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Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck To Success 121

benrothke writes "One of the challenges in reading The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success is figuring how to classify it. Amazon has it ranked mainly in applied psychology, but also time management and inexplicable personal finance. In some ways it is all of the above and more. In fewer than 300 pages, the authors reference myriad different areas of science, mathematics, psychology and more; in the effort to show the reader how they can elevate themselves from the stuff in life that glues them to the status quo." Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success
author Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson
pages 320
publisher Dutton
rating 8/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0525952800
summary Book shows how to learn to identify plateaus and break through any stagnancy in your life.
Full disclosure: I am friends with Hugh Thompson, one of the authors of this book.

With that, the premise of the book is that the plateau effect is something that affects everyone. We all have our ups and down in life, relationships, work and more. The book attempts to help the reader identify plateaus in their life, in order to break through them.

While a plateau is often simply flat terrain, the authors are all over the terrain in the book. They quote and reference liberally from science, statistics, life sciences, psychology, ethics, information technology and much more. From that end, the book is a fascinating and insightful read.

At the start of the book, the authors use the term acclimation to refer to the plateaus that many of us reach. This is the inability to notice changes in the environment around us. To a degree, acclimation is a critical element of our lives. If everything was brand new, life would be overwhelming; both to our senses and psyche. The downside is that this acclimation often leads us to accepting things the way they are, staying at the plateau, getting stuck and the inability to move forward.

The authors note that a real plateau means that you have stopped growing and that your mind and senses are being dulled by sameness; by a routine that sucks the life and soul out of you. Plateaus force you to make bad decisions and feel desperate. By understanding the force and tapping into it, you can get more out of life with less effort, and feel more in tune to your existence. If this scares you that the book sounds like a new-age title, relax, it is far from it, thankfully.

Chapter 3 is one of the many fascinating sections in the book where the authors detail the greedy algorithm, where the locally optimal choice is what is generally preferred. They tie this into the Gekko mantra of greed being good. But note that research has shown that long-term greed is good, but short-term greed, the type that maximizes the here and now seems to work for a while but almost always leads to a plateau. And as you realize, plateaus are bad.

Chapter 5 details flow mechanisms, step functions and choke points. Author Hugh Thompson is a mathematician and it's obvious this chapter is his baby. A choke point is a part of a system that breaks first and slows everything else down. The book notes that a common cause of plateaus is not recognizing when and where choke points will occur.

Chapter 6 is another fascinating chapter that details people's inability to effectively deal with risk. The example given is around shark attacks. While the risk of shark attack is extraordinarily low, the media often makes it seem like an epidemic, and the gullible populace overreacts. The authors give many examples of where people don't comprehend risk and statistics. The authors note that people buy lottery tickets, often described as a tax on the mathematically disinclined, despite knowing the odds. They also write that due to various factors, people and society have become overly risk-averse, not realizing how risky that is.

While not new, chapter 7 details the problems with multitasking and its illusions of productivity. The authors quote Jordon Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke who states that multitasking is actually a misnomer. He terms it rapid toggling between tasks. The downside to this rapid toggling is that people become less effective and productive. The reality they show is that people can't multitask.

While the book is indeed a fascinating and valuable read, some readers may find it somewhat frustrating that the authors at times can seem like they are all over the place, quoting and integrating different facets of science and psychology. While the theme of the book is plateaus, there is not always a discernible sense of unity between all of the examples.

Another lacking is the shortage of prescriptive actions the reader can take. For the reader who may be indifferent to their need for change, the book may not be of full value to then. It would have been appreciated if the authors could have created action items and exercises for each chapter.

But perhaps the best advice is on the 3rd to the last page of the book. The authors note that if your company is stuck and has plateaued, and unable to get past some vexing problems. What should you do? Tell the type A's in the room to be quiet for a while and set out some frontline introvert an ask for their advice. Giving voice to the quietest person in the room might be the most unique exercise a firm undertakes.

With that, The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success is an extremely stimulating read. For the reader who wants to grow and move off their plateau, this will certainly help them. The book promises to help the reader unstick themselves from the things in life that weigh them down. It certainly lives up to its promise and makes for a fascinating read.

About the reviewer: Ben Rothke.

You can purchase The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck To Success

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  • Shorter answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @03:22PM (#43713235)

    "...in the effort to show the reader how they can elevate themselves from the stuff in life that glues them to the status quo."

    I can do this in a lot fewer words than a book: If you live in the United States and aren't already rich -- Move. That's it. One word. Move.

    Everyone will tell you success isn't a guarantee. But you can put yourself in a better position to take advantage of any opportunities that do come along -- thus improving your chances. Right now, there are no opportunities in our country. College is too expensive, the job market is shit, the wealth gap is growing by leaps and bounds, our government turns a blind eye to major cities getting eaten by mother nature -- Detroit, New Orleans... every year there's a major natural disaster. And every year we get to read about our total abject failure in dealing with it. Our bridges are structurally deficient, our health care is shit.

    Guys; The writing is on the wall... run. Move. Leave. Don't keep inhaling self-help books that ration out hope. If you want to be successful in life... get out now. Because otherwise, your life is going to be thrown away supporting the previous generation's bad choices.

  • Re:Shorter answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 13, 2013 @03:52PM (#43713519)

    Right now, there are no opportunities in our country.

    So you're expecting that someone is just going to hand you an opportunity?

    College is too expensive,

    Doesn't that mean there's an opportunity to make college affordable?

    the job market is shit,

    You expect to elevate yourself with a 9 to 5 job? Isn't there an opportunity to find people jobs?

    the wealth gap is growing by leaps and bounds,

    How does how much others make affect your success?

    our government turns a blind eye to major cities getting eaten by mother nature -- Detroit, New Orleans...


    every year there's a major natural disaster.

    You don't suppose there's someway to elevate yourself by finding a way to help people respond to natural disasters?

    And every year we get to read about our total abject failure in dealing with it.

    And will continue to read about that until someone comes up with a way to fix it.

    Our bridges are structurally deficient, our health care is shit.

    You don't suppose there's someway to elevate yourself by fixing bridges? By improving health care?

    Move. That's it. One word. Move.

    Yes, please do.

  • Re:Shorter answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @06:41PM (#43715077) Journal

    A sure sign that your life will never improve is spending all your time saying "the system is rigged! the man is keeping me down! it's not my fault I'm not successful! I can't do anything!". If you want to make your life better, that's on you: it won't be handed to you. You can make your life better, but only if you're willing to change. You have to change you, not the world. Moving to where the jobs are in your field is often a great start - and for most fields, America has such places.

    I grew up in a trailer park in the Appalachians, couldn't afford to finish college, did very stupid things with money even when I did have a job; then I got my shit together, started doing smart things with money, and now I'm quite successful, thanks. And at no point did this require initiation into the "secret club of people allowed to be successful", just being smart with my career choices and my money. But keep telling me it's impossible to do what I did over the past 15 years - you're only fooling yourself.

    Every success I've had to get here has required more than one attempt - you have to work past failure and rejection. Moving my career forward required changing who I am again and again - if you ever stop growing as a person, you'll get stuck for sure. It also required following my career across the country - success didn't come to me, I went to it, geographically speaking.

    We are wonderfully well off in America in the 21st century. We're surrounded by amazing technology, most of which is quite cheap. If you're upset because you're in your 20s and can't have the stuff that people in their 40s have - well, of course not, but after working for 20 years you'll have more too! At least, if you invest instead of going farther into debt, you will.

  • Re:Shorter answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @07:41PM (#43715483)

    Having said that, I think this is more about mental break-though; self-awareness, teleological mechanisms.

    I won't disagree with you. But I take umbrage with anyone who says that attitude is all you need. No, it's a starting point. Nobody's going to tell the 400 pound asthmatic who dreams of winning a marathon to just show up at the starting line and if he wants it bad enough, he'll get it. And yet, this arrogant line of thinking is found in every aspect of our "individualist" culture. It's a poison when it's overindulged in.

    Attitude is important insofar as keeping your ego intact. It's important in a crisis, when you're being ripped to shreds by a cold an uncaring universe. It's important when you're at the top of your game, and every obstacle is falling to the left, right, and center too. I will not say attitude is unimportant, but it is only the start of a journey. It's like hope: It makes a great breakfast, but a terrible dinner. Attitude is about an orientation, a direction, a focus... but attitude alone will not move you an inch, nor change your circumstances one iota.

    To succeed also requires positioning yourself so that you're likely to be at that wonderful point of convergence where time and place meet to create opportunity. Not everyone can get there; It's not assured. Someone has to win the lottery; But the odds of you winning it are vanishingly small. And this is the part where american culture fails -- its siren song tells us anyone can win the lottery.

    There are people who have a good attitude, work hard, and will never get their reward in this life. Until recently, America didn't have very many of them, because we had a lot of opportunities -- a lot of chances to win the lottery of success. But today, we have a lot of those people. Wealth has become super-concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people, and the lottery pot grows smaller at the same time. There's fewer jobs, fewer opportunities for career advancement, fewer options for affordable education... all the things we used to have to invest in ourselves and which had a good chance of returning that investment, are gone.

    I'm not saying move away because I hate my country. I love it. But I'm not deluded to the point of thinking I can fix all these problems. I will take my american culture elsewhere, and wait out the storm. I shouldn't have to suffer because an entire generation fucked up what the previous ten spent building. Nobody should. We've won every war we've fought in, and America has a lot of things to be proud of... but guys, we lost this fight. The economic fight. And nobody with a sense of practicality is going to suggest you fight on the side that's guaranteed to lose.

    I look at my country now like a drowning man. You can swim out to him and try to help him, but all he'll do is grab onto you and you'll both drown. You cannot save him, he can only save himself. What you CAN do -- is throw him a floater and wait until he's latched on, then pull him to safety. But he has to participate in saving himself.

    This is how I feel about the Boomers. We can't keep throwing money at the problem... or hard work, or anything else we have. We need to stop swimming out to them and letting them drag us down with them. So I say leave. Walk away. And wait.

    Eventually, they're going to decide they don't want to drown, or they'll drown. Either way, they'll have made a choice, and then, and only then, can we as the younger generation, move in to pick up the pieces. But for now... get the hell out of here, kids. Go anywhere but here. Get as far away as you can... and then wait for the sign.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.