Book Review: Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice From An Unlikely CEO

“Did I fail? Probably. Did I gain valuable experience? Definitely. Did my failure contribute to my eventual success? Absolutely.”

This quote meaningfully captures the essence of Fred Cook’s book Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO. The quote is a culminated through a not so successful venture upon which Fred embarked. And the book is a vivid collection of such experiences from which he learned and we can draw career learnings.

His biographical narratives span from aimlessly hopping onto a Norwegian cruise ship sailing for Japan to working as a lobby boy, to starting one of the largest PR firms in the world. The point of these narratives is emphasise on the power of improvisation. It revives faith in the surety of the real world to test more than the pedigree.

Fred dismisses at the outset the overt compulsion of solid, structured education or being privileged for that matter. “School delivers information, life delivers ideas”, he quips elaborating on the importance of varied experiences. He shows over a course of several such experiences how putting yourself in uncertain situations teaches you to think on your feet, figure situations out and solve problems. That can generally improve your lateral thinking and amount to more power in the real world than any formal training atmosphere.

Exposing yourself to different people, ideas, beliefs, habits (and so on), is paramount, as you don’t learn anything new by hanging out with people like yourselves. In fact, it is learning from people around you that helps you build great interpersonal dynamics. Having the right attitude for it not only helps build a better understanding of people around you, but also to surround yourself with the right people.

Ultimately the book provides a convincing assurance that knowing what the right path is isn’t as important as having the courage and the confidence to figure it out. And once you do figure it out, it shows how not to be afraid to ask for it. This makes it a great read to learn how to extend a professional influence from good to great. And the earlier during a career one reads it, the more impactful it can be.

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