Books that changed my life 4: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The latest in this series of posts is on a book outside marketing, and in the area of personal change: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Its written by a bloke called Dr Stephen Covey, who comes across a bit like an evangelical preacher…you have to get past the American-style "ra, ra, ra! Be the best you can be!" type stuff…but the core ideas are powerful.

I went on the training course based on the book years ago back in my P&G days. They stopped running the course as too many people were resigning! I’ll talk about a couple of simple concepts that have really stuck with me.

[Warning: this is a little bit touchy-feely and not to do with branding per se… so, feel free to skip it!]

1. Circle of influence, circle of concern
This is perhaps the single most powerful management idea I’ve ever come across. It applies at work, and in your life at large. And like all great ideas, its really simple.

Draw a circle where you put all the things you are concerned and worried about. Now, inside this one, draw another smaller, concentric circle in which you put the stuff you can influence. See below for an example I have done for myself.

Now, there are two ways you can go from here…what often happens is that people focus on the circle of concern. They worry about all the crap over which they have no power. As a result, the circle of concern grows and the circle of influence shrinks. And the gap between the two widens. This is not a nice place to be, and leads to stress, anger and a whole load of other toxic emotions.

Or, you can focus on your sphere of influence. The more you do this, the more it grows, and that nasty gap between what you control and what you worry about shrinks. This is a much nicer place to be.


A real-life example of this came up the other week when I was doing a workshop for one of my global clients in Budapest. A local brand manager was complaining about how their hands, arms and legs were tied behind their back by the guidelines imposed by the global brand police. Anyone working in the hell of a global/regional/local matrix will relate to this. But I illustrated the circle of influence idea using the Dove Revolution You Tube film as an example. Was this a global idea created by the global brand team? No, it was done by the Canadian team. Did they worry about what the global brand team would say, and spend hours/days/weeks in meetings debating the idea? No, they just did it. The media was free, and it generated more hits to the website than the Superbowl ad that cost $2.5 million to place! And its now held up as one of the best examples of Dove marketing.

2. Sharpen the saw
A little story to illustrate this one.

A woman is walking through a forest, and come across a lumberjack who is vigorously trying to cut a log. The man is red-faced and sweating profusely, yet he is not making much progress. The lady moves closer and can see that the saw is blunt.

"Excuse me," asks the lady "Why don’t you take a break to sharpen your saw?"

Without stopping for a second, or even looking up, the lumberjack replies breathlessly: "I can’t stop! I’m too busy sawing!"

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been there before. Maybe today. You’re so busy working, you have no time for a break. Yet its that little break to refresh yourself that makes you so much more effective. And the saw metaphor really helped make this stick in my mind.

For me a key way to sharpen the saw is to go running along the River Thames near my house. It really clears my head, and gives me a sense of having done something good. But look at yesterday’s update from my Nike+ website. By linking a little sensor in my Nike shoes to my iPod nano it tracks my runs (time, speed, calories). There is no hiding place (unless you decide not to upload the data!). You can clearly see the lack of saw-sharpening this year, especially in April/May when I didn’t do a single run. Yesterday I did go for a run, and boy I feel better.