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What Bestselling Business Books Get Wrong About Success

To understand success, it’s natural to study successful people and organizations. Thousands of business books are published each year, claiming to have done this very thing, and distilled success into a set of practical principles.

These books almost always contain an empowering message, whether explicitly or implicitly: that anyone can be successful if they just understand what it takes, and follow the key steps. The problem is, this message is highly misleading. Understanding success is much harder than most of these popular accounts suggest. Attempts to demystify high performance may often end up perpetuating a number of harmful misconceptions about what it means to achieve success.

Misconception #1: The best way to understand high performance is to study successful people and organizations

In Search of Excellence, first published in 1982 by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, is one of the most popular attempts to understand how companies achieve high performance. Peters and Waterman took 43 “excellent” American companies, and, by looking at archival sources, press accounts, and interviews, identified eight practices they all had in common—including a “bias for action,” and “staying close to the customer.” The book did incredibly well—selling 3 million copies in its first...

Singletasking: 7 Ways to Increase Your Productivity

In our culture of multitaskers, we attempt to accomplish more by doing several things at once. But here’s the rub: Multitasking fails us. Why? Because it doesn’t work. 

In reality, multitasking decreases our productivity. And by no small measure: as much as 40 percent. 

Researchers and neuroscientists around the world, including those at Harvard, Stanford and the University of London, agree that multitasking is a problem. It not only hurts our productivity but also lowers our IQs and shrinks our brains. 

Moreover, consider the personal, economic and social toll of distracted driving. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of U.S. drivers age 18-64 report they had read or sent text or email messages while driving within the last 30 days. Worse, a whopping 69 percent report they had talked on their cell phone. 

What’s our stressed-out society to do? One word: singletasking.

By singletasking you’ll be more productive and present. Plus like any other skill, singletasking can be learned or relearned over time. Soon enough you’ll be singletasking your way to increased productivity at work and in life.

Start here with seven simple tips:

1. Accept...

How We're Sabotaging Our New Hires From Day One

With hiring in the U.S. this year predicted to hit record levels since 1999, an increasing number of employers across the country are swinging quickly from "I can't afford to hire" to "I can't get new hires in here fast enough." It's a good problem to have, but it is a challenge. Finding great talent and then getting them up to speed requires real time and resources. We're feeling that pain at Mindflash as we currently have several open positions. If you're among the growing ranks of employers planning to hire in the next several months, what can you do to ensure rapid time-to-productivity for your new employees?

Consider Hiring for Attitude to Hire More Effectively

U.S. employers are taking longer—25 working days, on average—to fill open positions, according to the Dice-DFH Vacancy Duration Measure. The time to hire for companies with 5,000 or more workers is even longer, at 58 days, which makes sense to me looking back to the Great Recession. When you have a very limited (maybe one) new salary you can afford to add, with limited (maybe no) capacity in your current staff to train the...

Why Management Problems Are a Barrier to Pay Raises and Reform

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report titled “Human Capital: Update on Strategic Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” which the author also submitted as testimony at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on civil service reform. In contrast to several past hearings, there was minimal tension and general agreement between, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, and ranking member, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The statements of the four witnesses were supportive of the workforce.

But a core problem highlighted in both the report and at the hearing is the failure to manage federal employee performance effectively. That problem has been recognized repeatedly in GAO reports. A search for the words “employee performance” on GAO’s website on found 17,000-plus reports and testimonies discussing the problem.

It’s central to the reasons GAO has included human capital management on its high-risk list for years. It’s also the underlying reason why positive response scores on related Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey questions have been the lowest for multiple years. Perhaps most important, many of the performance problems might have been avoided with better management.

Now those performance...

Have You Stopped Bringing Your ‘A Game’ to Work?

When was the last time you remember bringing your absolute “A Game” to your work, decisions and relationships? It’s likely that your memories are either too distant or too infrequent to feel satisfying. Given the rapidly changing environments within which we live and work, “overwhelmed” and “stretched too thin” are common sentiments. The irony is that during a time when most are desperately in pursuit of creativity, innovation and emotionally intelligent leadership there is a simultaneous pushing of ourselves and our employees to exhaustion—depletion of the very resources most needed.

There is a new way of approaching work and time that allows for more efficient allocation of resources and strategic outcomes: focus management. Focus management begins with investment in self first to rejuvenate the body and mind. Strategic leaders are typically more attuned to themselves holistically. They care about wellness, take longer or more regular vacations, find ways to unwind doing something that is joyful, and have diverse interests and relationships. Even though a holistic approach seems like common sense, many professionals report feeling that investing in downtime seems luxurious. On the contrary, research clearly shows that rejuvenated leaders are more attentive to the subtle cues in the...