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It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

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It Worked for Me is filled with vivid experiences and lessons learned that have shaped the legendary public service career of the four-star general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. At its heart are Powell's "Thirteen Rules"—notes he gathered over the years and that now form the basis of his leadership presentations given throughout the world. Powell's short but sweet rules—among them, "Get mad, then get over it" and "Share credit"—are illustrated by revealing personal stories that introduce and expand upon his principles for effective leadership: conviction, hard work, and, above all, respect for others. In work and in life, Powell writes, "it's about how we touch and are touched by the people we meet. It's all about the people."

A natural storyteller, Powell offers warm and engaging parables with wise advice on succeeding in the workplace and beyond. "Trust your people," he counsels as he delegates presidential briefing responsibilities to two junior State Department desk officers. "Do your best—someone is watching," he advises those just starting out, recalling his own teenage summer job mopping floors in a soda-bottling factory.

Powell combines the insights he has gained serving in the top ranks of the military and in four presidential administrations with the lessons he's learned from his immigrant-family upbringing in the Bronx, his training in the ROTC, and his growth as an Army officer. The result is a powerful portrait of a leader who is reflective, self-effacing, and grateful for the contributions of everyone he works with.

Colin Powell's It Worked for Me is bound to inspire, move, and surprise readers. Thoughtful and revealing, it is a brilliant and original blueprint for leadership.

304 pages, ebook

First published May 22, 2012

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About the author

Colin Powell

43 books148 followers
General Colin Luther Powell, United States Army (Ret.) KCB (Honorary) was an American politician. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State (2001-2005), serving under President George W. Bush. He was the first Jamaican American appointed to that position. As a General in the United States Army, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Gulf War.

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5 stars
2,085 (35%)
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3 stars
1,158 (19%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 653 reviews
Profile Image for Laura Gembolis.
461 reviews43 followers
August 13, 2016
Colin Powell is one of those people that I once admired and currently want to admire. He went into the army, rose up the ranks to become a four-star general, and served as Secretary of State. He’s an icon. A moderate Republican.
Then the Bush administration happened and Powell was given an impossible mission – to get other countries to not just accept, but support an American invasion of Iraq. A moderate in the Bush administration – his credibility was sacrificed in order to make the case for war with Iraq. For me – there is no hindsight. His presentation was wrong. It is wrong now and it was wrong then.
Here is where my feelings get complicated.
First in what frame of mind did Powell accept this job of presenting to the United Nations? Did he know in his guts that something wasn’t right? Or did he go in believing the story? I don't think either scenario reflects well on him.
Second it gives me pause that the voice that was against invading Iraq became the face for invading Iraq. How many people in major institutions eventually give up their own thinking and accept the groupthink because there is little space for disagreement?
Thirdly – I want him to redeem himself. I want him to write his second act.
And this book is no second act. Herein lies my disappointment. While Powell has good advice – his transgression is so serious – I expect more than folksy homespun advice that he kept as aphorisms on his desk. I expect him to have really processed this “blot” on his record. And I don’t expect his story to diminish those he served. But I do expect the insights of a man who has walked through the storm and came out the other side. This is not that book.
Profile Image for JM.
128 reviews5 followers
January 2, 2013
This is an amazing book! It tells the stories of GEN. Powell from his youth to his stint as Secretary of State. Many of these stories place him in a light that makes him more "down to earth." He shared his wisdom from both a military and life experience lens.

Many people on Goodreads expected an exposé of the nature of the UN speech he gave in February 2003. He addressed it as he saw fit. Many of these same people decided to rate this book one or two stars. That's quite unfair.

I suggest that this book be required reading for all military officers, NCOs and anyone in positions of leadership. It is very enlightening to read biographies that are honest and heartfelt.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
959 reviews67 followers
December 18, 2018
As successes come your way, remember that you didn’t do it alone. It is always we. (p. 354)

Colin Powell's second memoir, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership is a series of short essays that sound like they were influenced by his time on the public speaking circuit. In these essays – Share the Credit, The Pottery Barn Rule, Never Walk Past a Mistake, for example – he tells a series of anecdotes, often punctuated with an aphorism.

I first wanted to dislike Worked for Me. It's pat. It's simple. But I kept reading and am considering sending it to people I know in leadership positions. This is a good winter book. It is heart-warming and focuses on values without feeling preachy. I believe he lives his values.

Worked for Me is good reading for this winter of my discontent, when it's easy to believe that everyone in the White House is cynical and self-serving. He admitted mistakes and took responsibility. There are people in government – or have been – who try to do the right thing.

Always approach congressional questions with a “Glad you asked!” attitude. They are the people’s representatives and we are the people’s servants. And if you get in trouble, we’ll work together to get you out of trouble. (p. 105)

I suspect that the content of Powell's politics and mine are very different (he doesn't talk about political beliefs here). Still, his style is more similar to mine than different. I would still be angry about the damage that DJT is doing to the environment, the country, and world peace if his communication style and behavior were more thoughtful, less combative – more like Powell's – but I would be less embarrassed by his outbursts. If DJT's politics were more like mine, but he was still misbehaving, I hope I would still be appalled.

I don't believe I have ever voted Republican for president. I would consider voting for this Republican.
Profile Image for Jay Connor.
272 reviews78 followers
September 5, 2012
Chapter 35: February 5, 2003

This is the chapter wherein Colin Powell recaptures my respect.

The date – February 5, 2003 – which for Powell is so seared into his consciousness that it is the equivalent of other folks’ memories of the day Kennedy was shot or when they first heard of the planes flying into the Trade Center. For Powell, 2/5/03 marked his appearance before the UN to make the Bush Administration’s case that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq was warranted by Saddam’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Though his apology is somewhat hedged, Powell gives vivid insight into the constrains and forces that led to, in his term, the “most major failure” in a military and public life that spanned five decades. No surprise that Cheney’s hands were all over the manipulation that enmeshed Powell!

While Powell is too much a soldier and class act to “name names.” It is clear that the neo-conservative junta -- Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz – are probably not on Alma and Colin’s Christmas Card list. Like in the excellent “Art of Intelligence” (reviewed here in late August ’12), George W. Bush is presented as a better man than those supposedly serving him from this gang.

The rest of the book is fairly straightforward leadership 101. Having worked with a number of retired Army Generals, I am again reminded of what an excellent leadership crucible today’s military is. Here, again, we are reminded that the failures of leadership, execution and even simple common sense are nearly all at the feet of our political leaders and rarely in this most recent generation of military. Our troops deserve so much better than a repeat of Republican bellicosity.
Profile Image for Janine Sneed.
58 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2021
It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

- Rule 1: “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will be better in the morning.”

- “Always show more kindness than necessary because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know” - a priest

- The day you stop solving problems is the day you stop leading

- Leaders need to be at a place to influence action (then get out of the way)

- The troops will never let you down if you don’t let them down. Prepare them.

- Know when it’s time to leave and be gone.

- Be decisive.
Profile Image for Richard.
289 reviews6 followers
July 1, 2012
What can you say about a book with a title like this? “It Worked for Me?” That the writer is a self-aggrandizing braggart which is what was running through my head. However, to my surprise Powell comes across as a fairly humane guy albeit with a military stiff presence that somehow has retained a deep humanity that bespeaks his upbringing as the son of immigrant parents.
He was in town as part of the City Club and did a Q & A with a local TV celebrity that mostly involved softball questions he could use as a springboard/lead-in to relate stories from this memoir which he was touring behind. Following the first question “So, General how many interviews have you done today”? He paused and replied “Seven” at which point I was prepared to be bored to tears for the rest of the evening. To my surprise he was present and extremely engaging with his thoughts on life, leadership and even his candid responses to audience questions including “What do you think of (Syrian) President Bashar al-Assad”? To which he responded w/o hesitation “I know him and he’s a liar”.
Powell’s book, ostensibly a series of stories based on the lessons he learned during his time in the military and later with the State Department was an eye opener to me because the refrain that runs through the narrative is his belief in and insistence on being present in your communications with and exchanges to others. This is clearly a practice he learned as he would his way through the military ranks but a practice that even informs his style working with underprivileged children many of whom come from the ranks of immigrant families as he did. Clearly, “it” worked for him and there is ample evidence that we can all learn some lessons from his life story.
Profile Image for Stephen.
39 reviews
April 4, 2013
I listened to the Audible.com verison of this book, read by General Powell.

First, General Powell writes in a very straight-forward, simplistic, way. You can tell he isn't a "trained" writer. Nor is he a brilliant performer reading it. You can frequently hear edit breaks, and voice tone changes. Honestly, none of this bothered me.

There were a number of things in this book that I really enjoyed. His rules are well-known now, and quite good. It was interesting to hear his take on them. I really appreciated his view that you need to actually walk around and get a feeling for what is going on when leading; that you cannot rely on presentations and prepared talks.

A few things seemed entirely trite though. I really don't give a damn what kind of hotel room he likes, or what sort of limo and driver he requests when speaking professionally.

But those bits passed quickly.

This was definitely worth a read/listen.
25 reviews
May 21, 2015
I loved it. Clear. Concise. Plenty of humility. A lifetime of lessons and principles, all placed in a easily understood, frequently humorous and revealing read that I wish I had 30 years ago. Highly recommend it for anyone, not just those in the military.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,576 reviews78 followers
August 17, 2018
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir from General Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State. It basically consists of him telling stories from his life and career experiences, and then reflecting on the lessons learned (and counsel to be derived) from those experiences. They run a wide gamut, but there wasn't a single one that didn't engage me and make me think about how I could apply the lessons learned in my own life. I could wish that I had read it in my teens or twenties, rather than in my sixties, but I still found it valuable. As a college professor (of leadership), I will certainly bring much of it into my classes for the benefit of my students. My only wish is that I could find a way to bring the man himself to visit with my students.

I plan to find a copy of his first book, My American Journey and read (or listen to) that one as well. In his epilogue, he mentioned thinking about writing a third book, because he still has stories to tell. I would read that book, but I would also like to see him expand on the lessons learned from these stories, and give his readers deeper insight into the "how to" of some of them. His life story is inspiring, and I think of him as one of the most honorable and devoted public servants of recent years. I wish he were still serving in that way. We need as many of those great souls as we can get in public service.

Worth reading!
Profile Image for April.
129 reviews6 followers
August 3, 2016
Updated: This is a book I will buy, read again and make notes in. I have found the things I've read by Colin Powell to be very insightful and thought provoking. Powell, is on my short list of "people, alive or dead, that I would like to have a conversation with"

About 10 years ago I received a PowerPoint of Colin Powell's leadership points. I found that presentation to be very insightful and since that time have had an interest in Colin Powell. Although I have yet to finish this book, it's well on its way to 5 stars and a book that I intend to purchase, read again and highlight and underline.

I have never commented on a book before finishing, but this is a point I want to remember. In this day in age I find it very insightful... From Chapter 20 - Five Audiences

"I learned the "you're not the only one at risk" rule in 1987, when I was Deputy National Security Advisor, moments after my very first Sunday morning TV interview, on This Week with David Brinkley. I was doing fine; and we were near the end of the show. The great reporter Sam Donaldson, one of the regular panelists, grabbed the mike and in his aggressive manner asked, "Why should we trust you? You are a military officer, and after the recent NSC Iran-Contra scandal, with military officers in charge, why should we trust you?" During the half minute that was left, I thought I gave a rather good account of myself and why I could be trusted. After the show, I remarked to Sam that I thought I had gotten the best of that exchange. I won!

Sam smiled at my naivete. "General," he said, "when you are with the press, you are the only one at risk. I can never lose." I never forgot that.

And he added, "Never smirk at us when you think you're ahead.""

That interaction from almost 30-years ago is so telling about our media. The media is not there to objectively report the news, they are there to push their agenda. If they don't like you, watch out!

Chapter 25- They'll Bitch About the Brand

"as you examine solutions, make sure you think them through down several levels into secondary effects, and when you arrive at what you believe will be a solution, you have to then ask yourself if you have just let wishful thinking set you up for more problems."

"surround yourself with sergeants - that is, people with ground truth experience whose thinking is not contaminated with grand theories."
Profile Image for Melissa.
192 reviews3 followers
May 30, 2013
I love Colin Powell, I think he is such an excellent example of what America should be. I have been wanting to read this book for awhile and downloaded it to listen to on my commute. First, it was read by Colin Powell himself, which I appriciated. Second, I really enjoyed his approach to leadership through an army perspective. One of the things he discussed was that "not everybody gets promoted". In the army, there are potentially a lot of soliders who have the skills and capacity to be generals, but there are simply not enough spots. The army is okay with that, but other areas of government and the private sector are not. Creating jobs just so that people can get promoted is inefficent. I have never heard it put like that before, but I think it describes government bureaucracy very well,

Another part of this book I enjoyed was "don't be a busy bastard", meaning, don't be the person at work who is constantly working late into the night and on weekends. Powell stressed a work life balance, and said that people (especially bosses) who work around the clock create an environment where everybody feels they have to work around the clock. When everbody feels like they have to work around the clock, they start making up work for them to do to fill the time. What is created is an office full of overworked people, doing work they don't really need to be doing. By limiting your hours at work, you are forced to prioritize tasks and be effecient during the time you are there. I loved this.
Profile Image for AnnieM.
1,677 reviews7 followers
February 13, 2022
July 18-July20, 2015

Yep another reread. I finally bought my own audio copy of the book. I figure once I've read a book more than three times, I need to own it.

Colin grounds me. His 13 rules helps me get through the days.

One of the best management books I've read, and I've read a lot.

Sept 17-Sep19, 2014
Two years after I listened to it the first time and it resonates with me even more. I experienced much less dull bits and could identify with parts more now that I did before. I will definitely have to buy it.

Oct 2012-November 2012
I won't lie, there are some seriously dull bits in this. However, I love finding out that Colin Powell is a street kid. He's a regular guy that feels he could change the world through his Hot Dog Diplomacy.

He talks of family, life, military and how he got here. I really enjoyed the book. I look forward to buying a copy and reading and marking it up.

Now I think this book will only truly strike a cord with a very specific person possibly at a specific point in one's life.

Leadership, common sense, and history mesh together for a well narrated book.
87 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2022
While there are several very applicable general rules for behavior, interaction, and leadership, and General Powell’s anecdotal style is easy to read and gets straight to the point, the content is perhaps too light and superficial. It also *heavily* leans towards organizations that have or mimic a military hierarchical structure of decision-making and responsibility. That’s not a bad thing, and I enjoyed the read, but it really narrows down the applicability of the points that General Powell makes throughout the book. I often found myself thinking, “That’s a really good point. I should remember that.” But, then I tried to think of how it could be applicable in a higher education/university context (where I work) and it would almost always fall apart. We just don’t operate the same way. So, although I enjoyed the read, it ultimately was too superficial and not applicable for my own needs/context.
Profile Image for Steven.
Author 1 book45 followers
June 20, 2015
Colin Powell is 1 of the few Republicans whom I respect. This book of stories about his life and people in his life illustrate the principles he lived by including his regret at being misled over the WMD intelligence before his UN speech. Organizations don't get things done. Programs and plans don't get things done. People get things done.
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,769 reviews133 followers
May 28, 2020
Absolutely outstanding. As a former Air Force Commander, I completely concur with his comments on leadership.
82 reviews
July 16, 2022
I've owned this book for like 6 years when I met the now late Colin Powell and he signed my book, but I was waiting for the right time to read it. Well, a new job coming up was the perfect time, and I'm glad I did. Great book on leadership and interesting anecdotes from his life and career. Definitely recommend!
Profile Image for Alex.
96 reviews
June 25, 2022
Clearly accomplished in many regards. Was hoping to hear more about the hard decisions he had to make, it wasn’t that type of book. He clearly loves coaching and that was his focus for this book.

Two stars due to the narrative style - mansplaining. Yes, believe it or not, I know what email is. And the internet.
Profile Image for Joanna.
5 reviews
July 6, 2015
If I were to look back at my life in ten years and try to pinpoint a moment that had the most influence on my college career and my future it would most likely be the day that I finished reading this gem of a book. From a career in the military to serving our government and everything else in between Colin Powell can be considered nothing less than a role model and one of the great men of American history, but this book revealed to me the real reason why every young person in America and all around the world should look to this man for inspiration. Colin Powell serves as an exemplary example of a man who overcame obstacles, did not let his situation get in the way of his destination and who lived his life in the service of others.
Without getting too personal, before reading this book I was going through a terrible stage in my young life where I did not want to succeed, I could not be bothered to push myself and I was convinced that humanity was intrinsically evil and not deserving of my help. I was convinced that I did not need people and could live a fulfilling life for myself and by myself. I have never been more wrong in my life. This book made me aware of the two things I must have forgotten in all of my self pity; 1. It is our experiences, the people around us and how we interact and learn from them that help shape us into the people we become and 2. A good life, a fulfilling life and a life that is worth living is one in which we use our God given abilities in the service of others. Colin Powell made me remember that when we pass into the next life, while having a good reputation is nice it is not something that will actually leave a mark on humanity. The only way we are able to leave our mark on humanity is by the way we influence and serve others. This book reminded me of why I wanted to commit my life to serving people as a doctor in the first place.
Another one of the plethora of reasons I absolutely adore this book is because of the poignant point General Powell makes about the importance of education. As he said education was, is and always will be the "Golden Door." As a young Nigerian woman, I grew up in a household that valued education very greatly, just like General Powell. I have always seen access to education for all people as a global issue that needs to be addressed. All people, man and woman, girl and boy, regardless of color, language, socioeconomic status or caste not only deserve an education but are entitled to one. Understanding the true value of an education will help push the world in the direction we need to be going. A people, a group, a country is only as good as the least of its members; so as long as there are still middle school and high school dropouts in America, this nation will always be a nation of dropouts. This though, is a topic of discussion for a different time and a different venue. Moving on.
This book is one of those gems that I believe should be revisited at different stages of one's life. As a young college student at the ripe age of 18 I feel like I have gained from this book a heightened sense of purpose and renewed drive. After a rough first year of college where I consistently got grades lower than my norm from elementary and secondary school I needed to read this book to allow myself to get past those difficult classes and look towards the bigger picture. As Colin Powell said in his book, it is not about "where you start in life but where you end up." I know for a fact that if and when I do revisit this book later on in my adult life I will gain a new meaning from the inspirational anecdotes and words of wisdom from General Powell.
This is a book that I definitely suggest everyone read at least once in their life. Although all of his achievements and accolades make General Powell seem larger than life,this book is an amazing reminder that he is as much of a human being as any one of us, no better no worst. I have never met him personally (although I am a student at his Alma Mater) but through this book I feel a personal connection with Mr. Powell and I feel like he has truly helped and motivated me. So I feel obligated to say thank you Mr. Powell for sharing this amazing book with the world. I hope everyone takes the time to read it, it will be time well spent.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,747 reviews76 followers
October 25, 2021
Loved the reading by Colin Powell...have always admired Colin Powell. After his recent passing, I want to honor him by learning more about him. 4.5 stars
12 reviews
September 3, 2022
Great book. He has a wonderful way of sharing his perspective and the lessons he learned along the way in his distinguished career
98 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2015
Alternate title: the power of emotional intelligence in leadership and other tidbits. Much like listening to a grandparent, Powell heaps his experience onto the reader with poignant anecdotes and very actionable suggestions. If you believe that the happiness and well-being of your subordinates are tied to their productivity, this is the book for you. (He also makes the case against bullying, fear-mongering, and isolation as motivational tactics.)

This is also great read for US political history wonks. Powell discusses the missteps that led to his infamous 2003 speech to the UN and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, In a couple of places, he accepts blame for these and outlines the circumstances surrounding those events.

**Disclaimer for what follows**: I'm not a huge fan of Ronal Reagan. Several of his policies and stances, IMHO, are demonstrable failures, clearly ignore lessons learned in history, or border on lunacy; to name a few: the war on drugs, the Star Wars missile shield, "trust but verify," the cold war, trickle-down economics and the subsequent tripling of the national debt.

Colin Powell clearly reveres Ronald Reagan. There are several interactions described in this book that give me pause. For example, when Powell was Reagan's national security advisor, he brought a pressing issue into the oval office. During Powell's monologue, Reagan supposedly continued starring into the rose garden, not saying a word. When Powell stopped speaking, Reagan made a comment about the fauna and the recently placed birdseed. Colin Powell interprets this as a lesson from the President that national security matters are Powell's job and that, with this particular issue, there were no actionable choices for the President to make. An alternate interpretation is that Reagan was losing his mind. Did I mention the missile shield? As I've said, there are several such interactions described.

Overall, a pretty good read. For what it's worth, I have the utmost respect Colin Powell and I'd happily follow him into hell if he asked.

Profile Image for Albert.
367 reviews50 followers
April 28, 2020

I listened to the audiobook read by Colin Powell. I had just recently read It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, so I could not help but compare the two. Both were written by men of the U.S. military. Both books intended, at least partially, to provide leadership guidance. Both men have become public speakers and authors in their post-military careers. My primary goal in reading each was not enjoyment but rather to learn something that I could use in my own life. I enjoyed both and got value from both, but felt I received more usable insight from It's Your Ship.

Colin Powell has had an incredible career, and his wisdom and experience are evident throughout this book. You do feel that you actually get to know Colin Powell through the stories he relates about his life, his values, his successes and his failures. He seems like a unique combination of approachable and commanding respect. However, some of his methods are hard for me to translate into something I could use. Part of the problem was that his lessons are so embedded in the ways of the military and part of it was that he operated at a very different level that I do. It wasn't that he emphasized this characteristic of his relationships and interactions. In fact, if anything he downplayed them, but ultimately he and I live on different planets and while it was interesting to hear about his life, I didn't feel I could that much from it.
730 reviews
July 30, 2012
This is a difficult book to rate. I actually read it because I saw him interviewed on book tour for this book; but while waiting on its arrival from the library, I read his first book "My American Journey". Reading both was too much. The first book is way too much detail; the second is way too parallel to the first book. Powell has had an iconic life. His rise from Harlem to 4 stars is awesome. His mistakes will reside with him right beside his glory and he knows it. It is believable that he presents truth - but how does one tell if it is truth or if he is rationalizing like everyone else does. Its hard for me to rationalize war even though I know mankind is made up of a lot of 'bad guys'.
1,108 reviews12 followers
February 22, 2013
I love Colin Powell and would have voted for him for president, so I really feel guilty for the three stars. He is a true patriot with tremendous character but the problem is this is generally a self help and I have heard most of his tips in other books or in interviews on television. The other problem is that I am 60 plus and the tips he gives I really don't need at this point in my life. This is a book for the young. I read the book because of how much I admire the man and still do. Some of his stories are interesting but I get the feeling he just wrote down a lot of what he says when he is out on the speaking circuit.
Profile Image for Stevie.
216 reviews11 followers
June 14, 2021
This book is great! It doesn't matter where you fall politically, Colin Powell is an excellent leader. I got this out of the library, but I'm going to purchase this book so I can make notes. I'm also the president of an organization and I feel like this is going to help me during my tenure. I'm definitely going to give it to my successor at the beginning of her presidency.
Profile Image for Bruce.
10 reviews
June 30, 2012
Excellent book, I don't think i've ever highlighted so much that i wanted to go back and re-review again.
Profile Image for Eric.
295 reviews23 followers
June 17, 2021
an easy read with simple concepts on management and leadership. I probably would have gotten more out of this book had I not read his autobiography years ago.
Profile Image for Saza.
30 reviews31 followers
August 4, 2015
Great reading with some interesting points on leadership

highly recommend it....
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