First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Here’s a Creative Use of “Silence – Together” – A Great Focusing Tool for Your Teams

People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
Paul Simon


Let’s talk about the value of silence. Intentional silence. You, alone with your thoughts.

But, now, let’s consider the value of silence – you alone with your thoughts, – but in a room with other people also alone with their thoughts.

Now, in that silence, let’s consider “guiding” those thoughts in the silence.

First, you focus – in silence.  Then, you begin speaking…

This is a new trend. At least, a small trend. It’s a practice at the top levels at Amazon. And, it’s a new idea, an idea that has already proven to be an improvement on the “old way” – for brainstorming sessions

I’m a big fan of this trend. Big fan! I think it is brilliant. And, I’ve tried it out, and it makes for better conversation between the people in the room. Further down, I’ll describe what I am doing with this idea.

Keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silenceHere’s the Amazon idea. I wrote about it in this blog post: Start your Meetings with Silent Reading of Shared Documents; Paper Documents! – A Brilliant Practice from Jeff Bezos. What they do at Amazon is that for each meeting of his “S Team,” the top team, a different person writes a six page narrative, to be read in silence by the members of the group, together. They do not get the document before the meeting. It is handed out, and the people read it, mark it up, come up with their own questions and reflections, and then, after about 30 minutes of silent reading and reflection, they begin their discussion.

Now the new findings for brainstorming. I read about it in this article: Turns Out The Way Your Team Is Brainstorming Is Probably All Wrong by Vivian Giang. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

All of the participants sat together in a room separated by dividers to refrain them from making visible contact with one another.
Researchers further tested the impact cognitive fixation has on others’ ideas by altering the number of ideas that different group participants were exposed to. They found that the more notifications a participant saw, the less creative, diverse ideas they offered.
In the first five minutes of the session, individual participants generated 44% more ideas than the group participants, but this number decreased with time, which concludes that a group session after an individual session might be the optimal brainstorming technique.

So, for better brainstorming, have individuals write their ideas (obviously, prompted by a common question) in silence, and after some silence, begin the verbal discussion.

Here’s what I think. In this SmartPhone, always checking e-mail, minds going a thousand ways at once world, we need to help a group “focus on the same thing” in a meeting or a group discussion of any kind. One way to do this is to focus on the same thing in silence. Whether it is a document for each to read, or a question to respond to individually on paper, it focuses the members of the group on the same thing. The silence is a great focuser! Then, that silent-facilitated shared focus enables much deeper and more productive discussions.

{An aside: one business consultant purchases our book synopsis from our 15minutebusinessbooks site. He plays our audio presentations to a group (usually, an executive team), and provides physical copies of our handouts for each participant to follow along. This takes about 17 minutes. Then, they discuss the ideas from the book. So, the room is not silent, but the participants are silent, listening together. Then, he launches into the “business” session of their discussion. He finds that the book presentation informs the conversation that follows, and has found this approach to be very effective}.

to-be-silent-is-not-to-lose-your-tongueHere’s what I have been doing. I’ve now done this a few times, and am pretty hooked. Here’s the description of a recent session in which I led a group through my synopsis of Words that Work by Frank Luntz. To start the session, I handed out physical copies of this blog post: Communicate: Just Communicate – 8 Communication Musts for the Modern Organization. I gave them 5 minutes to read it in silence, and then, after their silent reading, asked them to turn to the person next to them and discuss which of the 8 “Communication Musts” their group did well, and which they needed to work on. After a couple of minutes of discussion, I then presented my synopsis of the book. It was a great focusing tool.

I think you should explore the creative use of “silence – together” on your team. You might find it to be very much worth the effort.  That’s certainly what I’ve found.

Thursday, July 31, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things — Two Keys: Discoverability & Understanding

Do you have your own “one of these days” book stacks? I do. Actually, I have a few such stacks. They include escapist books, some fiction (should include more), and books “I should have read by now.”

Design of Everyday ThingsWell, I’m dipping into one of those books. I’ve read about this book in a lot of places. It is kind of legendary. It is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. I’m definitely finding it a fun read. But, also, a book I agree with.

Here’s the point – things should be designed for ease of use. He refers to two traits:

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are: discoverability and understanding.
Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them?
Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

And, here’s a descriptive passage:

I don’t think that simple home appliances – stoves, washing machines, audio and television sets – should look like Hollywood’s idea of a spaceship control room.

I think of my remote control. Take a good look at it…

Can you figure out what each of these buttons are for?

Can you figure out what each of these buttons are for?



And, here is a line from Norman’s book that is absolutely true about my own practice:

Faced with a bewildering array of controls and displays we simply memorize one or two fixed settings to approximate what is desired.

Now, what do we do with this insight? If you are in the “thing” producing business, especially an “everyday thing,” this is probably a book to read. As he states, “all artificial things are designed.” Think hard about the “things” you design. Make the design easy to understand, easy to use, and don’t forget the idea of convenience.

Is your web site easy to navigate? Can a person tell where to hit the next “click” or tap without much searching?

Just do a “design inventory.” Look at everything you communicate, offer, make. (Yes, good communication is effectively designed). Are you practicing good design?

Pay attention to design. That’s the real issue. And the design has to be accessible, understandable — for the average person to figure out and use easily.

There are plenty other books in my “one of these days” stacks. I wonder what I will be thinking about in my next discovery.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

What is the Value in Ehrman’s Books? They Inspire Questions, Not Answers

Over the years, I have read several of Bart Ehrman‘s books.  If you are not familiar with him, Ehrman is a New Testament scholar, and now holds the chair as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies atBart Ehrman Picture the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He has written 25 books, three of which are collegiate texts, and five of which became New York Times best-sellers.  There are three topics he focuses upon in his writing:  the Historical Jesus, the development of early Christianity, and textual authenticity of the Bible.

Ehrman is agnostic.  He didn’t start that way.  He went through seminary, but could not reconcile the contradictions and inconsistencies in translations of the Bible.  However, that is not why he left the faith.  He is an agnostic because he could not handle suffering.  He could not answer how a loving God could allow evil and suffering.  That became the subject of God’s Problem:  How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (New York:  Harper One, 2009).  It is quite a book!

How Jesus Became God CoverHis newest is entitled How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee  (New York:  Harper One, 2014).  From his own web site, Ehrman describes this book:

Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death—alive again—did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today.

As a historian—not a believer—Ehrman answers the questions: How did this transformation of Jesus occur? How did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God? The dramatic shifts throughout history reveal not only why Jesus’s followers began to claim he was God, but also how they came to understand this claim in so many different ways.

Ehrman’s career as a writer is distinguished.  You may be interested in this one if you believe that we got the Bible from divinely sent bolts of lightning carving words on rock or paper – Forged: Writing in the Name of Forged CoverGod–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York:  Harper One, 2011).

Others include Jesus, Interrupted:  Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), and Misquoting Jesus.  All of his books are still in print and readily available.

I am not an agnostic.  I am a believer.  So, why am I reading these books?  Because I believe that  you strengthen your faith by questioning it.  Why do I want to read books that just reinforce what I already think?  I grow, as you do, by reading books and exposing myself to presentations and information that differ from what I already believe or know.  That is true of a lot of things in life.  I read the conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination because they are different from what we know from the Warren Report, Case Closed, and other books.  I read Marcus Buckingham’s views on “leaders are born” because that is different from experts who tell us that “leaders are made.”  And, Ehrman’s books are different.  These are not what most Sunday School leaflets and lessons contain.  In fact, do you know that I have NEVER heard a sermon or sat through a lesson on how we got the Bible?  It is the greatest secret that churches keep from their congregations.  Even reflecting on his ministerial days, Randy Mayeux said he would never have touched it in a class or service. and he did not do so for his twenty-plus years of preaching.

I think our fuel is questions, not answers.  For everyone who has it all figured out, I am very happy for you.  But, by exposing yourself to contradictory information, you grow.  I like to leave events with more questions than when I entered.  That’s what inspired one of my keynote presentations:  “When the Best Answer is the Next Question.”

It doesn’t matter what you think about these topics.  And, you can enter them open-minded or closed-minded.  But, why not read them.  And these books will get you thinking.  Ask questions.  Leave with more questions.  Learn.  Grow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blair’s Book is the Best to Chronicle America’s Team’s Early Years

Since the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team,” you can understand why they have been the subject of so many books.  I have read a lot of them.

The most recent, and likely, best-selling edition is called The Dallas Cowboys:  The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America by Joe Nick Patoski (New York:  Little Brown, 2012).  At 805 pages, it does the job.

But, I don’t think it’s the best.  If you really want the history, go back to a book that concentrates on the first nine years of the team’s existence (1960-1969).  And, that book is entitled Dallas Cowboys Pro or Con:  A Complete History by Sam Blair (New York:  Doubleday, 1970).  The book is long out of print, but it is available through third-party sellers.

Before his retirement, Blair was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.  I met him through thCowboys ProCon Covere late Merle Harmon, who broadcast games for area sports teams for many years.  Blair was the paper’s first Dallas Cowboys writer, and he worked for the Dallas Morning News for 41 years (1954-1995).

Sam Blair PictureBlair was a writer in a different era.  In his career, there was not muckraking, blowing up heresay into facts, instant messaging, social media availability, or anything like today’s journalistic activity.  Writers went to press conferences, chatted informally with players and coaches, kept off-the-record tidbits exactly that way, and did not blow up rumors into stories.  It is true that they were laid-back, let the stories come to them, and were definitely not Watergate-style investigative reporters.

Perhaps even more so than Blair was Red Smith, who was an editorialist for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune from the 1930’s through the 1980’s.  I read a great collection of his columns in a book by Daniel Okrent entitled American Pastimes:  The Very Best of Red Smith (New York:  Library of America, 2013).  Writers like Blair and Smith were just so different than you see today.

But, back to the Cowboys book by Blair.  I guess that I select it for history because it is concentrated on the early years.  It does not have to spread itself thin over 50 years.  The context of Dallas, Texas, and especially the rivalry for ticket sales with Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans is so vivid in the book.  Because it only covers the first nine years, you find all aspects of the team covered in a well-developed manner.

There were other books published about the team at that time that were also good.  I remember reading the late Steve Perkins’ Next Year’s Champions  (New York:  World Publishing, 1969) .  But, that book focused on a single season when the Cowboys did not advance as far as they had previously into the NFL Championship game.  I remember it had a drawing of Don Meredith on the cover, wrapped around by Green Bay Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, as he through an interception into the end zone in the fourth quarter of the 1966 NFL Championship game.  And, I remember how much I was stricken by the racism and bigotry in our area, even for star Cowboys players in the 1960’s, as told in Cotton Bowl Days by John Eisenberg, which was later retitled, and is now unavailable even through third party sellers.

I just think if you want to study the team’s history, why not read it historically?  And, Blair’s book is the one that allows you to do that.  You have to search for it, but you can find it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Executive Checklist: A book review by Bob Morris

Executive ChercklistThe Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change
James M. Kerr
Pagrave/Macmillan (2014)

How to replace vague ideas about your career with strategies that will help you achieve your objectives at work and everywhere else

Up front, I wish to acknowledge my gratitude to Atul Gwande for the excellent material he provides in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. It is impossible to know how many lives this distinguished surgeon has saved because of his eloquent advocacy of checklists in the healthcare field. He is also a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the business world, eliminating waste (of both hours and dollars) is among the most important strategic objectives and I think the material James Kerr provides in his book will help countless executives to formulate objectives, set direction, and manage initiatives that help organizations to be more productive and more efficient, hence less wasteful.

He calls his book a “guide” and it does indeed provide an abundance of sound, enlightened guidance but it can also be viewed as the articulation of a regimen that can help executives (i.e. those who execute) to lead and manage change initiatives effectively, to be sure, but also to lead and manage other initiatives such as setting priorities, formulating and implementing strategies, allocating resources, recruiting/interviewing/hiring the talent and experience needed, strengthening client relationships, and establishing and then sustaining a workplace culture within which innovation is most likely to thrive. Kerr identifies ten specific objectives on “The Executive Checklist” (Page 3) and then devotes a separate chapter to each within his lively as well as thorough narrative. This Checklist is best viewed as “a framework to be used to institute overarching, enterprise-wide transformation.” Thoughtfully, Kerr provides a checklist of items for each objective on that Checklist. He carefully identifies the “what” of each and then devotes most of his attention to explaining the “why” and demonstrating the “how” of doing it effectively.

In the Postscript, James Kerr shares his “Bold Vision for Tomorrow’s Organizations” and it is indeed bold. However, in my opinion, what it calls for is do-able by almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. There are no Big Hairy Audacious Goals among his affirmations and invocations. His approach reminds me of the one that Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and his leadership team took, in 2004, when they began to transform LEGO – “brick by brick” – into one of the world’s most innovative as well as most profitable and fastest growing toy companies, in ways and to an extent once thought impossible. It seems to me that, leaders of other organizations that need to be transformed would be well-advised to consider a strategy of achieving that “checklist by checklist.” Just a thought….

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out two others: Dean R. Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success, and, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Onward by Schultz Takes the Prize as Most Enjoyable Book

I am frequently asked what has been the best book, the most influential book, and the most enjoyable book that I have read for the First Friday Book Synopsis over the 17 years we have been conducting the program.  I  entertained that question as recently as last night, as I distributed fliers for our August 1 program in Dallas.

The best book was Good to Great by Jim Collins.(New York:  Harper Business, 2001).   The most influential book was Winning the Global Game  by Jeffrey Rosensweig (New York:  Free Press, 1998). But, those explanations are for other posts.

In today’s post, I will cover the most enjoyable book.

That winner is Onward by Howard Schultz, the President and CEO of Starbucks (New York;  Rodale, 2010).  Onward Book Cover

Novel-like in its presentation, this book took you inside the operations of the company as well as inside the brain of its author.  The book makes you feel as if you were celebrating with the author in good times, and struggling with him to feel the anger and pain in hard times.

In every event covered in the book, you not only read the facts, but also, the attitude and feelings that accompany them.  Most striking was the story of a leaked e-Mail that found its way to the Internet, jeopardizing the future of the company.  Another was the anger that Schultz expressed when he wanted his shops to smell like coffee, not burnt cheese, causing him to ask if they were going to start serving hash browns.

The story of VIA was captivating, as were the issues of expanding the business internationally.

Starbucks has been the subject of many books, articles, and posts over the years.  The company’s success speaks for itself.  But you will find nothing that takes you inside nearly as much as this book.

Howard Schultz PictureI sometimes wish that Schultz would keep his mouth shut.  When he speaks out about politics, education, and other social issues, I visualize boycotts, picket lines, and lost customers.  But, he can’t do it.  He is outspoken and opinionated.  And, he has enough money to cut his losses.  There is no question that this book would not have been my choice for the most entertaining work had Schultz been modest and laid-back.  That is simply not him.

It is dated now.  Starbucks has moved on.  Schultz and the company have solved many of the problems you read in this book, and they have been replaced by new challenges.

However, history is history.  And this one is fun.  Perhaps that is because I am a customer and have experienced in the stores much of what I read here.  But, what makes it fun is going inside the boardroom, operations, and brain of its author.

For a period of time, this book was # 1 on the best-seller lists, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

You can read a review of this book written by Bob Morris on our blog by clicking here.

I will explain why I selected the best book and most influential book in future posts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Multitasking” is an “Urban Legend” – You Really Can Have only One Focus at a Time

Willful BlindnessOne frustrated psychologist has argued that the case for multitasking is on a par with “urban legend”; that is, it’s a story we like the sound of but that is really nonsense.
From Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvoius at our Peril


So, here’s the problem. We think we can do two things at once.

We can’t

I have written through that years that when we read something in one place, it is worth paying some attention to. But when we read it time and again, maybe there really is something to it. Maybe we are being shouted at: PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!

Well, it is now being written about seemingly everywhere — so, pay attention to this! You cannot do two things at once.

As Margaret Heffernan builds her case about how we simply do not see some pretty important stuff that we should see, one problem she describes is that we only see what we are focused on. “We just do not have enough mental capacity to do all the things that we think we can do.” No, we don’t.

Count the passes, w: gorillaIn this chapter of her book, she writes a lot about the famous “Can you Count the Passes?” video. You know, the one where you are intent on counting the passes of a basketball, and you miss the person in a gorilla suit walking through the scene. You are focused on one thing; you miss the other thing, even though it is quite prominent. (Watch the video here).

Why? Because we do not see much of anything when our focus is on something else. This is true for TSA agents at the airport; this is true for drivers texting on their cell phones (You either focus on your phone, or on the road. You can’t focus on both!).

And, it has interesting business implications. If you focus on doing your current task well – and you should – then you can’t focus on what task to do next. You either focus on what to do now, or you focus on what to do next.

One focus at a time.

That’s all you can do. You really can have only one focus at a time

So, what are you focusing on?

(And, by the way, here is Ms. Heffernan’s point – if you focus on one aspect of anything, you miss the other aspects. That leads to blindness – blindness that leads to big, big problems).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Brinkley’s Omission is Sad

I consider Douglas Brinkley one of the top biographers of our time.  He has rapidly risen up the list.  Most recently, I thought his work, Cronkite, was really outstanding.  Douglas Brinkley photo

I have to admit to you that I was disappointed in the announcement that he chose not to include the Watergate tapes in his newest work on Nixon, entitled The Nixon Tapes:  1971-1972, co-authored with Luke A. Nichter (New York:  Houghton-Mifflin, 2014).

It is true that the tape content is readily available elsewhere.  What is not readily available is Brinkley’s take, analysis, and commentary on those tapes.

Anyone can listen to the tapes.  Anyone can also give his or her interpretation.  But “anyone” is not Brinkley. And, I am buying this to see what he says about the tapes as much as any other reason.

Nixon Tapes Book CoverThis will be a best-seller.  Brinkley’s books always are.

But, how much we may be missing when we don’t have this analysis?

My personal preference would have been to make two volumes.



If  you would like to read a recent review of this book published in the Wall Street Journal by John Lewis Gaddis on July 25, 2014, click here:


Monday, July 28, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We/You Should Probably Be Subtracting Something, and Adding Something, Right Now – and Often

There are many, many such features that you always have to make tough choices about. We’ve actually cut features that I love. This is one of the toughest but most important parts of designing products–deciding what to trim as you move forward.
Why Google Killed Your Favorite Feature: Jon Wiley, Head Of Google Search, Explains Why Google Sometimes Kills Your Favorite Features


What have you cut; trimmed; abandoned?

There are times when you abandoned things you should have kept. Other times, it was the right decision to abandon something that took your time and energy.

Maybe we all should consider going on a serious abandoning mission.

The quote above from Google’s Jon Wiley talks about a serious and important corporate habit – the habit of abandoning one thing to move on to the next, better, more-needed, new, new thing.

Since reading this article, I’ve thought about this. I think about web sites I have abandoned; and magazines; and tv shows. Even “connections” — people that I used to see, but no longer connect with.

Sometimes, I should not have stopped. I feel a definite void.

Other times, it did free me up to read new web sites, new authors, new magazines… and make new connections.

What especially struck me in this article is that Google has to abandon features that still have many users; loyal users. Users who get angry at Google for abandoning “their feature…”

But, people and companies can only do so much. And at times, you have to abandon this to get time to do that.

So, take a look; take an inventory. What are you now doing that you need to abandon, so that you can add that next new activity, reading choice, task…

What should you subtract?
What should you add?

It’s a perpetual challenge, isn’t it?

Monday, July 28, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Forbes’ Book on Money Takes Aim – But Will Anyone Listen?

If there is anyone to write credibly about money, it is Steve Forbes.  He has had plenty.  As you remember, he twice entered, then exited early from presidential party nomination campaigns, bankrolling his efforts with his family fortune.Steve Forbes picture

In his newest book, co-authored with Elizabeth Ames, Forbes argues for a reliable gold standard in order to bring stability to the unreliable and uncertain value of the U.S. dollar.  There is no more important currency in the world.  The responsibility for the problem and the solution is squarely on the back of the Federal Reserve Board.

The book is entitled Money:  How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – And What We Can Do About It (New York:  McGraw-Hill, 2014).Money Book Cover

Elizabeth Ames pictureYou know about Forbes.  But, who is Elizabeth Ames?  Elizabeth Ames is a communications executive, speaker and author. She has written two previous books with Steve Forbes, How Capitalism Will Save Us and Freedom Manifesto.  She is not a huge fan of President Obama’s policies.  Click here for an article she published in The Daily Caller.

The question becomes whether this book will propel Forbes again into the American spotlight.  Will he, for example, be a guest on Sunday morning television news talk shows to discuss this book?  Will elected officials introduce and debate these principles in blogs and sound bytes?  Will congressional committees make any recommendations such as we see here?  Will anyone in the Federal Reserve Board have any response?  If not, this book will have no influence.  It is just another hard cover book that will be on the bargain table at $7.99 next year.  Only time will tell.

If you would like to read the review of this book, published in the Wall Street Journal on July 24, 2014, by George Melloan, a WSJ deputy editor and author of The Great Money Binge:  Spending our Way to Socialism, click here.

Monday, July 28, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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