Tag Archives: #businessbooksummaries

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday – Here are my Seven Lessons and Takeaways

Stillness is the Key“People don’t understand that the hardest thing is actually doing something that is close to nothing,”Performance artist Marina Abramović said about the performance, after sitting still for 79 days.

What is the point? — We are so frazzled, so overloaded with thoughts and information and content and worries and problems and dilemmas and challenges and…Stop. Listen. Look.Be still; be mindful.


I presented my synopsis of the newest Ryan Holiday book, Stillness is the Key, at the January, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  It is a very good book.  But, more importantly, it addresses a very, very big problem.  We are too divided, too distracted, too frazzled and unfocused.  We need to be still.  We need a little quietness.  We need to stop, and think…  The noise and the clutter and the bombardment of so much, of too much, is really, really hurting us in ways we do not fully grasp.

As with all the books I present, this book is filled with terrific stories.  This one includes stories of Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Ulysses Grant, Marina Abramović, Tiger Woods.  They all illustrated the value of finding ways to embrace stillness.  (And, in the Tiger Woods story, what happens when you lose it).

So, let me just say that this is a book worth putting on your reading list, and reading…slowly.

In my synopses, I always ask “Why is this book worth our time?” Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This is a book that reminds us that the work that we do is work that we, as human beings, do. Thus, we have to take care of our bodies; our souls; us…
#2 – This is a book that beckons us to slow down, and be still, in a noisy, very fast-moving world.
#3 – This is a book that challenges us to specific practices – disciplines – to cultivate stillness.

And in my synopsis handouts, I include the best of my highlighted passages.  Here are a few of those: 

• And when basically all the wisdom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.
• This is, in fact, the first obligation of a leader and a decision maker. Our job is not to “go with our gut” or fixate on the first impression we form about an issue. No, we need to be strong enough to resist thinking that is too neat, too plausible, and therefore almost always wrong. Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is? 
• The best athletes, in the biggest games, are completely there. They are within themselves, within the now.   
• Books, spend time reading books—that’s what she (Dorothy Day) meant. Books full of wisdom.
• Knowing what not to think about. 
• Socrates was intellectually humble. In fact, he spent most of his life sincerely proclaiming his lack of wisdom. …Diogenes Laërtius would write that what made Socrates so wise was that “he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance.” 
• Paul Johnson as a seventeen-year-old, decades before his own career as a writer, met Churchill on the street and shouted to him, “Sir, to what do you attribute your success in life?” Immediately, Churchill replied, “Conservation of energy. Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.” 
• When we not only automate and routinize the trivial parts of life, but also make automatic good and virtuous decisions, we free up resources to do important and meaningful exploration. 
• This book is an attempt to answer the pressing question of our time: If the quiet moments are the best moments, and if so many wise, virtuous people have sung their praises, why are they so rare?
• …The premise of this book is that our three domains—the mind, the heart, and the body—must be in harmony.
• …stillness–to be steady while the world spins around you. 

So, how do we attain this stillness.  Here are thirteen things to “do” that I gleaned from reading the book:

#1 – Limit your inputs… — A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.—HERBERT SIMON
#2 – Start journaling… — This is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.
#3 – Cultivate silence — “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise,”
#4 – Seek wisdom
#5 – Develop a strong moral compass. – Choose virtue. — Marcus Aurelius famously described a number of what he called “epithets for the self.” Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Honest. Patient. Caring. Kind. Brave. Calm. Firm. Generous. Forgiving. Righteous. — Virtue is not holiness, but rather moral and civic excellence in the course of daily life; pure rightness that emerges from our souls and is made real through the actions we take.
#6 – Conquer your anger — The point is that people who are driven by anger are not happy. They are not still. They get in their own way.
#7 – Realize we are truly all connected. – The less we are convinced of our exceptionalism, the greater ability we have to understand and contribute to our environment, the less blindly driven we are by our own needs, the more clearly we can appreciate the needs of those around us, the more we can appreciate the larger ecosystem of which we are a part.
#8 – Embrace routine — (one model is Churchill) — Routine, done for long enough and done sincerely enough, becomes more than routine. It becomes ritual—it becomes sanctified and holy.
#9 – Take a walk! — It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth. —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
#10 – Reflect more! – “If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the Information Age,” four-star Marine Corps general and former secretary of defense James Mattis has said, “it’s lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting.
#11 – Sleep! And Eat! And Walk! — The philosopher and writer Arthur Schopenhauer used to say that “sleep is the source of all health and energy.” — If you want peace, there is just one thing to do. If you want to be your best, there is just one thing to do. Go to sleep.
#12 – Find a hobby! – Fred Rogers had his swimming… Einstein had his violin. – Leisure; but not escapism…
#13 – Act Bravely — To see people who will notice a need in the world and do something about it. . . . Those are my heroes. FRED ROGERS It’s the old Boy Scout motto: “Do a Good Turn Daily.” — Action is what matters.

And here are my seven lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Noise and activity and information; overwhelm; overload, will not go away. Stress will not go away. We must find ways to cope.
#2 – The practice of stillness is increasingly a business survival skill.
#3 – Silence and solitude – stillness – will not just “happen.” We have to develop the ability to cultivate such practices.
#4 – Stillness enables us to focus; to practice empathy. To be present. All of these are critical abilities for this era of overwhelm. (as in every era).
#5 – You have to actually do some of this – stop; listen; look. Be mindful; journal. Sleep. Walk. Do the actions that lead to stillness cultivation.
#6 – To state the obvious: the inner life (the interior life) shapes everything about us. Pay attention to your inner life. Shape it well.
#7 – And, after you cultivate your practice of stillness, you can be better at being present. You can be here. You can be aware. You can be.here.now…

It really is hard to stop, to be quiet, to genuinely focus, to…be…still.  But stillness is the key.  It would help us all to develop the ability to cultivate such stillness.


Here is an interesting serendipity.  I present synopses of two business books each month at our event. The second book I presented in January was Trailblazer by Marc Benioff.  He is a practitioner of mindfulness (stillness), and wrote of his practice in his book.  It was a perfect complement to the Holiday book.  (I will post my lessons and takeaways from the Benioff book soon on this blog).


You can purchase my synopsis of this book (soon to be uploaded), and many others, at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation from our First Friday Book Synopsis event in Dallas.  Click here to see our newest additions.


Leadership Field Manual by Jocko Willink; The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber – Coming for the February 7, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

The First Friday Book Synopsis
February 7, 2020

Here are just a few ways we have tried to describe our event through the years:

#1 — A great Park City Club breakfast — and, it really is a great breakfast!
#2 — Conversations with terrific people – people of substance.
#3 – Full, substantive synopses of two compelling business books. (and, books related to business issues).

“I love good books; and I read books
And share their core concepts
Primarily with people near Dallas
To help people become more literate
And know what to work on
To do a better job
To build a better company
And, ultimately, to build a better life.”

Randy Mayeux

Learn from the best books
Connect with the best people
While you enjoy the best breakfast buffet in Dallas

Like CliffsNotes on steroids
Like Power Reading a business book


Last Friday, we had another full room for our January First Friday Book Synopsis (yes, on the second Friday of January, because of the holiday).  I presented my synopses of Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, and Trailblazer by Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce).

{My synopses will be uploaded soon for purchase from this web site.  All of my synopses come with my full, multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handouts, plus the audio recordings of my presentations, recorded at our events}.

For our February 7 First Friday Book Synopsis session, I have chosen a brand new book on leadership by a very popular leadership author, and a “modern business classic.” The new book is by former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, his first book written without his usual co-author Leif Babin.  The other selection was first published in 1986, well before we began our First Friday Book Synopsis events in 1998.  I know that both books will be worth your time.

My synopses are thorough.  Each handout is 9-11 pages long, with sections covering:

  • the point of the book
  • why the book is worth your time
  • the best of Randy’s highlighted passages from the book
  • the best stories from the book
  • many key lessons and principles from the book
  • and, I always conclude my synopses with my lessons and takeaways

If you are in the DFW area, I hope you will mark your calendar now for our February 7, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis.  You will be able to register soon from the home page of this web site.  Here’s the flier with all the details..

Click on image for full, printable view

Click on image for full, printable view

Here is the January, 2020 New York Times list of Best-Selling Business Books – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger at #1; Atomic Habits at #2

The New York Times has published its first list of best-selling business books of 2020.  The Atomic HabitsJanuary, 2020 list, as always, has the top ten best-selling business books of the month.

Of the ten books on this month’s list, I have presented synopses of seven of them at our monthly event in Dallas, the First Friday Book Synopsis.  And, my former colleague Karl Krayer presented a synopsis of one other.  That is eight out of the ten best-sellers that we have selected, and presented, at our event.  We don’t miss many…

I presented synopses of:  Atomic Habits, Dare to Lead, Principles, The Infinite Game, Outliers, Extreme Ownership, and RangeRange was my selection for the best business book of 2020.  Obviously, I think it was a very good book in a year of many good books published.  You might want to read my blog post: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is my Business Book of the Year for 2019 – (Loonshots by Safi Bahcall is runner-up).

And Karl Krayer presented a synopsis of Thinking, Fast and Slow quite a few years ago.

RangeBy the way, there are some long-time best-sellers on this month’s list. (There frequently are).  For example, I presented my synopsis of the 2008 book Outliers at the January, 2009 session of the First Friday Book Synopsis.  Karl presented Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011, at the April, 2012 session of our event.  And I presented Extreme Ownership at the December, 2015 session of our event, the year it was published.

One other observation:  there is a shortage of women authors in this month’s list.  Alas, that is the case many months.  On this month’s list, only one book was written by a woman: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Here is the New York Times list of the ten best-selling business books for January 2020.  Click over to their web site for more info about these books, and links to reviews of some of the books.

#1 – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#2 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
#3 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#4 – Principles by Ray Dalio
#5 – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
#6 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
#7 – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
#8 – The Man Who Solved the Market by Gregory Zuckerman
#9 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
#10 – Range by David Epstein

We record our synopses at our monthly events.  You can purchase our synopses, with the audio recording, and the pdf of our multi-page, comprehensive handouts, from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

Stop; Look; Listen –- Stop; Listen; Look — Stillness/Mindfulness is the Key

u-g-Q1BO64Y0What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.


I have finished my careful reading of the two books I will present at the January 10th First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas (the 2nd Friday of January, because of the holidays).  The two books are Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday and Trailblazer by Marc Benioff.  One is written by a man known for his contemplative nature.  The other is written by a hard-charging, wildly successful billionaire.

TrailblazerBut they each carry one message in common.  In order to succeed, you’ve got to stop, listen, and look.  You’ve got to slow.things.down; often.  You’ve got to be mindful.  And each of these books includes some very helpful “this is how to practice mindfulness” suggestions that you can follow.

You’ve got to be mindful…  No; that’s not quite enough.

You’ve got to PRACTICE MINDFULNESS.  You’ve got to be mindfully mindful.  You’ve got to build in time, by yourself, and even in your group time, for practicing mindfulness.

I had a college professor who said that if you read an idea in one book, pay a little bit of attention.  But if you begin to see the same idea pop up in multiple books, pay a lot of attention.

Admittedly, sometimes people just jump on a bandwagon rather thoughtlessly.  It “sells,” so many people start repeating it.

But, maybe, sometimes the idea spreads because it really is important, and it works.

Marc Benioff practices it in his life, and in his work at Salesforce.
Ryan Holiday teaches it to businesses.

And Bonnie St. Jon, in Micro-Resilience, and Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement, talk about how they train athletes in practices that slows one down and helps one focus.  Which is one of the great values of mindfulness.DailyStoicCover

In my earlier life, I would practice what they call in Christian circles a “daily quite time.”  A time of focus for the day.  I have worked through the excellent, one-page a day – absolutely worth reading – The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday in the same way.

And, in one of the books I presented, there was a really simple exercise that I have adopted with some frequency. (Sorry; don’t remember which book).  Before you go into a meeting, sit alone, set your timer for just over a minute, and with your eyes closed, breathe in; breath out; paying attention to your breathing.

We are so frazzled, so overloaded with thoughts and information and content and worries and problems and dilemmas and challenges and…

Stop. Look. Listen.
Stop. Listen. Look.
Be mindful.

You might want to make this one of the areas you focus on in 2020.  It might be a life saver, and a business success builder.  And the people around you just might appreciate you a little more in the process.

Become (more) mindfully mindful in 2020.

Some year-end/new-year thoughts about the value of the First Friday Book Synopsis

For some reason, at the close of this year, I have reflected quite a bit on the value of our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis gathering.  We are closing in on finishing 22 full years – over 500 book synopses presented; two a month, every month.  (OK – we did miss one month, years ago, because of an ice storm).

I recently wrote these lines about our gatherings:

Learn from the best books
Connect with the best people
While you enjoy the best breakfast buffet in Dallas

And this:

We use old technology; a book, paper synopsis handouts, a pen, and a human speaker.

We live in a world overflowing with information  They call this “information overload.”  But increasingly, I think our information input is received in a way that does not maximize remembering, or learning.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I still think the best way to learn is to give our learning our undivided focus; to take a few notes, and review our notes. And then ponder what we have taken in.  In other words, we need to take time to take it in; then time to review and time to ponder.

And there are certainly plenty of ways to take it in.  Tweets; posts; audio input. The practice of listening to audio books is on the rise.

But in terms of “learning,” I suspect that reading with a pen or highlighter is better than listening without taking notes of any kind.  (Yes; I acknowledge I am a little old fashioned in this regard).

We try to provide such a live learning/studying experience at our monthly gatherings. And, I’ve got a hunch that our formula is unique.

We do not rely just on audio.
We do not use PowerPoint.

Here is a page of my Kindle app highlights from the Benioff book Trailblazer

Here is a page of my Kindle app highlights from the Benioff book Trailblazer, which I am presenting at the January First Friday Book Synopsis

I read a book very carefully — every word.  I highlight (literally) hundreds of passages in each book I read.  I share the best of my highlighted passages in our handouts. And then I find the key themes, lessons, principles, and stories, and I finish my handout with my lessons and takeaways. – And, I always begin with why a book is worth our time.

When you attend our events, you get the physical handout.  Usually 9-11 pages for each book.  People take notes as I speak.  And then, for those who want to go deeper, they tell me that they read all of the highlights included in the handout more carefully on their own.

I might describe my handouts this way: the last part is kind of a thorough executive summary of the book, while the entire handout is the deeper dive.

What I think I am saying is this:  though, of course, it is always best to read a book on your own, our event is a true “study” event.  (One regular participant likes to use the classical term “study hall”).  12 meetings a year. Close to 45 minutes of serious study at each event.  And, you really do learn from the synopses of these very good, very carefully selected business books.

Here is the last page of my synopsis handout for a very good book: Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella

Here is the last page of my synopsis handout for a very good book: Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella. Click on image for full view.

Those are my thoughts as to why our event is useful and valuable; still, after nearly 22 years. In other words, people really do find the First Friday Book Synopsis to be worth their time.

Here’s to a 2020 for learning, and studying – at the First Friday Book Synopis, and then the other areas of our lives.






By the way, you can purchase my synopses from this web site.  Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation recorded at our live monthly event.  Click on the buy synopses tab at top of this site (use the search box for titles that you are interested in).  Or, click here for our newest additions.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is my Business Book of the Year for 2019 – (Loonshots by Safi Bahcall is runner-up)

epstein-5-19Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein Is my selection for the business book of the year for 2019.



First, my constraints:  I select my book of the year from the books I have presented during the year at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas (now in our 22nd. Year).  This year, I presented synopses of 23 books. (We had a guest presenter for one book this year, which gave us our total of 24 book synopses presented – 2 books a month, every month).

the book that we started with in 2019

the book that we started with in 2019

Next, when I choose my selection for book of the year, I ask myself:  which book really did break new ground; ground that I do not remember being covered in earlier books?  That rules out some very good books.  For example, I presented two terrific books dealing with some aspect of candor and psychological safety.  One, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, was likely the best selling business  book of the year (the most months at #1 on the New York Times best selling business books list).  The other book dealing with this, The Fearless Organization, was by Amy Edmondson.  Both were excellent books; both took us for deep dives.  But, their ideas were not new to me.  I first remember reading about psychological safety from Charles Duhigg.  (He may have referenced Amy Edmondson; I do not remember).

So, important books, for sure.  Worth reading.  But, not my book for the year.

I also presented synopses of terrific books on:

• technological change and digital transformation; AI Superpowers; Industries of the Future and Digital Transformation. And add to these the book The Optimist’s Telescope, that has plenty of overlap with that arena.
• I presented a few terrific books about workplace issues: Why do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?; The Making of a Manager; Nine Lies about Work.
• A great book for coaches, and those needing coaching (i.e., just about everybody!): The Trillion Dollar Coach.
• A provocative book about workplace culture: What You Do is Who You Are.

And, let me say that for 2019, I did not present a single book that I found “not worth the time.”  These are all good books.  I’ll go so far as to say that if you read all 23 books I presented, you would be a better manager, a better leader, a more comprehensive, broad-based thinker; more literate.  2019 was a very good year for business books.

(See this blog post for the complete list of books I presented in 2019:  Part #1 of The Year in Review from the First Friday Book Synopsis, 2019).

But, for my selection for book of the year, I chose a book that really did break some new ground for me. And I had two that were my “finalists.”  I recommend that you move both up to the top of your reading list.

LoonshotsMy runner up for best book of the year was Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall. St. Martin’s Press (2019).  Here’s the opening paragraph of my blog post about this book:

I love it when I read a book and I feel like I am learning so much that is new to me.  That’s exactly how I felt reading Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win WarsCure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall. I first heard of this book when I heard Krys Boyd interview the author on her Think program on KERA in Dallas.  (Click here to listen to her interview).  I presented my synopsis of this book at the May First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

And I included this:

So, just what is a loonshot? Here’s the argument in brief (from the book): 

  1. The most important breakthroughs come from loonshots, widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy. 
  2. Large groups of people are needed to translate those breakthroughs into technologies that win wars, products that save lives, or strategies that change industries. 
  3. Applying the science of phase transitions to the behavior of teams, companies, or any group with a mission provides practical rules for nurturing loonshots faster and better.

This is a very good book.

But my selection for Business Book of the Year, 2019, is Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.Riverhead Books (2019).

I started my blog post for this book with some definitions:

Range (verb) — to roam at large or freely
Generalist — a person whose knowledge, aptitudes, and skills are applied to a field as a whole or to a variety of different fields (opposed to specialist).

And I stated: In my synopsis, I ask: What is the point? Narrow expertise is great – until it isn’t. The breakthroughs may come from a group with greater diversity – a generalists group. And, people who are generalists may be a little bit happier.

And this: What is this book?
• This is a career path book
• This is a parenting book
• This is a book about educating children (and adults) – note: slow learning is the best learning
• This is a book on how to get better at decision-making
• This is a book about how to get better at coming up with breakthrough innovations
• This is a book about how to get better at problem-identification and problem-solving
• This is a book about the pluses of narrow expertise; AND… the minuses of narrow expertise

What this book does is tell us that, yes, the 10,000 hour rule is great.  But maybe plenty of hours invested in broad-based and diverse areas of interest may be every bit as valuable; maybe even more valuable.

I like to say that “the more you know, the more you know.”  After reading this book, maybe I need to tweak that: “The more widely you learn, and know, the more you know…”

There it is:  Range by David Epstein is my selection for the best business book of the year, 2019.  And that is in a very competitive field of very good books.


You can purchase my synopses for all of these books, and many more, from the “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page.  Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive handout, along with the audio recording of my presentation recorded live at the First Friday Book Synopsis event in Dallas. Click here for our newest additions.

And, if you use the search box on this page, you can find my blog post, with my lessons and takeaways, on just about all of these books I presented in 2019, and many more from earlier years.