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Book Review: The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating A Life While Making A Living by Randy Komisar
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Book Review: The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating A Life While Making A Living by Randy Komisar- Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating A Life While Making A Living by Randy Komisar

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating A Life While Making A Living by Randy Komisar

“Imagine I have an egg, and I want to drop this egg three feet without breaking it. How do I do that?”

This is the riddle proposed to author Randy Komisar by a monk in a remote area of Burma in the middle of a seemingly directionless motorcycle ride, as told in The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living (Harvard Business Review Press, 2001). Komisar, who calls himself a Virtual CEO, has been the actual CEO of Silicon Valley companies, as well as a lawyer for Apple and an advisor to startups and venture capitalists alike. His resume would indicate that he knows a thing or two about succeeding in business, but that is not his purpose here, although his life advice is wrapped up in the premise that success in business and success in life can be tied together—in fact, they must be tied together if one is to gain anything meaningful out of either.

The author repeatedly explains what he calls the Deferred Life Plan most of us undertake in our professional lives. We do what we must do now, so that we can do what we really want to do later. We toil away at a job we might not care about now, hoping that it will all pay off later so that we can afford the lifestyles we crave, or engage in the pursuits our hearts truly yearn for, like Hollywood actors starring in brainless blockbusters each summer so they can later accept roles in lower-paying, creative, independently produced films that satisfy the artistic drives that make them good actors in the first place.

There are problems with the Deferred Life Plan, says Komisar. Many people die before they ever get to phase two of the plan. Many compromise ideals, ethics, and dreams in order to get through phase one. And many simply never reach the point where success in phase one enables them enter into phase two. In order to illustrate the pitfalls of this traditional plan, Komisar tells the story (made-up, but an aggregate of many of his experiences) of Lenny, a sales manager with a vision for a start-up. Lenny has done all his homework, and he is able at any moment to respond to questions about his business plan with well-thought-out charts and figures. But so focused is he on profit and exit strategy that in his presentation to prospective funders, he has narrowed his vision to exclude the big picture that drove him into this pursuit in the first place.

Lenny hasn’t got time to ask himself whether he’s passionate or merely driven (“Passion pulls you toward something you cannot resist,” explains Komisar. “Drive pushes you toward something you feel compelled or obligated to do”), so the author does the asking. It isn’t until Lenny is baffled by the cool reception he receives from venture capitalists that he takes a moment to reassess the path he’s on and why he’s on it.

The author walks us through Lenny’s ordeal, along the way showing us glimpses of the life he’s chosen for himself: mornings talking to entrepreneurs, afternoons advising companies, and evenings having dinner with friends, spouse, and dogs, with meditation, exercise, emails, and bike rides in between. His tale is illustrated with personal experiences gained while bicycling distant lands and traversing the corporate landscape, and his purpose is clear: the egg in the monk’s riddle eventually hits the ground and cracks, as do we all. How what do we want the journey to be like? What will it take to make us feel, moments before the end, that our time has been meaningfully spent?

Komisar doesn’t necessarily have the answer for his readers, though it is clear he has reached some concept of an answer for himself. Rather, he proposes the question, repeatedly, determinedly nudging at the reader to ask him- or herself the question. His story is a good, quick read which will resonate with readers long after the conclusion. Quite recommended.

 

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Book Review: The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating A Life While Making A Living by Randy Komisar- Executive Leadership Articles

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