by I.K. Mullins
Copyright©2015 I.K. Mullins. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.
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In Triggers, Goldsmith examines the psychological and environmental triggers that can disrupt us at work and in our personal lives. Many of his revelations seem rather obvious to most readers. Indeed, we know that people can lose their tempers when other drivers cut them off in traffic, and people can overspend when shopping in an upscale retail store (Goldsmith mentions more than once the issues with overspending in luxury stores—I guess it is one of the challenges that highly-paid executives and their coaches have to struggle with).
We also know that we can react in a more mindful way when we make ourselves aware of the triggers. And, yes, we all know that it is not easy to change our behavior, and we understand that we have to be disciplined and organized (i.e., structured) in order to achieve behavioral change.
Hence, the discussion and interpretation of behavioral change and the triggers affecting behavior that are presented in Goldsmith’s book are well known and not original. Goldsmith argues that what matters most is what we do, not what we know. I assume that Goldsmith is implying that the value of his book is in its ability to persuade readers to become proactive with their efforts to achieve (or try to achieve) desirable behavioral changes. I also assume that Goldsmith implies that his book provides a practical and effective strategy for acting on the common knowledge described in his book. However, I believe the validity of such statements remains to be proved.
What makes the book interesting and useful is the real-life examples that come from Goldsmith’s experience of working as a coach with some of the most successful corporate executives in the world. In a way, these examples are sort of limited just because they mostly focus mostly on business executives, who might be defined as successful people already.
For example, he tells about his experience of working with Alan Mulally. In 2001, Mulally was president of Boeing Commercial Aircraft. In 2006, he became the CEO of Ford Motor Company. When Mulally retired from Ford in 2014, Fortune magazine rated him as the third-greatest leader in the world (behind Pope Francis and Angela Merkel).
Mulally believes in the value of structure. When he arrived at Ford, he started weekly Thursday morning meetings with his top executives and the executive’s guests from around the globe. These meetings became known as the Business Plan Review (the BPR) sessions. At each BPR session, he introduced himself and reviewed the company’s plan, current status, projections and areas that needed particular attention. He also listed his top several priorities and graded his performance for the previous week, using a “green-yellow-red” scoring system to mark good-concerned-poor areas. The top 16 executives had to do the same. Two executives at Ford who resisted the change he introduced, soon left the corporation.
Marshall speaks with admiration about Frances Hesselbein’s commitment to her plans. When Hesselbein received an invitation to the White House, the invitation date turned out to be in conflict with the date and time of her speech scheduled to be delivered to a small nonprofit group in Denver. Hesselbein told the White House she would not accept the invitation because she already had another commitment. She never told the Denver group that she declined the White House invitation in order to meet with them.
There are many reasons why readers may perceive positively the variety of real-life examples included in Goldfield’s book. One reason is that it is in human nature to be curious about other people’s lives. Goldfield’s book allows readers do just that—get a peek into other people’s thoughts and emotions, personal lives and relationships, work and working relationships.
Some readers may enjoy reading about other people’s down times described in Goldsmith’s book as this information can give them a sense of being better off than “another guy.” And some readers can find some real-life examples in Goldsmith’s book that are very similar to their own situations. Then these examples can help them gain greater insight into their own problems and offer possible solutions addressing their problems and/or behavioral challenges.
Finally, these examples can serve as good learning material for MBA students, as well as students and professionals who specialize in behavioral studies.
As for the environmental triggers that shape our behavior, Goldsmith writes in his book, “If there is one disease’ that I’m trying to cure in this book, it revolves around our total misapprehension of our environment.… We think we control the environment but in fact it controls us.” However, his assessment of various aspects of the environment is fragmented and partial. This seems odd if we take into account Goldsmith’s experience of working with high-level executives who have to think “big.”
When discussing environmental triggers, Goldsmith talks about co-workers who can upset or irritate us, about air temperature, sounds and noises, etc. Disappointingly, when he talks about aggressive working environments that many businesses practice, as well as manipulative marketing efforts of retailers, he never thinks about what creates these environments and its triggers.
Indeed, our behavior and our way of thinking (in business settings particularly) are shaped by the environment. But what shapes this environment? The answer is: the capitalist economic system. It shapes every aspect of the environment from an aggressive working environment to “manipulative and predatory” luxury stores to people’s obsession with acquiring more material possessions and valuing their success in terms of material gains.
Competitiveness, lack of compassion and a callous attitude toward human feelings (what is called “it’s business”), a desire to take advantage of others (i.e., profit can be made when employees, customers natural resources and/or financial systems are exploited)—all these fundamental features of the capitalist economic system shape the environment, which in turn shapes us and our habits.
The movie Wall Street and many other movies and books explore the effect of the capitalist system on people’s characters and behaviors. But you will not find any consideration of the affect of the capitalist system’s values on our behavior in Goldsmith’s book. Without a consideration of business culture’s negative impact and without changing such a system, Goldsmith’s solutions for becoming a better person in business settings are just cosmetic in the sense that an individual’s coping mechanisms in an unfair society don’t get at the underlying injustices that really need to be addressed to create the incentives for fundamental improvements in human lives and behaviors.
There is an old joke about a hiring committee interviewing job candidates. The job candidates are asked to imagine two divers. Both divers are submerged in water and surrounded by sharks. One diver has a knife and another diver has a gun. The candidates have to answer with whom they would like to associate themselves in this situation. The candidates who associate themselves with the diver with the knife or the diver with the gun are not hired. The hiring committee explains, “We hire only those candidates who associate themselves with sharks.”
My point is that it is unclear how Goldsmith’s book on changing habits can make someone a better person as long as that someone associates himself or herself with sharks in order to survive and prosper in the capitalist economic system.