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Books discuss mentors, creativity

“Getting There – A Book of Mentors” by Gillian Zoe Segal (Abrams Image, $24.95).

In these autobiographical essays by 30 highly successful people, we find out that becoming successful wasn’t easy for any of them. They faced obstacles, setbacks and had defining moments — and learned from them.

Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway): Communications skills can be learned. Buffett doesn’t have his college diplomas on the walls of his office; but he does have the Dale Carnegie certificate proudly displayed. Why? Until he took that course, he was unable to speak in public. (“It made me physically ill.”) Message: If you can’t communicate well, no one will listen to your ideas.

“Who you choose to associate with matters.” The right role models jump-start success. Positive people propel you; negative people hold you back.

Matthew Weiner (creator of the Emmy-award winning series “Mad Men”): An inspired writer can make things happen. Weiner spent three years writing scripts in the hope that someone would buy them. No sale. Defining moment: He decided to make his own film; he played a failing screenwriter. Although it didn’t sell, the process showed him he could take a project from idea to completion.

He also learned that “if you alter your work for every rejection or negative comment, you’ll end up running in all different directions.” Evaluate input from others but stay focused.

Sara Blakely (Spanx): She wanted to be a lawyer like her father, but failed the LSAT exam twice. She worked as a ride guide at Disney World. She sold fax machines for seven years.

Everything changed thanks to a pair of sandals; she cut the legs off a pair of pantyhose so she could wear those sandals and slim her figure. She kept her idea on a need-to-know basis until the business plan (e.g. demography, finances, production, distribution, advertising, etc.) was fleshed out.

She visited production mills and heard “No.” Rejections energized her commitment. Blakely credits listening to Wayne Dyer’s “How to Be a No-Limits Person” with her ability to look for the upside.

The book’s message: Success always depends upon choices you make.

“Think to Win: Unleashing the Power of Strategic Thinking” by Paul Butler, John Manfredi and Peter Klein (McGraw Hill, $30).

Occam’s Razor, often called the law of economy, favors simplicity. It shaves off concepts and variables not needed to explain a situation. Think to win applies that simplicity to business issues with a five-principle template:

1. Challenge assumptions: Forget how you’ve done things; the tried-and-true keeps you from exploring other paths. Reinvent how you do things — that’s real continuous improvement. There are risks; but consider the risk of doing the same-old-same-old in a change-is-the-new-normal business environment.

2. Scope the issue: Symptoms mask root causes. The inability to clearly define an issue wastes time and leads to ineffective solutions, and often more problems. Two-way communication helps scale issues because it merges the view from the top with that in the trenches.

3. Rely on facts and data: Opinion, trust your gut and common knowledge “do not provide accurate support for decision making.” Facts and data hone focus. They provide a foundation for next-step action, which should include execution measurables.

4. Focus on the vital few: Think to win research shows that 10 percent of the issues affect 90 percent of the whole. Narrow down the issues by linking them into patterns. Grouping the patterns identifies commonality, which make alternatives easier to identify and implement.

5. Connect the dots: Literally connect the dots. Use large sheets of paper and multicolored markers to connect color-coded issues with possible actions. When potential actions are linked to a number of issues, you have a starting point for problem-solving.

Takeaway: If it’s tried and true, it’s also old and tired.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated reviewer of business books.

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