Book Summaries Philosophy

The Discipline of Action (The Obstacle is the Way)


Demosthenes was born sickly and frail with a severe speech impediment. He lost his father at age 7. The large inheritance left to him was stolen by the guardians entrusted to protect him. They didn’t pay his tutors, depriving him of education. But he was determined to become a great orator, as he had admired the power that orators had in court.

So he decided to conquer his speech impediment. He devised strange exercises, would fill his mouth with pebbles and rehearsed full speeches while running uphill. He learned to give entire speeches with a single breath. Soon, his quiet, weak voice erupted with booming and powerful clarity.

Demosthenes locked himself underground in a dugout he had built in which to study and educate himself. To make sure he wouldn’t indulge in outside distractions, he shaved half his head to be too embarrassed to go out. From that day, he devoted each day to his mission.

When he did leave, it was to learn more. This was all aimed at one goal, to defeat his enemies in court and win back what was stolen from him. When he came of age, he filed suits against the negligent guardians who had wronged him. Demosthenes eventually won, they were no match.

Even though a fraction of the original inheritance remained, Demosthenes was truly victorious. He established a reputation as a skillful orator, and this skill was worth more than whatever remained of a once great fortune.

When an academic once asked Demosthenes what the three most important traits of speechmaking were, he replied, “Action, Action, Action!”

We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.

Theodore Roosevelt

Minimum Viable Product

In Silicon Valley, start-ups launch their “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) – the most basic version of their core idea to get feedback and then act, instead of polished finished products. The MVP model embraces failure.

The Stoics would tell themselves to not expect Plato’s republic. Perfection doesn’t exist. Do the best with what you’ve got. The first iPhone shipped without a copy/paste function. Look for progress, not perfection.

Crisis as Opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” was what Obama’s adviser, Rahm Emanuel, once told him. It was an opportunity for Obama to do things that should be dealt with immediately, thing which we postponed far into the future.

A crisis gives you the chance to do things you could not do before. It may be to write something, travel, start a business, approach a mentor, or launch a movement. Ordinary people shrink from negative situations, as they do with failure. Great people do the opposite, they are their best in these situations. They turn tragedy, and anything, to their advantage.

50 percent of the companies on the fortune 500 were started during a recession. Every crisis is an opportunity. Limitations should not be perceived as impediments, but as a form of guidance.

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"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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