Book Review: The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

“When your life is at low tide, when your professional commitment is wavering and you just want to get the job done and go home at the end of the day, what can you do?”

This small, yet engaging book answers this question by examining the work ethic and commitment to service of one extraordinary person who is employed in a seemingly ordinary position — that of a postman. His name is Fred and the book begins with an interaction between him and the author that inspires him to write this book on transforming any life — your life into the extraordinary through 4 basic principles: how to make a real difference each and everyday, how to be more successful by building strong relationships, how to create value for others and how to reinvent yourself. Understanding these 4 principles gave me a new perspective on the true influence that I hold in my life and others’ lives and I’ll give you a couple of tidbits from the second and third principle that spoke to me.

As far as building relationships go, I consider myself an introvert. This doesn’t mean that I’m shy, in fact I love giving presentations in front of large audiences, but I don’t like making small talk or speaking to others about myself on a personal level (don’t I sound lovely!) so when I approached the subject of relationships in this book, I knew that I’d have a lot of takeaways. There are “The Seven Bs of Relationship Building” according to the author and the first principle is: Be real. We’ve all heard this before, but what caught my attention was that “this is the direct opposite of the prevailing wisdom in our culture today, which is ‘fake it until you make it'”. I’ve read books and watched videos on this subject and have tried to apply this principle but in the end I’ve always felt like I’m becoming someone that isn’t natural or genuine. Sanborn suggests the alternative to “always do your best at being yourself…let these actions come out of who you really are, what you truly believe in, and the things you are committed to.” What a breath of fresh air this principle was to me!

The third principle is about creating value for others without throwing money at the problem. Sanborn has a lot to advice on how to accomplish this, but the simplest for me was to “do what you’ve always done, but do it better than you’ve ever done it” or as H.J. Heinz coined in 1869, “do the common thing uncommonly well”. If we all find ways to ways to do common things (sending emails to clients, taking phone calls, etc.) very well, we would probably be able to transform these situations from negative to positive experiences or from good to world-class interactions. This principle made me brainstorm all of the ways, both big and small, that I interact with the world, not just at work, and think of ways to improve their quality.

I couldn’t possibly cover all of the valuable material that is shared in this book, so you’ll just have to read it yourself, but I’d like to leave you with this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that I feel encapsulates the entire message of the book: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”