Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary

by Rana Florida


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The 7 Key Principles to achieving YOUR business and life goals

What could a graffiti artist, eminent neurologist, star athlete, celebrity chef, fashion designer, rocket scientist, and Grammy Award–winning musician possibly have in common?

In this groundbreaking new book, Rana Florida shares their formula, giving you the tools to achieve unimaginable success in work and life. Upgrade gathers the best practices, not just from CEOs and business executives but from entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers, and creative leaders.

Upgrade includes interviews with Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Mark Cuban, Andre Agassi, Kenny Scharf, Zaha Hadid, Governor Martin O’Malley, Tory Burch, Tim Brown, and many other leading figures. Despite this cast’s vastly different backgrounds and skills, Florida’s research concludes that there are seven key principles to achieving your business and life goals:

  • Envision the future
  • Find your passion
  • Get creative
  • Design your time
  • Collaborate
  • Take risks
  • Embrace failure

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the majority of us don’t do. Instead of developing a real strategy to upgrade and optimize our lives, too many of us just slog through life in a state of “managed dissatisfaction.”

But it’s never too late to envision an entirely different future—or to actively upgrade your life. It’s not about finding more time, money, or resources. Anyone can do it.

This smart and entertaining guide delves deep into each principle, giving you the insights, tools, and inspiration to take your life from ordinary to extraordinary.

Praise for Upgrade

“Why ride in coach, when you can upgrade? A must-read for a better journey through life.”

Don Tapscott, bestselling author, Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital

Upgrade is an a-ha book that will change how you look at life’s challenges and give you tools to upgrade your life.”
Touré, cohost of MSNBC’s The Cycle

“Read Upgrade for its stories, examples, and strategies and get ready to live the life you always wanted.”
Frank Toskan, founder, M.A.C. Cosmetics

“Creative and innovative strategies to upgrade your work and life, with seven simple principles.”
Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com, Inc., and New York Times bestselling author of Delivering Happiness

“Rana’s perspective on business and life is a fresh new take, breaking the traditional corporate mold. Upgrade is a must-read for anyone not buying into the conventional wisdom.”
Ali Velshi, CNN Chief Business Correspondent; anchor, CNN-I World Business Today; and host, CNN Your Money

“Upgrade welcomes you to take a fresh approach to everything you do to get the most out of work and life.”

Nelly Furtado, Grammy Award–winning musician

“If I’m going to listen to anyone’s good advice about how to improve my approach to work and life, it’s Rana’s.”
Kate Betts, contributing editor, TIME, and columnist, The Daily Beast

"Rana's voice is refreshing--as real as a memoir and a great vessel for this self-help and business book wrapped up in one easily-digestible package."
Paper Magazine

"A very interesting book."
Business Learning Solutions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071827218
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 09/06/2013
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Rana Florida writes the Huffington Post column “Your Startup Life” and is a regular HGTV contributor. CEO of Creative Class Group, a consulting firm serving such clients as BMW, Starwood, IBM, Philips, Zappos, and Johnson & Johnson, she has appeared on The Today Show and in The New York Times. Florida previously served as Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at HMSHost (Host Marriott Services), a $2 billion dollar international organization in the travel industry working with hundreds of brands, such as Starbucks, Tumi, and Kenneth Cole. She was also Vice President of Corporate Communications for the world’s largest producer of live family entertainment, Feld Entertainment, which owns Disney on Ice, Disney Live, the Doodlebops, and many other brands.

Read an Excerpt




McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2013 Rana Florida
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-182722-5



The future depends on what you do today.

—Mahatma Gandhi

What Do You Want to Do with Your Life?

This question seems simple, but it is very difficult. Adults ask it of children all the time because we are so awestruck with the ease with which they answer, their un-self-conscious certainty that they can be whoever or whatever they want to be. I put this to the test by asking my nieces and nephews under age 11. Here's a quick rundown of their answers:

My rambunctious two-year-old nephew Zaiden chimed in first with: "Spiderman!" Then he changed his mind a few seconds later and said, "Poo Poo Man!" When my brother, Tarig, tried to get clarification on this, he said, "Superband!" Three- year-old Zackary, his older and more introspective brother, said, "I want to be a spaceman."

My five-year-old niece Sophia always wanted to be a "glamour girl," but recently she changed her tune to "hospital worker." Seven-year-old Melia wants to be an "artist," and their older brother Christian, eight, wants to be a pro football player. He has a backup plan if that falls through: "I will be president."

The oldest in the bunch, their cousins Adiev, nine, and Markis, eleven, also want to be professional athletes, and each of them has a fallback plan as well. Adiev will settle for being a doctor, and Markis is willing to be a lawyer.

The fact that most of these children will go on to entirely different futures doesn't matter. What does is the fact that they can answer with such confidence and assurance—that they have such a wide-open sense of life's limitless possibilities. Ask adults this question, and most will shrug their shoulders or offer a sarcastic response.

Ask yourself another question: What do you want out of life? Or this: What matters most to you? Most of us will have to stop and think about our answers—if we can come up with any. Why is it that adults have such a hard time with these questions? Why do they make us so anxious? Perhaps because most of us are not fully living the lives we want for ourselves; we envisioned better lives: lives that are more adventurous, fun, exciting, or fulfilling.

The reality is that the majority of us don't think about how we can optimize our lives. Instead of developing a real strategy based on where we want to go in life and why, we just slog through in a state of what I like to call managed dissatisfaction. We are doing okay; we are managing to get by but with an underlying tinge of unhappiness. Certain peaks, like an annual vacation, a new car, or a slight promotion at work, lift our spirits for a while, and we ride the peak. But before we know it, the wave has crashed and we are washed up on shore, longing for the next big wave to come through.

My notion of managed dissatisfaction is inspired by Herbert Simon's classic theory of satisficing. A Nobel Prize-winning economist and a pioneer in artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology who taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for more than half a century, Simon was one of the world's foremost theorists on decision making. He introduced the concept of satisficing (a combination of "satisfy" and "suffice") in 1956 to describe how human beings actually make decisions. Where most economists imply that people make decisions rationally to maximize outcomes, Simon recognized that this is impossible in most circumstances. Most of our decisions, he said, are circumscribed by what he called "bounded rationality." We have limited information and cannot possibly consider every option and alternative; plus, we are influenced by emotion and by our peers. We choose the first solution that works, that satisfices, thus sacrificing the best for what's "good enough."

Well, it is never too late to envision an entirely different future—or to actively upgrade your work or life. Anyone can do it, young or old, single or married. You don't have to be a 20-something single person with nothing to lose to start living the life you want to live today. It's not about more money and more time. Imagine finding 10 hours a week you didn't know you had to indulge in something that makes you happy. You'll be surprised, but you can do it. It's about leveraging the resources around you, collaborating, thinking creatively, and protecting your time.

Throughout middle school we are encouraged to dive into different subject areas, to test the waters of our aptitudes and interests, but by the time we reach our junior or senior year of high school, we are expected to have found something to focus on lest we waste valuable time and money in college, spreading ourselves too thin. Some of us follow that linear path from adolescence on, but more than a few of us take enough detours along the way that we never do settle on just one thing.

The Great Recession of 2008 forced the question on many of us. As organizations downsized, declared bankruptcy, or shut down altogether, hundreds of thousands of people whose careers were upended found themselves bitterly reappraising the choices they'd made. The wisest took advantage of the opportunity to rethink and regroup—and to find new and, one hopes, better paths.

But most of us are stuck in our jobs. The only time we can imagine changing our lives is when we finally retire and are free to manage our own time and have enough money to live on. Whether it is traveling more; taking cooking, skiing, or tango classes; or launching a new company, we put all these things off till later in life, and that makes no sense whatsoever. Do you really want to wait until you're 65 to go scuba diving in New Zealand or on a shark-feeding expedition in Tahiti, to take yoga classes in Bali or go backpacking in Fiji? We just don't feel we have the time or resources to risk a stable job to indulge ourselves. But it is ludicrous that we don't do these things now, when we are young and healthy. Why do we set ourselves up to live this way? I'm not saying life should be one big indulgent vacation, but life really doesn't have to be so freaking hard.

Most of us have convinced ourselves that we have to be boxed into the rigid systems our society has imposed on us. If we are not working tirelessly at the office, contributing more than our share at home, or wasting pressure hours in traffic, we feel like we are goofing off and feel guilty about it. If we are among the lucky minority whose employers allow us freedom and flexibility, we are damned by our children's school system, which locks us into the 9-to-5 grind for 18 years. This book will offer simple tips on how you can upgrade your work and life now in your everyday routine and with the time and resources you have at your disposal—not just in the two weeks of vacation time you can manage a year or in your granny golden years, when you finally retire.

How to Envision Your Future

Your first step on the road to change starts when you envision your future. Of course there are those among us who know what they want to do—what they are destined to do—from a very early age. People with such a clear vision and passion include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama; the world is a better place because of them. But most of us have to think long and hard about what we want to do and put a plan in place to make it happen.

A few years ago, my husband and I were invited to dinner at the home of the director of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The guest of honor was the world- renowned architect Frank Gehry, who had just finished his epic redesign and transformation of the museum. A friend who knew him when he was young told us that Gehry was constantly scribbling odd forms, swirls, and shapes on cocktail napkins. At the time, he found this behavior peculiar and odd. It wasn't until many years later that those sketches would be realized in three dimensions, in the shapes of his magnificent buildings, such as the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, a signature landmark for its city and a must-see for tourists.

Some of us are lucky enough to figure it out from our very first job experience. When I asked the chef Mario Batali how he'd imagined his future, he said, "I worked as a pizza man at a place called Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I loved working with a team, I loved the energy and the adrenaline rush of working toward a common goal with different job responsibilities, and I loved doing it at lightning speed. I hated cleaning the deep fat fryer, but I became very good at it. I knew I wanted to cook professionally after I graduated college, and I took advantage of the luck of finding myself in demand in New York City at a time when the business of food was becoming a national fixation."

Some people have an innate talent that is just dying to get out and that reveals itself in everything they do. Some of us take a more crooked path. But one thing is for certain: the most successful lives are forged by incredible focus.

It's time to focus on you and your life and envision the life you want to lead. Don't let the rest of your life pass you by; spend some time thinking about it. Or maybe ask yourself an easier question: What life would you live if you were given $500 million tomorrow? The very notion gets us excited, and we start daydreaming about all the great things we'd do. I posed this question to 1,000 Facebook friends. The answers that came back were quite different in their specifics, but strategically they were quite similar: pay off bills, take care of family, then work with a charity and do some of the things they've been interested in but never found the time for, such as taking interesting courses, traveling, and indulging in hobbies. Here's one response from a 30-something:

What would you do if you were given $500 million?

I would improve myself, offer help to the people around me, and be happy.

I would quit my current job. I currently work to live. This would afford me the opportunity to do things I'm passionate about.

I would pay off my mortgage.

I would volunteer and donate money to the arts, the poor, and cancer research.

I would travel—Machu Picchu, Egypt, China, Japan, the UK, Germany, Italy, India, and so on.

I would take a cooking class in the country of origin. I love authentic cooking.

I would get my master's and PhD and teach college business courses.

I would work on my book about my aunts and grandmother and their kids so we wouldn't lose the amazing stories about them and our history.

I would work out and make time to learn how to cook healthier.

What would your average day look like?

Get up.

Work out.


Volunteer at a soup kitchen or library.

Go to a class/teach a class.

Make dinner.

How would your life be different from what it is now?

It would be more fulfilling, healthier, and happier.

I would have more time to work on the things that are important to me and not feel like I'm doing things because I have to.

I would like to help others realize their potential. Nothing is more rewarding than that.

Another friend and former colleague said: "I would certainly stop working for for-profit companies. I'd first make sure my family's (extended) needs were all taken care of. Pay for their kids' educations, pay off mortgages, set aside money for everyone. I'd spend the rest of my time thinking about how this money could be put to good use to help the world become a better place. I think that would be a combination of donating and starting a nonprofit. I don't think my lifestyle would change all that much, although I would have many more vacations/family travel."

Others said they'd help children's charities and nonprofits. The funny thing is that the things on these lists that would make their lives more fulfilling don't require a major windfall. It wasn't stuff they wanted but freedom (paying off debt) and the ability to do things that give them a sense of joy, learning, and discovery and that imbue their lives with a sense of purpose and meaning.

It's not things that make us happy but experiences, many of which can be incorporated into our lives now. But most of us think that having more money is the key to happiness. In fact the Gallup-Health-ways Well-Being Index proves that it's not more money that makes us happier. They surveyed about a thousand U.S. residents, asking a series of questions about their well-being and finding: "Of all the important and interesting findings Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Deaton's research has uncovered, the most reported finding is that people with an annual household income of $75,000 are about as happy as anyone gets." That's the magic number. "More specifically, those with annual household incomes below $75,000 give lower responses to both life evaluation and emotional wellbeing questions. But people with an annual household income of more than $75,000 don't have commensurately higher levels of emotional wellbeing, even though their life evaluation rating continues to increase."

We've made our own choices to strap ourselves down with big mortgage payments, big car leases, insurance plans, and all the additional costs that come with a traditional life. Thus, it's not a pile of money that is the key to an upgraded life. Doing the things you want to do and having the freedom, time, and flexibility to make them happen are the secrets of a rich, fulfilled life.

Wobbling About

When I asked Gehry who he thought the next great architect was, he cited Zaha Hadid. At the time I was not that familiar with her work, and so I did some research and learned that she is a formidably accomplished woman. She has been listed as one of Forbes magazine's "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" and TIME's "100 People Who Most Affect Our World." A professor at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, she has taught at Harvard, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Yale, and many other universities around the world. In 2004 she became both the first woman and the first Arab to receive the Pritzker Prize, architecture's Nobel Prize. Among her many high-profile projects are the National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany.

I was so impressed with her accomplishments that I decided to interview her. When I asked her what advice she had for young people, she answered, "You can't just wobble about," adding, "You have to have some sort of aim. You have to have focus."

Most of us, however, do wobble about, and we take detours and sometimes travel long distances toward the wrong destinations. This is the case because we haven't envisioned the future that we really want. Stopping to think about what we want to be doing, who we want to be doing it with, where we want to be doing it, and why are essential steps on the way to a happier life.

Damn the Headwinds

When my husband and I were living in Washington, D.C., the then mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, invited us to dinner in downtown Baltimore. He's a fan of Richard's work and was eager to show us all the new developments along the waterfront. We dined at a lively restaurant, and he shared stories about his city's successes and challenges.

He made a big impression on us then and at a number of his fund-raising events that we attended later. When he addressed his guests, his delivery was as impassioned as it was eloquent; he sounded almost evangelical. During one of those speeches, I turned to Richard and whispered in his ear, "Wow, he really, really loves and believes in what he does." Richard agreed, saying, "He could easily be a future president." In fact many pundits are now predicting that he will be a leading Democratic candidate in 2016 or 2020.

Not long after we moved away from D.C., we bumped into him at our hotel when we were in Dublin for an event, and we agreed to stay in touch. When he was elected governor of Maryland, I reached out to him for an interview. I asked him about the links between vision and focus. "There is dignity in all work," he answered. "Your first job will not be your best job. Keep improving your skills, broadening your experience, your knowledge, your ability to think and work with others, and never give up. Damn the headwinds; keep rowing forward." His extraordinary political career—fighting to turn around one of the country's hardest-hit, most crime-ridden cities, rising to a governorship and a possible career in national politics—bears witness to his incredible focus and persistence.

Taking the governor's advice to keep improving your skills throughout your life is critical. Gathering information and knowledge even from your first crummy job will be important later on in upgrading your life.

Excerpted from UPGRADE by RANA FLORIDA. Copyright © 2013 Rana Florida. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read, well worth it.  Amazing advice on work and life!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such an inspirational and motivational read.  I'd highly recommend to anyone looking to optimize their life.  Filled with entertaining stories and great research, I devoured this book in a day.  Time to Upgrade!