BEST BUSINESS BOOKS
Providing Lifelong Learners with The Best Business Book Recommendations
The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
Review by Richard Tyson
"The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries was originally published in 2011. I first read it sometime shortly after its publication and was impressed that it was a revolutionary presentation on how entrepreneurs could successfully approach building a startup. More recently, while studying some of the best literature on the creation of strong value propositions that align with business mission and purpose, I found myself drawn back to this outstanding book. Although Ries does not directly use the term value proposition, it is a central theme of The Lean Startup that the key players in any enterprise must discover what their target customer needs/wants, and what they will willingly pay for. This is the definition of a strong value proposition.
Ries introduces the concept of validated learning, emphasizing the importance of quickly testing assumptions and iterating based on real customer feedback. One of the book's key principles is the build-measure-learn feedback loop, encouraging innovators to create a minimum viable product (MVP) to test hypotheses and gather data before investing significant time and resources in rolling out a full offering. This approach minimizes waste and allows for adaptation based on what is observed and discerned from target customers. This is the definition of validated learning.
Ries discusses two critical hypotheses that demand attention: first, the value hypothesis, and second, the growth hypothesis.
The value hypothesis tests whether a product or service really delivers value to customers once they are using it. This raises the question: What might you see in real time that would serve as a proxy for the value that your customers are experiencing with your product or service? Can you clearly identify what customers see as a valuable benefit (or group of benefits) in terms of “pain eliminated or mitigated,” “gain created,” or “fulfillment of a need or a job they must do?” What is the likelihood that they will recommend your product or service to others? How likely are they to desire that product or service again? To the best of your ability, you need to answer these questions, and you must demand brutal honesty. The goal here is not to confirm your assumptions or your biases, but to determine what the customer really wants. And if the answer is “not this,” you must not see this as a rebuff or a death sentence to your ideas, but as a highly valuable and validated learning experience.
A good test of your value hypothesis can often be accomplished quite inexpensively by identifying a few willing early adopters to test-drive your product or service. These folks generally should not be family or friends who are likely to tell you what you want to hear. Once your beta testers are in place, avoid asking them directly what they want or need, but rather seek ways for them to experience your offering and give you feedback. As they share what they feel about their experience, ask them the “5 Whys” with an eye to understanding what lies at the core of their real wants and needs. Then, when you feel that you are beginning to understand the value they really want or need, ask “What if…” questions, such as “what if the product was amended (in certain ways) to meet your needs?” Or perhaps an even more valuable question might be “if you were able to completely satisfy your needs with this product or service, what would it do? What would it look like?”
The second key hypothesis is the growth hypothesis. It tests how new customers will discover your product or service. Here, I am reminded of an acronym which has proven valuable in determining marketing success– AIDA:
- A: Attention — How will new customers discover your product or service?
- I: Interest — What will pique their interest? What is the hook? How will your offering stand out in the cacophony of today’s media options?
- D: Desire — How will the interest of potential customers be transformed into desire, strong motivation to find out more?
- A: Action — What do you need to do to transform their desire into action, to transact business with you?
While Ries does not reference the AIDA model in his book, his work emphasizes that the marketing challenge must be addressed. Here again, he suggests that the build-measure-learn feedback loop be used as a testing model for the growth hypothesis for any new product or service introduction. In today’s multi-media world, it is critical to test your marketing options in a clear, coherent, and inexpensive way. That means lots of experimentation to see what will work–and what will not. The key is to see each experiment as a learning experience. It is critically important to develop metrics for each stage of the AIDA process. This is, once again, validated learning.
In all of this, Ries stresses the significance of the pivot, a change in strategy without changing the vision, when faced with evidence that the current approach isn't working. This concept empowers innovators to embrace change and evolve their business models based on market feedback.
The Lean Startup introduces methodologies such as the use of actionable metrics over vanity metrics, employing continuous deployment to release new features rapidly, and the importance of establishing a culture of innovation and learning within any organization.The book is filled with practical examples and case studies, making the concepts easily digestible and applicable to virtually all industries.
Overall, The Lean Startup is a must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs and established business leaders alike, offering a valuable framework for navigating the uncertainties of starting and growing a business in today's rapidly changing world.
The Power of Potential: How a Non-Traditional Workforce Can Lead You to Run Your Business Better by Dr. Thomas D'Eri with Sara Grace
Review by Richard Tyson
This is the story of a car wash, an unlikely, but perfect example of a visionary, purpose- driven business. But that is precisely what Rising Tide Car Wash is!
Let me introduce you to Tom. As of the publication of his book, he is a 29 year old entrepreneur, a son, and a brother.
Each of those descriptors are important, beginning with “brother.” Tom’s younger brother, Andrew, has autism. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell you much about Andrew. That’s because each person on the autism spectrum has their own unique profile of strengths, as well as areas where they struggle and need support. One thing that is quite similar among those with autism, however, is that as adults they are virtually unemployable. According to Politico, “Existing data suggests that only about one-third of adults on the autism spectrum work in paid jobs for more than 15 hours a week–and the rate has barely changed since 1991.
Andrew is fortunate to have grown up in a loving home where he was appreciated and accepted for all he was, including the challenges that autism brought. Although he struggled with mainstream school and was subject to tantrums and meltdowns as a child, he graduated from high school to the joy and approval of family and friends. And then…he was faced with the seeming limbo-world of autistic adulthood, where no productive options were available. While his friends left for college and work, he was stuck at home, doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and playing video games. While others, including Tom, moved on with their lives, Andrew appeared to be in a state of “perpetual pause.”
Now, we need to see Tom in his role as”son.” To do that, you have to know a bit about his father, John D’Eri. Thomas lovingly describes his dad this way: “My father’s focus on (Andrew’s) future extended to the way he viewed his responsibility as a good father. He spent many sleepless nights worrying over the challenges Andrew would face as an adult. He started to look at Andrew not as a young boy or someone in his early twenties, but as a forty- or fifty-year old man. What would Andrew do? How would he support himself? How could my father support him?”
These concerns swirled around a more fundamental question: Why were there no good employment and life development options for those with autism like Andrew? This societal inadequacy haunted Tom’s dad, and it became a central theme in the relationship between John and Tom.
And finally, we must understand Tom as an “entrepreneur.” His interest in business began during his undergraduate studies, and like so many others, he looked forward to pursuing an MBA after graduation. However, the roles of brother and son kept nagging him. As he put it, “...every time I came home from college, I felt a lump rise in my throat when Andrew and I hugged.” Although his mind was firmly focused on pursuing the next phase of his business career, he, like his father, felt a growing obligation to Andrew–and others like him. Thus the stage was set for their Personal Purpose to emerge. It did so at a most unlikely venue!
Early in his junior year at college, Tom received a call from his dad, who was at a car wash. John excitedly shared what had come to him as an amazing revelation, “Thomas,” he said, "I'm at a car wash, and you know what? I think Andrew could definitely do this!” What if they were to start a car wash where people with autism like Andrew would be the primary workforce?
The idea germinated over the next two years before John and Tom decided to put it to the test. John was willing to pony up as much as $1 million to launch a car wash business staffed primarily by people with autism. He invited Tom to join him in the experiment. Tom didn’t have to ponder his decision for very long. He recalls, “Watching Andrew retreat into his bedroom every night was all the convincing I needed.”
It is important to understand the process whereby the business was launched. John and Tom didn’t immediately acquire a car wash. Instead, they began by being crystal clear regarding their shared personal purpose–that of employing people with autism. With that firmly in mind as their “north star,” they then carefully went about developing how that purpose was to become a business enterprise. They needed the logic that would define the essential strategy and tactics for the business. In broad general terms, they saw their considerable task as “disrupting the status quo in employing people with autism.”
They realized that they needed the credibility that would only emerge as they became experts in what would become an innovative, first-of-its-kind business. This realization led them to a two-pronged learning process, the first key element of which was to strengthen their general business and entrepreneurial skills. They dived into a concerted study of forward-thinking management and leadership authors like Michael Gerber (The E-Myth), Todd Rose (The End of Average), and Laszlo Bock (Work Rules).
The second key element was to learn as much as possible about autism. Although they were quite familiar with Andrew and both his strengths and weaknesses, they recognized that people with autism fall within a broad spectrum. They knew that, worldwide, around 75 million people have autism, with as many as 1 in 44 children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Clearly, there were many like Andrew who needed the opportunities they envisioned creating. However, they needed to gain a broader and deeper understanding of the challenges inherent in working with people with autism. To bridge this gap, they spent over a year seeking out experts who could give them some assurance that such a business could be successful and create satisfying employment for people on the spectrum. They came to realize that such expertise would also be needed to help them develop the skills they would need to recruit and train a staff of people with autism. They were most often greeted with amazement at their idea, followed then by pessimism that such a business would be sustainable.
In spite of this, John and Tom moved forward. Sometime, well into more than a year of establishing a defensible logic for their purpose, they realized that there was one more glaring deficit in their readiness: neither of them knew anything about car washes–or the car wash industry. Once again, research was required. They began a search for industry experts, and after some effort, they discovered Sonny’s Enterprises, the largest manufacturer of car wash equipment in the world, which offered a program called CarWash College. They soon arranged a meeting with Sonny’s president, Paul Fazio, during which they shared their vision of a car wash staffed with people with autism.
Paul responded by saying that he felt both Tom and John were crazy, but then expressed his desire to help. He offered them the opportunity to attend a two-week crash course at CarWash College. What they learned there convinced them that “the car wash business and autism were a match made in heaven.” In The Power of Potential, Thomas shared their insights:
“...professional car washes operate using consistent and detailed processes. The entire first course (at CarWash College) was focused on specific operating processes and training team members to use them. Many people on the (autism) spectrum were extremely well suited for this particular context. While typical workers often chafe against process, many people with autism thrive on it.”
After the short, but intense, learning experience at CarWash College, John and Tom began searching for an existing car wash to purchase. They acquired what they described as a “crappy car wash,” renamed it Rising Tide, and began the process of transforming into a profitable, high-performing organization employing primarily people with autism.
Their purpose was “focused on “helping our employees reach their full potential, whether they’re neurodivergent (his term for people with autism and other handicaps) or neurotypical (those not diagnosed with such challenges).” Tom goes on to say that “targeted hiring is the heart of our mission, but what we’ve discovered…is that creating more inclusive work spaces benefits everyone.” In that regard Rising Tide is extremely inclusive. It is service-oriented, both in providing a quality car wash for their customers, as well as serving their employees. It is necessarily resilient, as it requires continuous responsiveness to the challenges and opportunities inherent in working with both employees and customers. And the whole concept is idealistic; it challenges many of the underlying assumptions regarding the employability of
people with disabilities, most notably those with autism.
Rising Tide’s purpose aligns perfectly with Tom and John’s personal purpose. Tom says, “My work is my calling. I’m proud of the contribution Rising Tide Car Wash makes to the community. Young people start their careers here. When you extrapolate the impact of even a single business acting in this way over twenty or thirty years, the results are dramatic.” As for John, he is no longer haunted by his earlier fears regarding Andrew’s future.
So…how has this worked out? Here’s a summary of Rising Tide’s track record as of the publication of The Power of Potential in 2023:
“The struggling business that we bought in 2012 was washing only 35,000 cars per year. Rising Tide’s original location is now a thriving operation that washed more than 170,000 cars in 2021. Our second location, built from scratch, achieved operational break-even sales after only two months of opening its doors in 2017, and it’s even more successful than our first. We have a third location…(that opened) in 2022. We’ve been on the cover of Entrepreneur, prominently featured in Inc., on the Today Show, and The Nightly News (twice!). The videos we make about our business go viral on Facebook. People fly in from other states and rent cars when they land, just so they can experience Rising Tide for themselves. (We are) a wildly profitable, high-performing service organization that customers love to support and that employees love to work for. Our (employee) retention rate is five times our competitors.”
And what about Andrew? Tom puts it this way: “My dad wanted to give Andrew a future. That included a livelihood, but more importantly, a positive, purposeful community where he belonged. He didn’t want his son to spend his entire life as an outsider. A little more than a decade later, we are now living in the future my father envisioned. In fact, I think it might have exceeded his dreams. I’m convinced we overcame the challenges it took to get here–and there were many–because the business was born out of love and was lifted up by the strength of our family.
“Andrew is something of a local celebrity–and he knows it and demonstrably enjoys it. Showing warmth and confidence, he has made himself the de facto mayor of Rising Tide. At team events, he actively tries to include people. Whether it’s bowling or a pizza party or the video game truck, he sees himself as a host. Andrew and his teammates are no longer onlookers or outcasts in our community. They are participants. Contributors. Producers. They are part of something bigger.”
“I can’t honestly say that Andrew is ready to live alone, but why should that be the goal? No human is truly independent, not should they be. A few years back, my father made a push to move Andrew into his own apartment but ultimately listened when his son made his own wishes clear; he’d rather live with his parents. Who wouldn’t? They live in a beautiful beach condo, and my mom is a great cook. He likes it there. Someday, he may live with me–but if he does, it won’t be as my dependent. He’s got his own life.”
“Andrew–and the dozens of employees who work at our car washes–now have colleagues, caring managers, friends, admirers, and allies. Their achievement of a ‘normal’ life shouldn’t be as rare as it is.”
Rising Tide is an exceptional example of a visionary enterprise based on the very personal purpose of its founders. That purpose continues to drive John and Tom D’Eri to expand their influence and impact on people with autism. Don’t be surprised if you find a Rising Tide car wash opening in your community!
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Rising Tide and their extraordinary vision. But somewhat surprisingly, that isn’t the main emphasis in Tom D’Eri’s book. Instead, he shares how Rising Tide has led him to the discovery of key leadership insights that he strongly believes have great value for anyone running a business. These include:
- Rising Tide hasn’t succeeded despite their non-traditional workforce; they have succeeded because of it!
- The perspective provided by an autistic workforce has given Tom the equivalent of “the canary in the coal mine. What will destroy an employee (and a business) slowly happens very quickly and unmistakably with an autistic person. People with autism have the same fundamental needs as everyone else. But those needs are amplified. While a worker with autism implodes, forcing an immediate response, a “neurotypical” employee is more likely to soldier on in less than ideal conditions. But will they be fulfilling their potential or doing their best work? No…not at all.
In organizational design theory, folks with autism are considered to be one kind of extreme user, a user who had the same needs as the general population, but intensified. IDEO, the world-renowned design consultancy, advises leaders to “study extreme users–and you’re much more likely to find solutions that work for everybody.”
- D’Eri addresses what he sees as Four Hidden Problems with businesses today:
- Most companies hire based on interviews, a process that often fails to find good people.
- Most leaders think that great talent is the key to business success. Yet in reality, their performance is inconsistent and employees are not very productive, leaving them feeling that they are the only ones working hard.
- Most defend the performance of their managers, but mistakes are often repeated–and those managers often seem bored or disengaged.
- Turnover is high, and even when the worst performers are terminated, things don’t change much. Customer experience is mediocre–or even worse.
- D’Eri counters these hidden problems with his Four Wins:
- Every job applicant is given the opportunity to audition for the job they are seeking. They are required to meet a clearly defined set of competency standards before being hired. This is the First Win, and it is based on the principles of (a) clarity regarding what is expected, (b) fairness in making the hiring decision, and (c) making every applicant/future employee feel safe. The audition is framed as a learning experience that is “mistake tolerant.” In other words, the newcomer is expected to come short of the mark, but is given the opportunity to learn, grow, and improve. If they demonstrate that they can do this, they are hired.
- The Second Win extends from the first. Accountability is a tool for growth. Each employee is given clearly defined duties–and the tools needed to succeed. They are regularly reviewed against the expectations for their jobs, assuring that they are working productively. If and when they fall short of expectations, shortfalls are addressed promptly, but with a continuing emphasis on the employee feeling safe and supported.
- The Third Win is based on the daily emphasis that work, for both managers and employees, has purpose. That purpose is based on three essential components:
A. A great interpersonal relationship between executives and managers, between executives and managers and frontline employees, and between co-workers on frontline jobs.
B. A sense of control; that is, an understanding of what is expected–and the ability to create the causes that deliver the desired effects.
C. The opportunity for every employee, manager, and executive to grow and develop to their full potential.
4.Finally, the Fourth Win is that the company's ultimate metric comes from the feedback received from customers. Leadership continually looks for practical ways to collect and measure that feedback and, as it is collected, it is shared with employees. Employee recognition and career advancement are directly correlated to customer comments, compliments, and critiques.
D’Eri’s book is rich with innovative ideas that he has tested in his world of extreme users, his autistic employees. Two of the most important are:
- Dedicate intensive time to defining key processes, breaking them down into their fundamental components. Then prototype them and document them in clear concise language, avoiding difficult jargon. Where possible, make them visual. Develop and use checklists. And make sure that your processes mirror your company values.
- Everything is personal. See each member of your team as important, even essential. Care about each individual. Replace “management secrets” with “obsessive clarity.”
There are many more valuable insights in this book which make it worth your time; too many for me to further share here. But in conclusion, I will end with Tom D’Eri’s words:
“My work is my calling. I’m proud of the contribution Rising Tide Car Wash makes to the community. Young people start their careers here. When you extrapolate the impact of even a single business acting in this way over twenty or thirty years, the results are dramatic.”
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by Dr. John Doerr
Review by Richard Tyson
I began my study of management as a junior high school student around 1963. I had read an article in Readers’ Digest about time management–and I was intrigued by it. (Alright, it’s clear that at the age of 13, I was already a bit of a nerd…).
I don’t recall the author of the article, but he or she made a strong case for clearly defining your objectives, breaking them down into bite-size parts, setting a plan for their achievement, and then holding yourself accountable for fulfilling the plan. I decided to apply the process to my school assignments–and I found that it worked! It was a revelation regarding “cause and effect.” If I wanted the “effect” of great grades, I just needed to understand what “causes” those outcomes, act on that understanding, and collect my A’s!
My interest in creating good outcomes led me to a desire as to how I might have an impact on not only myself, but others as well. By the time I began my undergraduate college experience, I sought information from leading thinkers on the subject of achieving objectives. Early on, two books caught my attention: The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker, and Management by Objectives: A System of Managerial Leadership by George Odiorne.
These books shared the concept of management by objectives (MBO), a philosophy that emphasizes setting specific, measurable, and achievable goals for individuals, teams, and organizations. Drucker and Odiorne made a strong case that defining clear objectives and aligning the efforts of employees with those objectives could significantly improve organizational performance in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness. The concepts they shared had a profound impact on me; indeed, they led me to my choice of an undergraduate major: business management.
In 1972, I graduated from Weber State University with a bachelor’s degree in business–and an admission to the masters’ degree program at the Harvard Graduate School of Business. As my graduate program got underway, it didn’t take long for me to discover a variety of descendants from MBO. They included insights in the following areas:
- SMART Goal-setting: How to create well-defined and achievable goals, applying the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound as the key elements of strong goals).
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Defining the most critical metrics whereby progress is made toward organizational goals and objectives.
- Management by Exception: Focusing management attention on areas where performance deviates from desired or expected results.
- Total Quality Management (TQM): A holistic approach that involves all executives and employees, TQM emphasizes the delivery of desired customer outcomes.
- Continuous Improvement (Kaizen): A focus on making incremental improvements in processes, products, and services over time. It often involves tools and methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma.
- Benchmarking: Comparing an organization’s performance against those of other companies or industry standards.
- Pay for Performance: Linking compensation and rewards to performance and achievement of objectives.
- Cascading Goals: Aligning individual and team goals with the overall purpose, mission, value, and objectives of the organization.
- Management Dashboards/Scorecards: Visual representations of key performance data that provide continuous visibility for leaders and team members to evaluate progress toward objectives.
- Project Management: Defining actions and assignments to accomplish finite projects or action items in specific terms of work to be done, by whom, with what resources, by when.
As I studied these ideas and concepts, I developed my own model for achieving goals and objectives. I use an acronym, PACER, which is as follows:
P: PLAN– This first step requires you to clearly define your objectives (the effect you desire to achieve) as well as the actions you will take to cause those outcomes. The application of SMART goal-setting is important here, as is the determination of what will be measured, what interim milestones will be tracked and reported.
A: ACT– This transforms intention into action. You go to work in implementing the Plan.
C: CONTROL– Control of your forward progress is accomplished by comparing your Actions to what you Planned to do. This is the measurement or accounting phase of the PACER Model. It should provide you with variances between your actual activities and what you had planned. Variances may be positive or negative–and you may have a few occasions where action and plan are the same.
E: EVALUATE– Reviewing key variances allows you to ask, and hopefully answer, the question, Why? What are the reasons for each significant variance, and how might we improve or sustain performance going forward?
R: REVISE: Having drawn informed conclusions regarding your variances, you can now make revisions to your Plan, Actions, or even your Control mechanisms. Thus the PACER Model recycles. Recycling over a period of time (usually no less often than quarterly) will generally show continuous improvement in achieving organizational objectives. When this occurs, the “R” in the PACER Model should become REWARD, or celebration of goals achieved.
Since my graduation from Harvard, I have continued my studies of organizational “cause and effect.” One of my personal favorites is The Balanced Scorecard, a concept developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. The Balanced Scorecard challenges the notion that financial metrics are adequate to provide a complete picture of an organization’s health. They emphasize four key perspectives in their suggested scorecard: financial, customer, internal processes, and learning and growth. I have utilized their ideas and concepts in developing my own adaptation of their model. This has become a key piece of my success in coaching CEOs over the past three decades.
A second favorite is the book I’m reviewing today: Measure What Matters. John Doerr’s book is a compelling and practical guide to the concept of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). He presents a clear and actionable framework for setting and achieving ambitious goals.
Doerr has done a masterful job in sharing the uniqueness and subtleties of OKRs in simple and understandable ways. He emphasizes the importance of setting BHAGs (author Jim Collins’ description of big, hairy, audacious goals). These are the objectives, the “Os” in the OKRs. The “KRs” are the key results that must be achieved to reach the objectives. Both the objectives and the key results must be clear, measurable, communicated throughout the organization, tracked regularly–and evaluated and revised as necessary. He illustrates OKR principles with great stories including the likes of Larry Page, Bill Gates, and Bono. These make the book enjoyable to read and relevant to everyone from seasoned executives in major corporations to budding entrepreneurs.
The book is divided into several sections, each providing valuable insights into OKRs and their application in different settings. Doerr shares his personal experiences and interactions during his time working with industry giants like Intel and Google, where the OKR methodology was pivotal in their success stories. He pays tribute to Andy Grove, the late CEO of Intel, as the initial creator of OKRs, and the architect of their successful implementation. Andy’s insights alone make this book a great read!
One of the best takeaways from this book is that, when implemented properly, OKRs foster a culture of accountability, transparency, and engagement within an organization. Doerr shares case studies that demonstrate how companies have used OKRs to foster and enhance a sense of shared purpose and alignment among employees.
My only reservations about this book are (1) that Doerr comes very close to suggesting that OKRs are a panacea, that they will create exceptional outcomes for everyone who implements them (I have yet to find anything that is that universally successful)–and (2) that OKRs are uniquely different from some of the other insightful ideas on performance management that I’ve noted above. Doerr does make reference to Peter Drucker and MBOs, but he implies that OKRs are much better than “managing by objectives.” To me, this is semantics. My observation is that OKRs are, in many ways, just a new way of saying managing by objectives. It is actually a repackaging of true principles, not a significant innovation. That said, Doerr’s attention to the process of implementing OKRs makes it a compelling story and a strong guide for that implementation. As for myself, I am inclined to add OKRs to my toolkit, overlaid and included within my PACER Model. A strong and effective Plan should include OKRs which set in motion Action, Control, Evaluation, and Revision/Reward.
In conclusion, I believe Measure What Matters to be a valuable resource for anyone interested in improving goal-setting and performance management within their organization. For many, it will provide a roadmap for driving meaningful results. I recommend it without reservation to anyone in a leadership role.
The Diabetes Code by Dr. Jason Fung
Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley & Dr. Henry S. Lodge
Outlive by Dr. Peter Attia
Review by Richard Tyson
I have to begin this book review with my personal introduction to Type 2 diabetes. Back in 2015, I found myself not feeling well. My approach to feeling crummy has always been to self-medicate–not by popping pills, but by going for a hike in the hills. My wife and I were traveling to southern Utah, so I decided to push into the backcountry of Zion National Park. There was only one hike that was still on my bucket list for Zion, and I figured that it would be ideal for healing what ailed me.
I had hoped to hook up with one of my long-time hiking buddies, but none of them could join me…so I decided to “go it alone.” That proved to almost be a fatal mistake!
With my trusty trekking poles and a backpack full of more weight than I should have carried, I headed up a very steep trail. I’ve always been a strong uphill hiker, and although I was feeling the effects of being a bit under the weather, the first hour of the hike went well. However, I found myself beginning to drag. I stopped and extracted a sandwich and a Gatorade from my pack–and after downing them, I felt much better. I was quickly back on the upward trail, but before I knew it, I began to feel terrible. My energy was spent. This was a signal to me to turn around.
As I descended what now seemed to be an interminable series of switchbacks, I found myself teetering on my trekking poles. Indeed, it was soon clear that without those poles, I wouldn’t have been able to stay upright. My descent took even longer than my hike up the trail, and when I arrived at the trailhead, I was barely shuffling. I planted myself on a bench and grabbed three large Gatorades out of my pack–and I drank every drop of each of them. To this day, I’m grateful that they weren’t sugar-free. What I later learned was that my blood glucose levels had crashed from meteorically high to dangerously low–and that only a strong dose of sugar could save me!
When I was back home, I decided that my self-medication attempt hadn’t worked, so I went to my family doctor. He put me through a blood panel which revealed that my glucose level was 400, and that my A1C was 12. Those numbers meant absolutely nothing to me at that time, but I’ve become very aware of them since!
I soon found myself in the office of an endocrinologist who prescribed insulin, metformin, and Jardiance. Thus began a life of daily pills and abdominal injections. This did not make me happy, but it seemed like what I was resigned to do. However, as I started to research Type 2 diabetes, I was stunned to find out that in spite of the treatment I had been prescribed, most in the medical community were not at all optimistic regarding the prospects for a long and healthy life as a diabetic. They virtually all indicated that somewhere down the line this diabetes monster would steal my circulation, my eyesight, my kidney function, maybe require the amputation of my feet, irreversibly damage my heart, and ultimately lead to a painful death. I thought, I have to beat this!
The Diabetes Code
Sometime well into my diabetes journey, my business partner, Kevin Denning, told me about a book that he thought might give me some hope. It was The Diabetes Code. Kevin has always been a source of practical ideas in business and technology, so when he recommends something, I’m always in. I read the book.
Every word in The Diabetes Code is worth reading. It is all based on sound scientific research, which Dr. Fung shares in detail. But for my purposes here, I’ll share his conclusions and the strategy and tactics that he recommends. Here’s a brief excerpt from the book:
“Why does Type 2 diabetes develop? Everybody agreed that elevated insulin resistance caused the high blood glucose that was the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes. But what caused the elevated insulin resistance? This was the true question that (was) desperately needed to (be) answered.
“The key insight came from understanding obesity. Too much insulin causes obesity, so it is logical that too much insulin could also cause insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. That obesity and Type 2 diabetes were manifestations of the same disease, and simply flip sides to the same coin, explained perfectly how these two diseases were so closely related.
“If the problem was too much insulin, then the answer was simplicity itself. Lower insulin. But how? No drugs at the time effectively did that. The solution was to go back to the basics. As a dietary disease, it required a dietary solution, not a pharmaceutical one. Since refined carbohydrates stimulate insulin the most, and dietary fat the least, the obvious solution was to eat a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.”
I have become an adherent to this diet. I have to admit that it is not easy to make the major behavioral change this requires. For over 60 years, I “enjoyed” the standard American diet, consisting of high amounts of processed foods, rich with carbohydrates and sugar. The traditional Food Pyramid stressed the importance of bread, rice, and grain products as essential elements of a daily diet–and, in retrospect, I was a carboholic! I still love my carbs, but I strive to significantly limit them, and I have virtually eliminated sugar.
So, how’s that working out for me? I have been able to get completely off insulin. I still take metformin and Jardiance (my endocrinologist insists). My average blood glucose level, as of the day that I am writing this, is 124. My A1C is 6.3, which is still considered pre-diabetic, but it has (very gradually) been decreasing. And like most of Dr. Fung’s patients, I have lost significant weight–and I’ve kept it off (over 60 pounds).
Is Dr. Fung’s Diabetes Code a miracle cure for Type 2? No, unfortunately, it is not. Because each person’s physiology is different, it requires individualized application. You may be able to eat more carbs and sugar than me. If so, I envy you. But for most people, there is a significant level of sacrifice in this regimen. One dear friend–and fellow diabetic–recently told me that he would rather die five years sooner than give up his carbs and sugar. He’s right; doing this is a personal choice. But I worry that dying five years sooner might include five years or more of terrible, unforeseen suffering.
Beyond the dietary changes, you have to be committed to regular blood testing to check your glucose levels. In order to track my progress, I was pricking my fingers up to 6 to 8 times a day. I now have a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that allows me to have a virtually “real-time” measure. As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “That which gets measured, gets managed.” Measurement, to do any good, requires a certain level of diligence and commitment.
My hope, in writing any book review, is to share principles that will provide useful insights for my readers. I recognize that not all who read this are Type 2 diabetics, and therefore that Dr. Fung’s book might not seem applicable for you. However, as of 2019, it was the seventh highest cause of death in the United States. More than 37 million of us have it, including 20% who are like I was…totally unaware that it’s already affecting them. And the prevalence of the disease is growing. I wish that every member of my family and friends was regularly checking their blood glucose levels. Maybe they could avoid joining the Type 2 club!
Younger Next Year
Moving on… As I write this, I am nearing my 73rd birthday. In addition to resisting the notion of having diabetes, I resist the notion of getting old. I fully recognize that I will not get out of this life alive, but I don’t want to limp over the finish line. I hope to enjoy many more years of energetic, happy, even athletic life. With this in mind, a few years ago, I picked up the book, Younger Next Year.
The central premise of this book is that you can effectively “turn back the clock” on the aging process by adopting a set of lifestyle changes, primarily focused on regular exercise and healthy eating. Authors Crowley and Lodge emphasize the importance of daily physical activity, including at least one hour of vigorous exercise six days each week. They argue that this level of activity is essential for maintaining not only physical health but also mental and emotional well-being.
The book also delves into the science behind aging, explaining how our bodies change over time and how exercise can counteract many of these effects. Additionally, it discusses the importance of social connections, emotional well-being, and a sense of purpose in maintaining a youthful and optimistic outlook on life.
I was especially interested in three key pieces of advice aimed at those who reach retirement age:
- Make exercise an essential part of each workday. In other words, don’t schedule working out at the end of the day, nor should you consider it as something you will “get around to” if you can. Make a firm daily appointment as part of your work to hit the gym, take a walk, or shoot some hoops.
- When your career is in the rear-view mirror, find a new passion. Discover something that you can give enthusiastic full-time attention to. Make it your new job. Passionate pursuits add joy and meaning to your life!
- For those who are married and still have their sweetheart with them, make sure your spouse is supportive of your work, your exercise, and your passion. I am personally blessed to be married to a wife who believes in me (most of the time)–and puts up with me the rest of the time!
Overall, Younger Next Year provides a motivating and accessible guide to aging gracefully. Like The Diabetes Code, some readers may find Crowley and Lodge’s prescriptions quite demanding. However, they make a compelling case for their benefits. Their combination of medical insights and practical advice makes this book a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their quality of life as they age. And since all of us age every day, it is a valuable book for everyone.
Having learned a great deal from the preceding two books, I was intrigued to see Dr. Peter Attia’s new book, published this year (2023), Outlive. This book, like the other two, is strongly rooted in medical science. It reinforces both the premises and conclusions of the other authors. In addition to exercise and diet, Attia stresses the importance of sleep, an area that I struggle with. He asserts that failure to get regular deep sleep is a factor that shortens life. By and large, my takeaway here is to discipline myself to have a regular bedtime, turn off all of my electronic devices, darken my bedroom, and close my eyes. I’m trying to adopt these behaviors, but I’m definitely a work in progress.
One chapter in Outlive especially stood out for me. It addressed a critically important aspect of our efforts to extend our lives. “Outlive” as a concept is not simply about living longer; it is about enjoying our lives as we do so. In Attia’s chapter on emotional health, he makes the case that extending an unhappy, unfulfilling life may not be worth the trouble. That’s not to suggest that he is recommending suicide, but he does make a strong case for coming to understand and deal with any issues that are making us inherently unhappy. He quotes one of my favorite authors, David Brooks, from his book, The Road to Character, where he makes a key distinction between what Brooks calls “resume virtues,” meaning the accomplishments we tout, our degrees, jobs, etc., versus “eulogy virtues,” the things that our friends and family will say about us when we are dead.
The key here is to define why you want more years in your life, and accurately define what will put more life in your years. For me, those definitions have led me to more deeply consider the relationships in my life. I have no idea how many years are ahead beyond my 73rd birthday (if any), but I want them to be abundant in rich and happy times with family, friends, and my fellowman. To be clear, that is not an announcement of my retirement. I love my work–and I have no plans to hang it up. But as I continue to work, I will strive not only to optimize my blood glucose, exercise, diet, and sleep, but also my emotional well-being and relationship with others.
Thanks to each of these authors for their fine books: Dr Jason Fung, Chris Crowley, Dr. Henry S. Lodge, and Dr. Peter Attia.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
Review by Richard Tyson
Recently, I found myself reviewing the books in my personal library. While there are many that have been valuable in my lifelong process of learning and applying what I have learned, there were a few that almost leaped off my bookshelves as purveyors of timeless wisdom. One of these is Getting to Yes.
Since the book’s first publication in 1981, the concepts Fisher and Ury set forth have been widely embraced by negotiators in virtually every arena, including diplomats, business professionals, psychologists, and problem solvers of all kinds. Their central premise is that appropriate negotiations should always focus on reaching mutually beneficial outcomes based on the common interests of the parties involved rather than striving to assert respective conflicting positions. Such positional negotiating tends toward “win-lose” or even “lose-lose” outcomes where one or both parties come away dissatisfied. Instead, Fisher and Ury advocate for achieving “win-win” outcomes that enable both parties to walk away satisfied with the results.
Key concepts in the book include:
Separating People from the Problem
Negotiators must recognize that both they and their counterparts bring perceptions and emotions to the table that may easily escalate into conflict, entrenching them in their respective positions. Fisher and Ury emphasize the need to establish a respectful, collaborative, and empathetic tone early in the negotiation process that focuses attention on the substantive issues that embody the problem.
Some key aspects of separating people from the problem:
● Focus on Interests, Not Personalities. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to slip into judgmental spoken (or unspoken) attacks on the character of one’s adversary, but this mindset inevitably leads to protracted and unsatisfying outcomes. Negotiators should instead focus on understanding the underlying interests and needs that have led to theother party’s opposing position, as well as their own.
● Listen Actively and Empathetically. Once again, Fisher and Ury implicitly suggest that effective negotiators must work contrary to human nature. Especially when an issue is emotionally charged, we tend to want to “be understood” more than we want to understand the position and motivation of our adversaries. Nevertheless, when we actively listen to the concerns and perspectives of the other party, we demonstrate respect, thereby fostering a greater sense of collaboration and positivity.
● Acknowledge Emotions and Perceptions. The challenge here is to recognize and validate the feelings of the other party, while not neglecting the importance of expressing your own feelings and concerns. Effective negotiators will come prepared to acknowledge the emotions of their counterparts, while presenting their own feelings respectfully and authentically.
● Use “I” Statements Rather Than “You” Statements. To avoid blaming or accusing your counterpart, Fisher and Ury suggest that rather than saying, “You are being reckless with the future of our relationship,” you might say, “I feel concerned about the potential impact of this decision on how we will work together in the future.” This approach tends to depersonalize the problem, while maintaining a focus on the importance of the issue.
● Strive to Create a Positive Interpersonal Relationship. Although you may be diametrically opposed to your counterpart’s position, make a sincere effort to see them as a “fellow traveler,” someone deserving of your respect and civility.
While Getting to Yes emphasizes separating people from the problem, the authors also recognize that some relationships may be so adversarial that clear boundaries must be set to protect one’s interests while still seeking common ground for solutions.
Focus on Interests, Rather Than Positions
Negotiators should diligently seek the underlying interests and needs of each party, as opposed to arguing positions. The key here is to uncover common ground and creative solutions that fulfill the needs of all parties.
Although not mentioned in Getting to Yes, I am reminded of the Cuban Missile Crisis that occurred in October of 1962. Like most people who were alive at that time, I was blissfully unaware of what happened until much later. But for all mankind, we can be grateful that the negotiators at the White House and the Kremlin managed to step back from the positions that would have brought about a nuclear holocaust–and thereafter found the common interest of negotiating an agreement that eliminated that imminent threat.
Without sharing all of the process that occurred over thirteen days of negotiation between the two superpowers, it is interesting to note that the negotiator who effectively brought the interchange to the common interest that saved the world was not President Kennedy…it was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. In a private letter to Kennedy, he stated “We and you ought not to pull on the ends of a rope which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied.” He used the metaphor of pulling on a rope to illustrate the potential consequences of standing firm on their respective positions. With these words, he offered the common interest of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis. From this communication, a back-channel agreement was developed wherein the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the U.S. pledge to not invade Cuba and to remove
American missiles from Turkey. Although the Cuban Missile Crisis preceded Fisher and Ury’s insights by almost two decades, we can all be thankful that negotiators found their way to the common ground of peace rather than thermonuclear war!
Generating Options for Mutual Gain
The authors encourage brainstorming to create multiple possible solutions. One of the great advantages to this process is that it gets the respective parties “on the same side of the table.” By focusing on their common interest and what gets thrown up on the wall, optional solutions are discovered, discussed, and dealt with collaboratively. This has a tendency to bring adversaries into a problem-solving partnership. I have found this to be especially valuable when financial reversals have put company leaders at odds with their investors or lending institutions. When we have been able to move from the position that would result in the demise of a business to a partnership that brainstorms solutions together, companies have been saved that would otherwise have had their doors closed!
Using Objective Criteria
Fisher and Ury emphasize the importance of using objective criteria and standards to assess potential solutions. This means that decisions are often made deliberately based on insightful questions, research, and data collection. While this slows down the process of “gut-feel” decision making, it adds fairness and legitimacy to the negotiation process, making it easier for both parties to accept the final decision.
Throughout Getting to Yes, the authors illustrate their work with real-world examples and case studies, showing the successful application of the principles they present. They do this in multiple contexts from diplomacy, to business negotiations, to even a negotiation between two siblings who both lay claim to the same orange.
In summary, Getting to Yes is a timeless guide to negotiation that has transformed the way the most effective negotiators approach conflicts and reach workable solutions. Its enduring influence can be seen in the adoption of its principles in various contexts. In my opinion, it is a must-read for anyone interested in enhancing their negotiation skills and achieving successful outcomes through principles and onstructive engagement.
Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High Performance Companies by Ranjay Gulati
Review by Richard Tyson
This book does a masterful job of moving the reader from developing a new mindset and perspective about purpose to activating that mindset to accomplish business success. Ranjay Gulati poses several key questions early in the book:
- How fully does your company currently engage with its purpose?
- Are you approaching your purpose specifically and strategically, or are you approaching it superficially?
- Are some of your product and/or service offerings aligned with your purpose, while others seem unrelated or out of alignment?
- Do you abandon products and/or services that, while aligning with your purpose, do not immediately provide evidence of commercial viability?
- On the other hand, do you fail to abandon products and/or services that do not align with your purpose?
- Is your purpose a clear, tangible part of your operating model?
- To what degree do your statements and actions reflect your purpose?
- To what degree do your various stakeholders feel invested in your purpose?
With honest answers to these questions in hand, Gulati suggests that you should challenge your purpose statement for validity and relevance to your business and its stakeholders. He asserts that it must not only embody the goals of your organization, but also must elevate the aspirations of your team. As they internalize your purpose, it often becomes transformational in how your company performs.
Gulati calls attention to the fact that each purpose will involve tradeoffs, those things that your company will do–and those that it will not do. Rather than ignore these, he suggests that you should embrace them. While maintaining your purpose as your North Star, evaluate the strategic decisions that extend from that commitment. Openly discuss those decisions with your stakeholders so that it is always clear that ongoing decisions are made through their alignment with your purpose. Communicate the logic of your decisions broadly and deeply within your company.
He cites “four levers for superior performance.” These are:
- Let purpose drive your strategy conversations.
- Translate purpose into your recruiting and onboarding efforts, as well as your leadership succession considerations.
- Let purpose guide your marketing and branding strategy. Assess your branding. How clearly does your brand communicate your purpose?
- Adjust your conversations with your stakeholders to assure that your purpose is understood and that they are on board. For any who are not, don’t hesitate to replace them.
Gulati also counsels leaders to connect the history of their enterprises with the forward vision of their purpose. This, he suggests, allows you to tap more deeply into the soul of your company by sharing stories that reflect the foundational principles that undergird your purpose. This connecting of the past with the future often becomes compelling not only to current operations, but for innovations that build on core purpose.
With regard to elevating the aspirations and engagement of stakeholders, Gulati shares the power of defining a “Big Story,” a grand sweeping narrative that embodies your purpose. This should be crafted to elicit commitment and action. Big Stories are most powerful when they are connected to your own firsthand experiences. They often create a sense of being what Gulati calls a “moral community” that is unified and aligned within your company.
He notes that in sharing personal Big Stories, leaders have to be willing to expose their deepest feelings; in that regard, to be vulnerable. While this may not be comfortable, it often brings purpose to a deep emotional level that will connect with stakeholders who share common interests and values. This depth of emotional connection can set the stage for how you–and your team–respond to future crises that will undoubtedly face your enterprise.
Gulati cautions against hypocrisy. As the leader, you must live your purpose in everything you do. If some of your leadership behaviors conflict with your purpose, drop them. But then, he says, go further. Consider steps you might take to better embody your purpose and the values that underlie it. These can be anything from small gestures to big policy decisions. The point here is that you “walk your talk.” Both symbolism and substantive actions matter.
Beyond becoming the embodiment of your company's purpose as its leader, Gulati suggests that you openly invite your employees to probe their own personal purposes, and to consider how their individual purposes connect with your organizational purpose. Help each to see those connections and their importance to your team. Celebrate and publicly support employees who demonstrate the successful fulfillment of both personal and organizational purposes. Seek to empower them to explore autonomous opportunities to accomplish these things. Collaborate, coordinate, and cooperate with them to facilitate the alignment of actions with purpose.
Gulati concludes by making further suggestions for operationalizing purpose, including making sure that strategies and tactics are always aligned with and reviewed against company purpose. He also stresses the importance of developing purpose-related metrics in addition to the financial and operating measures that are typically employed. Most often, these will relate directly to the value perceived and appreciated by your customers regarding your company’s products and/or services.I’ve only skimmed the surface regarding Ranjay Gulati’s fine book. In closing this review, I think it is clear that Deep Purpose has immense value for all founding leaders of new or emerging enterprises. Beyond that, even if you have served as the CEO or Chief Operating Officer of your company for many years, I believe this book will provide you with ideas to revitalize your deep purpose, and, by doing so, enjoy a surge of productivity and organizational success!
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Review by Richard Tyson
Elizabeth Holmes reported to prison on May 30, 2023, one week ago today. Like many others, I have followed her story over the past several years. So when a friend recommended this book, Bad Blood, I was intrigued to learn more about this young woman who had founded Theranos, a company that claimed to have revolutionized blood tests needed to diagnose and successfully treat diseases and other health issues by developing methods that needed only very small volumes of blood from a simple finger prick.
Holmes was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison last November after she was convicted on multiple charges of defrauding investors as the leader of her now-defunct enterprise. Her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani was also convicted of fraud. He began serving his 13 year sentence in a California prison last month. Both are on the hook for $452 million in restitution.
Holmes was once an icon in the tech world, the superstar queen of Silicon Valley. Now, she and Balwani share their unenviable places in the business “hall of shame” along with the likes of Bernie Madoff and alleged FTX fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried. Author John Carreyrou does a masterful job of weaving together hundreds of interviews with over 150 people in Bad Blood, sharing how Holmes and Balwani led people of enormous influence and wealth to invest $945 million in Theranos.
As I read the book, I found myself asking over and over, how could such an august group of seemingly astute and savvy investors be so thoroughly led astray by a young woman who dropped out of Stanford at the age of 19? Holmes showed time after time that she was an articulate visionary who attracted the attention of the rich and famous. But why didn’t anyone demand to see the real results of her vision before investing?
Was it “lemmings to the sea?” The legendary performances of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg certainly contributed to a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) for those who saw the promise of Theranos changing the world–and bringing Apple-like returns on their investments. Elizabeth Holmes clearly played to these emotions as she notably fashioned herself after the late Steve Jobs, even wearing black turtlenecks like those he had worn. She was driven to be the next Silicon Valley billionaire, and indeed, she achieved that… before it all crumbled beneath her.
Things began to fall apart in 2015 when John Carreyrou (the author of Bad Blood) broke reports in the Wall Street Journal that Theranos had only performed a handful of actual tests of its proprietary technology–and in the majority of those tests, their devices failed to deliver accurate results. How had they faked it for so long? Largely by relying on the devices of traditional blood-testing companies. Often, they would require their patients to have a traditional blood draw along with the finger prick, supposedly to compare results. They would then use feedback from the blood draw as if it was obtained from the finger prick, thereby falsely corroborating the efficacy of the Theranos device.
Bad Blood is a fascinating read. It shares, in detail, the saga of Theranos, the avarice of Holmes and Balwani, the fortunes lost, careers destroyed, and even in one notable case, the suicide of a key scientist for the company. It is also a story of incredible courage on the part of Tyler Shultz, the whistleblower who met Holmes in 2011 when he was just a college student. He was visiting his grandfather, former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was serving on the Theranos board of directors.
When Elizabeth started talking about Theranos, Tyler was intrigued. He says he was “sucked into her vision” and asked if he might “come work at Theranos after (his) junior year?” Elizabeth granted his request and eventually he became a full-time employee. He only lasted eight months…
Tyler resigned after discovering that the highly acclaimed Theranos device was a fraud. When Theranos completed quality control safety audits, they were not testing their device, but instead were substituting the results from commercially available lab equipment. Tyler realized that “it was clear that there was an open secret within Theranos that (their) technology simply didn’t exist.”
Tyler then made an extraordinarily tough decision…not only to leave Theranos, but to blow the whistle. He chose to share what he had discovered with John Carreyrou. He says, “It would have been easier to quietly quit and move on with my life, and that’s exactly what my parents advised me to do…” His decision was not without serious and frightening personal consequences. Soon he found himself being followed by private investigators who Holmes hired. Her lawyers threatened and intimidated him. And perhaps worst of all, his beloved grandfather would not support him.
Tyler recalled, “He didn’t believe me. He said Elizabeth had assured him that they go above and beyond all regulatory standards.” The younger Shultz recognized that his grandfather’s personal reputation was on the line. He had recruited several of the notable members of the Theranos board of directors including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn. Tyler pleaded with him, “I know you brought all your friends into this, and you feel you need to stay there to protect your friends, but there’s still an opportunity for you to get them out too. You can lead the way for the board to do the right thing and hold Elizabeth accountable.” The elder statesman would not be persuaded–and Tyler’s stand put a wedge between them that was not fully resolved before his grandfather passed away.
So, as of today, June 6, 2023, Elizabeth Holmes is in prison, serving time for her crimes. I mentioned earlier that she now joins the business “hall of shame” with several other notable rogues. I also raised the question of how so many smart people were so easily duped. But perhaps there is a more fundamental question: Was Elizabeth Holmes evil at her core? Was that 19 year old college student simply an embryonic criminal, ready to take advantage of everyone?
As I have read and thought about this young woman, I don’t see her as a female Bernie Madoff or Sam Bankman-Fried. I see her as a dreamer, a girl with a vision of an extraordinary innovation, what Clayton Christensen would have called a “disruptive technology.” Although at a young age Elizabeth shared that she hoped to one day be wealthy, I have to believe that, early on, she had an intuitive understanding that wealth would come as a result of making the world a better place–and that she might be able to do that through the technology she envisioned. Early on, she must have seen herself as a latter-day Thomas Edison, introducing the equivalent of the incandescent light bulb to the world of blood testing. In that regard, like Edison, she was a budding opportunity risk-taker.
I’ve shared this opinion with others who say that Elizabeth’s Theranos product was inherently impossible to achieve. So say many experts. But I’m reminded that there were many naysayers who said that what Edison was pursuing was also impossible. Indeed, my observation is that virtually all such opportunity risk-takers are told that their ideas are impossible. And yet, do we not all enjoy the blessings that so many of these folks have brought into existence?
It is not my purpose to try to vindicate Elizabeth Holmes. She did the crime–and she must do the time. But I wonder…perhaps if she hadn’t gotten caught up in the Silicon Valley hype and adoration, if the perks of success didn’t get ahead of bringing her vision into reality, might she have ultimately emerged with an innovation that actually changed the world? Assuming she serves her full sentence, she will be 50 years old when she gets out of jail, about 31 years from the time she founded Theranos. What breakthrough technologies might she have achieved over those three decades if she had stayed true to her initial vision?In conclusion, I will leave with my recommendation regarding Bad Blood. It is a cautionary tale, to be sure, one that each of us can extract lessons to be learned. In that regard, it is a very important book
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Review by Richard Tyson
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a small group of executives in a discussion forum where each participant shared a book that they felt had made a significant positive difference in their leadership. Most, including myself, shared business books. Being an avid reader of such books, I wasn’t surprised by what others shared…until Jon Moir gave his recommendation. He asked if any of us had read The Boys in the Boat.
I answered that I had read the book several years ago, but my memory was vague. The only thing I remembered clearly was that the story was about the American rowing team that won the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It had not made a very deep impression on me.
Jon, who is a banker with Fortis Private Bank in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the other hand, said that while the book was not a “business book,” he felt it was one of the best books he had ever read regarding the principles of personal character and leadership. When anyone feels that strongly about a book, I’m inclined to read it–or in this case to reread it.
I ordered a copy of the book right away, and wasted no time getting into it. Where I had earlier seen this as simply a story of the successful University of Washington nine man crew, a more thorough reading began to unearth several remarkable subplots. These included:
- The story of a Depression Era boy, Joe Rantz, who at age 15, was abandoned by his father and stepmother. Out of necessity, he learned to fish for chinook salmon and forage for mushrooms, berries, and watercress to feed himself. He occasionally earned a little cash through a variety of “entrepreneurial activities” that often required hard manual labor. Somehow, he stayed in school and earned good grades. Living in the house near the Puget Sound where his parents had left him behind, he was stoically alone.
Joe’s story follows his path from being a lonely teenager to trying out for the University of Washington freshman rowing team. He saw making that team as his ticket to obtaining a college education. From the first day of tryouts, it became clear that his goal was anything but easily attainable. He learned, as author Daniel Brown, describes it, that “competitive rowing is an undertaking of extraordinary beauty preceded by brutal punishment. Unlike most sports, which draw primarily on particular muscle groups, rowing makes heavy and repeated use of virtually every muscle in the body…”
Joe made the freshman team in the autumn of 1933 and began his odyssey to Olympic gold in 1936. During that three year period, he faced one challenge after another, some of which boiled down to just staying alive. He worked constantly to provide meager meals and shelter for himself, while expending almost superhuman energy into his sport. He experienced not only the worries of caring for his daily subsistence needs, but also the concern that he might, after all of his work and sacrifice, lose his place on the Washington team.
Joe Rantz’s story is one of extraordinary courage and focus, of a young man who somehow overcomes economic, athletic, academic, and relationship strains. He is a worthy example of what author Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence. Joe is a leader, first of himself, later of his team, and ultimately throughout his life.
- There is also the story of the coach of the 1936 University of Washington crew who pulled together a team for the ages, Al Ulbrickson. His challenges with taking a raw group of diverse young men and molding them into world champions reflects many of the trials, tribulations, and opportunities faced by leaders in business today. His consistent skills of observation, discernment, study, and engagement are a model worth our consideration.
- Author Daniel Brown also skillfully weaves the story of George Yeoman Pocock into The Boys in the Boat. Pocock, the master builder of the boats (the shells) used by all of the most stellar competitors in the sport, lived and built his amazing shells at the University of Washington. More than a boat-builder, Pocock provides the philosophies that undergird the heart and soul of the sport of rowing. Here are a few of his profound insights:
–“Having rowed myself since the tender age of twelve and having been around rowing ever since, I believe I can speak authoritatively on what we may call the unseen values of rowing–the social, moral, and spiritual values of this oldest of chronicled sports in the world.”
–“Every good rowing coach, in his own way, imparts to his men the kind of self-discipline required to achieve the ultimate from mind, heart, and body.”
–“It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.”
–“One of the first admonitions of a good rowing coach, after the fundamentals are over, is ‘pull your own weight,’ and the young oarsman does just that when he finds out that the boat goes better when he does. There is certainly a social implication here.”
–“A boat is a sensitive thing, an eight-oared shell, and if it isn’t let go free, it doesn’t work for you.”
–“Just as a skilled rider is said to become part of his horse, the skilled oarsman must become part of his boat.”
–“To be of championship caliber, a crew must have total confidence in each other, able to drive with abandon, confident that no man will get the full weight of the pull.”
–“Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn't enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be as one.”
–“Men as fit as you, when your everyday strength is gone, draw on a mysterious reservoir of power far greater. Then it is that you can reach for the stars. That is the way champions are made.
–“Where is the spiritual value of rowing?...The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.”
–“Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he gets out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.”
Not many of us will experience the physical agony that competitive rowing exacts from its athletes, nor the first-hand experience of the harmony, balance, and rhythm of the sport that George Pocock so eloquently identified. But in reading The Boys in the Boat, we can come to appreciate more fully the importance of those three critical factors in building and sustaining great teams.
Having reread this fine book, I must agree with Jon Moir that this is one of the most valuable books I have ever read. While it would not be defined as a business book, it is most certainly a masterful dissertation of the courage, discipline, and personal development of individuals brought together to emerge in the world-class performance of the team. What more can leaders want than this?
In conclusion, I must add a bit of a personal critique of my reading habits. How did I miss the value of this extraordinary book the first time I read it? The answer lies in my standard reading practice. When I obtain a new book, I start by reading the flyleaf and the testimonials, if any. I then read the introduction to get an overview of the material. Next, I scan the table of contents, and the index. And, if there is an epilogue or summary chapter at the end of the book, I read that. After that, I scan my way through the book rapidly, marking and making marginal notes on anything that stands out to me. If, after all of that, I feel the book deserves a more methodical reading, I slow down and plod through it. I probably do this with 20% of the books I read, with the other 80% getting at most 1 or 2 hours of my time “from flyleaf to finish.” This allows me to peruse 4-5 books at a time. This process is highly efficient, but on occasion, it is not very effective.
My initial reading of The Boys in the Boat failed to be effective. My recent reread, while less efficient, was both enjoyable and effective. I am grateful for Jon Moir. His recommendation not only blessed me with the insights of a great book, but caused me to reassess my reading process. I’ll still use that process, but with a greater emphasis on learning effectiveness rather than focusing so much on the number of books that I can read in a short period of time.
The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jacko Willink & Leif Babin
Review by Richard Tyson
Some time ago, I read Extreme Ownership, the first best-selling book by Jocko and Leif. Although this book review is focused on The Dichotomy of Leadership, it is important to understand a few of the key points in Extreme Ownership to fully appreciate Dichotomy.
Extreme Ownership provided valuable leadership principles that have resonated with many readers. The central premise of that book was that leaders must take extreme ownership of everything they do–and everything that impacts their mission, whatever that might be.
Every leader faces the reality that mistakes will happen. When they do, each of us are tested as to how we will address those concerns. Effective leaders do not ignore problems, nor do they blame others; they take timely ownership of mistakes, determine what went wrong, and facilitate the development of solutions to reduce the probability that those mistakes will be repeated. This approach constitutes an essential component of extreme ownership.
Extreme owner leaders recognize that mistakes are learning opportunities, and as they are solved, performance is upgraded. While perfection will never be achieved, each problem solved represents an iteration toward outstanding outcomes. Using this philosophy in the operation of their U.S. Navy Seal team, Task Unit Bruiser, Willink and Babin created a highly effective combat unit during the Iraq war. Since that time, they have employed that philosophy in the world of business leaders.
Extreme Ownership was based on Willink and Babin’s four Laws of Combat:
- Cover and Move. This portion of their leadership model provides the foundational teamwork principle for any organization. It stresses that “it doesn’t matter if one element within the group does its job; if the team fails, everybody fails. When the overall team wins, everybody wins.” Each member of the team “covers” for his teammates; he “moves” energetically to back them up.
- Simple. Complexity breeds chaos, especially when things go wrong. Each member of the team must understand the “commander’s intent,” the why behind the mission. And they must understand their specific role and responsibilities. Orders must be communicated in “simple, clear, and concise” terms. The leader must assure that each team member “gets it.”
- Prioritize and Execute. Leaders must recognize that in combat, or in the day-to-day turmoil of business, it is easy to get overwhelmed by an avalanche of problems. To avoid this, effective leaders must detach themselves, pull back from the details, and objectively assess the situation to determine the highest priority actions needed to achieve the strategic mission. When this is determined, the leader must then clearly communicate that priority to the team, and ensure that the team executes.
- Decentralized Command. No one leader can manage everything or make every decision. Leaders must empower their subordinates at every level to make decisions. With decentralized command, everyone is a leader. For this to be effective, every member of the team must understand not just what to do, but why they are doing it. This requires clear and frequent communication of the organization’s purpose–and it requires a high degree of trust. Senior leaders must provide strong competency training followed by a demonstration that they trust their junior leaders to make the right decisions.
While Willink and Babin have enjoyed significant acclaim for Extreme Ownership, they lead into Dichotomy with a confession that there was a big problem with the first book: its title. They acknowledge that extreme leadership is the foundation of good leadership, but that leadership should seldom require extreme ideas or attitudes. The stress should be on an unfailing sense of ownership, but what they define as a balanced approach to extremity.
In the final chapter of the first book, they wrote this:
“Every leader walks a fine line…Leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities, between one extreme and another. The simple recognition of this is one of the most powerful tools a leader has. With this in mind, a leader can more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.”
I appreciate this clarification–and I especially like the use of the word equilibrium. The dichotomies that they identify in this subsequent book mirror many that I have discovered and worked with in coaching CEOs and other leaders over the last three decades. I have always hesitated to suggest that they should pursue balance between two extremes. Balance is such an elusive objective, and I have rarely observed what I would consider balanced leadership. Equilibrium, however, suggests a sliding scale between the extremes based on the circumstances and situation. What works well today may be very wrong tomorrow. Highly effective leaders need to be able to move along that sliding scale to an equilibrium that works for themselves and their people.
Here are a few examples that are addressed in Dichotomy:
- Leaders must build close personal trusting relationships with their people, but they must not be so close with them that it develops a sense of entitlement and favoritism, or worse yet, undermines their authority and responsibility to make hard decisions.
- They must be capable to exercise discipline when necessary, but not become tyrannical.
- They must be “all in” as extreme owners, yet not micro-manage their people and fail to give them a firm sense of their own ownership in meeting team goals.
- When a team member fails to perform adequately, the leader must get down in the weeds and micro-manage until necessary corrections are made. But when that individual is back on track, the leader must recognize the need to back off and show trust in that person.
The central idea of Dichotomy is that leaders must moderate the idea of leading from the extremes and focus on leading from equilibrium, as we move along the sliding scale in each dichotomy. Every good leader must develop the ability to recognize, understand, and adjust their decisions and behaviors to reach and maintain equilibrium within the various dichotomies.
Willink and Babin address dichotomies in the following areas:
Care deeply about each individual on your team, while at the same time accepting the risks necessary to accomplish the mission.
Own it all, but empower others.
Be resolute in your priorities and decisions, but not overbearing.
Determine when to mentor a low-achiever–and when to fire such a team member.
- The Mission
Train hard, but train smart.
Be aggressive, but not reckless.
Be disciplined, but not rigid.
Hold people accountable, but don’t hold their hands.
Recognize when it is time to lead–and when it is time to follow.
Plan, but don’t overplan.
Be humble, but not passive.
Be focused, but recognize the periodic need to detach.
The authors close their book by noting that the dichotomies highlighted represent only a small portion of the many dichotomies faced by leaders today. I echo that observation. One could fill many volumes with them!
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this fine book is the essential need for leaders to be ever vigilant in assessing what dichotomies they are facing. They need to recognize when something about their priorities and decisions doesn’t feel right–and go to that pain. This often requires quiet thoughtful (even prayerful) time away from the noise that so often accompanies problems and concerns. And when they have identified the dichotomy they are facing, the challenge then is to decide where they are, and where equilibrium is. Then they can move in the direction of that equilibrium point on the sliding scale between the extremes.
In conclusion, I offer some advice from one of my favorite philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He suggests that we can all be more effective if we do three things:
- Observe what is going on around you. Effective leaders don’t hole up in their ivory towers (or their offices). They get out among their people and their customers. They observe with their eyes and ears, and they do so with the intention to discern what is happening, why it is happening, and how they should respond.
- Study your options. Dichotomies always present a choice. As you ponder your options, study what others have done. Read about other leaders, access information from the internet, and seek ideas and input from coaches and mentors. You don’t have to wrestle with every problem by yourself.
- Engage with key stakeholders. Share your concerns. Ask questions. And then listen to others who have a stake in the issues, concerns, and opportunities you face. It’s okay to share the burden of getting to equilibrium with those who are affected by your decisions. In fact, it is often essential so that they do not misunderstand the actions you take.
This was my second reading of The Dichotomy of Leadership. I enjoyed it enough both times that I am beginning a third trip through the book! I recommend it to anyone who faces the need to think critically about their leadership and desires to improve those skills.
The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders by Daniel Harkavy
Review by Richard Tyson
Recently, I discovered Daniel Harkavy’s book. I found his insights to be quite valuable.
He begins by noting the incredible challenges facing leaders today, using the description offered by General Maxwell P. Thurman: VUCA–Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. As difficult as this environment is, Harkavy suggests that leadership effectiveness boils down to just two things:
- The decisions you make –and–
- The influence you have.
To assure that you are highly effective in these two essentials, he offers the following 7 Perspectives:
Perspective One: Current Reality
You must have a clear and accurate sense of today’s reality. That means that you are observant of the essential elements of your business. You keep abreast of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the financial, customer, operations, and people aspects of your business. Since you are reliant on these metrics to correctly discern and evaluate where you are today, you must assure that they are accurate and timely, avoiding the danger of basing your decisions and influence on faulty data.
Perspective Two: Vision
While Perspective One focuses your attention on the “here and now,” you must also possess a “long view” of the future of your business. This must not only be in your mind’s eye; it must also be shared in clear and compelling ways that entice others to fully engage, working together to achieve that vision. You must become the Chief Evangelist for the vision!
Perspective Three: Strategic Bets
Effective leaders decisively place bets to close the gap between today’s current reality and their long-term vision. They align those bets strategically and work with their teams to execute the plans they develop together.
Perspective Four: The Team
The best leaders work closely with their teams to see their way through the VUCA they inevitably face. They engage intensively with their people, asking incisive questions to unearth the answers that will help them effectively deal with what they, themselves, don’t know. They are what author Liz Wiseman calls Multipliers.
Perspective Five: The Customer
You must have a clear understanding of who your customers are–and who they are not. Further, you must know what job your customers have hired you for, and how you will fulfill those needs and desires today, and into the future.
Perspective Six: Your Role
Leadership, especially at the top, can seem like you are responsible for everything. While in one sense this is true, you must recognize that you can’t do it all. You have the challenge of delegating without dumping on your people, and staying engaged without micromanaging. You must focus your energy on the activities that only you can do, while growing the capacity of your team for handling increasing responsibilities. Effective leaders create other effective leaders.
Perspective Seven: The Outsider
Virtually all highly effective leaders utilize the support and guidance of outsiders. These mentors, coaches, and facilitators broaden your thinking, help you identify your blind spots, and stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Great leaders actively seek these relationships of candor and trust.
Harkavy notes that great leaders who grasp and effectively utilize the Seven Perspectives typically possess the following three essential mindsets:
- Intentional Curiosity–They are learners; they routinely ask questions with a sincere desire to understand situations, challenges, opportunities, and people.
- Humility–They are willing, even anxious, to hear answers that perhaps they really don’t want to hear. They sincerely listen to criticism. Although they may not agree with what they are hearing, they strive to weigh what is said with an open mind. As we say at CEObuilder, “Your best friend will tell you when your fly is down.” Recognizing that negative feedback may spare you unfavorable future outcomes is clearly one of the great blessings of humility.
- Integration–Effective leaders are great integrators. They systematize the Seven Perspectives into their thinking and their daily lives. As they listen to others, learn, and engage, they integrate what they observe and discern into their actions and interactions with others. This facilitates both their decision-making and their influence.
While the Seven Perspectives is not as well known as many other business books today, I found it to be an outstanding concise primer on leadership. Clearly, readers should augment the study of this book with the insights of other authors. That said, I have no qualms recommending Harkavy’s fine book. It is well worth your time and thoughtful consideration.
The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More by Barry Schwartz
Review by Richard Tyson
The Paradox of Choice was a challenging read for me…in fact it was a challenging reread! I first read it about a decade ago–and I wasn’t sure that I could accept some of the fundamental premises that Barry Schwartz set forth in the book. He makes the strong assertion that having lots of choices leads to a decrease of satisfaction in life. To me, at my first reading, this was almost un-American. After all, doesn’t the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness inherently entail having and enjoying the many optional choices that are available to us in a free society?
Schwartz, however, does make a compelling argument that having too many options often creates bewilderment in making our choices, as well as regrets after we make them. Further, he takes aim at the first world problem of accumulating more stuff (and more outward symbols of success), while at the same time being less satisfied with our lives. Some studies have even suggested a strong correlation between such accumulation and clinical depression! Schwartz poses this question: Shouldn’t having lots of stuff, as a function of our choices, make us happier rather than dissatisfied and depressed?
For me, my recent reread was quite illuminating. I was raised in a family of high achievers. My parents expected, even demanded, academic achievement. Anything less than straight A’s in school brought heavy negative consequences. Even in athletic and extracurricular activities, I felt pressure to be the best. Mediocrity was disdained. Experiences just for the fun of it were few and far between. This is not to say that I feel that my childhood was abusive. But when faced with a choice, the go-to selection was always to “grab the gold ring.” This was, for my parents, a core philosophy: Good Americans are high achievers! I, of course, have passed this philosophy on to my children and grandchildren.
Barry Schwartz doesn’t suggest that we shouldn’t strive for personal or corporate excellence, but he cautions that such an attitude carried to an extreme may cause us to become what he calls Maximizers. He defines these folks as those,who, when given a choice, extensively search all options to make sure that they make the best possible choice. Such a search unearths so many options that Maximizers often have difficulty in deciding what to choose. And, after they have decided, they are likely to be dissatisfied with their choice as they compare it to the options they haven’t chosen or to new options that subsequently present themselves. Maximizers tend to set themselves up for buyer’s remorse!
Schwartz makes a strong case that those he defines as Satisficers are ultimately happier and more fulfilled in their lives than Maximizers. He describes Satisficers as people who, when given a choice, generally will settle for that which is “good enough,” thus more efficiently eliminating many of the options available to them. Further, they are less likely, in hindsight, to regret the choice they have made.
My reaction to this ten years ago was to disdain the counsel to be a Satisficer as a prescription for mediocrity. However, I have reconsidered my position. In that regard, I’m reminded of a story I overheard about a Harvard MBA. Since I hold that degree, my ears perked up. Here’s how it goes:
This bright aspiring Harvard MBA was enjoying a holiday somewhere in the tropical islands of the south Pacific. On an especially perfect day, he enjoyed a day of fishing with a local fisherman on his small boat. They fished all day, returning to port with a large marlin in tow. It was a day to remember, an amazing high adventure experience!
Brimming with excitement over their incredible day, the MBA suggested that he and the fisherman go to dinner together. Over the best meal in town, he pitched what he thought was an irresistible idea to the fisherman. He asked, “How would you like to develop your fishing business into a major resort experience?” He punctuated the suggestion with a vision of many tourists and lots of money.
The fisherman asked what it would take to make this happen, to which the MBA described a process of business strategy development, raising investment capital, acquiring additional boats, office space, and dedicated dock and warehouse facilities.
The fisherman then inquired, “How long would it take to get the tourists and the money?” The MBA replied that it would probably take three to five years to get everything fully operational–and maybe another three to five years before the big paydays would come. But he assured the fisherman that they would indeed come.
The fisherman quietly pondered what he had heard for a few minutes, and then asked, “And then what?” The MBA responded that the fisherman would undoubtedly be a very wealthy man–and that he could do anything he wanted.
Once again, the fisherman paused, deep in thought. He then said, “If I had all that money…I think I would buy a small boat and go fishing everyday. And since that is what I do now, I think I will pass on your suggestion!”
The fisherman was a Satisficer, the MBA was a Maximizer. The story doesn’t imply that the MBA was dissatisfied or unhappy, but the fisherman was clearly satisfied, even happy, with his life that was “good enough.”
Another danger that looms over Maximizers is what I call the Bernie Madoff Syndrome. Bernie, in his early career, was a highly respected and legitimate businessman. Unfortunately, this was not enough–and the insatiable desire for more led him to create the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme. In the midst of it, he was literally rolling in billions of dollars. Merely being a millionaire doing legitimate business wasn’t enough. His Maximizer tendencies led to his destruction.
Barry Schwartz leaves us with a number of wisdom nuggets worth our consideration:
- Strive to become more of a Satisficer than a Maximizer. That doesn’t mean you settle for mediocrity, but learn to understand what is “good enough” for you and your situation–and be ready to move on when you hit that standard.
- Strive to appreciate the life that you have. Consider regularly setting aside time to reflect on the great people and things you have in your life. Adopt a “gratitude attitude” and a sense of optimism about what lies ahead of you without pressing to meet unrealistic expectations.
- Focus on your own choices…and avoid worrying about what others do. Striving to “keep up with the Joneses” is a surefire way to be unhappy with your situation. Forego social comparisons and make decisions that are right for you.
- Seek the advice of experts when faced with complex decisions. None of us know what we don’t know, so when your decisions require lots of thought regarding your optional choices, take time to find those who possess the expertise you do not.
- Make your decisions irreversible. Studies show that people who know they cannot (or will not) reverse their decisions tend to be happier with them. This is especially important regarding the decision to live by your values and ethical principles. It is a strong deterrent to the Bernie Madoff Syndrome.
These are just a few of Barry Schwartz’s valuable ideas in dealing with the paradox of choice. I’m still not 100% on board with all of his assertions, but I must admit that his book provides questions and considerations that each of us should consider as we make decisions, both small and large. I recommend it!
Habits for Happiness: 10 Daily Steps for Living Your Happiest Life by Dr. Tim Sharp
Review by Richard Tyson
In determining what book to review for our January newsletter, I wanted to be sure that I wish all of our readers a very happy New Year. With that in mind, I feel that it is important to share some practical ideas for being happy as we move forward in what certainly can be deemed uncertain and turbulent times.
I accessed this particular book from Audible, listening to it as I shoveled snow from my driveway over four days of continuous storms. My rationale was that if I could complete a chore that does not contribute to my happiness–and emerge more happy as a result of listening to this book, perhaps I might have confidence in recommending it. This definitely proved to be the case!
Dr. Tim Sharp is known as Doctor Happy. A practicing psychologist, he has dedicated his career to discovering ways to become and stay happy. Here’s a summary of his 10 Steps:
- Create a Vision Board. This is a way of illustrating your personal purpose, mission, goals, and/or values. I can attest to the positivity of this approach. A few years ago, I purchased a large poster board on which I placed photographs and magazine clippings of the things on my bucket list. These included family, church, career, and personal interest items. While I did this for myself, the vision board that emerged drew attention from my wife and others. Before long, I found these folks actively engaging in helping me accomplish my goals. Now, looking back at my board, I feel a great sense of satisfaction in what I have accomplished. I think it’s time to revisit and update my vision board. A great way to start a new year!
- Find a Way to Win. The key here is to break down your big goals into smaller, bite-size pieces. This involves setting real and manageable goals. Dr. Smart recommends that we set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. While he is not the originator of this approach to goal-setting, he shares some significant insights on each element of the SMART process.
- Just Laugh. Seek the humor and fun in life. Don’t take things too seriously! While we recognize trials and tribulations, it is important to prioritize fun into our busy schedules. Our efforts in this regard naturally build positivity and resilience!
- Face Your Fears. Take a bit of time to assess what worries you; those things that make you unhappy. Then consider how you might address these. Are there ways to deal with these in appropriate ways to eliminate or mitigate them? Too often, we let things grind on us, rather than stepping up and dealing with them. This can be stressful, but when we eliminate fears and concerns, we open new space for happiness.
- Exercise, or Just Dance. Clinical studies have shown that exercise not only improves physical health, it also contributes to our mental and emotional well-being. Dr. Smart notes that exercise doesn’t need to be a forced march; in fact, it should ideally consist of activities that we enjoy. Perhaps that is dancing, or hiking in the hills, or playing golf or pickleball. Just get moving!
- Sleep Your Way to the Top. Once again, clinicians have proven that we must get enough sleep. Studies have shown that a majority of people today are sleep deprived. Although most of us can easily justify shortchanging sleep for other priorities, consistently doing this not only jeopardizes our capacity for happiness, it increases the likelihood of illness and ultimately shortens our lives.
- Ask for Help. Most of us take great pride in being self-reliant. We see asking for help as a sign of weakness. Without question, this is a mistake. No one can do it all. We generally recognize that we need doctors and dentists, or lawyers and tax advisors. But it is a critical element of being happy to acknowledge when we are in over our heads. When that occurs, it is not only acceptable to ask for help, it is generally our best option.
- Give Some Help. One of the most satisfying ways to increase our happiness is to reach out and help others. This relies on our ability to observe the needs of others, and discern how best to lighten their loads. When we respond to that type of understanding, we often experience happiness that becomes absolute joy!
- Focus on What’s Going Right. With our super saturation of bad news in today’s media, it’s not surprising that many of us become cynical and pessimistic. However, if we make a sincere effort to see the good in the world, we will find that it’s all around us. Dr. Smart encourages us to seek reasons to be optimistic!
- Forgive Others (and Yourself). Carrying the baggage of being offended (and staying offended) works against happiness. The sooner we find the courage and compassion to forgive others, the sooner we can experience the happiness that we’ve missed in carrying hard feelings. Dr. Smart notes that sometimes our toughest challenge is to forgive ourselves. We all have regrets about mistakes we’ve made, but if we burden ourselves with self-deprecation, we effectively destroy our capacity to be happy.
I enjoyed listening to Dr. Smart’s prescriptions for happiness. They made my hours of hefting snow go quicker…and they have added to my insights for having—and wishing you—a very Happy New Year!
IdeaFlow by Jeremy Utley & Perry Klebahn
Review by Richard Tyson
A former client and dear friend of mine, Marlin Shelley, recommended this book to me. I am always grateful for such recommendations; Marlin suggested that I would resonate with this one–and he was right. This is one of the most insightful books I have ever read on the subject of the essential leadership skill of problem-solving.
That said, I immediately took issue with the subtitle of this book. With over 5 decades of business experience under my belt, I know that there are many business metrics that matter. The challenge is in knowing what drives each of these metrics.
The Business Success Pyramid that we use at CEObuilder addresses both leading and lagging metrics. Financial metrics certainly matter: strong profitability and cash flow, and the growth of the value of any business are expectations that must be measured and met. But these are lagging indicators; they are created by the value that we deliver to our customers. Customer metrics, therefore, matter. They are the leading indicators that are transformed into desired financial outcomes. While customer metrics are a leading indicator, however, they are also a lagging metric. They are created by the operations of the business; thus, operational metrics matter. They define how the business is performing in terms of both effectiveness and efficiency. As important as this is, however, operational metrics are a lagging indicator for what people do in any enterprise. Their competency and engagement are the leading indicators that deliver operational excellence; these metrics definitely matter! As important as they are, however, they are also lagging indicators of “getting the right people on the bus,” of effective recruitment and retention, metrics which also matter.
So, how do Utley and Klebahn support their assertion that Ideaflow is the only metric that matters? Although they do not make this case in their book, I think they would say that the principles that they identify are the ultimate leading indicators of business performance. They make the point that virtually everything we do in business is to solve–or attempt to solve–problems, and that creativity is the craft of problem-solving. Ideaflow is the unfettered flow of ideas that deliver the creativity required to solve problems of any kind, whether those be of recruitment and retention, competency development, employee engagement, operational challenges, customer satisfaction, or financial performance.
With this understanding, I dove headlong into this book. It is not terribly long…only 252 pages, but it is so rich in practical insights regarding proven processes of delivering creativity and effective problem-solving that I found myself reading it quite slowly and taking extensive notes. That has made writing this book review quite challenging. To do the book full justice, the review would be at least 50 pages long!
So, in the interest of brevity, I’ll just share a few key points–and then encourage you to roll up your sleeves, put on your reading glasses, and dive in. If you approach the book with some real rigor, I believe you will find significant illumination on both your personal and professional abilities to creatively solve problems, as well as facilitating the problem-solving of others.
Key Points from Ideaflow:
- Every problem is an idea problem. We don’t know what we don’t know, so we must expand our inventory of ideas to solve problems.
- Quantity of ideas drives the quality of ideas. More idea output creates the inventory from which quality solutions will emerge.
- By increasing the number of ideas generated, we dramatically reduce the pressure and stress involved in the entire process of idea generation, all while increasing the odds of success and lowering the costs and risks to an absolute minimum.
- Ignore deciding that any idea is good or bad in the early stages of discussion.
- Diligently separate idea generation from idea selection. Don’t get fixated on the feasibility and relevance of the ideas being suggested. Those filters will come later; such emphasis too early in the process will quash many valuable divergent suggestions. As leaders of the Ideaflow processes, we must protect, support and incentivize creativity.
- To drive disruptive innovation (ala Clayton Christensen’s pivotal theory), the new way we seek must upend the old one. Once you get really innovative, it starts to feel like you’re on the verge of putting yourself out of business–in a good way.
- Recognize we exist in an era of continual disruption; we must create new and better ways to do business, or we’ll find ourselves the victims of the disruptive innovations of others.
- Our brains never make anything truly from scratch. They always work based on the raw material of our experiences. Any idea is a connection between things already existing in our brains: things we’ve seen, heard, or felt. This is true for every individual, and it is why the ideas of others are so valuable. They bring their own unique experiences to the ideation process. Creativity is never a truly solitary feat; we always make our greatest impact working with others.
- Even so, it begins with you! This is extremely important for leaders to understand. The most prevalent deterrent to strong ideaflow is leaders who throw a wrench into the process by either forcing early decisions or simply mandating their own “best ideas.” The most effective approach is to encourage the creation of as many “scrappy” ideas as possible. As leaders, we must learn to spur our people to discover many diverse and unforeseen sources of inspiration–and to allow time for this to happen. See yourself as a channel for letting as many ideas through as possible.
- Then, winnow those ideas through real-world experimentation and iteration–to a clear winner!
- There are two key parts to the Ideaflow process:
- Innovate: this is the pipeline from ideation through innovation.
- Elevate: the pipeline of taking innovative ideas into disruptive outcomes.
This list of key principles sets the foundation for the processes that Utley and Klebahn set forth in detail throughout Ideaflow. The authors validate those processes through many stories of successful implementation with multiple companies and organizations. Their respective work as members of Stanford University’s d.school (design school) and as executives in major companies has prepared them well to deliver this excellent guide to creative problem-solving.
I recommend the book wholeheartedly. It is not only worth reading; I suggest you consider adopting both its principles and processes!
Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way by Rasmus Hougaard & Jacqueline Carter
Review by Richard Tyson
Clearly, the world is in turmoil today. It would be more than enough if our only challenge was to rebound from a global pandemic. But today’s leaders face complexity that includes economic instability, increasing civil violence and unrest, political strife, and both the threat and reality of wars in various places in the world. These macro concerns are overlaid on the specifics of their own micro leadership challenges, whether those be in leading a nation, a community, a business, or a family. Regardless of the context of the leader’s role, all are faced with the necessity of doing hard things.
In hard times, leaders often have to make hard decisions, decisions that impact people’s lives. They need to give frank, tough feedback to those they lead. Sometimes, they are required to execute an unpopular change that overturns the way things are done, even eliminating jobs or disrupting careers.
The stresses that accompany doing these hard things increase the likelihood that leaders will react in either a “too hard” or “too human” way. Hougaard and Carter point out that we often mistakenly see this as a “difficult binary choice between being a good person and a hard leader.” They challenge this by asserting that “being hard and being human are not mutually exclusive.” “In truth,” they say, “doing hard things is often the most human thing to do.”
So, how can a leader appropriately combine these two apparent opposites? The authors assert that it boils down to one thing: wise compassion. The two key components of wise compassion are:
Wisdom, which is to “see reality clearly and act appropriately…dealing with hard things upfront rather than beating around the bush. It is having the courage to be candid and transparent with other people and do the things that need to be done–even when it is uncomfortable. (It is seeing) that if you don’t do the hard things today, they will become even harder tomorrow.”
Compassion is “the intention to be of benefit to others.” However, it is not about “pleasing others and giving them what they want.” It can be “tough and direct, such as addressing when another person’s behavior is out of line. But it is done with the intention that helping them change will ultimately lead to better outcomes for everyone.”
Hougaard and Carter’s leadership by wise compassion is reminiscent of the description given of Abraham Lincoln by author Carl Sandberg. He saw Lincoln as “a man of Velvet and Steel.” It would be hard to find a leader more beset with hard things than our 16th U.S. president. He could have dealt with these trials in a harsh and brutal way, or he could have become a pushover for his political and military contemporaries. He did neither. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic book, Team of Rivals, she shares how he navigated the stormy waters of his presidency with what Hougaard and Carter would undoubtedly define as wise compassion.
I have adopted the use of a tool shared with me by a friend and adviser, Daniel K. Judd, called counterfeit analysis. I think it illustrates well what Hougaard and Carter share in Compassionate Leadership. Consider for a moment the illustration below.
Notice on the horizontal axis, I have shown the two aspects of wise compassion that should coexist in the leadership style of one who does hard things in a human way. The two blue arrows represent the natural tendency of leaders to drift into counterfeit behaviors when they are faced with hard challenges or decisions. The counterfeits are shown on the vertical axis.
It is interesting to note that while Wisdom/Steel and Compassion/Velvet appropriately coexist, and therefore, are not opposites, Uncaring/Brutal and Go Along to Get Along are very much opposite behaviors. Our challenge as leaders is to recognize our tendencies to drift into these counterfeits when faced with hard things, tough decisions, and working with others. Hougaard and Carter provide deep insights throughout Compassionate Leadership in overcoming these tendencies.
Starting with their fundamental proposition of wise compassion, they challenge some of the long-held business school premises of management. In particular, they emphasize the importance of adopting wisdom and compassion with yourself first. That doesn’t mean that you give yourself a free pass; rather it requires you to honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses, while exercising self-compassion in addressing your opportunities for growth and development. In particular, they stress the siren song of “busyness,” which often afflicts leaders with an emphasis on urgencies, rather than what is truly important.
Hougaard and Carter also stress the importance of being present, of being “in the moment,” and giving your people your full attention. They point out the importance of learning to put courage over comfort, and being direct in your communications as a leader, asserting that clarity is far kinder than dancing around key issues. Finally, they contend that for most hard things, “the only way out is through.”
This book is based on significant research, using data from thousands of leaders, employees, and companies in nearly one hundred countries. It is well-written, easy to understand, and provides outstanding insights for leaders who desire to accomplish hard things through growing their people by wise compassionate leadership.Compassionate Leadership!
Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy by Henry Kissinger
Review by Richard Tyson
My wife and I just returned from a 17-day trip to Europe. We spent time in France, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Along the way, I also had time to finish reading Henry Kissinger’s latest book.
While in Europe, and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the book with a number of people. Those conversations almost always started with, “I thought Kissinger was dead,” to which I responded that he is very much alive. And, at the age of 99, this most recent book proves that his mind is still very sharp.
Leadership presents several important premises worth considering by those who serve in high political office, as well as in business. He states, “Leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes: the first, between the past and the future; the second between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead. They must balance what they know, which is necessarily drawn from the past, with what they intuit about the future, which is inherently conjectural and uncertain. It is this intuitive grasp of direction that enables leaders to set objectives and lay down a strategy.”
Kissinger goes on to set forth two vital attributes of great leaders:
- Courage to choose a direction, a purpose or vision–and a willingness to transcend the routine, to do hard things—and
- Character to sustain a course of action, and fidelity to core values over an extended period of time.
Leaders must fit “means” (strategies) to “ends” (purpose/vision) --and fit their purpose to the circumstances of their time and situation. They sculpt the future using the materials available to them in the present including knowledge of lessons learned, analogies, and inspiration. Such leaders are “historically informed.” They strive to distill actionable insights from inherent ambiguity, “absorbing life in all its dazzling complexity.”
Such leaders have learned to navigate the ambiguities of the future without abandoning their fundamental values. Further, they have learned the lessons of history without rigidly anchoring to the past. The very best of these leaders are admired for their “natural abilities,” but these abilities have generally been hard won in the crucible of study, experience, and inspiration.
Kissinger has chosen six leaders whom he feels demonstrated these characteristics: Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Lee Kuan Yew, and Margaret Thatcher. Kissinger’s choice of these leaders is, in and of itself, controversial. I doubt that many would have selected these six. However, in reading Kissinger’s incisive descriptions of each, I found new understandings of their leadership that I had overlooked in the past.
In that regard, I was interested–and perhaps a bit shocked–to find out how little most people know about these leaders as I conversed with others about them. I must admit that I was unaware of Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore. But I was unprepared to learn that many in Europe, even Germany, did not know about Konrad Adenauer, the man largely responsible for Germany’s re-emergence as a respected nation in the world community after its humiliation in World War II. He is a man not to be forgotten, in my opinion.
Kissinger’s book is a reminder that we must not neglect the lessons of history, especially those taught through the lives of exceptional leaders. Thematically, Kissinger shares the strategies that each leader employed to succeed:
Adenauer: The strategy of humility
de Gaulle: The strategy of will
Nixon: The strategy of equilibrium
Sadat: The strategy of transcendence
Lee Kuan Yew: The strategy of excellence
Thatcher: The strategy of conviction
There may be some who discount Kissinger’s book based on his recent comments regarding Putin and Ukraine. My position in writing this review is not to critique Kissinger on the current state of world affairs. Rather, it is to recognize the incredible insights regarding leadership shared by one of the most notable historians and diplomats of all time. I recommend his book without reservation.
Hero on a Mission: A Path to a Meaningful Life by Donald Miller
Review by Richard Tyson
Recently, a friend of mine recommended that I read Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller. My first reaction was that I simply had no time for reading a fictional account about someone’s excellent adventure. This is not to say that I haven’t occasionally enjoyed the heroic stories of Odysseus, James Bond, or Wonder Woman. But this friend and I were discussing business, so I was dismissive to say the least. However, she insisted that I look into the book. I’m VERY glad that I did.
When I searched on Amazon, my interest was piqued by the book’s subtitle: A Path to a Meaningful Life. These few words immediately brought my thoughts to one of the most impactful books I have ever read, Man’s Search for Meaning by the late psychologist, Dr.Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust. In his book, Frankl stated what I believe to be a profound truth:
“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone: only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.”
It is my observation that when anyone discovers their unique and specific purpose, and then dedicates themself to that purpose, they have stepped onto the path that will ultimately lead them to the satisfaction of their “will to meaning.”
With Donald Miller’s subtitle resonating in my mind, I ordered his book. Might it provide new insights regarding the pursuit of personal and professional fulfillment–of meaning?
I’m very pleased to report that Mr. Miller has, indeed, expanded my understanding of that pursuit. The hero on a mission in the book is YOU, or at least that is what the author strives to accomplish. And early in his writing, he references his favorite philosopher, Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl, he notes, taught his patients to recognize their personal agency, the right to be the author of their own stories.
Donald Miller expands on this theme by asserting that there are four characters in every story: the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. These four characters live inside each of us. If we play the victim, we never get in the game and we’re doomed to fail. If we play the villain, we devote our energy to diminishing others. But if we play the hero we move boldly forward on our own meaningful mission. And if we choose to be a guide, we act to help other heroes find the path to achieving their unique and specific mission. Both the role of hero and guide bring joy and fulfillment to our lives.
Because we can easily drift into victim or villain mode, Miller uses his own experiences to help the reader recognize the symptoms of those roles. He also breaks down the transformational plan that took him from living in these self-defeating behaviors to a life of motivation, passion, and productivity. HIs insights are both powerful and practical, providing a means to take control of your life by choosing to be the hero in your own story.
The book includes the processes that Miller has created to expedite the definition of your heroic goals. They include documents for your use in introspectively identifying your unique version of meaning, as well as both long and short-range planning tools that will lead you to the specific actions you need to take on a daily basis.
Much of my work over the years has been to help facilitate the development of clear and compelling visions for businesses, including enterprise purpose, mission, and core values. I have long contended that such organization visions are most inspiring when they are extensions of the personal vision of those who lead them. Hero on a Mission sets forth valuable tools in helping such leaders develop the personal vision that provides the passion, purpose, and meaning from which their enterprise vision should emerge. Every vibrant meaning-driven business needs a hero at the helm!
I highly recommend Hero on a Mission: A Path to a Meaningful Life.
Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
Review by Richard Tyson
My interest in The Personal MBA begins with a conversation I had with world-renowned business guru and Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, about 15 years ago. Clayton was in the process of addressing various audiences regarding disruptive technologies, a central theme in his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. He invariably ended each presentation with the request that anyone in the audience who might have discovered a disruption to MBA education should let him know…because it might put him out of business. This always elicited a good chuckle.
Having heard his challenge, I called Clayton and informed him that I thought I had the disrupter for which he offered mock concern. Ever a gentleman, he immediately expressed interest in my ideas. I began by asking him a question regarding his own education. Had he taken any courses in calculus for economic analyses? He responded affirmatively. I shared that I too had done so. I then asked if he ever used what he had learned in those courses. His response was what I expected; he had not found any use for that subject matter in his day-to-day work. My answer was the same.
My conclusion was that the time and cost of our respective studies in that particular course, and many others in the standard MBA program, are waste. I then introduced Clayton to my concept of learning in the moment of need. What I mean by this is that we should take a concerted approach to discovering the needs an individual has at a given moment in time and focus our attention on delivering the specific knowledge they require to meet those needs. This eliminates extraneous and wasteful coursework, and if pursued on a widespread basis, would be quite disruptive to the traditional world of MBA degree programs.
After some extended discussion, Clayton agreed with my premise…if I could find a way to scale the process. Because learning in the moment of need is personalized to the specific needs of each individual, it is effectively a customized product, thereby being quite difficult to scale. That is the sticking point: how to scale the idea.
Which leads me to The Personal MBA. One key element in pursuit of learning in the moment of need is to effectively challenge the premise that leaders need an MBA to be successful in business. That challenge can only be effective if it makes the case powerfully to a broad audience. Josh Kaufman has, in my opinion, done just that.
The Personal MBA addresses the extraordinary debt that is incurred by most MBA graduates, especially those who complete one of the “elite programs.” (As a graduate of the Harvard Business School, I can attest to the fact that it took me a very long time to pay off the debts I rang up over my two year program.) Even at starting salaries of six figures, it’s breathtaking when you consider how long it will take to climb out of such deep debt. Contrast that with whatJosh Kaufman suggests: a concerted program of personal study in the areas where you need and want to learn.
In suggesting this personalized/customized approach, Josh recognizes that there are some standard elements that should be mastered. That standardization provides the doorway into the process of what I call learning in the moment of need. By starting with those elements, readers of The Personal MBA will naturally gravitate toward definition of the specific personalized/ customized learning they require.
Those standard elements are “a collection of five interdependent processes, each of which flows into the next:
- Value Creation–discovering what people need or want, then creating it.
- Marketing–attracting attention and building demand for what you’ve created.
- Sales–turning prospective customers into paying customers.
- Value Delivery–giving your customers what you’ve promised and ensuring that they’re satisfied.
- Finance–bringing in enough money to keep going and make your effort worthwhile.”
Josh addresses each of these processes in the first five chapters of his book, providing solid ideas that every business person should understand. It is in some ways akin to the first year of a two-year MBA program, providing a foundation for what should then be a very personalized and customized learning experience.
The remainder of his book addresses multiple dimensions of business, as well as the resources that Josh used in his journey to achieving his “personal MBA.” You will undoubtedly discover that some of these topics fit your needs–and some will not. For that reason, Josh suggests that you should feel comfortable jumping over some topics to the ones that presently resonate with you. Some of them you may ignore until a later time when you need that information. Others you may never need. The key is to focus your attention on the learning you require right now.
The Personal MBA is challenging to review, in that it covers an amazing expanse of business topics, from neuropsychology to emotional intelligence to interpersonal relationships to systems thinking–and more. I could easily write a 50 page review that would fail to do justice to the work Josh Kaufman has created. That said, it is a powerful compendium of business ideas and resources that serve to facilitate what I again call learning in the moment of need.
To date, Josh has reached over 500,000 readers with this book. I am grateful that he has taken the first steps toward scaling a more effective and efficient process for gaining the business education needed to be successful. It is my hope that CEObuilder will build on that foundation. I highly recommend The Personal MBA.
Influence is Your Superpower by Zoe Chance
Review by Richard Tyson
Throughout my career, I have gained considerable insights into the importance of influence as an essential leadership skill. I have especially enjoyed the guidance of two books, Influence by Robert Cialdini, and Influencer by the leaders of the VitalSmarts company. Their ideas have been my “go to” concepts for influencing others for many years. Recently, however, I have been compelled to add Influence is Your Superpower by Zoe Chance. Zoe is a professor at the Yale School of Management who teaches the most popular course in the MBA program, a course focused on increasing the influence of her students.
The practical ideas that Professor Chance teaches are embodied in her outstanding book. She sets forth “why” influence is essential: because influence is power. She states, “Being influential gives us the ability to create change, direct resources, and move hearts and minds. It acts like gravity, pulling us together into relationships. It’s a path to happiness, to prosperity that’s meaningful, durable, and contagious.”
Zoe clarifies that her goal is not to enhance transactional, win-lose influence. Rather it is to strengthen each reader’s personal influence in “becoming a better friend, a more trusted adviser, and a more engaged partner and parent.” She asserts that this type of relationship influence will decrease resistance to even our craziest ideas and proposals.
In pursuit of this type of personal influence, she debunks ten common misperceptions:
1. Pushy = Influential. Zoe states that the opposite is true, that being influential demands that we be influenceable. She suggests that as we make people comfortable saying no, they will become more inclined to say yes.
2. If they understand the facts, they’ll make the right decision. Zoe makes an interesting distinction between our thinking brain (what she calls The Judge) and our feeling brain (what she calls The Gator). Decisions are often more a function of the Gator than the Judge, meaning that facts are far less persuasive than we think they are.
3. People act on their values and their conscious decisions. While everyone wants to make their choices in tune with their values, these Judge-like thoughtful intentions often have less to do with our decisions than the Gator-like feelings that drive our behaviors.
4. Becoming influential involves persuading disbelievers and bending resistant people to your will. Zoe energetically argues against the use of force as an influence weapon. Instead, she focuses on building enthusiastic allies by listening, empowering, and motivating others. Her counsel regarding listening goals is particularly powerful:
- A negotiation is a battle. Listen for what your counterpart is thinking. Focus on their conscious thoughts instead of your own. Strive to reflect their thoughts through paraphrasing back to them.
- Listen for what they’re feeling. Tune into their Gator responses by labeling their emotions as worried, angry, or whatever you sense. Zoe notes that “putting someone else’s feelings into words has a stress-relieving effect on your own brain and can help you stay focused.”
- Listen for the thoughts that are being left unsaid. Here lies the opportunity to gain a much deeper understanding of the challenges and/or opportunities your counterpart faces. This may involve probing into what they have already tried, what has worked–and has not, who the key stakeholders in the situation are, etc. (On a personal note, I have found that DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats can provide a template for deeper questioning and opportunities to listen for what has yet to be revealed.)
- Zoe offers a caution here: Don’t let your discoveries give you a sense of superiority as you discover issues that your counterpart wasn’t thinking about. You are facilitating a mutual discovery process, not forcing it, or using it to one-up the other party.
- Listen for your counterpart’s unspoken values. Why do they care about the things they are sharing? If they are angry, what personal value is being threatened or violated? If they’re elated, what value is being fulfilled?
- After you have finished listening, reflect back what you have heard or intuited. Give your counterpart the opportunity to see how well you have understood and to correct your perceptions. This invites both of you to go even deeper into a common understanding.
5. A negotiation is a battle. Many negotiations appear to be adversarial, especially those dramatized by Hollywood. But Zoe points out that most people are just trying to not be suckers. She observes that the most successful negotiators are collaborative.
6. Asking for more will make people like you less. Zoe asserts that how people feel about you depends more on how you ask than how much you ask for. The fact is that more is often not received because it wasn’t asked for than because the proposal was rejected.
7. The most influential people can get anyone to do anything. Zoe gratefully points out that this simply isn’t the case. However, there are some who employ a variety of tricks and nefarious tactics to persuade us. This leads directly into her next common misperception.
8. You’re a good judge of character and can spot a con a mile away. Zoe has an excellent chapter on “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” that shares a number of cautionary tales including the powers of criminally persuasive characters like Bernie Madoff. Bernie didn’t successfully employ his version of the dark arts on everyone, but he was extremely influential with some who lost fortunes in his Ponzi scheme. Zoe shares a number of red flags that should warn us from such cons.
9. People don’t listen to people like you. Most people have felt that they simply “don’t have what it takes” to influence someone important in their lives or careers. They surmise that if they were just older (or younger), more extroverted (or not), more educated (or more experienced), or of the right race, or more connected to the right people, they would be influential. These are cop-outs. Yes, we can learn to do better, but we mustn’t let our fears and inhibitions keep us out of the game!
10. You don’t deserve to have power, or money, or love–or whatever you secretly wish for. Perhaps Zoe’s most powerful statement is the following: “Influence doesn’t flow to those who deserve it, but to those who understand and practice it.”
On that note, I’ll conclude this book review. Influence is Your Superpower is rich with insights on understanding and practicing influence in your work–and in your life!
The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
Review by Richard Tyson
I am a strong proponent of Gallup’s StrengthFinder 2.0 process which provides each user with their most significant personal strengths. I have participated in an incredible number of personality tests over the years, most of which have provided me with some interesting insights. StrengthsFinder, however, stands out as the one that seemed to most accurately “peg me.”
Two of my top strengths are Learner and Achiever. My parents are probably responsible for these traits. My mother, an elementary school teacher, had me reading the newspaper to her when I was four years old. And my dad, a career military officer, always made it clear that he expected high achievement from me.
My folks left this world quite a while ago, but their influence is still extraordinarily strong in my life. I love to learn; this manifests itself in my consumption of a minimum of five books a month, seven or more if you count those that I listen to on Audible. And, I’m not happy if I don’t accomplish a lot everyday. Mom and Dad, you’re gone, but you’re not!
Recently, I was in a bit of a productivity funk, working hard but not feeling like I was going anywhere. Lots of activity, but little sense of real accomplishment. To be a successful Achiever, you have to be both effective and efficient. Effectiveness entails knowing what your purpose and priorities are, and efficiency means that you are highly productive in pursuit of those objectives. I wasn’t feeling very effective or efficient…
In pondering this discomfort, I recalled a book I had read several years ago, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. I remembered the book’s general premise, but thought a reread might be worthwhile. I started that process with Audible and was stunned by how much I had forgotten, as well as the important principles shared by author Gary Keller. With those principles ringing in my ears, I purchased a copy of the book for each member of my CEObuilder team.
Book reviews are never adequate to fully share the value of a great book, but I’ll take a stab at sharing a few of the impactful principles that addressed my productivity funk. The first is profoundly simple, and is shared on the first pages of the book: If you chase two rabbits…you will not catch either one.
Here’s a few others:
- Go small. Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most, your purpose and priority, to drive your day. For me, that means that I resist the impulse to go through all of my email before getting to my purpose and priority. If I am anticipating some important email communication, I quickly scan my incoming messages, and then move on!
- Go extreme. Once you’ve figured out what actually matters, keep asking what matters most until there is only one thing left. That core activity goes at the top of your success list. One of my challenges is that I often have a VERY LARGE project on which I am working. Getting extreme means that I have to somehow maintain my vision of the big picture, while zeroing in on what needs to be done right now, today. This reminds me of “how to eat an elephant–one bite at a time.” I have to ask myself every day, what bite do I need to chew and swallow today?
- Say no. Whether you say “later” or “never,” the point is to say “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done. I’ve really had to get better at this. I love to get on board with good ideas and causes, but these often derail me from what should be higher purposes and priorities.
- Don’t get caught in the “check off” game. If we believe things don’t matter equally, we must act accordingly. We can’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done, that checking things off our list is what success is all about. We can’t be trapped in a game of “check off” that never produces a winner. The truth is that things don’t matter equally and success is found in doing what matters most. I still live by my To Do List, but I’m getting better at paring off things that don’t matter. And sometimes, I even have to prune a few high priorities in favor of even more important or pressing issues. This goes against my Achiever personality, but I recognize that checking off all the boxes every day is a prescription for exhaustion and unhappiness.
- Distractions happen…but recognize they undermine results. When you try to accommodate distractions, you end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention. My wife calls this “Papa Bear Syndrome.” In other words, I have a tendency to make myself available, all the time, to everyone. I love being available, but I am learning to schedule personal time where no interruptions are allowed.
- Multitasking is a lie. To do two things at once is to do neither. While I agree with this, I will suggest one exception: when I exercise (hiking or biking), I listen to Audible books. This allows me to focus on two One Things: my fitness and my learning. I am committed to both of these purposes and priorities every day–and this multitasking works for me!
- Don’t spread your willpower too thin. On any given day, you have a limited supply of willpower, so decide what matters and reserve your willpower for it. I hate this principle, but I know it’s true. I have always wanted to believe that if I just discipline myself sufficiently, I can force myself to succeed. I see others do it, right? Wrong! No one can sustain long-term productivity without pacing oneself, and focusing limited willpower on the One Things of life.
- Monitor your fuel gauge. Full strength willpower requires a full tank. Never let what matters most be compromised simply because your brain was underfueled. Eat right and regularly–and get enough sleep. I’ve struggled with both of these. My diet has improved considerably, but I’m still working on the sleep issues.
- Time your task. Do what matters most when your willpower is the strongest. Maximum strength willpower means maximum success. If you are a morning person, make your early hours your time slot for your One Thing. If you are a night person, you know what to do.
- Transform “balancing” to “prioritizing.” Our lives have multiple dimensions and constituencies. Work is just one, and it is no more important than family, friends, and your personal life–including spirituality, intellectual development, and emotional and physical health. Each of these dimensions must regularly rise to Priority One. The key is to make each your One Thing, your total focus, when you place it at the top.
The One Thing has many other insights, especially in helping you zero in on your purpose. At 223 pages, it is one of the shortest–and best–books I have ever read on personal and business productivity. I highly recommend it!
Go-Givers Sell More by Bob Burg and John David Mann
Review by Richard Tyson
I recently pulled a book off the shelf that I have to admit I gave too little attention to when it was first published. That book is entitled Go-Givers Sell More by Bob Burg and John David Mann. The reason that I skimmed this book rather than more intently reading it was because I had read the authors’ earlier book, The Go-Giver, and assumed that this was just a spin-off. In some ways, that is true; each book stresses the same five principles, what Burg and Mann call their"Five Laws of Stratospheric Success":
The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people's interests first.
The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.
Both books are well worth your time, but having focused a couple of days on Go-Givers Sell More, I’m inclined to steer readers to this second book. Why? Because while both books assert the importance of the Five Laws to enjoying a successful career, the second is focused on the essential job of selling. Selling, in my opinion, includes teaching, coaching, and influencing others to “buy-into” whatever you have to offer. And one or more of those things is part of the job description for virtually every one of us, whether we are actually out on the street selling, leading a business, teaching others, or raising children.
Go-Givers Sell More is a practical guide that asserts that giving is the cornerstone of effective selling. The authors note that too often selling is viewed by both the salesperson and the buyer as “the art of convincing potential customers to do something they don’t want to.” This mindset creates an adversarial relationship that makes selling much more difficult than it has to be. By focusing on giving value, rather than getting the sale, Burg and Mann stress the importance of cultivating trusting relationships. By placing the other person’s interests first in a sincere and authentic way, the probability of a sale significantly increases. Authenticity is essential here; being a “go-giving salesperson” should not be seen as a manipulative technique.
It is also important to understand that by being a go-giver, Burg and Mann are not suggesting that you see their processes as a one-way street. Law 5, Receptivity, stresses that you must recognize that receiving is an essential component of their Five Laws. While putting giving ahead of getting is important, you should stay open to–and expect to receive.
The book is full of practical ideas for successful selling, many of which challenge conventional wisdom regarding the selling techniques routinely touted by many sales professionals. Their counsel regarding Principle 4, Authenticity, is an exceptionally rich chapter, with insights on listening skills, dealing with objections, and closing the sale.
When you next look in the mirror, you may or may not immediately see a salesperson. But in all probability, in one way or another, ... you are one! And if that is the case, Go-Givers Sell More is a book you ought to read. At less than 200 pages, the return on the time you invest should be significant!
Turn Your Ship Around by L. David Marquet
Review by Richard Tyson
BOOK REVIEW: Turn the Ship Around By Richard Tyson
Perhaps the greatest constraint to transforming any enterprise into a world-class enterprise is the failure of the leader to emancipate his or her team to perform at their highest level. I have borrowed the term emancipate from L. David Marquet, retired U.S. Navy captain and author of the extraordinary book, Turn the Ship Around.
Marquet defines emancipation as “recognizing the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge.” He goes on to say, “Emancipation results when teams have been given decision-making control and have the additional characteristics of competence and clarity.”
Marquet emphasizes these three elements: control, competence, and clarity throughout the book. More than just being a leadership theorist, however, he is a proven practitioner, having utilized these principles as the commander of the nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine USS Santa Fe from 1999 to 2001.
Taking on command of the Santa Fe was not a “plum assignment” for Captain Marquet. He received the assignment from then Commodore Mark Kenny, who charged Marquet with “turning the Santa Fe around.” Kenny didn’t sugar-coat the challenge: “I’m not going to minimize the task in front of you,” he said. “The ship isn’t doing well. It looks from here like there’s a leadership vacuum.”
The challenge was exacerbated by a looming deadline. The turnaround had to occur in less than six months, as the Santa Fe was scheduled to deploy at that time. Urgency multiplied the pressure facing Marquet and his team.
Faced with this scenario, Marquet found himself considering his options. If he followed the traditional Leader-Follower approach followed by virtually all Naval commanders, he doubted his ability to meet the challenge. He pondered instead a new untried approach, what he termed Leader-Leader. This would entail emancipating each member of his team to lead in their respective functions–a real leap of faith from the traditional command and control model. Could this work in the high-pressure, dangerous, and technically complex environment of a nuclear submarine?
Marquet realized that if Leader-Leader failed, it would be an indelible black mark on his career. Ultimately, however, he realized that if he did what had always been done (following the Leader-Follower model), he was even more likely to fail. Thus began his great experiment!
In the book, Marquet details his saga in moving to Leader-Leader in the the three elements mentioned above:
CONTROL: This essential component deals with shifting control from leaders to the people responsible for front-line roles. To move from Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader, Marquet determined that he must carefully emancipate his followers by giving them control of their respective roles and assignments. He did this by:
Finding the existing genetic code of the SantaFe’s culture–and then working with his team to rewrite it. This entailed delegating control or decision-making authority “as much as is comfortable, and adding a pinch more.”
Opening discussions with his team, probing them for their ideas on the cultural changes they would like to see on the ship. As these were offered, he pressed the team to define the behaviors needed to bring about a new, more desirable culture. These behaviors were then codified, or as Marquet calls it, “acting your way to new thinking.”
Enhancing on board communication through short, early conversations and thinking out loud to be clear and deliberate in decision-making. Additionally, Marquet promoted new ways whereby his men could assert their leadership. For instance, crew members were encouraged to employ the phrase, “I intend to...,” expressing their commitment to take action, rather than requesting permission from their superiors.
Embracing the inspectors. Nuclear submarines are routinely inspected due to their high-tech complexity and inherent hazards. The natural reaction of virtually all sailors is to fear and resent inspectors. Marquet encouraged his team to reject this mindset in favor of looking forward to inspections as learning experiences whereby they could gain insights for operational improvement.
Resisting the urge to provide solutions. Rather than being prescriptive, Marquet encouraged team members to think for themselves, seeking solutions without offloading their problems to their superiors.
COMPETENCE: Control without competence is chaos. People must be competent to make the decisions required of them. On a submarine, this meant that each leader needed to understand physics, electricity, metallurgy, acoustics, etc. To assure that the Leader-Leader model would be appropriately sustained by the crew’s competence, Marquet facilitated the adoption of the following principles:
Balance the courage to hold people accountable for their actions with compassion for their honest efforts, especially when they fall short of desired outcomes.
Take deliberate action to reduce mistakes and make the ship operationally excellent. This meant that crew members were to think before acting–to think out loud, as mentioned above.
Use teammates to monitor actions, suggesting corrections as necessary.
Learn (Everywhere, all the time).Crew members are expected to be continuously learning by doing–maintenance, evolutions, drills, and studying.
Certify readiness to perform key operations. The person in charge asks critical questions whereby certification of readiness can be given–or must be withheld.
Continuously and consistently repeat the message. Make it a daily (or even more frequent) process of repetition regarding the key elements of competent performance.
Specify goals, not methods. This provides an atmosphere that encourages ownership of how things get done.
3. CLARITY: When everyone understands what the organization is about, clarity exists. It is the essential third leg of the stool in the Leader-Leader model. Subordinate leaders exercise competent control in pursuit of a well-articulated and well-understood purpose. That shared purpose brings everyone together, beginning with the end in mind. The key principles that Marquet facilitated with his team were:
Build trust and take care of your team. Trust is built by extending your interest and empathy for your people beyond their work lives.
Use your legacy for inspiration. The legacy of the U.S. submarine service is rich with history and inspiring stories. Marquet encouraged his crew to learn about these and share them with one another, building esprit de corps.
Articulate, communicate, and live your guiding principles, those values that you and your team live by. For Marquet and the crew of the Santa Fe, there were 12 of these, including Initiative, Innovation, Intimate Technical Knowledge, Courage, Commitment, Continuous Improvement, Integrity, Empowerment, Teamwork, Openness, Timeliness, and Leadership at Every Level!
Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors. When your people perform well, don’t wait–acknowledge and reward as soon as possible!
Maintain along-view, even as you pursue short-term objectives. Everyone is regularly reminded to keep the end in mind.
Encourage a questioning attitude over blind obedience. Emancipate everyone to have an input on how things get done, including being encouraged to challenge one another as they pursue their shared purpose.
So, the question we are left with is: Did it work for Marquet and the Santa Fe? The answer is a resounding YES! Within a year, the Santa Fe had completely changed both their culture and their performance. Their accomplishments:
They steamed 40,000 miles safely.
They made nine port calls in six different countries, with crew acting as perfect ambassadors.
They had zero liberty incidents.
They maintained the submarine at 100 percent operational readiness, with zero operational impact due to repair, maintenance, personnel, or any other issue.
While on deployment, they reenlisted 19 crew members for a total of more than $500,000 in reenlistment bonuses, a record at that time.
They awarded 22 submarine qualifications (designated as “Dolphins”), and the crew qualified 290 individual watch stations.
Operationally, they had demonstrated key capabilities, including a successful torpedo exercise in the Arabian Gulf, transiting the Strait of Hormuz several times and the Strait of Malacca twice, and executed a successful retrieval of a Navy SEAL team during a naval military exercise.
Will the principles David Marquet used on the Santa Fe work for you? I’m sure that David would suggest that it is important that you carefully and deliberately apply what you see here. That said, he asserts that if the Leader-Leader model can successfully transform and emancipate the crew of a nuclear submarine, it surely can be effectively used by leaders of business enterprises.
I highly recommend Turn the Ship Around to all who lead companies, divisions, departments, or functions. You won’t regret investing your time in this outstanding book!
Impact Players by Liz Wiseman
Review by Richard Tyson
One of my favorite business authors is Liz Wiseman. For those who lead companies, I have for years recommended her best-selling book, Multipliers, wherein she identifies those leadership characteristics that set effective leaders (those she identifies as “multipliers’) apart from others whose leadership style defines them as “diminishers.”
The multiplier effect that Liz has identified, while important, is significantly magnified when such leaders enjoy the strong performance of “impact players” within their enterprises. It is these exceptional individuals contributors on whom she focuses in her latest book, Impact Players.
Through an extensive study of 170 top professionals, Liz has discovered five common practices that define impact players:
- They are astute at identifying the job that needs to be done. While they understand and complete their assigned job, they are also intensely attuned to the overarching purpose, mission, and value proposition of the enterprise.
- They are self-starters. When it’s clear that something needs to be done, they are inclined to step up and take on challenges and opportunities beyond their job descriptions. While others wait for direction, they step up and lead.
- They are finishers. They stick with things until the entire job is done, even when the going gets tough.
- They are adaptors. When conditions change, they actively seek understanding with a readiness for corrective action. They actively seek the inputs of others in strengthening their performance.
- They are easy to work with. They actively and positively engage with others, creating an upbeat and productive work environment. They reinforce a culture of collaboration and belonging.
While acknowledging that some people come to the workplace with more of these traits than others, Liz assures the reader that we all can become impact players. Her book is chock-full of practical counsel and case study examples whereby anyone can develop the traits and deserved reputation of an impact player.
One of the most valuable parts of the book shares the insights of top executive coaches regarding the assumptions, mindsets, and behaviors of those who are most likely to develop into impact players. These include the following insights:
- Discernment: They rapidly sense what’s important and what is not. They figure this out without being told. They see the big picture rather than just their piece.
- Lead and Follow: While willing and capable to lead, they willingly respect authority and energetically follow others.
- Accountability: They retain ownership for the outcomes of their actions, rather than shifting that ownership to their leaders or colleagues.
- Value Feedback: They seek feedback, correction, and contrary viewpoints. They are inherently curious about the perspectives of others.
- Internal Locus of Control: They possess a strong belief that they can control the outcomes of the events in their lives and in their work.
- Intrinsic Worth: They have an abiding belief in their own inherent value and abilities.
- Growth Potential: They recognize that they can develop and increase their value
through focused effort.
- Informality: They believe that they don’t have to be in charge to take charge.
- Influence: They engage the assistance of others through their personal influence rather than through authority.
- Agency: They have a strong sense of the importance of acting independently and making decisions.
- Opportunity: They see ambiguity and challenges as opportunities rather than threats.
- Proactivity: They lean toward thoughtful action. They anticipate problems and find short-term workarounds and long-range solutions.
- Benefit: They believe that they can make a difference, improving things for everyone.
- Resilience: They possess a quiet confidence that they can overcome problems and adversity.
- Helpful: They readily offer help and support to their colleagues and leaders.
- Grit: They persevere, possessing an irrepressible drive to accomplish their goals.
- Bring Fun: They have a sense of humor, fun, and levity, thereby making difficult
Clearly, no one brings every one of these mindsets to the workplace. But Liz makes it clear that each of us can become more impactful as we strive to incorporate these behaviors into our work. They represent, I believe, a strong list of key characteristics of highly engaged and extraordinary contributors...real impact players. An organization that possesses even one or two of these individuals will enjoy incredible benefits in every aspect of their enterprise. For that reason, I highly recommend this book to both leaders and to those whom they lead. It is a must read!
Leading from the Jump Seat by Peter Docker
Review by Richard Tyson
One of the best books on leadership I’ve read is Leading from the Jump Seat, by former RAF (Royal Air Force) pilot, Peter Docker. Peter uses his experience as a squadron leader having the responsibility to train novice pilots to safely and competently take the controls and fly on their own. This responsibility necessarily moved him from the captain’s seat to the jump seat, where he had to lead in ways quite different from the command and control leadership many assume is typical of the military.
Leading from the jump seat is a metaphor, according to Docker, “about the journey we take to get to the point where we hand off control to other people, who are able to continue to move forward without us.” It is “a higher form of leadership, since it is not about building and retaining our own individual power.” It is about recognizing and nurturing the potential of others whereby they become leaders in their own right.
In order to do this, Docker suggests that we, as leaders, must first lead ourselves. To do this, we must identify what really matters to us. This requires introspection regarding our personal purpose, mission, and values; what Docker defines as the articulation of “our stand.” When we have clearly defined our stand, “we can tap into the energy and drive to bring new things into existence.” This stand provides the cause to which we want to invite the participation of others, those whom we will lead from the jump seat. The stand forms the basis for the simple message that bridges the gap between the leader and each team member, as they respectively personalize and internalize it.
A clearly articulated stand, however, is just the beginning of Docker’s insights. He identifies a critical leadership issue that I have witnessed countless times over my years as a coach to CEOs, business owners, and other leaders. Most who occupy an important leadership position have arrived there as a result of mastery or expertise in their field. There is a natural tendency to bask in a bit of self-congratulation when this ascension occurs, and if they’re not careful, they buy into a sense of omniscience. They forget that mastery in one dimension doesn’t anoint us as the best and brightest in everything. They become blind to their need for the efforts and expertise of others. And even if they are wise enough to recognize that there are things they don’t know, they are supremely confident in what they do know. And that makes it very hard for them to let go of the things where they have expertise, those competencies that led to their leadership role.
As Docker states, “What tends to happen is we continue trying to lead as a subject matter expert, or we end up micromanaging and getting in other people’s way.” We fail to ask important questions, being preoccupied with knowing all the answers. We fail to listen, and we fail to trust in our people's abilities and training to figure things out on their own. And most critically, we forget that our most important job is to keep our enterprise focused on retaining a clear picture of where we are heading. The leader’s main job is to channel the best efforts of the team toward the goal, not to make those efforts himself or herself.
Docker suggests that this critical leadership challenge can be overcome if we, as leaders, adopt an attitude of humble confidence. The humility required comes from a personal sense that we cannot succeed without the best efforts of others, and that by facilitating their growth and development, they may even transcend our own mastery of the job at hand. This means that we must willingly work toward the development of their expertise, and see that endeavor as one of our most urgent and important functions. It also means that we are willing to be challenged, to gratefully entertain the best thinking, questions, and efforts of our people. And it means that as they show their readiness to take the controls, we get out of the way so that we can focus our attention on the bigger vision of the enterprise.
Docker’s message is based on three key principles:
- You must believe in the potential of others. It is about you, of course. You must set the vision, the purpose, the mission, and values–your stand. But you must recognize that you can’t achieve that vision without the best efforts of others. They will need training to reach the competencies you require, but you must recognize that this will require you to ultimately relinquish the captain’s seat–and move into the jump seat.
- You must create a culture of belonging. That culture begins with the clear articulation of your stand: your purpose, mission, and values. You need to recognize that your communication of this begins on day one for each team member–and never ends. You must be the chief evangelist for the stand, and you must actively invite the participation, personalization, and internalization of the stand with everyone. You must energetically invite them to belong, to become part of that cause. Docker asserts that belonging creates shared and individual responsibility and responsiveness, and that responsibility and responsiveness provide the critical foundation for effective delegation,
- At some point (whether we like it or not) we all must step back and let others lead.
If our enterprises are to survive our days in the captain’s seat, we must develop others to sit in that seat. Furthermore, the extreme challenges of leadership today are a virtual guarantee of burnout if we don’t develop and engage the best efforts of others. Docker shares the mantra of the RAF as they counseled their new squadron leaders: Delete, Delegate, or Die! Delete means that we must eliminate those time wasters that aren’t important or have no value, Delegate means get your team members in the captain’s seat as soon as they are ready. Hopefully, deletion and delegation will avert that slow and steady death of sinking under the extraordinary weight of doing everything yourself!
Docker leaves us with the question, What, as a leader, will you leave behind?I highly recommend this book to all leaders!
Amaze Every Customer Every Time by Shep Hyken
Review by Richard Tyson
One of the best books I’ve read recently is Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet, written by best-selling business author, Shep Hyken. This book has been around for a while, having been published in 2013. I have enjoyed several of Shep’s other books, but somehow I missed this one. I am very glad that I recently came across it!
The central premise of this book is that to successfully compete in today’s challenging business environment you must deliver an amazing customer experience. Shep zeroes in on five tactical areas of customer amazement: leadership, culture, one-on-one, competitive edge, and community. Within each of these areas, he shares a set of tools and principles that bring that amazement to life...52 in total.
Shep is a gifted storyteller, and he focuses on stories that operationalize customer amazement. Most of these follow the journey of Ace Hardware to being named as one of the Top Ten Customer Service Brands in America by Business Week magazine, and a perennial leader in customer satisfaction.
Ace Hardware is, indeed, an amazing enterprise. At the time of the book’s publication, there were more than 4,600 Ace Hardware stores in over 70 countries. With the exception of 85 of those stores, they are locally owned and operated. They enjoy a small-town ambiance, while being part of a multi-billion dollar buying group. They are unique in that they each serve the specific and distinctive needs of the customers in their locales, but they share a common vision, purpose, and values. This focuses on a single word: helpful. They have built a culture based on consistently being helpful, not only to customers, but also to one another. They define themselves as The Helpful Place, and their mission is to be the most helpful hardware stores on the planet.
How does Ace achieve this? To get the full picture, you must read the book, but in this review, I want to share just a few of the tools that I found inspiring:
- Act Like You Own the Place: Take so much pride in what you do that your customers think you are the owner.
Shep emphasizes that the owner of each Ace Hardware store “walks the walk.” Owners must be good role models, and they must inspire and empower their employees to act as they would in intersecting with customers and with one another.
- To Be the Best Place to Buy, Be the Best Place to Work: Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated–maybe even better!
Shep’s summary statement here is simple and to the point: “The only way you can possibly amaze your customers every time is by amazing your employees first.”
- Focus on the Customer, Not the Money: The function of your business is not to make money. It is to get and keep customers.
The key here is to strive to make the customer feel that you care more about him or her as an individual than just another sale.
- Ask the Extra Question: Questions are a powerful way to understand expectations, gain clarity, and avoid misunderstandings.
The people at Ace have a best practice that fits this principle. They practice the art of not just answering the customer’s question, but instead asking a question of their own. If a customer asks for something to solve his or her problem quickly, Ace employees are trained to ask, “How quickly?” or “What can you tell me about the problem and it’s urgency?” This helps them deliver a Moment of Magic for the customer, and avoids steering them in the wrong direction.
- Seize the Moment!: Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to show how good you are.
Any time a customer comes in contact with any aspect of your business, however remote, you have an opportunity to form a positive impression. Ask yourself: Is what I am doing right now going to make this customer want to come back the next time he or she needs what we sell?
- Do What is Not Expected: Be on the lookout for opportunities to do what you know the competition would not do.
The book is rich with examples of Ace employees going the extra mile to serve their customers in ways that most of their competitors would never even consider. These actions don’t always need to be heroic; they just need to be consistently better than average.
- The Law of Reciprocity: The more you give, the more you get.
Near the end of his book, Shep reminds us that when you help people get what they want...in return, somehow it comes back to you. He notes that Ace Hardware has put this principle into practice as they have sponsored Little League teams, supported local shelters for the homeless, or fired up their chainsaws to help clear local streets and driveways after a storm. Ace Hardware is not a charitable organization, but their owners recognize that their generally strong profitability allows them the wherewithal to give back to their communities when those opportunities arise. In return, those communities have reciprocated over the years.
These are just a few of the extraordinarily valuable insights in Amaze Every Customer Every Time. I recommend it as a mandatory read for any company that wants to deliver amazing customer service!
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols
Review by Richard Tyson
One of the most thought-provoking and disturbing books I have recently read is The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols. Tom asserts that as Americans, our republic is threatened by the “death of expertise.”
In defining America, Nichols states that it is crucial that our citizenry understand the distinction between a republic and a democracy. He notes that “laypeople too easily forget that the republican form of government under which they live was not designed for mass decisions about complicated issues.” He quotes author Malcolm Gladwell who gave further illumination to this point when, in 2010, he noted that “large organizations do not make decisions by polling everyone in them, no matter how ‘democratic’ it might seem.”
Nichols goes on to say, “Neither, of course, was (our republic) designed for rule by a tiny group of technocrats or experts. Rather, it was meant to be the vehicle by which an informed electorate--informed being the key word here--could choose other people to represent them and to make decisions on their behalf.”
It is this tension between the desire to participate as decision-makers (to have our views reflected in public policy) and the willingness to delegate the right to make those decisions to others that makes being informed so very important. Those who are not adequately informed regarding the issues of our day fail to meet the standard of expertise necessary to participate in legitimate debate on those issues, much less meriting the role of actually being decision makers who are worthy of elected office.
There are, of course, many who describe America as a democracy. Under the proper definition, this is true. A democracy entitles each citizen the right to vote: one person, one vote. This is an inalienable right of every American of voting age. However, democracy does not mean that every point of view is equal, correct, or honest. Nichols quotes C.S. Lewis, whose senior devil, Screwtape (in The Screwtape Letters), states “I’m as good as you is a useful means for the destruction of democratic societies.” When this occurs, expertise is discarded, and anarchy is not far behind. An extreme example of this was the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the years 1975-1979.
An effective democratic republic, then, must have the resource of experts that an informed electorate can trust, not only to know their stuff, but to exercise their expert influence in the interest of their citizens. Expertise is essential at several levels:
- For laypeople (you and I) to become adequately informed that we might intelligently engage in discussion, debate, and voting on important public policy issues.
- For technical, administrative, and policy experts who provide depth and breadth of understanding regarding the short and long-term implications of those issues.
- For elected officials, who represent and make decisions on behalf of the electorate.
So, how are we doing?
Nichols shares the humorous, but alarming, 2015 story of a polling group, Public Policy Polling, which asked both Republicans and Democrats whether they would support bombing the country of Agrabah. Nearly a third of Republican respondents said they would support such action, with 13% against it. Democrats were less aggressive; only 19% supported bombing, while 36% were against it. So, 43% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats weighed in, pro or con on bombing Agrabah. Interesting, huh? Especially since Agrabah does not exist. It’s the fictional country in the 1992 Disney film “Aladdin.”
While this is not an indictment of all laypeople regarding being informed, it is disturbing that so many had no clue regarding a fictional country, especially when the question dealt with the use of lethal force. Of course, in this case, the bombs turn out to be equally fictional. The real concern comes in regard to the woeful lack of informed expertise in our citizenry.
Regarding the second category of experts, Nichols appropriately raises the issue of “who can we trust?” He acknowledges that those who have spent years of study and experience in any given field may still be wrong. In fact, he asserts that much of their time, study, and financial investment in becoming experts includes learning by their mistakes. This fallibility often leads us to mistrust them, and to seek out our own answers. At some level, this is quite appropriate. Just because a so-called expert says something, that doesn’t mean it’s true. However, when our search for answers is limited to Google searches or Wikipedia research, we run the risk of being deceived by information that is only surface level (2 inches deep and 5000 miles wide). Further, we risk being fed a heavy dose of confirmation bias (being led to answers that reinforce our own positions) without being exposed to ideas that might contradict those positions.
Gratefully, we still have many who are deservedly called experts. The challenge, however, is not that we still have such folks, but rather how we take advantage of their expertise. In the current era of cynicism and “I’m as good as you,” we run the risk that we discard the messengers who could save us from devastating errors!
Finally, regarding those whom we elect, we need to recognize that in our saturation of social media, too often we elect based on the best hype, rather than the candidate’s depth of understanding of the issues and their expertise in fairly representing the electorate. Sadly, those for whom we vote often gain their offices based on sound bites and popularity reminiscent of high school elections. We desperately need those decision-makers to become experts in the issues they will face. It is incomprehensible, for instance, that they would ever vote for a bill they have not read, even if it is over a thousand pages long.
So...back to Tom Nichols' central premise: the death of expertise is a trend that we must reverse. How? My personal opinion is that it must start with a change in the mindset of the everyday American. We must go back to three important principles:
- We must define our shared values and shared purpose. I do not suggest that this will be easy. We are not, nor have we ever been, a nation of agree-ers. However, I believe that the U.S. Constitution provides the bedrock of values and purposes that most of us can agree to. Where others disagree with the principles therein, we should engage in civil debate. But we must recognize that without the common ground of constitutional values, our nation cannot stand.
- Re-enthrone the principle of lifelong learning, such that we become truly informed about the issues we face. As the Gallup organization has recently suggested, we should “lean into development,” each creating more depth of personal expertise and understanding.
- Commit to a higher level of engagement with one another. This entails going beyond interacting with those with whom we agree, actually seeking opportunities to understand the viewpoints of those with whom we differ.
The Death of Expertise goes much deeper into these issues than I can adequately express in this book review. Therefore, my concluding remark is that it is an essential read for anyone who recognizes that we must not let expertise die! It has intensified my view of how important it is for both leaders and laypeople to be informed, as well as my recognition of the ongoing critical role of expertise in America today.
Our Common Ground by Diane Hessan
Review by Richard Tyson
A Harvard Business School classmate of mine, Diane Hessan, has written a book I recommend that virtually every American adult should read. Our Common Ground provides insights and perspectives into both the problems we face in our nation today, as well as the opportunities that hopefully exist to change things for the better.
Diane’s central premise is that most of us share substantially more common ground than we might think, and certainly more than is portrayed in the media today. She supports that premise with strong data gleaned from a four year process of weekly interviews with 500 voters from every state, of every age and ethnicity, and along different points of the political spectrum. This careful and consistent approach to seeking out the attitudes, concerns, and positions of a broad group of people with diverse backgrounds and political persuasions brings empirical validity to her assertions.
Our Common Ground challenges us to change the way we talk to one another, to stop shouting at and berating each other. The book pulls no punches regarding the frustrations and anger that voters of every persuasion are feeling. But Diane’s interview process effectively models what she recommends to us all. Come to the table with a listening ear, and when your counterpart opens up with their concerns, listen some more. In that regard, she suggests that we adopt the phrase, tell me more.
We must acknowledge that there is no lack of bashing each other with our differing positions; it makes for the sensationalism that keeps us glued to our favored internet feeds and television talking heads. But this tends to further polarize us, to drive us deeper into our respective camps and calcify our opinions and harsh views of one another. Sadly, we’ve been led by our hardcore biases into name-calling, blaming and general nastiness.
In her chapter, “Yearning to Stop the Madness,” Diane identifies one common emotion we are experiencing is “distress about our divisiveness,” that we are “burned out: sick of the hate, the rage, and the feeling that they want to pick their friends based on whether they would wear a mask at the local supermarket...they long to turn down the temperature.”
So, how is this to be done? Complaining about the current situation may have a bit of cathartic value, but it ultimately accomplishes nothing. What I have gleaned from Our Common Ground are two essential points. First, we must prepare ourselves to understand one another, rather than convince one another. Second, we must come to our interchanges ready to really listen.
With regard to the first, Diane offers the following ways to prepare for better understanding:
- Strive to check your biases at the door. Diane suggests that we carry a mindset of skepticism into how we approach our daily news diet. Just because something is in print, on the air, or on the internet doesn’t make it true--and there are many who seek to deceive. Become familiar with fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact.
- Expand your media diet. If you are conservative in your political leanings, you probably watch Fox News. If liberal, CNN is probably one outlet where you gravitate. But nothing says you can’t devote some attention to the other side. If we are to come together to solve our problems, we must do more to understand what the “other side” thinks..
- If it’s funny, don’t just share it as the truth. Most of us enjoy a good laugh, and there is much to chuckle and scoff at in the politics of our day. But when it is taken as representing truth, we’ve gone too far.
- Support legislation to hold social media sites accountable for spreading lies.Unfortunately, stirring the pot sells! This is today’s version of “yellow journalism,” and adds emphasis to being skeptical with what we see and read. These sites should be held to account and pay a price for blatant prevarication.
- Rebuild our children’s ability to be skeptical of what they read, watch, and hear.Invite them to discuss what they see going on around them, encourage their curiosity, and challenge them to dig deeper than sound bites for the truth.
Regarding coming ready to really listen, Diane quotes Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University. Thomas advocates for setting ground rules before any tricky conversations. These include:
- Listen for understanding
- Assume good will
- Seek first to understand, and then to be understood
- If you are offended or uncomfortable, say so, and say why
- Share responsibility for making the discussion work
- Share airtime
- It’s okay to disagree, but don’t personalize
- Speak for yourself, not for others
- What’s said here, stays here
- Check your positioning authority at the virtual door more civility and working together to solve the problems we face.
- Turn your phones off
In conclusion, I should share that Diane and I do not share the same political leanings. She was a key player in the Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency in 2016, and I am a self-proclaimed diehard Ronald Reagan Republican. In reading Our Common Ground, I found things that I disagreed with. However, I also found a great deal of common ground with Diane. I'll conclude where I began this book review; I think every American should read it. Perhaps then we might start what Diane is hoping for, a movement toward more civility and working together to solve the problems we face.
Think Again by Adam Grant
Review by Richard Tyson
One of the most important books I have read in the past several months is Think Again by Adam Grant. Subtitled The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, it’s an incredibly insightful guide to learning to question your own opinions and open your mind--and the minds of others--to differing perspectives.
In today’s world of increasing polarization, Grant reminds us that “too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” We listen to, and align with, opinions that make us feel justified, rather than ideas that make us think hard. Instead of seeing other perspectives as opportunities to learn, we are threatened. We increasingly gravitate toward those who agree with our conclusions when we should be inviting the viewpoints of those who might challenge our thinking.
The consequence of this gravitation is, as Grant puts it, “...our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval--and too little like scientists searching for truth.”
We might be inclined to suppose that Think Again is a manual primarily for intellectuals, but clearly it is not. Indeed, Grant warns against the danger of “being smart.” He cautions that “Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse; being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The
brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.”
So, who is Adam Grant, that he should challenge us to open our minds to the thoughts and ideas of those who disagree with us? He is an organizational psychologist and top-rated professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Two of his other books are also on my list of best reads:Originals and Give and Take. He does what another of my favorite authors, Guy Kawasaki, has recommended: he “eats his own dog food.” He practices what he preaches. In this regard, he makes it a guiding principle to argue like he’s right, but listen like he’s wrong.
Listening like he’s wrong has led him to a shift in mindset that will undoubtedly be jarring to those of us who consider adopting it. He suggests that we should learn to open our ears and minds to different views, and even take joy in being proven wrong. This demands the willingness to do as the late Stephen R. Covey counseled, “seek to understand before being understood.” This still allows for arguing like we’re right, but it begins with listening like we’re wrong. And, if we’re wrong, Adam Grant invites us to see that as a gift, a gift of learning and increased personal and collective wisdom.
Think Again is a volume of not only important principles, but many insightful stories that illustrate how those who have practiced the mindshifts that Grant suggests have been blessed by greater positive outcomes in both their work and their lives. While certainly valuable for business leaders, it’s efficacy and appeal should extend to everyone who desires more wisdom and civility in today’s world.