When the going gets tough, the tough write roundup columns

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

At the risk of losing both my newspaper columnist certificate suitable for framing and secret decoder ring, it’s time to divulge yet another trick of the trade.

Alert readers might recall my helpful column about dealing with writer’s block. When columnists believe they’re suffering from writer’s block and can’t think of anything to write about, there’s always a fallback position. They write about writer’s block.

Today’s lesson involves a similar problem. I’d been racking my brain to come up with a single topic about which to write. I was so desperate at one point, in fact, I considered devoting an entire column to the difference between rack and wrack. Spoiler alert: not much unless you’re writing about torture or disasters at sea. Then I realized when the going gets tough, the tough get going by combining shorter pieces about several topics into what’s known as a roundup column.

As it turns out, this is a particularly handy technique for people like me who spend a good portion of their days reviewing information in search of the most relevant news to share with readers. It’s like mining gold. You process tons of ore to produce a few precious ounces of metal. But sometimes you unearth other stuff, too. While it might not be as valuable, it’s still interesting.

So here’s some of the interesting stuff I’ve recently unearthed that wouldn’t make the pages of a journal devoted to Grand Valley business news, but offers good material for a roundup column.

Bookstore shelves are chock-full of business advice, some of it helpful. What better advice, though, than to consider what two of the most successful executives ever have to say about the ways they do business?

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com who also happens to rank as the richest person in the world, prioritizes quality over quantity when it comes to making decisions. Only a couple a day, but as good as he can make them. Bezos also says he grew Amazon.com from an online bookstore in his garage into a retail behemoth with more than $1 trillion in market value by focusing on customers rather than obsessing over competitors.

Warren Buffet, the so-called Oracle of Omaha who runs the Berkshire Hathaway holding company, follows what he describes as the 20-slot rule. Imagine, Buffet says, a ticket with only 20 slots, one slot for each of the investments that could be made over a lifetime. His point? Focus energy and effort into fewer tasks and go all in on those tasks. His advice works for not only investing, but also other areas of business and life. Given his example, Buffet makes a compelling argument against multitasking and the distractions associated with trying to accomplish too much at once.

In a self-help book he describes as anti-self-help, illusionist Derren Brown asserts the importance of all-out efforts on those things we can change, but also the acknowledgment there are forces beyond our control.

Brown explores both the philosophy and psychology of well-being in his book titled “Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine.” Citing Greek and Roman philosophers as well as modern research, Brown dismisses the power of positive thinking in favor of what he considers a healthier attitude of distinguishing between the things within our power to change and those that aren’t. People who take on challenges to the best of their abilities and fail because of circumstances beyond their control haven’t actually failed because they’ve still achieved their goals to do their best.

Otherwise, people aren’t very good at choosing the right goals, Brown argues — like setting their sights on wealth or impressing others.

For entrepreneurs, building a business is in part a function of building a personal brand — becoming an authentic and relatable person from whom customers prefer to buy products and services.

Building a personal brand in turn depends on defining what constitutes success, says Ngan Nguyen, the founder of an executive coaching and consulting firm and author of  “Self-Defined Success: You Have Everything It Takes.”

Nguyen advises entrepreneurs to carefully consider who they are and what they want, act on that authenticity, keep their visions in mind, tap their passions and make decisions that move them closer to realizing their dreams.

So there’s my column of stuff I hope you agree is at worst merely interesting and at best potentially useful. I’ll try to stick to a single topic next time. But if I can’t, there’s a lot more to round up. Otherwise, I’ll have to write about writer’s block.