The Genius Machine: The Eleven Steps That Turn Raw Ideas into Brilliance
New World Library (2009)
Sindell observes, “The terrible gap that lies between existing knowledge and the persistence of ignorance – and its concomitant poverty, illness, and suffering – drives me crazy…This book is about a third kind of thinking, one that is directed toward improving an existing idea, thinking through a complete issue, or creating something new.” wants each of his readers to become what a calls a “genius thinker” but that said, he fully realizes that a reader’s IQ (or whatever else may be the metric of choice) will not take off like a Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) after reading his book. With regard to the title, it may also cause some misunderstanding. It refers to the fact that his clients have used the term to describe Sindell’s mind when activated. Over time, he developed a system to create intellectual capital (ideas) and called it the “Endleofon (END-leo-fahn), an old English word for ‘eleven,’ and some of my clients call it the Genius Machine.” Why eleven? Because the Endleofon system is based on eleven core principles. He devotes a separate chapter to each.
According to Sindell, “genius thinkers” look at what everyone else does and see something different; they know who they are (and aren’t) and what they are driven to contribute; they know that nothing exists in a vacuum; they know that the only way to be certain something works is to discover the test that would prove the opposite; they also know they are “standing on the shoulders” of others; and they recognize that, when they have created something of value in any one area, it will probably be of value in many areas; when working with something new, genius thinkers step from time to time and ask: What are the underlying principles operating here? Or are we using new rules, and if so, can they be pulled together into a coherent group or body of law?; they complete their work by answering two questions: Can it stand on its own? Have I provided enough additional information so that what we have innovated can be replicated or continuously improved?; genius thinkers enter the frame of reference of the intended user and ask, “Have I done everything possible to ease the learning curve?”
Somehow, Sindell succeeds in explaining quite well how to do all this in only 129 pages and then concludes his book with the provision of an immensely valuable mechanism, “The Endleofon Questions.” All of these questions need to be answered so that innovations can be developed to their highest possible level; the answers will also facilitate acceptance of the innovations by the people who would benefit most from them.
Duck and (Re)Cover: The Embattled Business Owners Guide to Survival and Growth
Steven S. Little
John S. Wiley & Son (2009)
Little’s insights and suggestions can be of substantial assistance to anyone who has a number of business concerns. The title refers to a situation analogous to one in sports when, for example, baseball players on defense crouch while awaiting a batter’s response to the next pitch or when linemen on defense in football await the next snap of the ball: “It puts them in the best position to release a focused, explosive movement when the time is right.” Think of a company that is fully prepared to respond quickly and effectively to a threat (e.g. a competitor’s advertising campaign promoting a price discount) or to an opportunity (e.g. to enter a market the competition has vacated). In The Art of War, Sun Tzu suggests that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. Hence the importance of preparation. “You should put your organization in a similar position right now in order to focus your potential energy. And effective duck now will enable you to focus your potential energy.”
In which areas do organizations tend to be most vulnerable? Little identifies four: 1. Not focusing on root causes: “Don’t allow symptoms to distract you from treating the real trauma.” Symptoms can usually be grouped and usually reveal a pattern that indicates causality. They do not occur in isolation. They are not self-generating. 2. Not prioritizing areas that need your attention: “Whatever your bent, that area of expertise and comfort in your business is probably pretty well covered. Too often, it is the area you haven’t paid attention to that needs your attention now.” More often than not, prioritizing involves identifying a sequence of action steps. For example: turn off the water, repair the broken pipe, and then clean up the mess. 3. Not putting new and recent problems in proper perspective: “Whatever the crisis du jur is, be sure that you are able to frame it properly. Is it really the most important thing for you to address today, or is it simply the most unsettling issue you’ve dealt with recently?” Urgency, not familiarity or novelty, should determine area or problem on which to focus. 4. Not knowing how to apply tourniquets: “You should know that in business, as in first air, the decision to apply a tourniquet could cause you to lose that arm of your business forever…In which areas of your business do you have the experience and the expertise to apply tourniquets? As you look for ways in which to stop the bleeding, remember that crudely applied devices can produce unintended and deleterious consequences.”
Near the conclusion of his book, Little focuses on seven specific areas in which sustained growth companies look for innovations, evolutions, and revolutions that lead to growth, no matter the industry in which they compete nor economic environment to which they must adapt: a strong sense of purpose, outstanding market intelligence, effective growth planning, customer-driven processes, using appropriate technologies to achieve a decisive competitive advantage, attracting and retaining “the best and brightest” people, and seeing the future more clearly.
Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them
Harvard Business School Press (2008)
As Holly Weeks explains in her introductory chapter, “This book offers a system of strategies and tactics to help us navigate the treacherous minefields we may suddenly find ourselves in when we approach and try to get through – rather than avoid – prickly conversations. Strategies are the thinking part of these conversations. Balanced strategies replace the blanking out, gut reactions, and other horrors that slip in when conversations turn tough and ordinary thinking fails. Tactics are the handling part – what we do in the moment when our counterparts, or our own emotions, are giving us trouble.” I wish I had a dollar bill for each time I have heard an obviously frustrated person complain that what someone else heard was not the intended meaning of what was said. This is perhaps the most common communication failure and perhaps one of the most common causes of what Weeks characterizes as a “prickly” conversation. The material provided in this book may help some readers to communicate their intended meaning more effectively or correct any misunderstandings. “But its true purpose is to help you handle conversations of an altogether greater magnitude.” Weeks then goes on to say, “When people carry a combat mentality, as well as painful emotions, into a conversation with unseen problems, goodwill is not enough to prevent damage on both sides.” That’s why such conversations are — or can unexpectedly become — “prickly.” In that event, skills are needed “that will make you a better colleague, a better leader, and a better human being.” Moreover, these skills must be applicable to whatever the specific circumstances may be.
Throughout her narrative, Weeks cites dozens of real-world situations in which various individuals (whose names but not circumstances have been changed) interact with varying degrees of mutual understanding. Some demonstrate the effectiveness of the skills she recommends; others demonstrate the consequences when lacking such skills. There are important lessons to be learned from each situation. For example, in Chapter 5, “Acting Unilaterally,” she explains how to bring self-respect and respect for one’s counterpart unilaterally rather than assume that that there is already an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. In Chapter 8, “Out of Combat,” she explains how to formulate in advance a strategy for more than the given topic or issue in dispute (“for how a tough conversation for tough conversation will [or could] play out”) to avoid falling back into conversational warfare. On Page 106, she provides an “Emergency strategy for when we’re on the receiving end.” In Chapter 11, “Out of Emotion’s Grip,” she explains why finding a middle ground enables one to decide which way to move from the center rather than from emotional extremes. And in Chapter 11, “Out of the Breakdown Gap,” she explains how to stop a slide into “disaster-prone patterns” in the situation with a balanced strategy “that is flexible enough to allow for differences between intentions and perceptions on both sides,” one that assumes the possibility of being taken by surprise.
My references to “how” are deliberate. Weeks is clearly both an empiricist and a pragmatist. That is, she is a keen observer of what works…and of what does not. The strategies and tactics she recommends carry with them no guarantee of success. However, they offer the substantial benefit of helping her reader to avoid or correct “conversations that go wrong.” I highly recommend her book to those who have supervisory responsibilities in the workplace, who have frequent conversations with those for whom they are responsible. Moreover, much of the material can also be helpful to them and to others in their personal lives because the number of “prickly” conversations is probably greater. One final point. It occurred to me as I read this book that there is a substantial value-added benefit: The mindset that Holly Weeks recommends, if viewed as a key to preventive maintenance, could enable those who develop it to significantly reduce (if not eliminate) such conversations by consistently demonstrating self-respect and respect for others when interacting with them on the job, in the home, and elsewhere.
The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management (Second Edition)
This is a long overdue, substantially revised and updated Second Edition of Art Kleiner’s classic, first published in 1996. Again, Kleiner offers a sweeping and penetrating analysis of various “heroes, outlaws, and the forerunners of corporate change” who struggled (with mixed results) to transform mainstream organizations and even entire cultures throughout a process of multi-dimensional evolution whose can be traced back almost 2,000 years to the monasteries of the early Christian church and continues forward through the Reformation, the establishment of the great European ecclesiastical universities, royal chartering of mercantile stock companies and then state chartering of companies after thirteen colonies won their independence from England, the emergence of nascent entrepreneurs, and the domination of commercial corporations in major industries (e.g. steel, oil, and railroad) from the end of the 19th century until after World War Two.
Kleiner is among very few contemporary business thinkers who combine the highly developed skills of an historian, iconoclast, raconteur, humorist, explorer, thought leader, and cultural anthropologist. At no point does the pace of his extended narrative drag and his writing style reminds me of E.B. White in top form. He seems to perceive his role as that of a travel agent and tour guide, one who invites his reader to return with him to actual situations in which an individual or members of a group struggled to resolve what he characterizes as “Parzival’s Dilemma”: “If we are damned for our actions but don’t know our actions’ results, then how dare we act? And yet when our help is called for, how dare we refrain?”
Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking
According to Hurson, the premise of this book “is that success in our business, professional, and personal lives is less a matter of what we know than of how we think. If we can develop the thinking skills to generate more options and then evaluate those options more effectively, we can all live richer, fuller lives – and so can the people around us.” The focus of the this book is on the thinkx Productive Thinking Model (PTM), developed by Hurson and his colleagues after rigorously evaluating a number of other methodologies that include the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS) and Integrated Definition (IDEF). There seems to be greater emphasis on improving problem solving than on improving any other function of better thinking (e.g. generation, evaluation, and selection of innovative ideas), although the PTM process consists of six interlocking steps that can help to achieve a variety of objectives. Each step includes a variety of tools and techniques that Hurson explains, citing relevant real-world examples throughout his narrative to illustrate how various companies have used the PTM. Hurson devotes a separate chapter to each step.
In this final chapter, he also asserts that — as practiced in much of corporate America — training “is an astonishing waste of resources” when there is no follow-through on front-end training to embed and then strengthen even more the skills taught. In fact, the word “training” has lost its meaning because it is now more commonly used to refer to information transfer rather than skill development. “Hurson prefers the word “entraining.” Why? “In chemistry, to entrain means to trap suspended particles in a solution and carry them along. This concept is an apt metaphor for skill development…Entraining results in a new and different workflow. Keeping those new skill particles suspended in your workflow requires the forging of new synaptic connections, new neural pathways.” Hurson concludes with an especially apt quotation and I now use it when concluding this review:
“In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Yogi Berra
Why Kindle Won’t Win — Books are Symbols. So said my colleague Karl Krayer on this blog barely two months ago. Here is what he wrote to begin his post:
Let’s wait just a few moments before we christen Kindle as the force that did away with traditional books. Although this technology will continue to add available titles, and as sales for the product through Amazon.com will continue to rise, the chances that it will eliminate books with hard covers, paper, jackets, and traditional marking devices are simply not too high.
I wish he were correct. I too love the feel, the smell, the heft of a book. But alas, it simply has no chance to be the long-term winner in this contest. The days of the printed book, the bound book — printed on paper — are bound to disappear. The unrelenting march of technology will prove too strong.
Two signals from this morning’s news add fuel to this fire. I heard on NPR this morning that California now has 10 textbooks for high school which will only be available in digital format. (Students can print portions of them out on paper, but that will be from the pdf that the student downloads).
And now comes Scott Burns in this morning’s Dallas Morning News: Printed books nearing their final chapter. He described how two 80+ year olds visited recently, showing up without a single physical book, but with a well-stocked Kindle. Making the case that the technology will make it inevitable, he includes this paragraph:
Some readers will scoff at the notion that paper books and periodicals will be displaced by something electronic. But it will happen. It will seem like a long transition, and then it will suddenly be over. Printed books will become accessories for interior decoration, collectors’ items or wood pulp looking for a new use.
Burns predicts, based on how long it took the digital camera to replace film, that it will take between 2 and 18 years for the transition to be complete. The Kindle itself may not be the winner. But digital books are coming, and physical books are disappearing. I, of course, am waiting for the Apple iReader to come out (no, I have no insider information – but there are rumors out there on the internet).
And, for those who find benefit from the First Friday Book Synopsis, I have good news. Just because a person will download a digital copy of a book into a Kindle does not necessarily mean that he or she will read the entire book. Just as shelves sit with unread books, so the Kindle will hold unread books. So Karl and I will still have our work to do, presenting synopses of important and best-selling books, Kindle or otherwise. I just haven’t figured out how we will give away the copy of the book at the end as easily.