Book Review: Mindfire, Big Ideas for Curious Minds

I was drawn to this book after reading Scott Berkun’s terrific book titled Confessions of a Public Speaker (See Post: Glossophobia Self-Help #1).  This may be the best book that I have read on public speaking…so, Scott had set a high bar for me with this new book.

The book title (Mindfire) was inspired by the writings of Emerson who “often referred to the creative mind as a fire and wrote about ways to ignite the mind.”  Berkun indicated that Emerson’s Essay ‘Self-Reliance‘ was a profound influence.”

First Wow: Scott has written over 1,500 essays and articles over a 10 year period (wow) and had handpicked 30 for this collection.  (See full list of topics below)

Second Wow: While he used O’Reilly Media to publish his earlier books, he published this book himself.  He explained that he “wanted to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release. Therefore, I must learn to do it myself.”  For his first attempt at self-publishing, this is remarkable work.

If you have followed Scott’s blog, you won’t find a lot of new ground covered here, but it has been nicely re-packaged – it is tighter; it has been “pruned and polished.”  Scott is smart, self-effacing, honest and authentic in his writing style which invites deeper thinking and discussion of topical issues.  His essays are persuasive and fun to read.  This book is hard to put down. He does take you on a quest for personal discovery, inspiring you to think and at times act differently.

I was torn between rating the book a 3 (wanting deeper exploration of fewer topics; no new ground covered for a follower of his blog) to a 5 (a number of “aha” moments; 5* thinking, writing and energy) so I landed on a 4.

I had many highlighted passages on my Kindle.  Here are a few excerpts from my favorite essays:

The Cult of Busy (Essay #1)…”explains the behavior of many people. By appearing busy, others bother them less, and simultaneously believe they’re doing well.  It’s quite a trick.  I believe the opposite is true…time is the singular measure of life.  It’s one of the few things you cannot get more of.  Knowing how to spend it well is the most important skills you can have…the phrase ‘I don’t have time for’ should never be said.  We all get the same amount of time every day…what people really mean when they say “I don’t have time” is that this particular thing is not important enough to earn their time.  It’s a polite way to tell people they’re not worthy.”

Does Transparency Matter? (Essay #8)..”trust is always more important than authenticity and transparency…the more I trust you, the less I need to know about the details of your plans or operations…and it’s trust that’s hardest to earn and easiest to destroy…if transparency leads to trust, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, you have bigger problems to solve.”

Why You Must Lead or Follow (Essay #15)…”People fear leadership roles because they require visibility and vulnerability…good leaders are rare…requires sacrificing your own interests and wants…good leaders cultivate positive power in others…it is rarely forced or authority driven..and this isn’t done  through big speeches and morale events: it’s a belief built slowly, over time, through each conversation the leader participates in.”

Can You Be Great With Grace? (Essay #20)..”I’ve read many biographies about people who qualify, and it turns out being driven often makes people hard to like…Perhaps true greatness, or a truly great person, is someone who does the right things for the right reasons without expecting grand rewards.  They don’t do things ‘to be the best’ or ‘to be famous’ or ‘to be a legend.’  Instead they sacrifice those ambitions in favor of simply what people around them need.  They want to be great only through being useful to those they care most about, regardless of how little acclaim they get from the whole wide world for it….It might be that the dedicated policeman, the passionate history teacher, the devoted great mom/dad, the wonderful uncle, are the people who are truly great, because they add value to the world for its own reason.  While anyone can make a billion dollars, they know only they can raise this child, teach that student, support this community, or help that friend in times of need.  And unlike the worldly kind of greatness, spread wide and thin across thousands of people, it might only be humble greatness that runs deep into people’s hearts and memories, to inspire them for the better, forever.”

The 30 Essay topics include:

  • Part (1) Gasoline:  (1) The cult of busy; (2) Wants vs. Beliefs; (3) How to be a free thinker; (4) How to detect bullsh*t; (5) Should you be Popular or Good?; (6) There are two kinds of people: complexifiers and simplifiers; (7) Are you indifferent?; (8) Does transparency matter?; (9) How I found my passion; (10) How to be passionate
  • Part (2) Sparks: (11) On God and Integrity; (12) Hating vs Loving; (13) The surprise inspiration of death + Bonus: Your quota of worry and how to shrink it; (14) How to make a difference; (15) Why you must lead or follow; (16) Why the world is a mess: a theory; (17) The size of ideas; (18) Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts; (19) Why does faith matter?; (20) Can you be great, with grace?
  • Part (3) Fire: (21) How to give and receive criticism; (22) How to learn from your mistakes; (23) How to keep your mouth shut; (24) Creative thinking hacks; (25) Dr. Seuss and wicked constraints; (26) Why smart people defend bad ideas; (27) Why you are not an artist; (28) How to convince anyone of anything;  (29) Attention and Sex;  (30) A strawman for everything
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