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.
That’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:
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?
It’s the Soft Skills that’ll Kill You – (Hard Skills are Plenty Demanding, but the Soft Skills present such Ongoing Challenge)
I know how to use my calendar apps, all on the cloud. I am such a wiz at this!
I am so bad at communication in so many ways.
Let’s go back to the knowing-doing gap.
Once I learn a new app, a new way to function with my technology (I put all my appointments on the cloud with my Mac devices), I’ve pretty much got it down. It was something to learn; I learned it; I do it…
In other words, for a lot of my every day functioning, I have no knowing-doing gap.
But, the other stuff… my goodness, do I know a bunch of stuff that I do not do so effectively!
And, these items “worthy of my attention” never quite go away. Kind of like a baseball player whose swing at the plate is so good – until it isn’t.
Here’s a tennis example of this challenge. Years ago, in my college tennis days, our team was annually humiliated by the team from Trinity University. We were a good mid-level team. They were a national champion team in Division 1.
During one tournament final, our coach was sitting next to the great Clarence Mabry, then coach at Trinity. (He led his team to one national championship, and close a few other times — and he coached 10 All-Americans).
They were watching a close match between two top players. Coach Mabry commented, “he’s going to lose.” The players were tied, each holding serve, and Mabry identified the soon-to-be loser. Our coach asked, “how do you see that?” And Coach Mabry had noticed that that player had started to slightly move his shoulder just a touch the wrong way on his serve. Sure enough, a couple of games later, he lost his serve, and lost the match. The player had forgotten to do what he knew to do. And the keen eye of Coach Mabry saw the subtle, almost invisible failure to stick to one of the fundamentals, and rightly predicted that it would cost him the match.
Most “failures” of leadership are a failure to stick to the fundamentals. It is a failure to do what one knows to do — something you do effectively for a while, but then, you simply start to slip…
They know it — they just don’t do it.
Recently, I was speaking to the top 30 leaders of a mid-size organization. We went through my “bubbles” (see image). And they identified whet they did well, and what they needed to improve. It was pretty unanimous agreement – “we really need to improve our communication.”
Here’s the thing. They already know what they need to know to communicate effectively.
I will lead a future session on communication for them. Oh, I might provide a little refinement. But what I will really provide is a heavy dose of “reminder” for them. Not teaching; not new training; just, “remember to do this stuff, and you’ll get better” reminder messaging.
This is the “hard skill vs. soft skill” divide. The hard skills are demanding, yes. You can fail at these. But they are learnable – a little more on the tangible, practicable side. (I know how to use my calendar, on the cloud. Now, what’s my next technology tool to learn?)
The soft skills? These really are business success fundamentals. And you ignore them as long as you can, it seems… and then you finally say, “I’d better work on them. I guess.” You intend to improve, and yet you still need more improvement. You always need more improvement.
And it’s the failure in these soft skills that’ll kill you.
My e-book, 12 Vital Signs of Organizational Health, provides an overview for each of the the areas in my bubbles image above.
On Understanding, or, Misunderstanding What You Read – (Prompted by a Discussion about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In)
(From Acts 8)
Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”
This is delicate. I’m going to make an accusation of some folks…
But, first, an admission. Let’s all admit this, shall we. It is possible to misunderstand a message.
Have you ever misunderstood a message – from a speech, a book, an article? If your answer is no, then you are…deluded. Misunderstanding messages is a constant possibility.
Sometimes, it is the messenger’s fault. He/she is not very clear. It is always the messenger’s job to communicate clearly!
Sometimes, we don’t understand because “we don’t know enough to even understand the point.” We’re too novice in a further-advanced world.
And, sometimes, our misunderstanding comes out of sheer “laziness.” We don’t read or listen carefully. We “think” we know what the speaker/author is saying, but our “too-quick” read makes us make faulty assumptions and interpretations.
And, sometimes, we misunderstood, because we have not read or heard for ourselves, and we are taking the word of others that “this is what this book/speech” had to say.
But, whatever the reason, it is possible to misunderstand a message.
I thought of this when I read this exchange on Lean In from Andrew Sullivan’s blog. This paragraph is from a reader, and in my opinion, firmly grasps what Sheryl Sandberg intended – what Sheryl Sandberg actually said. It is in response to people, in the opinion of the e-mailer, who did not correctly grasp what Sheryl Sandberg actually said in Lean In. (Sullivan never identifies his “readers” when he quotes from their e-mails). From his blog:
A reader argues that our post was based on “a common misconception” about Lean In:
Sandberg doesn’t champion working over staying home. When she tells women to lean in, she’s not telling them to work: she’s saying that for as long as they choose to work, they shouldn’t have one foot already out the door because of what having a family might demand of them in the future. It’s a carpe diem message, and an argument against approaching your career with a defeatist attitude.
If you disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, that’s ok; that’s your “privilege” and “right.” But, it would be better to make sure you that are disagreeing with what Ms. Sandberg actually wrote, not what some people say she wrote. They may be wrong—they may have misunderstood.
(And, yes, I’ve misunderstood my share of messages through the years – and will probably do so again. So, this “warning’ is for me, as well as for others)…
First, watch this clip. from The West Wing — Bruno Gianelli and the President in an “argument.” The script is just below the imbedded video. (re. the message at the end of the clip, added by whoever uploaded the clip to YouTube. The blog is not about that issue…)
Here’s the script:
BARTLET: I’ll decide when I’ve used them up. You don’t poll where my family goes, am I making myself clear?
BRUNO: Mh-huhmm . . . sometimes I have a difficulty talking to people who don’t race sailboats.
BRUNO: I have difficulty sometimes talking to people who don’t race sailboats. When I was a teenager, I crewed Larchmont to Nassau on a 58-foot sloop called Cantice. There was a little piece of kelp that was stuck to the hull, and even though it was little, you don’t want anything stuck to the hull. So, I take a boat hook on a pole and I stick it in the water and I try to get the kelp off, when seven guys start screaming at me, right? ‘Cause now the pole is causing more drag than the kelp was.
See, what you gotta do is you gotta drop it in and let the water lift it out in a windmill motion. Drop it in, and let the water take it by the kelp and lift it out. In and out. In and out, till you got it.
The voters aren’t choosing a plumber, Mr. President. They are choosing a president. And if you don’t think that your family should matter, my suggestion to you is to get out of professional politics. And if you think that I’m going to miss even one opportunity to pick up half-a-knot boat speed, you’re absolutely out of your mind. When it costs us nothing, when we give up nothing?! You’re out of your mind.
Have you ever gotten “trapped” behind a slow driver on the freeway. Someone who drives 45 in the middle lane? It’s enough to drive you crazy…
Why? Because, we want to go as fast as we possibly can. That’s the way it’s always been. Do you remember, back in high school, the boys wanted the fastest car?!
I remember the time I walked to lunch with the CEO of a large company. It was a four block walk, in downtown Dallas. I thought I could walk fast. It took all I had to keep up with him. He was simply the fastest walking human being I’ve ever been around. In a hurry! Even in a hurry for a “leisurely” lunch.
Think back to your computer dial-up days. Do you remember waiting for pages to load? We would wait, and wait, and wait… Today, we want high speed connection, and the moment a higher speed is available at a price we can afford (or, at least “justify” in our minds), we want it …now.
I could keep going. But here’s the point – speed dominates. Speed kills the competition. We want web pages to load…immediately. We want to drive in the fast lane. And we want no one, no thing, to slow us down.
And if you can deliver faster than the other guy, that provides an amazing competitive advantage.
And, sometimes, speed actually obliterates the competition. Think Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery. I order from no other web site, unless I just have to.
That is the message of the clip from The West Wing. Bruno Gianelli (Ron Silver) is explaining to President Bartlet that a tiny piece of kelp on a sail boat has to be removed, because it causes “drag,” and thus costs you speed. Bruno:
…if you think that I’m going to miss even one opportunity to pick up half-a-knot boat speed, you’re absolutely out of your mind.
A split-second of speed is worth…everything. (The argument is about whether or not his political guy should have any say over where he vacations. It is a compelling clip). Underneath it is the reminder that speed matters.
And, of course, “speed dominates” is the real message behind the new book by Michael Lewis, Flash Boys. Being a tiny, tiny, tiny bit faster than the other guy can be worth a …fortune. And, it is worth paying a lot of money to get that tiny bit of speed advantage!
The key story in Flash Boys revolves around a very smart guy who figured out that if he could deliver a higher-speed connection – even a tiny bit faster than the other available connections – people would pay a fortune for the access. So, as it neared completion, the company starts lining up buyers. It was hard to explain. But the best quote of the book may be this one. One client grasped the implication, left the room to confer with his colleagues, and came back and:
The client returned with a single question: “Can you double the price?
“Can you double the price?” In other words, this is such an amazing advantage (remember – a split-split-second faster was all that was being promised) that he wanted to pay more, setting a price that would scare competitors away.
No matter what your business, once the customer wants your product or service, he often wants it now — right now; immediately!
Getting information before the other guy is invaluable. Finalizing a trade has to be done fast…faster than the other people trying to make that same trade.
Speed – we all need more of it. And, we all need to provide it faster than our competition.
Speed dominates – speed kills the competition – speed really matters!
And, it gets worse. The customer wants speed, but at no sacrifice of quality. “We want it high quality – very high quality. And we want it fast – really fast.”
Man, it’s a competitive world out there.
(I will present my synopsis of Flash Boys at the May 2 First Friday Book Synopsis. If you are in the Dallas area, come join us. Register here).
While We are Sleeping, the Innovation Keeps Coming – (Battery Breakthroughs Spark Some Big-Picture Reflection)
Here’s what we mean when we say the pace of change and innovation is accelerating.
This is what I read yesterday, from James Fallows, in his post on The Atlantic, A Better Battery — Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and former secretary of energy, and Yi Cui, a celebrated battery researcher who works with Chu at Stanford, describe how an overhaul of the unglamorous battery will jump-start a shift to renewable energy:
There is a slow march toward improving today’s systems, by 5 or 10 percent a year. Meanwhile, many innovative companies, scientists, and engineers are exploring novel approaches. Many of them may not work. But there is a reasonable chance that a couple may work—and really work, to double or triple energy density and lower cost. If you are a battery company and your cost per unit of storage doesn’t drop by a factor of two in the next five years, you are going to be out of business.
(Steven Chu, as told to James Fallows).
In other words, if you are in the battery business, no matter how good your battery is today, it is not good enough for tomorrow, and certainly not for the day after tomorrow. Someone will come out with a battery that is dropping in cost in a hurry, and if you are in the battery business, and it is not your company that does that, then your company will be… out of business.
So, I remembered the opening chapter of the Thomas Friedman book, The World is Flat. That chapter, “While I was Sleeping,” was where Mr. Friedman described how while we were all “distracted” by the attacks of 9/11, and the goings on in Baghdad, the world kept right on changing. From the book:
I realized something really important had happened while I was fixated on the olive groves of Kabul and Baghdad. Globalization had gone to a whole new level.
In other words, no matter how much we focus on terrorism, or Crimea and Ukraine, in the world of business and change and innovation, the pace of change is ongoing, even accelerating.
I remember when the iPhone 5 came out. iPhone users were so unhappy. Apple had changed the size of the charging cable port. It was smaller. “Why did Apple do that?,” we all screamed, as we had to buy a new car charger to go along with the cost of the new iPhone. The answer – it has to be smaller, because the old, “clunky, too-big” charger” was taking up too much room inside the phone. Apple is in the “let’s keep making products that are bigger, more powerful, faster – and smaller!” business. The less room the charging port takes up, the more room for other, help-things-be-stronger, faster technology to fit inside… And every time that their next new phone hits the market, there are already teams hard at work to make the next round of innovative, for-the-better versions. Always.
This is happening everywhere, all the time.
In The Second Machine Age, we read that progress seems almost non-existent until, all at once, the change is upon us. And I’m beginning to read hints that some big changes — changes we have been waiting for — are just about upon us. Solar power is now close to fulfilling its promise. The Tesla (and its work on batteries) is about to be truly breathtaking. The list can go on and on…
Here’s your lesson: no matter how good your product or service is, it has to be better tomorrow than it is today. And, pretty soon. And not just a little bit better, but big-leaps-forward better.
Because while we are sleeping, someone somewhere is on the verge of putting you out of business.
Based in London, Kai Hammerich heads the European Leadership & Succession Practice for Russell Reynolds Associates. He has conducted numerous chairman, board, CEO and c-suite assignments for major Nordic, European and global technology clients as well as for some the largest Nordic corporations. He has been nominated: One of the World’s most influential headhunters, by BusinessWeek. He is an expert in aligning talent strategies with corporate strategy and culture.
Kai has considerable experience in advising clients on how to align a company’s talent portfolio with the overall business strategy and company culture. He has worked with Private Equity clients, Fortune 100 type clients as well as VC-based growth companies. He is specialized in the B2B and B2C communications, digital/convergence and IT enterprise solutions space.
Prior his search career, Kai worked in the computer industry for 10 years, most for Apple Computer as the U.K. Regional Marketing Director, based in London, and as EMEA Marketing Manager for the Education Business Unit based in Paris. Earlier, he was CEO in a venture capital financed software start-up company, Maconomy, which subsequently went public and held sales and marketing roles at HP.
Kai received his M.B.A. with distinction, from Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management and his M.Sc. in economics from the University of Aarhus, Denmark. He is fluent in Danish, English, and conversational in Swedish and Norwegian.
He is the co-author with Richard D. Lewis of Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy, published by John Wiley & Sons (2012).
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Fish Can’t See Water, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Hammerich: My mother. She taught me to listen to other people and to empathize with them.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Hammerich: When at Kellogg Business School, history professor Lavengood taught a course on Business Ethics. This hugely impacted my sense of responsibility as a business leader, not only in driving results for shareholders, but also as importantly in appreciating how a leader acts as the ethical beacon for the organization. Don’t ask someone to do something you would not do yourself!
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Hammerich: I joined the search industry without really having any clue of what it was all about. (So much for the diligent analysis taught at Business Schools at great expense). I loved the people, the freedom you have as a search professional, the impact you can have if successful in your recommendations – and the responsibility your advice carries.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Whilst studying at Kellogg I had planned to return to Denmark to become a business school professor. I clearly failed in that ambition. However, Kellogg, which is a fantastic business school, opened so many opportunities for me. I am grateful and today I am a Kellogg Alumni Council member.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Hammerich: That it can be cut-throat, but that anyone has a fair chance to succeed, if they have talent and work hard. A MBA gives you an edge, but only for a period. You have to create your own success, by being successful – and helping others develop and so that they can be successful, also.
Morris: From which [begin italics] non- [end italics] business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Hammerich: One of John Kotler’s books, Marketing Management. It teaches you to always look at the world from the perspective of the customer. This is an eternal truism from Wall Street to the bazaar in Persia.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Many of the business principles that management gurus hail are truisms that have been known for a very long time. Decentralization and empowerment are two of them. Understanding your customer is another.
Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”
Hammerich: Curiosity and an open mind prevail over dogmatism in the long term.
Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Hammerich: People who seek authenticity may never find it. Authentic leaders are often simply themselves.
Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Hammerich: Fish can’t see water.
Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Hammerich: Focus on what is essential, simplify the problem, and act on it. Complex problems do not always require a complex answer.
Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?
Hammerich: Their logic has some – perhaps a lot of — merit. Complex business problems can sometimes best be solved by the common-sensical approach of an insightful and inspired leader. However, in today’s complex world, managers often need to rely on the diverse experience of a diverse leadership group supported by complex information systems to make decisions. Though this can also blind them to the obvious. One must never allow the systems to prevail over common sense. This is where culture plays in – to help guide decisions when there is no obvious answer, or an automatically systems-generated answer feels wrong.
Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’” Your response?
Hammerich: Without painful mistakes you don’t learn and grow as fast. Every corporation needs to test its deeply-held assumptions on a regular basis – though this requires that they know what these assumptions are – which they often don’t. Hence the recommendation in our book to conduct a regular cultural audit.
Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?
Hammerich: They succeeded by being in control. It is difficult to let go of embedded habits – in particular for successful people.
Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?
Hammerich: Complex problems often require simple solutions that can be easily communicated. The human mind is simply not prepared for handling the complexity of global corporations with hundreds of thousands of employees.
* * *
To read the complete interview, please click here.
Kai cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
The Fish Can’t See Water homepage link
Kai’s Amazon page link
Russell Reynolds Associates link
Have you ever made “the wrong hire?” Have you ever had to work with someone who was clearly “the wrong hire?” (Have you ever been “the wrong hire?”).
There is so much work to be done – in every job. And that work needs to be done well, as quickly as possible, because the next project or task or project or collaboration always awaits. Always! “Get to it” is the order of the day, every day.
So, what “skills” are employers finding hard to find in the workers they hire? Here’s the latest results from two annual surveys (I read about this on Business Insider: Businesses Say They’re Having Trouble Finding People Who Will Show Up For Work):
Every month, the New York Fed conducts two surveys: the Empire State Manufacturing Survey and its services-sector counterpart, the Business Leaders Survey. And each April it asks respondents of both surveys questions related to the difficulty of finding potential hires with certain skills.
This year’s pair of April surveys confirmed that, like in previous years, employers are having trouble finding people with advanced computer skills, interpersonal skills, and general punctuality and reliability.
Advanced computer skills falls under the “hard skills” category. Get the right education, go to classes/training, and you can learn these. Well, maybe you can — I’m not sure I’ve got the propensity to learn these… (Clearly, not enough people are learning these skills – thus the difficulty in finding such workers).
General punctuality and reliability have to do with work ethic. And, after reading a lot of books touching on this, I think work ethic is tough to develop if it is not developed early – maybe very early – in life.
But those interpersonal skills – those fall under the oh-so-difficult-to-train “soft skills” category.
As I tell my students, assuming that a person is competent, and trustworthy (reliable), “do you play well with others?” is the big issue in keeping a job and being valuable to a team.
Again, there may be some propensity/’personality involved in this, but I am convinced that anyone, everyone, can get better at interpersonal skills. Learning how to interact, get along, collaborate well, is so very valuable for any and every job in every organization. And if folks are having difficulty finding/hiring people who are good at this, well, – that provides an agenda for training, coaching, and mentoring, doesn’t it?
(The article has tables and percentages — worth a look)..
The Foolishness of Prejudging – Thoughts about Doug Glanville and his Snow-Covered Driveway (with a Reminder from Gladwell’s Blink)
We make snap judgments. Sometimes, they are good snap judgments. Sometimes, not so good…
Doug Glanville is a retired Major League Ballplayer, now works for ESPN, and a homeowner. And, he is African American.
He was shoveling snow off his driveway when a police officer walked up. It is important to note that other folks were also shoveling their driveways. But the police officer walked up only to him, and basically challenged him for “shoveling while black.” Mr. Glanville kept his cool, but wrote quite an article about the incident on The Atlantic: I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway. Really, do yourself a favor, and read it (click here). It might help you understand why Black Americans feel like racism is still a thing…
It reminded me of a passage in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. He calls these snap judgments “blink” thin-slicing judgments. In the book, he tells about this remarkable car salesman, Bob Golomb from New Jersey. What made him so much better than others? His ability to never “disqualify” a customer by “judging” them because of the way they looked. From the book:
He follows a very simple rule. He may make a million snap judgments about a customer’s needs and state of mind, but he tries never to judge anyone on the basis of his or her appearance. He assumes that everyone who walks in the door has the exact same chance of buying a car. “You cannot prejudge people in this business. Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot. A green salesperson looks at a customer and says, ‘This person looks like he can’t afford a car,’ which is the worst thing you can do, because sometimes the most unlikely person is flush.”
And then Gladwell makes this observation:
Most salespeople are prone to a classic Warren Harding error. They see someone, and somehow they let the first impression they have about that person’s appearance drown out every other piece of information they manage to gather in that first instant.
It was foolish of that police officer to “prejudge” Mr. Glanville. His actions must have followed from a thought process that went like this: “No way that man should be in front of that house shoveling snow. He’ s bound to be up to no good.” (Again, read Mr. Glanville’s account. It is remarkable!).
And, it is foolish to disqualify a person so quickly; from a sale, from a job, from any circle of involvement – from a neighborhood.
If we believe that everyone has an equal chance to prove his or her worth based on skills and capabilities and merit, then it is time to develop a much better ability to stop all our prejudging. We are probably all guilty of it to some extent. And, such prejudging narrows our possibilities, and ends up hurting real people.
It’s time to overcome this tendency. It’s time to learn not to practice such prejudging.
(Consider this something of a “personal reflection” post…)
I’ve learned how to read a book, prepare a comprehensive handout, and deliver a synopsis/briefing presentation on the key content from the book. But, no matter who well I do my job, if I choose the wrong title, the wrong book…I’ve blown it. Choosing the right book is so very critical to what I do. It starts here for me.
What is so very critical to what you do? Where does it all start with you?
I speak to different audiences, about different issues. Among other audiences, I present Current Events presentations to residents of retirement communities. These are wonderful people; smart, wanting to stay engaged as long as they can to the larger world around them.
This is a frequent opening line: “we never really know what the most important news is.” Oh, it’s easy to know what the “most talked about” news is. But the most important – that can be far more elusive.
Take this week/month, for instance: is the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 really the most important news of the day/week/month/year? If you simply add up the hours of coverage, it wins hands down. (My favorite line so far, from a recent pundit round-up post: Has CNN covered the theory that CNN took the plane in order to give CNN something to talk about?).
I have a hunch that this story is not in fact the most important news of the hour. I could give you my opinion on what is more important … but, in reality, only the passage of time will reveal what news was most important, what news had the most significant, lasting impact.
(You want an example? What happened on Friday, September 28, 1928 qualifies as a genuinely important news event. Can’t quite remember what happened on that date? It was the day that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. I wonder what the headlines in the morning paper on the next day highlighted as the most important news of the day…).
So, time will tell – time does tell — what is most important. If only we had a genuine crystal ball…
Now, this process, this challenge translates into nearly every business planning and strategy discussion. What are the issues facing business today – your business — that are the truly important issues? What really matters?
I can give you a sense of what is written about quite often, in the best business books. Themes such as these:
• coping with the accelerating pace of change
• finding the right people to hire; putting together the best team
• making sure that you have a product or service that folks will want, and will pay money for
• being the first choice among your competitors
• the first choice for price
• the first choice for customer experience/customer service
Here’s the challenge. You will work on things; you will meet about issues. Working on the right things; meeting about the right issues – this is what leads to business success. Making the wrong call about what to meet about, and what to work on… can lead to genuine business failure. Putting in the time is a given. Putting in the time on the right things can make the difference between success and failure.
Call this process the process of setting the right “priorities.” Call it the challenge of majoring on the majors, not majoring on the minors.
But, getting it right… this is the constant challenge, isn’t it?
Here is the April, 2014 New York Times Business Books Best Sellers List — Yes, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is Still #1
Here is the April, 2014 New York Times Business Books Best Sellers list.
A couple of observations. Yes, Lean In is still at number one. I have written pretty much this exact sentence every month for a lot of months now! And, if you will keep your radar attuned, you will see and hear the phrase “Lean In” everywhere you turn. Some agree with Sheryl Sandberg, others disagree. But, her idea has definitely become part of the modern-day conversation – I think the most important part of the conversation; (Lean In is a great phrase, and great concept) – about women in business, women and their careers.
Next observation: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis is not on this list. Maybe the New York Times is not going to categorize this book as a business book. But it does sit at the number one position on the nonfiction best sellers list.
There are ten books on the New York Times list each month. We have presented four from this month’s list at the First Friday Book Synopsis, our monthly event in Dallas – Lean In; The Power of Habit; Thinking, Fast and Slow; and Outliers. And Karl Krayer will present The Promise of a Pencil at the June First Friday Book Synopsis, which will put us at one half of the books on this month’s list. (A couple of the titles don’t quite fit what we choose to present at our event).
And I am considering The Hard Things About Hard Things for a later month.
If you have not read Lean In, or these others that we have presented, you might be “behind the curve” during those break room and dinner party conversations. You might want to consider checking out our synopses, available at our companion site: 15minutebusinessbookscom. Each synopsis comes with the audio of our presentations, plus our comprehensive, multi-page handouts with the key concepts from the books, (and in the case of my more recent presentations, my takeaways from the books).
Here is the April New York Times list.
|1||LEAN IN, by Sheryl Sandberg|
|2||THRIVE, by Arianna Huffington.|
|3||THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman|
|4||SUCCESS THROUGH STILLNESS, by Russell Simmons|
|5||THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, by Jordan Belfort|
|6||THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg|
|7||OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell|
|8||THE HARD THING ABOUT HARD THINGS, by Ben Horowitz|
|9||THE PROMISE OF A PENCIL, by Adam Braun with Carlye Adler|
|10||OVERWHELMED, by Brigid Schulte|