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Stephen Covey, "7 Habits" author, dies at 79 (yahoo.com)
233 points by MarlonPro on July 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

Stephen Covey wrote a profoundly influential book which made a big impact on my life. At a time when most self-help authors were focused on improving your personality, Covey was concerned about your character.

A quick summary of the habits:

1) Be Proactive - accept that while you can't control what happens to you, you can always control how you respond

2) Begin with the End in Mind - imagine what you'd like people to say about you at your funeral, live each day with that vision of your best self in mind

3) First things First - don't let the urgent take precedence over the important - make sure you devot time/energy to your highest priorities

4) Understand before Seeking to Be Understood - make sure you really listen to others, reflect what you hear, before trying to tell them anything

5) Think Win-Win - life works better when you don't see things as a battle, but as an opportunity to allow both/all parties to succeed

6) Synergy - ok, this was a little vague, but basically by working together you can achieve more

7) Sharpen the Saw - make sure to take time to renew yourself - exercise, sleep, recharge, learn new things, and keep yourself operating at the highest levels.

RIP Stephen. Tremendous respect for what you've embodied.

Thanks for writing this. I must admit that I always dismissed 7 Habits as yet another business self-help book full of platitudes. (Without reading it, of course.)

Based on the reaction to his death here on HN however I'll give it a shot.

I had similarly dismissed it until a computer science professor allowed us to read and write about it to test out of a (boring) final. I had already been taught the 7 principles from a high school class, but the book itself far exceeded my expectations with its specific advice, anecdotes, and perspectives. I now own a copy for future reference.

David Allen's "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" is a good companion to The Seven Habits. GTD focuses a little more on the geeky mechanics of self-organization/prioritization.

They are totally complimentary. 7 Habits concentrates on "What to do" and GTD concentrates on "How to do it."

There are two other excellent "self-help" books that should be part of everyone's bookshelf. They are:

* "Getting to Yes" which I think is the greatest book on negotiation. "How to deal" * "Sources of Power" by Gary Kline talks about how people make decisions. "How to decide"

Give me these four books, and a firm place to stand, and I will move the world.

Are you moving the world right now? Because these books sure make you feel like you can but there is that small matter of actually doing it. (Not being snarky, I sincerely hope you are doing great things).

I was paraphrasing Archimedes.

I'm pretty please with the impact I'm having on the world.

Great to hear! (And not a bad original quote either)

Who are the authors of How to Deal and How to Decide?

"Getting to Yes" is basically "How to Deal." "Sources of Power" is "How to Decide."

My lack of formatting skill makes it look like there are four books instead of two.

Yeah. One of the distinguishing features of 7 Habits is how old it is. While I'm not familiar enough with the market to verify this claim, I believe it was the first of its kind.

As a result, most of the things it talks about are common parlance these days, because the people who read it 20 years ago have internalized it, remixed what they learned, mentored others, and otherwise disseminated its gems. That said, it remains on my list of books to generically recommend to anyone.

I'm not sure what "its kind" is, but self-help books go back a long way. Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", recommended by PG, was written in 1936. "The Power of Positive Thinking" dates from 1952, etc.

But I certainly agree that 7 Habits is an excellent book.

I've actually never read either of those, which makes it hard for me to decide if they count as the same kind. If you think they do, that's enough for me. I amend my statement to merely indicate that it's really old.

>Based on the reaction to his death here on HN however I'll give it a shot.

This thread is affected by the Michael Jackson effect. I would get my reading advice from a less biased one.

Have you actually read the book? I think it's a bit insulting to relate his death to Michael Jackson's (or Whitney Houston's) death and the excessive ridiculousness that followed. This booked has helped a lot of people including myself, and no one should be deterred from reading it.

Did you get your name confused with your password or something? (Just wondering about the name :))

I use a random alias whenever I am not using my real name. The habit comes from a combination of laziness, paranoia, and dissatisfaction with various aliases I have past used. The downside is difficulty to login from other machines, though I could use something like lastpass.

I use an Alfred plugin (http://trepmal.com/alfredapp/random-password/) to generate logins.

Isn't M.J. effect about the Internet slowing down (like HN/Reddit/Slashdot effect, but on a cross-website scale)?


I just finished reading 7 Habits last week. A lot of it seems "intuitive and common sense"... it's just so much more powerful when read and "forced" to think about what's being said!

I also just finished "It's Okay To Be The Boss" (different author)... I think one of the main takeaways from both books is: Focus. You need to focus and think about what you are trying to accomplish and manage yourself and others properly and proactively.

Thanks for summarizing the 7 principles here. I am familiar with the book as well. However, I am not sure if I should envy or pity the people who feel their lives so incredibly enriched by them, by the majority of accounts almost bordering on the religious. For myself, they are too obvious, shallow and trivial to really have that positive effect that apparently so many are experiencing.

I'll try to provide a secular account here ;)

The principles are obvious, and Covey states this in his appendix of the Kindle edition. He claims credit only for packaging them in an accessible way.

7 Habits was effective for me because I answered the questions it posed throughout the text. The book presented a self-evident principle, such as "Put First Things First", then forced me to consider a dozen ways I could implement it. Then, all the positive effects those implementations would bring. I would try to put one of these ideas into practice each day I read. Repeat for 6 more principles.

I put in a good deal of effort and got out a framework that slowly increased my output at work, my understanding at home, and my patience under stress.

No road to Damascus here, just compounding interest over the months since I finished the book. I recommend it based on that.

When I was 25 or so, I realized that just because someone told me to do something in a loud, assertive voice, didn't mean I had to do it. I didn't even have to explain myself! I could just not do as I was told.

By the time most people get to 25, this is mind-blowingly obvious. Yet for me it was profound...

Most "profound truths" are fairly simple. But it's living those truths in your daily life that make them powerful. It's also about what you first encounter. I read 7 Habits when I was 13. I suspect if I had read it when I was 23, I would have had a different opinion of the book's insightfulness.

Have similar sentiments about Covey and 7 Habits, so thanks for your post. Wanted to also point out a follow-up book he wrote which I recommend. In "Principle-Centered Leadership"[1], Covey further demonstrates these principles at work. Like Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey's clear vision of the human condition will continue to have a positive impact on many lives far into the future.

ADDED: I remember feeling compelled to get out a highlighter while reading both of these books (so many gems). Unfortunately, they're in storage, so won't be able to share the things that really stood out. However, there are excellent summaries of both books online if anyone is interested.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Principle-Centered-Leadership-Stephen-...

Another main thing I took from him was the importance of not compromising on your principles: when faced with two tough decisions where there is no "right" decision, if you stick to your principles even if it may be uncomfortable, you will feel more certain about the decision you made. But if you decide on something else, possibly for convenience, then that is when you get doubts if you really made the better decision. RIP Stephen. I was fortunate my mom got me your book to read years ago as a teen, and I knew that I wouldn't need to read other "similar" books. I have never read a self-help book and don't consider yours in that category.

"7 habits of highly effective people" was one of the books that I read almost 12 years ago and have skimmed through many times since. As time passed by, things that I couldn't absorb the first time around became more apparent. The book was as profound and relevant when it was written as it is today. RIP Stephen.

Copyright note: if this counts as a work of corporate authorship (surely the publisher owns the copyright not the author...but maybe I'm misunderstanding this definition) this book will enter the public domain in 2107. If it counts as a work of the author then public domain will hit in 2082. This assumes they don't extend it any more.

In either case, it's likely that "highly effective people" will have acquired a number of different habits...but maybe our grandchildren will find interest in the comparison.

Or you could spend $21 at Amazon and save yourself 71-95 years. I've bought the book, and the advice is actually worth more than $21.

The best tools and information don't always cost money, but sometimes they do.

or $2.69 + shipping, used :)[1]

OR, for free, at your local public library [2]

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/...

[2] http://sccl.bibliocommons.com/item/show_circulation/11771480...

OR, for free, at your local public library

It's not free.

It's a copy that you and others in your area had purchased for you, by your local library, with money collected through the tax mechanism.

Relative to the purchasing options, it's free insofar as the marginal cost is zero.

Yes, technically someone - whether a donor or taxpayers - had to buy the book, construct the building, fund ongoing operations, and so on. But any of your tax money that you might have paid for this is a sunk cost - there's no additional user fee you pay in order to take out Seven Habits (or any other book).

Many public libraries are private in ownership and sponsorship.

No taxes involved.

Such a library is considered private, although such libraries may have public access. Public libraries are considered public by virtue of being publicly funded, partially or wholly, via taxes.

It is also free from the Kindle Lending Library:



There is 0 marginal cost to read the book for prime members.


Considering the list is of the habits are available elsewhere in the comments, what do I get from buying the book?

A quite convincing rationale for the 7 habits and many more bits of advice.

Does he consider contrary evidence or other habits that were considered and excluded?

Not really. This isn't an exact science - it's just a list of practices that can help a person live a happier and more successful life. A lot of it corresponds to common sense, but the way he explains it drills into the 'why' in very clear language.

Oh please. Does every thread on HN need to be a platform for rants about IP?


A couple of years ago I've read and listened to lots of motivational and self improvement books and audio-books. 7 habit was one of the most insightful I've read. This book has nothing to do with the "get rich quick" category we usually find it in when we go to the library or bookstore.

Color me underwhelmed by Covey's writing. I always found it a bit too obvious, and found it disingenuous that while he spoke at length about the importance of religion and his large family, he never came out and stated that he was Mormon (not that there's anything intrinsically good or bad about that, but ... it's like appearing multiple times on the news as a small businessman without revealing that you're also an officer for a decidedly partisan political organization (http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/jul/13/introducing-joe-olivo/... -- no, not Covey).

His association with Darl McBride (of SCO vs. IBM lawsuit fame) doesn't particularly impress me either, in the "judge 'em by the company they keep" sense. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darl_McBride

Covey took an obscure term from psychology and rather utterly changed its meaning. "Responsive" or "anticipatory" work fine. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proactive

Covey's book is decent. It's by no means the best. The truths it speaks are pretty obvious.

And I suppose this is my own take to his principle #2.

Just because something can be summarised in a simple way, doesn't necessarily make it simple to begin with.

Think of all the simple and obvious things we read, write and discuss every day: "find customers before building a product", "don't solve problems you don't have yet", "write tests first before writing code".

These are all "simple and obvious" but you couldn't possibly derive any value from reading only those statements without any discussion or analysis of what they really mean.

Likewise, if we take the stuff Covey says about being "principle centred". Reduced to it's simplest summary this says "base your character on unchanging principles to avoid fluctuations". So simple it's basically axiomatic: of course if you base something on an unchanging foundation, it will be less subject to change than if you didn't.

But without his discussion about what the other options are, what it means to be centred in money, self, family, work etc. you don't have a good enough reference point to judge what action you would need to take in order to change your attitude, behaviour or character.

The truths it speaks are pretty obvious.

I think most great truths are like that. The Golden Rule is a good example.

Covey self-aggrandizes. He doesn't pose this as some well-accepted ancient wisdom occasionally misplaced. Or at least that was my impression of the book. Read it some 20 years ago, reviewed bits of it since. I find it difficult to stomach, believe I finally just tossed it.

I remember first reading about "7 Habits" from Linus's management style:

First off, I'd suggest buying "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People", and NOT read it. Burn it, it's a great symbolic gesture. [1]

After that I read the book and it's actually not that bad. It helps.

[1] http://lwn.net/Articles/105375/

That says more about Linus that anything else I've read.

I suspect it's more of a tongue-in-cheek self-reference to the Linux C coding style (http://www.kernel.org/doc/Documentation/CodingStyle) where he suggests burning the GNU coding standards, using exactly the same phrasing.

Incidentally if you read the GNU coding standards I think you'll find they really ARE that bad (http://www.gnu.org/prep/standards/html_node/Formatting.html#...)

I was curious about how bad the GNU standards could be [they make so much great software!].

Holy crap. Function calls with a space? foo (x,y);

Braces indented halfway into the "else" keyword? Ugh. I'm no C guru but even has a freshman cs major I'd recognize that as ugly.

Beginning as far back as high school his "7 Habits" book had a profound impact on the way I think and feel about relationships and work/life balance. I return to it every few years to look at it with fresh eyes.

I am saddened by this news and will surely take some time today to reflect on the lessons I have taken from his work.

As a laconic geek, Covey's habit #5 "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood" resonated with me. Actively listening to people to understand them, verifying my understanding, then seeking to help them understand me has served me very well socially and professionally.

Ditto here. Of all the habits, #5 is the one that stood out and intensely/profoundly changed my outlook on relationships.

It's funny how it seems obvious when you read it, but sometimes we need someone else to summarize and restate the obvious to look at it clearly and objectively.

Covey's anecdotes seal the deal: instead of vague platitudes he gives specific (if idealized) examples. Definitely unscientific, but certainly helps understand.

> It's funny how it seems obvious when you read it, but sometimes we need someone else to summarize and restate the obvious to look at it clearly and objectively.

This brings to mind one of my favorite Covey quotes:

  "What is common sense is not always common practice."

Many life-changing principles are obvious. Practicing them is a challenge, just not an intellectual challenge.

My mentor who was instrumental in nearly all the best things I achieved as an adolescent highly recommended I read 7 Habits, but I never did. It was one of those things I just put off.

One thing I'll say though is that this is how I want to die-- Biking steep roads in the foothills, living to the fullest regardless of age, and then be comforted in the end by my children and their families.

This man died well.

Wow! I just started reading his book (http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Habits-Highly-Effective-People/d...) this weekend and was reading it at lunch less than an hour ago!

Sorry to hear, it's a great book.

Although "7 habits" is good, Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people" is still #1 for practical, real-world business and relationship advice, in my mind.

The problem with that is that far too few geeks are interested in winning friends or influencing people.

Still, the Carnegie book is great.

It's all about the 2nd quadrant.

Stephen spent more time there than most.

In addition to his books and organizers he also had 52 grand-children! That's one birthday per week, on average.

I am sad as if someone from my own family had died.

Since I first read it 10 years ago, I kept calling the 7 habits my "bible" (I am not religious). Every sentence of the book teaches you something new. Each time you read the book, you learn something you.

This book had such a big impact on my personality that I can't recommend it enough.

I even developed a Time Management tool based on his habit 3 First Things First: http://weekplan.net

Stephen, I wish I had attended one of your seminars. I regret I haven't.

$0.75 used from half.com if you still down own a copy. Books are such amazing value. It's like an everyday Steam Summer Sale in the book world.

This is a book that I read at least once per year. It's a valuable resource and highly relevant to entrepreneurs and generally to everyone.

Been trying to convince my girlfriend to read this for a while.

She finally started to read it under advice from a mentor, and it is really having an impact on her effectiveness.

It was just yesterday we were discussing some of the points of 7 habits over wine.

RIP Stephen. I will remember to "Sharpen the saw".

I read this book a while ago and it has definitely influenced me in positive ways. I know I'm not the only one who has benefited. I'm sad to hear this news.

Good reading for just about anyone.

Sad news about a distinguished man. His "7 Habits" book was one of the very first books that I read on personal development.

One of the best things about his work is that it focused on deep change and fundamental principles and values, not quick-fixes. He never promised that self-improvement or improving your relationships with others was easy, but he did show many people a way that worked well.

I read his book in college. Had a profound impact on me. The "Sharpen the Saw" habit convinced me to exercise regularly.

RIP Stephen. I was 17 when I read "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", a book that has absolutely enlarged my vision about values and guiding principles of various areas of my life. That has changed my life.


Sorry to hear this news. My sympathy to his love ones. Unfortunately, I've never read "7 Habits" but after reading all of the positive comments I will definitely get a copy this week and give it a read.

PSA: Wear a bike helmet when biking. It doesn't say if he was wearing one, but it doesn't sound like it. I'd probably be dead or in a coma today if I hadn't been wearing one when I crashed.

As somebody else aready noticed, he was wearing a helmet. Maybe your knee-jerk posting can be a good motivation to start reading up on the empirical data about the presumed safety of bicycle helmets: http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1139.html edit: safety -> presumed safety

PSA: Wear a bike helmet when biking. It doesn't say if he was wearing one, but it doesn't sound like it. I'd probably be dead or in a coma today if I hadn't been wearing one when I crashed.

Same here. My crash was hard enough it cracked the helmet I was wearing and knocked me unconscious as it was. If I'd been going sans helmet, I doubt I'd be here writing this message now. :-(

He was wearing a helmet and even with his assistants. This article explains more about the accident http://www.ksl.com/?nid=960&sid=20070216

> "He was wearing a helmet, which is good news."

Though the importance of your PSA still stands.

Considering the bicycle culture of Amsterdam, it's amazing that I've yet to see a single person wear a helmet.

Maybe they were all wearing invisible helmets?


Not to my knowledge! The only helmet they have is their cranium!

Surely its because they have a strong cycling culture that cycling is not seen as something extraordinary that requires special safety equipment. It makes about as much sense as a walking helmet.

At his age, any part of the body can easily be the site of a life-threatening injury.

Doctors are wary of operating on the elderly under the best conditions.

From his 2003 photo, when he was 70 years old - he looks very young for his age back then - more like 55 or 60.

Being old doesn't have to mean looking it. Taking a different guy as an example: http://cbass.com/PICTORAL.HTM

Probably because he kept his saw sharpened in all 4 core areas.

First time I have seen a Yahoo article linked on HN in a while.

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