Book review: Michael Heppell’s “Flip It”

[To read our other recent book reviews, including Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Richard Sennett's The Craftsman, and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, just click here.]

So, my first ever book review.  Michael Heppell’s smooth-covered, cerulean blue paperback was handed to me, with the accompanying task of conveying something meaningful about it. Which, I’ll admit, presented me with a concern:  could I give it a meaningful review?  It wasn’t as though I had identified a pressing need that this book promised to fulfil.  So could I make its intent applicable to me and my life, now?

I read the sub-title, “How to get the best out of everything.”  Concerns abated.  It’s about everything!  I couldn’t possibly go wrong.  Still, could 158 pages, however beautifully designed, really do that?

The inside front cover had me hooked.  Michael skilfully described four groups of people that might read Flip It.  Instantly, I identified with one.  I defy you not to do the same.  Good start.

I moved through the warming dedication to the contents page where I learned that Flip It could help me with health, money, confidence, happiness, work, the future and “everything else.”  Great!  I threw away my copper bracelet, extinguished my aromatherapy candle and set cheerful sail for enlightenment.

The introduction asserts that understanding is easy; doing things differently and better, changing behaviour, changing attitudes, putting knowledge into practice – these are the harder things to master and where the reward lies.  (We couldn’t agree more.)

I then began Chapter One:  “Finding Flip It”.  Unfortunately for me, “Flip It” could not be found! Indeed, I was more than half way through the book before I found an interpretation of the words “flip It” that worked for me (more on which later).  Meantime, in Chapter One, I was being instructed to “Flip It” without any understanding of what this flipping thing was all about.  Heppell’s jargon was getting in my way.  I hadn’t even got to an understanding of “Flip It” before I was being asked to “Think transferable.”  Anyone?

All of this is a bit of a shame because Chapters 2 to 10 are filled with tools and techniques and ways of thinking intended to help us improve some aspect of our lives.  A number of these pearls of wisdom are potentially of real, genuine help to many people.  The trouble was that the book wasn’t working for me.  As I moved through each chapter, I became aware that I was flicking in and out of rapport with it.  Why would this be?  Its values and intent are well aligned with my own.

When I found the answer to this question, I also found the interpretation of “Flip It” that had been missing for me in Chapter One.  It was simple.  If I replaced the instruction “Flip It” with “think like Michael Heppell”, I was getting closer to understanding the concept of this book.  And this explained why I was drifting in and out of rapport.  When our thinking was alike, I got on with the book.  When it wasn’t, I didn’t.

My experience with Flip It is that it is not a method.  It is not a psychological model.  It is not an insight based on research studies.  It is not a particular technique.  It is a collection of tools and advice that has been put together under a “Flip It” banner that makes sense to Michael Heppell.  I don’t think the concept itself is very well conceived, although I do happen to think that there are some useful and practical suggestions in the book that deserve to be acknowledged and praised.  On this basis, I’d like to recommend it …

… but I can’t.  The problem is not Michael Heppell’s insights – he has some wisdom to offer.  It’s who his wisdom and insights are aimed at.  Flip It suggests that it can help everyone with everything (although there certainly wasn’t a chapter on writing book reviews).  With my commercial head on, I suspect that Michael has not been helped here with marketing foresight or editorial rigor by his publisher, although four of the five current reviews on Amazon.co.uk give it 5 stars. (Again, more on this in a second.)

Perhaps I’m an atypically diligent shopper, but my own experience of consumer behaviour is that people buy something specific to meet a specific need they have.  If someone’s problem is their job, for example, they are likely to look for a dedicated, in-depth book to help them get out of unemployment, keep a job or find fulfilment in a new career.  The one dissenting review at Amazon seemed to bear this out:

The idea behind the book is simple enough […]. Focus on the positive and choose the way you look at situations. Unfortunately, however, I felt a little disappointed, like a fast food meal that I wolfed down and then felt insufficiently nourished by. Positive thinking alone isn’t enough to help me and I wanted something a little more substantial.”

Surely, problem-solving is ultimately demand-led, not supply-led. Having vast resources of advice doesn’t make it necessarily applicable: advice becomes good advice when it finds its matching issue.

Like the Amazon reviewer above, I think that Flip It is simply too broad and too shallow to recommend over a specialised resource that can help people with a specific problem in their life (such as facing an assessment centre, or a batch of psychometric tests, or hiring a coach). If you are afflicted by a mild sense of malaise or under-achievement, and like your positive thinking to come in bumper buckets of wise nuggets, you’ll probably like this book: it may truly ‘flip’ your lid.

If your dilemmas are deeper-rooted or require more detailed treatment, you are more likely to find direction, support and encouragement in a more specialised solution and may well respond to Flip It by simply tossing it aside.

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