First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

The Warrior Monk General and his Traveling Library of 6000 books

Renaissance Man:
a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests…


General Mattis attends the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing

In a time when e-books, especially the Kindle and its applications, are threatening the long-term future of physical books, here’s an amazing fact about a renaissance man in a most unexpected job.  Marine Corps General James Mattis, the “Warrior Monk General,” has been nominated to replace General David Petraeus, who is now in Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO’s top military officer.

Here is a pretty amazing fact about this General, from Morning Edition’s (NPR profile) from this morning, July 27, 2010 (listen to the segment here; read the transcript here):

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says Mattis has the judgment and intellect to do the job. Mattis is known to carry books of Roman philosophy with him on every combat mission, and he’s got a personal library of 6,000 books that he insists on taking with him from post to post.
But beyond the books and bravado is a general who can connect with his troops.

6000 books!  Which he takes with him from post to post.  This is a man who knows what he read, he knows where he read it, and he finds these books to be part of his indispensable tool kit.  He has to have them handy.  I think I understand this mindset.

Here’s a little more about him, from the Christian Science Monitor article, Gen. James Mattis: Petraeus’s new boss boasts a salty mouth, keen mind:

Dubbed the “warrior monk,” Mattis is single, is a student of history, and is a Marine to his core. Taken out of context, his comments might seem to be precisely the opposite of America’s more nuanced counterinsurgency goals – protect civilians, use force with discretion.
But Mattis left behind a motto with the marines he led in Iraq’s Anbar Province: “First, do no harm.”
He is, in many ways, the model of what he wants his soldiers and marines to become: fierce when provoked and unblinking in the face of war’s savagery, but determined to make intelligence and forbearance as great a measure of valor as violence.
In Iraq, according to a report in, Mattis talked to his troops about fellow marines who cleared the road for an Iraqi funeral procession and even removed their helmets as a sign of respect – willingly making themselves vulnerable. To Mattis, who studied counterinsurgencies from Algeria to Lawrence of Arabia before deploying to Iraq, warfare is about risk, and the risks inherent in counterinsurgencies are as much about not fighting in order to win over the local population as fighting to kill enemies.

I am not naïve – keeping his 6,000 books handy does not guarantee wisdom.  In fact, he has made pretty controversial moves (mistakes/missteps) over the last few years. But there is something comforting and hopeful about a warrior who reads so widely and treasures the wisdom so greatly.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Where is your “acre of diamonds”?

Russell H. Conwell

Russell Herman Conwell (1843-1925) was an American Baptist minister, orator, philanthropist, lawyer, and writer. He is best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia and for his inspirational lecture, Acres of Diamonds.

Conwell delivered it more than 6,000 times around the world. It was first published in 1890 by the John Y. Huber Company of Philadelphia. Its thesis is that one need not look elsewhere for opportunity, achievement, or fortune—the resources to achieve all good things are present in one’s own community. This theme is developed by an introductory anecdote, told to Conwell by an Arab guide, about a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went off in futile search for them; the new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property.

Conwell elaborates on this theme while providing examples of success, genius, service, or other virtues involving ordinary Americans contemporary to his audience. What he earned in fees from his Acres of Diamonds programs enabled him to found and support Temple University as well as other worthy projects.

To read the biography of Conwell provided by Temple University, click here.

Here is Conwell’s introduction of Acres of Diamonds:

“Friends, This lecture has been delivered under these circumstances:

“I visit a town or city, and try to arrive there early enough to see the postmaster, the barber, the keeper of the hotel, the principal of the schools, and the ministers of some of the churches, and then go into some of the factories and stores, and talk with the people, and get into sympathy with the local conditions of that town or city and see what has been their history, what opportunities they had, and what they had failed to do– and every town fails to do something–and then go to the lecture and talk to those people about the subjects which applied to their locality.

Acres of Diamonds –the idea– has continuously been precisely the same. The idea is that in this country of ours every man has the opportunity to make more of himself than he does in his own environment, with his own skill, with his own energy, and with his own friends.”  — Russell H. Conwell

As I recently re-read this classic, I was reminded again of the men and women who remained in their home town (or city) and prospered there. Perhaps the most famous example is Warren Buffett. True, he traveled from Nebraska to the Northeast to learn what he needed to know, first as a student at Wharton and then at Columbia before accepting a position as a junior associate in Benjamin Graham’s investment firm in NYC. However, he returned to Omaha where he knew he would find his own “acre of diamonds.” FYI, Buffett claims to read Conwell’s lecture at least once a year, if not more often than that.

To read the unabridged version of Acre of Diamonds and all of the other great speeches selected as the Top 100 American Speeches (it only takes about ten minutes to read Acre of Diamonds ), click here.

I also highly recommend:

Great Speeches For Better Speaking
(Book + Audio CD): Listen and Learn from History’s Most Memorable Speeches
Michael Eidenmuller
McGraw-Hill (2008)
Amazon Price: $12.89

Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, Updated and Expanded Edition
William Safire
W.W. Norton (2004)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nancy Lublin on how to do much more with innovation

In Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (2010), Nancy Lublin observes, “Many organizations today are suffering from a lack of imagination; not-for-profits offer fresh ways to be innovative. Whenever companies fall on hard times because foreign competitors can produce products and servicces faster and cheaper, ingenuity can help them regain their competitive edge. Too many of us these days are in survival mode rather than buiding stringer, more nimble, more innivative organizations. That’s a mistake, because by the time business comes back, everyone else will be thinking, Oh, it’s time to get moving again.”

Lublin asserts that “the best time start thinking about new ideas and innovation was yesterday.” She urges her reader to start by asking smarter questions. Try it. Consider these three of the 11 she poses on Pages 231-232:

3. Consider bringing in a group of sixth graders to look at your ideas. Nobody is more honest than a sixth grader. The viewpoints may be refreshing.

5. Who are you innovating for? Who is the customer, and what is her pain point? What does she need? Innovation for the sake of innovation is doomed to fail. Innovation to solve a problem is easier to achieve.

8. Create a sense of urgency, a deadline, or a serious reason for an innovation.

*     *     *

My Take:
First of all, I wholly agree with the ancient Chinese aphorism that the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago; the next best time is now. I agree that sixth graders speak frankly but question how qualified they are to evaluate possible innovations (i.e. initiatives to make something better). Re deadlines, they should NOT be for an innovative idea; rather, for an innovative idea that solves a problem, increases utility, makes something easier to use or better to use, etc. Two nickels and an innovative idea will get you a dime…and nothing more.

I also highly recommend:

Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, Seth Kahan

Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, Scott Belsky

Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Morris on The Courageous Follower: A Book Review

The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders
Ira Chaleff
Berrett-Koehler (2003)

It is important to keep in mind that a “follower” is not necessarily someone who never leads; rather, a follower is someone who, in a non-leader situation, nonetheless has ample opportunities to exercise judgment, demonstrate initiative, and offer support to someone who has leadership responsibilities. In other words, the terms “leader” and “follower” have much less to do with rank, title, status, etc. and much more to do with relative authority and responsibility. In the U.S. Marine Corps, for example, senior officers will defer to a non-com who possesses better information.

As I began to read Chaleff’s book, I was reminded of James O’Toole’s essay, “Speaking to Power,” in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor that he co-authored with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman As he notes, “speaking to power is, perhaps, the oldest of all ethical challenges.” He briefly discusses several plays (Sophocles’ Antigone, John Osborne’s Luther, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons) whose protagonist offers a reminder to leaders in our own time of the responsibility to create a transparent “culture of candor.” This precisely what Chaleff has in mind when examining “courageous followers” who, when involved in the dynamics of the leader-follower relationship, must summon the c courage to assume responsibility, to serve, to challenge, to participate in transformation, and to take moral action.

Meanwhile, Chaleff quite correctly poses this question to leaders: “Do you have the courage to listen to followers?” In the book’s final chapter, he shares his thoughts about how important it is for leaders to not only accept but encourage and indeed welcome “messages” that, although perhaps unpleasant to receive, need to be heard and carefully considered. Chaleff urges all leaders to invite “creative challenge” rather than discourage it.

For me, this is one of the most important points that Doris Kearns Goodwin makes in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. When forming his cabinet after election as the 16th president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln assembled a cabinet whose members included several of his strongest political opponents: Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War (who had called Lincoln a “long armed Ape”), William H. Seward as Secretary of State (who was preparing his acceptance speech when Lincoln was nominated), Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury (who considered Lincoln in all respects his inferior), and Edward Bates as Attorney General who viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator but later described him as “very near being a perfect man.”

It took great courage as a leader for Lincoln to include these opponents in his administration but he needed their advice prior to making what proved to be critically important decisions throughout the Civil War. He welcomed their dissent. Also to Lincoln’s considerable credit, he created a “culture of candor” in which it was not necessary for a follower to be courageous when “speaking to power.”

I highly admire this updated and expanded Third Edition of a book that can be of great value to those who must address today’s leadership crisis…and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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