A lot of us are lost. Notwithstanding the availability of Google and Apple Maps, we’re often akin to a deer caught in the headlights. Best-selling author Michael Bungay Stanier’s latest book, How To Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters, not only helps you get unstuck, it might be the best goal-setting and goal-completion book out there.
Using his wonderfully self-deprecating humor and omnipresent wit, Michael lays out a clear and straightforward question upfront: what’s your worthy goal? He aims to help you to not only find, refine and complete a goal, but he also wants the goal (or goals) to be “thrilling, important, and daunting.” As you can see, Michael is not messing around with language.
Language and humor aside, Michael artfully guides you across the book through a nine-step process baked into a three-phase goal setting and completion approach. Think of Michael as a companion on your journey as well. He is literally beside you in comic icon format providing tips and tricks (and pop culture nuances) along the way.
There are also spaces in the book for you to complete tasks that will improve your goal setting (and doing) ways. Bring a pencil to your reading sessions, too. I found myself correcting some of my initial thinking as I progressed through the book.
As a bonus, Michael has provided all sorts of worksheet goodness at the click of a QR code. So do check them out, as they are pretty handy.
The three phases and nine process steps that make up How To Begin are as follows:
Phase I: Set a Worthy Goal
1. Find Your Focus
2. Test Your Ambition
3. Claim Your Goal
Phase II: Commit
4. See Where You Stand
5. Weigh Up the Status Quo
6. Weigh Up the Journey
Phase III: Cross the Threshold
7. Take Small Steps
8. Remember Your Best Self
9. Don’t Travel Alone
Michael and I sat down to discuss the book, and you can watch that short interview in its entirety below:
Michael’s vulnerability is on full display throughout the book as well. It’s one thing to write a book on goal setting, but it’s quite another to highlight the ups and downs, the highs and the lows of two unique experiences from the author’s own life.
First, Michael sets a worthy goal of creating a new, top-notch podcast. Drinking his own champagne, that unworthy goal becomes a more worthy goal—in the midst of writing the book—to become: “launch a new podcast that is in the top 3 percent of all podcasts within 12 months.” I won’t spoil the outcome in this column but following Michael’s goal setting and completion journey is comforting as a reader.
Second, Michael also lays bare his ambition to hand over the reins of the company he founded several years ago, Box of Crayons, to a new CEO. The goal is eventually set as “role-model a gracious, generous, and trusting transfer of power.” This business example provides a different goal setting and completion context for the reader, which many teams or organizations will undoubtedly appreciate.
Michael possesses a unique writing style that often softens the blow of your underlying inadequacies. I used the book to help me reset what I am doing with my own company – going through the nine-step process to get much more precise on a business that ought to be thrilling, important, and daunting.
How To Begin also contains a wonderful nod to believe in and articulate your best self. The “This/Not That” section—found within the 8th step, ‘Cross the Threshold’— urges you to ask what manifests within you “when you’re on your game and when you’re slightly off?” This handy tool is helpful as you aim to complete the goal, knowing fully what can assist or get in the way of accomplishing it.
In sum, How To Begin is an excellent book. In fact, it is part-book, part-workbook, part-field guide, but primarily part-behavior change manual. That’s the type of book that is assured to help you begin and complete a goal.
Check out my 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters.” Thinkers50 #1 rated thinker, Amy. C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” There’s also a self-paced online leadership development masterclass available. Nearly 100 videos across nine practical leadership lessons.