First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

It’s Selection Time for the Next First Friday Book Synopsis (June 5) – Seldom an Easy Choice

Choosing our book selections for the First Friday Book Synopsis is not easy.

Becoming Steve JobsI’m presenting my synopsis of a second biography of Steve Jobs at this Friday’s First Friday Book Synopsis. The second one! I don’t think that I have presented any other biographies at all in the 17+ year history of our event, but I do think Steve Jobs is worthy of both of these biographies.

But… sometimes — ok, frequently —  it is hard to choose the right book. Right now, I’m in “which book do I choose for our next event” mode. It is not easy.

My list of possibilities is long, and every one seems to deal with important issues:

The new Brian Grazer book on the power of curiosity, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, is appealing, and, I suspect, incredibly valuable to our participants.

But, so is the new Inside Google look about good management, Work Rules! (I just blogged about this).

And then there is the new Heidi Grant Halvorson book No One Understands You and What To Do About It. The title alone is enough to make me want to read it and present it. And the fact that it made it into a major article on The Atlantic site makes it even more appealing: Mixed Signals: Why People Misunderstand Each Other – The psychological quirks that make it tricky to get an accurate read on someone’s emotions. This article ends with this paragraph:

Feeling understood is a basic human need. When people satisfy that need, they feel more at peace with themselves and with the people around them, who see them closer to how they see themselves.

And, there is the new David Brooks book, The Road to Character. Maybe not quite a business book, but certainly filled with implications for people in business.

Which of these books will I choose? Or, will it be one not even on this list?

It is not an easy choice. In fact, it is seldom an easy choice. So many good books, with insight we all need to learn and master. I’ve got to decide by tomorrow. I’ll let you know which I choose.

Monday, April 27, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Provide Actionable Feedback without Micromanaging – The Balance Challenge for Good Managers (Insight from Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules!)

work-rulesThere is a new book out about Google’s workplace culture: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock.

Business Insider’s Richard Feloni wrote a column about one important portion of the book: Google’s HR boss says the best managers practice these 9 habits.

Read his full article for nine habits (they are all good), but look especially at these two:

They give actionable feedback that helps their employees improve their performance.
They do not micromanage by getting involved in details that should be handled at other levels.

So, here is the balance – give feedback, actionable feedback, pretty regularly. But, do not micromanage.

It sounds to me like attentive feedback, done right, without leaving the impression of micromanaging, is the challenge for any good manager.

Good advice. And, quite a challenge.

Monday, April 27, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Dan E. King: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

King, Dan EDan is the founder and principal of CloseReach Consulting and has developed a proprietary growth acceleration model designed for business leaders and senior teams striving to outpace the competition. The model consists of and numerically scores three growth drivers: Strategy Planning, Execution, and Talent. Dan developed this data-centric concept for assessing critical aspects of an organization’s capabilities in order to provide leaders with the knowledge of where weakness resides. Only then, can investments be targeted to the right elements of the business in order to steepen the growth trajectory. Dan helps leadership teams overachieve – fortifying the business so that financial targets are surpassed – the hallmark of hyper-growth.

Prior to CloseReach, Dan held a senior executive role with a mid-market enterprise that delivered double-digit revenue growth for five out of six years and was named winner of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Pacesetter Award in 2010. In December, 2012, the company was recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest growing companies for the fifth time.

He has developed white papers on topics such as The Keys to Flawless Execution, Achieving Talent Density in a High Growth Enterprise, Strategic Planning – Getting it Right, and Applying the Organizational Prowess Scorecard to Create an Integrated Organization.

His book, The Scorecard Solution: Measure What Matters to Drive Sustainable Growth was published by AMACOM (2015)

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Dan.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to writeThe Scorecard Solution?

King: The ideas for the book struck me 3 years ago while working in a private, VC backed business that was experiencing impressive growth, but producing wide swings in performance from one year to the next. One year would be stellar, surpassing revenue and profit goals by a wide margin. The next year we would fall short. Over the course of 5 years we saw growth, from $25M to $80M. But there were two “down” years within that 5-year span. Why couldn’t we sustain year over year growth? If so, we would have easily surpassed $100M in that timeframe.

I became curious and conducted my own quiet examination of the organization to better understand what was really happening. During my analysis, I discovered that there were certain growth drivers that had to be optimal in order to sustain growth. I bucketed these as strategy planning, execution framework, and talent. Additionally, these elements of the business required frequent attention in order to keep them at the optimal level. For example, shifting strategies meant different talent requirements. We made the classic mistake of expecting the same people to do new things. We pushed people away from their skills and our results suffered. The neglect of these growth drivers was, in a nutshell, the reason our performance slipped. We would come off of a good year and assume that we could repeat. That led to the cross your fingers approach to leadership. “Let’s not rock the boat and we can have another great year.”

What I learned is that rocking the boat is mandatory and necessary to sustain growth. These revelations 3 years ago led to the book. I wanted to capture the essence of what we experienced and convert the findings into an actionable methodology for the reader. The “secret” ingredient is how the scorecard pulls the curtain back on parts of the business that a leader normally can’t access – seeing how execution truly occurs in the trenches. This is so much more revealing than relying on what others tell you. The message is almost always sanitized.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

King: The big ah ha moment was when one CEO who I interviewed as part of my research for the book suggested a numerical scale to measure the growth drivers. She shared that business leaders love the numbers and if I could portray the health of the enterprise numerically, it would resonate with the reader. Consequently, I developed the scale, made up of the 4 quartiles – laggard, vulnerable, resilient and agile. I’ve also learned that the progressive nature of the numerical scale gives teams something to shoot for. A best practice is to re-apply the scorecard every 6-12 months and as improvements are made, it is motivating to see increasingly stronger scores.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

King: My editor encouraged me to show more of the details of what was addressed within the case study business as a result of the scorecard results. I had conveyed the improvements at too high of a level and the suggestion really made sense. The reader could actually visualize the specific actions taken by the leadership team to build back the strength in strategy planning, execution and talent density. The other meaningful change reflected in the final form was the emphasis on the playbook. This is the tool that actualizes the scorecard results. I was excited about the playbook because it is a tangible way to keep the book alive – not just sitting on a shelf. I wanted to create a book that a leader could easily learn from and apply in his or her business.

Morris: What dos and don’ts should be kept in mind when formulating a scorecard?

King: Do spend the time to customize the sub-elements to your business and current state. For example, under “strategy planning” there are multiple items to be scored. Each leader needs to scrutinize the data and add/modify as needed. Since I developed the measurements based on research, a lot of modification isn’t advised, but some adjustment to make it more relevant to the business is fine. Another “do” is to be very careful when selecting the individuals who will do the assessment. Some companies engage external experts in order to stay objective and unbiased.

In my experience, most companies that adopt the scorecard have objective leaders who can handle it. Just be careful on who is chosen. The one big don’t I would offer is, don’t keep it a secret. The scorecard and the numerical score can be a rallying cry for an organization. Share it widely and get people vested in the work to improve the score. I know one CEO who applies the scorecard every 6 months and publishes the results for everyone to see. As a business, they have moved from the vulnerable quartile to resilient over 3 years and they have the financial results to show for it. The company is healthier, employees are engaged and shareholders are ecstatic. It’s a real success story.

Morris: Who should be involved in that process?

King: The business leader (CEO, owner, Division President, etc.) must own it and sanction the work. The person who has the authority to drive change and make decisions that affect the organization being assessed must lead the charge when it comes to scorecard adoption. Then, the senior team needs to endorse the process. The scorecard results will be converted to an actionable playbook that is the domain of the senior team. Then, as I mentioned, the selection of those who will actually collect the scorecard data is key. This might be a member of the senior team or someone a level or two down.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the best way to introduce the scorecard to the workforce of an enterprise? What dos and don’ts should be kept in mind when doing so?

King: Great question. The best examples I’ve seen involve multiple methods of communication. In one mid-market business, the CEO introduced the concept of the scorecard at a town hall meeting and through a well-crafted email message. He then asked his senior team to hold small team meetings to further share the scorecard and implementation plan. That set the stage. Once results were in, another town hall was held to unveil the results and action plans. While there was room for improvement based on the score, people liked being informed and knowing exactly what had to get worked on and how they could help. In this case, the leaders established a cadence of repetitive application of the scorecard, address the weaknesses, repeat. It changed the culture to one of high energy and high performance.

* * *

To read all of Part 2 of my interview of Dan, please click here.

Here is a direct link to Part 1.

Dan cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His consulting firm link

His blog link

The Scorecard Solution link at Amazon

Sunday, April 26, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull – Key Thoughts, and My Five Lessons and Takeaways

“What is the best book you’ve read?”

I get that question a lot. I never have a good answer. It’s like asking “what’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?”. There are so many ways to think about that question – the most memorable (one in Alaska), the best food (ok – maybe that same one in Alaska), the one I needed most (one after an exhausting five set tennis match, many, many years ago). And then, there are variations – the best barbecue you’ve ever had (I’ve eaten great barbecue from each of two of my brothers, one of whom was state champion more than once a few years back), the best Mexican food, the best… You get the idea. In other words, there is no “best meal ever” answer.

And, maybe except for The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and my favorite Nero Wolfe novel (The Doorbell Rang), there is no answer for the “best book you’ve ever read” question either.

The best book is the one that gave me what I needed, at the time I needed it. And, at times, it almost does not matter how good a book it actually is if it gives me what I need at the moment.

{I think back to when The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck was recommended to me a few decades ago, at a critical time in my life. The book seemed to have been written for me. That’s one that pops into my mind pretty regularly}.

So, with these thoughts… I have a book to recommend highly. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may think it is just a story about the success of Pixar. Yes, it is that… but it is so much more.

Creativity-Inc.-CoverThe book is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (President of PIXAR Animation and Disney Animation), with Amy Wallace (New York: Random House. 2014). I read it, and prepared a synopsis for this book, at the request of and for a private client. (I think I will either present it at a later First Friday Book Synopsis, or simply record my synopsis and put it up on our companion 15minutebusinessbooks site).

This may be as good a book as I have read about:

How to work with powerful personalities (think Steve Jobs), how to manage the balance of “task-master” and “freedom” with creative people; how important it is to embrace and learn from failures and mistakes in the pursuit of the end success… The list of valuable insights in this book is really long.

Here are some key thoughts gleaned from the book:

  • Build a team; give them freedom – but, freedom in service of a common goal…
  • Maybe the biggest problem: the unending resistance to change
  • Find the problems; see the problems, find the problems…
  • Braintrust – constant questioning… (with “straight talk”)
  • Honesty is ok, but candor is better, and essential! (candor = a lack of reserve)
  • The team comes first – first the team, then the ideas! (not the other way around — (To me, the answer should be obvious: Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas).
  • Truly, truly, genuinely expect that the unexpected will arrive
  • Randomness will happen!
  • “Be wrong as fast as you can…”
  • Be careful where you let your “Steve Jobs” go, and where you let him (her) speak up…
  • Failure is not only inevitable, but also valuable; good
  • Conflict is good; necessary
  • The successful ones have to mentor the new ones!
  • Use “inclusive” furniture
  • “The stick propping the door open was too small” – every detail matters!

If you manage people, especially if you manage creative people, this would be a valuable book for you to read.

Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull

Here are my 5 lessons and takeaways from the book:

#1 – Learn as widely — (as many skills) — as you can
#2 – Learn to observe (take field trips to see…everything)
#3 – Learn to practice candor – it is essential!
#4 – Really, truly, give everyone a voice
#5 – Keep making everything, every part of everything, better!

Seriously, this may be just the book you need at this moment in your business life.


Thursday, April 23, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Isaacson’s Short List of Three: Edison, Ford, & Jobs – Ed Catmull Helps us Understand Why Steve Jobs Deserves to Be on that List

Yes, I’ve read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (I presented my synopsis of that book shortly after it came out). Yes, I am reading Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli which I will present next week at the May 1 First Friday Book Synopsis.

Creativity-Inc.-CoverBut, I may have found the most insight about Steve Jobs in Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. Here are some excerpts from the book…

We met in a conference room with a white board and a large table surrounded by chairs—not that Steve stayed seated for very long. Within minutes, he was standing at the white board, drawing us a chart of Apple’s revenues. 

I remember his assertiveness. There was no small talk. Instead, there were questions. Lots of questions. What do you Steve-Jobs-whiteboardwant? Steve asked. Where are you heading? What are your long-term goals? He used the phrase “insanely great products” to explain what he believed in. Clearly, he was the sort of person who didn’t let presentations happen to him, and it wasn’t long before he was talking about making a deal.

Whenever offering a note, he always began the same way: “I’m not really a filmmaker, so you can ignore everything I say.… ” Then he would proceed, with startling efficiency, to diagnose the problem precisely.

You couldn’t dismiss Steve. Every film he commented on benefited from his insight.  

Steve JobsWalter Isaacson says that when history is written, the three names we will remember from business will be Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. From Isaacson:

Steve Jobs became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford.

More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.

This book helps you understand why Steve Jobs deserves to be in that list.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Dorie Clark on How to Stand Out: An interview by Bob Morris

ClarkDorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015). A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur as well as the World Economic Forum blog. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press, Fortune, and Inc. magazine, Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, Microsoft, Yale University, Fidelity, and the World Bank.

She is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a Visiting Professor for IE Business School in Madrid. She has guest lectured at Harvard Business School, the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and more. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and appears in worldwide media including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Dorie.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Stand Out, a few general questions. First of all, I think your previous book — Reinventing You — is a brilliant achievement. To what extent have you reinvented Dorie Clark over the years since you graduated from Smith College?

Clark: I’ve reinvented myself quite a few times. Right after college, I went to Harvard Divinity School and thought I’d become an academic, but (after getting my masters degree), I didn’t get into any of the doctoral programs I applied to. So I reinvented myself into a journalist, only to get laid off, and then a political campaign spokesperson, only to work on two consecutive losing campaigns. It took me until nearly a decade after college to land on my current profession as a marketing strategist/author/speaker. So my interest in reinvention comes quite naturally! I wanted to write Reinventing You to help other professionals go through the process more seamlessly, and faster and better.

Morris: My own opinion is that most people prune — if not reinvent — their lives every few years. Frankly, I have found this immensely difficult, sometimes painful. It’s such a struggle to resist what Jim O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” What are your own thoughts about all this?

Clark: Reinvention is definitely becoming a constant in most people’s lives. After all, how many people do you still know who spend a lifetime – or even a decade – at one company? But I like to differentiate between what I call “Capital R” Reinvention, which is a more dramatic job change or career change, and “lowercase r” reinvention, which is the practice of keeping ourselves flexible and adaptable with small choices we make, from taking a class on something new to being open to making a new friend in an unlikely place. The better we are at “reinvention” on a regular basis, the less likely “Reinvention” will feel traumatic when the time comes for a major change.

Morris: I congratulate you on what you have achieved in your career thus far. Presumably there have been a few setbacks along the way. Thus far, what has been the single greatest disappointment and what are the most valuable lessons that you have learned from it?

Clark: There continue to be setbacks and disappointments in my professional life, even though in general I feel happy with the success I’ve achieved. My first book, Reinventing You, was actually the fourth book proposal I created; the other three before it were all rejected. And there are at least four fellowships I’ve applied for in the last 2-3 years that I haven’t been chosen for. You have to keep pushing. But probably the hardest disappointment was the first, getting turned down for the doctoral programs. That’s because academia was my only plan; I really didn’t have a Plan B. But that taught me something important, which is that you should always have an alternate strategy, because you never know how things will play out, and you need to be prepared.

Morris: In your opinion, should people prepare for a career in a specific field or master skills that will be highly-valued in any field? Please explain.

Clark: My ideal advice would be to learn baseline skills – good writing and speaking, for instance – and then get professional experience in particular fields through internships or volunteering. Paying a university to educate you in a specific discipline, especially one that might change rapidly, could be quite expensive and leave you adrift if the field changes or if the need is no longer there because of demographic changes or technological advances. Far better to get specific work experience at work, rather than in a classroom.

Morris: Opinions are divided — sometimes sharply divided — about the how essential charisma is to effective leadership. What do you think?

Clark: I think people want to follow someone who seems “like a leader.” But charisma is often misunderstood. I like the research of the Center for Talent Innovation, which broke down the concept of “executive presence” – often related to charisma – into its constituent parts. They are communication skills, gravitas (i.e., can you handle pressure during difficult circumstances?) and, to a more limited extent, appearance (such as professional dress). All of these are things that individuals can master with practice.

Morris: Here are two of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. 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….’”

Clark: One of my favorite stories from Stand Out is about the psychologist, Robert Cialdini, who revolutionized the field by paying attention to his students when they questioned the typical way of doing business. In his field, experiments were done in a laboratory setting and then the findings were simply assumed to translate to real life. Students wondered how researchers knew the same principles would apply, and Cialdini told them they simply had to trust that human nature was the same everywhere. But he listened and wondered if there was a way to know for sure, so he started doing the first field experiments in psychology and became a legend in his field by advancing the discourse in a meaningful way.

Morris: And from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Clark: In the business world, we often talk about the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Principle – i.e., that 20% of your effort yields 80% of your results. That’s particularly true when it comes to the research I did around breakthrough ideas. Most of these recognized experts are known for one or, at most, two “big ideas” and concepts that are associated with them. It shows the importance of doubling down when you’ve found an idea that resonates.

* * *

Here is a direct link to the complete interview.

Dorie cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Her home page with Free 42-Page Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook link

Amazon page link

Reinventing You link

Stand Out link

TEDx talk: Finding Your Breakthrough Idea link

Twitter link

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TED Talks on 60 Minutes – Remember, these are “Talks” (Should we call them TED Speeches?)

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED

What we’re trying to do is to make difficult knowledge accessible.
Chris Anderson, Curator of TED (from 60 Minutes Overtime)


Last Sunday night, on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Charlie Rose profiled the TED Talks.  View and read the segment here.

What a terrific segment!

Here’s how it started:

It has become a place where big ideas find a global audience. It is known simply as TED. And TED Talks are little presentations that anyone can watch online for free. There are TED Talks on almost every subject you can imagine: building your own nuclear reactor; stopping cyberbullies; exploring Antarctica; a better way to tie your shoes. But what sets TED Talks apart is that the big ideas are wrapped up in personal stories and they’re mostly from people you have never heard of before. And it is those stories that have captured the imaginations of tens of millions of viewers around the world. Giving a TED Talk can be life-changing even if some speakers don’t always realize what they’re getting into.

Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy

I am an unabashed and enthusiastic fan. I have watched a lot! of TED Talks. One of the Talks highlighted on the 60 Minutes segment was the one by Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.

I show this video to every one of my speech classes. It is a great reminder that our bodies play a huge role in our communication– even our communication to ourselves — (a main point of her talk).

But… I have a simple observation. As you read about the TED Talks, and as you watch them, and get caught up in their stories, don’t forget the obvious: these are “talks.”

Oh, sure, it may be new “packaging,” but this is simply a testament to the power of speaking well in front of an audience. If you know anything about history, you know that history is shaped, and understood, by the speeches given throughout the ages.

The TED Talks are actually TED “speeches.” And they take the task seriously. They audition, they practice, they coach. (After being asked, I have coached two TEDxSMU speakers).

So, call them what you want – speeches, presentations, talks. But don’t forget the obvious. Being able to speak well – yes, by including a moving and compelling story (that’s not new either) – is a skill worth developing, even as we learn much from those who do it so well at TED.

We have TED to thank for their role in keeping the power of speaking alive and well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Here is the New York Times April, 2015 Business Books Best Sellers List – Becoming Steve Jobs at #2

Here is the New York Times April, 2015 Business Books Best Sellers List.

Becoming Steve JobsA new book on getting the most out of Social Security is at the top of the list. At #2 is Becoming Steve Jobs, the new unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs. I will present my synopsis of this book at the May 1 First Friday Book Synopsis. And at #8 is Our Kids by Robert Putnam (who is best known for his article, and book, Bowling Alone). Karl Krayer will present his synopsis of this book, also at the May 1 First Friday Book Synopsis.

I have presented synopses of Bold, Think Like a Freak, and The Power of Habit at earlier sessions of our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis event, and Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of Thinking, Fast and Slow, at an earlier session of our event also.

Here is the New York Times April, 2015 list of business book best sellers. Click over to the New York Times site for a brief description of these books.

1 Get What’s Yours, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller and Paul Solman.
2 Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli.
3 Money: Master The Game, by Tony Robbins.
4 Bold, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler.
5 Think Like A Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
6 The Power Of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.
7 Thrive, by Arianna Huffington.
8 Our Kids, by Robert D. Putnam.
9 Thinking, Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
10 Better And Faster, by Jeremy Gutsche.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

More About the 96 Minute Rule – Insight from Chris Crouch, and others – (with update)

Let’s revisit.

We are all distracted, more and more, all the time.

Walk into any gathering anywhere, and before, after, and in-between sessions, people are glued to their SmartPhones. They look down, not at each other.

If you are sitting at a computer screen, to do your “knowledge work,” chances are you have trouble staying on task.

One solution is so clear, so simple—so powerful. It is the 96 Minute Rule.   I first wrote about this back in June, 2013 in my post: 5 Rules of Personal Productivity – This Really is How You Get More Done.

Harvey Schachter, a writer for Canada’s Globe and Mail, picked it up and wrote this column: The 96-minute rule, and other timely tipsIn his column, he included these lines:

The 96-minute idea comes from corporate trainer Randy Mayeux. It’s not completely original, nor are the other splendid ideas he has for increasing your productivity. All he knows is what he reads in books. Back in 1998 he created, with a partner, the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Every month since then he has offered a tight summary of a popular business book for an audience over breakfast, and spring boards off those presentations to offer corporate training.

He’s correct about the “not completely original” part. I’m not sure I have ever come up with a truly original idea. And I always try to give credit. Sometimes, I forget where I read or heard something. Sometimes I just don’t dig deeply enough for the “first” source of an idea.

{I remember back in my preaching days, I used an analogy in a sermon about going on offense instead of playing defense. A friend said to me that he knew which book I had gotten the idea from. Turns out, he was right. I had read the book, and as I looked, I rediscovered the passage with my underlinings and even a note in the margin. But, I had read it quite a bit earlier, and had no memory of the passage in the book. But, my sermon analogy was definitely prompted, forgotten-by-me, from this one short passage from this book).

So… back to the 96 Minute Rule. I really don’t know where I first read/learned/heard about it. But it is a rule that I really, really like, and I try to follow it pretty diligently. It makes sense to me. It works for me. I’m glad to have learned it.

Again, here’s my description of the rule from that first blog post I wrote:

Rule #1 – The 96-Minute Rule.
I really like this, because it is so simple, so clear.  First, remember the 80/20 rule – people get 80% of their work done in 20% of their time.  Now, consider the theoretical 8-hour work day:  480 minutes.  Now, how many minutes do you need for 20% of your work day?  96 minutes.
So, this rule says to get in your best “place” to work, turn off all distractions, and immerse yourself into your most important task for 96 uninterrupted minutes.  96 minutes a day of focused, uninterrupted, intentional “work” gets a whole lot done.
This rule has plenty of support – ideas which reinforce this wisdom.  Peter Drucker talked about 90 minutes being the minimum chunk of time to do meaningful “knowledge work.”  And here’s advice from Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson:
If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done.  It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work.  And the reason is interruptions…  you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop. 
Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done. 
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Get in the “alone zone,” block out all distractions, and follow the “96 minute rule.”  Use 20% of your time, every work day, with great, uninterrupted, productive focus.

In that earlier post, I linked to this post by Matthew Cornell: Productivity Group Experiment: The 96 Minute Rule. In this post, he referred to an experiment:

If you’re interested in ways to get more productive, check out Chris Crouch’s new group experiment, The 96 Minute Rule.

And now, that 96 Minute Rule has sort of entered the vocabulary. The most recent appearance was for an insert in the Times of India:  96 minutes of productivity by Palak Bhatia. You can see why!   In a world of constant distractions, we all need some serious focused-work time. The 80-20 rule kind of sets the parameters.  And it turns out that Chris Crouch actually put the idea to the test, naming the rule, and demonstrating its value.

It is a good rule.

So… let’s recap. You are distracted. You should work on fighting those distractions. Set your goal – 96 minutes of uninterrupted (knowledge) work every day – 20% of a typical 8-hour work day.

Who first came up with this? Well, the 80-20 rule comes from the Pareto Principle:

Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Peter Drucker added to our understanding. Chris Crouch came up with the actual number of 96 minutes (pretty brilliant – simple, and brilliant – the best kind of brilliant).

And now, it is up to you – and me. Will we organize our days to carve out 96 minutes of interrupted time – will we follow the 96 Minute Rule?

It is a rule worth following, I think.   And, I’ve tested it long enough to believe that it is worth following.



Chris Crouch described this rule in the 9th chapter of his book Getting Organized:  The chapter is entitled The 80/20 Rule  He wrote:

Get a timer and set it for 96 minutes.  Focus, without interruptions, on your No. 1 priority for the day.  Try this as early in the day as possible…  Most days, these 96 minutes will be more than enough to call it a highly productive and successful day.  

(Getting Organized was published in 2004; the e-book was published in 2005, which I am now reading on my Kindle app).

I keep finding other references to the 96 Minute Rule.  In July, 2005, Kathy Wells Paauw blogged about it with this post: 96 Minutes a Day That Will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. In her post, she recommended that a person get to work with these 96 minutes of productivity at the top of the morning:

When I enter my office, take 10 minutes to review my tickler file and clarify the three most important areas of focus for the day. Then spend the next 96 minutes* (8:30-10:06 AM) focusing on those three areas. Do this before checking email.  Do not answer the phone during this focus time.

I suspect as I keep digging, I will find even more references to the idea. It really is a good idea.

Monday, April 20, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

It Is a Good Thing to Read More Books – Seriously

It is a good thing to read more books – seriously.

So, two short prompts for this blog post.

Prompt #1 — Recently, I met a men who now works in economic development for a region of cities. He had heard me give a presentation at a conference that included one of my book briefings, and he talked to me about the value of reading business books.

He previously worked as a manager for HEB, the Texas-based grocery store chain. At HEB, every manager was required to read three business books a year. (One every four months – a pace anyone could handle). The managers got to pick their own books. The assignment included some sort of “reporting mechanism,” to demonstrate that they had actually read the three books. His assessment: it was a valuable discipline. He said all the managers were always reading business books, talking about them to others, and the very act of reading such books helped make them better managers.

Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull

Prompt #2 – I’m reading the excellent book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is a book reader. Surprisingly, he does not have much good to say about many of the books he has read. (He has politely not named these not-worth-reading books). Here’s an excerpt:

I read many books as I set about trying to become a better, more effective manager. Most, I found, trafficked in a kind of simplicity that seemed harmful in that it offered false reassurance.

But, as you read between the lines, you discover that he was always looking for and reading books to help him know his next steps…  And you get the idea that even the bad books he read helped him know what not to do… And, he was especially appreciative of books that helped him ask the right questions:

To the historians and biographers whose books helped me ask better questions…

Creativity-Inc.-CoverHe included Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs in his list of books he appreciated.

So… read books to learn how to think; to learn what good questions to ask. Read books to discover what not to do. Just read more books, and think about what you are reading. And, of course, always ask what transferable principles you can put into practice.

It is a good thing to read more books – seriously.

Monday, April 20, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment


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