Wednesday, 6:20pm, everyone is in a hurry — as if remote-controlled. Artificial light. Dry air. People coughing, sneezing, without consideration for others. No smile anywhere to be seen. Ambiance: none. Mood: at a low point. I keep hearing the same monotonous words:

„Any liquids? Laptop? Tablet? Belt? Watch? Anything in your pockets?“

Last and final call for Air-XS, Flight XS356 to Toronto…“

Some airport in some country. Not distinguishable — except for the Asian ones that still have carpet, sprinkled with an overpowering sweet-smelling cleaning agent.

If you are a business traveler, you will agree, that after many years of journeying back and forth you have developed lots of small tactics to get through check-in and boarding procedures as quickly and efficiently as possible, without having to think too hard.

This starts with the choice of shoes (ideally without laces) and through to the most strength-saving way of lifting your case up the stairs. Your gaze is programmed: departures screen — time, gate, delay? Check-in terminals — out of order? Everything to hand. Autopilot.

So that I don’t completely lose my soul during these repetitive processes, I have formed a habit of finding a refuge that I can look forward to, even while obeying the militaristic and monotonous instructions of Homeland Security and other airport authorities.

The days during which I spent time at Duty Free or in boutique stores are long gone. You even have to queue to enter the lounges.

Nowadays I am drawn to the book stores. These little shops were you are surrounded by CULTURE!

Literature, the humanities; images in your mind. A relief for mind and soul. And a completely different atmosphere. Calmer, slower, quieter.

It seems as if everyone here is mindful of others. No loud talking. Even thoughts remain quiet, so as not to disturb the thoughts of others. If you hit something with your trolley, you quietly say “sorry”, even if no one is nearby. Inspiring.

I rummage around, browse, lie back and observe other travelers as they select books, ask myself why they chose this exact book. During the course of my years travelling, I noticed a positive correlation between stress factors and business books: the more unsettled a customer’s body language and expressions, the higher the chances that this person will end up in the business section and study or buy a piece of non-fiction.

It is not just amusing for me to observe customers and how they behave before and during the act of purchasing — it is also my job.

As a sales strategist, my clients ask me to develop sales strategies for brands of consumer goods, to analyse shopper psychology and at the same time to use coaching and training to support employees in their job development.

Most business books have a special attraction for potential buyers. The titles contain motivating power words such as

great, efficient, powerful, but also numbers like 15, 10, 5 or even 101 Tips how to in 30 days’.

I also sometimes search for inspiration in current specialised literature — written by psychologists, university professors, CEOs or ‘gurus’. The top sellers really do belong in every well stocked bookshelf: Tom Peters, Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie, Jim Collins, Mike Porter – but also Twain, Saint-Exupéry, Coelho, Sun Tzu, Confucius, Aristotle, Gautama, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…

However, nowadays it is no longer enough that an author be an expert in his area in order to create a bestseller out of a book. Cue: sensory overload.

Publishers have long recognised that title and subtitle are of particular importance in determining the chances of success of a book. The marketing mechanisms that underlie the choice of titles are just as professional as with consumer goods.

It would be naive to assume that book titles are determined at the end of the creation process, like a kind of logical conclusion:

Ok, now what shall we call this thing?

Like perfect advertising slogans, good non-fiction titles address two human sensations that trigger strong emotions within us:


Desire in the form of LONGING and hope in the form of a PROMISE.

Think of some of the brilliant selling lines from the world of branding:

The best or nothing

Gives you wings

The best a man can get”…

Because Im worth it”…

What else?

It won’t surprise you if you immediately thought of the corresponding brands, because that is the result of perfect consumer research.

What do all these selling lines have in common? They address human DESIRE (LONGING) and HOPE (PROMISE):

  • to be better than others
  • to reach higher
  • to be a real man
  • to be valuable
  • wouldn’t you like to be a bit like George?

This is how you generate revenue.

Publishers use the same mechanisms. The title alone motivates, allows us to appear stronger — regardless of whether business or health, cooking or parenting. Good titles serve our inner painful desire and simultaneously soothe our never admitted fear that we will not be able to reach the desired state.

Longing is one of the strongest drivers and emotions in life, and therefore also in working life — so strong that is was written about as early as 2,400 years ago by the Greek philosopher Plato. He connects longing to something that is

“absent or somewhere else”.

In the 18th century, German philosopher Immanuel Kant described longing as an

“empty wish which destroys the time between the desire and the acquisition of the desired”.

Longing as a kind of dominant diversion.

Everything surrounding the topic of longing sounds a bit desperate and sad. Which it is. Longing means pain, means YEARNING. Longing implies OBSESSION, so nothing good.

Think of Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan and Isolde, whose subject is the longing for death. The same applies to the tragedies of Shakespeare, where longing for death plays a decisive role, for example in Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet:

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet — all dead. Poison. Sword. The end. Curtain.

Because of this mental dominance of longing for health, skills, personality and life-improvement, it is understandable that people buy these books.

A gripping title soothes our longing for success, for recognition, for economic security. We want to develop personally. We strive for success, because we equate it with happiness and being happy.

We think:

This book was written for me

and can hardly wait to dedicate ourselves to this book, sitting in a quiet corner.

Aside from longing, titles and subtitles like How you can in 30 days fuel our hopes for success. These promises act like a ‘mental carrot’, they make us optimistic and inspire confidence.


We devour all the wisdoms, no matter how banal they sound.

Leadership wisdoms

Set stretch goals & over-deliver.
Show honesty & integrity.
Ask instead of answer.
Get to the point.
Encourage disagreement.
Care for and about people.
Be an example.
Be candid.
Create followers.
Focus the Organisation.
Treat people fairly.
Allow for failure.
Do what’s right for your people.
Build new leaders.
Give positive feedback.
Be open & transparent.
Be as good as your word.
Create a vision.
Always embrace the truth.
Take decisions.
Take informed risks.
Champion change.
Be a lifelong learner.
Just say thank you.
Admit you don’t know.
Delegate with purpose.
Make course corrections.
Don’t shoot from the hip.
Don’t forget where you started.
Apply a business focus.

We know many of these universal ‘laws’. Nonetheless, success often remains elusive, even after reading these sorts of books over again.

But we have understood all the facts presented in the book, we have practically inhaled these success factors, often made notes, highlighted terms, lines, sentences, paragraphs or even entire pages. While reading, we vividly imagined the real life situations at work or at home in which we would be able to deploy the rules described here.

And still it doesn’t work. We simply do not manage to integrate these rules into our daily (working) life, let alone to live by them every permanently.

It’s as though we had never even read the book.

We also experience the same frustration after taking part in seminars, training, business coaching and workshops. Participants register full of optimism and await the silver bullet, which they hope will enable progress at a personal and professional level.

„Yes, I want to become a better manager.“

„Yes, I want to demonstrate more leadership.“

„Yes, I want to develop this special skill.“

„Yes, I want this, but without having to bend over backwards. I want to stay me.“



A great goal. Participants absorb seminar information like a sponge; they enter the role plays full of enthusiasm, write notes until their wrists hurt and are very active in brainstorming, in Q&As and in other interactions.

Despite all this investment, progress is rather limited.

  • Are better decisions taken afterwards as a result?
  • Is work done more efficiently, quickly, cost-effectively, successfully?
  • Are you promoted more rapidly?
  • Are you valued more as a member of the team?

You know the answer to these questions.

But do you also know the answer to the next question, the most important question in the world:


This question leads us to the issue of causality.

Causality deals with cause and effect. Which conditions need to be present so that an event occurs? This event can be a physical process, such as pressure or temperature, or a mental/bodily reaction, such as our behaviour.

Cicero was convinced:

“Nihil fit sine causa”

nothing happens without a reason.

And Schopenhauer wrote:

“For something to be, it needs a cause which acts upon it.”

The best aspect of cause/effect analyses is the discovery of the trigger. It is like a journey of discovery, a puzzle. A real world Sudoku; a problem based on pure logic.

A simple example:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The chicken, you say? No chicken, no egg? But how did the chicken come into this world? So the chicken was there before the egg?

Well, it depends on whether you prefer to believe in Genesis (First Book of Moses) or trust in Charles Darwin: creationism and the theory of evolution.

“Whoever solves this puzzle, settles the argument over God”

wrote Goethe.

If you are certain that Adam and Eve did not have a belly button, then the chicken must have come first in your view. If you believe that the chicken evolved, then you do not think there was such a thing as a ‘first chicken’, nor a ‘first egg’.


The ancestors of the chicken (vertebrate) developed after bony fish, who reproduced through spawning, took to land. Between the spawn of the bony fish and today’s egg there was an intermediate form of live births in a placenta. In order to cope with the new environmental conditions on land, the placenta developed thicker melanin skins, the predecessors of the shell. Thereby ‘spawn’ turned into ‘eggs with shells’.


So the real question is actually:

“Which came first: the fish or the spawn?”


In any case.

It is about discovering what triggers our behaviour and why it is so difficult to change.


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