Title: The Magic of Thinking Big
Author: David J. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Over the years, I’ve taken a handful of permanent jobs and a slew of consulting jobs in every industry imaginable that have exposed me to a plethora of different personalities. The industries have varied greatly but somehow, I seem to run into the same corporate personality types time and again. Even though I don’t stay long in the consulting jobs, due to the nature of the work, I manage to forge notable working relationships for future business; some even become great friends. A few weeks ago I ran into one such friend at a small bookstore in Miami. He was examining The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D. He said he had read it before and was considering reading it again. He assured me that he had gleaned quite a bit of good advice from it even in spite of its masculist tone. From the sound of his entire review of the book, it really did sound like he had honestly benefited from reading it. So, I snatched up my own copy.
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, Ph.D. is just one of five billion “self-help through positive-thinking” books out on the market since the trend skyrocketed in the 50s. The only difference with this book is that it was originally published in 1959 and its staunch male-chauvinistic tone hasn’t been updated since it was originally penned. Bluntly put, a gender latitudinarian edition is not readily available; at least, not to my knowledge. Endless misogynistic references aside, the book does offer a bit of good advice and various valuable points.
Points and advice I agreed with:
- “Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present.”
- “Remember that the ability to think is of much greater value than the ability to memorize facts.”
Some successful people sound like they know what they’re talking about simply because they have great memories. They’ll remember last year’s numbers. They’ll memorize the company’s motto and values. They’re even great at remembering names. A powerful memory is an admirable quality. However, a great memory does not equate to great intelligence. I once worked for a CEO whose memory was matchless. This person could remember practically everything. It baffled me when this person was able to recall historical company information at the drop of a hat. But this was just one of this CEO’s great qualities. This person was also absolutely brilliant and was always thinking, strategizing, creating, implementing and envisioning the company’s next steps. This CEO hired innovative, creative and audacious managers to join her/his team. This CEO understood that a great memory would only take the company so far by remembering and valuing the challenges from the past while looking for pioneering and improved processes to move the company into a better direction in the future. It takes a truly great and bright leader to be able to master both qualities.
- “Action cures fear.”
- “Practice speaking up.”
- “Don’t fall into the triviality trap.”
This is something I see often in executives that are in over their heads and aren’t sure how to handle high-level tasks. They fail to meet deadlines and goals. They get bogged down in minutia. “I want a special color for the convention t-shirts.” “I wasn’t happy with the lighting in the meeting room.” “Give me more font options for the whitepaper.” “Why are we ordering so few canapés?” Whenever you hear a C-Suite executive forcefully involving her/himself in such trivial matters, run! That’s a clear indicator that s/he needs the instant gratification of managing the smallest of tasks to offset the disappointment of her/his inadequacies where it really matters which is in accomplishing her/his high-level responsibilities.
- “Traditional thinking is personal enemy number one for the person who is interested in a creative personal success program. Traditional thinking freezes your mind, blocks your progress, and prevents you from developing creative power.”
- “Concentrate on what the other person says. Evaluate it. That’s how you collect mind food.”
- “Remember, your appearance talks. Your appearance talks to you; but it also talks to others.”
- “The bigger the person, the more apt he is to encourage you to talk; the smaller the person, the more apt he is to preach to you.”
A CFO/HR manager told me once that s/he was a great listener. I was taken aback at the sound of those words; partly, because this person was wearing black sweatpants, a hooded cotton jacket with large ostentatious neon letters sprawled on the back and a shocking lack of personal hygiene. Needless to say, I was having difficulty taking her/him seriously. But mostly because the day before this person aggregated this quality to her/himself, s/he had gotten both my last name and title wrong; not once but twice even after I had repeated them several times while s/he was completing forms with my personal information.
Out of all of the executives I’ve ever met, and they have been numerous, very few (and I mean, maybe a handful at best) were truly good listeners. They usually ambush and take over meetings they were never meant to attend. They usually prepare their next statement while the other person is still talking. They perfunctorily nod so as to let the speaker believe they’re listening even though they’ve retained nothing. So yes, I agree with the statement above; however, this too should be scrutinized. It all depends on your perception of what a “bigger person” and “smaller person” means to you. To me, it has nothing to do with salaries or titles and everything to do with integrity and accountability.
- “The body is what the body is fed. By the same token, the mind is what the mind if fed.”
- “Refuse to talk about your health. Success-minded people defeat the natural tendency to talk about their ‘bad’ health.”
This one is a major no-no. I once worked with an executive that was practically falling apart and coming unhinged at the seams. This executive claimed to have back issues, bronchial issues, excessive fatigue, stomach issues, halitosis, liver issues, weak nerves and the list goes on and on. And boy oh boy, one would be in for a bitter treat when s/he came in to work in the morning (later than everyone else, of course) and one asked how s/he was feeling. This executive looked and sounded like one of those medicine commercials that had a 120 second long side-effects disclaimer at the end. This person thrived on explaining how bad s/he felt all the time. It was so depressing and incredibly discouraging for the rest of the team. Everyone around this person started getting sick as well from how much they had been bombarded by her/his malingering (I’m absolutely certain most of it was hogwash because I never got sick).
On the other hand, I also once worked for someone at another company that one day showed up at work with a brand new shiny bald head. This person was strutting around the office bragging about the new look. We were ecstatic for this person since s/he claimed it was a conscious decision to simply “live it up a little!”. One day the hair grew back. Then about a year later, we were invited to happy hour to celebrate an anniversary of remission. Up until that celebration, we had no idea that person had even been sick! S/he never bemoaned a minute of her/his existence. The team never suspected a thing! We were astounded. S/he gained everyone’s respect and admiration. S/he reminded me of my paternal grandmother. For years, no one ever knew she was sick. She sure never showed it. She passed quietly. What remained was nothing but wonderful memories of her at her best.
- “Ignore such negative thinkers in your midst. For often the remarks made in your direction aren’t so personal as you might at first think. They are merely a projection of the speaker’s own feeling of failure and discouragement.”
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this quite a bit as well. Most executives treat their subordinates as being intellectually inferior to or beneath them simply because they’re not managers or aspiring to become managers; not realizing that many incredibly smart subject matter experts have no desire to manage anyone other than themselves. Some people are perfectly content with performing their duties and calling it quits at 5:00pm on the dot. For many people, working to live is far more important than living to work. They simply have no desire to “rule the world”. For most executives, this mindset is simply unfathomable. They automatically assume that it’s due to lack of intelligence or ambition, not due to disinterest. Like memory, ambition does not equate to intelligence. I have met many, many ambitious cretins in my day. Whenever I watch and listen to an executive give disparaging criticism or less than encouraging feedback under the guise of “constructive criticism”, I listen very carefully for the underlying insecurity coming to light at that moment from the person providing it. I do the same in my personal life especially when I haven’t solicited any feedback or commentary from that individual. Try it the next time someone criticizes you for something or inexplicably competes with you over something that doesn’t warrant competition. You’ll undoubtedly understand that that person’s comment has little to nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
- “Contrary to lots of opinion, women have no exclusive franchise on gossip.”
I LOVE that the author included this one imperative statement in this book! Not only did it serve to thwart off the perception that he was a hopeless bigot, it also served to vindicate women all around the world from being perceived as having a monopoly on gossip! Women are gossipy. That is true. But SO ARE MEN! I once worked in a predominantly male business where every single day some dramatic scene unfolded due to some rumor that one of them had started which then escalated to apocalyptic magnitudes. I usually came home from work with massive headaches even though I wasn’t a part of the mess but had to mitigate and defuse the situation as part of HR. The CEO was usually the perpetrator. He thrived on wreaking havoc so that he could eventually swoop in and “save the day”. It was emotionally draining. But that’s just one example. I’ve seen gossipy men completely destroy a person’s credibility, even when the gossip wasn’t true. (So often it isn’t true or at least, not entirely.) Even once the person has proven the fallacy for what it is, it’s simply too late. The damage has already been done.
I’ve been told (too many times to count) “don’t share that with the CEO or any of the executives. The whole business will end up finding out.” The higher-ups are usually the most gossipy since they’re the ones with access to the highest-level information in the company. And when the proverbial poop hits the fan, they go around the office trying to find out who started the rumor. It’s uncanny. This ironic endeavor never fails to astound me. Watch out if you are smart enough to write down all the times that executives shared the information in “confidence” with someone they weren’t supposed to share it. You’ll be reprimanded. Then the mission will no longer be about finding the blabbermouth but about finding a way to make truth-speakers pay.
There is a subcategory that’s worth mentioning here. Many “successful” people express their displeasure by openly mocking employees via exchanged looks of disproval, underhanded remarks, foot taps under the conference table and other ridiculous displays of unrefined buffoonery that they think is going unnoticed in front of their colleagues and subordinates. Executives think they’re being witty and that their subversive actions are undetected by their “intellectually inferior” employees, not realizing that they’re only embarrassing themselves in the process. This kind of behavior is beneath most adults but especially disconcerting and unbecoming of a leader. It’s also symptomatic of an disadvantaged upbringing, a lack of education, self-confidence, and self-respect.
The most venerable executive I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing was one I had met with one day to discuss an upcoming conference. He had his COO with him at the table. The COO, while feigning politeness towards an employee who had forgotten one of the handouts for his budget presentation, proceeded to give the CEO a look of disapproval and impatience. The CEO, I thought, hadn’t noticed since he was looking down at the presentation packet. The employee, however, did notice the face the COO had made. When the employee was done presenting what he had remembered to bring with him, the CEO thanked him and let him know he was allowed to go back to work rather than wait for the meeting to end. As the employee walked away, I excused myself from the table for a minute to take a call on my personal cell phone not realizing I had left my business cell phone on the conference table still recording the meeting. Later that evening, when I listened to the recording to take down some notes, I heard the CEO very calmly tell the COO, “Please refrain from glancing at me with disproval the next time you’re dissatisfied with someone’s performance. I would have preferred you had spoken to him directly and honestly after the meeting and in private rather than involving me or anyone else. Be a person of integrity.” How dignified! What grace! That is how a true executive carries her/himself.
- “How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”
- “Don’t blame others when you receive a setback.”
Ah, this is the biggest infraction of them all. I have heard aaaaaaall of the excuses in the world. I love that the author refers to this as “excusitis.” “We don’t have a ‘revolving door’ because of anything that we’ve done wrong. It’s because we keep hiring the wrong people. Besides, last year we only had 28 people (in a 30 people business) come and go.” “We had a rough year because we hired the wrong person to get the job done.” Even though it takes an entire business to get the job done. “We couldn’t hit our numbers because so and so was a spendthrift.” “We couldn’t get that business because so and so had it out for us.” “We’ll do better next year with a completely brand new team (again).” “No, our employee wasn’t breaching confidentiality on purpose. His wife was pressuring him to do it.” “No, our numbers are not down because our executives work half the time that our employees work or because they make 25 times what our average employee makes. It’s because we need new energy saving light bulbs!” That’s all I have to say about this point, otherwise, this review would be interminable.
- “Excellent ideas are not good enough. An only fair idea acted upon, and developed, is 100 percent better than a terrific idea that dies because it isn’t followed up.”
The successful leaders are doers. Be wary of thinking someone is very accomplished or capable because they talk a great game. Look at their productivity. Look at their time management skills. Do they waste a lot of time on inconsequential matters? Do they struggle to put their ideas into fruition? Are they time-drainers? Are their closest allies time-wasters? Doers talk little and accomplish much. Look for that.
Points and advice I disagree with:
- “More important, the size of your thinking, your goals, your attitudes, your very personality is formed by your environment.”
I’ve got to disagree with this one. Lots of successful people grew up in less than ideal environments or being told daily that they were worthless. Just like lots of not so successful people whom when children, were always told they were capable of doing anything at all ultimately grew up to accomplish nothing of real value in life because of their sense of entitlement. I do however agree that the size of one’s thinking determines one’s goals, attitudes, and very personality in spite of one’s environment.
- “Average people have always resented progress. People who tell you it cannot be done almost always are unsuccessful people, are strictly average or mediocre at best in terms of accomplishment.”
Mediocrity has nothing to do with success. I know average people in all income brackets and levels of success. Also, success (accomplishment) is subjective. What one person considers a success may be the antithesis of what another person considers a success. I’m not so sure I agree with the statement “average people” as much as I agree with “average mindsets.” Some successful people are the first to encourage greatness in others; some are the first to discourage greatness in others because they firmly believe no one can achieve what they have. Some less successful people are the first to encourage others to strive for more and others don’t. But to categorize them as “average people” is negligent. I will say though, that I believe that people with average mindsets have always resented progress or at least, other people’s progress.
- “As a rule, it’s the more successful people who are most humble and ready to help.”
This is a hard “no” for me. Most successful people, especially the nouveau riche, are the first to unabashedly advertise their “genius” and success. Their idea of offering help is by either throwing money at a problem or pretending like it’s not happening. They are the most avid of self-promoters. They are the first to highlight their accomplishments. They are the first to demand recognition for those accomplishments and more importantly, for the help they’ve provided. No one publicizes their own successes and goodwill more than successful people.
- “Go first class in everything you do. You can’t afford to go any other way.”
C’mon! You know we have all witnessed this at some point; especially, in privately owned businesses since they’re more able to get away with it. Every month the same meetings are held; cash flow shortage discussions, payroll cut discussions, employee rotation discussions, layoffs and reassignments for the remaining employees which usually result in giving one employee four different roles for the salary of one and then wondering why they’re unable to meet the business’ demands. All while the owner is typically driving around in a leased $100,000 sports car, living in a rented dilapidated miniature version of the White House and living well beyond her/his means. However, the owner usually justifies her/his lifestyle as being necessary to reel in more business or because an impending commission is just around the corner or because talks with an investor “could” eventually turn into something. So…in short…while the investors haven’t really wired the money yet and the commission check has just supposedly been placed in the mail, and the company can’t really meet payroll, the owner still needs those things…because… s/he still needs those things? Right. Or better yet…the most used rebuttal “because after so many years of working so hard, I freakin deserve it!” And then eventually, the business tanks and they’re confounded; can’t understand how it could have happened. It happens daily.
- “People go along with the fellow who believes what he says. Say it with life. Put vitality into your speaking.”
Here is another point I strongly disagree with. This is awful advice because a lot of people will misinterpret what’s being said. Believe in what you know with absolute certainty! That should be the real message. However, most successful people take on an attitude of suddenly “knowing” everything simply because they knew how to do one thing well that worked for them. But I fail to see how this translates into knowing everything. It’s difficult to have a conversation with someone successful about subjects with which they’re not familiar. They become defensive when they realize they’re not as informed as they assumed so they begin to spew flawed information and downright nonsense with conviction in an effort to sound competent and informed. The worst part is that they actually start to believe it after a while simply because they’re saying it with unwavering confidence. This is bunkum. Under different circumstances, most people would question the veracity of the information but most successful people will usually only engage in these debates with employees or family members, who depend on them financially, or with people they’ve invited to their homes who wouldn’t dare argue with them in their own homes. So in the end, regardless of whether the successful person is right or wrong, they’ll still walk away thinking they were right because no one disputed what they claimed to know. But don’t misunderstand the exchange. No one is going along with it. They’re simply not disputing it for the sake of keeping the peace.
The smartest person I’ve ever met also happens to be the most tactful person I’ve ever met. From the moment I first conversed with him, I realized he knew far more than he lead on. I loved talking with him for hours. He always asked me to explain things to him. Now I know that he did it so as to get me to learn more about the subject; not because he didn’t already know about it. He was intellectually curious and spurred me on to be intellectually curious as well. He encouraged me to always ask questions and to never settle. Every night I’d help him make dinner for the family. That’s when we’d talk. Sometimes our conversations went on for so long, we’d pick up where we left off the following night when he got home from work. One night he even brought an atlas to the table and he taught me about the Ottoman empire. I was fifteen at the time and incredibly difficult to impress. But whenever he walked into the room, I noticed myself suddenly becoming interested in joining the conversation. We only spent a couple of months in his home but they were the most interesting couple of months of my young life. He is so bright but the most endearing quality about his brilliance is his ability to make others feel incredibly smart instead. “A man big enough to be humble appears more confident than the insecure man who feels compelled to call attention to his accomplishments. A little modesty goes a long way.” (Best sentence in this entire book.)
- “Whenever you leave a person, ask yourself, ‘Does that person honestly feel better because he has talked with me?’ This self-training device works.”
No, this is absurd. It’s not your responsibility to ensure everyone walks around feeling better about themselves after having talked with you. That means you’d always have to pussyfoot around the important stuff. How would you be able to get anything done?
- “Successful people follow a plan for liking people. But don’t try to buy friendship; it’s not for sale.”
You either like people or you don’t. If you have to follow a plan for liking them, then people will sense your contrived efforts which is far worse than simply being honestly disinterested. Truly financially successful people are known for their cunning business practices. That’s what makes them successful. Do you really think that behavior fosters likeability? And yes, most of them can indeed buy their “friendships” and they do. Just ask some of the successful people from the 2008 financial crisis how many of their “friends” stuck around once the money was gone.
- “Thoughts breed like thoughts. There is real danger that if you listen to negative comments about another person, you too will go negative toward that person.”
Only if you’re feebleminded and completely incapable of independent thought. I think this only applies to some children. If as an adult you’re that easily influenced then you have no business being in a leadership role.
The book was just okay for me even though, as you can see from the length of my review, this subject is one that I’m passionate about. I absolutely believe in the power of positive thinking. I have attained much because of it. However, I think some people excuse their indifference and dismissiveness as a means to “remain positive”. Using “hyper-positivity” to openly discredit a coworker’s or subordinate’s opinion or sentiments is completely counterintuitive to the purpose of positive thinking. I had so much more that I wanted to share but the review was getting to be ridiculously long. Maybe I’ll write a second part. Anyway… I only gave it three (3) stars on Goodreads. It’s not something I’m likely to read again. I would love to hear your thoughts!