It’s not how good you are it’s how good you want to be is a book I have heard about thanks to a video from youtuber and blogger Grace Francesca Victory, where she shared her thoughts on self-help books. I was intrigued so I purchased and read it.
Paul Arden (1940-2008), the author, worked in the creative industry. He made most of his career at Saatchi and Saatchi, as a creative director, before leaving the global communications and advertising agency in 1992. It’s not how good you are it’s how good you want to is his first book, which was followed by two others: Whatever you think, Think the opposite (2006), and God explained in a taxi ride (2007).
Arden wrote it as a kind of a handbook where he details the fundamentals to achieve a successful career. He tackles the (self) doubts, insecurities and problems one can have in the workplace, but also the perspectives we can have on failures or successes, and how one responds to these situations to actually gain maturity, perspective and growth to further one’s career.
This book contains 7 main chapters which are “The fundamentals”, “If you can’t solve a problem, it’s because you’re playing by the rules”, “Give yourself some spin”, “And now for a commercial break”, “You don’t have to be creative to be creative”, “New business”, “Final Thoughts”.
Arden uses quotes, visuals and his own experiences to give advice in this book, while sharing how these moves or change in his behaviour and perspective on things helped him. But he also addresses other people work and success, by quoting them and analysing their career or brand.
The book is not structured as a continuous stream of thoughts so you can read just some portions of it without consequence. Rather, Arden addresses us, readers, very directly. There is not turning around the point in this book, and you won’t find complicated and complex sentences to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.
Some of his advices or life lessons, whatever you want to call them, are pretty on point, and applicable to all professions and industries. But two of them really stayed with me.
One that specifically resonated with me, and I think we all need to learn – and the sooner the better – is in a section called “Do no seek praise. Seek criticism”:
“If instead of seeking approval, you ask “what’s wrong with it? How can I make it better? You are most likely to get a truthful, critical answer” (page 26).
I think a lot of people, especially young women, can relate to this statement in the workplace, but also in school. I, for one, can relate to it because I sometimes ask my close friends their opinion on some of the things I do. And though they often give me good information on it and how I can change or tweak some details, I always feel they hold back and could have been harsh(er). Oftentimes, I feel people are scared to hurt someone so they would rather tell a half-truth or give minor criticism, which doesn’t allow any growth or reassessment from the person who ask for an opinion on their work. Their fear of hurting you or your feelings, or just their politeness or both, gets in the way of reflexion, progress, improvement, and challenge.
And that is maybe why I don’t do it often. I am careful of what I ask and who I ask it to because I am protective of my work, scared to share it and let it be the subject of someone’s opinion, especially if they don’t have my back and don’t want me to improve as a human being and succeed in whatever I do. Also, sometimes, you know yourself better, because you have learnt to detect your strong and weak points, and how to avoid/correct them.
Accepting responsibility for failure is another point that Arden touches on and that I find very interesting to learn and work on. In the “It’s all my fault” section, the author uses the drawing of a boy being pinched by a goose to illustrate the deflection of responsibilities that often plays out in failure. To Arden, “accepting responsibility” is the only way to move on from failure. It is a stepping stone to actually changing the situation and “do something about it”. It is something that we all have to work on, throughout lives and career. Doing better for others is doing better for yourself, but it starts with us, with you, with me.
But there is a section of the book I struggled a lot with: “It’s wrong to be right”. Here, Arden argues that:
“If you can prove you’re set in concrete. You cannot move with the times or with other people”. (page 54)
He also add that “it’s wring to be right, because people who are right are rooted in the past, rigid-minded, dull, and smug.” (page 55)
I don’t agree with him because for one it sets a judgement on people who feel they are right about something, but it also presumes that these kind of people never reassess themselves, are never contradicted or let themselves be contracted, which depends on one’s environment, education and so many other factors. Being right or feeling that you are right about something doesn’t equate that you are infallible, have all knowledge or that you are close-minded.
Through this book, Arden encourages the reader to take control of his/her destiny by considering that timing, hard, consistent and challenging work, effort, change of perspective, setbacks, effective communication and openness are key. Nothing can improve if there isn’t any recognition of the situation, learning, reassessment and commitment to not repeat the same mistakes. Mistakes are inherent to greatness and success, but one must learn from them.
You will find creative and commonsense thinking in It’s not how good you are it’s how good you want to be. It may not change your life, like a Swiffer or the internet did – at least for me –but it will certainly give you perspective on yourself and how you conduct yourself in and outside of your workplace or at school, and how you approach your work.
- “Fail, fail again, fail better”, Samuel Beckett, quoted by Arden page 52-53.
- “There is nothing that is a more certain sign of insanity than to do the same thing over and over and expect the results to be different”, Einstein quoted by Arden page 51.
- “If you can’t solve a problem it’s because you’re playing by the rules.” page 49.
- Reading time: 45mn-1h
- Number of pages: 128
- Publisher: Phaidon Press (1st edition – June 1, 2003)
- Format: paperback
- Price: €6.82 / £5.21 / $6.96