The Future Can Be Better, And You Have Great Control Over Your Future – 9 Lessons from David Brooks

David Brooks

I caught the Fareed Zakaria interview with David Books this past Sunday.  Zakaria is a terrific writer, and an equally effective interviewer.  David Books is…  well, he’s David Brooks.  The “conservative/right of center” columnist for the New York Times, author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (which I presented way back at the July, 2000 First Friday Book Synopsis), his new book is The Social Animal:  The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.  It is in my “to read” list, and I have read through the free sample portion from iBooks on my iPad.  There were some real gems in the interview.  (You can read the transcript here).  Here are some excerpts:

• On creativity and innovation – Brooks:

…that’s actually what creativity and innovation is, merging two things to create a third thing.

• On traits of the most financially successful people – Brooks:

The average self — the self-made millionaire in this country had an average collegiate GPA of 2.7, a C plus. The A students can get into law school or something and they have secure roots to decent affluence, but the ones who really take risks are the ones who are sort of down below and they’re more risk takers and they don’t fit into the cookie cutter model of education. But they have commonly several traits. 

And there’s no one formula for success. But they tend not to be too charismatic often, but they tend to be — and they have done studies on this. The charismatic types, you get occasion, Jack Welch, somebody like that. But — but most tend to be ordered, disciplined execution. They tend to do the same thing over and over again in a very reliable, predictable way. And so they’re really into detail, execution and order.

Those are the sorts of personality that more often than not lead to business success. Not flashiness, but just doing the thing and having a compulsive need to get it right. And then an awareness of how to work in groups, groups are smarter than individuals. Groups that meet face to face are a lot smarter than groups that communicate electronically. And so some people have a compulsive need to soak up information from people around them.

• On individualism and optimism – Brooks:

But I would say it’s first individualism does encourage the sense I can rise ferocious — a sense — if you tell people these two things, the future can be better than the present and I have control over my future, those are two powerful ideas that not all cultures are born with and those are powerful ideas that motivate people to change.

• On President Obama:

ZAKARIA: — politically. Is he (President Obama) a social animal? 

BROOKS: Yes. He’s multiple animals. You know, I would say we’re all — we all have multiple personalities. My psychobabble description of him is he’s a very complicated person who has many different selves, all of them authentic, but they come out in different contexts. And he is — has always has the ability to look at other parts of himself from a distance, and so it means he has great power to self correct and I think it gives him power to see himself. It means that he rarely is all in. 

You know, President Bush didn’t have as much — many multiple selves, so when he made a decision he was all in, he was just going to be there. But as I think President Obama is much more cautious, because he’s a man of many pieces and many parts and not all of which I understand or I think anybody understands. But it may — it leads to that caution that we see time and time again and almost a self distancing I see. 

• on the “soft” (think “soft skills”) – Brooks:

My argument is the soft leads to the hard. So if you want to really do well in business, say, make a lot of money, you really have to understand people and it’s through the emotions you do that.

• On morality and fairness – Brooks:

…we have a folk wisdom that we think through principles and come up with right or wrong, but that’s not actually how morality works. Morality is more like taste. You instantaneously know whether something is fair. Nobody needs to tell a 2-year-old what’s fair or not.

• On honest self-evaluation – Brooks:

So 96 percent of college professors think they’re above average teachers. And 94 percent of college students think they have above average leadership skills. We tend to overvalue ourselves, so — and this is particularly a male trait. Men drown at twice the rate of women because men think they can swim across that lake and women know they can’t. And so — but building boot straps for yourself to prevent yourself from acting on that overconfidence is tremendously important.

The lessons (my list — from the interview):

• To be creative and innovative, we have to learn to merge two things to make a third thing.

• Groups that meet face to face are the most effective.

• Disciplined execution is all about doing the same thing over and over again in a reliable, predictable way. People who are good at this are “really into detail, execution, order.”

• Morality is about simple fairness – and you know if you are being fair, or not.  (at least, you certainly should know!)

• The soft (think soft skills) matters greatly!

• Be authentic – and master the discipline of self-correction.

• Cultivate individualism – and, be genuinely optimistic (The future can be better!), while taking control of your own future.

• But, be honest and realistic in your self-evaluation.

• And, keep learning!  (“soak up information” from those around you).

There’s a lot more in Brooks’ best-selling book, but this interview offered much!

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