Book Review: The Achievement Habit

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The Achievement HabitI kept waiting for The Achievement Habit to get better, but it never did. The first couple of chapters are pretty strong. I think they tricked me and I started thinking the author would start writing that way again. He never did.

The ideas and concepts and observations are all fine. It’s the book that’s not so good.

On page 241, Dr. Roth tells us what he wanted to do with the book.

“My goal with this book has been to give you tools and concepts that you can use to achieve a fuller, more fruitful, more satisfying life.”

He gave me the tools and the concepts. I just wish he’d been a little more excited about the project and more engaged with it. I wish someone had told him about the difference between teaching in person and teaching in a book.

From the first couple of chapters, I think I know about what Dr. Roth is like in person. He’s wry, and ironic, and insightful, and he cares about the people he’s talking to. But after those chapters, the book kind of turned into “what Dr. Roth thinks about life.”

Most of the time I agree with his conclusions, but there’s no support for them besides Dr. Roth’s opinion. That’s fine, but it’s not proof. The result is that this book is like many other personal development books. That’s not what I was hoping for when I picked it up.

I had hoped that there would be ties to design thinking, since Dr. Roth teaches at Stanford’s d.school and is often cited as one of the “founders” of design thinking. Design thinking gets a lot of mention at the beginning of the book. Then it gets mentioned less and less, about every 10 to 20 pages. Then there’s no mention of it for a while, then a cluster of mentions, and then you don’t see it mentioned again until you get to the notes.

The book is titled The Achievement Habit, but I don’t think I ever figured out exactly what that is. It’s referred to, but never defined. To use a common phrase from the math textbooks of my youth, it may be “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer” but I didn’t get it.

I was hoping for the kind of insight that can happen when an intelligent, thoughtful person reflects on his or her life. I didn’t get that, either.

Dr. Roth shares a bunch of self-awareness exercises that remind me of the self-awareness workshops of the 1970s. They’re not bad. But you need someone to lead you. Otherwise all you have is a bunch of instructions on a page. That’s deadly in a book. There’s one exercise that runs from page 207 to page 208. It has 20 steps. That may be an effective exercise in a classroom or a workshop setting. It doesn’t work in a book.

There’s no passion in this book, either. It’s written like a lecture that Dr. Roth has given many, many, many, many times before. There are things that might work in person when he’s present to adjust the presentation and apply a bit of humor. Lectures are boring in person. They’re worse in a book.

Bottom line, the content is good but the book is horrid.

There’s a lot of good advice here. There’s a lot of wisdom. But there’s not much passion and there’s not much thinking about how the ideas that may work in the classroom translate into a book. And that’s why The Achievement Habit is not worth your money or your time.

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