First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Daniel Pink May Not Like This – But Let’s Hope it Works (Government Prizes for Innovation)

In Daniel Pink’s excellent book, DRiVE:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he argues – well, here’s his own Twitter summary of the book:

Twitter summary (in Pink’s own words, from the end of the book):   “Carrots & sticks are so last century.  Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, & purpose.”

Pink argues passionately for the supremacy of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation.  He wrote: For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation – the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity.

But…  our country is in the midst of a dry spell in the innovation department.  And, one piece of recent legislation provides for government prizes for innovation.  Here’s an excerpt from the article by Annie Lowrey,  Prizewinning Policy: Can Washington get America’s economy moving again with cash rewards?:

There’s good reason for the government to get in on it: Prizes work, and they have a surprisingly long pedigree. Most famously, in 1714, the British government offered £20,000 to anyone who could devise a reliable way of measuring longitude at sea, a problem neither Newton nor Galileo could solve. (Clockmaker John Harrison won in 1773.) Napoleon offered a prize for innovations in food preservation for his army, leading to the development of modern canning. And the $25,000 Orteig Prize spurred Charles Lindbergh to make his trans-Atlantic flight.

The evidence backing the prize boom is not entirely anecdotal, either. There is not a huge body of academic research into prizes, but what there is supports them. One oft-cited study examines the prizes offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of England between 1839 and 1939. “We find large effects of the prizes on contest entries,” the researchers wrote in 2008, confirming that prizes do indeed spur innovation, as opposed to just rewarding pre-existing advances. “[W]e also detect large effects of the prizes on the quality of contemporaneous inventions.”

Here is what I think.  Intrinsic motivation is great – I’m a big fan of Daniel Pink’s argument.  But, for any breakthroughs that actually make life better, and help us build a better economy, I think we ought to use all the arrows from any quiver available.


You can purchase my synopsis of Drive, with audio + hadnout, at our companion website,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inventors of Derivatives vs. the Inventor of Disneyland – or, Why We Got in So Much Trouble

The evidence keeps mounting regarding the proliferation of traders over builders, and this has not been a good development for our economy.

I first saw this distinction described in Richard Florida’s book The Great Reset.  I blogged about it here: “Traders” vs. “Builders” – the “Fantasy Economy” vs. the “Real Economy.”. Here is the key quote from his book, which I included in that blog post:

We’re witnessing a replay of the age-old conflict between “traders” and “builders,” as Geoff Beattie, the head of Woodbridge, dubs it.  Traders make money off, well, trading things.  They create little or no real wealth, because they do not engage in productivity; they profit through trading.  Builders, on the other hand, focus on investing in real assets in the real economy…
The landscape today is littered with instant tycoons who made their fortunes on tiny upticks in the stock market or by trading shares in other people’ debt.
For far too many of these traders, the only productivity was profit and their only customers were themselves.
I raise this to make this point:  builders need to take their preeminent position back from the traders for the economy of the future to flourish.

This weekend, Frank Rich referred to this problem in his column Who Killed the Disneyland Dream? It’s a revealing column, but this one paragraph reveals the shift from builders to traders:

It’s a measure of how rapidly our economic order has shifted that nearly a quarter of the 400 wealthiest people in America on this year’s Forbes list make their fortunes from financial services, more than three times as many as in the first Forbes 400 in 1982. Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands, because that’s where the action has been, and still is, two years after the crash. In 2010, our system incentivizes high-stakes gambling — “this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place,” as Calvin Trillin memorably wrote last year — rather than the rebooting and rebuilding of America.

It’s not that I think we should “judge” those who are in the “trading” business.  Men (and now women) have always gone where the jobs are that pay the most, and help them get ahead.  If finance is the golden goose of this generation, then so be it.

But…but… our society needs to do a better job at building things.  Who will rise up to fill these slots, and help us restore this economy in a real, not a fantasy, way?  This really is the question of the day.


(I just read the Calvin Trillin article that Frank Rich referred to.  It really is worth reading!)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Brooks’ Sidney Awards, Part II

David Brooks

Here is an excerpt from the second of two of David Brooks’ columns for The New York Times in which he announces and briefly discusses his annual Sidney Awards. The first column appeared on December 24, 2010, and the second on December 28, 2010.

*     *     *

The Sidney Awards go to some of the best magazine essays of the year. The one-man jury is biased against political essays, since politics already gets so much coverage. But the jury is biased in favor of pieces that illuminate the ideas and conditions undergirding political events.

For example, there’s been a lot of talk this year about trying to reduce corruption in Afghanistan, Iraq and across the Middle East. But in a piece in The American Interest called “Understanding Corruption,”  Lawrence Rosen asks: What does corruption mean?

For Westerners, it means one set of things: bribery and nepotism, etc. But when Rosen asks people in the Middle East what corruption is, he gets variations on an entirely different meaning: “Corruption is the failure to share any largess you have received with those with whom you have formed ties of dependence.”

Our view of corruption makes sense in a nation of laws and impersonal institutions. But, Rosen explains, “Theirs is a world in which the defining feature of a man is that he has formed a web of indebtedness, a network of obligations that prove his capacity to maneuver in a  world of relentless uncertainty.” So to not give a job to a cousin is corrupt; to not do deals with tribesmen is corrupt. Reducing corruption in Afghanistan is not a question of replacing President Hamid Karzai with a more honest man. It’s a deeper process.

In earlier ages, people consulted oracles. We consult studies. We rely on scientific findings to guide health care decisions, policy making and much else. But in an essay called “The Truth Wears Off”  in The New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer reports on something strange.

He describes a class of antipsychotic drugs, whose effectiveness was demonstrated by several large clinical trials. But in a subsequent batch of studies, the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to wane precipitously.

This is not an isolated case. “But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain,” Lehrer writes. “It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable.”

The world is fluid. Bias and randomness can creep in from all directions. For example, between 1966 and 1995 there were 47 acupuncture studies conducted in Japan, Taiwan and China, and they all found it to be an effective therapy. There were 94 studies in the U.S., Sweden and Britain, and only 56 percent showed benefits. The lesson is not to throw out studies, but to never underestimate the complexity of the world around.

*     *     *

I’ve been doing these awards for several years now. This was the richest year, with the best essays.

[To read the complete article, please click here.]

*     *     *

David Brooks‘s Op-Ed column in The New York Times started in September 2003. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.” He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense, both published by Simon & Schuster.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Perspective on the “Best of 2010″ Lists


This is the time of the year that we see so many collective lists of the “best of 2010.”  In the last few days, we have seen such lists for films, sports accomplishments, songs, architecture, recipes, restaurants, and of course, books.

I want to tell you that I am unimpressed with most of the lists that I have seen that focus on books.  As with films, these book lists contain great confusion among quality and quantity.  That premise is particularly true when the lists come from booksellers themselves, such as a recent e-mail I received from Barnes and Noble with their “Books of the Year.”

Just like a film, a book is not necessarily good because it sells.  Popular, best-selling books are of no greater quality than are popular, high dollar-grossing films.  Because people buy a book does not make it good.  Nor do I consider it a good barometer for quality.

Consider the terrible film from the late ’70’s, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  That film grossed millions of dollars and played regularly in theatres on Friday and Saturday nights through the mid ’90’s.  It had no redeeming merit and critics panned its quality.  Yet, it had a cult-like following, and it played to packed audiences, mostly either inebriated or bored, for many years.

In the recent Barnes and Noble list, I saw one business book for the 2010 year.  It was The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  I saw no other business books.  I believe that was a fine book, but not as good as his previous offering, Moneyball.   Why was it on the list?  Because it sold.  The best books in that list are the best-sellers.  But, best-selling does not indicate high quality.  I can give you titles of at least a dozen other books this year that were of higher quality than that one, but that simply did not sell as well.

Please remember that we only summarize the content of best-selling books at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  The number one criterion is that the book must be on a best-selling list somewhere that we find credible.   These lists include Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and, among others.  I will admit to you that after 13 years of doing this, I have delivered synopses of some books that sold well, but that were simply not very good.  Some were not well-written, some were ill-researched, and some were best-sellers just because of the reputation of the author.

Regardless, we will continue to use best-sellers as our basis for book selection at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  But, I am telling you that popular does not equate to good.  And, there are likely some very good books that do not have the boost of marketing dollars from huge publishers that likely go overlooked.  Strange as it sounds, it may not be optimal, but these lists remain the best vehicle available for us to use for our selections.  Remember – popular may not be good.  And, good may not always be popular.

What do you think?  Let’s talk about it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Ways to Hire Effective Innovators

Peter Maulick

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Peter Maulick for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

These days, you’re as likely to see “innovative” on any given job description as you are to see “strong communication skills” or “team player.” But how do you hire innovators?

What exactly are you looking for, and more importantly, how do you identify the ability to innovate?

Take this anecdote: Our innovation consultancy recently played host to a rather unusual job interview when a candidate came to us after selling his company, a premium brand of Cachaça (the Brazilian liquor). While still in college, the candidate conceived the brand, sourced it, packaged it, imported it, and distributed it. For his interview, he hosted a Cachaça happy hour in our office, bringing in a bartender and the fresh fruits required to prepare Brazil’s signature cocktails.

We hired him on the spot, and not because we were tipsy. His creativity raised the bar (pun intended) on our hiring process.

We recognized that when seeking an innovator, you don’t just want to know if a candidate has the skills you need — you want to see how those skills are applied to real-world commercial objectives. Having ideas is only part of what makes an effective innovator. Being able to execute on an idea — transforming blue-sky notions into tangible offerings — is the other half of the innovation equation. No matter how big the idea is: if it isn’t doable, it’s not an innovation.

Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen identify five “discovery skills” that make for innovative mindsets: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking.
Detecting these skills in isolation is a good sign, but it says little about a candidate’s innovation capability. How these skills are leveraged is the key to execution, and the challenge is to design an interview process that tests the application of these core skills.

Our Cachaça candidate’s presentation demonstrated these skills to us, but how do we assess candidates who don’t come in with a full bar? Here are two hiring exercises designed to apply the innovator’s discovery skills towards real-world commercial objectives, going beyond idea generation all the way to revenue generation:

From Discovery to Strategy: This exercise simulates the process of unlocking market opportunities through innovation — ask for a solution to a real-life problem. For example, we’ll ask candidates to develop an innovation strategy for the CEO of a major beverage company, synthesizing insights from the market conditions outlined in a beverage industry trend report (which we provide). Once the candidate has devised a strategy, have her present it to your team as if she is presenting to the CEO. Evaluate her not only on the quality of the insights driving the strategy, but on her understanding of the complexities surrounding its implementation and her ability to determine the commercial potential of the idea. Is it just a good idea, or is it a viable, sustainable business?

From Discovery to Invention: Try an exercise in applied invention I like to call “You in a Bottle.” Have candidates invent a drink based on core attributes of their own personalities, and then design an offering for it. Their ability to glean consumer insight from within is crucial to the task. The offering should at once communicate the candidate’s individuality and appeal to a broader market. Most importantly, the candidate should define a profitable market for his product.

With exercises like these that evaluate an innovator’s ability to make the leap from idea to innovation, you can be sure you’re building teams capable of turning transformational innovation into the repeatable, scalable discipline that every business needs.

And that’s something we can all toast to.

*     *     *

Pete Maulik is Chief Operating Officer and Head of Commercial Strategy at Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consultancy based in New York. He has spoken and written extensively on innovation.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s Our Assignment for the last days of 2010 – Unclutter! (with insight from David Allen)

(yes, I am writing this for me to follow!)

Here’s the problem. The New Year is about to arrive.  We are all buried in unfinished work, and cluttered space in our minds, on our desks, and in our cars and houses, from 2010.

Here’s the solution: spend as much time as possible uncluttering this week.  Our goal:  a cleared mind, and cleared spaces, to begin 2011 with a “fresh” slate, a cleared mind, and really clean and uncluttered spaces.

Elton Trueblood, who wrote 33 books in 33 years, used to say that you ruin a day the night before.  Well, maybe we ruin a year the year before.  What if we could all begin 2011 in a really fresh, clean, uncluttered way?

Let’s start with some reminders from David Allen’s modern classic, Getting Things Done.

Almost everyone I encounter these days feels he or she has too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done.

What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction?

Stuff:  anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven‘t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.

We all seem to be starved for a win.  It’s great to satisfy that by giving yourself doable tasks you can start and finish easily.

Here is some imagery he presents in the book: We should strive to work with The “Ready State” of the Martial Artista “mind like water”/ “in the zone”/effortless success…

Clutter defeats this, and defeats us, at every turn.  If we are “buried” in clutter, in our thoughts, in our spaces, then we simply find it hard to be productive.

So, for the next three days, what do we — what do you — need to unclutter?  Your desk?  Your inbox?  Your flat spaces in your bedroom.  Your car?

But, what about all that unfinished work – all those unfinished projects?, you ask.  Well, we at least need to find a “place” to put all of our tasks, our next action steps, out of sight, but easily and quickly retrievable.  In other words, we need to implement the strategy that David Allen made famous in Getting Things Done.  Again from Allen:

Next Step (Next Action): the very next physical action required to move a situation forward!

So, let’s get to it.  It might very well be that the most important thing we can do for a truly productive 2011 is to unclutter in these last days of 2010.


If you have already read Getting Things Done, pull it off your shelf and take a look at your own underlinings and highlights.  If you have not, here ‘s a quick way to get the key themes:  purchase my synopsis of the book, with audio + handout, at our companion web site,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snarking and Literature

Lawrence Dorfman’s The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring is among my Christmas gifts this year and immediately attracted my attention because of the wealth of quotations it provides from various sources. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the term, Dorfman provides this etymology:

“snark\snärk\n 1 biting wit 2 a : smartass remark b : slyly disparaging comment 3 : bastardization of ‘snide remark’ snarky — \snärke\ adj. : IRASCIBLE, SNAPPISH snark+ ier; – est”

Examples? How about these:

“The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.” George Bernard Shaw

“This is not a novel to be taken lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Dorothy Parker

“”Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” Mark Twain

“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend to read it.” Groucho Marx

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” Ambrose Bierce

“Truman Capote’s death was a good career move.” Gore Vidal

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham

“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’” P.G. Wodehouse

“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.” Marty Feldman

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert A. Eckert (Chairman and CEO, Mattel) in “The Corner Office”

Robert A. Eckert

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview Robert A. Eckert, the chairman and C.E.O. of Mattel, who observes, “I’m looking for fit, personality, values” when describing how he conducts job interviews. He adds: “I don’t really care how many places you worked at or what grades you got.”

To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

*     *     *

Bryant: Tell me about some early influences for you. What about your parents?

Eckert: My father was a single-practitioner dentist in suburban Chicago, and a World War II veteran. My mother started out working for him, and then she looked after the kids full-time.

Bryant: How did they influence the way you lead today?

Eckert: My parents were both very positive people, and never complained about anything. My father died a couple years ago at age 91. When we knew the end was near, I’d go see him all the time. And he’d want to know: “Bobby, how’s it going? Enough about me. Tell me about you.” He was interested in other people. And my wife has always said about him and me that we are “other directed.” Being other directed has always worked for me.

Bryant: What were some other early lessons?

Eckert: Kraft Foods was my first company out of school. I was a 21-year-old trained M.B.A. type, and I’m going to work for this fellow who’s in his 50s and worked his way up the ladder a lot differently than I was going to work my way up the ladder. And I showed him a lot of respect. I never walked in with an attitude of, “I’m an M.B.A., I’m Bob, let me tell you what to do.” And he taught me so much about the company. He’d worked there for decades, and he was open and willing to share a lot with me, and I would take that in.

I also met the old-timers for breakfast every morning in the cafeteria. I’d listen to their stories and engage with them, and they allowed me to be a part of their little club. I learned a lot about the company and how it worked and how they worked.

Bryant: What can you tell me about your approach to leadership now?

Eckert: Trust is an important thing. The way we run the company is, I have a lot of confidence in you, I have a lot of trust in you, we’re transparent — we share where we are and where we’re going and what’s going on. And that openness has always worked well for me. I come with a positive attitude that you come to work and you want to do the best job you can. That’s why you’re here. You could work some other place, you could do some other thing, but you work here. I want to help you succeed.

I’ve worked for one or two people in my career or seen one or two where it’s the opposite. They think you’re here to mess up, and it’s their job to prevent you from messing up. That’s not very motivating to good people.

Bryant: What kind of feedback have you received over the years about the way you manage?

Eckert: I’m not a quick trigger. If my bias is, if you’re here to do a good job and you’re a good person, then I’m here to help you. I spend an awful lot of energy, if you’re underperforming, trying to help you figure out how to perform better, when others might more quickly say we’ve got to move on. And being slow with the trigger hasn’t been productive for me. I recognize it. It’s still a flaw. Sometimes people really do turn it around and perform better, but it doesn’t always work out that way. And with the benefit of hindsight after letting someone go, you say, I should have done that last year.

Bryant: Let’s talk about hiring. If you were interviewing me, how would that conversation go?

Eckert: There are two things I look for. First, I’ll find out from you, if you’ve reached a certain level in business, whether you and I have a common acquaintance. It may take me a while to find out who it is, but I’m going to know a couple of people who you know. So before you’re hired, I’m going to call those people, and I’m going to hear them talk to me about you. That works well for me.

The second thing I do is look for values. I’ll take you back to when I was hired at Kraft in 1977. I met with Keith Ridgway, who was the C.E.O., and we’re having a chat. We’re chatting about how he was a World War II pilot, and that my father was in World War II, too, and we’re chatting about things that I found terribly irrelevant. I wasn’t convinced he had read my résumé. I worked hard and got good grades, but he didn’t seem that interested in that. I walked out of that interview and I didn’t feel good about it. It was just weird.

Then fast-forward 15 years, the kids are sitting on the couch, and I’m asking them about their families, and how they grew up, and who’s important in their life and how did they decide to do this and that. I’m looking for fit, personality, values. Is this the kind of person we want around here? Will they work well? And I don’t really care how many places you worked at or what grades you got or who your favorite teacher was or what your favorite class was. It’s about what kind of people they are.

Bryant: And what are you listening for?

Eckert: Stories. You’re interviewing me now, but we could just as soon be having a job interview. You’re going to walk away from our session right now with a perspective about me. And it’s not focused on my career accomplishments, like what I did in 1987 when I was the vice president of marketing in the grocery division. It’s a conversation about a person.

*     *     *

Adam Bryant

Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faster Cheaper Better: A Book review by Bob Morris

Faster Cheaper Better: The 9 Levers for Transforming How Work Gets Done
Michael Hammer & Lisa W. Hershman
Crown Business (2010)

Note: Regrettably, Michael Hammer died in September 2008 while at work on the first draft of this book.  His colleague at the Hammer Company as well as his co-author and personal friend, Lisa Hershman, should be commended for completing the manuscript for publication. She conducted many of the interviews that are included while also making whatever revisions and editorial decisions were necessary. The results of her commitment both to her late colleague and to the book speak for themselves in this brilliant achievement.

*     *     *

Questions are much easier to ask than to answer. For example, why is it so difficult for most companies that have all the resources they need (including talented, skilled, intelligent, and energetic people) to achieve and then sustain continuous improvement of performance? According to Hershman, here is what Hammer’s research has revealed. “It’s simply the way companies today are organized and operated makes it impossible for them to get the dramatic performance improvements they need even if they were staffed by supermen and superwomen. The only option is deep and fundamental change to how they do the work. Providing the road map to doing so is the mission of this book.”

More specifically, what Hammer and Hershman offer in this book are five process enablers (i.e. the process design, appropriate metrics, performers who do the work, a process owner, and an effective infrastructure) that comprise the aforementioned road map for “transforming a process and creating breakthrough performance.” However, important as this map is, it is insufficient because so many companies seem to know what to do but just can’t get it done. In many instances, their leaders have developed what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton characterize as a “knowing-doing gap.” Companies that have been able to follow Hammer’s road map “did so because they have four enterprise capabilities in place – overarching characteristics that equipped them to undertake fundamental transformation: leadership; culture; governance; and expertise.”

To me, the most valuable material in the book is provided in the final chapter but only because Hammer and Hershman have used the previous chapters to create a context, a frame-of-reference, for the Process and Enterprise Maturity Model (PEMM) based on the nine critical high-level organizing principles “that can transform a mediocre company into a high-performance organization.” It is important to keep in mind that PEMM does not specify what any particular process should look like. Those involving the improvement of cycle time or first-pass yield, for example, will differ – sometimes significantly — from one company to the next; indeed, they can differ – sometimes significantly – in the same company from one department to the next.

Hammer and Hershman explain, PEMM identifies the characteristics that any company should have to succeed in implementing process transformation.” A company can apply PEMM to all its processes and can develop processes unique to its own needs…It is a model designed to measure how well the organization is adopting the nine principles of process. ” After working their way through the book to the final chapter, readers may ask, “How mature are the processes in my organization?” Hammer and Hershman conclude their book with a five-page detailed audit by which each reader can answer that question. The grid lists the nine organizing principles vertically and four levels of maturity horizontally. Annotations illuminate the evaluation process.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 415 other followers

%d bloggers like this: