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The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage Paperback – June 4, 2015
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Top Customer Reviews
This book has a fascinating take on ‘being stuck’ – it is a primer on how to turn adversity to advantage, as the subtitle explains.
Let me state upfront – I am bored by motivational talks and books. I find very little about them interesting or useful twelve hours later. This book is not a motivational text, though it is motivating as many good books are.
The “Ancient Art” of the subtitle is referring to the wisdom and insight of the Stoic philosophers. These writings or thoughts influenced all the people Holiday uses as examples of this approach to obstacles of life. The circumstances of these people would leave most disoriented, reactive, torn and even paralyzed. As Holiday shows “some seem to turn those very obstacles, which stymie us, into launching pads for themselves.”
Knowing that there are heroes doesn’t help us to become heroes, but knowing how they became heroes, does. The value of this book is that it offers an ancient and profound method and framework for understanding, appreciating, and acting in the face of the obstacles life throws at us.
Turning obstacles into the way forward takes many forms. For the great Athenian orator, Demosthenes, it was a relentless drive to improve himself through action and practice. For Abraham Lincoln it was humility, endurance, and compassionate will. In each case, all the people cited in this book were not born with the attributes it took to succeed, and many faced unimaginable horrors, from imprisonment to debilitating illnesses, and of course the day-to-day frustrations we all endure.
So, what did they do? “They had the ability to see obstacles for what they were, the ingenuity to tackle them, and the will to endure a world mostly beyond their comprehension and control,” Holiday explains.
The perspective is not a self-delusional, positive and happy one, ‘this is not so bad’, but rather, ‘I can make this good’.
The starting point is maintaining a state of mind that one of Holiday’s examples, the extraordinary businessman, John D. Rockefeller, had perfected: cool headedness and self-discipline.
When America send the first astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking. When people panic, they make mistakes. They just react, but not to what they need to react to, but to their survival hormones. At 150 miles above Earth, panic is suicide. Panic had to be trained out of the astronauts and it does not go easily. It must be trained away, through persistent, repeated attempts at not panicking, until you don’t.
Talent isn’t the most important characteristic for success, grace and poise are, because these precede the opportunity to deploy your talent.
The action after the panic allows for a change of perception that is a prerequisite for right action. George Clooney spent his first years in Hollywood getting rejected at every audition. He desperately wanted the producers and directors to like him, and they didn’t. He blamed them for not seeing how good he was. His life changed when he changed perspective, from self-centredness to that of other-centeredness, not possible in panic mode.
Producers need to find the right actor to cast in their film, and they all hope that the next person to walk into the room is the right actor. When Clooney realized that he was the answer to their prayers, not the other way around, his performance improved and so did his career.
Consider the refusal to fund your company. I could be an obstacle, or a call for a change of action. Getting the person to fund you this isn’t up to you, but the decision to refine and improve your presentation is.
Consider the number of exceptional businesses started during depressions or economic crises.
Fortune magazine was founded soon after the crash of 1929. Hewlett-Packard, and Revlon in the Great Depression. General Motors in the panic of 1907. Microsoft in the recession in 1973-75. LinkedIn during the burst of the dot-com bubble. Half the companies in the Fortune 500 were started under adverse conditions.
Rather than focus on the difficulties of an economy in free-fall, they focused on what they needed to do to succeed, and that produced the difference. This difference requires presence of mind.
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, said “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” In like fashion, great individuals find a way to transform weakness into strength.
This is essentially a very practical book which will introduce you to a wealth of important ideas beyond what I have introduced in this column. They will be of extraordinary value as you try to facedown business crises.
Readability Light --+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of the soon to be released ‘Executive Update’.
A friend of mine is a imagineer, philosopher and strategic consultant. Every now and then he does Marcus Aurelius sessions. I was at one of those and I can honestly say it changed my life. This books could change yours.
Stoicism as an operating system
Marcus Aurilius is part of the Stoics. Which should be the operating system of every entrepreneur. This is why “The obstacle is the way” should be compulsory reading for every entrepreneur, CEO, student, job seeker. Heck, everyone should read this. You are going soft. Bad things will happen.
Antidote to learned helplessness
Moving from “learned helplessness” to mastering a toolset that deals with everything that life and business will throw at you. It has touches of “33 strategies of war” and “Mastery” by Robert Greene. It has touches of “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb. It has touches of “Coherence” by Alan Watkins. Touches of “Killing giants” by Stephen Denny. And touches on “Poke the box” and the “Icarus deception” by Seth Godin. These are some of our favourite authors and books in Bookbuzz. Applied across leadership, resilience, strategy and management.
What you need are 3 disciplines. The discipline of perception, the discipline of action and the discipline of will. Discipline and mastery being the operative words. Extreme reality therapy. Fear is a choice. Inaction is choice. How you feel about things is a choice. Everything is a choice. Get on with it.
“Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been” Marcus Aurelius.
The art of not panicking
Good or bad are perceptions. Observing and perceiving are two different things. The perceiving eye is weak, the observing eye is strong. Perspective is everything. Be aware of context and framing. Emotions colour your perception. What was the main skill they trained astronauts? The art of not panicking. Straight from “Coherence”.
Perception is reality
Perception determines what we are and they determine reality itself. Straight from “The secret”. Ryan Holiday likes entrepreneurs. In his view, entrepreneurs create their own reality. They make something that was not there before. They perceive thing differently.
“What is up to us, what is not up to us.
A lot of things you cannot control. They are what they are. You do control your choices. Actions define the person. And you can only move in the now. That is why lots of entrepreneurs start in a recession. It is not about yesterday for entrepreneurs. They only deal with the situation at hand. Paying the bills, getting the sales. Which is quite liberating if you think about it. If you are not into starting your own business, other ways to get you in the present are exercise, meditation or getting a dog.
Be a shark
In life it does not matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with it. Doing nothing should never be an option. Like a shark, you need to keep moving. The book gets something of “Being a fierce competitor” at this stage. Could you do more, move faster? You probably could. So what are you wasting your time on Facebook for? Aggression is a good thing. Barreling forward is a good thing. Taking risks is a good thing.
Mastery pops up again. Craft. The 10,000 hours. Achieving excellence. Working hard. Persistence. Looking for angles instead of angels. No running home to mummy. Get on with it.
Action is linked to tactics and strategy and here is where you could be reading Robert Greene. Blitzkrieg. Flank attack. Ghandi. In only 6 0f the 280 campaigns studies was a decisive victory a result of a direct attack on the enemy’s main army. That is 2%. There are lots of other angles.
In [...], we talk about scenario planning. Part of the doing is imagining what could happen. Imagining the worse. And plan accordingly. And if it does happen (and sometimes it does), use the event as a catalyst for change.
Last but not least. Will is an internal power that can never be affected by the outside world. You control will completely. Some fantastic quotes here; “No one is born with a steel back one, we have to forge that ourselves”. “ We craft our strength through physical exercise and our physical hardiness through mental practice”. “A sound mind in a sound body”. Again scenario planning is mentioned. Becoming mental athletes. Prepare for the worst. And accept what is coming. The art of acquiescence. Que sera, sera, what will be, will be.
Get on with it
Coping with it though determination, persistence and perseverance. Persistence is an action, perseverance is a matter of will. Getting on with it. No one else is to blame when you throw in the towel.
Mortality is the ultimate obstacle. Once you accept that, you can deal with anything. Use that in your scenario planning.
Wake up call
Definitely not a book of what the author calls “gushing, hazy optimism”. A wake up call. A recipe for dealing with hardship and crisis. And delivering (and this is what makes this book special), an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life.
No excuses any more. Get on with it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book will show you how