Note: I read and reviewed this book when it was published about four years ago and recently re-read it in combination with Secrets of Great Rainmakers as I now complete a revised marketing plan for the balance of this calendar year. Rain is my personal favorite among all of Fox’s books, although he published several other bestsellers after this one. I identify with the central character because I had two newspaper routes when I was Rain’s age. Also, I needed to reconnect with Fox’s unique insights on how to create rain, especially during a drought such as the current one that began years ago. If you need to generate some rain, check out this review I posted in 2005.
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Portrait of a Young Entrepreneur
This is one of the most recent of ten books that Jeffrey Fox has written and is, in my opinion, his most entertaining. In the first part (Pages 1-128), Fox presents a business narrative in which a fictitious youth named Rain embarks on a brief but productive career as a newspaper boy. (Presumably Rain is Fox’s surrogate.) Like Forest Gump, he encounters a series of adventures but unlike Gump, he seems to have more “street smarts.” Fox cleverly introduces a number of challenges and opportunities to dramatize several basic business lessons. Then in the second part of the book (Pages 129-192), he shifts his attention to his reader whom he invites to compete “a series of analytical exercises anchored in each of Rain’s adventures. The exercises are designed to illuminate Rain’s entrepreneurial thinking and his rainmaking principles.” Actually, completing the 29 brief exercises does more than illuminate those principles: It also enables the reader to make direct application of most (if not all) of them to her or his own circumstances.
I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because when doing so, I recalled many of my own experiences when I was Rain’s age and growing up on the South Side of Chicago. I had one paper route that I completed in the morning and later added another in the afternoon. After two years, I also began to work three days a week (4-8 PM) at a newsstand near my home. After about another year, when summer vacation began, I stopping delivering papers but continued to work at the newsstand Monday through Friday, 4-8 PM, and caddied at a local country club each weekend. I certainly did not have Rain’s entrepreneurial inclinations. I was simply determined to earn as much money as I could. I also encountered slow pays and no pays, hostile dogs, and customers impossible to please. I also hated getting up mornings when the temperature was near zero and the winds off Lake Michigan nearby were howling or when I was delivering papers afternoons when the heat and humidity were each 90º or more.
How many boys and girls today deliver newspapers? I have no idea. Most of the newspapers in Chicago when I was growing up no longer exist. It seems that in most other major metropolitan areas, there are no evening newspapers and only one morning newspaper. Presumably child labor laws now limit the employment opportunities for those in the 10-15 age range. So, where can they have the experiences and learn the lessons that Fox portrays in this book? I have no idea. However, although younger readers may not be able to identify with many of the situations in which Rain finds himself, I think that they will enjoy reading this book. I hope that many of them also get a clearer sense of the importance of meeting obligations (e.g. being on time, completing tasks), keeping promises to others, being alert to learning opportunities, and meanwhile making whatever personal sacrifices may be necessary.
As I read Fox’s book, I also recalled several life lessons that Robert Fulghum shares in his first book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Play fair, Don’t hit people, Put things back where you found them, Clean up your own mess, Don’t take things that aren’t yours, Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, Wash your hands before you eat, When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together, and Be aware of wonder. Simple? Of course. Naïve? I don’t think so. Fox and Fulghum affirm many of the same values that can also be found in the world’s most venerated holy works. In my opinion, there is no other business principle that is more important than The Golden Rule. It is central to the culture of the world’s most highly admired companies. Moreover, it is no coincidence that – year after year — these same companies are also among the world’s most profitable and most valuable.
Those who share my high regard for Jeffrey Fox’s latest book are urged to check out several of his others, notably How to Get to the Top: Business Lessons Learned at the Dinner Table (2007). I also highly recommend his How to Become a Rainmaker (2000) and then Secrets of Great Rainmakers (2006) as well as Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Fulghum’s aforementioned book. To those in need of additional suggestions, I recommend these: David Whyte’s The Heart Aroused, Michael Ray’s The Highest Goal, James O’Toole’s The Moral Compass and then Creating the Good Life, and Bill George’s Authentic Leadership and then True North.
A personal journey of discovery, generously shared with those who also aspire to liberate creativity and accelerate innovation
Lina Echeverria shares with us her intensely personal journey of discovery, one that revealed personal life/professional career “lessons” that can be of incalculable value to others who also aspire to liberate creativity and accelerate innovation, both their own and throughout the human community within which they are associated. So, her readers are companions during one journey (Echeverria’s) but also – Echeverria hopes – actively engaged in one of their own.
She identifies and discusses a covey of Passions of Innovation (seven, to be specific) that “come together to make up a living system whose energy radiates from a leader at the core, its heart center.” She devotes a separate chapter to each. These passions, these elements, comprise what I view as a manifesto that requires a total commitment. The seven “are neither a recipe to be followed with specific ingredients added in sequence, but rather an approach and a philosophy meant as motivation and inspiration for every leader [or aspiring leader] to create a culture where innovation thrives.”
These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to give at least some indication of the range of subjects that Echeverria covers:
o Know and Understand Creatives (Pages 10-12)
o Define Roles Clearly and Inhibit Conflict (29-37)
Comment: Rather, I favor principled (passionate?) dissent with good will.
o Finding My Wings (39-43)
o Make Room for Intuition (63-67)
o Making It Home: Celebrate the Uniqueness of Their Workplace (94-99)
o Ornaments, Trinkets and Cakes (109-111)
o Demand for Excellence in the Tropical Forest (129-133)
o Create Settings That Nurture Knowledge Sharing (165-174)
o Little Gestures for Big Masters (180)
o Who Has the Skills to Do What with Whom? (196-202)
o In Search of the Holy Grail (207-212)
o Empowerment (236-239)
In the final chapter and then in the Epilogue, Echeverria pulls together with remarkable skill the various themes, insights, concerns, and affirmations that have enriched her lively as well as eloquent narrative. I am especially appreciative of her discussion of authentic leadership, one that is based on integrity rather than title or status. Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need leadership at all levels and in all areas of operation. Only if is authentic as Echeverria characterizes it (channeling Bill George) can there be (a) mutual trust and respect that enable (b) collaborative initiatives that liberate creativity and accelerate innovation in what has become a global workplace.
That said, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that Lina Echeverria provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of her and her work. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the information, insights, and wisdom could perhaps be of substantial benefit to them as well as to their own organization.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Peter Sims for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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It’s a great disservice to everyone, especially young people, that the stories that we often hear about the most accomplished entrepreneurs sound so effortless. The truth is just the opposite, even for visionary creative success stories like those of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Howard Schultz, Wendy Kopp, and even the legendary Steve Jobs. Like any creative process, any entrepreneur who wants to invent, innovate, or create must be willing to be imperfect and make mistakes in order to learn what works and what does not.
It took Dorsey years of experimentation before he finally latched onto what ultimately became Twitter. Wendy Kopp started Teach for America, initially as a conference, on a shoestring budget after graduating from college. And Howard Schultz, while he had great foresight to recognize that Americans needed a communal coffee experience like those that existed in Europe, failed on his first try. As I wrote in Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, when his first store opened in Seattle in 1986, there was non-stop opera music, menus in Italian, and no chairs. As Schultz acknowledges, he and his colleagues had to make “a lot of mistakes” to discover what would become the Starbucks we know today.
Despite what we may have read, Steve Jobs was no different. Here are five of Jobs’s greatest mistakes, all of which history shows he ultimately learned from:
1. Recruiting John Sculley as CEO of Apple. Feeling that he needed an experienced operating and marketing partner, the then 29-year-old Jobs lured Sculley to Apple with the now legendary pitch: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Sculley took the bait and within two years, Sculley had organized a board campaign to fire Jobs. Jobs himself would surely consider hiring Sculley as a great mistake.
2. Believing that Pixar would be a great hardware company. When Jobs was the last and only buyer standing in 1986 when George Lucas had to sell off the Pixar graphics arm of LucasFilms (for $10 million), he never expected the company to ever make money on animated films. Instead, as Pixar historian David Price shows in his excellent book The Pixar Touch, Jobs believed that Pixar was going to be the next great hardware company. Not even a visionary like Steve Jobs could predict what unfolded at Pixar, yet to his great credit, he supported cofounders Ed Catmull and John Lasseter as they pursued their dream of producing a full-length digitally animated film from day one. He protected their ability to make small bets on short films in order to learn how to eventually make a full-length feature film in Toy Story.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Peter Sims is a management writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of aforementioned Little Bets and co-author, with Bill George, of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. He is also the founder of the BLKSHP. To check out his other articles, please click here.
Without mutual respect and trust, “communication” is BLAH BLAH BLAH
Two of the greatest (of many) benefits of the World Wide Web originally envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee are that those who are connected with it can then connect with anyone or anything else also online, anywhere, anytime…and then when the connection is made, interact with each other.
As in all of John Maxell’s several dozen other books, he provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel in this one that will help his reader to communicate more effectively by connecting more extensively. Specifically, Maxwell explains how becoming a Connector will help to achieve strategic objectives that include these:
o Enhance visibility and increase influence
o Serve the best interests of others as well as those of one’s society
o “Talk the talk”…and then walk it
o Renew energy sources
o Master skills to complement natural talent
o Locate common ground, mutual interests, and shared values
o Follow Albert Einstein’s admonition, “Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler”
o Create shared experience that everyone enjoys
o Inspire others
o Ensure alignment of affirmations with actions
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of passages in Maribeth Kuzmeski’s The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. The examples she cites indicate that almost anyone can establish and then sustain mutually beneficial relationships within and beyond the workplace. She asserts that “true connections” between and among people must be made and then sustained with feeling and purpose and honesty. Bill George would invoke the term “authentic,” insisting that it is imperative to be true to one’s self (to one’s True North) as well as to others.
These comments who wholly consistent with the observations and values that Maxwell shares in his book as he explains the defining characteristics of High, Average, and Low Achievers before shifting his attention to explaining how to connect with people at all levels, connect one-on-one, and connect with an audience. He devotes Part II (Chapters 6-10) to explaining in detail how to become a Connector and then, hopefully, help others to complete the same process.
Again, I want to stress how much importance Maxwell places on personal integrity. Some of the most despicable leaders throughout history were – at least for a time – highly effective Connectors. They attracted huge numbers of followers who were enthralled by their charm (i.e. “charisma”) and presence as well as by their eloquence.
The leadership that John Maxwell advocates does not preclude any of these qualities. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. possessed them. However, Maxwell insists that the values great leaders affirm are the same that determine their behavior, that they are committed to what Robert Greenleaf once characterized as “servant leadership.” Principled behavior always communicates more and more effectively than words do.
Peter Sims is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the author of is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, from Simon & Schuster: Free Press. Previously, he was the co-author with Bill George of True North, the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek best-selling book, and he worked in venture capital with Summit Partners, a leading investment company, including as part of the team that established the firm’s London Office.
His work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Tech Crunch, and Fortune and he’s a contributor to the Reuters, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review blogs. He received an M.B.A. from Stanford Business School where he and several classmates established a popular course on leadership and has had a long collaboration with faculty at Stanford’s Institute of Design (the d.school). He frequently speaks or advises at corporations, associations, and universities, including Google, Eli Lilly, Cisco, ConAgra, Pixar, and Stanford University.
He lives in San Francisco and his great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Gundlach, founded Gundlach Bundschu (GunBun) in Sonoma, California’s oldest family-owned winery, which is run today by his cousins who, unlike Peter, know a lot about wine.
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Morris: Before discussing any if your books, a few general questions. First, when and why did you begin your association with Stanford’s Institute of Design (the d.school)?
Sims: I was introduced to George Kembel, the cofounder and Executive Director of the d.school in 2002. George became my design thinking teacher and mentor, while I shared about my experiences as an entrepreneur, investor, and student of leadership and entrepreneurship with George and his d.school colleagues. Understanding design methods literally changed the way I think; all of a sudden, I was immensely more creative, and the key insight I had was that those methods overlapped with the way entrepreneurs worked in the unknown. That became the basis for Little Bets.
Morris: What business lessons have you since learned from that association that have direct relevance to successful change initiatives in almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be? For example, is it possible to design initiatives that will avoid or overcome cultural resistance?
Sims: There are a few principles from design that will influence the business world for years to come. The first is the ability to do rapid, low-cost prototyping at the early stages of developing ideas. We never learned that in business school, yet planning in PowerPoint and Excel is often a terrible waste of time when the answers exist outside the office, in the unarticulated needs of potential users of that idea. That’s where ethnographic observation and need-finding techniques from design, the kind used by anthropologists, play an important role. People in business are surprisingly bad at truly understanding their customers’ needs. Market research doesn’t work for identifying unarticulated needs; just ask Steve Jobs who often says, “People don’t know what they want if they haven’t seen it.”
Morris: Thomas Edison once observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Here’s my question: Even after having designed the best strategy, what should leaders do if there is no buy-in?
Sims: I’ve experienced this; it happens all the time. If there is no buy-in, leaders should wonder if they are hallucinating. That’s one reason I’m very happy to see the rise of a number of schools of thought featured in Little Bets, such as design, lean startups, and counterinsurgency that advocate failing quickly to learn fast, in order to test assumptions and build on gains that work. We’re living in an era that rewards bottom up innovation, yet top-down thinking is still the dominant management norm, an outgrowth of industrial management. The world is far too uncertain for top-down management – just ask Generals in the Army as they’ve learned in the Middle East, where they don’t know the problems they’ll encounter each day. They have to be able to rapidly adapt.
Morris: In your opinion, are investment opportunities for venture capital firms better, worse, or about the same today as they were when you were associated with Summit Partners? Please explain.
Sims: The market is far more competitive and saturated with capital today than it was several years ago. As the investment hold periods get longer, and the return profiles fall, venture capital as an industry is going through a recalibration, where name brand firms will make it, while a lot of dumb money will go away. In addition, the social media valuations we see today, such as Linked In at 30+ times revenue, or Facebook valued the way it is indicates a bubble. The only question I cannot answer is how long that bubble will last.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to True North, a book you co-authored with Bill George. For those who have not as yet read it, what is “true north” and what is its significance?
Sims: Your True North represents your most deeply held values and aspirations.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of “authentic leadership”?
Sims: Bill George defined authentic leadership along five dimensions in his book Authentic Leadership, most importantly leading from an ethical set of values, and a sense of purpose.
Morris: Throughout history, who do you think offer the best examples of an “authentic” leader? Please explain.
Sims: Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Jane Adams, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Oprah and Pixar’s Ed Catmull is a great modern day example, as are the leaders Jim Collins profiles as Level 5 Leaders in Good to Great.
Morris: Were Hitler and Stalin authentic leaders? Please explain.
Sims: No, because they weren’t ethical.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Peter Sims cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
The pre-eminent leader of leadership studies
I have read and reviewed all of Warren Bennis’ books and read most of his articles. Therefore, I was especially eager to examine this volume in which Bennis collaborates with 20 guest contributors on creating what is best viewed as a retrospective examination of the themes, issues, crises, failures, and achievements that have guided and informed – in some respects defined – his life and career thus far. The material is carefully organized within six Parts, each of which has an organizing theme: My Life as a Leader, How Organizations Create or Thwart Leaders, On Becoming a Leader, Leadership as Performance, Cultivating the Leader in Others, and finally, Leadership and the Media. Bennis provideds a brief but remarkably enlightening introduction to each Part.
Presumably Patricia Ward Biederman (who co-authored Organizing Genius with Bennis and contributed “The Berkeley of the East” and “What Went Wrong”) also assisted with the editing of the abundance of the material. However, the dominant voice is Bennis’, as it should be, and he probably reveals more about himself (warts and all) than in any prior publication. I found all of the contributors’ articles well worth reading and especially appreciated these:
Scott Snook and Rakesh Khurana on “The End of the Great Man”
James O’Toole on “A Corporate Fear of Too Much Truth”
Note: O’Toole’s essay on “Speaking Truth to Power” in Transparency, co-authored with Bennis and Daniel Goleman, is a “must read” for all executives.
Frances Hesselbein on “Understanding the Basics”
Glenn Close on “Leadership as a Performing Art”
Bill George on “The Challenges of Leadership in the Modern World”
Jean Lipman-Blumen on “Followers Make Good Leaders”
Readers will also appreciate the Foreword provided by Charles Handy and the Introduction provided by Bennis. Although the narrative consists of 433 pages, most readers will probably review the Contents and then cherry-pick subjects that are most relevant to their own business needs and interests. However, there are several “gems” among the contents that I came upon literally by accident and would have otherwise missed. Either I did not recognize the author or assumed that the subject would be of little (if any) interest. I urge others not to make that mistake. There is not only “something for everyone in this volume,” there a great deal for everyone…and some of that requires a willingness to locate it and then an open mind receptive to what it offers.
In the Introduction, Bennis reflects on certain themes that have always fascinated him (e.g. “that bureaucracy was doomed”) and continue to fascinate him. In certain respects, his own contributions to this volume could be viewed (in aggregate) as memoirs but, in my opinion, they can – and should – also be viewed as a “map” of intellectual and emotional “territory,” much of which has yet to be explored. As part of the “Bennis Heritage,” therefore, I presume to suggest that the implicit challenges in this book are offered with a fervent hope that others will accept them with the courage, curiosity, determination, and humility that Bennis has demonstrated throughout his life and career. With all due respect to his achievements, those qualities are his “essentials.” Begin your own journey of self-discovery by allowing him to share his.
How to generate “ingenious ideas…through a rigorous experimental discovery process”
Having read and reviewed True North, a book Peter Sims co-authored with Bill George, I was curious to know what he has to say about “how breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries.” I was pleased but hardly surprised that Sims has a great deal of value to share, much of it (as he duly acknowledges) gained from conversations with or rigorous study of various thought leaders and they include a few surprises. Chris Rock, for example. His routines are the result of an exhausting process of continuous (mostly failed) experiments, constant modification, and subtle refinement. Other experimental innovators and thought leaders include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Saras Sarasvathy, Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, Chet Pipkin, Frank Gehry, Bing Gordon, U.S. Army Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Steve Jobs, Jeffrey Dyer and Hal Gregersen, Richard Wiseman, and Eric von Hippel.
As Sims explains, his book’s proposition is based on an experimental approach that involves a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes eventually, after frequent failures. (Actually, experimental innovation has no failures; rather, there are initiatives that have not as yet succeeded, each of which is a precious learning opportunity.) “At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems.”
Constant experimentation (“learn by doing”) is fundamental to this approach, as indicated, as are a playful, improvisational, and humorous environment; immersion in unfamiliar situations, localities, circumstances, etc.; definition of specific questions to answer, specific problems to solve, specific objectives to achieve, etc.; flexibility amidst ambiguity and uncertainty in combination with a willingness to accept reorientation; and, as indicated, constant iteration (reiteration?) to test, evaluate, refine, test again, etc. Those who are curious wish to understand what works. Experimental innovators have an insatiable curiosity to know what works (or doesn’t), why it works (or doesn’t), and how it can be improved.
It is important to understand that, as Sims explains, “we can’t plot a series of small wins in advance, we must use experiments in order for them to emerge.” That is, conduct lots (I mean LOTS) of small experiments (betting small amounts of hours and dollars) and then, as small (modest) “wins” occur, increase the “bet” and see what happens…or doesn’t. This process is iterative and never ends. The fundamental advantages are obvious. It allows people to discover new whatevers through an emergent, organic process of frugal but sufficient investments, and, it allows for all manner of adjustments (course corrections, additions/deletions, increases/reductions, etc.) at any point throughout the process.
If your organization is in need of breakthrough ideas, why don’t you provide them? Peter Sims provides in this book just about everything you need to know to understand the process and what must be done to initiate and then sustain it. However, the discoveries cannot be made until the experiments occur. If not you, who? If not now, when?