This is the most valuable contribution to business thought leadership that Ram Charan has made…thus far.
I have read and reviewed all of the books that Dallas-based Ram Charan has written or co-written and am convinced that The Attacker’s Advantage is the most valuable…thus far. Why? Because the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that he provides can be of substantial assistance to almost anyone, at any level and in any area of the given enterprise, to improve their leadership and management skills. The title of the book refers to “the world of large-scale [i.e. high-impact] entrepreneurs who create [or recognize] a new need, scale it up quickly, and put a bend in the road for traditional players…The attacker’s advantage is the ability to detect ahead of others those forces that are radically reshaping your marketplace, then position your business to make the next move first.”
Those who read and then re-read) this book with appropriate care will accelerate their development of five essential capabilities:
1. Perceptual acuity
2. A mindset to see opportunity in uncertainty
3. The ability to see as new path forward and commit to it
4. Adeptness in managing the transition to the next path
5. Skill in making the organization steerable and agile
Each of these is an important WHAT that countless other business thinkers have already identified. Charan explains HOW while in process revealing the WHY.
Consider, for example, the importance of anomalies. Years ago, Isaac Asimov observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’” Charan has a great deal of value to say about the importance of anomalies (on Pages 50-57) when suggesting “what to watch for.” Any fool can connect dots. Those whom Charan characterizes as “catalysts” know which dots to connect, to be sure, but of much greater importance, they recognize and grasp the significance of potentialities and implications such as causal relationships. Catalysts constantly practice the skill of “sorting, sifting, and selecting what matters from the vast and changing external landscape.”
Once again as he does in so many of his previously published works, he makes brilliant use of reader-friendly devices such as a checklist of Takeaways for each of the four Parts. They serve as study guide questions. Another section, “IN THE NEXT CHAPTER…,” concludes each chapter, offering a head’s up to key material in the next chapter. And also, real-world exempla that include companies such as Tata Communication, LEGO Group, Kaiser Permanente, and Merck as well as executives that include (in alpha order) Marc Andreessen, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Fink, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ruben Mettler, Ralph Nader, Hal Sperlich, and Steve Schwarzman. As Charan carefully indicates, there are valuable lessons to be learned from all of them. It is also true that the reader-friendly devices will help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of the most important material later.
These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Charan’s coverage:
o The Essentials of Leading in Uncertainty (Pages 5-10)
o Redefining an Industrial Icon: GE (23-26)
o Five Examples of Catalysts (41-47)
o Seek Contrary Viewpoints (61-63)
o Be a Voracious Reader (71-73)
o Consumers Hold the Key (89-94)
o Removing the Blockages to a Path of Uncertainty (103-112)
o Benefits of the Joint Practice Session (133-137)
o The Joint Practice Session: Transparency and Coordination (131-133)
o A JPS (Joint Practice Session) in Financial Services (139-145)
o Identifying [Critical] Decision Nodes (157-161)
o Assigning the Leaders of Critical Nodes (161-164)
o Monitoring How the Nodes Are Working (166-172)
o Setting Short-Term Milestones (174-179)
o Keep Others with You (191-194)
Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the quality and value of the material that Ram Charan provides in this, his latest and as indicated, what I consider to be his most important work…thus far. I agree with him that “taking control of uncertainty is the fundamental leadership challenge of our time.” It is worth noting that the original meaning of the Chinese character for “crisis,” formulated centuries ago, is both “peril” and “opportunity.” Now and in months to come, uncertainty is certain to pose even greater challenges to leaders in all organizations, whatever their size and nature may be. Hence the importance of gaining and sustaining the attacker’s advantage. I urge those in organizations that now lack such an advantage to read and then re-read this book. Also, check out the resources here, especially the key capabilities assessment.
Back in my preaching days, there was an oft-repeated story told among preachers. It was about a preacher who left his notes up on the pulpit, only to be discovered by a younger minister. In the margin, next to one of his main points, the preacher had written:
“THIS POINT IS WEAK. SHOUT LIKE HELL!!!”
I’m not sure if I ever believed it as a true story, but I do believe this – the best speakers write all over their speaking notes. In big print, underlining key words, circling key words.
Among the many “sins” (to stay in the preacher story mode) of speakers is the sin of speaking in a monotone. A speaker simply has to learn to speak with great variations in the use of his/her voice. I call these variations “vocal variety” and “verbal punch.” “Verbal punch” is especially key. It is like a verbal “bold” and “italics,” and it can be done with volume variation (louder; softer) and very effective use of pauses. And, the right gesture at the right moment can add greatly to verbal punch.
I thought of all this as I read this article in the New York Times: When Your Punctuation Says It All (!) by Jessica Bennett. The article was about the new “rules” of punctuation in text messaging, and I felt pretty old and out of it pretty quickly reading her article. But this paragraph was terrific for those of us who have to speak and give presentations:
THE ORIGINS of punctuation lie in ancient oration, when marks were used in handwritten speeches to advise when and for how long a speaker should pause. A period was a part of speech that had a beginning and end, a comma indicated the shortest pause, while the colon was somewhere between the two.
I teach my students and clients that punctuation matters – as visual clues for delivery.
, (comma) = pause
; or : (semicolon and/or colon) = longer pause
. (period) = even longer pause
– (double dash) = about the same pause as a . (period)
pp (new paragraph) = longest pause.
But, here is the simple reminder: mark up your speaking notes thoroughly. Even if you speak without notes, mark up your rehearsal notes. Use thick-point Sharpies. Use different color ink than the typed or written main notes. Circle key words. Underline! Use plenty of punctuation, especially exclamation points – plural!
(By the way – this has nothing to do with the rules of “correct” punctuation for writing and publication. These are visual cues for speaking, not literary rules for publication. If a “double dash” is not the “correct” punctuation, who cares?, if it helps you verbally punch the phrase more effectively).
Then, when you are speaking, your mark-ups serve as presentation/delivery cues (clues), helping you use vocal variety and verbal punch effectively; keeping you from speaking in the dreaded monotone voice.
And, yes, if one of your points is truly weak, consider shouting like hell!
Maybe the world isn’t quite as flat as we imagined…
Mr. Ghemawat describes four “Worlds” –
World 0.0 – absolutely local; clans; tribes; no nations
World 1.0 – nations; national borders
World 2.0 – absolute globalization — the “new” flat world; a borderless world…
World 3.0 – yes, there are still strong national borders; but there is also greater globalization – more “semiglobalization”
World 0.0 and World 1.0 are gone – no longer possible. World 2.0 is a myth; a fantasy. The path forward is the path of World 3.0 – the path of semiglobalization, which still honors national borders; national cultures. This book describes this World 3.0 era.
Here’s what he says. We have become dependent on many of the strong aspects of globalization. But such globalization is not total, and most interactions – personal interactions, business interactions – are closer to local than global.
I think his premise is pretty unassailable. We think that we’ve all entered this globalization juggernaut of an era. And yet, most of our personal interactions, even most of our Facebook interactions, are pretty close to home.
This may be most clear in our financial aid interactions across the global. Question – how much does the United States federal budget provide for foreign aid? (the answer is far less than what people say when asked this question – it is actually about 1%).
And, when we give to help alleviate poverty, we do so locally. From the book:
National governments spent 30,000 times as much helping each domestic poor person as each poor foreigner.
In fact, the word “distance” is key in this book. The closer the country, the greater the interaction. (We trade more with Canada than practically anywhere else).
Tom Friedman’s globalization-related books, most notably The World Is Flat, may have sold about as many copies as all the globalization-related books written by his predecessors combined.
But, though I am a fan of The World is Flat thinking (we’ve got international readers of this blog; I’ve got “connections” on LinkedIn from across the globe), maybe the world isn’t quite as flat as we imagined… At least watch his TED Talk, and then ad this book to yore reading stack, for this different perspective on our not-quite-so-completely-flat world. Maybe it is a semiglobalization world out there after all…
Caroline Arnold has been a technology leader on Wall Street for more than a decade, managing some of the financial world’s largest software development teams and leading some of the industry’s most visible and complex initiatives. A dynamic and engaging speaker, she has appeared before groups as large as 5,000 people. Caroline is a recipient of the Wall Street & Technology Award for Innovation for building the auction system for the Google IPO, and her name appears on technology patents pending. Caroline serves as a Managing Director at a leading Wall Street investment bank. Caroline graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in English Literature, and lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
Her book, Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently, was published by Viking Adult (January 2014) and is now available in a paperbound edition, published by Penguin Press December 2014).
Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Caroline.
* * *
Morris: Before discussing Small Move, Big Change, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Arnold: I’ve been influenced by many people in important ways, but my daughter Helen has had the greatest influence on me. Watching another human being develop, and putting that person’s well being first, has been a great learning experience for me and has expanded my view of life and changed my personal values.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Arnold: My father, who always wanted me to be a writer, and Guy Chiarello, who by example and encouragement got me to take the long view of my career. While we were at Morgan Stanley, Guy trusted me with amazing opportunities.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Arnold: For a few years I was a programmer, working strictly on a consulting basis because I felt it gave me more freedom and at some level I felt unready to say, “this is it, this is what I am doing for the next five years.” Giving up consulting to work on Wall Street was a big decision, but I knew it was the right one when one day I realized how much I was looking forward to the next five years advancing my career in one place.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Arnold: My education at the University of California at Berkeley gave me a great classical education, exposed me to great works and great thinkers, and taught me critical thinking skills that I apply today both in writing and in Technology. I majored in English Literature, but I also had concentrations in Economics, Philosophy, and Drama. These disciplines may seem far from computer programming, but logic, problem-solving, connecting disparate pieces of information, and creativity are all part of good technology solutions.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Arnold: It took me awhile to discover that the greatest pleasure in work is accomplishing something as part of a team, rather than entirely on your own. My first years as a programmer I had my own consulting practice, and I designed and implemented solutions either on my own or with one partner. When I gave up my practice to work on Wall Street, my orientation was towards solving everything myself, being entirely accountable. Within the first year I was given a team to manage and I managed them as an extension of myself, rather than seeing my role as enabling and energizing the team. Once I realized that success lay in empowering the team and investing in each person’s growth, I began to grow not just as a technologist, but as a human being.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Arnold: Hmmn, I love movies but am having a hard time thinking about one with business principles that I endorse. I guess I could say that Broadcast News shows the power and limitations of pure professional passion to meet the challenges of a changing industry.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Arnold: I learned a lot from reading Adam M. Grant’s Give and Take, which I found a refreshing read on how to thrive in competitive environments while enabling and empowering others–an intelligent take on how good guys can finish first. So much of what gets written and quoted is about winning the rat race while Prof. Grant’s book assess the broader stakes in professional behavior.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Arnold: Love the quote and believe in the principle. The leader’s job is to inspire passion and performance in others, to work in service of the team’s success.
Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Arnold: Well, while I think it’s true that the truly transforming idea may be one that is so alien that others don’t seize on it (i.e., steal it), plenty of good ideas are recognized immediately and promoted by others as their own. But I would still advise not worrying about those who will steal your ideas, because you need to share ideas in order to advance them.
Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”
Arnold: True, and the time required to go from dangerous idea to cliché is shrinking rapidly as technology renders iteration and adoption ever faster.
Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”
Arnold: Great discoveries and ideas are often born of observing what one perceives to be an anomaly.
Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
Arnold: Yes, executing a vision is the entire ballgame. I have known many of vision who simply couldn’t get from whiteboard to implementation.
Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Arnold: The wisdom and challenge of this is timeless, and I’m going to consciously think about it more often. How often do we refactor processes that we should just kill? How often do we feel productive doing something that is really marginal to productivity…like answering every email immediately?
Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville 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.” What do you think?
Arnold: I don’t think this is either/or. A great leader making great decisions can change the fortunes of any initiative, as can the collective wisdom of a team. Ideally, you have both – a visionary leader and a smart team empowered to question the leader and advocate direction. I think the “great man” theory has a lot to do with the cult around Steve Jobs, but Steve Jobs was a singular person of fierce passion and conviction who was an business ascetic of sorts, unwilling to compromise, willing personally sacrifice. That he built a great company is undeniable, and if he left behind a great team, it will survive him. Jobs is so unusual, thought, I think that people get into trouble who try to emulate him. Leadership is personal, although lessons from others can, of course, be understood.
* * *
To read all of Part 1, please click here.
Caroline cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Her website link
Link to video of her presentation at Microsoft headquarters
Groups; Meetings; Communicating – You’re Doing It Wrong! – (Insight From Wiser By Sunstein And Hastie)
Slate.com has an occasional “You’re doing it wrong” article. What a smart, good, right-on-target series.
Their articles are usually on day-to-day tasks, like “You’re doing it wrong: scrambled eggs.”
I thought of this Slate series as I was reading Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter by Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie, my selection for the March First Friday Book Synopsis. Their basic premise is this: we are doing groups wrong. Here’s a sample, from the book:
The good news is that if discussion is properly structured and if groups adopt the right norms and practices, they can create that culture. The bad news is that in the real world, discussion often leads people in the wrong directions. Many groups fail to correct the mistakes of their members.
The book points out quite a few ways we are doing groups wrong, and points us toward some correctives in the direction of doing things right in groups. (I will share my lessons and takeaways from this book after next Friday).
I think they are right. If you think about all the time spent in groups, in meetings, in conversations, and all the ways that progress is not made, and all the ways problems are not fixed… you might begin to think that we are doing the whole communicating with and working with one another tasks all wrong.
And, then, as you keep thinking, there are so many other things we seem to get equally wrong, like:
Speaking, presenting, writing… communicating
The list goes on…
In other words, nearly all of the efforts in government, in corporations, in nonprofits, in education, are crippled by the wrong practices we continue to follow.
It reminds me of a so-very-true quote from Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto:
At least 30 percent of patients with stroke receive incomplete or inappropriate care from their doctors, as do 45 percent of patients with asthma and 60 percent of patients with pneumonia. Getting the steps right is proving brutally hard, even if you know them. (emphasis added).
Here’s a simple question: why would we ever want to do anything else wrong? Wouldn’t we rather get things right?
And, so, here is our ongoing challenge:
Step #1 – Discover the right way to do things.
Step #2 – Do these things in that right way.
But, I was also very disappointed in him. It simply screams “there will be a sequel.” It is unlike every other book he has ever written.
I only read the customer reviews on Amazon.com after I wrote this post. In general, these are vicious. I don’t think the story is that bad, and I don’t think it’s boring. Maybe it has just enough sex to keep me interested. But, I do join others who criticize the book for the low-quality ending. Just finish the story, John. Move on to the next book.
In summary, to find out what happens, you will have to buy the next book. That has never been the case for Grisham, who has penned so many best-sellers over the years, and which have found their way to the big screen through adaptation. Who has ever forgotten The Firm?
You won’t find this one moving to film. At least, not until we know the ending.
I won’t spoil the presentation next week at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, but if you attend, you will certainly find Rory Vaden‘s approach to time management very different from every traditional approach you have ever seen.
His premise is different, yet realistic. We all have the same amount of time. His idea is to ignore methods and tools you have heard about for years. These include prioritizing daily tasks, segmenting parts of your day into specific focused activities, and so forth. Rather, his focus is on understanding and coming to grips with the emotions that get in our way and preventing us from maximizing our time. To Vaden, time is not something you spend, but something you invest.
You will remember his previous blockbuster best-seller, Take the Stairs. Over time, Vaden has become one of the most popular and influential speakers and authors of our time.
As an award-winning entrepreneur and business leader, Rory Co-Founded Southwestern Consulting™, a multi-million dollar global consulting practice that helps clients in more than 14 countries drive educated decisions with relevant data. He’s also the Founder of The Center for the Study of Self-Discipline (CSSD). Rory is the world’s leader on defining the psychology around modern day procrastination, called Priority Dilution™ – in fact, he coined the term. He speaks and consults on how to say no to the things that don’t matter, and yes to the things that do. His client list includes companies and groups such as: Cargill, The Million Dollar Roundtable, P&G, True Value, YPO, Wells Fargo Advisors, Land O’Lakes, Novartis, and hundreds more. His insights have recently been featured on/in: Fox News, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc, Fortune, and the New York Times. He is a regular contributor for American Express Open Forum, Huffington Post, and The Tennessean and his articles and insights average more than 4 million views every day.
For more, you need to attend the presentation on Friday. You will hear all about the five permissions.
I can promise you it will be a very different approach to managing time, from someone who is very different himself.
I will see you then!
Maybe you need an encounter with a well-placed two-by-four…
I was talking to a top-level business consultant. He is brought in to fix some small problems, some process problems, and sometimes, some big problems.
When the problem has a process fix, it is a matter of: take these steps, implement this process. It’s work; hard work. People resist such process changes. But, it is doable.
But, sometimes, the problem is really big. It is some version of this problem:
This person, at or near the top of the organization, needs to change his/her behavior in specific ways. In other words, actual change in the way people act and behave. We may call some of these kinds of changes “soft-skills” changes. But there is nothing soft about them. And they can make a huge difference.
So, I was asking this consultant, how do you get someone to make such a big change. Especially when this change may be related to a career-long (multi-year) weak spot. He acknowledged that sometimes, the person does not change. And unless he actually owns the company, that can be the beginning of the end.
And he said that in order to get them to change, you have to hit them with a great big two-by-four. (Note to reader – this is metaphorical). You have to really, really, really get their attention. And only when they say, “Yes, I in fact do have this problem” is there then any chance of change and progress.
In the ancient field of rhetoric, this is akin to the idea of stasis – you bring the person (the audience) to a standstill; a point at which they say “I can’t keep thinking, feeling, and/or acting this way.” (You know, Step 1 of the Twelve Steps…)
Until a person comes to that point, there is no chance for the needed change to come about.
And, if you study books about top leaders (Focus by Daniel Goleman is one such book), you learn that the higher up a person is in an organization, the less likely it is that someone can or will wield that two-by-four.
So, maybe what many leaders need is a good encounter with a well-placed and well-timed two-by-four. Which leaders have the guts to seek out such an encounter; or to even allow that encounter? And which leaders are lucky enough to have someone around them who will do the wielding?
We have presented very few books about the brain at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Yet, the business world remains fascinated with it.
You are familiar with old-fashioned, yet highly understandable conceptions, such as “left-brain logical” and “right-brain creative.” And, you likely remember the book published in 1998, Time Management for the Creative Person: Right-Brain Strategies for Stopping Procrastination, Getting Control of the Clock and Calendar, and Freeing Up Your Time and Your Life by Lee Silber (Three Rivers Press).
So, even though there is no chance that we will present a synopsis of this book at our monthly event, I thought our blog readers would be interested in the newest work on this subject. On February 3, 2015, Michael S. Gazzaniga published Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience (Ecco/Harper Collins).
First, who is Michael S. Gazzaniga? Here is his biography from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB):
Michael Gazzaniga is Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at UCSB. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, the founding director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Law and Neuroscience Project and the Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. He received a Ph.D. in Psychobiology from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked under the guidance of Roger Sperry, with primary responsibility for initiating human split-brain research. He subsequently made remarkable advances in our understanding of functional lateralization in the brain and how the cerebral hemispheres communicate with one another. He has published many books accessible to a lay audience which, along with his participation in the public television series The Brain and The Mind, have been instrumental in making information about brain function generally accessible.
Second, what does this book accomplish? From the Blackstone Library web site, I found this review:
This book tells the impassioned story of his life in science and his decades-long journey to understand how the separate spheres of our brains communicate and miscommunicate with their separate agendas. By turns humorous and moving, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain interweaves Gazzaniga’s scientific achievements with his reflections on the challenges and thrills of working as a scientist. In his engaging and accessible style, he paints a vivid portrait not only of his discovery of split-brain theory, but also of his comrades in arms—the many patients, friends, and family who have accompanied him on this wild ride of intellectual discovery.
On February 24, 2015, Sally Satel reviewed the book in the Wall Street Journal. You can click here to read her commentary. She ends her review with this touching note:
Tales From Both Sides of the Brain will be cataloged as scientific autobiography, and that it surely is. But it is as much a book about gratitude—for the chance to study a subject as endlessly fascinating as the brain, for the author’s brilliant colleagues and, mostly, for the patients who taught him, and the world, so much.
Since it is not a best-seller, it does not qualify for one of our books that we present. But, if you have followed the evolution of this topic over the years, this book appears to be worth your time.