saw the roots of the community’s concerns in the chemistry of our brains.
You may remember Goleman as the author of the huge 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, which taught us all that psychological factors other than IQ were better predictors of success on the job and in life. Goleman was trained as a psychologist but soon after his post-doctoral studies turned his hand to science journalism, writing about new developments in brain science and related topics for The New York Times for a dozen years and later turning to writing independently. Over the years, he has shifted back and forth from teaching and research to science writing and back again. To date, he has produced ten books. Focus is the most recent.
I vividly remember devouring Emotional Intelligence much as I would a compelling murder mystery. The book was a revelation. Focus falls far short of it. To begin with, the book’s central theme — that focused attention improves outcomes in daily life, in work, in sports, and in leadership — is no surprise at all. Many others have delivered this message over the millennia, from the yoga masters of India to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who introduced us to the concept of “flow” – the single-minded immersion that, like Goleman’s focus, enables peak performance. No doubt, Goleman’s new book updates the brain science underlying these concepts, but his repeated overuse of the anatomical labels for obscure regions of the brain would have been better suited for a professional audience rather than the general reader.
The author’s academic posturing aside, I found Focus fascinating when Goleman described the application of contemporary psychological tools to pre-school and primary education. (Parents with children in school today may find this subject all too familiar; I didn’t.) The extraordinary improvement in school performance brought about by exercises in mindfulness was startling news. And the application of similar training methods in various aspects of emotional intelligence yielded similarly impressive results in the workplace, boosting job performance, job satisfaction, and workforce morale. Clearly, there’s something truly significant going on here. I just wish Goleman had found a way to report it in a more accessible and congenial way.
Having been a fan of Goleman since reading "Emotional Intelligence" in the 90's, I was excited to dive into "Focus".
Goleman does not disappoint. He begins by outlining our general condition in society today as being inattentive. Our minds are in a constant state of overload and what passes for 'multi-tasking' is described as a huge productivity barrier. Finding time to decompress, or be 'fully in the moment', requires a level of Self Awareness covered in Part II. Goleman goes into brain chemistry, circuitry, and function to describe how parts of the brain can be over used, or worse, underdeveloped.
Pharmaceuticals, self-medication, and outside overload abuse and blur our minds.
This leads to System Blindness where pattern recognition is neglected in favor of shortcuts (usually technological). The story of Mau, who is one of the last practitioner of Polynesian "wayfinding". Learning how to navigate amidst a sea of distraction by focusing on subtle signs is a story for us all.
He then moves into the more conventional use of focus in improving attitudes by managing the Top-Down and Bottom-Up systems that our brains use to cope in complex situations.
I don't want to give too much away because this is a must read for everyone. Yeah, he does get political at times and ch.21 can be skipped entirely, but most academics tend that way and we all paint the house differently.
I read this twice and will probably read it as reference for years to come. It's that good.
This book has been very helpful in understanding how I can improve my own relations and focus.
Update: Daniel Goleman did a great lecture/interview with RSA: [...]