Book review: Unlearn it all to move ahead

Nigel Cumberland's 100 Things Successful People Do offers easily digestible tips for working smart and living well.

Nigel Cumberland’s 100 Things Successful People. Handout
Powered by automated translation

Back in the 1990s, I discovered Life's Little Instruction Book, a series of sweet instructions from H Jackson Brown to his son as he headed to university on how to make life better. In a similar vein, Dubai-based author Nigel Cumberland's 100 Things Successful People Do is a series of 100 ideas for working smart and living well, based on his 15 years working as a coach.

The book, subtitled Little Exercises For Successful Living, is easily digestible (perhaps even as a tip a day), with each spread over two pages – the first explaining the concept and the second featuring practical exercises and activities to apply it to your life.

My favourite "thing" – unlearn everything. Cumberland says 40 per cent of what you learn in college will be outdated in a decade. "It's easy to feel illiterate in the 21st century with the constant pressure to lean, unlearn and relearn," he sympathises, adding that this takes up a large part of his coaching work.

Learning itself is not difficult, he says. The real problem starts when you have to unlearn something first. He says unlearning is like deleting old files on a hard drive or stripping off wallpaper before you redecorate.

"When something's worked for you in the past there's a tendency to assume it will keep working for you in the future," he says. "Change your mindset so that your expectation is to be surprised, challenged, disappointed and forced to start over in your thinking."

A lot of his advice is drawn from his six years of UAE living, says Cumberland, who has also lived in Hong Kong, mainland China, Hungary and Chile and is one of the founders of coaching firm the Silk Road Partnership. This is his eighth book on self-development and leadership.

Other snippets of advice include giving credit to someone every day, having the courage to fail by taking more calculated risks and doing it today.
Remember that the glass is neither full nor empty but refillable, he says, and don’t let little things consume you: ask yourself if this will matter tomorrow, next week or in a year before you get het up.
Released in August in hardback, the book is published by John Murray Learning and is available from for US$12.91.

q&a appeal that is universal

Author Nigel Cumberland tells Suzanne Locke about the inspiration for his latest book, 100 Things Successful People Do:

Have your coaching clients inspired you?

Yes, the book is inspired by both the experiences of the hundreds of leaders and professionals I have coached and/or trained in the last two decades; individuals in key cities such as London, Hong Kong and Dubai, as well as in remote locations such as Nepal, Armenia and Sri Lanka.

Have any personal experiences made their way into any chapters?

The book is also inspired by my own life – moments of great success as well as failure. The successes have included: selling a company I created; a great family; having an award-winning recruitment company in China; winning a place at Cambridge University; and becoming a multinational finance director at the age of 26.

Who is the book aimed at?

Everyone – literally anyone, anywhere. Foreign language rights are being sold; my publisher told me the book is being translated into Vietnamese.

Any other good advice?

Get home on time by “working smart”, as productively, creatively and efficiently as possible. Think like a lazy person when you’re going through your to-do list; Bill Gates said he liked to hire lazy people because they found the easiest way to do things. Sensible advice for the long-hours culture of the UAE.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter