Back in 1989, Stephen Covey published what was to become a 25 million copy bestselling book: ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. Fast-forward to 2013 and I still hadn’t read my copy, which actually isn’t my copy at all but one I’d borrowed from a friend’s bookshelf about 7 years ago, fully intending to read it right away.
Habit 1 – Be Proactive
This lack of action on my part bothered me – why hadn’t I yet read this book, claimed by many to offer very powerful lessons indeed? What was I missing? What was the problem? Finally, one day in the studio surveying my bookshelf, I resolved not only to read it, but to literally immerse myself in its very essence – to get to the very core of it and perhaps find out why it’s so ‘good’.
Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind
So, I purchased the audiobook, narrated by Stephen Covey himself, and bought my own paperback copy of the book to do as I liked with. I pressed ‘play’ and started listening to Stephen’s voice, whilst simultaneously and methodically dismantling his book, freeing it from its former ‘book’ structure and effectively dissecting it, in an effort to discover what makes 7 Habits tick.
Habit 3 – Put First Things First
Once the pages were sorted into chapters, I then tore each page into 2cm wide strips, to break down the narrative into bite-size chunks – sentences, phrases or the occasional diagram… And then, still listening to Stephen, I started mapping out my new structure for the ‘story’ – a 2m square of ‘grid and x’ patternmakers paper. This served as a giant sheet of graph paper which I could use to easily scale up a labyrinth pattern I’d found in a reference book of mazes.
Habit 4 – Think Win-Win
I wanted to use a labyrinth to help The 7 Habits retell its story, as a labyrinth pattern by nature weaves a very long continuous path through the numerous twists and turns ahead, but knows it can’t really get ‘lost’ (unlike a maze where you can easily get lost) and ends eventually, through many small steps and sheer perseverance, at the centre of the labyrinth, commonly known as the ‘goal’. The parallels of this journey with the accepted wisdom of numerous self-help or coaching books seemed too obvious to me to ignore and The 7 Habits seemed the perfect book to test this out on.
Habit 5 – Seek first to Understand, Then to be Understood
Once the outline of the labyrinthine paths and walls were mapped out in pencil, still listening to Stephen reading The 7 Habits (it’s a 13-hour recording which I played several times over), I took all the strips from the introduction and one by one pasted them down on the path of the labyrinth, starting at the entrance and simply following the path along where it led. Each strip is overlapped slightly over the one below, revealing certain words and phrases – the ones I found most interesting or of importance – and obscuring others, often the ones that made less sense or were simply not as interesting.
Habit 6 – Synergize
I continued in this way, listening to Stephen’s voice, by now in sort of trance-like state, induced by the repetition of this time-consuming task, but simply continuing to follow the twists and turns of the path, glueing down the paper strips, one by one, chapter by chapter, trusting that somehow it would all work out fine and we’d end up in the middle at the end of the book at our goal. And of course, somehow it did all work out fine!
Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw
The result is, to me, quite fascinating. You can only read, at most, less than half of the original text – just the half that is facing us, with the other sides glued face-down to the huge piece of pattern paper. Somehow though, you can still understand what the essence of each of the 7 Habits is. Your brain can grasp the notions behind the fractured diagrams and illustrations and make sense of them. And you can also spend hours ‘reading’ and rereading this new version of the book.
Even though I’d spent several long weeks working on this piece, carefully deconstructing and reconstructing every single page, while the piece was on show in the gallery at Lighthouse in November-December 2015, I continually found ‘new’ phrases and meanings I hadn’t spotted yet, and visitors to the exhibition also pointed out ‘new’ things I hadn’t noticed on a daily basis.
Still Effective 7 Habits?
Which is not surprising really, when you think I mapped a key book 20th century book on transformation onto a labyrinth pattern dating back to the Middle Ages, which itself was based on a geometrical numbers game or ‘magic square’. So, this apparently serious and formal work is actually full of twists and turns, patterns and games, and a lighter and more curious feeling than it might first suggest.
A Conversation Starter…
Rather than just reading it, you can now have a dialogue with it of sorts, ranging from a short casual chat to an involved and deep conversation. You can keep coming back to it and it keeps revealing more, though you know it will never be able to tell you ‘everything’ it once could. In self-development terms, you don’t ‘need’ to read these hidden parts anyway – you already ‘know’ what you need to know, you just need them reflected back to you, like a mirror, so that you can ‘see’ this more clearly and access your own deep well of resourcefulness and energy, so perhaps this new single-plane flat format is functioning on some levels like a mirror?
As a visual artwork, the powerful bright red border frames or contains the contents, fragile as they might appear in places. The ‘walls’ of the labyrinth are rendered scratchily, and appear less than solid, being hand drawn/scribbled hastily in cool, grey graphite. The tone of the creamy coloured ‘paths’ of the labyrinth is much warmer. These appear more solid, less fluid – ordered and in line with each other – structured and even bold in places. The occasional diagram lightens up what would otherwise be a monotonous series of words in type and these highlighted contrasts liven up the whole piece for the viewer. The piece has a somewhat warm and uplifting quality to it and tends to draw the viewer in and where, ironically for a labyrinth, the viewer tends to get lost in the piece – but in an enjoyable way.