First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

The unique and compelling power of illustrating an idea

I have just read Toby Lester’s Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image.

The first of several dozen passages caught my eye and I immediately thought of Dan Roam. More about him in a moment. First, the passage:

“Francesco [di Giorgio Martini, 1439-1502, Italy’s most renowned architect and companion of Leonardo] didn’t just state his church-body analogy [‘Basilicas have the proportions of the human body’] and move on. He drew it too. That’s because, uncommonly for his time but in complete sympathy with Leonardo, he believed in the explanatory power of images. ‘Without a drawing,’ he explained in the epilogue of his Treatise, ‘one cannot express and clarify one’s ideas.'” (Page 8)

As you may already know, Dan Roam has written several bestselling books in which he provides a wealth of information, insights, exercises, and wisdom that can help almost anyone to master the basic skills of formulating and then clarifying much better (if not insanely great) ideas.  In the first “Napkin” book, he  suggests to his reader that one of the best ways to answer a question, solve a problem, persuade others, or to achieve another goal is to express its essence. What the French characterize as a precís. For example, formulate it as a simple drawing. You may claim that you have no skills for drawing. That’s good news. Why? Roam asserts that less-sophisticated drawings have greater impact because those who see them can more easily identify with stick figures, for example, and focus more readily on the relationships suggested, such as between and among options to be considered, implications and consequences, and cause-and-effect relationships. Simple drawings accelerate both inductive and deductive reasoning.

Then in the second “Napkin” book, he reiterates three key points:

1. There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture.
2. There is no faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture.
3. There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture.

What we have in Blah Blah Blah is a shift in focus from using simple drawings to express complicated concepts to a rigorous explanation of how to avoid or eliminate boredom in communication. More specifically, how to think more effectively about complexities, how to increase one’s understanding of them, how to increase others’ understanding of them when we explain them, and how to make learning about them more engaging. To a much greater extent than in the previous two books, Roam includes a full complement of tools and techniques by which the reader can (a) select information, insights, and suggestions that are most relevant to her or his specific needs and interests, then (b) apply them most effectively where they will have the greatest impact.

*     *     *

Dan Roam is the author of the international bestsellers The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, and Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work. He is the founder of The Napkin Academy, the world’s first online visual-thinking training program. Dan has helped leaders at Microsoft, Boeing, eBay, Kraft, Gap, IBM, the US Navy, the United States Senate, and the White House solve complex problems with simple pictures. He and his whiteboard have appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NPR. His “American Health Care on the Back of a Napkin” was voted by Business Week as the world’s best presentation of 2009.

Please click here to read first interview of Dan.

Please click here to read the second interview.

Please click here to read the review of The Back of the Napkin.

Please click here to read the review of Unfolding the Napkin.

Please click here to read the review of Blah Blah Blah.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Constantly Changing Leaders – This Makes It Almost Impossible To Build A Functional, Effective Corporate Culture

Call this just a quick, and incredibly obvious, observation…

Dan Weston, business consultant par excellence, tells me that it takes two to three years to even make a dent in the reshaping of the corporate culture challenge.  He is very good at it, has a definite plan to help organizations in this challenge, and yet there is no “one session, one retreat, one conversation” magic pill to get this done.  Reshaping a corporate culture is a multi-session, over-time, long-haul challenge.

So, imagine the turmoil in a company that faces impressive, almost overwhelming competition (Google, et. Al.), and a workforce that is whiplashed by the constant changing of leaders.  That is the challenge facing Yahoo at the moment.

Scott Thompson, Yahoo’s third CEO in about three years, has officially left the building.
(Yahoo’s CEO is out. Now what?)

Uncertainty; whiplash.  People need to know “this is what our company/organization intends to be.”  A trusted, respected leader plays a pretty big role in that “this is what our company intends to be” task.  Going through three leaders in three years makes this almost impossible.


(A personal note:  My youngest son is getting married this weekend, so with my current schedule, I may be doing a little less blogging at the moment.  My apology.  And thanks, as  always, to Bob Morris, who keeps this blog a daily source of wisdom and insight with his many offerings).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , | Leave a comment

Teaming: A book review by Bob Morris

Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy
Amy C. Edmondson
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

Why and how the most valuable organizational learning occurs: through teams

Amy Edmondson characterizes “teaming” as “teamwork on the fly.” It could also be termed “informal collaboration on steroids.” Whatever, the fact remains that human beings have been exchanging information at least since the discovery of caves as shelters. Edmondson observes, “Though teaming refers to a dynamic activity rather than to a traditional, bounded group structure, many of its purposes and benefits are grounded in basic principles of teams and teamwork. Among the benefits of teams is their ability to integrate diverse expertise as needed to accomplish many important tasks.” In what Peter Senge characterizes as the “total learning organization,” everyone is both a teacher and a student, depending on the given information exchange. The extent to which teaming is spontaneous is determined by the extent to which it is allowed to be. Of course, the same is true of innovative thinking.

Edmonson explains how to achieve major strategic objectives, such as these discussed in the first chapter:

o   Formulating a new way of thinking about new ways to team (viewed as a verb)
o   Organizing to execute
o   Learning to team and teaming to learn
o   Establishing the process knowledge spectrum
o   Formulating new ways of thinking about new ways to lead

Edmonson’s approach in each of the eight chapters is to identify, briefly, the “what” of some dimension or component of teaming and then devote most of her (and her reader’s) attention to “how” to make it happen. She also makes skillful use of two reader-friendly devices at the conclusion of each chapter: “Leadership Summary” and “Lessons and Actions.” They serve two separate but immensely important purposes: they highlight key points and essential execution issues, and, they facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later.

I also appreciate the fact that Edmondson inserts several dozen Tables (e.g. 6.1: “Common Boundaries That Impede Teaming and Organizational Learning,” on Page 202) and Exhibits (e.g. 4.2: “The Benefits of Psychological Safety,” Page 126) that provide essential supplementary information. Moreover, she makes excellent use of checklists of key points or sequences of action steps, also inserted throughout her lively and eloquent narrative. The ones that caught my eye include:

o   Obstacles to effective teaming (Pages 61-66)
o  Steps for developing and reinforcing a learning frame (Pages 104-107)
o  Developing a learning approach to failure (Pages 168-170)
o  Using the process knowledge spectrum (Pages 229-234)

A brief commentary such as this can only begin to suggest the scope and depth of Edmondson’s rigorous and substantive examination of how organizations, learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. As I worked my way through the book, I was reminded of relevant passages in two other books I have read recently. First, from Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, co-authored with Brooke Manville. They 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.”

And now, a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not `[begin italics] Should [end italics] we make mistakes?’ but rather `[begin italics] Which [end italics] mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'”

As Amy Edmondson, explains so convincingly, teaming can maximize the quality, impact, and value of both organizational judgment and purposeful mistakes. Bravo!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Lead Until You Have Earned the Right to Lead in a New Job

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas prepares backstage (Getty Images)

Here is a brief excerpt from a leadership column posted by George Bradt at the Forbes magazine website. To check out a wealth of free materials, learn more about George and his firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.” As Anne Fisher points out in a recent Fortune article, this has been true for about 15 years.

A big reason for the ongoing failure rate is the inability of executives to determine the right time to pivot from converging (becoming part of the team) to evolving (initiating change) when they are onboarding, changing jobs or getting promoted – and the inability of others to help them get this timing right.

Let’s unpack that into three musts for executives:

1.  Must adopt a converge and evolve approach to onboarding

2.  Must make a conscious choice about pivoting from converging to evolving

3.  Must time that pivot right

Must Converge and Evolve

We use an ACES approach to onboarding, in which leaders make a choice based on the business context and corporate culture of the company whether to Assimilate in, Converge and Evolve, or Shock a system by making immediate changes.

Understand that while there are certainly some situations where it’s right to shock a system or simply assimilate in, in the vast majority of cases, converging and evolving is the right approach. New leaders cannot lead until they have established a working relationship with their followers.

Hence, converge and evolve. Ajay Banga did this particularly well when he went into MasterCard.

Must Choose to Pivot

Converging and evolving are different. The activities are different. The skills utilized are different. This is why a new leader can’t do both at the same time. This is why it’s so important to have a clear pivot point between asking/converging and leading/evolving.

QlikTech’s Lars Bjork used his first annual meeting to do this, and it worked so well that he pulls his whole company together every year to pivot from the learnings of the year before to the priorities of the year ahead.

This is a critical part of step 2 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Engage the Culture and Your New Colleagues in the Right Context

Be careful about how you engage with the organization’s existing business context and culture. Crossing the need for change based on the context and the cultural readiness for change can help you decide whether to Assimilate, Converge and Evolve (fast or slow), or Shock.

Please click here to read about each step in the playbook.

Please click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step.

*     *     *

To read the complete article, please click here.

The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months.

George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 3rd edition 2011) and the freemium iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.

To read my interview of George, please click here.

To read my review of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, please click here.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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