Impresario of many scenarios
By Stefan Stern
Published: November 19 2008

Don't Be Needy, Be Succeedy
The A to Zee of Motivitality
L. Vaughan Spencer
Profile Books £8.99

The business books section of Borders on Oxford Street, central London, has never seen anything like it. Its well-stacked shelves reflect the long tradition of earnest management writing. This is where you come, high up on the third floor, to read about leadership, strategy and project management.

But into this hallowed space a few nights ago burst a vision in tangerine: the pony-tailed, curiously micro-bearded inspirational guru L. Vaughan Spencer. We had come in our, ooh, dozens, to hear the great man speak, and get a first look at his long-awaited new book.

L. Vaughan SpencerMr Spencer - L-Vo to his friends and admirers - has established quite a following in the business and self-help worlds. If Tony Robbins is too understated for you, or Funky Business authors Nordstrom and Ridderstrale too predictable, then L-Vo is your man.

It was a tough crowd. But L-Vo won them round. By the end of his presentation, the audience were singing to his Abba-inspired soundtrack and getting ready to queue up to buy a signed copy of the book.

What will the lucky new owners of this book find when they open its pages? L-Vo has not held back. He has poured his heart, soul and several other vital organs into it. Here, from "A to Zee", is a guide to succeeding in business and life, from someone who knows how, who has been there, done that, and got the tangerine jacket with the broad check lapels.

"This book uncovers a conspiracy," L-Vo declares at the outset. "The conspiracy is that for far too long you have been allowed to fail. Who's been keeping you down? YOURSELF!"

L-Vo will help us end our addiction to under-achievement, a subject he has studied in great detail. "I look deeper than the bottom line," he writes. "I see beyond the numbers. All of my work is based on a rigorous analysis - apart from where it's easier not to."

L-Vo is a succeeder. He succeeds. He takes failure and repurposes it for success. He is an expert on just about everything - anger management, for example: "Read my article in the Journal of Anger Management called 'Why anger is good'," he writes. "Though they did cut part of it, which pissed me off big time."

What really matters, L-Vo says, is what we actually do. He cites research undertaken by Prof William Trankin of the Jimmy Connors Institute of Business in San Diego. Apparently, "76 per cent of what we do can be put down to our behaviours".

And when we let our standards slip, L-Vo says, it is because we have wallowed for too long in the comfort zone. This is "somewhere to get out of", he says. "Book your train ticket outta there right now - and don't buy a return, even if it's cheaper than a single, which sometimes happens."

Insights such as those offered by L-Vo are rare in business. "When I enter an organisation, I can almost smell the culture. Sometimes it smells of fear. Or fish. Sometimes fearful fish. Those who really know about corporate culture are outsiders like me. We don't work in the organisation, which means we can be objective and use words like 'paradigm' easily and tell them what to do and let them sort it all out when we've gone."

L-Vo is in touch with modern issues such as diversity - "How does a company treat people who aren't normal (white, middle class and male, like me)?" He has mastered presentational techniques such as the "elevator pitch" - his ends with the often neglected question: "Can you press the button for the fourth floor, please?" He has mastered feng shui - "If you want good luck, avoid pointy things." And he has mastered Six Sigma. But: "I have gone beyond the traditional approach," he says. "I use Five Sigma - it saves time. It's nearly 17 per cent more efficient."

L-Vo and this newspaper have a certain history, to which he alludes. "Yes, I know the Financial Times called me an Überguru (26.9.06), perhaps because of my exalted position and because I am blazing a trail, but I am just a guy doing his job," he writes. "Call me an Überguru if you really, really must, but I just found myself in the right place at the right time saying the right things for a competitive fee."

We knew, from his earlier works such as What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Infants School, that L-Vo was a man to be reckoned with. But with this new book L-Vo inspires us to declare, loud and proud, "Yes, we can. We can succeed."

This is, quite possibly, the only business book you should ever bother reading.

Original review at
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008