Business “Diets”

Reflection on the our elusive search for success through business self-help books

Have you ever attempted to follow a nutritional diet for an extended period of time (greater than 3 months)? How about a workout plan?

How did you do? Do you still do it today with the same vigor? Did you at least integrate some of the practices into your daily life as habits?

There are a lot of diets out there. How did you choose the one that you did? How many did you try? Which ones stuck and which ones didn’t?

Dieting is hard. Dieting is one of the more popular and recognizable forms of self-improvement. It is also one of the most developed (behind religion).

There are tons of different dieting theories out there. Weight Watchers, Whole 30, Paleo, Dash, Mind, etc. US News ranking ranks 38 of them. Each claiming to help us, in essence, lose weight or have more energy or both. The most interesting part is each one of them have very strong convincing testimonials. “I lost 30 pounds and you can too!” they tell us. “I feel 10 years younger” another one says.

Workout plans are very similar. Want bigger arms? Want to lose weight? There are plans and testimonials recommending those plans for anything you desire.

My thesis — Business self-help books are just like diet and workout programs. And we fail to derive the same meaningful change from them for the same reasons we fail at dieting and working out. Adoption and practice.

We are not fully adopting and living the guide that is given to us in the business self-help books. We think they are interesting. We may borrow a few concepts and think about them for a day or so but we are not putting in, 10,000 hour like, deliberate practice for extended periods of time. The time and practice needed to enable us to change the habits that we currently have and form new ones aligned with the program we have adopted. This is what the testimonial writers have done. This is what the writer has done. The writer is trying to explain the habits that they are living and that have worked for them.

But adoption does not come easy. Sometimes the author does not make it easy to adopt their program. It sounds great in theory but they do not give concrete steps, concrete practices to help us adopt it. This is especially true with worldly philosophers whom we do not even attempt to listen to as their theories are perceived to not have “real world” value.

Other times, we try to do too much at once. Is it common to follow two diets or two workout plans at the same time? We think we can try to read and implement many business concepts at the same time because it’s mental, not physical. It’s the multitasking fallacy. I fall into this trap all of the time. My mental world, does not feel physical. There is more space up there. I can mentally process things faster then I can physically move them. Therefore, I should be able to juggle more in my mind, then say, my hands can in the physical world. This is not true. The voices in our head take up time and space just like our physical voice and just like speaking, we can only say one thing at a time. We can only think, one thing at a time. We can only practice or workout one thing at a time. And we can’t just workout minds ad infinitum, they need rest too (remember studying in school?).

Lastly, there is no one right way, but many different paths that lead to similar outcomes. Each book is written by or about a successful business leader who was most likely the CEO of a successful company. Each of them took different paths and each have a program that worked for them. Underneath this seemingly unique program, the concepts of these programs tend to share similar universal concepts that are true regardless of the situation or person.

The “right path to success” is to adopt a program and practice it. It is not found it searching for the absolute right program.

Adopt a program by:

  1. Look for one that has a simple concrete plan that is easy to follow
  2. Only choose one at a time and stick with it for greater than 3 months (one business quarter)
  3. Do not get hung up in analysis paralysis and choose one. Once we adopt a program we have to practice it.

Dedicated mental practice (and the areas of self discipline and self awareness) is probably the least practiced area because it is the most abstract. We can feel physical practice. The feedback is so immediate. I see the workout routine or the diet plan, I follow the steps and physically act out the motions and then I can physically see and feel the results (if they are positive results than positive reinforcement follows and it gets a bit easier). But that immediate physical feedback loop isn’t always true in mental practice. It may take months of mental practice following the program we’ve adopted before we can feel or witness a positive event that we can associate with our practice. And we will receive tons of negative reinforcement in the process. Anyone who has tried to raise money, sell a product or an idea knows what I’m talking about. No comes easy and often.

We know how to practice. We have the tools from the business book we’ve just read. We have the ability to create project plans or code software programs each exercising the ability to plan out steps to achieve a goal. We can plan out our practice if the book doesn’t give it to us.

To reach the result that we are looking for we have to stay with the program. We need grit.

Argument borrowed from Stephen West on episode #70 — “Off Moodiness” on the podcast Philosophize This (I recommend this podcast if you are intellectually inclined).