Little Lessons

Searching for the Best

Posted by Mark Fallon

Jul 20, 2018 5:01:00 AM

burger dinner

“The best things in life aren’t things.” – Art Buchwald

It’s common to see signs in restaurants declaring “Voted Best Restaurant of 2018” by the readers of the local newspaper or regional magazine. The restaurant may only be a local pub with 10 tables and 5 booths, but it’s “the best”.

I’ve had people ask me for “the best hotel in Boston”. Before answering, I ask questions – How many people? Any children? What do you plan on doing? What time of year? Will you have a car?

A friend asked me “what’s the best book on leadership?” The closest I could come to answering the questions was to write a blog post with a list of 25 books that had a significant impact on me.

“Best” is a very personal term. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “best” as “superlative of good: excelling all others.”

Excelling in what?
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Topics: emotions, memories, values, Reading and Books, reflection

Reading List – First Half of 2018

Posted by Mark Fallon

Jul 6, 2018 10:07:22 AM

books_and_coffee

My goal each year is to read a book a week. I open a book, divide the number of pages by 7, and calculate my daily reading diet. I also keep a book on my nightstand, reading a few pages before going to sleep. Friends, bookstores and the local library keep the stocks filled.

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Topics: reading list, Reading and Books

The Best Books of 2017 – A Baker’s Dozen

Posted by Mark Fallon

Dec 29, 2017 5:07:00 AM


2017 Books.jpg
Whenever, wherever I travel, there’s always a book in my briefcase. Perhaps a spare in my suitcase as well. Vacations always include stopping at a local bookstore, browsing for something unexpected.

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Topics: Reading and Books

Focus, Not Limits

Posted by Mark Fallon

Sep 29, 2017 5:00:00 AM

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“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

I’m currently reading “Life: The Leading Edge of Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Anthropology, and Environmental Science” (edited by John Brockman). The book is a collection of essays and conversations by scientists on their understanding of life – from evolution to genetics to the origins of life to the probability of life on other planets.

My favorite chapter is the transcript of a panel discussion on the concept of life. What makes the discussion so interesting is the varied points of views - biologists, geneticists, physicists and evolutionary philosophers. While each scientist had a primary field of study, they were also well-versed in a wide spectrum of topics. The physicist had read papers on genetics, and the biologist had studied chemistry, and so on. Their broad understanding of multiple subjects supplemented their specific fields.

We can learn from their habits. Too often, we allow our focus to become too narrow. Instead of improving our expertise in an area, our self-imposed limits stunt our growth – professionally and personally.

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Topics: Reading and Books, friendship, learning, communicate, growth

Leadership Books That I’ve Enjoyed Reading

Posted by Mark Fallon

Sep 8, 2017 5:00:00 AM

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“If a man or woman is fond of books he or she will naturally seek the books that the mind and soul demand.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Recently, a friend posted a question on Facebook – “Mark, What's the best book about leadership have you read and recommend?” That’s a good question, and difficult to answer.

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Topics: Reading and Books, inspiration, leadership, learning

Everyone Needs Sales Training

Posted by Mark Fallon

Aug 4, 2017 5:00:00 AM

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"Sales are the engine that pulls the train. Everything else follows." - Harvey Mackay

Last year, I read several books on sales training and even attended a seminar. I'll do the same thing this year. You should too. Regardless of your job.

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Topics: Reading and Books, leadership, selling

You Aren’t Listening Yet

Posted by Mark Fallon

Mar 17, 2017 5:00:00 AM

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” - Plato

guitars.jpgChristina, my waitress, asked why I was visiting Baltimore. I explained that I was doing advance work in preparation for the National Postal Forum this May. I warned her that there would be thousands of people who work in mail taking over the waterfront for several days.

She laughed and said that she has a small stamp collection. Her prized possessions are her Elvis Presley stamps – both editions. That comment pivoted the conversation to music – and the wide range of artists that Christina liked.

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Topics: inspiration, Reading and Books

Books By The Baker’s Dozen

Posted by Mark Fallon

Jan 13, 2017 5:01:00 AM

"Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped make my dreams come true." – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

bookcase.jpgFor over 50 years, books have been a central part of my life. I don’t travel without at least one book in my briefcase (and usually another one packed in my suitcase). Vacations mean even more time to read – and usually seek out – more books. When at home, I try and set aside at least 10 to 15 minutes a day with a book.

While I’m generally drawn to books on history and leadership, close friends have encouraged me to add more fiction to my reading diet. With some suggestions and gifts, I took their advice. I found myself drawn to some classics, including a few that I read many years ago. For 2016, over a third of the books I read were fiction.

Here are 13 of the books I most enjoyed over the last year:

Fiction:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This is a beautiful, sad tale. In the heroine and the women around her, I could see every strong woman who's touched my life. And in the male characters, I saw the weak men, including myself, who let them down in one way or another.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. A friend recommended that I read this classic, and I'm glad she did. This book is NOT about a mad scientist, a massive electrical apparatus or villagers with torches and pitchforks. It’s about what can happen when society completely rejects "The Other" based on appearance. Shelley couldn't foresee the genetic experiments being conducted today. However, she does raise the issue of scientists being so focused on what’s possible, that they may not pause to think about what’s right.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. At moments, Bradbury's prose reads like subtle poetry. It inspires me to hone my craft, while making me question my abilities at the same time. Amazingly, in 1953 Bradbury predicts people walking around with ear buds all day, tuning out the world around them; flat screen TVs taking up whole walls; and shorter attention spans that replace reading books to absorbing Twitter feeds and YouTube videos.

However, even in the face of destruction, Bradbury remained hopeful about the fate of humankind. And so should we.

Chronicles of the Last Liturian: Book 1 - The Diary of Oliver Lee by Kenneth Rogers. I had the good fortune of meeting the author at the Boston Book Festival. His enthusiasm in real life is mirrored on the printed page. This book is reminiscent of Bradbury's collections of short tales, like "The Martian Chronicles". Rogers weaves together tales of wonder, worldliness and tears. I look forward to the next book in the Chronicles.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (a gift from a good friend). From Merriam Webster - Curmudgeon: a person (especially an old man) who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains. But Ove is more than just a curmudgeon, much more. A sweet book that is beautifully written. Best enjoyed by those who've experienced a lasting love. And those who've known someone, or want to be, like a man called Ove.

Nonfiction

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. This book was a gift from a professional association who asked me to speak at their event. A better title would have been "Plymouth" or "Plimoth", especially as almost half the book deals with the second generation of colonists.

This is a well-researched history of the Plymouth Colony from the landing of the Mayflower through King Philips's War (1676). This book dispels many of the myths many of us hold about the Pilgrims and the settlements of New England. Philbrick does a good job of showing the points of view of both sides in King Philip's war. From the savagery of attacks by the native tribes and English settlers alike, to the selling of native captives into slavery, the reader is reminded that war is cruel for all involved.

Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard. There were 2 books about the US Postal Service (USPS) published in 2016. This is the better one. The story of the establishment and growth of the USPS is intertwined with the story of the establishment and growth of our country. Many of the issues and arguments about a public post have been recycled for over two centuries. And if past is prologue, we can expect more of the same.

Speed Kings: The 1932 Winter Olympics and the Fastest Men in the World by Andy Bull. The author describes this book as a "nonfiction novel" - complete with a bobsled team composed of characters like the wealthy speedster, the Olympian boxer turned Rhodes Scholar, a somewhat successful songwriter (who's not a somewhat successful songwriter with a similar name) and a gambling social climber. The intrigue, backstabbing, political maneuvering and outlandish behavior around the 1932 Winter Olympics seems ripped from today's news stories.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan. Socrates held up the ideals of the "philosopher king" and "philosopher queen". In a world dependent on the wonders of science, and susceptible to the dangers science can cause – what we really need are “philosopher scientists”. Carl Sagan was the 20th century version of this ideal. It’s been 20 years since he passed away. Will anyone step up to take his place?

Code-Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War by George Veith. Although I was a history major in college, an ROTC student and a US Army Infantry officer, this was a chapter of the Vietnam War that I knew almost nothing about. Veith is unflinching in his criticism of the Johnson administration officials who hindered the valiant efforts of the men trying desperately to rescue their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

This book also hit a deeply personal note, as one of the chapters is about my cousin, Kevin Kelly - then Captain Kevin Kelly, US Army - and his role on the team. Kevin has always been a role model for me, and I never knew this aspect of his service.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. From the war of the 1960s to the war of the present. Based on research and personal experience, Sebastian Junger explains the how many of the values of tribal culture are missing from modern society – and how we are the lesser for it. Yes, we are wealthier and safer than ever before in history – but we are more divided as well. And the divisions have dangerous implications.

Sweet and Bitter Bark: Selected Poems by Robert Frost. A wonderful aspect of living in New England is the ability to look out my window and see the natural beauty Frost describes in his poems. This edition includes prints by French and American painters that were contemporaries of Frost. A wonderful addition to his imagery. This book was a helpful reminder to add more poetry to my reading routine.

That’s it for this year. If you have any books you’d like to recommend, please let me know.

Happy reading!

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Topics: Reading and Books

The Risk of Being Judged

Posted by Mark Fallon

Oct 21, 2016 5:01:00 AM

“It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes.” – Sally Field

Comic Books.jpgI read comic books.

My friends have known this for the last 40 years, but it’s not something I usually share in public. My Goodreads list includes novels, but the majority of books I read are about management, history, science and philosophy. I’m a 54-year-old businessman running a consulting company. As a writer and a consultant, I want people to take me seriously. And serious people don’t read comic books.

Actually, they do. I was recently reminded of my own misgivings and their impact on my life.

Last weekend was the Boston Book Festival. In addition to exhibits of authors, bookstores and publishers, the festival had informational sessions on different genres. The panels are a blend of national and local celebrities, as well as famous and not-so-famous authors. It’s a great opportunity to gain insight to the writers’ approach towards their craft.

The unexpected highlight of the day was a session entitled “BFF Unbound: Not Your Grandma’s Romance”. Filmmaker Laurie Kahn moderated a panel of 4 authors, who shared how they began writing romance novels, the different subgenres in the romance category, and their interactions with readers. I couldn’t believe I’d left my normally ever-present notebook at home.

A common theme was the reluctance of the authors to embrace romance novels – either as a reader or a writer. Several had Master's degrees, one had been an English professor and one was a computer systems professional. They were serious, well-educated people. And romance novels weren’t for serious people.

Actually, they are.

The writers had to get over their own preconceptions of what romance novels were, and who would be their readers. They discovered that romance fiction contained universal themes of the human condition, which could be expressed in many different settings. Their audience were people who read multiple books a week, if not a book a day. Writing romance would be as authentic as any other genre.

Choosing this course of action meant risking being judged by certain segments of society, including their close friends. However, it also meant joining a supportive community of millions of readers who embrace their choices and don’t worry about what other people think. An added bonus – being financially successful in the multi-billion dollar romance novel market.

Too often, we let the judgments of others interfere with embracing who we are – and who we can become. In many ways, social media has intensified these feelings, with people posting disparaging comments about types of films, music or books. Or perhaps putting down others because of what they prefer to eat – or not eat. It can even devolve to insulting other runners because of the distances they choose or the finishing times of their races.

While perhaps meant in jest, these posts can cause embarrassment for their unintended targets. We all have some level of insecurity, and the wrong phrase can magnify our self-doubt. We’re driven further into silence. And farther away from our joy.

There’s little we can do to change the actions of others. But we can change ourselves. First - before posting that next negative comment – pause and reconsider. If the post doesn’t serve any positive usefulness, why bother? Is it worth making yourself feel good – at the expense of someone else?

More importantly, be proud of who you are – including all of your idiosyncrasies and passions. Stop being concerned about what “everyone” thinks. As long as your joy doesn’t bring someone else pain, then it’s good. Read comic books, watch silly television shows, go for runs before sunrise, or do whatever it is that makes you happy. Look inward, not outward, for approval.

Consider sharing your enthusiasms with the world. Maybe post about a musician you recently discovered, a walk that brought you peace, or an event that made you smile. Your words may help you learn that there are many other people who share your opinion. Or maybe you get to introduce someone to a delight that they’ve yet to discover.

It’s worth the risk.

Book Mark to speak at your next event
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Topics: support, values, Reading and Books

More Fascinating Than Fiction

Posted by Mark Fallon

Jul 24, 2015 5:30:00 AM

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Topics: reflection, Reading and Books