Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2007-03-24/04-21)

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
"What are you doing?" you ask.
"Can't you see?" comes the impatient reply. "I'm sawing down this tree."
"You look exhausted!" you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?"
"Over five hours," he returns, "and I'm beat! This is hard work."
"Well, why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?" you inquire. "I'm sure it would go a lot faster."
"I don't have time to sharpen the saw," the man says emphatically. "I'm too busy sawing!"

--Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Last year a friend sent me an email message with this request: "I'm looking for advice on how to become a better contractor/consultant/professional. Any books you would recommend?" Early this year I told him in reply that if he read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I would re-read it and discuss it with him. As I've made reference in this blog to maturing beyond dependence, putting "first things first", and "sharpening the saw" both mentally and physically; it is appropriate to review this book and present its habits.

Book Review

A list of the seven habits is easy to find, so this review focuses on the underlying principles. (Indeed, being principle-centered rather than tribe- or work-centered is the most significant contrast I see between the writings of Covey and Immelman.) Consequently I have selected a half-dozen of the principles I have found corroborated in other reading and have attempted to practice in my pursuit of a balanced, effective life.
The Map is Not the Territory
The book 7 Habits begins with a discussion of paradigms or patterns of thought. Covey writes that paradigm "was originally a scientific term"; this is probably a reference to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Revolutionary changes occur in thought when paradigms shift.

A consequence of this concept is that when one's observations of the territory (reality) differ from the map one holds (one's patterns of thought), one has the opportunity to update the map. This is my pursuit of truth; I want to frequently update my mental maps to better anticipate consequences.
Mature from Dependence to Independence to Interdependence
The seven habits progress from dependence to independence to interdependence. Emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual dependence is a sign of immaturity in the respective area. However, independence is not complete maturity. Maturity is ultimately in relation to others, and consequently is interdependent. (I have often heard the pre/trans fallacy of conflating dependent and interdependent concepts.) In interdependent relating the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, independence precedes interdependence; dependent people are limited in their ability to constructively relate to others.
There is a Gap Between Stimulus and Response
The concepts of free will and responsibility are important to maturity. I endeavor to explain my actions based upon my values and my evaluation of the situation--not as a result of my environment. This is the meaning of "proactive."
Wisdom Anticipates Consequences
Realizing that one can choose a response to a stimulus is part of maturity; another part is realizing that one can not choose consequences. Consequences are a natural result of choices. This is the concept of cause and effect. Covey writes, "When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other," but I don't think that aphorism conveys the idea well. "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap," perhaps conveys it better. One of my personal measures of wisdom is the length of time considered when evaluating the consequences of one's actions.
Trust Requires Trustworthiness
One of the consequences to consider in choosing is trust. Jim comments that in Immelman's book trust results from an external event, a plot contrivance. Similarly contrived are trust exercises in which participants fall back into the waiting arms of other participants. These approaches assume low trust is more a result of suspicion than a result of untrustworthiness. The solution is then a technique rather than character.

In my experience, however, making and keeping promises is challenging. Breaking one's word depletes the "emotional bank account" of the relationship, in Covey's metaphor.
Good is the Enemy of Best
At work I sometimes say, "When everything is a priority, nothing is." It is better--after consulting the mental map and considering the long-term (particularly relational) consequences of one's choices--to prioritize what's important. Covey distinguishes between importance and urgency, dividing time into four quadrants depending on low or high urgency or importance. Quadrant II, important but not urgent, often has the highest-leverage activities. In Quadrant II are the "Sharpen the Saw" activities illustrated by the quote beginning this post.

The 7 Habits, particularly First Things First, then suggest scheduling one's priorities. If space is limited, put in the rocks, then the pebbles, and finally the sand; doing the reverse uses more space. Similarly, since time is limited, find a time for the "big things" and let the "small things" fill the moments between.

The Seven Habits Paradigm

How does one act on these principles? The book suggests developing the following habits:
  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand... Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw
[Added anchors for subsequent posts.]

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