Flying Without a Net: A book review by Bob Morris

Flying Without a Net: Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success
Thomas J. DeLong
Harvard Business Review Press (2011)

A new model for anxiety management by “high-need-for-achievement professionals”

In the Preface, Thomas J. DeLong observes, “The old model for high-need–for-achievement personalities was invulnerability – being opaque, emotionally detached, risk averse, and coldly analytical. This book will make the case for a new, vulnerable, model and offer directions for professionals who no longer know which way to turn.”  The new model that DeLong offers bears stunning resemblances to Robert Greenleaf’’s concepts of servant leadership and to others’ concepts of emotional intelligence, notably those of David Wechsler, Howard Gardner, and Daniel Goleman.

What DeLong contributes is a brilliant analysis of (a) why most people fear change, Chapters 1-2; (b) “the big three anxieties” (purpose, isolation, and significance), Chapters 3-5; (c) four “traps” that prevent change (busyness, comparing, blame, and worry, and finally, Chapters 6-9; and (d) what is needed to avoid or escape from the anxieties and traps by “turning fear of change into fuel for success,” Chapters 10-14.  To assist that process of personal change, he inserts through his narrative sets of direct questions or suggestions that comprise an accumulative self-assessment. In the first four chapters, for example, questions to

Determine your willingness to do the right thing poorly (Page 34-35)
Determine if your work is connected to a larger purpose (46)
Raise your awareness of events that devalue you (52-53-35)
Maintain awareness of feeling isolated (68-69)
Determine if you’re caught in a “gravitational pull” of your own (78)

I was especially interested in what DeLong has to say about The Blame Trap. As I read his extensive discussion in Chapter Seven: How to Break Your Heart Every Time, I was reminded of Ernest Becker’s book, Denial of Death, in which he asserts that physical death is inevitable but it is possible to deny another form of death: that which occurs when we become wholly preoccupied with fulfilling others’ expectations of us.

Here’s what DeLong says about social relativity:

“It is the process of using external measures to determine how we think we are doing, of defining our successes by external criteria. This process begins early in life, and it is instilled in us by many factors. In fact, the process is so baked into everything we experience that it often feels like we have no control over the emotions that cause us to compare ourselves to others. It becomes a reflex rather than a calculated action. In certain cultures, the process of comparing impacts behavior all the time and in every way.”

This is especially true of those whom DeLong characterizes as “high-need-for-achievement professionals.” For them, Flying Without a Net really is a “must read.”



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