To cut to the chase (and I appreciate the author being willing to define his terms up front), “The Compound Effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices.” … where “small, seemingly insignificant steps completed consistently over time” end up producing radical differences in long-term results. A classic example of this is the grain-on-the-chessboard tale that the author updates to a calendar, asking if you'd prefer to get three million dollars or a penny that doubled every day for 31 days (while starting slowly, the penny approach pulls ahead on day 30, and ends up with nearly eleven million dollars at the end of the month).
The book has a fairly straight-forward arc, with chapters on “Choices”, “Habits”, “Momentum”, “Influences”, and “Acceleration”, following the initial introductory chapter. One of the things that I think works well here is that each chapter ends with a “Summary Action Steps” section that plays off of the examples in each chapter to chart out suggestions for moving forward with the ideas. There are also a number of assessment tools, which appear in the book in very compressed form, but have printable (and expanded) versions available free at the book's companion website.
The book is hardly a “textbook”, however, presenting a melange of “self-development” stuff (like the “formula” for luck), stories from the author's life (like discovering, to his shock, early in his real estate career that he owed over a hundred grand in taxes that he'd not put away money for – his accountant insisted that he start to carry around a little notebook and begin to keep track of every cent he spent), and lot of random examples of how things escalate (like a $4/day coffee habit costing $50k over 20 years).
The little notebook concept is something that he especially encourages:
He further suggests that you do this for a minimum of three weeks … the first week will shock you, the second week will find you modifying your behaviors to either avoid writing stuff in the book or wanting to write stuff in the book, and hopefully by week three keeping track of things will have established itself as a habit.To help you become aware of your choices, I want you to track every action that relates to the area of your life you want to improve. If you've decided you want to get out of debt, you're going to track every penny you pull from your pocket. If you've decided you want to lose weight, you're going to track everything you put into your mouth. If you've decided to train for an athletic event, you're going to track every step you take, every workout you do. Simply carry around a small notebook, something you'll keep in your pocket or purse at all times, and a writing instrument. You're going to write it all down. Every day. Without fail. No excuses, no exceptions. As if Big Brother's watching you.
Oh, that coffee example, he suggests that you look at the cost of something that you're considering buying and multiplying it by five, to give you a ballpark on what the same amount of money invested for 20 years would produce … so he wants you to ask yourself if that $50 item is worth $250 to you … if so, then buy it, if not “chances are you'll put down that fifty-dollar crepe maker”. Most of the changes described here are very slight, yet he illustrates how big a difference they can make with numerous examples, such as the difference between the No.1 ranked golfer and the No.10 ranked golfer is only 1.9 strokes – about 2.7% better – but resulting in a 5x difference in prize money.
A concept that shows up in the Habits chapter is finding your “why-power” as opposed on relying in on your willpower. The illustration he makes is of a 10” wide 30ft long plank … anybody would be happy to walk that for a small reward … but put that plank across the gap between two tall buildings and nobody would try it … unless … if your kid was on top of the other building, which was on fire, almost everybody would venture across to attempt a rescue (although I'd not like to figure the odds on how many make it across both ways). When the “why” is big enough “you will be willing to perform almost any how”.
This leads into “core motivation” and “find your fight” … one needs to find something that makes you “fully motivated” – even if that something is “less-than-noble”, even hate … using “a powerfully negative emotion or experience to create an even more powerful and successful end”.
In the section on Goals, Hardy gives the most lucid explanation of the Law of Attraction that I've seen:
One of the more extensive things on the companion website is an 8-page .pdf file on setting and working with goals. There is also a “Habits” form on the site, which relates directly to the identified Goals. In the book there is a long section which talks about “Five Strategies for Eliminating Bad Habits” and “Six Techniques for Installing Good Habits” which bookend a small, but fascinating, piece called “Run a Vice Check” …You only see, experience, and get what you look for. If you don't know what to look for, you certainly won't get it. By our very nature, we are goal-seeking creatures. Our brain is always trying to align our outer world with what we're seeing and expecting in our inner world. So, when you instruct your brain to look for the things you want, you will begin to see them. In fact, the object of your desire has probably always existed around you, but your mind and eyes weren't open to “seeing” it.
He goes into “momentum” which really is about routine and consistency building towards self-driving habits … including setting up rituals for the morning and evening to “bookend” the day:About every three months, I pick one vice and abstain for thirty days … I love proving to myself that I'm still in charge. Try this yourself. Pick a vice – something you do in moderation, but you know doesn't contribute to your higher good – and take yourself on a thirty-day wagon run. If you find it seriously difficult to abstain for those thirty days, you may have found a habit worth cutting out of your life.
The “Influences” chapter goes into ideas like going on a “media diet” … the media always works on a “if it bleeds, it leads” play on our hard-wired instincts, and it takes shutting that out to keep this negativity at bay. Similarly, there's a look at one's “associations”, and even a worksheet to evaluate the ones you want to keep and the ones you need to avoid.All hell can break loose throughout the day, but because I control the bookends, I know I'm always going to start and finish strong.
There is quite a lot of “shilling” in this book for other products from Success (like several pages of ads surrounding the “resource” forms in the back – but since the ones on the website are more comprehensive, it's safe to ignore the back matter), including the Conclusion which devolves into a guilt play to buy at least 5 extra copies to give to friends/family/associates, complete with a place to write down the names. Blech! Nice way to create a “why did I just read this?” final impression.
All in all, The Compound Effect is a pretty decent book … interesting perspectives, fascinating data tidbits, some useful materials … if occasionally a bit heavy-handed on the rah-rah, “you must do what I'm saying or your life will be a horrid pit of despair”, standard self-help vibe. It's reasonably priced, and the on-line guys have it at a discount that drops it under ten bucks. I'm guessing it's also easy to find in the brick-and-mortars (and airport kiosks, etc.) as it has a 4.8 star rating on Amazon and is a NYT bestseller. As usual, my take on this is probably way off on the cranky cynical curmudgeon extreme of the scale, and most folks wouldn't mind the parts that I found irritating. While I wouldn't necessarily say this is an “all and sundry” recommendation, it's one of those that most people would benefit from reading.