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Book Reviews

Providing Lifelong Learners with The Best Book Recommendations


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:
  1. Innovate: this is the pipeline from ideation through innovation.
  2. 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:

  1. Courage to choose a direction, a purpose or vision–and a willingness to transcend the routine, to do hard things—and
  2. 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 what

Josh 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":

  1. The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.

  2. The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.

  3. The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people's interests first.

  4. The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.

  5. 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:

  1. 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:

    1. 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.”

    2. 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.”

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

  2. 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:

    1. Balance the courage to hold people accountable for their actions with compassion for their honest efforts, especially when they fall short of desired outcomes.

    2. 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.

    3. Use teammates to monitor actions, suggesting corrections as necessary.

    4. Learn (Everywhere, all the time).Crew members are expected to be continuously learning by doing–maintenance, evolutions, drills, and studying.

    5. Certify readiness to perform key operations. The person in charge asks critical questions whereby certification of readiness can be given–or must be withheld.

    6. Continuously and consistently repeat the message. Make it a daily (or even more frequent) process of repetition regarding the key elements of competent performance.

    7. 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:

  1. Build trust and take care of your team. Trust is built by extending your interest and empathy for your people beyond their work lives.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Use immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviors. When your people perform well, don’t wait–acknowledge and reward as soon as possible!

  5. Maintain along-view, even as you pursue short-term  objectives. Everyone is regularly reminded to keep the end in mind.

  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. They are finishers. They stick with things until the entire job is done, even when the going gets tough.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
    situations easier.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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,
  3. 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!

Edited in Prisma app

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!

Rich Tyson

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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..
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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