Book Review - Triggers
The value of making a change
Marshall Goldsmith is an executive and leadership coach who obtained his first degree in mathematical economics before moving to the more seemingly forgiving sphere of behavioural change. He was one of the pioneers in the use of 360-degree feedback and has mentored executives around the world. In Triggers he addresses the question that each of us at a conscious or sub-conscious level grapples with: Why don’t we become the person we want to be? The book provides a well-balanced view of how this question applies in the corporate work arena, but also how it can be used in one’s personal life.
Triggers refers to the many stimuli we face each and every day that impact on our thoughts and actions. While meaningful behavioural change is hard to do, the author provides easy-to-read and practical steps in tackling this age-old dilemma. His frequent references to his own life and behavioural challenges makes his approach feel less prescriptive and more realistic.
The author highlights the rationalisations (also known as excuses) which we harbour when we disappoint ourselves. The power that inertia has over each of us leads to his question of “How long has this been going on?” most often being answered in years or decades rather than any shorter period. Anyone having tried to follow a diet knows that the human race is made of superior planners but inferior doers. Similar to what Warren Buffett says about investments, simple is far from easy.
Goldsmith introduces the concept of active questions to provide everyday practical steps to monitor behaviour. Questions such as “Did I try my best today to…” followed by your own choice of “have a healthy diet / be a kind colleague / etc” provide us with the opportunity to set the bar much higher for ourselves.
The author relays the powerful parable of the empty boat - the story of a farmer rowing upstream, furiously waving at a boat coming swiftly downstream at speed, angry at the person in the other boat that is sure to collide with him. The boat turns out to be empty, merely floating downstream with the current, and the farmer immediately calms down. This highlights how we behave one way when we think someone is at the helm of the other boat, but very differently when we realise it’s empty. How does this relate to daily life? “That colleague who makes you angry by always interrupting you in meetings – actually he thinks he’s smarter than everyone, not just you. Empty boat.” Many of us can relate to this concept that, when applied to daily life, could relieve some of the anger we observe in modern society.
The final chapter, “The hazard of living a changeless life”, urges us to make one change that will be good not just for ourselves but also for others. Phoning a long-lost friend, or a sister that you haven’t spoken to in years, or simply thanking a customer, would not just be good for your family or company, but so much better for yourself. Behavioural change that leads to meeting your opponent/colleague/spouse more than halfway is perhaps the biggest take-away from this book - the kindness and care that today’s world needs most.