Kernel Fiona has been on a large book roll of late getting awesome book after awesome book. I was starting to think she just loved it all but the world came through today to show us that not all books will be loved by all people and Fiona found the first book since starting with Salty that she has not been a fan of. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SHARK is released by Allen and Unwin and is more of a Self Help “kind of” book from David Niven. It is out now at all good bookstores. Have you read it? Do you agree or disagree with Kernel Fiona? What are your thoughts? All the best……………JK.





Niven is another of the self help/life coach gurus on the market. His first book – THE 100 SIMPLE SECRETS OF HAPPY PEOPLE, did quite well in the US perhaps being a lot more structured and engaging than this book.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE SHARK is concerned with finding solutions to unsolvable problems. Niven starts by recalling the difficulties that director Steven Spielberg encountered during the making of JAWS. The mechanical shark was a pneumatically powered giant that required a small army of assistants to get it to move, open its mouth etc. Each day something else would go wrong with the shark and need repairing. Eventually it became water logged and bloated and looked pathetic rather than terrifying. Day after day, Spielberg would watch another reel of wasted footage.

Spielberg considered the unattractive options of putting all his resources and money into repairing the shark or he could ditch the shark and start from scratch. Either way he was running the real risk of seeing his unfinished movie shut down because he was out of time and finances. Niven said that most of the time people will crawl deep into the heart of a problem and let the problem itself define the terms. Spielberg took another approach by not staring at his problem, instead he saw it as an opportunity to reimagine his approach.

He came up with the idea of creating the “idea” of a shark. Creating the unseen menace that lurks below. So instead of being the star of every scene, the shark doesn’t make a full appearance until 81 minutes into the movie. The idea of implying the shark turned a mediocre film into a great film.

Niven promises that he will lead readers through the science of putting our problems to one side and seeking solutions. He says he will demonstrate this with a number of case studies. Six chapters in and I was no closer to discovering the secret. The Spielberg example and a case study of how Seinfeld almost never made it to tv screens, were interesting but it was hard to see any cohesion between the two examples or quite what it was he was trying to say about Jerry Seinfeld’s screenplay. Initially a show called Sister Kate usurped Seinfeld because of the reaction of the test audience. Um….okay? Is there a point to this anywhere in our midst?

Relying heavily on basketball in his later examples, Niven appears to diverge from the problem versus solution agenda and heads off into interpreting research data on the herd mentality. It comes as somewhat of a relief to the reader because the concepts he raises and the psychological experiments he discusses are actually interesting. The only thing is – they have little to do with the book’s promise of solving unsolvable problems and are so remotely connected to the topic that it all becomes a bit chaotic.

Niven demonstrates that when placed in a team or group, decisions are harder to make and the more members in the group, the worse a problem will become. He claims that groups limit what you otherwise could clearly see. He refers to this phenomena as “schizophrenic group thinking” that adds a more intense layer of fixation on the problem.

He recommends seeking out “your friend with the purple hair” to gain a different perspective. I initially assumed he was referring to a senior citizen but eventually realised he was talking about someone you consider to be wacky or “out there” who can lend you an off the wall slant on an issue.

The author is clearly not enamoured with the group approach. He cites the example of a couple planning a wedding that was hijacked by the in laws and siblings and became an amalgam of themes and ideas. The bride wanted a jazz band and the groom’s mother insisted on a seven piece contemporary group so they went with both ideas in the end. The general theme was a cross between rustic and space age with a wedding cake that resembled a flying saucer and antique decorations on the tables. Perhaps if the bride and groom had simply had the confidence to tell all the interlopers to back off, the lack of cohesion would never have occurred and they wouldn’t have had a problem.

Confidence in general, Niven tells is just another obstacle in problem solving. Being too cocky or self-assured will almost always guarantee failure. He gives the example of the driver who’s late for an appointment and is lost. The driver is supremely confident he will find his destination without the aid of a GPS, road map or making enquiries at a service station. The confident driver hurtles down the road, full of their own self-importance, only to discover they should have asked for help. Better to be unsure and uncertain when approaching a problem.

Back to the dangers of group decision making, he describes a psychological experiment conducted by Solomon Asch with the intention of demonstrating the power of group conformity. 8 participants are told they will be measuring visual perception by looking at cards with lines on them. One by one each person will be asked which of the three lines on the right is the same length as the line on the left.

Participant number 8 who is always last to answer can see that something is not quite right in the third example and thinks that the second line is the one that matches the line on the left. The other participants all declare the answer to be the first line. So even though participant number 8 didn’t agree, he deliberately chose a wrong answer to fit in with the group. The wanting to be part of the team and not appear to be stupid caused number 8 to deliberately get the answer wrong because he was running with the pack. Niven wouldn’t agree with me, but participant number 8 just needed more confidence 😉


1 and a Half Pops


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