Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

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Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#1  Postby TMB » Apr 02, 2010 1:08 am

Steven Covey wrote a book about the 7 habits of successful people and has been rewarded by highly successful book sales. What is it in this book, the content, the way it is delivered, marketed etc that made this the case?

Is it because people simply wish to further their own selfish ends, be successful and hence buy the book?

Because the book and behaviors it espouses will make the world a better place for us all, and we all want this to happen because what is for the greater good must be good for individuals?

Was it just well marketed and once the 'me too' critical mass gets under way success is largely assured?

Are the messages within truly life changing and will assure success to any who embody them?

Is it because the content is morally right and good and ultimately good will overcome all?

I am not asking this question from a vaccum, I have looked into the book and behind the words at the validiity of the principles upon which it is based, on how it might affect society, the individuals that follow it, and am looking to see if anyone else has done the same and analysed the mechanisms.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#2  Postby aspire1670 » Apr 02, 2010 10:02 am

TMB wrote:Steven Covey wrote a book about the 7 habits of successful people and has been rewarded by highly successful book sales. What is it in this book, the content, the way it is delivered, marketed etc that made this the case?

Is it because people simply wish to further their own selfish ends, be successful and hence buy the book?

Because the book and behaviors it espouses will make the world a better place for us all, and we all want this to happen because what is for the greater good must be good for individuals?

Was it just well marketed and once the 'me too' critical mass gets under way success is largely assured?

Are the messages within truly life changing and will assure success to any who embody them?

Is it because the content is morally right and good and ultimately good will overcome all?

I am not asking this question from a vaccum, I have looked into the book and behind the words at the validiity of the principles upon which it is based, on how it might affect society, the individuals that follow it, and am looking to see if anyone else has done the same and analysed the mechanisms.

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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#3  Postby DanDare » Apr 02, 2010 10:14 am

I found the book a rotten read but I found the habits very useful. I found his book "First Things First" much more useful.

I ignore all the moralistic guff and little stories. They don't motivate me.

Why did I want to read it? The same reason I do exercise, and brush my teeth, and learn methods like science and maths. I want to improve my personal capability within the world. I want to understand how things are, to help my family to have a great life, to improve the world around me. Those things take skill and knowledge. It all makes me happier.

[edit]I take ideas wherever I find them. I always say "ideas are not responsible for the people that have them"[/edit]
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#4  Postby TMB » Apr 02, 2010 10:56 am

Dandare, you said,
Why did I want to read it? The same reason I do exercise, and brush my teeth, and learn methods like science and maths. I want to improve my personal capability within the world. I want to understand how things are, to help my family to have a great life, to improve the world around me. Those things take skill and knowledge. It all makes me happier.


Why do you think that by improving your skills from teachings in the book will not only improve your position, but will also improve the world in general? Do you think that the mechanisms he describes are not only useful for individuals but also improve social environments?
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#5  Postby DanDare » Apr 03, 2010 6:58 am

TMB wrote:Dandare, you said,
Why did I want to read it? The same reason I do exercise, and brush my teeth, and learn methods like science and maths. I want to improve my personal capability within the world. I want to understand how things are, to help my family to have a great life, to improve the world around me. Those things take skill and knowledge. It all makes me happier.


Why do you think that by improving your skills from teachings in the book will not only improve your position, but will also improve the world in general? Do you think that the mechanisms he describes are not only useful for individuals but also improve social environments?

No, I believe that individuals who are reflective, and improve their operating skills, tend to improve social environments. The book contains instructions for a skill set that can assist an individual to do those things. The attitudes in coveys books about basic human interactions are useful for sharpening your own behaviour, methods of building personal trustworthiness, learning to hear what others are saying and understanding them and so on.

On the other hand it contains stuff about moral compasses etc. that I do not think work synergistically with the skills. Although I do think we have a built in sense of ethical values, I think they can be expressed in a very broad set of possible morals. Perhaps this is a bit like the way I separate yoga practice from the mysticism that is attached to it. Also, I have seen people take coveys ethics tools and misuse them. As an example "Seek to understand and then be understood" I have seen turned into a false technique; where some one says "Yes I understand you" and then goes on to act as if they had heard nothing, yet behave as if they had been so good in saying they had listened and understood.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#6  Postby TMB » Apr 03, 2010 11:46 am

Dan, you said,
No, I believe that individuals who are reflective, and improve their operating skills, tend to improve social environments. The book contains instructions for a skill set that can assist an individual to do those things.


I assume you are referring to the 7 habits that improve individual skills as well as adding to the greater good. I have an issue with the logic behind habits 1 and 4, be proactive, and win/win.

For habit 1, Covey notes that by not being proactive, you will be acted upon. The logical follow-on is that by being proactive you will then be acting upon others. It might be that you are acting upon others for their own good, however the fundamental premise of a species that has arisen through natural selection is that we compete. This makes it (at an individual level) a zero sum game. Pro-activity is mostly relative, every person sits in hierarchy with someone acting upon them, meaning their behaviour is being guided in ways they might not freely choose. This occurs in business, the law, families, clubs, in fact any group structure.

Habit 4 win/win follows the same incorrect assumption that win/win produces synergy and the 1+1 = 3. While this is certainly possible and multipliers do exist in our social and individual behaviour, much of this arises from the ‘arms race’ behaviour to out strive someone else, in sport, business, status etc. Covey does note that sports is better suited for win/lose and education systems drive this message too strongly, but he does not question if this is innate in ourselves, or all of life itself. He states that competition between spouses is ridiculous, but does not examine why there is so much inter martial conflict or so many failed relationships. These habits are simplistic and as such appeal to casual reading as something to strive for, however they are not well supported by evidence or logic.

The attitudes in coveys books about basic human interactions are useful for sharpening your own behaviour, methods of building personal trustworthiness, learning to hear what others are saying and understanding them and so on.


Certainly most of the habits allow us to be more effective and his evangelising that we need to do things for the greater good might have some rub off, however the communism model also looks to create for the greater good, but the human species does not seem quite suited to this. Coveys approach seems more appealing, and we can be acquisitive and capitalistic without guilt because we have based this upon character and not personality and are striving for the greater good. Yet the logic behind some of his habits makes this questionable.

On the other hand it contains stuff about moral compasses etc. that I do not think work synergistically with the skills.


I suspect these are added to appeal to the social greater good in pursuing essentially selfish objectives. Without these principles behind them, the behaviour is a bit more naked and provides readers with a sense of virtue through this behaviour.

Although I do think we have a built in sense of ethical values, I think they can be expressed in a very broad set of possible morals,


I do not understand what you mean. Are you suggesting that humans have innate moral values in the sense of how they treat others, or is this moral behaviour toward oneself? I imagine that human moral behaviour is designed to serve the best interests of the individual and they behave accordingly, in society conditioning is required to mould them into productive, obedient citizens. We all appear to have some degree of being compliant in doing this, but this is not an innate social moral, just a tendency to conform to prescribed behaviour.

Perhaps this is a bit like the way I separate yoga practice from the mysticism that is attached to it.


Some of Coveys principles are indeed not relevant to the habits, however most seem to be, with yoga there are still principles behind the practice, but I agree the meta stuff is unrelated to the practice.

Also, I have seen people take coveys ethics tools and misuse them. As an example "Seek to understand and then be understood" I have seen turned into a false technique; where some one says "Yes I understand you" and then goes on to act as if they had heard nothing, yet behave as if they had been so good in saying they had listened and understood.


I would say this occurs because people are only inclined to be other focussed to serve their own needs (mostly), however some are unable to conceal this. Others are actually unaware of their true motives and others are very good at deception.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#7  Postby DanDare » Apr 03, 2010 1:26 pm

Re: proactive. I took that to mean, be aware of what's going on around you. Don't just "go with the flow" unless that seems like a good strategy at the time.
Re: win/win. We encounter situations often where competitive behaviour is strongly sub-optimal and cooperation is better. There are also situations where cooperating without great trust is sub-optimal. This is easy to take to far. There are sharks out there who will make you pay for their well being.

I do not understand what you mean. Are you suggesting that humans have innate moral values in the sense of how they treat others, or is this moral behaviour toward oneself? I imagine that human moral behaviour is designed to serve the best interests of the individual and they behave accordingly, in society conditioning is required to mould them into productive, obedient citizens. We all appear to have some degree of being compliant in doing this, but this is not an innate social moral, just a tendency to conform to prescribed behaviour.

All humans have variation but I think there are some biological influences on our behaviour to one another. Empathy would appear to exist as a function of mirror neurones in the brain. It allows us to understand and anticipate others actions and to communicate. It also causes many of us (not all) to feel pain when others are suffering and we are consciously aware of it. That drives us to help (or sometimes to try to be unaware of it).
When our own needs are met, and we are not under threat, there is a tendency for many of us to reach out to others, to share and support. Not everyone, but not an insignificant number.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#8  Postby TMB » Apr 03, 2010 3:14 pm

Dan, you said,
Re: proactive. I took that to mean, be aware of what's going on around you. Don't just "go with the flow" unless that seems like a good strategy at the time.


Covey is quite specific that proactive avoids one being acted upon (implied by others taking advantage), but does not follow through with the implication of this. I understand that people will take out of it what they chose, I am more interested in the judgement of the content, and why the book has succeeded so well.

Re: win/win. We encounter situations often where competitive behaviour is strongly sub-optimal and cooperation is better. There are also situations where cooperating without great trust is sub-optimal. This is easy to take to far. There are sharks out there who will make you pay for their well being.


I agree with you, but as above I am looking for judgement upon Coveys approach wrt to logic and why the book has such appeal.

All humans have variation but I think there are some biological influences on our behaviour to one another.


I have no doubt there is, but is this innate morality, or just the tendency to be influenced according to the objectives of the group – ie. Born under Hilters regime or Mother Teresas just means you acquire different ‘morals’, which not imply empathy at all, just conformance.

Empathy would appear to exist as a function of mirror neurones in the brain. It allows us to understand and anticipate others actions and to communicate. It also causes many of us (not all) to feel pain when others are suffering and we are consciously aware of it. That drives us to help (or sometimes to try to be unaware of it).


I am not aware of the evidence for empathy, there appears to be more means of imitation between peoples behaviour which better explains how we operate in and out groups and allows us to inflict great cruelty upon others – as we imitate our peers. If might be the basis of empathy, just as it is the basis for lack of empathy toward others.

When our own needs are met, and we are not under threat, there is a tendency for many of us to reach out to others, to share and support. Not everyone, but not an insignificant number.


Are you referring to our charitable causes etc, that the western world subscribes to? I would say this is mostly lip service. Consider the lack of action around the environment, assistance in famine etc, its just a drop in the ocean that does this. If it were a significant number we would unlikely have obesity issues in the western world, or the spending of 10’s of billions of $ on weight loss diets, while many millions are starving.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#9  Postby DanDare » Apr 04, 2010 1:59 pm

TMB wrote:I am looking for judgement upon Coveys approach wrt to logic and why the book has such appeal.

I can only tell you why it appealed to me. I found his principles and techniques personally useful after finding them interesting enough to try. I am the sort of person who takes useful things from wherever I can find them. As I said I did not use (or even read) 100% of any of his works. The bits I went with were the ones that helped me to increase my capabilities to help myself and help others.
Are you referring to our charitable causes etc, that the western world subscribes to? I would say this is mostly lip service. Consider the lack of action around the environment, assistance in famine etc, its just a drop in the ocean that does this. If it were a significant number we would unlikely have obesity issues in the western world, or the spending of 10’s of billions of $ on weight loss diets, while many millions are starving.

I believe you are incorrect. To effectively cause change in the areas you mention requires great skill by many people, alignment of effort and agreement on strategy. There are many people in the world expending the effort but it is often not effectively spent, even when it is done efficiently, which is also rare.

Your "lip service" comment suggests a preconception. I am aware of people who do such things, and of people who work only for their own well being with short term goals only. They are a powerful minority. I am also aware of a larger number of people who are simply apathetic or ignorant. They are a powerless but sizable group. The rest I see every day trying to better the world around them for their own sakes and the sakes of people they care about. Its this last group that, if their thoughts on what to do were better networked and informed, could make a significant difference.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#10  Postby TMB » Apr 04, 2010 9:33 pm

Dandare, you said,
I believe you are incorrect. To effectively cause change in the areas you mention requires great skill by many people, alignment of effort and agreement on strategy. There are many people in the world expending the effort but it is often not effectively spent, even when it is done efficiently, which is also rare.


I was thinking more how we managed to get ourselves into the current situation rather than digging ourselves out. It would indeed to take great effort to turn it around, but look at how much competitive and thoughtless effort must have existed to provide the energy to get us there in the first place. It is this ‘tragedy of the commons’ that seems to have to brought it on. It is these aspects of human nature that Covey (imo) overlooks and simplifies. He has done it in such a way to make people not feel guilty in pursuing selfish ends.

Your "lip service" comment suggests a preconception. I am aware of people who do such things, and of people who work only for their own well being with short term goals only. They are a powerful minority. I am also aware of a larger number of people who are simply apathetic or ignorant. They are a powerless but sizable group. The rest I see every day trying to better the world around them for their own sakes and the sakes of people they care about. Its this last group that, if their thoughts on what to do were better networked and informed, could make a significant difference.


I agree that there are people who are working toward a better for al world, and some of them are powerful. The majority appear to be myopic and self-centred without regard for others to any great degree. My point is that Coveys book has wide appeal because it offers a justified way for people to be selfish based upon flawed principles.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#11  Postby DanDare » Apr 05, 2010 11:16 pm

Ok, you have a thesis that Covey's book packages a justification for selfishness. To explore that can you suggest some examples from the book that you think imply selfish behaviour? I have read the functional parts of the book but skipped lots of the narratives. I didn't come across such aspects. At present it feels as though you are saying that a book about, say, keeping fit was all about yourself and that therefore it is a way of packaging selfishness.

For those just joining the conversation, here are the titles of the seven habits:
1 Be Proactive
2 Begin with the End in Mind
3 Put first Things First
4 Think Win/Win
5 Seek First to Understand...Then to be Understood
6 Synergize
7 Sharpen the Saw

Personally I place 7 Sharpen the Saw 1st, simply because I think it is a foundational habit. You must constantly work on your capability and that flows forward into the other habits. That may be just me though.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#12  Postby TMB » Apr 06, 2010 2:54 pm

Dan, you said,

Ok, you have a thesis that Covey's book packages a justification for selfishness. To explore that can you suggest some examples from the book that you think imply selfish behaviour?


The basic premise of Coveys book is to make people more effective. He describes 7 habits to do this and explains the rationale behind them. Habits 1(be proactive) and 4 (think win/win) are illogical. One needs to be proactive otherwise one will be acted upon (contradicts win/win). In the detail he talks about some issues behind win/lose, describing education, sport as examples where we foster this desire, yet he dismisses this as a natural instinct in humans, and says that competition between male and female partners as ridiculous, which ignores fundamental drives within individuals, even a foetus and pregnant mother have mechanisms built in to ensure that the competition for survival remains in a delicate balance. These basic drivers are ignored by Covey, yet he also defines a bunch of basic principles behind his ideas, on the basis that personality is shallow and character is deeper and more fundamental. If he is concerned about fundamental principles, surely he should look to the principles of selfish genetics and see if it is logical to base some of his principles on eliminating win/lose instincts. I am not suggesting we are unable to overcome and balance some of the competitive drivers, but Covey ignores them completely – ie. It is not about overcoming them, he appears to think they do not exist.

Another basic principle that he states if dependence, independence and interdependence, stating that we start as dependent, become independent, and then interdependent. We should not be swayed by spouse, family, church etc. That is not realistic so independent that they are not swayed by these things. In truth social beings have no or very little independence from those around us. Our challenge is more about evolving a social conscience (or appearing to), so we are able to benefit from society, while society ensures that we also contribute in return. At no point can we be considered independent to anywhere near the degree that Covey describes.

These basic flaws in his logic pretty much make the ‘good for all’ collapse. The other habits are logically consistent, and if practiced will certainly make a person more effective. It appears that 1 and 4 have been included to make sure it is socially palatable, and can be sold as being for the greater good. I am not suggesting this was deliberate, however humans have a long history of missionaries who went forth certain in the rightness of the teachings they imposed upon the natives, effectively unable to see the implications except in hindsight.

At present it feels as though you are saying that a book about, say, keeping fit was all about yourself and that therefore it is a way of packaging selfishness.


Not at all. This is like the book on fitness showing how it will help you win more running races, and at the same time it will help everyone get fitter and win more running races. But winning races is relative to the fitness of others, if everyone is fitter, it just means the intensity of the races and overall results improve, but you still get winners and losers. Covey ignores this fundamental competitive aspect in our nature, and implies that in being pro-active you might need to overcomes challenges from those who are not proactive. In other words when converting the ‘natives’ to civilised behaviour, you may need to help them overcome their heathen ways.

The net result of the above is that people can pursue essentially selfish behaviours and not feel any guilt because they are improving the benefit for al. Where this does not work with people reluctant to follow the same path, its a problem with the other people. I am not suggesting there is no social merit and effectiveness. For example you can get a group of proactive people getting together on an initiative (say a new business) practicing all the 7 habits and being very successful in doing so. In the process however they will outcompete and possibly eliminate other businesses in the same field – this is natural competition, certainly not win/win. You might also find a group of like minded people who do the same thing for a charitable cause in a famine struck country, in which case they are unlikely to eliminate any competition in win/lose. However, in business, school, sport, mate courtship its pretty much win/lose scenarios between groups, there is some win/win within a group, where they are competing with other families, or sports clubs etc. This is just the level it is analysed at.

You are unlikely to be able to see this in Coveys book unless you read it with the express intention of trying to analyse it instead of using it as a self help guide. If you go in with this approach the logical flaws are not difficult to see.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#13  Postby Elderito » Apr 14, 2010 5:18 pm

Covey left one out:
8) Celebrate the differences among us. This means to allow others to live and love as they will in their own search for happiness, and don't become a raging homophobic dickhead. It's bad for business.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#14  Postby DanDare » Apr 15, 2010 12:50 pm

Elderito wrote:Covey left one out:
8) Celebrate the differences among us. This means to allow others to live and love as they will in their own search for happiness, and don't become a raging homophobic dickhead. It's bad for business.

I'd love to see it worded just like than in his book. It would make it a more enjoyable read.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#15  Postby The_Metatron » Apr 15, 2010 1:15 pm

Having just gone to wiki to see exactly what these habits are, it is my judgment that they are not particularly special, either singly or taken as a group. They are all goal oriented, behavior specific actions that have a pretty good chance of leading one to success. Covey's formula is one way to stand a good chance of succeeding, but I doubt it is the only way.

I should think any approach that suggests similar actions, if applied, is bound to be useful, especially if compared to a completely disorganized approach.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#16  Postby TMB » Apr 16, 2010 12:06 am

Elderito wrote:Covey left one out:
8) Celebrate the differences among us. This means to allow others to live and love as they will in their own search for happiness, and don't become a raging homophobic dickhead. It's bad for business.


Or at least ensure that you convey the impression that you support this principle. For some will hold the genuine belief they do hold this while still pursuing their own selfish needs. It does support the need and habit to be proactive, and this is in relation to others.

This is where Covey is simplistic, ignoring the fact that proactivity is relative to others. As with any 'arms race', for example improving training methods, use of performance enhancing substances, etc will improve the Olympic 100m track times, but we are still focused on getting a winner and a number of also rans.

This is also evidenced the use of technology to make us more productive and save us time, except we are just raising the bar for everyone.

This concept is illustrated in Lewis Carrolls, "Alice in Wonderland", with this phrase,

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen.

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#17  Postby DanDare » Apr 19, 2010 1:09 am

The_Metatron wrote:Having just gone to wiki to see exactly what these habits are, it is my judgment that they are not particularly special, either singly or taken as a group. They are all goal oriented, behavior specific actions that have a pretty good chance of leading one to success. Covey's formula is one way to stand a good chance of succeeding, but I doubt it is the only way.

I should think any approach that suggests similar actions, if applied, is bound to be useful, especially if compared to a completely disorganized approach.

That's true, but if you want help to improve your effectiveness then it helps to pick a method and learn it. Once you have it down then you can easily expand on it. So the fact that it is only one of possibly thousands of approaches is not actually a criticism.

To answer the OP, the question is then why is this one so popular compared to some of the others that may be out there. I put it down to accessibility and good marketing.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#18  Postby TMB » Apr 19, 2010 12:47 pm

DanDare wrote:
The_Metatron wrote:Having just gone to wiki to see exactly what these habits are, it is my judgment that they are not particularly special, either singly or taken as a group. They are all goal oriented, behavior specific actions that have a pretty good chance of leading one to success. Covey's formula is one way to stand a good chance of succeeding, but I doubt it is the only way.

I should think any approach that suggests similar actions, if applied, is bound to be useful, especially if compared to a completely disorganized approach.

That's true, but if you want help to improve your effectiveness then it helps to pick a method and learn it. Once you have it down then you can easily expand on it. So the fact that it is only one of possibly thousands of approaches is not actually a criticism.

To answer the OP, the question is then why is this one so popular compared to some of the others that may be out there. I put it down to accessibility and good marketing.


I put the success down to presenting an essentially selfish approach as one that is good for larger society by pro,oting character based principles that supposedly go to the core of our human goodness. Howeer as I pointed out a couple of the habits dont stand up to logical scrutiny.
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#19  Postby locutus7 » Apr 19, 2010 2:18 pm

Covey is big-time LDS, if I recall. A mormon senior. Not that his religion is an influence on his books (or is it?)
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Re: Coveys 7 Habits - why is it so successful?

#20  Postby ymitchell » Apr 19, 2010 4:01 pm

TMB wrote:Steven Covey wrote a book about the 7 habits of successful people and has been rewarded by highly successful book sales

I found this one more relevant to my work experience .. Seven Years Of Highly Defective People
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