"Bring in wild and wooly outsiders. E-x-p-a-n-d the box." Tom Peters
I am trying my damnedest to get a tenuous grip on the extraordinary-revolutionary-earthflipping change that surrounds us and which is accelerating madly. Below is an idiosyncratic reading list I've pulled together. In addition to nonfiction, there are a handful of well-researched ultra-sane sci-fi novels by the likes of David Wilson and Neal Stephenson. Also you'll find a couple of my favorites on the financial crisis; and a Cold War collection that is here because it is the ultimate study of leadership with consequences amidst uncertainty and ambiguity. A few others touch on decision-making and the typically faulty interpretation of cause and effect—and the power of being wrong. (And, of course, there's a duo on the eclipse of men!)
Herewith, 55 books with my "14 Musts" in boldface:
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology—Ray Kurzweil
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed—Ray Kurzweil
Redesigning Humans: Choosing Our Genes, Changing Our Future—Gregory Stock
Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell—Dennis Bray
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life—Nick Lane
Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century—P.W. Singer
America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare—Joel Brenner
Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It—Richard Clarke & Robert Knake
Worm: The First Digital World War—Mark Bowden
Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication—Neil Gershenfeld
Makers: The New Industrial Revolution—Chris Anderson
The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production—Peter Marsh
The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs—Michael Belfiore
Kill Decision—Daniel Suarez
Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy—Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee
The Coming Jobs War—Jim Clifton
Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age—Steven Johnson
Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era—Henry Chesbrough
The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits—Venkat Ramaswamy & Francis Gouillart
Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World—Tony Wagner
Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter—Steven Johnson
Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning—James Paul Gee & Elisabeth Hayes
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World—Jane McGonigal
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter—Tom Bissell
The Social Conquest of Earth—E.O. Wilson
Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships—Dario Maestripieri
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined—Steven Pinker
The End of Men and the Rise of Women—Hanna Rosin
The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family—Liza Mundy
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't—Nate Silver
Ubiquity: The Science of History ... Or Why the World Is Simpler Than We Think—Mark Buchanan
The Ambiguities of Experience—James March
The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public—Lynn Stout
Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present—Jeff Madrick
Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk—Satyajit Das
Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life—John Bogle
Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities—Martha Nussbaum
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder—Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better—Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway & Katie Yezzi
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills—Daniel Coyle
Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong—Alina Tugend
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error—Kathryn Schulz
Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas—Natasha Schüll
Redesigning Leadership (Design, Technology, Business, Life)—John Maeda
The Plentitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff—Rich Gold
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate—Robert Caro
Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth—Frederick Kempe
Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World—Evan Thomas
Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis—Suez and the Brink of War—David Nichols
Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct—P.M. Forni
[The list is also available as a PDF.]
At an event in Manila sponsored by Ogilvy & Mather, I received as a gift D.O.: The unpublished papers of David Ogilvy—a selection of his writings from the files of his partners. I am a longtime fan of Ogilvy, and found it to be a sterling gift. Here are a few of the gems I unearthed:
On what matters to Clients:
It is not enough for an agency to be respected for its professional competence. Indeed, there isn't much to choose between the competence of big agencies. What so often makes the difference is the character of the men and women who represent the agency at the top level, with clients and the business community. If they are respected as admirable people, the agency gets business—whether from present clients or prospective ones.
From a summation of Ogilvy & Mather's "corporate culture":
A Nice Place to Work
Some of our people spend their entire working lives in our agency. We do our damnedest to make it a happy experience. I put this first, believing that superior service to our clients, and profits for our stockholders, depend on it. ...
[TP: note the extraordinary "put this first."]
More from D.O.'s summation of Ogilvy & Mather's "corporate culture":
Raise your sights!
Blaze new trails!
Compete with the immortals!
[TP: characteristically soaring aspirations from D.O.]
On the quality of people O & M seeks:
Wanted by Ogilvy & Mather International
[TP: Do your HR folks use language like this? FYI, the department store chain Nordstrom does use similar language regarding every hire for even the most mundane slots.]
I believe that it is more important for a leader to be trained in psychiatry than cybernetics. The head of a big company recently said to me, 'I am no longer a Chairman. I have had to become a psychiatric nurse.' Today's executive is under pressure unknown to the last generation.
[TP: If only we would get this!]
On general behavior:
Never send a letter on the day you write it.
[TP: If only we would apply this standard to email!!]
Quite a haul, eh?
In Intuition, a stunning novel about the politics of science by Allegra Goodman, "Marion," see below, is the head of a department where some powerful research is being conducted. Among many other things, near the end of the book, correctly or not, one of the post-docs becomes a whistle blower—and creates a godawful mess. As I said, the allegations may or may not have been warranted, but in a flash (below) the psychological problem which led to the post-doc's meltdown becomes clear, after years, to super-logical, demanding boss Marion. The play here is subtle. This may do nothing for you, but I carry the quote around with me. In my case, it is-was a bombshell upon 3rd or 4th reading, and its strength only grows—I've probably read it, no kidding, 50 times now.
Give it a shot:
Marion ... glanced at the raised hands [she was presenting a paper] and enjoyed the interest in her work. She ... gazed at her former post-doc, her rebellious child with her hand raised. 'What do you need now?' she asked herself. Strange, she'd never posed the question that way before. She'd always considered what her post-doc demanded, what she did or did not deserve. What did she need? That was the puzzle, but as was so often the case, framing the question properly went a long way. What did she need? In that calm, clear, nearly joyous moment after her talk, the answer began to come to Marion. Ah, yes, of course, she thought with some surprise. And she called on Robin.
Obviously (but not obviously to blunt Marion for years), the post-doc "simply" needed recognition. And I think there is an enormous message here. A lot of bosses are Marions. And a lot of employees are kin to our post-doc. Of course, you may just think I'm nuts about this one wee paragraph. Fair enough.
Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, by Richard Stengel (Stengel, now editor of Time magazine, was a confidant of Mandela's.)
From "Look the Part":
"[Mandela has beautiful posture. You will never see him hunched over with his head anything but upright and looking ahead. On Robben Island, he was always aware of how he walked and carried himself. He knew he needed to be seen as standing up to the authorities, literally and figuratively ... He knew that people took their cues from him, and if he were confident and unbowed, they would be too."
"[Mandela] understood the power of image. ... 'Appearances constitute reality,' he once told me."
"In the election in 1994, his smile was the campaign. That smiling iconic campaign poster—on billboards, on highways, on street lamps, at tea shops and fruit stalls. It told black voters that he would be their champion and white voters that he would be their protector. It was the smile of the proverb 'tout comprendre, c'est tout pardoner'—to understand is to forgive all. It was political Prozac for a nervous electorate."
"Ultimately the smile was symbolic of how Mandela molded himself. At every stage of his life he decided who he wanted to be and created the appearance--and then the reality--of that person. He became who he wanted to be."
From "Have a Core Principal—Everything Else Is Tactics"
"Nelson Mandela is a man of principle—exactly one: Equal rights for all, regardless of race, class, or gender. Pretty much everything else is a tactic. I know this seems like an exaggeration—but to a degree very few people suspect, Mandela is a thoroughgoing pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land."
From "See the Good in Others"* [*One of the best essays I have ever read.]
"Some call it a blind spot, others naïveté, but Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. He starts with an assumption you are dealing with him in good faith. He believes that, just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, seeing the good in other people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves."
"Mandela ... consciously chose to err on the side of generosity. By behaving honorably, even to people who may not deserve it, he believes you can influence them to behave more honorably than they otherwise would. This sometimes proved to be a useful tactic, particularly after he was released from prison, when his open, trusting attitude made him appear to be a man who could rise above bitterness. When he urged South Africans to 'forget the past,' most of them believed that he had. This had a double effect: It made whites trust Mandela more and it made them feel more generous toward the people they had so recently oppressed."
"Mandela sees the good in others both because it is in his nature and in his interest. At times that has meant being blindsided, but he has always been willing to take that risk. And it is a risk. ... Mandela goes out on a limb and makes himself vulnerable by trusting others. ... We rarely equate risk with trying to see what is decent, honest, and good in the people in our daily lives. ... 'People will feel I see too much good in people, and I've tried to adjust because whether it is so or not, it is something I think is profitable. It's a good thing to assume, to act on the basis that others are men of integrity and honor, because you need to attract integrity and honor. I believe in that.'"
Most important article I've read in a long time/The Atlantic July-August 2010:
"Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn't the end point? What if modern, post-industrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now underway—and its vast cultural consequences."
"Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed."
[There are examples from around the world not just U.S. In the likes of Korea, desire for a child to be a girl is soaring.] [In the USA, efforts to improve the odds of conceiving a girl rather than a boy are now commonplace.]
"As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest."
"The evidence is all around you [e.g.] in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the eight million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance."
"Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."
"Women hold 51.4% of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1% in 1980. ... In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2%—and four in 10 mothers are the primary breadwinners in their family."
"What's clear is that schools, like the economy, now value the self-control, focus and verbal aptitude that seem to come more easily to young girls."
"Increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84% of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60% are."
Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation/George Washington
Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct/P.M. Forni
The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness/Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval
The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It/Christine Pearson & Christine Porath
The Real Work of Leaders:
Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help/Ed Schein
Listening Leaders: The Ten Golden Rules to Listen, Lead & Succeed/Lyman Steil & Richard Bommelje
Smart Questions/Gerald Nadler & William Chandon
Small Is Beautiful
Cool & Uncool:
Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America/George Whalin
Dry Basement Science: What to Have Done ... and Why/Larry Janesky
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big/Bo Burlingham
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves/Matt Ridley
Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Healthcare Is Better Than Yours/Phillip Longman
Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer/Shannon Brownlee
Wash Your Hands!/Frédéric Saldmann
What Matters Most:
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide/Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
The Human Condition:
The Cellist of Sarajevo/Steven Galloway
From No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller, by Harry Markopolos (the Madoff whistleblower):
"I had established the one-third rule: For every three hours you spend at work you have to spend at least one hour outside the office on professional development. That might mean reading material that might improve your life, but more likely it meant social networking [TP: this from a diehard quant!!!]. I encouraged Neil to take advantage of the pub culture in Boston, to go to professional association meetings, and to go to dinners."
I love this!
How are you doing on "the one-third rule"?
NB: While I believe that emerging "social media" is incredibly powerful, there is something about a pub.
I call it "Return On Investment in Relationships." It outstrips standard "ROI" by a mile in the long term—and, for that matter, the short term.
Here's a take on R.O.I.R. from Harry Markopolos, author of No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller:
"The financial industry is a business of contacts and relationships. No one ever buys a product and says, 'That product is the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I don't care who's selling it.' Generally people do business with people they trust and like, or people who are recommended by someone they trust."
This is not news.
But it always bears repeating.
So: Over the weekend, consider in detail your R.O.I.R. strategy for next week, the next month, maybe the rest of the year. This is an idea that deserves careful and continuous thought, not a catch-as-catch-can attitude. You'd work for months or years on a plan for a new bridge. Well, R.O.I.R. is your "bridge to success."
NB: Markopolos is the quintessential "quant"; i.e., this is a geek pushing relationship power, not a used car salesman.
(Above: Ice-tea season. Fresh mint.)
Epigraph from Matt Ridley's new and magisterial The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves:
"This division of labor, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the prosperity to truck, barter, exchange one thing for another."—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
This is the essence of Smith's work, and the singular explanation of innovation. Innovation is driven by trading. Period. It is a singularly human trait, the origins of which are tens of thousands of years.
Of course our new tools, DARPANet, the Web, and more recently Social Media, are re-writing Smith's "slow and gradual."
It's not that you will necessarily learn anything "new" from this book, but you cannot help but learn a staggering amount about the innovation process among humans. To me, that learning is of the utmost practical value.
NB1: F.A. Hayek's felicitous phrase for "all this" is "spontaneous discovery process;" the key word is "spontaneous."
NB2: My longtime "bedrock"/"only certain belief" is: "He who tries the most stuff wins"/"Screw around vigorously"/"Ready. FIRE. Aim." I am now ready to revise it to: "He who makes the most oddball connections and tries the most stuff wins."
NB3: One of my five greatest literary indulgences ever is a 1st edition of The Wealth of Nations.
(Above: Susan and I move "up the hill" to our cottage/former "sap house" [where maple sap was boiled to produce syrup] for the summer, from about May 1 to October 10. Below: View of our "upper pond" from front door of said sap house—this morning at 6:30 a.m.)
A Tweet that showed up yesterday mused that about 90% of statistics are made up. I laughed, but it's probably about right. Well, not made up, exactly, but highly and selectively doctored.
Reading the Tweet coincided with a book purging project which led me to pick up the well received 1982 book, Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, by two prominent science journalists, William Broad and Nicholas Wade. It is at once entertaining and serious. Along the way, the work of the likes of Galileo, Newton, the chemist John Dalton and American physics Nobelist Robert Millikan are raked over the coals. Data that's too good to be true, experiments that after many efforts could not be replicated by even the best scientists, simple fudge factors applied with abandon, etc.
And then I tripped over my all-time favorite, which I used to use in seminars, when discussing the real (messy) world of science and innovation. The Austrian monk Gregor Mendel is widely acclaimed as the "father of modern genetics." But he is also a poster child for questionable data. Though he has his defenders, one detractor wrote a brief essay, "Peas on Earth," that appeared in a professional journal:
"In the beginning there was Mendel, thinking his lonely thoughts alone. And he said: 'Let there be peas,' and there were peas and that was good. And he put the peas in the garden saying unto them 'Increase and multiply, segregate and assort yourself independently,' and they did and it was good. And now it came to pass that when Mendel gathered up his peas, he divided them into round and wrinkled, and called the round 'dominant' and the wrinkled 'recessive,' and it was good. But now Mendel saw that there were 450 round peas and 102 wrinkled ones; this was not good. For the law stateth that there should be only 3 round for every wrinkled. And Mendel said unto himself 'Gott in Himmel, an enemy has done this, he has sown bad peas in my garden under the cover of night.' And Mendel smote the table in righteous wrath, saying 'Depart from me, you cursed and evil peas, into the outer darkness where you shalt be devoured by rats and mice,' and lo it was done and there remained 300 round peas and 100 wrinkled peas, and it was good. It was very, very good. And Mendel published."
Maybe one of the good side effects of the Web is that the proliferation (tsunami) of absurd data (a/k/a utter bullshit) will lead to a general increase in skepticism. Very few things are what they seem, regardless of their imprimatur (think of Wall Street and its battalions of MIT-Stanford-Harvard-Chicago PhD mathematicians). The caution light should be permanently yellow.
(NB1: The book is also replete with instructive sagas like that of Ignaz Semmelweis. With childbed [puerperal] fever claiming up to 30 percent of mothers' lives in even the best European maternity hospitals, Semmelweis was able to virtually eliminate it in his own clinic simply by having doctors wash their hands in a chlorine solution before examinations and procedures. Alas, Semmelweis had an all-time low EQ, and was abrasive beyond measure; moreover, at a volatile time, his political views were on the fringe. Hence his work was ignored out of hand, and tens of thousands of lives were unnecessarily lost over the following three decades—Semmelweis died in restraints in a mental institution in 1865. Once more we observe that science in the real world strays from "just the facts, ma'am" more often than not—and personal style almost always matters more than one would imagine.)
(NB2: Another book I grabbed was The War of the World, by the renowned British historian Niall Ferguson. It recounts in all too vivid detail the unmatched human violence of the better forgotten 20th century. On the "true facts" dimension, Ferguson at one point calls into question the sacred notion that a few brave Spitfire pilots held off the German horde. There is no disputing or diminishing the pilots' remarkable bravery, yet Ferguson points out that at the beginning of the Battle of Britain the RAF had more fighter aircraft and many more trained pilots than the Germans, and was out-producing the Germans in terms of new aircraft by a ratio of about 3 to 1. Britain's estimates of German pilot strength were off by a factor of 7, Ferguson reports. Um, so much for statistical accuracy; and, hey, nobody ever accused my all-time hero Churchill of being less than a great actor.)
"Hermann Hesse's story, Journey to the East, tells of a band of men, each having his own goal, on a mythical journey to the East. With them is the servant Leo, who does their menial chores, sustains them with his spirit and his song, and, by the quality of his presence, lifts them above what they otherwise would be. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey finally is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo."
It was this story, and there obviously is a lot more to it, that triggered Robert Greenleaf's adventure as the prophet of "servant leadership."
I spent a fruitful weekend, amidst Vermont's luscious Spring, re-reading The Servant-Leader Within, by Robert Greenleaf (edited by Hamilton Beazley, Julie Beggs, and Larry Spears). I was reminded anew of the power of the idea.
Here are a few of the highlights for me, in no particular order:
*The leader is servant—and is served. That is, the effective leader helps others and learns how to receive help in her or his own journey.
*The servant leader's Final Exam: "Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"
*"True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others."
*The servant leader's premier trait is ... LISTENING. E.g.: "a deep commitment to listening intently to others," "seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will," "listens receptively to what is being said (and not said!)." "Listening is much more than just keeping quiet. Listening begins with attention and the search for understanding. ..."
*Ken Kesey knew! Greenleaf delightfully acknowledges that Hesse's fiction is not the only clue to servant leadership. He also cites Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "Big Nurse" is "strong, able, dedicated, dominating, authority ridden, manipulative, exploitive." MacMurphy, on the other hand: "The net effect of his influence is to build people up and make both patients and the doctor in charge of the ward grow bigger, stronger, healthier." (Greenleaf acknowledges that MacMurphy dies for his troubles—as, of course, did Gandhi and King and others. Serving with heart and soul is no walk in the park!)
Doubtless, despite the passage of 67 years, I'm still naïve. That's what I decided as I dove into Eamon Javers' Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage.
Of course I know about private security firms. Among other things, one of my Cornell classmates was Jules Kroll, founder of Kroll Associates. His shop, since sold, was perhaps the most powerful in a now enormous industry.
But on the second page of the prologue I found the following, which I literally read with my mouth agape:
"Day and his employees [at Diligence] had run a months-long covert undercover operation designed to penetrate the offices of KPMG, the global accounting giant. They'd done it on behalf of a Washington lobbying firm that was in turn working for a company controlled by one of Russia's most powerful oligarchs. And they'd gotten caught."
(A KPMG employee that Diligence "turned," after painstaking research, by appealing to his patriotism, regularly used the likes of dead drops and other accoutrements of the espionage trade. And there are all the bits about tag team efforts to follow someone, and of course follower v. follower, that equal Le Carré's world of Smiley.)
I've only advanced to page 16, thanks to that rarity among rarities, an on-time doctor's appointment. The book is a no-baloney "page turner," and I (VERY) highly recommend it for fun or to stoke your mind.
(Above: Cow. Vermont. I loved the pose so much that I risked life and limb to take the photo.)
What do managers do for a living?
How many of us could call ourselves "professional helpers," meaning that we have studied, like a professional mastering her craft, "helping"?
Not many, I'd judge.
I've got the solution!
Or, rather, Edgar Schein, emeritus Professor of Management at MIT, does.
Ed has been a pioneer in organization and personal change. At it since the 1950s. And now he's written his summa, a 157-page book titled Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. Based on tested theory, it is very readable. And practical.
The last chapter consists of "tips" and 7 "principles." E.g.:
"PRINCIPLE 2: Effective Help Occurs When the Helping Relationship Is Perceived to Be Equitable.
"PRINCIPLE 4: Everything You Say or Do Is an Intervention that Determines the Future of the Relationship.
"PRINCIPLE 5: Effective Helping Begins with Pure Inquiry.
"PRINCIPLE 6: It Is the Client Who Owns the Problem."*
*TP: Love the idea that the employee is a Client!! (Words matter!!)
Employee as Client!
"Helping" is what we [leaders] "do" for a living.
STUDY/PRACTICE "helping" as you would neurosurgery.
("Helping" is your neurosurgery!)
I'd love to have a blurb from Bill Clinton. Lee Child does. "I love Jack Reacher."—Bill Clinton. I'm a Child-Reacher fan. Was reading The Enemy on the way home from Costa Rica. Came across this:
"Nearly a million men in the army, hundreds of billions of dollars, and it all came down to who liked who. Hey, what can you do?"
What can you do?
(It's the way things are.)
(You can acknowledge reality—and attempt to make it your ally.)
In the case under consideration, there's a terrible conspiracy afoot. But forget that. The bigger fact is that while skill, etc., counts, in the end it is (more or less) all about the friendships.
(Not quite as awful—to some—as it sounds. At any given level, say, the skills are probably pretty equal, so the question is, What's the differentiator?)
All this is a dull and boring reminder that regardless of stakes or subject matter it's the collecting of allies and the maintenance and nurturing of supporters that determines whether or not things you care about get done.
Check your lunch schedule this week, check your calendar. Think R.O.I.R.—Return On Investment in Relationships. What's your "investment plan" for the week?
Christmas mostly meant books. Hence I found myself at 9 p.m. last night, with the Tinmouth VT temperature already down to -8°F, sitting across from the fire with, yes, no less than 11 new books on the coffee table beside me:
Piracy: The Intellectual Capital Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, by Adrian Johns. An exhaustive and bizarrely detailed look at intellectual capital's status through the ages, courtesy, what else, a University of Chicago prof. (This is going to be an amazing learning experience for me—and no idea is more basic to tomorrow's economy, which, like it or not, will be based almost exclusively on intellectual property, not manufacturing.)
Resistance: A Woman's Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France, by Agnès Humbert. The first English translation of an extraordinary French war diary published in 1946; I am mesmerized by the moral choices represented by the German occupation of France—what would I have done???????????????? (We all think we are people of great character, but when the crunch comes ...)
Verdun, by Jules Romains, 1937. A towering novel about inhumanity ... and folly!!!! ... in World War I.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. More women are killed in any given decade just because they are women ("gendercide," as the authors call it) than the total number of people killed in all the 20th century's genocides. This book is the Mother of all Wake-up calls, or should be! (There is a lot of good news here, too, about action being taken by "real people" "on the ground.")
Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War, by Terry Brighton. The generals were almost the least of it in this retelling. Virtually every major battlefield decision by the Brits and Yanks was driven by national politics far more than the situation on the ground. (E.g., my beloved Mr. Churchill, and I mean it, squandered God knows how many British boys' lives to beat the Americans to the punch in North Africa in order to shore up his sagging political fortunes of the moment in the House of Commons.)
The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, by Thomas Fleming. Turning the victory of 1781 into the birthing of a democratic nation was no sure thing—and that's an understatement. Oh dear, what a mess the real world is! (Life = Muddling through.)
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The ultimate biography of perhaps our most politically savvy politician ever—published in 1976. Again, I get off on the political machinations of the real world—incidentally, just about as pervasive in Big Corporate World as on Capitol Hill. ("Politics is life. The rest is details."—bumper sticker not yet printed, by Tom Peters. "If you don't 'do politics,' you don't do 'do.'"—bumper sticker not yet printed, by Tom Peters.)
The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs, by Michael Belfiore. Established in 1958 after the Russian Sputnik launch, DARPA has an amazing history, first revealed here, in 2009. And if you don't think the government has a big role to play in R&D, think again!
7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century, by Andrew Krepinivich. Frightening scenarios not in the least bit farfetched. I am not an alarmist, or at least I don't think I am, but Detroit should remind us that we most likely ain't seen nothing yet—be prepared, and don't imagine that the madness of this past decade is some sort of anomaly!
The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, Amanda Ripley. Extraordinary analysis, in a 2008 book, of surviving (or not) amidst calamities. Among its messages: (1) the real people at the scene, witness NWA/Detroit, are far more important than the so-called "first responders" who are never first; and (2) a little bit of prep can go a long way—one woman had practiced walking downstairs now and again in the Twin Towers, and calmly walked down on 9/11 while people on average were in a state of paralysis for 6 minutes; she was hardly "over-prepped," but, like checklists in hospitals, the "little stuff" can make a BIG difference, such as life vs. death!
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande. Simple checklists, say the hard data, save more lives in hospitals than the most sophisticated equipment! Or as I like to put it, much as I love Gawande (I do, I do), doctors-discover-the-real-world-and-find-it-interesting (gosh, next thing we know the docs will begin backing up their judgments with evidence). (Hospital safety, alas, an oxymoron, and the failure to be informed by evidence, are a disgrace with horrifying consequences.*)
*NB: I am obsessed with health care, that is, patient safety and "evidence-based medicine." Hence I am unable, in reference to Gawande's book, to not gratuitously offer up this set of quotes I previously collected:
"America's elites are very good at attracting money and prestige, and they have a huge technology arsenal with which they attack death and disease. But they have no positive medical results to show for it in the aggregate and many indications that they are providing lower-quality care than the much-maligned HMOs and assorted St. Elsewheres."—Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Healthcare Is Better Than Yours, Phillip Longman
"The medical system has been unable to turn proven remedies into everyday care.* [*More: 55% chance of "receiving the best recommended care—which means getting scientifically appropriate, evidence-based medical treatment."] Half the people who need to be treated to prevent heart attacks are not treated and half who are treated are treated inadequately. Patients go home with the wrong drugs or the wrong doses or misimpressions about the importance of taking their medications."—The New York Times, from John Hammergren & Phil Harkins, Skin in the Game:How Putting Yourself First Today Will Revolutionize Health Care Tomorrow
"Study: Medical Errors Affect 20 Percent of Patients"—headline, Boston Herald
"1-in-7 Chance of Medical Mishap: Health Ministry Report"—headline, the Press, Christchurch, New Zealand (quote refers to odds of a screw-up during a hospital stay)
"The Institute of Medicine calculated that drug errors [on average, one per patient per visit—various sources; some estimates go as high as one-per-patient-per-day on average] alone add on average nearly $5,000 to the cost of every hospital visit." —Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, Shannon Brownlee
"Hospital infections kill an estimated 103,000 people in the United States a year, as many as AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined. ... Today, experts estimate that more than 60 percent of staph infections are M.R.S.A. [up from 2 percent in 1974]. Hospitals in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands once faced similar rates, but brought them down to below 1 percent. How? Through the rigorous enforcement of rules on hand washing, the meticulous cleaning of equipment and hospital rooms, the use of gowns and disposable aprons to prevent doctors and nurses from spreading germs on clothing and the testing of incoming patients to identify and isolate those carrying the germ. ... Many hospital administrators say they can't afford to take the necessary precautions."—Betsy McCaughey, founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (New York Times)
"When I climb Mount Rainier I face less risk of death than I'll face on the operating table."—Don Berwick (Harvard med school, founder of the campaign to save 100,000 lives)
There were a ton of books on the financial crisis, many of which were quite good. My favorite came from the Financial Times' prize-winning reporter–editorialist Gillian Tett. Namely: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe. (Hats off to the FT in general for reporting on the crisis—my FT "take" beats my Wall Street Journal take 4 days out of every 5.) (Ms. Tett notwithstanding, I believe the best way to get your reading head around the current mess is to read Michael Lewis's 1989 classic, Liar's Poker.)
As to best book by a "finance guy," it's no contest! The gold to Vanguard Mutual Fund Group founder John Bogle for Enough. The chapter titles tell the story. Here's a sample:
"Too Much Cost, Not Enough Value"
"Too Much Speculation, Not Enough Investment"
"Too Much Complexity, Not Enough Simplicity"
"Too Much Counting, Not Enough Trust"
"Too Much Business Conduct, Not Enough Professional Conduct"
"Too Much Salesmanship, Not Enough Stewardship"
"Too Much Focus on Things, Not Enough Focus on Commitment"
"Too Many Twenty-first Century Values, Not Enough Eighteenth-Century Values"
"Too Much 'Success,' Not Enough Character"
As to the overarching theme of the book, Mr. Bogle begins with this vignette: "At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, 'Yes, but I have something he will never have ...
My "best management book" award goes to my old pal (pal = full disclosure) and Fast Company co-founder Alan Webber for Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself. From the beginning ("Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax") to the middle ("Rule #26: The soft stuff is the hard stuff") to the end ("Rule #52: Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere"), Alan doesn't miss a single beat in 52 tries. My runner-up, by a heartbeat, in the management book category is The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath. Decent behavior pays off, big time, and never more than in tough times—this is not a "be good" book, it's a "make money" book.
Now, to the Grand Prize Winner, my "Best Business Book 2009." The Gold goes with delight to retail guru George Whalin for Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America. Mr. Whalin is our tour guide to Excellence, and his first stop is, naturally, Fairfield, Ohio, home to Jungle Jim's International Market. The adventure in "shoppertainment," as Jungle Jim's calls it, begins in the parking lot and goes on to 1,600 cheeses and, yes, 1,400 varieties of hot sauce—not to mention 12,000 wines priced from $8 to $8,000 a bottle; all this is brought to you by 4,000 vendors from around the world. Like virtually all the stores in this book, customers flock to the doors from every corner of the globe. Then there's Abt Electronics in Chicago, Zabar's in Manhattan, and Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frakenmuth, Michigan—a town of just 5,000. Bronner's 98,000-square-foot "shop" features the likes of 6,000 Christmas ornaments, 50,000 trims, and anything else you can name if it pertains to Christmas.
And: The Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
And: Junkman's Daughter in Atlanta.
And: Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville, Tennessee.
And: the grand finale, finishing where we started—in Ohio; This time the spotlight is on Hartville Hardware in Hartville OH.
George Whalin's winning stores demonstrate–prove so many (heartening) things:
You can create a worldwide attraction and thrive as an independent in the Age of the Big Box retailer!
You can do anything!
You can be from anywhere!
You can make any-damn-thing ... bizarrely-amazingly-stupendously-special!
I think Whalin's message is perfect for 2009. We will, over the long haul, rebound from our colossal economic and unemployment mess on the backs of our entrepreneurs. The big guys may re-stock their payrolls a bit, but the generals, GE and GM, ain't the answer. And among the entrepreneurs, only a few, statistically, will be from Silicon Valley. To be sure, the best of the sexy entrepreneurs spawn whole new industries, but the blocking and tackling when it comes to jobs and productivity will come from Sevierville TN and Fairfield and Hartville OH and Frankenmuth MI and a hundred hundred other towns and small cities whose names, mostly, you haven't heard of.
When I initially blogged about Retail Superstars, I said, "I guarantee that any reader—from anywhere, in any business—can learn something from this book." I believe that. And because of that, Mr. Whalin takes home the Gold. (FYI: A great companion to Retail Superstars is Bo Burlingham's 2005 Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big.)
And so it goes ...
Best thing I've read so far. T.R. Reid, The Healing of America: Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. Reid takes us on a global tour. Among other things, in many countries with "universal access," the programs are anything but "socialist"—available choices often beat ours, and the free market plays the lead role.
(Above: Winter "on the farm" in VT ... the real thing!)
The book starts with a story of a college exam for which students had more-than-adequate time to prepare. Nonetheless, there was moaning of the highest (lowest?) order as students got to the last question. Which was ...
"What is the first name of the man who cleans our school?" Damn few, or fewer than few, aced that one. The prof explained, "As you go forward in life, you will meet many people. All of them are important. No matter what their position, everyone you cross paths with deserves your attention and respect, even if all you do is just smile and say hello." (Reminds me of a brief exchange I had with a flight attendant once. I asked her how many people said "Thank you" as they get off the plane. Damn few, though she said it didn't matter: "They don't have to say anything—just a smile will do fine.")
Frankly, never thought I'd be touting a book by a "TV personality." But this is the exception. It's titled The Power of Respect: Benefit from the Most Forgotten Element of Success. The author is Deborah Norville. My new book, which I really don't mean to plug (truly!), is called The Little BIG Things—and this from Ms. Norville is the mother of all little big things.
It's chock-a-block with stories like the one above—and the over-riding point is literally matchless.
"Power tool" #1!
(Reminds me of another favorite, Respect, by Harvard professor Sara Lightfoot-Lawrence, mentioned before at tompeters.com.)
(NB: Is that opening story apocryphal? Don't know, don't care.)
Recommendation: The July 2009 issue of Wired is particularly good.
On the way from Boston to Miami to go to São Paulo on the way to Joinville, I read in Newsmax (June 2009) "Cyber Warfare: Could It Bring Us Down." The article is very well packaged—with an interesting set of threat assessments.
[This is the article with a different title.—CM]
I'll report more thoroughly later, but I heartily recommend "The Buck Starts (and Stops) at Business School," by Joel Podolny, in the current (June) Harvard Business Review. Sample: "The degree of contrition at business schools seems small compared with the magnitude of the offense."
As a vociferous 30-year critic of the b-schools, almost every word was music to my ears. Podolny and I share views at the 99.999% level.
[NB: In the same HBR, check out "Relentless Idealism for Tough Times," a terrific interview with Chez Panisse founder (1971) Alice Waters. Among other things, Waters insists that her chefs spend FIFTY PERCENT of their time away from their kitchen learning new stuff!!.]
I can not heartily enough recommend Daniel Suarez's Daemon. A Daemon is a computer program that runs in the background and performs certain system-controlling activities at certain pre-arranged times. In the book, written by a computer guru and gushingly endorsed by the likes of Craig Newmark/Craigslist and Stewart Brand/The Long Now Foundation, a renowned computer scientist-game designer dies and, after his demise, unleashes the Daemon, which disrupts the world as we know it.
There are a few things which boggle the imagination such as fleets of robotic cars acting with amazing intelligence, but all in all the scenarios played out seem terrifyingly realistic—in fact, on a modest scale they are underway as I write. While we know what's going on in the background is frightening, and William Gibson fans have been reading somewhat like material for years, something about this rendition sent chill after chill up (down?) my spine. Indeed, said sad spine is that of a cyber-amateur; but I think even the pros will find the book compelling—incidentally (?) it's teenage gamers who are most adept at dealing with various conundrums, while well-trained but ancient (30s??) FBI-ers and NSA-ers are out of their league.
Oddly enough, the day I finished the book, May 18, the Wall Street Journal ran a page 1 feature titled "Ups and Downs Whipsaw Supply Chain." It describes in gory detail the effect of vast interconnected systems of just-in-time management that have led to all sorts of glitches in manufacturing—a plant running fullspeed is flummoxed by three vendors whose hasty, independent decisions to slash inventory bring the downstream manufacturer to a screeching halt while the manufacturer's market is still robust. Hence the downstream manufacturer cannot meet demand, and the economy takes yet another hit. Of course the Wall Street fiasco was started and accelerated by genius programmers whose programs effectively (and automatically) took over global financial markets.
This book demonstrates, at least to me, that we are in for one wild ride.
Not crying at the loss of Portfolio. Some very good writing. Don't need a glossy celebration of business at the moment.
The Financial Times' Gillian Tett won "Journalist of the Year 2009" award. I love her financial analyses. Also, her Fool's Gold, about the financial crisis, just published.
In What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Marshall Goldsmith proclaims: "I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better."
All I can add is:
I believe that skill at Apologizing is nothing short of a "strategic competence"!
"Strategic competence"? Absolutely! Customers lost for want of a timely and sincere "I'm sorry. My fault" number in the billions, from restaurant diners to aircraft engine purchasers.
And now there's an entire book on the topic arriving May 1, Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust, by John Kador.
Read a whole book on the topic?
In addition to being an excellent "how to" guide, the book also captures hard evidence. For example, with a new policy on apologies, Toro, the lawn mower folks, reduced the average cost of a claim from $115,000 in 1991 to $35,000 in 2008—and the company hasn't been to trial since 1994. The VA hospital in Lexington, Massachusetts, developed an astonishing approach to apologizing for errors (forthcoming—even when no patient request or claim was made). In 2000, the overall mean VA system malpractice settlement was $413,000. The Lexington VA hospital settlement # was $36,000—and there were far fewer per patient claims to begin with.
Not only does a sincere apology make you feel much better about yourself (top marks on the "ability-to-look-in-the-mirror" test), but it fattens your wallet in the process (or, rather, keeps said wallet from getting skinny).
While visiting Amazon to get John Kador's formal pub date (Kindle on May 1, too!), I came across a reference to another apparent gem on the topic, On Apology, by psychiatrist Aaron Lazare. Here are excerpts from a couple reviews: "This unique book is sure to set a reader thinking on many levels, but its ultimate message is the meaning and the magically transformative power of what would seem on the surface to be a simple apology. No one who becomes familiar with Dr. Lazare's perceptive interpretations will forget his sensitivity and wisdom."—Sherwin B. Nuland, MD, author of How We Die [TP: Nuland is fabulous]. "This jewel of a book reveals the many facets of the seemingly simple act of apology. ... Drawing on a vast array of literary and real-life examples, from Agamemnon to George Patton to Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the current pope to the machinist who approached him after a lecture, Lazare lucidly dissects the process of apology. ... Everybody on earth could benefit from this small but essential book."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Read two whole books on the topic?
Any comments on your experience with apologies?
NB: Tom mounts his Preakness winning hobby horse again! Women are far far far far far far far far better-instinctive at this than we guys! [One of many reasons that women are better salespeople than men.] [Preakness? I was born in Baltimore; we barely acknowledge Kentucky's preliminary race.]
[Above: My notion of hotel room "windows that open wide"—Amsterdam, canal view; not that there are many non-canal views!]
Tomorrow "it" happens!
In short, Rules of Thumb, featuring 52 "rules," is a marvel. Practical. Philosophical. Fun. And, above all, wise. Ever so wise.
Here is a sample:
#10 A Good Question Beats a Good Answer. #14 You Don't Know if You Don't Go. #16 Facts Are Facts; Stories Are How We Learn. #20 Speed = Strategy. #23 Keep Two Lists: What Gets You Up in the Morning? What Keeps You Up at Night? #26 The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff. #28 Good Design Is Table Stakes. Great Design Wins. #29 Words Matter. #33 Everything Is a Performance. #42 The Survival of the Fittest Is the Business Case for Diversity. #45 Failure Isn't Failing. Failure Is Failing to Try. #46 Tough Leaders Wear Their Hearts on Their Sleeves. #49 If You Want to Grow as a Leader, You Have to Disarm Your Border Guards. #50 On the Way Up Pay Attention to Your Strengths; They'll Be Your Weaknesses on the Way Down. #52 Stay Alert! There Are Teachers Everywhere.
I would like to have listed all 52—there are no losers in this set. (In fact, I believe Alan's idiot editor sliced about half of them from the first draft, which I saw; damn shame.)
Fact is, I love Alan, and I love his book. Yes, he truly is a wise man.
[The book is available on Kindle, too.—CM]
This from Golden Bay New Zealand: Believe it or not, I use my couple (okay, three) weeks away from VT Cold to read, as well as hike and hike and hike. This year's pick after 10 days: Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. Indian-born Zakaria is as clear-headed an analyst of the state of the world as you'll find. (Niall Ferguson is my alternate in this category.) The book is far from declinist literature, despite the title. As Zakaria begins, "This book is not about the decline of America but, rather, the rise of everyone else." ("Everybody else" is everybody else—not just China and India.)
While the recession, or perhaps depression, seems to relentlessly accelerate, I think there's little doubt that his analysis will stand the test of the current crisis. For those (neo-Marxists?) who think the current situation signals the end of capitalism as we know it, don't bother with this book. Zakaria is clear, per his data and analysis rather than polemics, that this extraordinary rise-of-the-rest is, in fact, fueled mostly by American capitalism.
This "must read" is indeed a "must read"—hopeful but not rose-colored by any means.
Picture above: Black Swans, two, no less, and God help us, in Waimeha Lagoon, Kapiti Coast, north of Wellington. Picture 2 (also Kapiti Coast): And some will rise above the waves!
Pioneering Users of Technological Innovations
The term "completely original analysis" is overused—by me, among others. But Amar Bhide's well-received book, The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World, deserves this accolade.
The argument in a nutshell: The most important innovations are not the highly visible technology breakthroughs. They are, instead, the innovations created by consumers of the breakthrough innovations.
Here are a few of the media reviews cited at Amazon:
"In [Bhide's] view, many analysts put too much emphasis on the production of new technological ideas. Instead, he observes, the real economic payoff lies in innovations in how technologies are used."—Steve Lohr, New York Times.
"Arguments for protectionism are based on fears that are wholly at odds with the evidence. The experience of recent years does not support the idea that millions of jobs will be outsourced to cheap foreign locations. ... [Amar Bhide argues] it is in the application of innovations to meet the needs of consumers that most economic value is created, so what matters is not so much where the innovation happens but where the 'venturesome consumers' are to be found. America's consumers show no signs of becoming less venturesome, and its government remains committed to the idea that the customer is king."—Matthew Bishop, the Economist.
"Innovation everywhere is a boon to America. That's the argument from [Bhide] who sees hidden value in America's unique ability to integrate and consume big new ideas, no matter where they're spawned."—Kirk Shinkle, U.S. News & World Report.
"A rigorously researched and original analysis that challenges much received wisdom about the process of innovation, particularly in the U.S. ... In his analysis of innovation, Bhide distinguishes between cutting-edge scientific discoveries and ideas—what he calls 'high-level' know-how—and the kind of know-how needed to turn these ideas into innovative products and services to meet the needs of specific markets ('mid- and ground-level innovation'). He says not enough attention has been paid to this mid- and ground-level activity, in particular to the commercial and organizational effort needed to turn scientific breakthroughs into useful products, or to how well America does it."—Fergal Byrne, Financial Times.
"[Bhide's] core message is that you need innovative consumers. This, rather than the cutting-edge stuff in the university labs or the research departments of the multinationals, is what gives America its edge."—Hamish McRae, the Independent.
If I am a good judge, I predict you'll never look at the world of innovation the same way again if–after you read this book.
How horrid! Recommending that someone buy one's book/s! I avoid self-recommendation like the plague. But, alas, I'm going to make an exception.
While trapped at home during a 2-foot, 2.5-day VT snowstorm and doing an intense winter cleanup, my "brand you" book reared its dust-covered self from underneath a bed. It was part of our 1999 3-book set published under the rubric of "Re-inventing Work":
The idea, as the Age of Outsourcing descended in the late '90s, was that the best & sole defense against a global labor market was: Do Great Work!
(1) Turn every task into a project of distinction worth bragging about 5 years from now—if not 10. ("Wow Project" was our moniker—and Steve Jobs' "insanely great" was the benchmark.)
(2) Turn your run-of-the-mine "department" into an indispensable, value-adding superstar professional services firm in the tradition of IDEO, Chiat Day, or McKinsey. ("Gamechanging PSF" was our shorthand here.)
(3) Turn yourself into a businesswoman sporting a project portfolio to die for. ("Brand You" was the tag line.)
Fact is, as The Deep Recession deepens by the day, these ideas are more, not less, timely than a decade ago. While nothing will make the current rocky road smooth, the fact is that Truly Inspired Work—the basics and innovation alike—is the best defense and the best offense in very tough times.
So in a departure from tradition, I recommend these three books; and in the name of modesty, I can report that each one is available used at Amazon.com for One Cent!
Our good friend Trevor directed us to our good friend Tom Asacker's "Nine Predictions for 2009." I agree with Trevor's "it’s brilliant."
Our renaissance woman-commentator Judith Ellis recently mentioned Vanguard Mutual Fund Group founder John Bogle's Enough. The Measures of Money, Business, and Life. Judith's reference led me to add the 79-year-old Mr. Bogle's opus to my bookshelf. I will simply say that it is one of the best business books ("life" books?) I have ever read, an easy All-time Top 10. And its timing is, well, read it yourself ...
Rather than spend several sentences summarizing the short-but-very-sweet-and-very lucid tome, I'll let the brilliant chapter titles do the work for me. Here's a sample:
"Too Much Cost, Not Enough Value"
"Too Much Speculation, Not Enough Investment"
"Too Much Complexity, Not Enough Simplicity"
"Too Much Counting, Not Enough Trust"
"Too Much Business Conduct, Not Enough Professional Conduct"
"Too Much Salesmanship, Not Enough Stewardship"
"Too Much Focus on Things, Not Enough Focus on Commitment"
"Too Many Twenty-first Century Values, Not Enough Eighteenth-Century Values"
"Too Much 'Success,' Not Enough Character"
As to the overarching theme captured by the book's title, "Enough," Mr. Bogle begins with this vignette:
"At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, 'Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.'"
And thank you, John Bogle!
(And Judith Ellis.)
Two book recommendations:
From my friend and colleague Richard Farson: The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything. That's a bold hypothesis—and to a great extent what I've staked my own professional career on in the last two decades. The book is well written, and it's well worth your time.
The other, also brilliant by my lights: Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company, by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery. Consider a sample of subtitles from the last chapter, "Building a Design-driven Culture": "Why good design is everybody's job" ... "Why we need risk support instead of risk management" ... "Why risk should be understood—not avoided" ... "How design requires faith and commitment ..." First paragraph: "In 1997, shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Dell's founder and chairman, Michael Dell, was asked at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo97 how he would fix financially troubled Apple. 'What would I do?' Dell said. 'I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.'" (As you doubtless know, a scant ten years later Apple's market cap surged past Dell's.)
In short, if "health care" is a dangerous oxymoron, it is matched, if in a less deadly fashion, by "rigorous interview" in the all-important world of hiring. Mssrs. Smart and Street are said to rip, tear, shred, spindle, mutilate, thrash, and trash the typical prospective employee evaluation process for its shallowness. And the reviewer also reports that the authors provide a ton of solid research and professional experience to support their sorry conclusions. I am disposed to the authors' assessment based on my own, if less extensive, observation—and flawed personal practices.
Smart and Street argue that the hiring process should have the same rigor as the evaluation of a prospective corporate acquisition. "Candidates who appear excellent on a first pass," the reviewer writes, "may fall to pieces on the third or fourth look—others look better and better." If the roster is the heart of team success—then the acquisition thereof could logically be called the most important thing an organization does. Right? (TP opinion: Right.)
LOOK ... THIS IS A BIG BIG BIG DAMN DEAL.
You and I have probably read a dozen, or three dozen, books on "business strategy." (Right?) And perhaps have been to a course or exec course or two or three on the topic.
Have you ever read a full-fledged book on assessing folks for employment?
Have you read a dozen articles on the topic?
My answer to both questions is an embarrassing "no." Worse yet, as best I can remember, I have never written—in 15 books—even a chapter on the topic! Dear God! I can argue that I've "skirted" the topic in many ways—but I'm not sure even that's the whole truth. (I am especially chagrined because I am a graduate of McKinsey & Co, one of the rare "good guys" on the Recruitment Excellence list—it doesn't seem to have rubbed off on my research or writing.)
The reviewer concludes, "In short, hiring is the most important aspect of business and yet remains woefully misunderstood [my italics]."
Ye gads, I think he might well be right.
(If so, what am I going to do about it?)
(If so, what are you going to do about it?)
We at tompeters.com are proud to say that Tom is included as one of the heretics of the title in The Age of Heretics, by Art Kleiner, the editor-in-chief of strategy+business magazine. The book's subtitle is A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management, and leadership expert Warren Bennis, a friend of Tom's, writes in the foreword that "... each of us helped destroy, if not the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the soulless organization that stole his labor and his days. And in doing so, each of us contributed to a new organizational reality in which the personal and business are inextricably linked and success is measured in human terms as well as dollars and euros."
The heresies—business theorems that go against the flow of accepted opinion—which are endorsed in the book, include: "Business is always personal." "To change an organization, you must know—and change—yourself." "The purpose of an organization is to change the world." Tom is mentioned in relation to that last one, as you might have guessed, and he, along with Bob Waterman, is credited with moving the heretics out into the open. Kleiner points out, by means of a quote from Thomas Huxley, that "New truths begin as heresies." We think this is a book you'll be glad to take a look at.
Marshall Goldsmith is widely considered to be the premier executive coach, more or less the inventor of the genre. We have been together on several programs, I like him immensely—and I think he does great work.
Well, that was before I read—really, really read—What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.
That is, the book that I have belatedly fully ingested is virtually peerless. I don't think Marshall "just" "does great work"—as I said, I think his work goes ever so much farther and merits the use of "peerless," literally without peers.
Bottom line: You must read it! (I'd argue that it's another of those "now more than ever" "commands"—knowing yourself as a leader is particularly important at stressful times.)
Here are a few snippets from a big section of the book titled, "The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From the Top":
Habit #1: Winning Too Much
"Winning too much is easily the most common behavioral problem I observe in successful people. [My italics.] There's a fine line between winning when it counts and when no one's counting. ... Winning too much underlies nearly every other behavioral problem.
"If we argue too much, it's because we want our view to prevail over everyone else (i.e., it's all about winning).
"If we're guilty of putting down other people, it's our stealthy way of positioning them beneath us (again, winning).
"If we ignore people, again it's about winning—by making them fade away."
Habit #2: Adding Too Much Value
"Good idea, but ...
"The problem is you may have improved the content by 5%, but you've reduced my commitment to executing it by 50%, because you've taken away my ownership of the idea."
Habit #3: Passing Judgment
Habit #4: Making Destructive Comments
One final quote that I cannot resist adding, doubtless in part because I am 100% in agreement:
"I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better."
Read the book!
(Read it in small doses. And ponder what you read.)
(Read it with a colleague or two—digest and practice.)
GOLDSMITH IS NOT ALONE. HE, WARREN BENNIS, AND OTHERS OF THEIR STATURE INSIST THAT SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS THE NECESSARY PRECURSOR TO EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP OF ALL FLAVORS. SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS NOT SELF-INDULGENCE. SELF-KNOWLEDGE, ACCUMULATION THEREOF, IS THE MOST POTENT MEDICINE YOU WILL EVER TAKE.
"If I had said 'yes' to all the projects I turned down and 'no' to all the ones I took, it would have worked out about the same."—David Picker, movie studio exec, quoted in William Goldman's classic Adventures in the Screen Trade (cited by Caltech physics professor and author Leonard Mlodinow in The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives)
NB1: Mlodinow's book gets a 10 out of 10 from me, hanging in with Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. (Another fav from Mlodinow: "Mathematical analysis of firings in all major sports has shown that those firings had, on average, no effect on team performance." A dozen or more studies appearing in prestigious academic journals are cited.)
NB2: If Randomness Rules then your only defense is the so-called "law of large numbers"—that is, success follows from tryin' enough stuff so that the odds of doin' something right tilt your way; in my speeches I declare that the only thing I've truly learned "for sure" in the last 40 years is "Try more stuff than the other guy"—there is no poetic license here, I mean it.
1. Freeze-Frame: One Minute Stress Management: A Scientifically Proven Technique for Clear Decision Making and Improved Health, by Doc Lew Childre and Bruce Cryer. I learned this technique at Canyon Ranch/Lenox MA a few years ago. And, improbable as it seems, it works—in even less than a minute, say, 30 seconds—or even 15. There may be more than you want to know in this book, and you may be skeptical—I was—but I will stick my neck out and call "it" "revolutionary;" it's lasted over 5 years for me and gotten better with age. Works in traffic, before a speech, during a meeting when something pisses you off, in the airport when something really pisses you off, in the middle of a delicate phone call, before your next serve, before your next M&M, etc. It's good for your professional life—and your health. (As advertised, it does take practice!)
2. As long as I'm doing "self help" (God help me), there's a lot of wisdom in Gordon Livingston, M.D.'s Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. E.g.: "If the map doesn't agree with the ground, the map is wrong." (#1.) "We are what we do." "Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses." "Not all who wander are lost." "It's a poor idea to lie to oneself." "Nobody likes to be told what to do." "Of all the forms of courage, the ability to laugh is the most profoundly therapeutic."
3. While my social views are liberal (I'd call them leave-me-the-hell-alone libertarian), my economics are unadulterated capitalist pig. They may stay that way, and probably will. Yet my entrepreneurial friend Alan Webber (Fast Company founder, TP partner in inventing "the brand called you") got me thinking when we met in Santa Fe last week—and got me reading afterwards. So far: Peter Navarro, The Coming China Wars; and (on order from Amazon) Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Mindless capitalist pig-ism is just that ... mindless. I've been a believer so long (35 years, I was somewhat collectivist in the 60s, not hippie, but a devotee of John Kenneth Galbraith, whom I now call "the man who got everything wrong;" now I'm true blue Hayek-ian) that I need to challenge my beliefs, rough myself up. Will let you know from time to time how it's coming.
4. Taxachusetts. On my way back to my part-time Boston home yesterday, after a root canal, I was struck by the obvious—how damn many colleges and universities there are in this town. After the procedure I stopped at a Starbucks inside the Boston University Barnes & Noble. A few blocks later I dropped into another bookstore (true addiction), this one associated with Berklee College of Music. (Walked out with a Berklee Hockey bball cap—bball caps another addiction.) Then an optometry college. Then etc. All in the space of a 45-minute walk.
It may be Taxachussetts, but once again—three in a row since it started—Massachusetts, underpinned by Boston-Cambridge, ranked #1 on the Milken Institute's very sophisticated evaluation-index of the U.S.'s "top technology incubators." (FYI, Maryland, Colorado, and CA were #s 2, 3, & 4.) Tax rates or not, the joint is a/the hotbed of profitable, high-growth intellectual activity. (MA & CA account for 50% of the World's Top Ten universities.) (Interestingly, and perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, MA also gets very high marks on many-most social indicators, such as 2nd lowest divorce rate in the U.S.—FYI, D.C., PA, and IL #s 1, 3, 4.)
5. Kluge. Nudge. Sway. All terrific books. The world ain't rational my friends! (Duh.) (Even the economists now agree; God may not be dead as Nietzsche predicted, but "rational man" is in the ICU and a thunderstorm just knocked out the respirator's power.) (Godfathers of all this: Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. See: Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky.) (My pick of picks, as you probably know by now, are Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan.)
Dov Frohman is a pioneer in the semiconductor industry. Among (many) other things, he started Intel Israel and was largely responsible for the growth of Israel's potent high-tech sector. With Robert Howard, he has written a truly original book on leadership, Leadership the Hard Way: Why Leadership Can't Be Taught—and How You Can Learn It Anyway.
A few of the provocative chapter titles are: "Insisting on Survival," "Leadership Under Fire" (literally, Israel remember), "Leveraging Random Opportunities." In a chapter titled "The Soft Skills of Hard Leadership," Frohman astonishes as he insists that the leader-manager must free up no less than 50% of his-her time from routine tasks. To wit:
"Most managers spend a great deal of time thinking about what they plan to do, but relatively little time thinking about what they plan not to do ... As a result, they become so caught up ... in fighting the fires of the moment that they cannot really attend to the longterm threats and risks facing the organization. So the first soft skill of leadership the hard way is to cultivate the perspective of Marcus Aurelius: avoid busyness, free up your time, stay focused on what really matters. Let me put it bluntly: every leader should routinely keep a substantial portion of his or her time—I would say as much as 50 percent—unscheduled. ... Only when you have substantial 'slop' in your schedule—unscheduled time—will you have the space to reflect on what you are doing, learn from experience, and recover from your inevitable mistakes. Leaders without such free time end up tackling issues only when there is an immediate or visible problem. Managers' typical response to my argument about free time is, 'That's all well and good, but there are things I have to do.' Yet we waste so much time in unproductive activity—it takes an enormous effort on the part of the leader to keep free time for the truly important things."
Yet another surprising idea from the same chapter is "daydreaming":
"The Discipline Of Daydreaming": "Nearly every major decision of my business career was, to some degree, the result of daydreaming. ... To be sure, in every case I had to collect a lot of data, do detailed analysis, and make a data-based argument to convince superiors, colleagues and business partners. But that all came later. In the beginning, there was the daydream. By daydreaming, I mean loose, unstructured thinking with no particular goal in mind. ... In fact, I think daydreaming is a distinctive mode of cognition especially well suited to the complex, 'fuzzy' problems that characterize a more turbulent business environment. ... Daydreaming is an effective way of coping with complexity. When a problem has a high degree of complexity, the level of detail can be overwhelming. The more one focuses on the details, the more one risks being lost in them. ... Every child knows how to daydream. But many, perhaps most, lose the capacity as they grow up. ..."
And so on. I admit to having some quarrels with Frohman, yet every idea in the book performed that most valuable of services: challenged my long-held and thence hard-and-fast views.
Two Thumbs Up.
I've been "one of those" who has blithely proclaimed that globalization and the more general spread of wealth and modernity (China, India plus) is the most probable path to more or less universal peace and stability, instability in the Middle East notwithstanding.
Consider these confident assertions from Europe, just prior to World War I, from The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman* (*I just finished a re-read):
"By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument [Norman] Angel [in his book, The Great Illusion] showed that given the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor [in a war] would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no one would be so foolish as to start one."
[NB: Tuchman reports that Angel's book was published in 1910, four years before the Great War, translated into numerous languages, and studied by the highest level statesmen from the UK and all of Europe to Japan, with almost uniform nods of agreement.]
"New economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars. ... Because of the interlacing of nations, war becomes every day more difficult and improbable."
[Lectures in 1910 by Viscount Esher, chairman of the UK's "War Commission" and senior advisor on foreign policy and the military; he believed that the Angel doctrine was as accepted in Germany as in the UK.]
This from Niall Ferguson, The War of the World, on the 1900s, the bloodiest century in human history by far: "The hundred years after 1900 were a time of unparalleled progress. In real terms, it has been estimated [that] average per capita global domestic product increased by little more than 50 percent between 1500 and 1870. Between 1870 and 1998, however, it increased by a factor of more than six and a half."
TP remark: Hmmmm.
I've rarely seen such raves as for Amanda Ripley's The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why.
The idea, told almost exclusively through compelling stories, is that we can do better than we imagine when shit hits the fan—and that it's up to you and me, not the pros, to do most of the work for ourselves and others. If there is a "secret," and there more or less is, it is practice. Fullscale drills, among other things, but little stuff is at least as important. For example, the office worker who walks down the stairs (many floors) to lunch once every couple of weeks—it's a way to train the body, when virtually paralyzed by fear, to do the right-useful thing.
Here are a few one- or two-liners from the book:
"Regular people only feature into the [standard] equation as victims, which is a shame. Because regular people are the most important people at a disaster scene—every time. ... The vast majority of rescues [are] done by ordinary folks."
"Since 9/11 the U.S. government has sent over $23 billion to the states and cities in the name of homeland security. Almost none of that money has gone to intelligently enrolling regular people like you and me in the cause. Why don't we tell people what to do when we are on Orange Alert against a terrorist attack—instead of just telling them to be scared?"
London 2005: "Emergency plans had been designed to meet the needs of emergency officials, not regular people."
"Without too much trouble, we can teach our brains to work more quickly, maybe even more wisely, under great stress. We have more control over our fate than we think. We need to stop underestimating ourselves."
"Realistic practice brings out our faults—and then makes us stronger." "Abilities we think are innate almost never are." "Skill is my ability to do something automatically, at the subconscious level. How do I get that? I do that by repetition, by practicing the right thing. The only way you learn it is to program it."
The idea here is not to scare the hell out of you or me. Or to turn us into fanatic Exit sign watchers. It's to tell some useful stories, and to provide us with some useful strategies. When it comes to the terrorism bit, anyone who thinks we have seen the last of it is living in la-la land.
Great beach read?
"Lose Your Nemesis": "Obsessing about your competitors, trying to match or best their offerings, spending time each day wanting to know what they are doing, and/or measuring your company against them—these activities have no great or winning outcome. Instead you are simply prohibiting your company from finding its own way to be truly meaningful to its clients, staff and prospects. You block your company from finding its own identity and engaging with the people who pay the bills. ... Your competitors have never paid your bills and they never will."—Howard Mann, Your Business Brickyard: Getting Back to the Basics to Make Your Business More Fun to Run*
*Mr Mann also quotes Mike McCue, former VP/Technology at Netscape: "At Netscape the competition with Microsoft was so severe, we'd wake up in the morning thinking about how we were going to deal with them instead of how we would build something great for our customers. What I realize now is that you can never, ever take your eye off the customer. Even in the face of massive competition, don't think about the competition. Literally don't think about them."
The impact of the 50-year-old Web is staggering. But is it "more staggering" than, say, the arrival of railroads? I've been doing a bit of railway reading, and I think it's either a dead heat, or the railways may win by a nose.
"[The railways] turned the known universe upside down. They made a greater and more immediate impact than any other innovation before or since. ... The shock was both sudden and universal ... With the railways came the development of modern capitalism, of modern nations, the creation of new regions from the American Midwest to Lake Victoria to the pampas in Argentina."—Nicholas Faith, The World the Railways Made
I like this one even better—written at the time of inception, 1844, and using extremist language of the sort that's also commonplace regarding the Web:
"... Time and space are annihilated by steam. ... Oh, this constant locomotion, my body & everything in motion. Steamboats, Cars, & hotels all crammed & crowded full the whole population seems in motion & in fact as I pass along with Lightening speed & cast my eye on the distant objects, they all seem in a whirl nothing appearing permanent even the trees are waltzing, the mind too goes with all this, it speculates, theorizes, & measures all things by locomotive speed, where will it end."—Asa Whitney, first to formally propose transcontinental railroad to Congress, diary entry, 1844, from David Haward Bain, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
"Time and space were annihilated"—that's the ticket.
No grand purpose here other than amusement—and a reminder that we've lived through and survived such "everything-has-changed" upheavals in the past. Just ask the spirit of your great great grandfather!
I am badly remiss for not heartily, vigorously, unabashedly endorsing for your immediate and intense attention the relatively new Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. I must admit I've been enamored of late with the following from former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico, "Beware of the tyranny of making Small Changes to Small Things. Rather, make Big Changes to Big Things." Which is odd, given that it goes against the grain of "look for the little levers," which was my signature approach to implementation for years and years—and the centerpiece of my 1977 dissertation.
Well, I've come full circle. The hell with the big stuff (most of which most of us can't do anyway), let's seek out the little levers—with very high impact. Now along comes Nudge (fabulous title), which chronicles such an approach, digesting in a readable (entertaining, actually) fashion three decades of research in what's called "behavioral economics." Don't be put off by the term that sounds like typical economists' gibberish. (To me, anyway.)
The point is that if you put the good stuff (fruit, say) before the bad stuff (high-carb goop) in a cafeteria display line, you'd be amazed at the impact—e.g., a hundred diet books' worth.
As Mssrs Thaler and Sunstein say, "everything matters"—and nothing is neutral. They even give a lovely, not-like-an-economist title for conscious practitioners of this art:
The book is loaded with practical examples of enormous behavioral changes that stem from subtle manipulation of wee levers. (I've long argued that the manipulation of physical configuration is the most powerful more or less invisible tool in a manager's arsenal—put the chief designer's office next to the CEO's office—and watch a thousand people become obsessed with design more or less overnight.)
It is indeed "manipulation" (the authors discuss this at length), but then everything a manager does is manipulative!
At any rate, the book is well worth a careful read. At one level its principal thesis is obvious (except, as the authors point out, for economists who are obsessed with the mythical "rational man," of which there is none on earth), but the power of the ceaseless examples is likely, I think and hope, to grab your attention.
(One powerful attraction, hinted at above, is that it empowers "lower level" managers—who in fact actually have a boatload/supertanker-full of "little levers" at their command—talk about empowering! It simultaneously deprives them of their standard "powerless" excuse.)
If business's true bottom line is people & relationships (What else???), then I offer my, hands down, 2008 Biz Book of the Year:
The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway.
Fact is, it's the best book I've read in years. It is a short fictional account of the lives and personal and moral trials of a handful of people during the civil war in the Balkans.
I, like 99%+ of you, am/is a spoiled brat—I (you?) cannot imagine what it means to have life, every assumption associated therewith, turned upside down and inside out.
How would I react? No idea!
If you don't buy my "biz book" label, read it anyway.
(*Also on my list of fiction that applies to biz life is another recent read, The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin, 2005, an amazing tale of bureaucracy and moral trials. Together, this pair tops my reading list going back a long, long time.)
Okay, two years left in the decade. No problem, this one'll stand the test of time—at least as far as I'm concerned. Just thought I'd remind you, as I've talked about it before:
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
My short take: A couple, at most, waaaay out of the blue events ("black swans"), beyond the grasp of planning or direct preparation, will define your professional career. (Think Ben Bernanke and the sub-prime crisis, or more specifically Bernanke and Bear Stearns. Or Mayor Giuliani and 9/11. Or the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—I'm re-reading Graham Allison's classic Essence of Decision, said re-reading triggered by The Black Swan. Or the Latin American debt crisis-default; collectively, our big banks lost more money in 1982 than they had made in the prior 200 years.)
Any of you who read this blog know how much Tom loves books, and you know how much all of us who work for Tom love books, and we think you probably love books as much as we do. Therefore, we think you should go immediately to this YouTube link and watch the best post ever. Do not be put off by the 7-minute length of the video; get through the intro and you'll be entranced. We guarantee it.
[Tom says that if you are not in love with this video, please let us know, and we'll take you off all our mailing lists.]
I love some of Michael Crichton's books. And have real problems with others.
But I heartily recommend Next, just out in paperback. It's called "fiction," but it is already mostly (?) true. The genetic revolution has great promise—and great peril. Some may call this book "alarmist"; I am not among them. How about "instructive"?
What we're talking about on the front page.
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.
What we're talking about
on the front page.