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Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to The World – Tom Rath

by Venky

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From a personal standpoint, the release of every Tom Rath book is not merely an event, but a veritable cause for celebration. If you find this statement to be an exercise in gross exaggeration, then I would sincerely exhort the skeptic in you to read his bestseller, “Eat, Move, Sleep.” You can thank me once you become a convert to the Rath Philosophy! Humour aside, Mr. Rath’s books constitute a blend of wisdom juxtaposed with implementation. If practicality is the mother of his ideas, enriching outcomes make for the father.

Mr. Rath’s latest work, “Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to The World” is no exception to the rule. The Rath imprimatur permeates the pages of what arguably must be the smallest book that the author has penned till date. While the message conveyed is neither novel nor ingenious, the path laid down for the reader to follow is downright utilitarian. However, lest the reader be confused, the word Utilitarian is not to be used in the context of what or how Jeremy Bentham espoused it to be. The utility as proposed in this book does not target the maximization of happiness for many at the expense of a few.

At the heart of the book lies the notion of adding value to society in such a way that the value thus added provides something that others need. As Mr. Rath holds forth, “scientists have determined that we human beings are innately other-directed, which they refer to as being “prosocial.” According to top researchers who reviewed hundreds of studies on this subject, the defining features of a meaningful life are “connecting and contributing to something beyond the self.”

Using empirical and qualitative research finding, Mr. Rath proposes that “all teams need to do three very basic things: Create, Operate, and Relate. If a team is lacking in any one of these three major functions, it is almost impossible for the group to be effective, let alone thrive.”

Mr. Rath devotes the bulk of his book in dwelling about what he terms are twelve primary contributions. The following is a symbolic illustration of the twelve contributions:

12 contributions

Mr. Rath introduces his readers to each of the dozen contributions with a brief and perfunctory introduction that alludes to the most quintessential attributes of the contribution in function. This outline is immediately succeeded by two sections titled, ‘Contributing to Teams’ and ‘Contributing to Other’s Lives’, and ‘The Energy to Be Your Best’ respectively. It is in these two sections that one can experience the vintage Tom Rath touch. Shades of “Eat, Move and Sleep” keep darting in and out both unobtrusively and conspicuously depending upon the relevance of the topic being dealt with. However, the repeated emphasis on movement, dietary habits and repose is a telling acknowledgment of the tenets which the author himself swears by.

For example, in the contribution of “Connecting: under the heading, ‘Contributing to Other’s Lives’, Mr. Rath explains, “one of the challenges of being very active socially is that it involves a lot of dining out in groups. Find ways to get ahead of the endless temptations of bad choices by eating something healthy before you go to an event or setting rules for yourself about what to avoid.”

Yet another illustration of the “Eat, Move, Sleep” influence may be found in the “Energizing” contribution: “Today, make a list of the most common foods and meals that almost all experts agree are net positive for health and energy — foods like green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and so on. Help others simplify and synthesize all the disparate information out there so eating well is that much easier for them. If you are better than most at juggling several tasks at once, try applying this to infusing movement into your workday — for example, find ways to talk or type while you are standing or walking. It’s likely that your focus on serving other people in your community sometimes comes at a personal cost. Are you taking care of yourself to the degree you should? Understand that the people you hope to serve need you to take care of your own physical health first so they can count on you in a time of need.”

The book also lends access to an online resource portal called “Contribify.” “The Contribify inventory is a series of questions that asks you to prioritize activities and situations that describe you or appeal to you most. This app will then show you the top three areas where you have the most potential for contribution.” The portal allows the reader to build a profile upon entering a unique access code that can be found at the back of every physical copy of the book. The inventory takes the reader through a series of open and close-ended questions. The portal also under a section titled, ‘Most Influential Life ExperienceS (“MILES”) encourages the reader to go back and identify a few of the most formative experiences of her lifetime. “What are the events, moments, or periods of time that most positively influenced who you are today?”

As Mr. Rath illustrates, researchers Amy Wrzesniewski, Justin Berg, and Jane Dutton, during the course of their studies spanning more than a decade and involving people who have successfully made their current jobs into much more meaningful and enjoyable careers, concluded that it is possible to turn the job you have into the job you want. It is this very objective which Mr. Rath strives to instill in his readers in general and the populace in particular. This he proposes to achieve by taking recourse to the twelve contributions which ought to be uncompromising in adherence and indelible in their execution.

While “Life’s Great Question” might not be viewed as a book that advocates principles that are neither radical nor lateral (as in out of the box – in Edward de Bono speak), it certainly possesses quality that can prove to be transformational.

Typical Tom Rath!

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