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Book Review: Upgrade

There is no shortage of authors lining up to tell you how to run your life and your business better. A glut of self-improvement books are on the market. Likewise, there are numerous titles covering business how-to and new books are released at a staggering pace.

Rana Florida (wife of “creative class” expert Richard Florida) has opted to combine a self-help and business guide in one handy book which she has titled, Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

Florida’s writing style is effective and conversational. She doesn’t cloud her text in obscure academic terms or complex business language. Readers will find her writing easygoing and direct. 

Her credentials in business include partnership in her husband’s successful consulting company, business school training, and years of corporate work as well as independent freelance jobs. In Upgrade, Florida lays down a blueprint for business and career success that emphasizes:

1. Boldness in thought and action; taking risks

2. Creativity and cultivating a creating environment

3. Collaboration on idea generation and solution execution

4. Failure is a necessary step along the path to success

Her business advice here is spot on and I have found that a willingness to take bold risks has especially been a key factor in my career success. Along these lines, I add to the chorus of praise and recommendations for Florida’s business prescriptions. 

Florida doesn’t specify her qualifications for dispensing personal advice and it the self-help portions of her book that are troubling. She decries hedonistic materialism as shallow but equates happiness associated with experiences (such as travel or fine food) as somehow more deep and wholesome. Don’t get me wrong, I find travel, fine food, and other experiences to be fun, but I don’t pretend that self-pleasure from experiences is higher and holier than self-pleasure associated with owning or using material goods. After all, it’s typically the experience of using the material things we amass that bring pleasure, not just possessing a thing for its own end.

An even greater problem than assessing her brand of hedonism as better than materialism is her overall focus on happiness and pleasure as the measure of a good life. She gives a quick nod to “giving back” but it’s clear from the percentage of page space she devotes to the happiness quest and the accomplishment quest (covered under the business advice section) that ordering one’s life around something other than one’s own pleasure and accomplishment is not her aim.

Ecclesiastes 2

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. 4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun

Not only does Florida champion pleasure and happiness as our personal life focus she also callously recommends we drop anyone and anything that get in the way of that happiness. Sit down, and try to stomach her advice on time management:

“We complain that we don’t have enough time to get to the things on our happiness list or to execute  our vision for the future and that life is already too busy. This exercise allows us to free up our time to put ourselves first. Make a list of the people you spend time with. Now make one of these three marks next to their names: a negative (-), a zero (0), or a positive (+). A negative person is someone who drains you of energy and adds no value to your life socially, professionally, or otherwise. You know exactly who and what I’m talking about. We all have them in our lives: they just take, take, take. A zero neither adds nor takes away value. These people always seem to be hanging around or texting: ‘Hey whatcha up to? I’m bored.’ They are always bored. They target you and make you spend your most precious resource-time-to entertain them. these are people I consider filler. A positive in contrast is someone who adds real value to your life. You are learning from this person, who is helping you move forward. Take a long hard look at your list. Put a plus, negative, or zero next to each name. Really think about that person. Don’t get caught up in emotions. What contributions, what value are these people really adding to or taking away from your life? When you’ve given everyone a score, it’s time to cross off all the names you’ve marked with negatives and zeros. If you’re serious about improving and upgrading your life, it’s time to banish these people from your life or minimize your interactions with them. With your new found time you can go back to your passion list and devote more time to the activities that make you happy.”

That’s right. Your happiness must come first! Don’t ask what you can do for your friends, ask what they can do for you. And if the answer is nothing, then bye bye suckers.

More on time management and doing things with our friends and loved ones:

…”we could all relate, whether it’s wasting a precious Sunday afternoon at a baby shower……I’m not saying you should miss Nonna or Papu’s seventy-fifth birthday celebration and little Levi’s bar mitzvah, but we do need to train ourselves to stop and evaluate. Will this experience add value to my life or is it just taking time away from my mission statement and happiness list?….The next question is will it be more fun than staying at home in my pajamas, lounging around by the pool reading books, playing tennis, going for a walk, or anything else I added to my happiness list?”

“Now when I want to see friends it’s at a restaurant, where I know I don’t have to invest the extra production hours and can leave without having to kick them off my sofa. This may sound terrible but I assure you I love my friends and family. Still, when you only have so many hours in the day, each one that is hogged up becomes a reason to stress.”

Your baby shower? HOGGING UP MY ME TIME HOURS AND STANDING THE THE WAY OF MY FUN! Dinner party at my house? NO WAY, I AIN’T MAKING TIME TO PREPARE YOU A MEAL WITH LOVE AND KINDNESS, YOU TIME HOG YOU.

Florida analyzes her decisions when it comes to friends, her happiness, and her time. And guess what, her happiness always gets top priority. She criticizes obligations and duties as time wasters and happiness interrupters. What a sad sad way to live your life Ms. Florida. Well, apparently not sad for you, but how sad for your friends.

Obviously as a Christian (or actually, simply as a human being), I can’t recommend anyone take Florida’s advice on how to order your personal life and manage your time. Upgrade hits bookstores in the Autumn of 2013 and there are going to be a lot of people creating lists of names with little negatives and zeros beside them. God help you if any of your friends buy this book – you better hope they score you well enough to make the cut.

Overall recommendation: See this book on the shelf, and keep right on walking past it. Yes, yes the business advice is good, but I’ve already summarized it for you above, so you’re good to go there.

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