Innovation You — Jeff DeGraff

I started Innovation You because of this Arnold Kling post. Suggestion: read his post and this one instead of the whole book. If you’re interested in how innovation and ideas work, try Steven Berlin Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From and Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want. They cover similar territory infinitely better. DeGraff asks a lot of questions that feel absurd and obvious at the same time, like, “How do you innovate you?” The answer is obvious: read, write, try new things. If you don’t know how to do that, there might be no hope for you. Or very little hope.

So little hope that you’d be like a student I had who I’ll call “Sarah.” She didn’t know what to write her second paper on, so she came to my office hours for help. This isn’t at all uncommon and is exactly what you, if you’re a student, should do, and if you’re one of my students who happens to be reading this, make sure you do come to office hours. Anyway, Sarah didn’t know what to write about, so I asked if she liked anything we’d read. No. Okay, did she like anything we read in the first unit? No. What classes was she taking? It was something like business, econ, a humanities class. Did she like any of them? No. What did she like? She didn’t know—shopping, hanging out with friends. What was important to her? Getting a job when she graduated, her family. How was she going to get a job if she didn’t like any of her classes? She didn’t know. I backpedalled: almost all my assignment sheets include a caveat that, if you’d like to write about a book of your own choosing, you can as long as you clear it with me first (this is to weed out the people who want to write about Twilight or self-help books or things like that). I suggested that she use that option and write on a book of her own choosing. Sarah’s response: “I have no books.” That’s a direct quote. Mind you, this is on a university campus with a giant library and equally giant bookstore. She was beyond my help; I think she’s the only student who’s come into office hours who I’ve been utterly unable to assist.

Sarah might be helped by Innovation You.

DeGraff says things like, “These days, people from all walks of life come to me for individual guidance. Who am I?” Fortunately, the question of “Who am I?” is a very contemporary one, like asking, “Should I get the iPhone with less storage space or pay for more?”, and it has no history or background whatsoever. If you’re the kind of person who smacks your head and says, ” ‘Who am I?’ is a question I’ve never thought to ask before!”, this book is for you. It has lots of very short stories that reduce people to pawns. Don’t read this book, though there are some worthwhile bits. Here’s one, where DeGraff describes a woman who kept looking for a synagogue like the one she went to as a child and not finding one that met her standards, whatever those might be, because

She was evaluating and criticizing, not creating. She reminded me of certain older, unmarried people I’ve known who decide later in life that they want a spouse after all. They are experts at going on dates and evaluating what’s wrong with every possible candidate. And they’re right—there’s something wrong with everyone. We’re human. But we’re worthwhile anyway. People don’t marry when they’ve found perfection because there is no perfection. They marry wen they’ve found someone they love whose faults they can accept, and who can accept their faults in return. {DeGraff “You”@34}

Very true. It’s a lot of what Lori Gottlieb says in Marry Him! (link goes to a Megan McArdle discussion of said book). A lot of what DeGraff says is said better in other books. Here are the other two quotes worth going in Devonthink Pro:

“Most of the distractions and wasted time in your life tend to be created by a small number of distracting, wasteful people. So today, many of us focus on trying to do more for the most important clients or customers and to avoid whoever is wasteful or doesn’t show results” {DeGraff “You”@42}.

We also avoid a small number of behaviors, like obsessively checking e-mail. And:

“At a personal level, almost anyone you know will tell you that they are overly busy and overly stressed, but who controls that? The person saying so. So we suffer our ‘do it all’ mentality and inadvertently create a melange of mediocrity. Trying to have it all, all at the same time, is at best difficult, and, at worst, destructive” {DeGraff “You”@89}.

Congrats. I’ve now saved you from spending the $6 (Amazon used) or $14 (Amazon new) that you might otherwise have spent, because you’ve got almost all the book’s contentful sections in a handful of quotes. If you’re wondering how to live your life, read the epiphany posts at Hacker News and you’ll get basically the same thing.

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