The Achievement Habit (We Read So You Don’t Have To)

Self-help books and business books have a lot in common. In particular, all but the best of them seem more interested in proving why the author’s theory of life or work is right in a wide variety of circumstances than helping people or organizations solve problems.

That’s why The Achievement Habit is such a welcome surprise. Written by Bernard Roth, a founder of the Stanford d.School, the book is focused on a simple but profound question: How can we do more and still feel in control? It offers some big ideas but it’s grounded in the practical: getting things done. It’s not a full-fledged theory like, say, David Allen’s GTD, but a series of approaches readers can take to change how they do what they do.

As you might expect from someone so closely associated with the d.School, Roth’s prescriptions revolve around the concept of design thinking, an approach to problem solving that really has more to do with doing than thinking. Some of Roth’s suggestions and exercises will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of design thinking: for example, he suggests we can solve problems better by thinking and acting in terms of “and” rather than “but.”

There are echoes of other management thinkers here, too. You can hear Peter Drucker in Roth’s warning to make sure you are working on a real problem. And when he writes “If your intention is to do it, don’t try,” he channels Yoda. Just as Charles Duhigg did in his recent The Power of Habit, Roth identifies changing behavior as the most powerful way to change thinking. The thinking and behavior reinforce each other and you get a virtuous circle. Roth warns against overthinking (don’t explain your behavior, just notice what you’ve done, take responsibility, and move on). If you do read The Achievement Habit, you’ll come away with fresh tools for long-standing problems and be able to imagine how easy it might be, to quote another management aphorism of our time, to just do it.

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