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Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Other Don't Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 2, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

New York Times columnist Sullivan provides a noteworthy look at what causes some people to buckle under pressure when others thrive. He identifies people who are "clutch"--who excel in difficult, stressful situations--across a range of professions and determines what personal qualities keep their performance consistent even when times get tough. Sullivan, a self-professed lifelong "choker," examines the handful of telling characteristics: focus, discipline, adaptability, the ability to be fully in the present, and being driven--not thwarted--by fear and desire. In-depth examples of clutch individuals include actor Larry Clarke; attorney David Boies; business writer Mark Stevens; and Willie Copeland, a military team leader who was awarded the Navy Cross. Sullivan provides valuable insight into star players and companies who choke under pressure and why (the culprits: an inability to accept responsibility and a tendency to overthink and be overconfident). Perceptive and original, Sullivan's account holds sound advice for everyone--athletes, politicians, and business people--looking to amplify their performance under any circumstances.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Clutch, by New York Times columnist Paul Sullivan, is a well- written examination of what makes a person perform despite stress. It's not luck, he emphasizes; it's "the ability to do what you can do normally under immense pressure." He points to five key traits of clutch performers: focus, discipline, adaptability, being truly present and having the fear and desire to win. Sullivan illustrates these talents by way of portraits of accomplished, self-assured performers such as trial lawyer David Boies, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Sergeant Willie Copeland, a hero in Iraq."

-TIME Magazine

"Mr. Sullivan has sallied forth with notepad and pen in hand to tell individual stories... [He] takes his examples from sports, business, the military and the stage. He explains right away that there are five traits that help people pull off a clutch performance: focus; discipline, adaptability, presence (i.e., actual involvement in the task at hand), and fear and desire. "
-Wall Street Journal

"In ...Clutch, Paul Sullivan, a columnist for The New York Times, examines strategies essential for remaining composed when the pressure's on.... Anyone who feels that they tend to lose their confidence when the stakes are high can glean something from this analysis."
-Associated Press

"If you can't perform well under pressure, then you can't really perform well. Paul Sullivan explains very readably how great performers meet the challenge. Chokers everywhere-which means all of us, in some part of our lives-owe him thanks."
-Geoff Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated

"In Clutch Paul Sullivan has captured the essence of what makes stars superstars. Concise, engaging, and invaluable. A brilliant book with lessons on how to excel in whatever you do both professionally and personally."
-Scott R. Singer, author of How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business

"In Clutch, Paul Sullivan-one of the best young journalists at work in this country-shows us what really effective people do in situations where they must perform well, even gracefully, under pressure. His interviews with people in clutch situations are never less than thoroughly entertaining. Sullivan has a keen eye for what matters, and this wise book deserves a large audience."
-Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (September 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591843502
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jijnasu Forever VINE VOICE on October 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Sullivan has an excellent premise - understand factors that help in decision making under pressure. Unfortunately, if you already know that the key reasons for failure are overconfidence, over-analysis and an inability to take responsibility (?), you are going to be disappointed with the insights in the book. Furthermore, the discussion on the five traits that make good decision making under pressure - is also quite thin and without a systematic reasoning as to why these particular traits were chosen. In the end, the book comes across as superficial, despite the very entertaining narratives used throughout.

To discuss some of these "personal" traits, Sullivan focuses on examples, that are in my opinion, macro-events that took significant amount of time and a series of decisions - failure of the US auto industry, financial crisis etc. To attribute these macroevents to a specific decision (or a subset) seems overly simplistic given the plethora of books written on these very topics. Even earlier examples such as those focusing on successful litigator are incomplete since Sullivan talks only about the cases they won. It is this choice of narration and examples (that comes across as cherry-picked), the lack of any meaningful citations or detailed notes that make this book not attain its potential. The last segment - on how to be clutch - flattered to deceive without any new advice; unless you consider the need to accept, psychologically adjust, prioritize, etc as novel insights. In the end, this reads more like a motivational book on decision making than gaining any significant insights. A recent book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, despite its sometimes tangential topics, does a remarkably better job, at least from a researcher's viewpoint.
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Format: Hardcover
I've never been much of a fan of how-to-succeed books of any sort, whether they're about "how to make friends and influence people" or how to run a successful business. The focus always seemed too narrow, and the prescriptions always seemed to be of the flavor-of-the-moment, pop psychology variety. But in Clutch, Paul Sullivan manages to clearly explain a phenomenon that all of us face at one time or another in our lives: Why do some people withstand extraordinary pressure to consistently overcome difficulties and turn in great performances, and why do some people consistently fail? What I like best about the book, apart from its easy-to-read and engaging conversational style, is that it presents case studies from a variety of professions, which broadens its appeal to a larger body of readers. He doesn't just talk about Wall Street bankers who are "clutch" under pressure: he writes revealing portraits of well-known sports heroes and their personal vulnerabilities; about a war hero who overcame dangerous, fast-changing circumstances to save his platoon; about a high-end real estate agent who discovered the virtues of thrift after the 2008 crash and saved his business; and my favorite example, that of a talented actor who shared very personal insights into how he shuts everything out to focus on being "present" on stage in a tension-filled scene, to very dramatic effect. Sullivan tops it off by giving readers some very practical advice on how to become "clutch" in our everyday lives--on everything from one's golf swing to one's financial planning. This is a great read.
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Format: Hardcover
If you pick up the new book "Clutch" thinking it is a how-to book, you'd only be partially right. Instead of giving readers step-by-step instructions on how to be a clutch player in life, Paul Sullivan shows readers examples of clutch players in life.

The author defines clutch as doing what you normally do well but under pressure. According to Sullivan, there are five key areas of determining if a person is clutch. They are:

1. Focus
2. Discipline
3. Adaptability
4. Being present (and blocking out everything else)
5. Using fear and desire to drive for success

On the other end of the spectrum is choking, of which Sullivan devotes the second portion of the book. He believes there are three reasons people choke, which are:

1. The inability to take responsibility for your actions
2. Overthinking
3. Overconfidence

Instead of playing psychologist, Sullivan shares stories of those proven to be clutch players, such as a Navy Seal who had to adapt during wartime in order to win, a marketing genius who used his fear of leaving his family poor to start a profitable advertising agency, and a successful litigator who used focus to become one of the best attorneys in the United States.

And just like he shares stories of clutch players, he also considers stories of those who've choked, including a well-known name in sports whose overconfidence made him great during the regular season but insignificant when it counted most during The Playoffs, and a prideful leader at one of the Big-Three auto industries who choked while a newcomer thrived in the same environment.
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