Monday 25 July 2011

Why I'm a fan of 'The Seven Habits'

A few weeks ago I had dinner with an old friend. Having noticed my reviews of several business books, he asked me to recommend my favourite ever book on ‘personal effectiveness.’ I didn’t have to think for long before responding: the book I have found most compelling has been ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey.

I’m not an expert on the ‘success’ and ‘self-improvement’ literature, but I’m not a cynic either. Several of my friends would never pick up a book of this genre, believing that they’re aimed at people who have low self-esteem, who lack confidence or who otherwise feel that they are in some way flawed. While some proportion of self-improvement books is aimed at this kind of audience, I have found many titles with a lot to offer readers who are already confident and well-adjusted individuals.

‘The Seven Habits’ is one of these. It has several great things going for it:

  • Stephen Covey is an expert in what he is writing about. He has a thorough knowledge of the existing success literature which he has studied at length. His depth of knowledge shows through in what he writes.
  • Covey acknowledges up front the low quality of much of the self-improvement literature. He has a clear disdain for books that promise a ‘quick fix.’ This honest approach make much of what he recommends that bit more compelling.
  • His writing style is very accessible; he illustrates all his points with anecdotes either from his own experiences of those related to him by others. This puts all of his ‘Seven Habits’ into context and prevents the book becoming dry and overly theoretical. He includes some ‘thought exercises’ which engage the reader, but not to the point it reads like an instruction manual.
  • The content itself makes a lot of sense, but without coming across as something obvious. Each of the ‘Habits’ stands up by itself as useful advice. Added together, they mesh into a sensible structure giving an overall picture which is more than the sum of its parts.

The one thing I can see putting off some readers (particularly English ones) is Covey’s earnest tone. To quote Kate Fox’s classic, ‘Watching the English:
“At the most basic level, an underlying rule in all English conversation is the proscription of ‘earnestness ’… seriousness is allowed, earnestness is prohibited. …To take a deliberately extreme example, the kind of hand-on-heart, gushing earnestness and pompous, Bible-thumping solemnity favoured by almost all American politicians would never win a single vote in this country.”
With this health-warning aside*, I would highly recommend ‘The Seven Habits.’ Even if you have never thought of reading a ‘self-improvement’ book in your life, I think you would find it accessible, practical, stimulating and altogether a worthwhile read.

Notes: *In writing this I realise that this blog is sometimes guilty of excessive 'earnestness' (!)

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