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

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @04:19PM (#43713769)

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

    I'm suggesting that if you're armed with a stick, going up against an aircraft carrier will probably end badly for you. Likewise, the difference in wealth between the rich 1% and the poor 99% in this country.

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

    Yeah, if you own the college. Perhaps less so if you're a poor student just starting out in life and have to pick out a college and discover... there aren't any in your price range.

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

    We work the longest work days and have the fewest vacation days of any industrialized country on the planet. I'm not saying working a 9 to 5 job is the fastest way, but if I'm going to work a 9 to 5 job... it'll be better rewarded anywhere I move to but here.

    How does how much others make affect your success?

    It's called the production possibilities curve. You probably learned about it in Macroeconomics, before they started catering to the very rich, but self-involved, slashdot pundit. It goes something like this: There's a finite amount of pie available. If others take more of the pie, that means there's less for you.


    So... a shallow response to every one of my other points, and then a handwave on this one. You couldn't find anything to support your position -- could you? Large tracts of New Orleans taken over by aggressive wildlife, all curiously located in the traditionally "poor" parts of the city. Detroit, rotting from the inside out to the point they're demolishing entire blocks at a time and have called in emergency managers to stabilize the city's finances amid a mass exodus of the populace. To all this, you reply "Bullshit"? You could have just said "You win," it would have been both correct, and more dignified.

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

    You were asleep in statistics class, weren't you? If there's a 99% probability of failure, and a 1% chance of success, you don't charge forward on the notion that there's "some way to elevate yourself". And besides, you're ignoring the point: Which is that it shouldn't be your job, as a private citizen, to do that. It's the government's job. That's how it is in the other industrialized countries that haven't had their government taken over by a rich, self-absorbed elite class. When bad shit happens, everybody pitches in a few sheckles and the bad shit goes away. That's how civilization does it... not this degenerate version of it where we throw people to the wolves while screaming "Elevate yourself, mother fucker!"

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

    (reads previous comment) Yeah. Though we're probably thinking about fixing it in different ways: You're thinking if we just throw enough poor people under the bus, it'll "elevate itself". I'm thinking, why not put everyone IN the bus and then figure out how to move it?

    Yes, please do.

    Maybe you haven't noticed... but the only people moving to this country are from the 3rd world. Nobody in the industrialized world wants to come here. That tells me we're worse than any of the industrialized countries everyone is fleeing to, but better than the third world these people are coming from.

    So, rest assured... you'll still continue to have plenty of people to leech off of to continue your self-indulgent lifestyle. But America as we knew it is dead, plain and simple. And anyone who's still hoping for class mobility is going to start by mobilizing themselves away from exploitative assholes like you, that destroyed it.

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

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @07:21PM (#43715345)

    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.

    So I see you've read the book The Secret, wherein it says that all you need to be successful is a positive attitude to the point of self-delusion on a scale that doctors usually order medication for. Sir, let me clue you in on reality -- thousands of newspaper articles, research papers, and bits on the evening news have pointed out that our generation will be the first generation of Americans ever to have less than our parents. This is established economic fact. The economy isn't expected to recover to its pre-2003 levels until sometime after 2021, making this the longest depression this country has ever seen. And make no mistake, it's a depression. Ask anyone under the age of 25 how their job hunt is going. You don't need to ask them whether they have a job, because odds are better than not, they don't. Ask them about their piles of student loan debt.

    I've dealt with your kind before, the kind who likes to blame the victim, who likes to yell "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" as if that absolves them of any responsibility to help others, who thinks that if they've managed to get a smidgeon better quality of life it's because of their own hard work and couldn't possibly be because they won a statistical lottery. But when you dig into it, success isn't about attitude; it's also about being in the right place, at the right time. And there's only so many of those chances, in the same way there's only so many good hands being held at the cosmic poker table. And sometimes, you get dealt a shitty hand. Doesn't matter how good you are at poker, or your attitude, the cards... are the cards.

    And deluded people like you can't, or won't, recognize that because it's a blow to their ego. It has nothing to do with what is manifest reality. It has nothing to do with the facts. And I say your kind is deluded because how the hell else can you justify believing that hundreds of millions of americans are lazy over the idea that only a few thousand of them are greedy.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl