212 degrees: The extra degree

Features - Business Bookshelf

To help out busy contractors, each month throughout 2011, Lawn & Landscape will run a review and synopsis of a business book – either from the accepted literary canon or a more modern classic. The eighth installment is S.L. Parker’s “212° the extra degree.” The rest of the year’s reading list includes:

August 9, 2011
Matt LaWell

Like so many business and motivational writers before him, S.L. Parker turns often to a swath of quotes intended to spur the reader into action. In the middle of his slim book, “212° the extra degree,” he pulls wisdom from Lucretius, a Roman philosopher who lived and thought a couple of millennia ago. “The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence,” Lucretius said, “but by oft falling.” Parker quotes Elbert Hubbard, too, an American writer who flourished his pen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “The line between failure and success is so fine,” Hubbard said, “that we are often on the line and do not know it.”

But perhaps the most familiar name, if not the most familiar quote, to appear in the 84 pages of Parker’s straightforward meditation on action is Lawrence Peter Berra. You know him better as Yogi.

“You give 100 percent in the first half of the game,” said Berra. “And if that isn’t enough, in the second half, you give what’s left.”

All of which is to say that Parker, who is more known for his work in developing online resources for business and marketing leaders than he is for his writing, wants to show there are no shortcuts to accomplishment, no easy outs on the way to big finishes. You have to work, and you have to work hard.

To illustrate that point, Parker drills the same phrase into the reader three times during the course of the book, almost like a mantra. “At 211 degrees, water is hot,” he starts. “At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.” The idea is similar to the central argument of “The Tipping Point,” that little steps can make all the difference. But Parker doesn’t include any cute stories about “Sesame Street” or Hush Puppies or Paul Revere. Think of him as Malcolm Gladwell Lite.

There are plenty of other great lessons to pull from such a short book. Here are a few of the better ones:

Put in the hours. Remember the “8 Minute Abs” video? All you had to do was pop it in the DVD player (or the VCR, if you ordered it in the ’90s) and work out eight minutes every day. End result? Washboard abs. Believe it or not, that program actually worked. A lot of newer products – for your abs, for your home, for the simplification of your life – are not quite as trustworthy. “Advertising messages continually promote methods of achieving end results with little or no effort,” Parker writes. “And these messages are so effective that people will work harder to avoid the extra effort than actually applying the extra effort that will produce the originally desired outcome.”

Look in the mirror.
Where would your business be if you failed to keep accurate records? If your accounting department was in shambles, or just nonexistent? You might not have a business. So why would you not take the time to evaluate yourself in the same way? “Unless someone engages in frequent self-review or a source like a friend, a book, a manager, a spouse or a parent,” Parker writes, “a person will continue throughout their lives making very small improvements, if any at all.”

Just do it. Years ago, in the middle of all of his scoring titles and Stanley Cup championships, Wayne Gretzky turned into a philosopher, at least for a minute. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” he said. Maybe he meant literal shots on the ice, but the same thought applies to business and life, too. “You may not always be able to turn up the heat and hit the boiling point,” Parker writes, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the attempt.” So take the shot.

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.