First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Jason Fried on “Why work doesn’t happen at work”

Fried, JasonRichard Saul Wurman created the TED conference in 1984 as a onetime event. (As you may already know, TED refers to Technology, Education, and Design.) It became a four-day conference six years later. Chris Anderson purchased TED in 2001. Until 2005, it remained a once-a-year conference: four days of programs, 50 speakers, 18-minute presentations. Anderson added TEDGlobal to reach an international audience. was launched in 2006. Thus far, the website has attracted more than one [begin] billion [end] views, averaging about two million day. The video programs have been translated into more than 100 languages.

According to Anderson, “With TED, the end of the talk should not be the end of the idea, but just the beginning.” TED showcases speakers who are knowledgeable, of course, but also “human, relatable, and often emotional, so what they share lights people up.”

There are no charges to access any of the TED programs. After attending the 2006 conference, documentary filmmaker Daphne Zuniga described it as “Cirque Du Soleil for the mind.” Oprah Winfrey later observed, “TED is where brilliant people go to hear other brilliant people.”

I will continue to recommend the TED programs that are among the most highly-rated. For example, Jason Fried. He has a radical theory of working: that the office isn’t a good place to do it. In his talk, he lays out the main problems (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make work work. (Filmed at TEDxMidWest.)

Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity tools that, in their words, “do less than the competition — intentionally.” 37signals’ simple but powerful collaboration tools include Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, Ta-da List, and Writeboard. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework.

Fried is the co-author, with David Heinemeier Hansson, of the book Rework, about new ways to conceptualize working and creating. Salon’s Scott Rosenberg called it “a minimalist manifesto that’s profoundly practical. In a world where we all keep getting asked to do more with less, the authors show us how to do less and create more.”

Here is a direct link to that TED presentation. I envy anyone who has not as yet seen it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Get to the Point – Be Brief (insight from Joseph McCormack’s book, brief)

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Write short, crisp sentences.
Judge Mark P. Painter, Legal Writing 201:  30 Suggestions to Improve Readability or How to Write for Judges, not Like Judges


BriefThe opening lines from brief: make a bigger impact by saying less, by Joseph McCormack:

Long story, short. Executives are busy, and your rambling presentation gets loss in their daily flood of information.
Get to the Point or Pay the Price
You cannot afford to miss the boat on brevity. It’s the difference between success and failure. And if you think you’ve already got it covered, you’re wrong…
You get the point. Today’s world is on information overload, and there isn’t enough time to sift through all the messages. If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them.

Mr. McCormack is right, of course.

You’ve got to reduce your message to the bare minimum, and say it quickly. Clearly. With great clarity. So that your audience can get it quickly.

Which means you have to be very sure about what it is you have to say. You have to have clear thinking, with great clarity, in your own mind — really clear – before you can express your thoughts clearly in brief form to others.

{“What am I trying to say? Surprisingly often, the writer does not know.” — Zinsser}

When I write speeches for others (I do some speech writing), I write the speech for the number of minutes they are to speak. But, before I give them the manuscript of the speech for the first run through, I give them the speech in three short sentences. “This is the speech,” I tell them. Three short sentences. No more.

If you can’t do that — actually, if you can’t reduce the speech to one clear thesis sentence, a pretty short thesis sentence – you are not ready to speak.

Short; clear; right to the point!

At the end of brief comes this warning:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad, long-winded habits.


Now, brief provides a 200+ page step-by-step approach to becoming brief. But before you read it, you have to decide that his premise is right.

It is!

Learn to be brief.

Stay brief.

Don’t succumb to the risk of reverting to being not brief.

People have too much other stuff to watch/read/listen to. Your message is competing with a lot of other messages. Get your message out, quickly. Make it brief, keep it brief. Your only hope is to keep it brief. brief, the book, can help.

(See also this earlier blog post:  Get to the Point! – Insight/Reminder from Joe McCormack, for all Speakers and Writers).


Footnote:  that quote from near the end of the book; let’s take out one word, and reframe it slightly:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad habits. 

The warning is pretty much universal.  We constantly revert to bad habits, in a lot of ways.  Be vigilant.  Yes, we have long-winded habits to guard against, and many others also…


Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Five Great Directors Tasked with Winning the Hearts of the People – from the Book Five Came back

Five Came BackI’m immersed in the wonderful book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris. It is about the wartime effort of five great film directors: John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.

So many good things to say about what I am learning/experiencing as I read this book. Here are a few observations:

Observation number one:
Washington understood that they would need to win the hearts and minds of the American people if they had any hope of winning the war. And, to win the American people, they needed the best story tellers in the country to help tell the stories that needed to be told. These five accepted the challenge – in fact, they energetically sought the challenge.

From the book:

“Filmmakers could not win the war, but Capra, Ford, Huston, Stevens, and Wyler had already shown they could win the people.”

Observation number two:
These five men were deeply impacted, for the rest of their lives, by what they saw and experienced – as were all others who fought in the war. From the book:

They returned to Hollywood changed forever as men and as filmmakers….
(near the end of their lives) Privately, they would still count among their most meaningful accomplishments a body of work that most of their admirers had long forgotten or never seen at all. As long as they lived, the war lived in them.

Observation number three:
The war turned them into realists. Idealistic hopes of peace are great, but there are times when reality has to be faced.

One passage in the book captures this really clearly. George Stevens had wanted to make “anti-war films.” The delegation from the studio said to him, as he argued for his anti-war picture, “What about Hitler?” Later, Stevens ended up capturing Dachau on film, and said:

“It was another eight years before I understood that. I got all the way to Dachau before I could say that we should’ve fought Hitler three years before the development…that brought us into it.”

Observation number four:
Maybe this is the big one. Anyone who has something to communicate has to ask: “so, what do I have to say?” The war experiences of these directors shaped their future so completely… George Stevens, who had excelled at directing comedy (especially with Katherine Hepburn) never could direct comedy again after the war.

“After the war, she (Hepburn) urged him to return to directing comedy; he never did.”

Here is part of what shaped their thinking — (at least, Stevens’ thinking) – from the book:

By the time “Women of the Year” was in theaters, Stevens was already thinking about turning his cameras on the war. That winter, he had sat alone in a Los Angeles screening room and watched, with horror and enthrallment, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary tribute to Aryan invincibility, “Triumph of the Will.” After that, he knew he could not make another movie that could possibly be used to divert anyone’s attention from the war…

Watching the movie, he said years later, he realized that “all film, including his own, is propaganda.”

The war experience helped them realize that their movies were instruments of communication, important communication – and what they communicated had to matter!

Well-written history always has much to say about our current issues and struggles. This book is a slice of very well-written history. I am really enjoying this book — and learning much as I read it.


(I wrote this earlier post after hearing the author on an NPR interview.  You might want to read it also:  The Great Director John Ford Reminds Us To Think of Your Audience – (Ford’s “Torpedo Squadron 8″).  That NPR interview is what led me to read the book, and recommend it to my audiences in local retirement communities.

I am presenting a review of this for the residents of a local retirement community – people for whom the Second World War is a time they experienced, and think back on more often in their “later” years. This is a story that matters to them in a special way.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

No Matter How Accomplished You Are As a Speaker (or, in any Arena)… You Could Use Some Good Coaching

Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande

I’ve been a surgeon for eight years. For the past couple of them, my performance in the operating room has reached a plateau. I’d like to think it’s a good thing—I’ve arrived at my professional peak. But mainly it seems as if I’ve just stopped getting better.

This is how Atul Gawande started his terrific article, PERSONAL BEST:  Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?

He goes on to explain how he hired a coach – a surgeon who watched him perform surgery, and gave him suggestions and gentle correctives. The point: no matter how accomplished you are, you can’t watch yourself carefully enough to catch what needs to be improved, and what needs to be changed. At least, not all of it.

Some of what he learned from his coach he had never thought of before. He truly “learned something” from his coach. (Read the article to learn about the specific lessons he learned from his coach).

But, some (most?) of what we all need to correct or change, we already “know” we need to change – we just have not gotten around to it. But, truthfully, we don’t want to go to the trouble of changing. (My theory – no one really likes to change – even the people who claim they like to change).

So, recently… I got a specific piece of feedback about my speaking. I needed to change something about my delivery. I sort of “knew” I needed to do this. But, I just kind of ignored it – over and over again.

But, I’m now working on it. Because, someone was gently “in my face” about the need. It was a negative, possibly hurting my effectiveness. It was time to tackle it. And it took a little coaching to get me to confront it.

I’m glad I got this feedback. Though I did not “like” it, I did appreciate it. So, I’m working on this – and, it’s going to require some real vigilance.

I wonder what else I am doing wrong? I don’t know. I’m too close to it. I need another pair of eyes to let me know. I need some occasional coaching.

My guess is, so do you. You really can’t see all that you are doing that could be a negative, hurting your effectiveness.

If the man who was chosen to lead the WHO Surgical Task Force (Dr. Gawande) needs a coach; if the best athletes in the world need a coach; then maybe you need some coaching yourself… I know it helped me.

Maybe Atul Gawande needs to add “use a coach” to his surgical checklist.  And maybe I need to add “use a coach” to my speaking checklist…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Marton’s Great Escape is Worth the Trouble to Find a Copy

The Great Escape:  Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2006).  

Kati MartonI just finished this wonderful book by Kati Marton.  Marton was an NPR and ABC news correspondent, who was widowed twice.  Her first marriage was to ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, with whom she had two children.  Her second was to Richard Holbrooke, who at the time of his death was the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I was turned on to this book when I read her newest one entitled Paris:  A Love Story (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Great Escape Cover

This book centers upon Budapest, Hungary, which is her native country.  She dedicates it to her parents, who were both journalists in the World Wars and beyond.

The nine Jews the book features are:

four scientists – Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner

two motion picture directors and producers – Michael Curtiz, Alexandra Korda

two photographers – Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz

one writer – Arthur Koestler

The stories of all nine are brought to life as I have previously never experienced it.  The book is non-fiction, of course, but it is almost novel-like in its appearance and presentation.  For example, Capa was known as the greatest war photographer of all time.  He was the first photographer to go ashore at D-Day in Normandy.   Curtiz directed Casablanca, which Marton says “is still the most popular, the most familiar,. the most discused, and the most dissected romantic film in history” (p. 145).   Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon, which “is the story of the first half of the century, in which the old institutions – social, economic, and spiritual –  have broken down” (p. 135), and was the most important anticommunist novel ever written.  All four scientists discussed in the book were heavily involved in either advances toward the computer age or the nuclear age, where progress in both were deeply entrenched in politics and personal and professional  jealousies.

We can’t do this one at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  It is too old, and it is not an exclusive business book.  So, it does not fit our current context.  But that shouldn’t stop you from reading it.

First, however, you have to find it.  Unfortunately, the book is out of print.  To obtain it, you must visit secondary sellers.  But, if you look hard enough, you will find it and be rewarded with an amazingly readable and exciting work.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Before You Practice the Good Suggestions in Never Eat Alone, You First Have to Decide to Actually Eat WITH Someone, and… NOT to Eat Alone!

So, here’s the deal. I don’t play golf.   (I used to – gave it up, to keep my sanity..). I don’t go to many sports events. (Used to. Not sure why I don’t anymore). And there have always been a lot of “business connections” made on golf courses and at sporting events.  (Notice the word “connections“).

But, I like to eat.

And, here’s what I’ve found. Other people like to eat also.

A few years ago, a friend of mine said he liked to eat alone, in his office – quickly, so that he could get more work done.

I get that… sort of.

But, you see, getting to know people, interacting with people — this is getting work done.

And, interactions are kind of natural in a meal setting. You talk about “stuff,” you get to know one another… You learn something that just tumbles out in “regular conversation.” And then, later, you might “do business” with the person you ate with.

Or, maybe not… But, they will remember you, you will remember them, and you will spread the word about one another. Yes, you will – whether the word you spread is positive, or negative. So, it’s a pretty smart thing to do a “good job” at every meal conversation.

I’ve just read, yet again, that people with hard skills are sort of “easy” to find. Its those pesky soft skills that are not so easy to find..

From An Employee’s Personality Is More Important Than Skills According To A New Talent Study by Rae Ann Fera:

Turns out being flexible and personable are more important than tech wizardry…
It turns out that in the eyes of employers hard skills take a back seat to personal qualities such as creativity, drive, and open-mindedness when it comes to employability.
Of those surveyed, 78% cited “personality” as the most desirable quality in employees…

I especially like the word “personable.”

never eat alone coverThe book Never Eat Alone is a very good book. Filled with smart, useful suggestions about how to be a better relationship builder.  But, the title sort of says it all – never eat alone! Sit down, share a meal, and interact with other human beings!

So, I’ve got a suggestion. Make sure you eat with some people regularly as part of your work life. Because it is part of your work life – and, it is part of life, anyway.

Eat with somebody. Mix these meal “appointments” with some “regular” meal companions, and some “new folks” to get to know. Just for the purpose of getting to know some folks; and for building your own “personableness.”   And just for the purpose of building your interaction skills; your listening skills; your conversation skills; your “soft” skills.

Take a look at your calendar. When was the last time you had a “meal appointment?” When is the next one scheduled?

How many a week should be a minimum? You decide. But going day after day, maybe week after week eating alone is probably not a good strategy in this “we need better softs skills” era.

I’ve got a hunch you could use a few more of those meal appointments. I know I could.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

(Big) Data + Analysis + A Dose of Common Sense = The Path to Specific Innovations (A Lesson from Strategic Government Resources)

A big organization buys paper by the pallet load. I buy it by the case — or less.

Guess which one of us gets the best price per ream…

If you looked down on cities from a satellite image, without all of that map-maker drawing of boundaries, you could not tell when you leave one city for another. Here, in my neck of the woods, you could not see any natural reason on the satellite image to end Dallas and start Richardson, and to end Richardson and start Plano, and…

But, here is a fact. Each city negotiates its own contracts, and the bigger the city, and/or the better the negotiator, the better the price. On countless needed purchases.

Or, maybe not… Maybe there are other factors. But, it has to start with accurate comparison data, somebody who actually knows how to see, and provide, analysis, along with a dose of plain old common sense.

Enter Dr. Jason Cooley, the Director of Innovation for Strategic Government Resources, a company that provides needed services and partnerships — especially innovative leadership — to local governments. (Disclosure – I do some speaking for SGR).

Here’s the story, from one of their publications (I’ve added a little emphasis):

Original_SGR_Logo_Two_Color_Vector_For_Light_Background_1SGR’s first major new initiative led by Jason Cooley will explore new ways to take collaborative purchasing to dramatic new levels through the power of big data analytics. For example, we reviewed actual purchasing data for caustic soda (a highly standardized commodity used in water treatment) in the last 12 months for four cities in the DFW area, all of which currently participate in multiple collaborative purchasing efforts. The prices paid for caustic soda ranged from $536 to $710 per ton – a difference of 32%.

Based on an average quantity of 175 tons, the actual prices paid ranged from $93,882 to $124,250 – a difference of $30,368 that could have been saved just by having better data analytics. And notably, the pricing differences were NOT explained by volume differences or delivery locations. In fact, in one case, a city purchasing a larger volume of caustic soda than an immediately adjacent city paid over 20% more per ton than the neighboring city did and they bought from the same vendor in the same week!

Clearly the potential for fiscal impact on local governments is huge.

In this “how do we save money” era, especially regarding the use of our tax dollars, this is plain old common sense, isn’t it?


It is common sense, plus accurate data, plus someone who knows how to provide good comparison analysis. Someone, in other words, who knows what to look for, and keeps learning what to look for next.

The cities already had “multiple collaborative purchasing efforts.” But something was missed; something was not being seen. It took a fresh set of eyes – very trained eyes, by the way — more and accurate data, and that dose of common sense.

Some innovations require a Steve Jobs. Sadly, he is not all that replicable.

But some innovations can come from trained, smart, fresh eyes.

SGR’s Director Of Innovation, and his formula — (Big) Data + Analysis + A Dose of Common Sense — seems to point us to a story, an initiative, genuinely worth pondering.

The experts remind us that some very important innovation is process innovation.  And, this is quite a lesson in practical uses for such innovation.

Monday, April 21, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

“The Light’s Winning ” – And Signs that things are Getting Better are All Around Us

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good.
Genesis 1:1-4
Marty & RustFrom the last scene from True Detective:
I was thinking… it’s just one story…   the oldest; light vs. dark.
It appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.
Yea, you’re right about that… You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing… Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning.
(The final scene from the opening season of True Detective: Woody Harrelson & Matthew McConaughey.   I’ve embedded the video of the scene at the end of this post. Read the dialogue from the final scene here).


So, if it’s just one story, light vs. darkness, then everybody has to choose a side.

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” so folks say. Optimists & Pessimists. (Yes, this may be oversimplification). And recent studies indicate that whichever you are is partly determined by genetics.

It seems to be my nature to fall on the pessimist side of the equation. You know, the things are so bad, and getting worse side. The problems are huge, and we’ll never solve them side.

My reading does not help me much. For every encouraging book I read – (here are two: Abundance, and The Extreme Future) – I have read too many books on the ongoing rise in poverty and inequality, and the climate change worst-case scenarios, and… well, the list is long.

In fact, it even seems like the good business books all in some way or another say, “here’s our problem,” and seldom do I feel that the proposed solutions are really going to truly “work.”

I thought of this as I read The Big Short and Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Both books are kind of accounts of people who are out to “make a buck” even if it hurts many others in the process. People who are almost “inventors of evil.”

Now, “make a buck” is good. Doing so while hurting others in the process — not so good. You know: darkness. As I said, I tend to fall on the pessimist side.

But… maybe things are… better, and maybe things really are marching toward the better all along. After all, “once there was only darkness,” says Rust. Maybe the light is winning.

Here’s a line from Peter Diamandis, Abundance:  The Future is Better than You Think – an optimistic line if ever there was one:

We will soon have the ability to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman, and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp.

Paul Krugman seems to fall on that pessimist side of the ledger. He’s usually pretty gloomy. But he’s got a recent column of hope and light regarding the global warming challenge. Here’s an excerpt:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.
But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation….
What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular…
Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about “decarbonizing” electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.

My friend, Larry James, CEO of CitySquare, spends his Thursday afternoons on the front porch of a vacant (abandoned?) house just south of downtown Dallas. He takes bottles of water for folks, and sits on a front porch of this vacant house, talking to his friends. Some, homeless. All, what we label as “poor.” A rainbow of colors and ethnicities.

He does this every Thursday!

Larry's Invitation

Larry’s Invitation

Here’s a recent reflection from Larry (from his blog):

A key learning from two years on the street, almost every Thursday afternoon:  human touch, affirmation and sincere appreciation bring people back from the dead.
As I’ve talked to my friends who have no place to call home, other than a makeshift campground under an interstate highway bridge–ironically, highways built to take most people home after work–I’ve learned the importance of touch and human expressions of kindness and love.  In fact, it’s clear to me that the one thing we all desire is to be genuinely loved.  That love involves respect, expressions of friendship and affection, and simple appreciation.
The street has taught me that “a pat on the back” is much more than an English idiom. 
Love raises people from graves of hopelessness, depression, oppression and despair.

So, for the Easter season, he set up a little table, with an invitation to his friends. An invitation to share the Lord’s Supper.

As hard as our mean streets are, they aren’t hard enough to shake off our need for acceptance. 
Lent gives way to Easter just as love opens doors to new life, often unexpected new life.
I’ve seen it again and again on the street.
I observed it again, even more powerfully, when I asked the simple question of those who passed by, “Friend, would you like to receive the Lord’s Supper?  God loves you more than you can know.”

It is an invitation of inclusion, of solidarity, of light over darkness. And Larry would be the first to tell you that he receives as much light as he brings to his corner ritual.  And whatever your faith (or no-faith), when you come down on the side of inclusion and love and human touch, you spread the light… And then the light may be winning, at least in your corner of the world, more than we thought.

We can all point to the bad in the world, pretty easily. But I remember watching a movie a couple of years ago: Enemy at the Gates. It is a gripping depiction of the battle of Stalingrad. Ebert included this line in his review: We see the early hopelessness…   Things were beyond awful, and very dark – there, then. Not much light. Not much at all.

Things are bad in many places. But, just look at the total deaths in the wars throughout history, and you realize… things really are moving in the direction of the better – the light.

So, on this Easter morning, I guess my reflection for the day, my challenge for all, is that we come down on the side of the light. And that message is for me as much as for anybody. Pessimist Randy needs to remember that “once there was only dark.” Maybe corporations can be instruments of good. Maybe our technological advance can solve our problems. Maybe our “soft skills’ can help build up human beings in the workplace.

Maybe the light is winning, after all.


Here’s the full version of the final scene from True Detective.  This link has a shorter version.

Sunday, April 20, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Essentialism: A book review by Bob Morris

EssentialismEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Greg McKeown
Crown Business/Imprint of Crown Publishing Group

“Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

As I began to read this book for the first time, I was again reminded of the Einstein observation as well as Greg McKeown’s previous book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, in which he and co-author Liz Wiseman juxtapose two quite different personas whom they characterize as the “Multiplier” and the “Diminisher.” Although they refer to them as leaders, assigning to them supervisory responsibilities, they could also be direct reports at the management level or workers at the “shop floor” level.

Multipliers “extract full capability,” their own as well as others’, and demonstrate five disciplines: Talent Magnet, Liberator, Challenger, Debate Maker, and Investor. Diminishers underutilize talent and resources, their own as well as others, and also demonstrate five disciplines: Empire Builder, Tyrant, Know-It-All, Decision Maker, and Micro Manager. They devote a separate chapter to each of the five Multiplier leadership roles.

In Essentialism, McKeown focuses on what must be done to increase what is essential to an organization’s success – as well as to an individual’s success – by reducing (if not totally eliminating) whatever is not essential to such success. I agree with him: Almost anyone in almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) can choose how to expend time and energy; reduce/eliminate “noise” and clutter, preserving only what is exceptionally valuable; and decide which few trade-offs and compromises to accept while rejecting all others. Essentialists have what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector,” one that is especially reliable when detecting their own.

“There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: ‘I have to,’ ‘It’s all important,’ and ‘I can do both.’ Like mythological sirens, these assumptions are as dangerous as they are seductive. They draw us in and drown us in shallow waters.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of McKeown’s coverage.

o The Cluttered Closet Test (Pages 17-19)
o The Essentialist Mind-Set: A Three-Step Process (20-25)
o Discern the Vital Few from the Trivial Many (60-61)
o How to Create Spaces to Design, Concentrate, and Read (65-71)
o Clarify the Question (80-81)
o A Mind Invited to Play (86-89)
o Protecting the Asset: Ourselves (94-96)
o The 90 Percent or NOTHING Rule (104-107)
o How to Cut Out the Trivial Many (116-117)
o From “Pretty Clear” to “Really Clear”: Two Common Patterns (121-124)
o The Power of a Graceful “No” (131-0135)
o The “No” Repertoire (140-143)
o How to Avoid Commitment Traps (148-154)
o EDIT: The Invisible Art (155-162)
o LIMIT: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries (163-167)
o How to Produce More by Eliminating More (188-192)
o FLOW: The Genius of Routine (203-205)
o The Essential Life: Living a Life that Really Matters (236-237)

McKeown also provides an appendix, “Leadership Essentials,” during which he suggests and discusses five:

1. Be Ridiculously Selective in Hiring People
2. Go for Extreme Empowerment
3. Communicate the Right Things [values, standards, objectives] to the Right People at the Right Time
4. Check in Often to Ensure Meaningful Progress

Greg McKeown makes frequent use of terms such as “less,” “more,” and “better.” For example, the essentialist mind-set affirms “Less but better.” We know what he means: Less (if any) of what is non-essential but better results. In this context, as he explains, essentialists are trimmers and pruners, eliminating organizational fat while strengthening its muscles and bones. That is especially important these days when, on average, less than 30% of those who comprise a U.S. workforce are actively and positively engaged; the other 70+% are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively undermining efforts to achieve the given business goals.

Obviously, no brief commentary can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. I encourage those who share my opinion to check out David Shaked’s Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement, published by Kogan-Page (2013).

Sunday, April 20, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As You Provide Startup Leadership, Pay Attention to Your Two Organizations (wisdom from Derek Lidow’s book)

Every organization has a formal organization, and in informal one. That is simple fact. And, it needs both of them. The trick is making sure that both are in good health, and functioning together – in alignment.

startup leadership-thumb-297x444-23182That’s just one of the many useful insights from Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas into Successful Enterprises, by Derek Lidow. Useful book! Here is what he says about the reality of these dual organizations. Getting both right greatly enables execution. And, where there is no successful execution, there is no success. From the book:

A well-conceived organization, in both its formal and informal structures, focuses the entrepreneurial ideas and actions coherently throughout the enterprise, helping everyone understand what he or she needs to do to help the enterprise succeed…

Chaos reigns when there is a significant misalignment between the formal and informal organizations…

As it turns out, the informal organization can make decisions faster than the formal one…

He describes how that, regardless of the “who” on the organizational chart is supposed to make a key decision, that “who” actually always talks to this person, who is talking to that person… And all of these “informal” relationships and interactions actually shape the decision making. Thus, alignment of the “two organizations” is crucial, and misalignment is costly.

In his chapter on Organizing to Succeed, he makes this terrific observation: as an organization grows, you change from “huddles” to a more formal meeting structure “with an agenda and a fixed set of attendees.” But don’t miss the point – regular meetings of key people are essential. As I have written often on this blog:

“You accomplish what you meet about.”

This book is a logical book – meaning, it takes you through a step-by-step process on what a new organization needs to do at each stage of development, all in pursuit of turning ideas into successful enterprises, well-served by its developing organizational structure. And this all revolves around successful actions taken by the leader – the entrepreneur practicing entrepreneurial leadership.

Here’s my suggestion: if you are starting a new enterprise, as you put in all the time on the “work” of your enterprise, carve out the time to read these two books carefully:

First, read The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. This book with help give you even more energy and “heart” for your undertaking.the_art_of_the_start

Then, read Startup Leadership by Derek Lidow. It will give you some of the needed nuts-and-bolts of what to do, to help you lead the effort, as you “do” the work that your heart is ready to tackle.


A note: the book is useful overall, but Mr. Lidow has done his readers a valuable service with some terrific appendices. He has eight, including: Ten Basic Strategic Questions. A sampling:

Who will want to buy your product?
Why will they want to buy your product?
How much will they be willing to pay?
How much will it cost to make and deliver the product?


Saturday, April 19, 2014 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment


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