Champion snowboarder Shaun White reveals that he always approaches major competitions with both serious goals (win the Vancouver Olympics) and silly goals (wear stars-and-stripes pants on the cover of Rolling Stone). “It takes a lot of pressure off,” he tells podcaster and author Tim Ferriss. “Winning the Olympics is a very big goal, it’s a very stressful goal to have. So it’s nice to have something else to offset it. Everything was so serious at the time, and that was just my way of dealing with it.”
Conversations and Facts
White’s unexpected but effective method for dealing with intense pressure is one example of the many gems found in Ferriss’ latest book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. This 670-page collection of notes offers lessons, snippets of conversations and surprising facts from more than 100 of his podcast guests. There is, for example, this quote from Peter Diamandis, the engineer and entrepreneur who founded the $10 million XPRIZE for private space travel. “I talk to CEOs all the time, and I say, ‘Listen, the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea. If it wasn’t a crazy idea, it’s not a breakthrough; it’s an incremental improvement. ’”
White and Diamandis exemplify the astounding diversity of the highly successful people in the book, ranging from famous CEOs and company founders to athletes and coaches to business writers, cartoonists, generals, professors and actors. Tools of Titans is divided into three parts that reflect Benjamin Franklin’s three measures of success: Healthy, Wealthy and Wise. Ferriss notes in his introduction that “Wealthy” includes not only money but also an “abundance in time, relationships and more.”
There’s no doubt that finding the right category for many of his guests would be a challenge. Where does one put photographer Chase Jarvis or actor Kevin Costner, for example? (They finished in Wealthy and Wise, respectively.) Ferriss puts Dilbert creator Scott Adams in the Wealthy category, a decision to which this reviewer takes exception: Is there anyone wiser than Dilbert?
At any rate, the entry for Adams offers a glimpse of the combination of insights, facts and factoids offered in each profile. Ferriss explains how Adams believes in “flooding” your mind every morning with new input, and that you are more likely to be successful if you become very good at two or more things rather than trying to be the best at one thing. He also describes the six elements of humor according to Adams: naughty, clever, cute, bizarre, mean and recognizable. Successful humor combines at least two of these elements.
Adams’ concept of “Systems” and “Goals” is also interesting. For Adams, a goal is something you want to achieve. A system is some learning you acquire for the sake of learning and development. For instance, Adams did not have any kind of a goal in mind when he started blogging. Instead, blogging was a “system”: a skill or relationship developed without being driven by specific goals. Adams just believed that blogging would help him practice his writing. Eventually, his blog would lead to articles in the Wall Street Journal and even a book project, but these were not the intent.
Exploring the Forest
There is much here that is superfluous. Seth Godin is one of the most insightful and creative thinkers in business, so why take up room with details of his breakfast? Likewise, Adams’ profile includes the random fact that his mother gave birth to his sister under hypnosis.
In addition, outside of the three general book sections, there is no attempt to group the profiles into more specific topics or areas. The profiles are simply labeled by the person’s name, even though most names will not be familiar to readers. In sum, Ferriss has created a messy forest of a book— there are plenty of wondrous things in it, but you can only discover them by plunging into its pages with no map or paths to guide you. Thankfully, it is a journey well worth the time.
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