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Book Review of: The Fearless Fish Out of Water

How to Succeed When You're the Only One Like You

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Review of The Fearless Fish Out of Water, by Robin Fisher Roffer (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

There's nothing wrong with conforming, at least in some ways. In other ways, it's a huge mistake. Look at how many stupid things are done to avoid being different. Kids smoke cigarettes due to peer pressure, not stopping to think that those peers are not thinking either. People go out to restaurants and suck down a day and a half of calories at one sitting--because everyone else is. You could make a list of the twenty dumbest things people do, and probably 15 of those are done out of a misplaced "need" to conform.

We can look at "over-conformity" from a different perspective than that of doing dumb things. We can look at it from the perspective that too much conformity stifles your potential to achieve. Roffer takes this other perspective in this book. What she's talking about is embracing what makes you different and using that as a strength.

This concept may violate what you read in many career success books (talk this way, dress this way, etc.). And it may conflict with the cliquish culture among some influencers in your organization (what do you mean you won't golf with us?). But when you stop and think about it, this concept is logical.

Consider what every company does in the marketplace. It tries to show its unique selling proposition, a concept marketers call "USP." What is it that differentiates you from the herd (or in Roffer's metaphor, school) and makes you special?

I have come across some good works by motivational speakers and others who advise to be true to who you are. They expound on the virtues and benefits of this and that's good. What has been missing is the same kind of thing presented from a business mentor viewpoint. This is where Roffer comes in.

She doesn't have a formula or paint by numbers process, so it's not a book that you can mindlessly follow. But it is laid out logically. And if you read it and think over the concepts you will find it contains much wisdom and insight. It also contains practical tips, easy-to-follow guidelines, and useful exercises for further developing and applying what you learn.

Her basic premise is that rather than "fix what's wrong" with being different, use what sets you apart as a powerful force for achieving your goals. People want to fit in. They want to be accepted by others. You can be accepted without changing who you are. You can be you without apology and without alienating others. Roffer explains how to make that happen.

Most nonfiction books consist of ten chapters. That's the standard formula. Roffer chose to write hers in seven chapters. She could have chosen to "fit in" by adding three fluff chapters, but her focus instead was on serving the reader. She had material for seven chapters, so seven chapters it was. She had material for seven chapters because she provides a seven-step process for succeeding as the person you are.

She uses a fish metaphor throughout. She uses examples, mostly from the entertainment industry, to illustrate various points and concepts. Here are the chapters:

  • Step 1: Go Fishing for the Real You. Self-knowledge is a lifelong process. This chapter helps move that along.
  • Step 2: Use your Differences as a Lure. This chapter focuses on presenting what's different in a positive light, rather than apologizing for it.
  • Step 3: Find a Few Fish Like You. How to create a support system, basically.
  • Step 4: Swim in Their Ocean Your Way. I found this chapter particularly interesting. My approach has generally been to just stay out of the water (avoidance). Her approach relies on engagement.
  • Step 5: Put Yourself Out on the Line. Great stuff here on self-advocacy, an area where many people go way overboard and many others just don't get off the pot.
  • Step 6: Evolve by Casting a Wide Net. Being yourself doesn't mean being insulated from the rest of the world. How do you strike a balance?
  • Step 7: Reel in Your Unique Power. This chapter looks at how to turn belief and courage into action.

This book has a few flaws. For example:

  • The profusion of sentences constructed in parallel. These always make a reader have to do mental flipflops.
  • The persistent use of "flounder" where, judging from the context, the author meant "founder." These are not synonyms.
  • Other grammatical errors, such as using a modifier with "unique."
  • Too many references to television. People tend to be readers or television watchers, but not both. The reason is physical, because the brain adapts to the particular use. A knowledgeable medical examiner can identify which group an autopsied person belonged in by looking at the structure of that person's brain. Readers and television watchers really are that different. So, many of her references were simply foreign to this avid reader.
  • The writing style lacked snap. One reason is Roffer used many complex, compound, multi-clause sentences.

The flaws are form, rather than substance. But they do detract from the reading experience. The message is good, and the author knows what she's talking about. I think for anyone who feels anxiety about fitting in, this book is a good investment of time and money.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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