Monday, November 18, 2019

We live in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My friend Matt Gailey, a Cleveland native now in San Diego, recommended Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen.

If we truly examine it, Donald Trump's election makes perfect sense because the United States has been blending politics, news, infotainment, corporate money and madness for at least the past 40 years.

We are living in a world of constant corporate fantasies — or "Fantasyland," AKA the Fantasy-Industrial Complex as Kurt Andersen calls it.

Andersen walks us through our country's relationship with over-the-top fantasies from 1517 to current times. Some of the highlights include the Salem Witch Trials, P.T. Barnum, Mormonism and other religions created in the United States, Ronald Reagan and the X Files.

Fantasyland is a pop culture smorgasbord that repeatedly goes back to the thesis that the United States always has been a land of dreamers, hucksters, conmen and naive followers. The state of affairs today coupled with technology is in alignment with our history.
Once I soaked in Fantasyland, I saw my surroundings in a new light. When I'd see groups of kids on phones, I got it — part of the fantasy. When I looked at CNN and Fox News for comparison, I saw the fantasy — each's slanted narrative to lure viewers. When I was chatting with a friend during a hike and said, "We have more stories about TV than what we've actually done," we acknowledge Fantasyland. Then after the hike, I checked my fantasy football lineup.

So, yes, I concur with Andersen's thesis. But now what? Or better yet... so what?

Fantasyland did indeed make a much-needed point and had a zillion examples to support it, but where does that leave us? In the final pages, Andersen writes about the importance of making America reality-based again. OK, true, but what in detail does that entail?

To me, it goes back to previous books promoted in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Dark Money by Jane Mayer comes to mind as does Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins. Digging just slightly deeper, the reason we are in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex is that it makes corporate BANK.

Disney, the NFL, ESPN, WWE, CNN and any other entertainment entity that comes to mind is there because fantasies can be commodified on a mass scale in the 21st century. It's been that way for quite some time; some might argue it started with the printing press. Now, with all the tech and options, we find ourselves in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex.

So the fact that America is living in a fantasy world is less about the mindset of the individuals than the scope of media, but that is my view. Andersen takes more of a stance that it's on the individual, who needs to weed through the fakery and find the reality. OK. That's fine. But isn't the bigger issue that fantasies constantly are packaged as reality for corporate profit and that the lines of reality deliberately are blurred for bigger profits?

In the end, I recommend Fantasyland but with reservations. It's repetitive. It could go deeper and stray from its thesis to become the indictment of corporate infotainment that would be more on the mark in my eyes. In other words, it could focus more on the present and potential future than so much on the history.

I would have liked to see Andersen examine himself more. Finally, on page 433, as Fantasyland is about to end, he brings up his upbringing in Nebraska. His inner search lasted a whole three paragraphs before he went on to explain the logic of his agnosticism.

Ah. There it is. The hidden thesis! The Fantasy-Industrial Complex has created a world of constant phone users, screen time gone awry and a reality TV star as president. How has this happened?

Well, perhaps the main reason is it keeps individuals from searching inward and analyzing themselves. I believe this corporate fantasy world would go in a better direction if individuals looked inward, understood who they are and then understand what they are watching or consuming. But it's easier to look at a TV or iPhone than one's self.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Is Twain down to earth or above us?

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My friend Matt Kalinowski, a Portland resident and Southern California native, recommended Letters from the Earth (published in 1962 and written around 1909) by Mark Twain.

Mark Twain! I feel it's only fitting that this American icon makes the list. However, I must say that I had to "work through" Letters from the Earth. I skipped some parts and really am not sure I recommend the book.

Matt, I love you, man, but overall reading this was a chore. The easy part is that it was pretty short. Twain's diction may have been fitting for the time, but for me, it's just so wordy, verbose, roundabout, overdone. Eh, you get the point.

What I did like in Letters from the Earth is his theological critiques of Christianity. The problem is that I had some similar critiques when I was in elementary school. I believe questioning Christianity was practically taboo around the turn of the century, so perhaps Twain was innovative there. But where the book fits now, I'm not so sure.

It made me think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and then I was thinking that I much preferred that book. But it was written in the 21st century.
Another strength of the book to me is the candid nature of Twain's words. Mind you, this was published posthumously in 1962, and readers during his lifetime could have revolved against his Christianity critiques. But he doesn't hold back.

Letters from the Earth was written between 1904-1909, a rough time for Twain. He was deeply in debt and had lost his wife and a daughter during that stretch. His other daughter, Clara Clemens, objected to the publication of the book in 1939, but she recanted and changed her position in 1960. The book was published shortly before her death in 1962.

Twain was a lifelong searcher and questioner and, of course, had a way with words. Letters from the Earth might have been blasphemous during his time, but 57 years after its publication, I do respect it, and it's good to know that some of the inconsistencies of Christianity were discovered and explored in America well before I figured some out in the '80s.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ramsey explains keys to business leadership

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. A lifelong childhood friend and former Marine David Davis recommended EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey.

"Leading by fear and anger is not leading."

That quote comes out during Dave Ramsey's book on business leadership called EntreLeadership. He goes on to explain that fear is an offshoot of ignorance, and I often get frustrated when I see leaders using fear and anger because the truth is that those leaders probably are ignorant themselves.

Ramsey's book is a page turner and worthwhile, and he is a popular radio host. But I had never heard of him. So, thank you Dave Davis, for the recommendation.

I was familiar with some of the leadership concepts in EntreLeadership, and one that stood out was what unity entails. Unity involves actual work, and I am not sure leaders often commit themselves to it. Ramsey also mentions five pitfalls to leadership, and those are poor communication, lack of shared purpose, gossip, unresolved disagreements and sanctioned incompetence.

Those five qualities ring true to me. In particular, unresolved disagreements and sanctioned incompetence hit me. If there is a problem that has never been resolved, I just see no way an organization can have genuine unity. Problems must be addressed and resolved, or we become a part of incompetence. When we enable incompetence, it diminishes the excellent work others do.
So many tidbits on leadership exist in Ramsey's book, and a lot of useful info comes in passing. One quote thrown in that I never heard came from Aristotle. It was: "There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing and be nothing."

My main point is that Ramsey's leadership stuff is legit, but for me, personally, I found the business stuff more telling and useful because I just don't know much about the business world. It's a void in my knowledge. I do know that to make it, one has to hustle, work hard and devote themselves to their career.

I have done that with writing and education as they are passions of mine, and I assume that others have that passion in business. Or do they? I wonder for how many people in the business world, if it truly is a passion, or if they are just trying to survive.

This idea popped up in Ramsey's nuts-and-bolts chapters on legal matters, salaries, health coverage, etc. One line that he said was that if a worker is in a company for the employee matching of the 401K or a secure salary, he wouldn't want that worker. Now, I understand the importance of being hungry in the workplace and producing, but the overall culture for workers nowadays is not what I think it should be.

I also learned that Ramsey's employees pay for their own health insurance, but his company does put in $75 for it. This is no problem with Ramsey; it is the reality for many businesses. I take for granted my full health coverage through my school district. I feel sorry for business owners, like Ramsey, and workers, who have to devote so many resources to health coverage.

So through it all, I believe one message I could give anyone entering the business world would be this: Figure out how to learn and be an owner, not a worker. Easier said than done. But it's such a tough world out there that I find it hard to have a meaningful quality life with so much time devoted to salaries without health coverage, pensions or even a matching 401k.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The best leaders are voracious readers

I ran across a cool quote the other day from actor/comedian Bryan Callen: "The difference between the people you admire and everybody else is that (the people you admire) are the people who read."

We certainly can apply that to leadership, too. I have found that good leaders are constant truth seekers, voracious readers and people you can learn from — sometimes in brief exchanges.

Of course, a mountain of leadership books stand tall in the marketplace, and I have whittled those to my 10 favorite. I'm always open to more and more books, so feel free to email me and recommend me ones that you love.

Here are 10 leadership books for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend:

1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) by Patrick Lencioni
2. Multipliers (2010) by Liz Wiseman
3. Ego Is the Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday
4. A More Beautiful Question (2014) by Warren Berger
5. Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) by Kerry Patterson, et. al.
6. Conversational Capacity (2013) by Craig Weber
7. Leadership on the Line (2002) by Marty Linsky
8. Good to Great (2001) by Jim Collins
9. This Fight Is Our Fight (2007) by Elizabeth Warren
10. Positive Deviance (2010) by Richard Pascale, et. al.

Voila! This project is 90 books into it, and we move onto our final category tomorrow — books recommended by readers. The good news about this category is that the books are fresh in my mind, so I might have even more insightful things to say. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

Even though the pace of this project has been a bit wild for this writer, I have enjoyed doing it. I hope readers use it as a resource or consider checking out some of these books. On the flip side, I also believe we do not have time for books that aren't worth our time. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The key to innovation: Positive deviants

Problem solving. Is problem solving truly taught, or learned, in the schools?

I've been deliberately giving my students difficult assignments and watching how they handle them. It's fascinating. Most go to Google within five minutes. Others go to others within that time, and many just give up immediately, turn something in and hope it's graded on "effort." But, uh, I watched, and for many, I saw no effort.

Every so often, I see actually talking, deliberating, collaboration. Some students do that well, but they only do it with friends they know and trust. They are focused on the problem itself, not the outcome, nor the grade, nor the perception of what they did. These kids are deviants!

In The Power of Positive Deviance by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin, we see how nearly all problems that societies or organizations face can be solved from within. It takes positive deviance to do this. When the culture of a society or organization is not working, or not thriving how it should, there typically are deviants who thrive no matter what. Just like there are actual problem solvers in schools, no matter what. A key to leadership is to figure out who those positive deviants are and harness what they got. A key to life is to be a positive deviant, when the culture doesn't match healthiness and improvement.

The Power of Positive Deviance (2010) defines what that is exactly and then examines seven examples in the world, including Vietnam, Egypt, Uganda and more, to see it in action. The problem, I see, in the United States is that there is so much static, division and diversion that many can't even agree what the central problems are. So true leaders make that judgement, even when outvoted, and move forward.
The odd thing about positive deviance is the word "deviance." The term "deviant" typically has a negative connotation. But the term is accurate because someone who does something outside of the culture is indeed a deviant. Many times, we assume that's a criminal act or that it's wrong. But often times, the positive deviants are the answer.

Why is it that under the same circumstances, some people thrive but others are miserable? What is the secret sauce? What is the difference?

Problems can be solved from within, and that applies to individuals and communities. What behaviors are critical, and what is sustainable?

It turns out that we live amid many, many success stories, and one key to leadership is to tap into those stories and have them spread. Those success stories typically are coming from positive deviants.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Warren should appeal to Republicans

When I planned out 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend this past summer, I knew that This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren would be on the list. However, I strive to keep this blog apolitical, and so I had minor reservations.

From a purely centrist American view, this book belongs on the list because it displays true leadership and promotes a vision of America that both Democrats and Republicans would agree, if they only took the time to be open-minded and read it.

Warren — and Bernie Sanders — are portrayed as "leftists" by both Democrats and Republicans on corporately owned networks and media. One reason they get that label is that they repeatedly attack corporations, and because the corporations have so much power, their factual assertions of a highjacked democracy by corporations must be "out there." Another reason they get that label is that political conventions call it "left" when there is talk of cutting down special interests in government and focusing on individuals.

But isn't the whole point of our democracy is that it is for the people? I would argue that our democracy has pretty much been off the rails since at least 1980. Isn't it each citizen's job to fight for democracy? Isn't it true that in many ways, our government plays second fiddle to corporate interests?

So, in Warren's This Fight Is Our Fight, she focuses on our time's biggest issue — the death and struggles of the middle class. Now, Warren has been focused on this issue for the past 20 years, and she has also written The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Families Are Going Broke (2004), All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan (2006) and The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Families Are (Still) Going Broke (2016).
By the time we get to This Is Our Fight, we should realize that the system is broken — but not hopeless. The typically family needs two incomes, works its butts off and lives paycheck to paycheck. It is a major step backward from pre-1980 where there were more single-family wage earners than not, and those families had more savings, pensions and less debt.

I still believe in the American Dream, but what exactly is that? At last look, we had 607 billionaires in the United States out of 329 million people. So mathematically, it's ridiculous to believe you can be a billionaire. But, honestly, being a millionaire, with an M, should be possible for Americans who sacrifice, work hard, become educated and understand finance.

In her book and campaign, Warren repeatedly singles out the root of 21st century problems — wealth distribution. No doubt. We can trace wealth distribution and see that it negatively impacts the healthcare system, education, politics, opioid use and the lion's share of society's ills.

Sure, it would be great if Warren became the next president. But more important, we need all Americans, Democrats and Republicans, to stand up to the billionaire system of government and get a tax system that helps more than just the elite. And for God's sakes, let's hope we never elect another billionaire for any office and return to a government run by the people. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Good enough isn't good enough

When a conversation about leadership books ensues, Good to Great by Jim Collins often pops up, and I had been hearing about it so much that I had to check it out. Solid. A page-turner. Yes, it is part of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend.

However, unlike the other books in this leadership category, I find it hard to remember. I think that's because there are A LOT of points in Good to Great, and it's not as simple, or specialized, as some of the other books.

First of all, organizations must be brutally honest with themselves. A company's bread and butter can change, especially now with rampant technology, so a company must understand its exact place in the marketplace. Easier said than done.

Steal. There always are better organizations out there, so when relevant, I say analyze what the competitions is doing and do it better. Simplicity also is critical. Companies need to follow three key questions: 1) What can I do best? 2) What makes money? 3) What ignites my passion?

Another key in the book is to stop doing anything that does not align to the company's mission. Prioritize. If leaders find themselves wasting time on irrelevant actions or tasks, that needs to end. Yes, that is obvious. But I see it happening all the time with seemingly well-intentioned leaders.
Some of what is in Good to Great (2001) applies to leadership anywhere, including public schools, but some doesn't. One glaring irony about leadership in traditional public schools is that because there is no pressing need for a profit, leadership can be harder.

I used to think it would be easier, or should be easier, to lead in schools because leaders would only have to do what's best for students and have the green light to innovate, innovate, innovate. That's not always the case.

In the 21st century, the marketplace drove innovation among companies, and schools typically have no incentive or wherewithal to improve. I believe public education has hope, but elements of it are like the health-care industry. We all know things in the system are not efficient, and sometimes cruel, but the system has become too big for easy fixes.

Another irony in public schools is that because the stakes are so low for the workers, that everything becomes a big deal. The pay is standard in schools based on time served, yet there are small things workers can do for a little extra — such as coaching and some specialized roles. But, financially, it's not significant. Ironically, all of this stuff becomes a big deal, even though logically and mathematically, it is insignificant.

Where the stakes are higher with for-profit companies is where organizations truly must understand Collins' book to improve. Companies that cannot be honest with themselves and cannot do something better than the competition are doomed.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Leaders embrace adaptive challenges

When I obtained a master's in education and a credential in California school administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the first book assigned was Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky.

I don't think it's possible to leave Dominguez's program without understanding the concept of "getting on the balcony." If anything ever gets hairy in leadership, one key tactic is to go on the balcony, look at the big picture, soak it in and then make a decision.

Too often, leaders get hung up on details or lose sight of the organization's goals, so critical mistakes can be made. A true leader not only survives with difficult situations, but thrives.

Perhaps the bigger lesson of Leadership on the Line (2002) is that leaders face two distinct issues — technical problems and adaptive challenges. Often, these two issues are misdiagnosed or not understood. A technical problem is something that can be solved by experts, while an adaptive challenge requires new learning.

I immediately was drawn to adaptive challenges because I believe those are more difficult in which savvy leaders are crucial. Schools face both issues, and I've gotten frustrated with schools failing to understand and address adaptive challenges. If, or when, I plunge into school leadership, I can't wait to tackle adaptive challenge, but first things first, building a strong functioning team is the actual first step.
In addition to getting on the balcony and seeing the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenge, other keys that come out in Leadership on the Line are that we must constantly build relationships, orchestrate conflict, delegate while helping and then hold steady.

These basics are the trunk to the leadership tree. One thing I have noticed is that in high-profile leadership positions, a leader's personal or personality issues are on display for all. So a truly strong leader accepts this and commits to constant self-improvement. If not, then the individual will stay stagnant, as will the organization.

It's been a fun ride for me since I read this book, earned another master's and qualified myself to be a California public-school administrator. I have grown more than I imagined and am feeling happier than ever.

For anyone who has been on a strong functioning team, it feels exhilarating. Unfortunately, if you happen to be on a weak functioning, well, that can be draining. For all team members, remember: "Get on the balcony!"

Friday, November 8, 2019

How do we build conversational capacity?

When I was younger, I used to think "conflict" was a negative thing. Why can't we just get along here? Why do we have to fight here?

Oh, man, I had major misconceptions on what conflict even was, and looking back, it held me back. Conflict is critical to organizations, and even for families, to grow, but in order to embrace healthy conflict, one must be skilled with how to handle it.

Conversational Capacity by Craig Weber is an excellent book that offers skills and ideas on how to value and embrace conflict while building team and growing.

It's not as if anyone can read Conversational Capacity (2013) and be a maestro with business conversations, building teams and addressing conflict. However, Weber does offer a lot of food for thought and skill building. For me, it changed my mindset with how to approach work conversations. I am more intentional and will help guide conversations to where I perceive it is meant to be. Of course, my perceptions sometimes can be off, but heck, at least I am trying.
One of my favorite chapters in Conversational Capacity is titled "Intentional Conflict: Why Good Intentions are Never Enough." It's about how many participants in conversations either minimize issues or "try to win" conversations, and so that keeps the conversation out of its sweet spot where things can progress. Minimizing and trying to win are progress killers. If we continue with that, organizations and ourselves remain static.

Why do so many people hate meetings? Why did I used to hate them?

Well, many participants in meetings do not have any training on how to run them or how to contribute. Maybe we think it's common sense, but it really isn't. I believe it is reasonable to focus on "how to run and contribute to successful meetings" for 5 percent of an organization's meeting time. Usually, it's zero percent. (By the way, I also recommend Patrick Lencioni's book Death by Meeting, but I already have a Lencioni book on this list. So I did not officially recommend it in this project.)

Anyway, back to Conversational Capacity, I highly recommend it because I believe conversational skills must continually be worked on, especially in professional settings. The first step with improvement typically is an honest and real conversation.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Conversational skills are crucial

When I was fighting to save my first marriage, somebody recommended Crucial Conversations. Thank you!

I always thought I was a good conversationalist, and even in high-stakes situations, I thought I always handled myself well.

As I look back and open up, I must admit that I wasn't as good as I thought. I often would act smug, like I knew it all, and I sometimes discounted emotions because I was thinking they're just weren't logical.

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, et. al., is an excellent tool for anyone who is either 1) in a leadership position, 2) in a relationship or 3) finding themselves in frequent conversations that don't work.

I honestly find myself in many so-called "conversations" that aren't even conversations. I'm in a lot of "hey, let me talk at you" type of situations. Not fun for me.
As a high-school English teacher, I have realized that many teachers love being the pundit on the pulpit, the lecturer at the lectern, where young students are forced to listen. Ugh. They become so used to that role that it transfers to others, and conversations don't really happen.

So if teachers, by and large, have a hard time with conversations, how is everybody else? I surmise they're equally as unskilled — or worse.

Some conversations are what the writers of Crucial Conversations call "violent" — controlling, labeling and attacking. Sadly, after studying this book and Nonviolent Communication, I realize that I often myself in violent conversations. I'm only one component of the conversation, so I do my best to create a safe space and am deliberate about what I bring to the conversation.

Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) provides excellent tools of how to respond when conversations get hairy and how to make it safe to talk about anything. I loved the book so much that I also read, and also recommend, Crucial Accountability and Influencer by the same authors. At the bare minimum, readers can see their tendencies that might not help conversations and then grow from that.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Why do we stop questioning?

As a journalist, my job entailed asking questions, and I realized pretty quickly that the best questions were:

1) Actual questions. Ones I honestly didn't know the answer and had to ask.
2) Floaters. Oh, I knew the answer. But if I floated one up, the person being interviewed might just double down and hit it out of the park.
3) Under the skin. I knew very well that the interviewee doesn't want this one, but let's see what he/she does. Former L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers was a master at this, and in soft-balling L.A., he was one of the only writers who went there. In New York, journalists toss out constant under-the-skin questions.

So I put in a lot of time into asking questions, the intricacies of questions, and I responded to Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question. Innovation might be as simple as asking the right questions at the right time and to embrace "what if."

So many companies, leaders and individuals play it safe by doing the same ol' stuff. But in our constantly changing marketplace, playing it safe eventually will not be economically viable. That's why Big Tech has pretty much taken over the world. Tech had the technology, knew how to integrate it, and Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and more continue to get bigger and badder.

Philosophically, I absolutely love A More Beautiful Question (2014) because it's been my experience that folks stay on the non-questioning side more than the over-questioning side. When we talk about Tech companies, and the power of questions, well, that's tricky because a lot more is involved than mere questions.
Berger points out that parents often don't ask open or inquisitive questions, so that contributes to killing curiosity and creativity within children. Adults need to be on a constant search for deeper understanding and innovation, and if they're not doing that, their children will follow suit.

It's amazing how so much innovation is occurring nowadays with the Internet as its backbone, and it's also amazing how so many things remain backwards because of the United States' mega-big economy. I've heard the phrase "too big to fail," but I say it might be "too big to work right."

I can think about the health-care system, colleges and loans, cars still using fossil fuels, for example, and wonder: Why are we still OK with this? If we're not OK, what will we do? Why aren't we constantly questioning practices that hurt ourselves or planet?

The first patent for rollers on suitcases came in 1972. The first commercial jet service happened in 1952. We had 20 years of people carrying suitcases. Where was the questioning? Say what?!?

I believe that we all have important questions inside of us, but unfortunately, our culture implicitly kills those questions. I must give Berger props for pointing out and exploring the power of beautiful questions.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ego blocks growth

When I was getting involved in leadership, I did some soul-searching and asked myself why. At a certain point, leadership becomes the natural progression in the workplace and in life, yet misconceptions abound on what true leadership is.

So Ryan Holiday's Ego is the Enemy is an easy-to-read manifesto on how our egos get in the way of genuine leadership, collaboration and moving organizations forward.

I respond to Holiday's books because they're quick and have a lot of truths in them. He is a young, accessible philosopher of sorts and is part of the Daily Stoic. In a way, Holiday's books are like Patrick Lencioni's books because they feel easy but a lot of leadership truth is in them.

Several key concepts pop up in Ego is the Enemy, and one is how we must live with purpose. Too many people are not even aware of how they spend their time and money, and we must be deliberate in what we do. True leaders likely will be treated poorly at some point and may be degraded. But if we live with purpose, and I would add honesty and integrity, the people who degrade us are actually doing that to themselves.

Being a lifelong student and talking and thinking less while doing more also are key tenets in Ego is the Enemy (2016). I could not agree more with this more. I've been trying to talk less for years. Not easy for this Polack.
One of Holiday's strengths is his aphorisms. He often puts deep concepts into a pithy phrase, such as "what is rare is not raw talent, skill or even confidence, but humility, diligence and self-awareness."

Another gem is: "Most trouble is temporary ... unless you make that not so." I also like: "What is most obvious but most ignored is that perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but rarely the other way around."

So true. I have found that many workaholics are escaping their actual personal lives. These folks will be capped off in the workplace because they typically face something that holds them back and needs reconciling. There is much more to Holiday and this book, and here is a lengthier review of it.

But irony runs rampant with Ego is the Enemy because Ryan Holiday is a personality himself with 269,000 Twitter followers. He is only 32, but, yowsers, he seems to boast a lifetime of wisdom. He kind of reminds me of the character Ryan from The Office, but eh, maybe I'm just prejudiced because I'm a Gen Xer and he's a Millennial.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Multiply or divide — easy math

Leaders can be a bizarre sort. Many of them are hellbent on personal accomplishment, and I think that holds them back in leadership.

Are they leaders because they want to look, or feel, accomplished, or are they leaders because of their ability to connect, empower and develop?

In Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown's book Multipliers, they point out a hugely important concept: Either you're a multiplier or a diminisher.

A diminisher often is a diminisher by accident. This person follows common leadership practices and tradition, but in the process, shuts down the growth of others. A multiplier is the opposite.

A multiplier promotes the growth and intelligence of others. A multiplier understands that the best measure of leadership is to perpetually create and develop other leaders.
One minor technicality I have with Multipliers is that it uses the word "intelligence" as for what we are multiplying. I get the concept. But by using "intelligence," it seems to promote a fixed mindset instead of growth one. I believe everyone can grow, or be smarter if you will, and we all have the capacity to be multipliers — if we see things that way.

Diminishers often are overworked and tired. They blame a lot and control a lot. They work hard, but keep adding elements to try to help themselves. They often look to outside sources as opposed to inside.

Multipliers focus on wanting their team to have fulfilling opportunities that foster growth. They repeatedly hand off the ball, but stay involve. By staying involved, they don't necessarily direct, but they support. Multipliers expect extraordinary results. They yearn for talented people to be around them, and then they double down on that talent.

Wiseman goes through much more of what makes a multiplier, and the book moves quickly and is rife with insights. I always give leaders the benefit of the doubt, but when we look around us, we sometimes sadly realize that too many diminishers are in our midst. But I am optimistic that they can realize the errors of their ways and become multipliers.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Trust, conflict and a healthy organization

I felt like Pac-Man.

When I got my hands on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, I gobbled it up and then read all of his books. Lencioni's books are wildly easy to read with interesting narratives and are spot on with their messages.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) points out that a strong-functioning team must have five crucial points in order, and at the base is trust. Without trust, an organization really is not a "team." Rather, it is a fake type of entity where people's insecurities and infighting will attract more time and even headaches than actual production. Trust is crucial!

After trust is in place, healthy conflict is a must? What type of team can move forward if it does not address its important issues? In some worlds, the word "conflict" is negative. Some use it synonymously with "fight" or "bad." That's not what conflict is at all. It is dealing with issues that prevent the organization from moving forward.

Commitment is the next step to a strong functioning team. It's important to define what "commitment" entails. I have seen commitment defined as absolute No. 1 priority in life. I don't think that is what it really is. Rather, commitment applies to certain values and missions that define the team, and that is a more accurate definition.
The next steps involve accountability and results, and they all stem from trust. Recently, I was told about an organization with accountability as its focus for the year. Is that even possible if trust, conflict and commitment are not in place? Well, I think you know the answer.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team focuses on the absolute basics of team and leadership, and I urge all to read it. It was presented to me as a handbook for a team, and it is exactly that.

Friday, November 1, 2019

A good sports book is hard to find

For 12 years of my life, I was employed as a sports writer for Newsday and the Long Beach Press-Telegram. It was quite a learning experience, and it was cool to realize that sports stars and celebrities are just real people.

Yeah, many of them have egos, are self-important and self-absorbed, but they're just people. I never was really into the celebrity culture, but a whole bunch of folks in L.A. and our country are into that stuff — that fake stuff.

So I have my own view on sports writing and believe that a lot of the most popular books on sports are actually over-hyped and not too readerly. Like any book that I might enjoy, a sports book needs to find subtle truths or look at things in a different way or be so well-written that I can't put it down. Honestly, I haven't run across many sports books like that.

But I do have my favorites, and here are 10 sports books for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend:

1. A Pitcher's Story (2001) by Roger Angell
2. Why Baseball Matters (2018) by Susan Jacoby
3. String Theory (2016) by David Foster Wallace
4. Little Red Book (1992, with 2012 anniversary edition) by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake
5. Zen Golf (2002) by Joseph Parent
6. The Big Miss (2012) by Hank Haney
7. The Whore of Akron (2011) by Scott Raab
8. Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton
9. Word Freak (2001) by Stefan Fatsis
10. Relentless (2013) by Tim Grover

We are now 80 books into this project with the categories of leadership and readers' choice left. We'll kick off with our first leadership book tomorrow. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Are you a cleaner, closer or cooler?

In the middle of a year-long leadership program I attended, our leader suggested the book Relentless by Tim Grover. I had gobbled up the other books in the program, so I couldn't wait for this one.

Grover is the former trainer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and many more superstars, and his book focuses on what elite athletes do that others don't.

Cleaners. That is Grover's terminology for the elite of the elites. A cleaner is someone who has the mentality to win at all costs. A cleaner has a definite dark side. A cleaner is more than just a clutch player. He is a strong-willed leader who is never satisfied with his accomplishments.

The other types of elite athletes are coolers, who are followers and hesitant to take initiative. Another is a closer, who often needs to be congratulated after accomplishing something.

When I read this book, I was like, "Hey, yo, I'm a cleaner!"
Funny, the person I met who recommended the book struck me as one of the most relentless people I've ever met. Intense! And, maybe, to be elite in certain arenas, a relentless mindset is a prerequisite.

I was drawn to Relentless because I sometimes have lacked a killer's instinct in sports. I can have a big lead, then led up and let the opponent back in the game. I used to overthink key moments, and I'd like to close out games like Kobe.

But y'know what struck me most about Grover's book is his personal stories? If I remember correctly, his father was a pathologist who performed autopsies, and at an extremely young age, Grover saw these bodies and even helped his father in that setting. Egads.

It made me wonder about what spurs people to even want to be "cleaners." Are cleaners overdoing it? Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I'm a big fan of work-life balance and put love of self and others above being a cleaner. What drives cleaners? On one hand, I respect the focus, discipline and work ethic, but on the other hand, I wonder: What are you truly missing?

So I do recommend Relentless. But at what cost? Humanity supersedes being "the best" at something. However, in an ultra-competitive situation, I respond to some of the lessons in Grover's book, and I just win, baby.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Let's spend a xu for a qat

Man, I used to be an avid Scrabble player. It wasn't competitive Scrabble against strangers, but it was among friends and family. I think I'm a pretty good player.

So back in 2001, when Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis came out, I was all over it. It's about the bizarre world of competitive Scrabble, and then in 2004, the documentary Word Wars came out.

I hardly play Scrabble nowadays, and I blame the phone. At first, I was mesmerized by Words with Friends, played hundreds of games, but then was like, "Uh, why am I wasting my life with this phone and this game?"

So Word Freak follows the world's best Scrabble players, and we quickly realize, "Oh, wow, this is another level."

These elite Scrabble players have lists and lists of words memorized, and they get bingos (playing all seven letters) constantly. The book takes us inside of their worlds and minds, and it got me to rearrange the letters in words when I saw them to form other words. Sometimes, I still do that.
Because I read it so long ago, a lot of the details escape me. I do recall it following a few key figures and seeing how obsessive they were against the game. Oh, and if you're wondering, how is this a sports book? Well, Fatsis is a sports writer, and, hey, I say it works!

I did learn a couple key tips from the book that helped my Scrabble playing, and they are: 1) If you don't know all the two-letter words, you might as well play something else, 2) Of course, you got to know all the Q words without U after it, and the words that begin with X, and 3) The best rack management is to have all different letters. Why in the world would you have three I's in your rack?!?

Eh, thinking about Word Freak wants me to play some Scrabble. And, Dad, stop looking at the dictionary!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A celebration of life!

For seven years, I covered the Los Angeles Clippers and NBA for the Long Beach Press-Telegram and a chain called the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. During that time, I'm not sure I ran across a more colorful dude than Bill Walton.

Bill did color commentary for the Clippers in my first year on the beat, and he took the time to know me a bit. It wasn't like we were best friends, but our exchanges were real. He knew me, treated me like a human being, and I liked his vibe.

So I recommend Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton, who has lived an outside-of-the-box life and has incredible stories about growing up, John Wooden and his horrific injuries.

One thing that first struck me about Bill was how he was such an individual, not afraid to be "out there" and entertaining. He typically arrived to Clipper games in a track suit, then dressed with the players into his commentating suit, then changed back after the game.

On one terrible Clipper night, the team gave away a huge lead, and players fought among themselves. It was not far from the time when a player referred to playing for the Clippers as being in jail. Among an ugly post-game scene, I asked Bill, why he still commentated and put up with the constant losing.

"Joe, you have to remember that basketball is a ballet, poetry in motion," he said. "These are the greatest athletes in the world. Every night is a celebration of life."
In his book, Bill details his terrible injuries, and I found his insights on John Wooden to be captivating. He repeatedly points out that Wooden called him the slowest learner of all-time. But, you know what, at least he did learn.

It's hard to be an individual in the sports world nowadays. I think a lot of times individual becomes synonymous with selfish, but those are two entirely different words. We have a lot of selfish people, but not necessarily individuals.

So Bill Walton was indeed an individual, and the next time you happen to watch a sporting event, remember that above anything else, it is a "celebration of life."

Monday, October 28, 2019

The best Cleveland sports book

I argue that the Cleveland sports narrative is more captivating than any sports tale out there. Of course, I am biased being a native Clevelander and a maniacal Cleveland sports junkie.

This stuff runs personal, and to me, all good stories go personal — crazy personal. So out of the myriad books on Cleveland sports, I recommend The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James (2011) by Scott Raab as hitting at our city's collective feelings more than any other book.

Shoot, man, Cleveland is America. I feel in my bones that there isn't a more American city than Cleveland and maybe no American state than Ohio. Y'know, the presidential election has gone with whom Ohio has picked every time but once (JFK) since 1944. Talk about political diversity!

Cleveland's economy has been through the ringer and back. We were a huge steel town, only to see that industry die, and then we slowly pieced together a livable city and economy.

Through it all, our sports teams have been our salvation. The teams are pastimes that unite our city and bring us together. No need to go through our painful sports history, so go ahead and watch Believeland from ESPN if you either got the urge to relive it or know it.

So The Whore of Akron was written at a low point in Cleveland sports lore, when LeBron James announced that he would take his talents to South Beach. What?!? Our city was up in arms, and we were burning LeBron jerseys in effigy.
Venomous, crude, unforgiving and honest — that's the best way I can describe the book. Even with the knowledge of LeBron returning and miraculously bestowing Cleveland's first championship to the city since 1964, I still recommend the book.

Did we forgive LeBron? Why, yes we did. Did he have to come back to the city and get us a championship? Yes. ... Deal. LeBron, you are now the champion of Cleveland or the basketball Jesus of Cleveland. But you used to be, for lack of a better word, a whore.

What a story! Any sportswriter worth his salt understands that the better story typically comes in the losing team's locker room. Had LeBron not left to stupid-ass Miami, Cleveland would not have the extra layer of its championship story. Honestly, looking back on what happened, our story could happen no other way.

Of course, the Cavs would have to knock off the team with the most regular-season wins in NBA history with Golden State going 73-9 that year. Of course, we would have to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the championship on Golden State's home court.

Yeah, it's Cleveland, baby. It's the only city I know where a whore can become king.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tiger, Tiger is not right

When Tiger Woods won the Masters last year at age 43, I was rooting for him. I loved that he won, and it was an awesome story and in the conversation of "the greatest comeback in sports history."

The next day, though, I lost those loving feelings. I was thinking back to Hank Haney's 2012 book The Big Miss, and I was thinking his life of over-the-top cheating. To me, character matters in sports, and I guess I'm supposed to forgive Tiger. But let's get real. A lot of his off-the-course life has been less than admirable.

Of course, we need to give Tiger his just due when it comes to his golf career, his 81 PGA wins, his 15 majors and for being the most dominant player in history. His stretch from 1999 to 2009 is just ridiculously amazing.

It was Thanksgiving 2009, when his personal life and golf career took its dramatic tumble. We're talking a decade ago.

So Haney used to be Tiger's coach, and he is famous in his own right, even having his own show on the Golf Channel called The Haney Project at one point. I could not put down his tell-all about Tiger and the madness of what made Tiger tick.

On one hand, I give props to anyone who has the amazing dedication to be an elite athlete, musician, artist or business mogul. To be at the top of one's game in a competitive sport or discipline is highly difficult, and we cannot underscore the life that is given for that pursuit.

However, a lot of unhealthiness can come the way of the driven elitist, and it's hard not to fall into a lot of the unhealthy traps. Tiger fell into a myriad of them.
Tiger's dad was a military man, and he became obsessed with Navy Seals and training with them. He repeatedly trained with them, frequently hurting his body, building up muscles that were irrelevant to golf and most likely tearing his ACL with them. Say wha'?

Tiger really didn't have anyone close to him. He also was so self-centered that if he were eating with others, he would walk away when he was finished, regardless if the others were still eating. He also is cheap and a notoriously terrible tipper, and somehow he finds that funny. At least, this is all from Haney's book, and it sounds like truth to me.

So Haney got a first-hand look at Tiger, but we all have been watching Tiger on TV for decades. I have seen him up close a few times and did a story on him once when he did a p.r. thing with the City of Long Beach.

But what I know about Tiger is what I believe is the truth. Insecure. Driven. Cold. Why is it that our world lauds ideas of "the best" for something like golf, but we don't really look at the actual person? Eh, The Big Miss made me do that, and it's going to be hard for me to laud Tiger again.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Zen on the course

I used to be a basket case on the golf course, and sometimes I revert to that madness. I would overthink a zillion things, get in my own way and be my own biggest hazard on the course. Something had to give.

Finally, I took a different approach, to get out of my head, and Zen Golf by Joseph Parent helped a lot.

Golf can be a game of inches, a game of details and a game of thought. While golfers need to keep their head in the game in terms of course management, what types of shots to take and strategy, I find that the head often gets in the way of being loose, having fun and actually playing better.

I used to have a lot of ideas about golf truisms that turned out to not even be true. First off, nobody gives a shoot about your score. We care because we have been conditioned to think it matters, but does it? Nobody really cares.

Second off, I don't really care about my score. Of course, I want to improve and shave off strokes, and I brag about the one time I broke 80. But score is a manmade interpretation. It's much more important to play golf than golf score.

Some of my best rounds have had average scores. How do we judge a good round of golf?

I judge it by feeling good out there, enjoying it, not feeling any bit of pressure, not trying so darn hard and by stringing together some good shots. If the score is worse than my average, I no longer care as long as I felt it was worth the hours I was out there.
One of the chapters in Zen Golf is titled "How to Enjoy a Bad Round of Golf," and honestly, I wish all amateurs enjoyed their junky rounds, too. Sadly, because I see that most amateurs believe they're better than they actually are, they tend to not enjoy their rounds. They live in a delusion that their best round is their normal round.

Zen Golf (2002) opened the door to a slew of golf psychology books that I devoured. Anyone who plays the game realizes that negative thoughts creep in, and we must accept that on the golf course but let those come through and pass. Too often, we seize on the negative thoughts, make them bigger than just a notion, and then bad things happen.

Golfers also understand that we need total commitment to the shots we take. If we ever doubt a club selection or decision, those will come back to haunt us. And what exactly are we ever afraid of on the golf course? ... We're playing freakin' golf.

The adage of "golf does not build character; it reveals character" may be true. But I must give the game some credit for helping me develop grit, get my head on straighter, understand myself better and learn how to be more Zen.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Golf can be ... simple

Why do intelligent, reasonable people golf?

Mark Twain's famous quote of "a good walk wasted" comes to mind, and nowadays, golfers are amidst a swirl of golf-ball technology, golf-club technology, talking about swing plains and so much hullaballoo, that the average golfer's mind can be cloudy.

Thank God for Harvey Penick's Little Red Book with Bud Shrake. It came out in 1992, three years before Penick passed away, and is a big seller with a 20th anniversary edition in 2012.

Penick is one of the most famous golf instructors ever. He was based in Austin and coached at the University of Texas from 1931 to 1963. Some huge names studied under him, including Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.

What is so refreshing about the Little Red Book is that it simplifies the game with truths that many amateurs just don't get — or don't practice.

"When I tell you to take an aspirin, don't take the whole bottle. In a golf swing, a tiny change can make a huge difference. The natural inclination is to begin to overdo the tiny change that has brought success. So you exaggerate in an effort to improve even more, and soon you are lost and confused again."
"If the average golfer hits the 3-wood off the tee, the shots on the whole will be more successful. What you will miss is maybe that one good driver shot in a round, and it's not worth it."

I must say that not hitting the driver off the tee has helped my game immensely. No more guessing. No more erratic shots. No more random duffs. I actually play with some guys who consistently smoke their drivers. But most players aren't like that.

I believe that golf is a game that connects us with nature and ourselves. Back in Ohio, so many of the courses are absolutely beautiful. They were carved out of existing trees and greenery, and they receive a lot of rainfall. Fresh air. Sun. It's good to get outside.

Perhaps golf is "an old man's sport." It's the only sport I know that I can actually get better at my age, and that doesn't entail me hitting the ball farther. Working with my unique, goofy golf skillset, I have learned how to maximize what I got, and I am proud of my course management.

I have learned that most golfers think they are better than they are. It takes humility to understand that, yeah, I shouldn't be playing the blue tees. Or, y'know what, I did indeed get an "8" on that hole. People lie to themselves on golf courses, as they do in real life, but I don't care. I'm there for the nature and to connect to "Joe the Golfer."

"For two weeks, devote 90 percent of your practice time chipping and putting, and only 10 percent to the full swing. If you do this, your 95 will turn into a 90."

"Play games on the putting green. The more time you spend there, the better golf scores you will turn in."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Literary icon at the baseline

Tennis, anyone?

It might be a little sneaky for me to get David Foster Wallace into the project 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. The literary icon is known more for his fiction and Infinite Jest. But his essays on tennis belong on this list because String Theory is indeed the best book I've ever read on tennis.

Wallace died at 46 from suicide in 2008, and String Theory was published in 2016. There are only five essays in the collection, and so it's a bit short yet worthwhile, insightful and meaningful. He was a relatively successful junior player in Illinois, and in his first essay, he writes about how he sees the angles and geometry of tennis.

A lot of his writing is OCD on display and from a mind that speeds fast. Some have labeled Wallace "a genius." Maybe. But to me, the real geniuses are the ones who can balance life and art and have their minds actually work for them. I'm not sure he had that part of the genius equation. However, I am naive when it comes to mental illness, and perhaps the point I'm making is simply it's a shame we lost David Foster Wallace.

Because he was a tennis player, he boasts a ridiculous abundance of knowledge on the game, and I find it impossible to not want to go hit some balls after reading String Theory. Of the five essays, I found the one on obscure player Michael Joyce as the most meaningful.
I'm a casual tennis fan, and I know that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated the men's game for more than a decade. But what about everybody else?

Wallace follows Joyce at the Canadian Open in 1995, and for me, as a former sportswriter, I loved that Wallace went to the side courts to focus on a player in the margins to analyze and report on what was happening there. I learned real fast as a newspaper journalist, covering pro sports and the NBA for god's sakes, that I had to find killer stories within the context of what the readers and editors wanted.

Wallace already was on the path to literary icon when the story on Joyce dropped in Esquire. It looks like he had carte blanche with his story on Joyce, so we can see what it's like to be the 79th ranked player in the world.

Think of how elite that is — 79th in the freaking world! But a player like that typically lives a life of obscurity, qualifiers to get into tournaments and dedication and practice that is out of this world. In the world of sports journalism, we often focus on the last-second shot, the superstars, the glamour.

It turns out for most of anyone pursuing sports, it's not nearly as glamorous as the fans think. Wallace's story on Joyce offers truth that we don't often notice, and those types of truths can be mighty powerful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Baseball matters more now than ever

It's an absolute pleasure for me that my daughter, Sophie, actually likes baseball. We watched Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, riveted by a close game and no hitter that moved to the eighth inning.

Baseball is a game of subtlety. It is utterly American, and I love watching and listening to it more than any sport. However, the average viewer of a baseball game is 53, and 50 percent of the audience is 55 and older.

When Why Baseball Matters by Susan Jacoby came out last year, I was all over it. I like to think of baseball as a unifying American pastime. Does it matter if we have different political views or different backgrounds? I like to think we can unite with baseball.

One unexpected point that I respond to in Why Baseball Matters is how generations don't intermingle as much as they used to. Jacoby spent time growing up in her grandfather's bar south of Chicago. I conjecture that she learned more about life and relationships there more than she would have in school. So often, families find themselves on different devices and looking at different entertainment. I find it refreshing when we all are looking at the same thing.

Baseball is a backdrop. It is meant to have pauses and dead time. It's OK to converse during the game. With our image-driven world now, baseball has become a throwback. Jacoby argues that it is more important than ever now because the lowest-common denominator of American culture of disruption, distraction and interruption is prevailing.
In many ways, major-league baseball is lost. Smart phones punctuate the stands, and huge scoreboards entertain throughout "down time." I see a countdown clock at games in between innings and batters. Do we really need that?

No matter what ESPN does, I don't believe baseball is made for highlights. Yes, we can see diving catches and home runs or even walk-off mobs at home plate. But the drama of the game lies in scenarios like the 2-2 count. After four consecutive sliders, here comes the fastball.

The drama is in the details — grounding out to second base and advancing the runner to third or getting to a ball quickly in the outfield to prevent the runner from going to third or blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third. The irony of modern day living is that somehow baseball is the most American pastimes but, strangely, it has become un-American because of its slower pace and subtlety.

Baseball certainly matters to me. It looks like it matters to my daughter, too. We get the game, and we love it. We love each other, too, and baseball reminds us of that.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The actual psychology of pitching

It had to start with Roger Angell.

As 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend moves to the sports category, I feel that the longtime New Yorker writer deserves the accolades he receives. I was a sports writer at Newsday and the Long Beach Press-Telegram from 1996 to 2008, and I typically found sportswriting completely not literary, often cliche and to be gobbled or discarded.

The adage that "journalism is unreadable and literature is not read" comes to mind. As an idealistic sportswriter, I did my best to bridge that gap, and perhaps no one does this better than Angell.

It was not a huge book, but I am recommending A Pitcher's Story: Innings with David Cone (2002). Baseball is such an utterly psychological game that Angell's discussions with Cone delved into that better than any other book I know. Angell typically wrote essays, and the full-length book with Cone delivers.

I've been out of New York for two decades, but I was not surprised when I learned that Cone has been a color commentator in New York since he retired in 2001. He even came out with another book this year with Jack Curry. In a few games I covered at Yankee Stadium, Cone held court and was a journalist's dream when he was there 1995 to 2000. I remember him breaking down games in an intelligent, witty manner on days he didn't even pitch.

Angell followed Cone for the 2000 season, when Cone was 37. It probably was Cone's worst season, and he was in the twilight of his career. He had overcome an aneurysm and was back on the mound. All of this added up to insights, perspective and the wisdom from an accomplished pitcher.
My lord, so much has been written on baseball, and so many movies are out there. Bull Durham, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Major League — OK, look, I can go on forever, and I find baseball to be the most American of pastimes. It might be even more American than online shopping!

Sports can be crazily extreme. We can go from the worst possible loss to the best win and back to the worst loss in a matter of moments. A Pitcher's Story starts with Cone's perfect game in June 1999, only to follow him struggling ridiculously the next season. That was only the 16th perfect game in major-league history.

The book explores Cone's upbringing in Kansas City, where his dad was a night-shift mechanic. The parents scraped together enough money to send Cone to a Jesuit high school, and I can relate to that because I, too, attended a Jesuit high school — St. Ignatius in Cleveland.

But the thing that is so superb about A Pitcher's Story is that neither Angell, nor Cone, fall into baseball cliches. They tell the gospel truth of how it actually is to go through glory and defeat and aging in the sport, and life.

Of course, baseball can be life. It can be painful, unfair, quirky, change by chance. It can be jubilant, gut-wrenching, gleeful. It is quite rare, practically impossible, for it ever to be perfect.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Creativity is a skill to be cultivated

I need a break!

So 70 books into the project 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I need a breather to recoup. But never fear, I am only taking a small break and shall return in exactly one week.

I will then do our sports, leadership and reader's recommendation categories and conclude the project on Thanksgiving. Yes, I'm thankful for my family, life, books and more!

So far, we have done the following seven categories:

Big time/deserving, parenting, personal growth, comedy, education, social conscience and grab bag.

In lieu of another category, I am posting my TEDx talk on creativity. Let's be clear here. This was a local Tedx talk at Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif. This wasn't one of those talks where you pay $5,000 to attend.

Can you put a price on ideas, innovation and creativity? If so, maybe five grand is low. But I say that we live in such a money-driven, 21st-century capitalistic world that a lot kids, and adults, have to fight to find time for creativity. This is madness. We need to foster it.

Like practically anything else, creativity is a skill that we can develop. But for whatever reason, creativity often is treated like some sort of inspiration bestowed on the individual from the heavens. It doesn't work that way. We all have the capacity to be creativity, and our lives improve when we apply creativity to the lives we're actually living.

So many people fill their time with scrolling on their phone and looking at anything that comes their way that I fear actual time for creativity — something out of nothing — is being lost. Apple, Google, Amazon and all Big Tech, yeah, I think you're the new cigarette companies.

But here's the thing. The new cigarette companies are something that we all must breath. We can't survive without a little bit of Big Tech. Wow. That's power.

Personally, I'm balancing out. I'm still sticking with reading, writing, understanding facts and arguments. Being an actual teacher matters now more than ever. It turns out that kids, and adults, need more direction than ever to understand that, uh, nobody really cares about their iCloud.

Eh, this post begins a one-week break from 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. And here was my TEDx talk: