First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Not Enough For A Book; Too Much For An Article – “Kindle Singles” Are On The Way

Bob Morris and I have talked about books that really did not quite have “enough” content to justify a book.  (No, I won’t reveal titles here).  Well, new technology might just provide a solution – shorter than a book, longer than an article.  I read about it on Andrew Sullivan, but he found it here.  They will be called “Kindle Singles,” (until a competitor comes out with its version, with a different name).  From the article:

Amazon is rolling out a separate section of its Kindle store meant for shorter content—meatier than long-form journalism, but shorter than a typical book. Called “Kindle Singles,” the content will be distributed like other Kindle books but will likely fall between 10,000 and 30,000 words, or the equivalent of a few chapters from a novel.

The company believes that some of the best ideas don’t need to be stretched to more than 50,000 words in order to get in front of readers, nor do they need to be chopped down to the length of a magazine article.

Matthew Yglesias expands on the benefit:

I think that’s a great idea. Particular in the kind of political/policy space I work in, I think we see a ton of good magazine articles that outline ideas worth expanding on that get turned into books that are really quite a bit longer than they need to be. But conventions about content-length—the column, the magazine article, the book—are driven by the economics of printing and distributing bundles of ink-covered paper rather than considerations about the content itself. One of the great things about blogging is that it’s let people become more flexible about item-length when it comes to shorter kinds of things. Now it looks like the rise of e-reader technology will drive a similar trend toward flexibility at the longer end, which I think will be a big win for non-fiction writers and readers.

From one commenter:

So, they’ve invented the novella of non-fiction writing?

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Anil and Ajay Patel Provide the Business Insight for the Day

Now here’s your important business insight for the day…

People are always looking to buy stuff cheaper.
Anil and Ajay Patel,young entrepreneurs, who transformed their love of video games into a profitable business, GameOrigin.com.  (Twins Turn Video Game Hobby into Business).

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

Does Management Work? – It Looks Like it Does

Management:
the skilful or resourceful use of materials, time, etc.

————

More than a year ago, I wrote this post: Which is It? Overmanaged and Underled — OR, Undermanaged and Overled? How about Undermanaged and Underled? My conclusion then, and still now, is that yes, many companies and organizations are underled, but they are also undermanaged.

There are, of course, plenty of cases of micromanagers who squelch creativity and initiative.  But in general, people do better when there is the right kind of management.  And for every case of a company that is overmanaged, I suspect there are many more that are undermanaged.

I remember hearing a General interviewed in the early days of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, complaining about the inability to get simple things done in Iraq.  He said (paraphrased): “Don’t ever let me complain about the bureaucracy back in the United States again.  I would give anything to have those bureaucrats here — they actually get things done!”

In today’s Slate.com, we find this:  In Defense of Middle Management:  A new study demonstrates just how important bureaucracy and paperwork really are by Ray Fisman. It summarizes the findings of a serious academic project, a new World Bank-Stanford study titled “Does Management Matter?” Here is a brief excerpt from the Fisman article:

It turns out management does matter: The consultants boosted productivity by around 10 percent by improving quality, managing inventory, and speeding up production.

The study’s authors enumerate 38 practices that define good management. These include routines to record and analyze quality defects, production and inventory tracking systems, and clear assignment of job roles and responsibilities.

These 38 practices are specific for the industry/factories studied in India that were part of the study, and include such additional items as:

The shop floor is marked clearly for where each machine should be
The shop floor is clear of waste and obstacles
Machine downtime is recorded

The complete list of 38 practices is in Table 2 of the full study, DOES MANAGEMENT MATTER? EVIDENCE FROM INDIA by Nicholas Bloom, Benn Eifert, Aprajit Mahajan, David McKenzie and John Roberts.

In the Slate article, two photos from a factory in India are worth a couple of thousand words:

Before: Flammable garbage in a Mumbai textile plant

After: Textiles at the plant have been organized and racked

 

The idea really is simple.  Plan the work.  Organize the work environment.  Organize the work.  Make sure everyone knows what to do when, what to do next.  “Manage.” Chances are, we could all use a little good management to help us work more effectively and efficiently.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luis Urzúa, Shift Foreman – Leader of the Decade

So here’s the situation.  You’re the shift foreman for 32 other men.  They are descending into chaotic hopelessness.  Fist fights are breaking out.  Resources are nearly exhausted.   All you can really do is wait – hope – and panic.  Or…you can take the lead.  What do you do?

If you want to survive, you take the lead.  And that is exactly what Luis Urzúa, the 54 year old shift foreman did with his crew of 32 men over 2,000 feet underground.

He divided the men into three groups.  He gave them “specific/tangible” tasks to perform.  He evenly and fairly divided out their incredibly sparse resources.  And, he waited until they all made the surface before he left the mine.  And when he was greeted by President Sebastián Piñera, the President told him:  “Mr. Urzúa, your shift is over.”

Alex Ibanez/Chilean Presidential Press Office, via Associated Press

 

Luis Urzúa, one of the happiest moments of his life (EFE)

 

It’s simple:  Luis Urzúa is the leader of the decade.

This post has two parts:  the story of Urzúa, and the insight of Robert (Bob) Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Learn from the Worst. (Bob Morris reviewed this book on our blog here).  Here’s the last paragraph of Bob’s review:

Sutton identifies the “what” and explains the “why” of a good or bad business decision or initiative, then focuses most of his attention on how to do what must be done while avoiding (or repairing) the damage of what should not be done.

The Story — Urzúa’s Leadership:
You can read much about what Urzúa actually did here: Chilean mine foreman works heroically to keep hope alive. Here are some excerpts:

For Urzúa, the command challenges began within moments of the mine collapse — he quickly ordered his men to huddle while he took three miners and scouted up the tunnel, searching for information on the massive cave-in. Correctly deducing that the men were trapped, Urzúa instituted a set of rules and regulations that were both methodically rigid and crucial to the men’s survival. He ordered that the mine’s stash of emergency food be rationed into minimal portions — two spoonfuls of tuna fish and half a glass of milk every 48 hours.

As rescuers spent 16 days in frustrated attempts to drill a rescue hole 700m down to the trapped men, Urzúa also used his training as a topographer to make detailed maps of the miners’ underground world, which includes more than 2km of tunnels, caves and a 35m2 refuge.

With a white Nissan Terrano pickup truck as his office, Urzúa drew maps; divided the miners’ world into a work area, a sleep area and a sanitary facility; and used the headlights of mining trucks to simulate sunlight in an attempt to provide a semblance of routine to the men’s daily lives. Urzúa also kept the men on a 12-hour shift schedule.

When the first letters from the trapped men arrived “top side,” rescue workers were heartened to see the messages carefully worded and dated, a sign that the miners were not disorientated.

“You think they wrote those letters in the moment? No,” Manalich (Chilean Minister of Health Jaime Manalich) said. “Urzúa had that material prepared. He knew there would be a rescue mission.”

As Urzúa’s 12-hour shift stretches to over a month of command and control, the former soccer coach has such complete dominion over the situation that on Friday last week during a daily medical conference call, he told Manalich to “keep it short, we have lots of work to do.”

The Chilean government has three separate rescue plans in place, called simply plans A, B and C. Each effort is a multimillion-dollar gamble; all count on Urzúa to organize a host of tasks for his mining crew.

Insight from Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss:
Luis Urzúa has been a good boss (make that a great boss).  Robert (Bob) Sutton, the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, wrote a blog post entitled Luis Urzúa and the Trapped Miners: A Good Boss, Performance, and Humanity. Sutton was interviewed on CNN about Urzúa’s leadership in the mine (I cannot find the interview on-line), and on PRI’s The World, which I heard (listen to the app. 6 minute audio here).  Here are a few excerts (taken from the audio – maybe not a perfect transcription, but close):

A boss has two jobs:  One, to be technically competent. Two, he has to have the compassion and caring about people.

Sometimes we have this romanticized view of leadership that the boss is sort of a superhero who runs around doing everything himself.  (But Urzúa) organized teams below him; a medical team, a spiritual team.  He consistently puts his own needs last.

He let people know what was coming.  Give people as much predictabilty as possible.  Small wins…little sort of steps that they can take.

Very often, leadership is sort of described in a big, broad brush sort of notion.  What great bosses do is provide the little steps so that we can move along, and clearly he has/and his team have been doing that.

We all want to be on a team where the right people are in the right seats.

I suspect that the work of this remarkable leader, and his appointed team leaders, will get a lot of attention in the coming months. But I think it is time to go ahead and state the obvious: Luis Urzúa, Shift Foreman is the Leader of the Decade.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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