published on Monday, April 5, 2004 in The Miami Herald
Magic Words: An act well worth repeating.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Words: 101 Wise Ways to Navigate Life's Sticky Situations. Howard
Kaminsky and Alexandra Penney. Broadway Books. 304 pages.
Words at Work: Powerful Phrases to Help You Conquer the Working
World. Howard Kaminsky and Alexandra Penney. Broadway Books. 224
pages. (to purchase, click on the titles or each cover
Magic words? I expected books full of bons mots and catch phrases
that would cloud minds and bend helpless lackeys to my will, or
at least help me succeed in this troubled world. In other words,
I was extremely skeptical.
But, thankfully, both Magic Words books are comprised of a variety
of personal mottoes and sayings that are words to live by. For example
''lead between the lines'' is the advice that was offered by the
father of a young manager, suggesting that he find a solution to
a problem, then try to make it fit the relevant rules.
Or, as this excerpt from the book illustrates, ``Let's Pretend:''
``This was the tactic adopted by a young woman Alexandra knew who
worked as a secretary for a fashion magazine. Deborah's dream was
to be a fashion editor, and long before she had the job, she had
the image. Because she was young, she wisely shunned the stark,
sophisticated perfection of a Diana Vreeland, and instead, in her
clothes and hairstyle, mirrored the fashion fads of people her age
who were making news in the worlds of art, music and drama. Deborah
was never outlandish, but she was always different and completely
``Gradually, senior editors began seeking her advice on styles that
were percolating up from the underground. One day, one of the editors
asked that Deborah be made her assistant. There is no question in
anyone's mind that Deborah will eventually take the step up to editor.
To look at her, you'd think she was already there. Dressing the
part is what Alexandra calls `Let's Pretend.'
'Sometimes it's a way of convincing other people you're right for
the role. But sometimes it's a way of trying on a new profession.
When a photographer we know was thinking of giving up the unsettled
life of the freelancer for law school, a lawyer friend told her
that first she should play `Let's Pretend.' ''
The advice: ' `Buy a silk blouse and a tailored suit and wear them
for a week. If you can't stand the outfit,' he warned her, 'I promise
you you'll hate the job.' ''
Both books are chock full of phrases illuminated with anecdotes
from which simple yet profound wisdom can be derived. While the
newer book is positioned as more of a business text, both contain
lessons that can be applied to a variety of circumstances in and
out of the boardroom or cubicle farm.
Authors Kaminsky and Penney are publishing pros. The former has
been a top executive at several firms, and the latter was a best-selling
author and magazine editor. They clearly hit upon a winning formula
with the original Magic Words and repeated the act with its worthy
follow-up. As gimmicky as their approach might be, it's a rather
painless and entertaining way to teach and elicit self-examination
This deceptively simple approach might fit under ''if it ain't broke,
don't fix it,'' ''keep it simple, stupid'' or any number of other
sobriquets, but for Kaminsky and Penney, I'd just say "Abracadabra!"
and leave it at that..
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