The Art of Doing: A book review by Bob Morris

Art of DoingThe Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well
Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield
PLUME/The Penguin Group

“How do you do what you do?”

Initially, I was eager to read this book because I thought (and think) the concept is brilliant: Obtain and then summarize the responses from a wide variety of “superachievers” to two separate but related questions: “How do you do what you do?” and “How do you do it so well?” As I began to read the book, one in which co-authors Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield employ a clever format to organize the responses as well as other information (more about that in a moment), I began to suspect that while editing the material, they had homogenized the responses and that seemed especially true of Yogi Berra’s in Chapter 5, “How to Be a Major Leaguer.” The tone, syntax, and usage seem so unlike his spoken and written observations but somewhat similar to those in the responses in the first four chapters by Laura Linney, Anna Netrebko, Cesar Millan, and Ken Jennings. Of course, there are significant differences between and among the five in terms of what they do so well: acting on stage and in film, performing in operas, “rehabilitating” dogs with whispers, winning $3.6-million on Jeopardy!, and playing major league baseball.

I contacted the co-authors, expressing my concerns. Here is the reply from Gosfield:

“Every participant gave generously of their time with interviews and follow up interviews up to 3 hours. Because of the length the transcripts were distilled down for clarity and brevity and all the text is in the participants’ own words and they have seen and approved their chapters. We had no preconceived notion of what should be written and our only agenda was to ask these superachievers “How do you do what you do?” We thought of this book as a collaboration in which our goal was to capture—to the best of our abilities—the life lessons, strategies and techniques of every person in the book.”

Then I re-read the book. Although I still have some concerns about editing, having interviewed more than 200 business thought leaders in recent years, I will take Gosfield at his word. To the best of my knowledge, none of the 37 “superachievers” featured in the book has expressed any complaints.

With regard to the format, Sweeney and Gosfield insert a one-sentence descriptive for each contributor (there are two In Chapter 7) in the Table of Contents. After an especially informative Introduction, they shift their and their reader’s attention to Laura Linney and introduce the format: Brief bio with a Takeaway (e.g. Linney: “Trust acting. If you put everything in its place and don’t skip steps along the way, the right result will come.”) followed by a set of ten key points. In Linney’s chapter, appropriately, they offer advice relevant to an acting career. Then Sweeney and Gosfield provide “Facts” about the contributor(s) followed by “Facts” about the given profession.

I have already identified five of the superachievers. Others include Martina Navratilova (tennis champion), Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock (performing and writing comedy on television), Tony Hseih (creating a great company culture, Zappos), Chad Schearer (hunting big game), Philipe Petit (“living on the highwire,” literally), Lynsey Addario (Pulitzer-prize winning photographer of “the horrors of war”), and Helio Castroneves (three-time winner of Indianapolis 500). As indicated earlier, a total of 37 contribute.

However different they may be in most respects, these remarkable women and men share much in common: they are exceptionally hard workers; they are determined and on occasion tenacious; they embrace competition but tend to focus on what their own success (however defined) requires rather than on an opponent; they love what they do despite the effort and personal sacrifices required; and have an insatiable curiosity to know how to do what they do even better. As I read about them and their achievements, I was reminded of Jack Dempsey’s observation that “champions get up when they can’t.” What they share in this book suggests that doing well is both an art and a science, and, that achieving greatness is a process, a journey, not an ultimate destination.

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