First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Onward by Schultz Takes the Prize as Most Enjoyable Book

I am frequently asked what has been the best book, the most influential book, and the most enjoyable book that I have read for the First Friday Book Synopsis over the 17 years we have been conducting the program.  I  entertained that question as recently as last night, as I distributed fliers for our August 1 program in Dallas.

The best book was Good to Great by Jim Collins.(New York:  Harper Business, 2001).   The most influential book was Winning the Global Game  by Jeffrey Rosensweig (New York:  Free Press, 1998). But, those explanations are for other posts.

In today’s post, I will cover the most enjoyable book.

That winner is Onward by Howard Schultz, the President and CEO of Starbucks (New York;  Rodale, 2010).  Onward Book Cover

Novel-like in its presentation, this book took you inside the operations of the company as well as inside the brain of its author.  The book makes you feel as if you were celebrating with the author in good times, and struggling with him to feel the anger and pain in hard times.

In every event covered in the book, you not only read the facts, but also, the attitude and feelings that accompany them.  Most striking was the story of a leaked e-Mail that found its way to the Internet, jeopardizing the future of the company.  Another was the anger that Schultz expressed when he wanted his shops to smell like coffee, not burnt cheese, causing him to ask if they were going to start serving hash browns.

The story of VIA was captivating, as were the issues of expanding the business internationally.

Starbucks has been the subject of many books, articles, and posts over the years.  The company’s success speaks for itself.  But you will find nothing that takes you inside nearly as much as this book.

Howard Schultz PictureI sometimes wish that Schultz would keep his mouth shut.  When he speaks out about politics, education, and other social issues, I visualize boycotts, picket lines, and lost customers.  But, he can’t do it.  He is outspoken and opinionated.  And, he has enough money to cut his losses.  There is no question that this book would not have been my choice for the most entertaining work had Schultz been modest and laid-back.  That is simply not him.

It is dated now.  Starbucks has moved on.  Schultz and the company have solved many of the problems you read in this book, and they have been replaced by new challenges.

However, history is history.  And this one is fun.  Perhaps that is because I am a customer and have experienced in the stores much of what I read here.  But, what makes it fun is going inside the boardroom, operations, and brain of its author.

For a period of time, this book was # 1 on the best-seller lists, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

You can read a review of this book written by Bob Morris on our blog by clicking here.

I will explain why I selected the best book and most influential book in future posts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jen Shirkani: An interview by Bob Morris

ShirkaniJen Shirkani shares examples from her over 20 years of experience as a learning and development specialist and executive coach at her speaking events, bringing relevant and practical examples to life. She is as comfortable speaking at large venues as she is with intimate groups for a corporate retreat. As a sought-after speaker, she provides insight into human dynamics in a humorous and engaging way. Her specialty topic of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is presented from a leadership perspective filled with practical strategies and immediately useable tips. Jen has worked with organizations from the Fortune 50 ($40B) to family-owned entities specializing in the application of Emotional Intelligence. She holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership.

She is certified in several assessments and has administered over 1,500 Emotional Intelligence assessments to employees in organizations across the United States. Her corporate career includes learning and development roles at specialty retailer Nordstrom, Select Comfort (the Sleep Number Bed), and Bergen Brunswig (Good Neighbor Pharmacy). She has also been certified in programs by Franklin Covey, Achieve Global, and the TRACOM Group. In addition to her corporate speaking events, Jen has also been a featured speaker at over 35 association conferences.

Her latest book, EGO vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence, was published by bibliomotion books + media (October 2013).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please clic k here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Ego vs. EQ, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Shirkani: The greatest influencer on my personal growth is one of my best friend’s, Faith. She has always pushed me out of my comfort zone, given me honest feedback, encouraged me to learn lessons from hardship, and stood by me even when at my worst.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Shirkani: My professional development is always evolving. I learn from every engagement I do about the human business condition. I am so lucky that I have the ability to work in a variety of industries, across the US so I am able to learn different approaches, different challenges and understand the collective ups and downs of employees at all levels.

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.

Shirkani: Like many small business owners I struggle with what business to take and not take. In lean times, I can convince myself that any work is good work. Years ago, I found myself failing at an engagement with a very large national athletic shoe company. I kept trying to succeed to the best of my abilities but it was clear to all of us that I was not cutting it. I had a tough meeting with the national vice president of sales who told me I was the worst meeting planner he had ever worked with. I could do nothing but agree with him, mostly because I am not a meeting planner! I was also not trying to be a meeting planner or hired to be one but clearly I had gotten so far off course as a consultant this was the wake-up call I needed to show me how far in the weeds I had gotten. I cried in my car the whole way home. I decided that day that I would not let anyone in my firm take work ever again that we were not fully qualified to do or passionate about, no matter how broke we got. I changed the course of our company for the better from that day on.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Shirkani: Oh please, I was the most cocky, arrogant kid there was! I don’t know why I thought back then that I was so smart but looking back at some of the things I did – talk about ego not EQ! I don’t know how people put up with me. Even going back as recently as ten years ago, or for that matter last week, I cringe thinking about some of the self-involved and ridiculous things I have said and done.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Shirkani: I really enjoyed both the series and the book “John Adams”. There are so many lessons within it about leadership during hardship and chaos. It demonstrates how influence, resiliency, conflict, vision, and teamwork can change the world. I was moved to tears when I found out that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the exact same day…and it was Independence day.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’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.”

Shirkani: This is a great quote and gets to the heart of knowing your team well. Employee engagement requires an emotional connection between employees and their organization, which requires us leaders to make an emotional investment in them. It allows us to recognize their motivations and drives, create an environment to bring it out in them, and then hurry up and get out of their way.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Shirkani: I love this quote! I like to tell people that to be more effective does not require a complete redesign of who they are. Instead, small adjustments can be made that come with a huge impact.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Shirkani: I completely agree. People like feeling that they can relate to someone else in the same situation. I am working to get comfortable sharing my own stories, especially those of hardship or failure. Talking about great books, Brené Brown is an amazing author and speaker on vulnerability. She says vulnerability is the first thing we look for in others but the last thing we want people to see in us. So true.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?

Shirkani: I believe that the shift in the average age of the workforce to a younger generation will be the biggest challenge facing CEO’s who are typically two decades (or more) older. recently reported that 68% of CEO’s have no presence on social media. That’s a big number and their own personal discomfort with it often influences their company policies and practices. It is pretty short sighted to ignore or block sites that connect people to resources, peer groups, industry news and discussions, and best practice sharing. This is one example of how CEO’s will need to challenge their own comfort zones in many things in order to retain and engage top talent.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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

Ego vs. EQ link

Jen’s website link

Penumbra Group link

Thursday, November 14, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wisdom of Titans: A book review by Bob Morris

Wisdom TitansThe Wisdom of Titans: Secrets of Success from Entrepreneurs Who Rose to the Top
William Ferguson
bibliomotion books + media (2013)

“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison

According to William Ferguson, “After interviewing the eleven titans for this book, and based upon my knowledge of and interaction with many others, I found a blueprint – a recipe of behaviors and attitudes, if you will – that truly makes the difference…The common thread among them is the importance of service. Brands, technology, and processes aside, what makes [their] companies successful are the people who have customer contact, whether the customer is a patron at a dining table or a patient in a clinic.”

Although Herb Kelleher is not one of the eleven, this is precisely what the former chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines has in mind when explaining his company’s extraordinary success: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Presumably all of the eleven “titans” agree. Ferguson suggests a major value that each personifies, although all great business leaders embrace these values to varying degree:

o J.W. (“Bill”) Marriott: Have fun at work
o William (“Bill”) Sanders: Be a student of the business
o Stuart Miller: Make your mark outside
o Noel Watson: Grow the bottom line — period
o Julia Stewart: Coach, mentor, and teach others
o Robert L. Johnson: Create value out of a vision
o Sam Zell: Be true to yourself
o Richard (“Rick”) Federico: Take a risk to do things differently
o Paul L. Diaz: Measure your progress at every step
o John Robbins: Be mindful of the shadow you cast
o William A. (“Bill”) Jensen: Make a 2 percent difference

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, presented as mini-commentaries within the narrative, also listed to indicate the scope of Ferguson’s coverage.

o Tapping the Wisdom of Titans (Pages 1-4)
o CEO Performance Objectives (15-16)
o An Exemplary Board of Directors (31-32)
o The Right Leader for the Right Time (48)
o The Seamless Transition (63-64)
o The Teaching Leader (76)
o Dealing with Risk and “Pilot Error” (93)
o Evaluating CEO Performance (107-108)
o Cultural Capability (122-123)
o The Strength of Being a Team Leader (130-131)
o Tough Times Call for Strong Leaders (143-143)
o Outwork Your Competitors (162-164)

In the Epilogue, Ferguson observes, “Entrepreneurs who become titans are able to assemble the pieces in such a way that the whole is a unique and value-added creation far greater than the individual parts…The transition from entrepreneur to titan also depends largely upon the culture that is built; in a very real sense it sets an expectation for behaviors and interactions, whether among employees or with customers. To a person, the titans profiled in this book could define their cultures in tangible terms that, not surprisingly, evoke excellence, commitment, integrity, attention to detail, and recognition that success can never be taken for granted.”

It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their respective industry segments. Jim Collins writes about good to great companies. In this volume, William Ferguson examines good to great business leaders, entrepreneurs who became titans. Remember what you learn from them…and apply it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fear Your Strengths: A book review by Bob Morris

Fear Your StrengthsFear Your Strengths: What You Are Best at Could Be Your Biggest Problem
Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2013)

Actually, what we should fear are complacency and self-satisfaction as well as the assumption that “just good enough” really is.

As I began to read this book, I was reminded of the title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s more recent books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. My own opinion is that whatever got you here won’t even keep you here, wherever “here” may be. Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser obviously agree with Goldsmith and extend his insight to wider and deeper applications, as suggested by their own book’s subtitle: “What you are best at could be your biggest problem.”

The determination of a person’s strengths is inevitably subjective: narrow-minded or a specialist, stubborn of having the courage of one’s convictions, stubborn or stalwart, etc. You get the idea. As Kaplan and Kaiser observe, “A leader’s desire to be forceful and straightforward becomes a tendency to be abusive and preemptory. A devotion to consensus-seeking breeds chronic indecision. An emphasis on being respectful of others degenerates into ineffectual niceness. The desire to turn a profit and serve shareholders becomes a preoccupation with short-term thinking.” Robert Greenleaf would probably add that a servant leader need not be subservient to others. Yes, issues such as these are tricky and sometimes immensely complicated but as countless men and woman have demonstrated, leadership greatness can be achieved and sustained by almost anyone, with or with residence in the C-Suite.

To me, the primary danger is not to become fearful of one’s strengths; rather, to become complacent and self-satisfied because of those strengths, smugly confident that “just good enough” really is. Self-improvement should be a never-ending process. Today’s strengths could well be tomorrow’s adequacies and next week’s liabilities. This is precisely what Richard Dawkins has in mind when observing, “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

In my opinion, Kaplan and Kaiser’s key point in the book is that continuous improvement is best understood as involving two separate but related initiatives: constantly striving to fulfill potentialities, and meanwhile, increasing their scope and depth. To play off a term from Jim Collins, once a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is achieved, it establishes the status quo and unless continuously improved, organizational stagnation and decay are inevitable. Moreover, defenders of the status quo become hostage to what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

o Forceful and Enabling Leadership (Pages 21-26)
o Strategic and Operational Leadership (26-33)
o Mindset Traps: What’s Behind Overuse? (40-45)
o Biases & Prejudices: What’s Behind Lopsidedness? (45-55)
o The Outer Game: Working on Your Behavior (60-65)
o The Inner Game: Working on Your Mindset (65-67)
o Self-Control: Using Counterweights (77-80)
o Accept Yourself, Test Yourself, and Offset Yourself: The Route to Versatility (86-94)

Re that last passage, complete leaders do that and they also help others to do it.

Don’t be deterred by the length of this book (94 pages). Kaplan and Kaiser obviously agree with Albert Einstein: “Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.” Drawing upon the vast resources of the Center for Creative Leadership as well as their own wide and deep business experience, they explain how and why strengths can become weaknesses for both individuals and organizations. They also suggest how to become and then remain a “complete leader” and, heaven knows, all organizations need such leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. When thinking about how to conclude this brief commentary, I decided to cite my favorite passage in the Tao Te Ching. It suggests what Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser emphasize throughout their narrative: A complete leader sets an example for others as an eager and able collaborator during a never-ending process (i.e. “The Route to Versatility”) of self-improvement. Here’s what Lao-Tzu recommends:

“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.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert Steven Kaplan: An interview by Bob Morris

Kaplan, RSRobert Steven Kaplan is the Martin Marshall Professor of Management Practice and Senior Associate Dean at Harvard Business School. He is also co-chairman of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy firm.

Prior to joining Harvard Business School in September 2005, Rob served as Vice Chairman of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. with oversight responsibility for the Investment Banking and Investment Management Divisions. He was also a member of the firm’s Management Committee and served as Co-Chairman of the firm’s Partnership Committee and Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Pine Street Leadership Program. During his career at the firm, he also served in various other capacities including Global Co-Head of the Investment Banking Division (1999 to 2002), Head of the Corporate Finance Department (1994 to 1999) and Head of Asia-Pacific Investment Banking (1990 to 1994). Rob became a partner in 1990.

Rob is the founding Co-Chair of the Harvard Neuro Discovery Center. He is also Co-Chairman of the Board of Project A.L.S., Co-Chairman of the Board of the TEAK Fellowship, Co-chair of the Executive Committee for Harvard University Office of Sustainability Greenhouse Gas Emission Implementation Planning, and is a member of the Boards of the Harvard Medical School, Harvard Management Company (served as Acting President and Chief Executive Officer, November 2007 to June 2008), the Ford Foundation, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Previously, Rob was appointed by the Governor of Kansas as a member of the Kansas Healthcare Policy Authority Board (2006-2010) and also served as a member of the Investors Advisory Committee on Financial Markets of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Rob is a member of the Board of the State Street Corporation, is a Senior Advisor to Indaba Capital Management, LLC, is an Advisory Director of Berkshire Partners LLC and is chairman of the Investment Advisory Committee of Google, Inc. Previously, he was a member of the Board of Bed, Bath and Beyond, Inc. (1994-2009). He also serves in an advisory capacity for a number of companies. Rob received an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1983 and a B.S. from the University of Kansas in 1979.

Prior to attending business school, Rob was a certified public accountant at Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co in Kansas City.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing What You’re Really Meant To Do, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Kaplan: My parents. They taught me values and encouraged me to strive to do my best. They also encourage me to be myself and reach my own unique potential (even if it was a little offbeat at times)

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Kaplan: I have been fortunate to have several great coaches in my professional career. Hank Paulson was one of them. He was blunt and direct with me and encouraged me to define my job broadly. He also encouraged me to speak up and disagree—–and basically act like an owner. He watched him model this behavior. At Harvard, Nitin Nohria as well as other professors have been great coaches. Nitin also was blunt and direct and encouraged me to find a teaching style that fit my personality. He has always been quick to point out where I might improve. Hank and Nitin each regularly sought my advice. Coaching each of them turned out to be great coaching for me — it allowed me to better understand what it was like to do their jobs — a fabulous learning experience for me.

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.

Kaplan: I loved my career at Goldman Sachs. I believed in business principle number 1: if the client succeeds, our own success will follow. This principle formed the basis for my career and my leadership style. After 22 years at the firm, I began to believe that there were other ways I could add value to society/others. That caused me to take a leave of absence in 2005 to teach leadership at Harvard. That was a transformative experience and I decided that I could add more value teaching/writing and coaching others much more extensively. Becoming partners in my venture philanthropy firm was an additional way to use what I was teaching at Harvard and apply it to building social enterprises—–so this is a natural extension of my business and professional career. All these activities have been focused on trying to add value to others. Along the way, I have learned that adding value to others is a sustainable way to do well professionally and feel good about what I was doing.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Kaplan: Education has been critical. First at Kansas and then at Harvard Business School. It helped me build the confidence that I could go out and do things in the world. It taught me to put myself in the shoes of a decision maker and figure out what I would do if I were in his/her shoes. This is why I am a big believer in education as a foundation for reaching your unique potential.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Kaplan: There are multiple ways to solve a problem and add value. There are seldom right answers. So, you’ve got to use your abilities to diagnose a situation and use your best judgment on what to do and how to do it. You WILL make mistakes — when you do, admit them and go back and try to fix them. I don’t know is often the right answer.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Kaplan: I like films about people who figured out what they believed and had the guts to act on it in a way that added value to others. So, there are lots of movies that have characters who did that. I’ll pick an odd one — Stranger Than Fiction because I really liked the movie — particularly the offbeat cookie maker. You’ll have to see the movie to see what I mean. The movie also reinforces that you can be the author of your own script.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Kaplan: Biographies have been my favorites — particularly books by William Manchester regarding Churchill and MacArthur. I also love the book by John Wooden about leadership/basketball — business leaders can learn a tremendous amount about sticking with a fundamental business philosophy versus being obsessed with outcomes.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’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.”

Kaplan: Leadership is a team sport — learning to work with others is a critical skill. This means articulating a clear vision, setting priorities, giving coaching, getting coaching and learning to seek advice from the team. All these activities

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Kaplan: As a leader, it is often better to ask the right questions (and listen) than to have all the answers.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Kaplan: Authenticity is critical to leadership. That means trying to be yourself — this involves some self-disclosure, admitting what you don’t know and being willing to ask questions.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Kaplan: Business and leadership is about the future. What worked five years ago is unlikely to work tomorrow.

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

Kaplan: Vision and priorities should precede actions. Actions should be judged through the prism of how the firm adds value and the key competencies it seeks to build.

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, 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?

Kaplan: Again, leadership is a team sport.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Kaplan: I would put it another way, you WILL make mistakes. Do they come in an effort to achieve your vision? Do you learn from mistakes? Do you admit mistakes?

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Kaplan: If you’re the smartest person in the room, it can sometimes be hard to learn to delegate — the person to whom you’re delegating will do the task worse than you would — and it will annoy you!

One reason leaders don’t delegate is they haven’t been sufficiently clear with the team regarding their vision and key priorities — so that the team understands where the firm is going. If everyone is on the same page, it’s a lot easier to delegate effectively.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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

His HBS faculty page

His Amazon page

His YouTube videos link

His BIG THINK link

His Twitter link

Thursday, June 27, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six Secrets to Doing Less

s+bHere is a brief excerpt from an article written by by Matthew E. May for strategy+business magazine, published by Booz & Company. In it, he explains why the best innovation strategies are rooted in the art of subtraction. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

* * *

In the pursuit of innovation, leaders are often faced with three critical decisions: what to follow versus what to ignore, what to leave in versus what to leave out, and what to do versus what not to do.

Many of the most original innovators tend to focus far more on the second half of each choice. They adopt a “less is best” approach to innovation, removing just the right things in just the right way in order to achieve the maximum effect through minimum means and deliver what everyone wants: a memorable and meaningful experience.

It’s the art of subtraction, defined simply as the process of removing anything excessive, confusing, wasteful, hazardous, or hard to use —- and perhaps building the discipline to refrain from adding it in the first place.

[Here are two of the six “rules” to help develop that discipline.]

* * *

1. What isn’t there can often trump what is. As Jim Collins wrote in a 2003 USA Today article, “A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not.”

Designers of the automotive youth brand Scion essentially used this strategy in creating the fast-selling and highly profitable xB model, a small and boxy vehicle made intentionally spare by leaving out hundreds of standard features in order to appeal to the Gen Y buyers who wanted to make a personal statement by customizing their cars with trendy options. Buyers would commonly invest an amount equal to the US$15,000 purchase price to outfit their xB with flat-panel screens, carbon-fiber interior elements, and high-end audio equipment. It wasn’t about the car, it was about what was left out of it—and the possibilities that absence presented.

2. The simplest rules create the most effective experience. Order and engagement might best be achieved not through rigid hierarchy and central controls, but through one or two vital agreements, often implicit, that everyone understands and is accountable for, yet that are left open to individual interpretation and variation. The limits are set by social context.

Visitors to the 2012 Olympic Games enjoyed the “shared space” redesign of London’s cultural mecca, Exhibition Road. It enabled motor vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists to share the road equally, with the only rule being “all due respect to the most vulnerable.” Shared-space design is void of nearly all traditional traffic controls, signs, and lights. Curbs have been removed, red brick has replaced asphalt, and fountains and trees and café seating are placed right where you think you should drive. It’s completely ambiguous. You keep moving, yet you have no choice but to slow down and think. The result? Twice the fun and a steady flow—with half the normal number of accidents.

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Matthew E. May is a speaker, a creativity coach, and the founder of Edit Innovation, an ideas agency based in Los Angeles. This article is adapted from May’s most recent book, The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

Friday, June 21, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liz Wiseman on Good and Bad “Multipliers” in the Workplace Environment

Wiseman, LizIn Multipliers, written with Greg McKeown, Liz Wiseman juxtaposes two quite different types of persons whom she characterizes as the “Multiplier” and the “Diminisher.” Although she refers to them as leaders, suggesting they have supervisory responsibilities, they could also be direct reports at the management level or workers at the “shop floor” level. Multipliers “extract full capability,” their own as well as others’, and demonstrate five disciplines: Talent Magnet, Liberator, Challenger, Debate Maker, and Investor. Diminishers underutilize talent and resources, their own as well as others, and also demonstrate five disciplines: Empire Builder, Tyrant, Know-It-All, Decision Maker, and Micro Manager. Wiseman devotes a separate chapter to each of the five Multiplier leadership roles and juxtaposes each with its Diminisher counterpart.

As with Jim Collins’ Good to Great and misunderstandings about getting people on and off a “bus,” whether or not to be a “hedgehog” or a “fox,” and keeping a “fly wheel” moving and in the right direction, there are apparently some misunderstandings about “Multipliers” and “Diminishers” in Wiseman’s Multipliers. As indicated in the first paragraph (above), she is quite specific about what she means but given human nature, people will abuse as well as use the two terms. For example, suggesting that a person is either a Multiplier or a Diminisher. That is, of course, rubbish.

In his most recently published book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, Robert Sutton offers clearer distinctions when defining terms. I acknowledge my debt to him when suggesting the following:

1. Good Multipliers increase health, happiness, understanding, productivity, profitability, etc.; Bad Diminishers reduce them.

2. Bad Multipliers increase illness, misery, ignorance, waste, insolvency, etc.; Good Diminishers reduce them.

3. Good Multipliers increase the number of Good Diminishers.

4. Good Diminishers reduce the number of Bad Multipliers.

* * *

Liz Wiseman is president of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development center headquartered in Silicon Valley. She advises senior executives and leads strategy and leadership forums for executive teams worldwide. A former executive at Oracle Corporation, she worked as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development for 17 years. Liz is the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.You are welcome to check out my review of Wiseman’s book.

Saturday, January 19, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s never too late to be great….”

Tom Butler-Bowdon has only recently received in the United States the attention and appreciation that he so richly deserves. Years ago, he formulated his “50 Classics” concept,  based on the idea that “every subject or genre will contain at least 50 books that encapsulate its knowledge and wisdom. By creating a list of those landmark or representative titles, then providing commentaries that note the key points and assess the importance of each work, awareness of these key writings is spread to readers who may not otherwise have known of their existence.”  50 Self-Help Classics was initially released only in Australia in 2001, then in the UK, US and rest of the world in 2003 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 50 Self-Help Classics has been translated into 15 languages. In 2004 it won the US Benjamin Franklin Award, and was a finalist in Foreword Magazine‘s Book of the Year awards. “My second book, 50 Success Classics (2004), covers the landmark works of motivation, prosperity and leadership. Rights have been sold in 13 languages. The third, 50 Spiritual Classics (2005) explores some of the famous writings and authors in personal awakening, and has been translated into 10 languages.” 50 Psychology Classics was released in 2007 and has been translated into 12 languages. All works are available in audio format from (see links on homepage), including the most recent titles in the series, 50 Prosperity Classics. His latest book, Never Too Late to Be Great: The Power of Thinking Long, was published by Virgin Books (2012).

In the Introduction to Never Too Late to Be Great, Tom quotes Anthony Robbins:  “People overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.”  The balance of the book is devoted to explaining how and why it is imperative to reject these miscalculations. Here are a few of the quotations that caught my eye:

Warren Buffett: “No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

Jeff Immelt: “The most successful parts of GE are places where leaders have stayed in place a long time…The places where we’ve churned people, like reinsurance, are where you’ll find we failed.”

Tony Mendoza: “I turned full-time to photography at age 33. It takes ten years to get really good at anything, including photography, and so I have ‘til I’m 43 before I need to start worrying.”

Ray Kroc: “People have marveled at the fact that I didn’t start McDonald’s until I was 52 years old, and then I became a success overnight…I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.”

Howard Schultz: “Life is a series of near misses. But a lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It’s seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It’s seeing what other people don’t see, and pursuing that vision, no matter who tells you not to.”

Jim Collins: “No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

*     *     *

As Tom explains, “In the early 1990s, I was working as an adviser at the New South Wales Cabinet Office in Sydney, writing briefing papers for senior ministers. I took a year off to do further study in the UK, but put aside my political economy textbooks to read a growing pile of motivational and self-help literature. On returning to Australia, I spent some time in the Outback, where the idea came to me of writing about the classic books in the self-help literature. Based in Oxford, UK, I now write full-time, run, and do occasional speaking engagements.I have a BA (Hons) degree in Politics and History from the University of Sydney, and a Masters degree in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.”

Monday, April 16, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Three Laws of Performance: A book review by Bob Morris

The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life
Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2011)

A 21st century version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

In his comments in the “Editor’s Note” section that precedes the Introduction, Warren Bennis acknowledges that he was fascinated by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan’s “gutsy aspiration to integrate an interdisciplinary slew of disciplines as disparate as brain science, linguistics, organizational theory, and complex adaptive systems with a few fundamental laws of human and organization behavior that could lead to palpable and profound change in both domains.” Frankly, I had no idea what to expect when I began to read this book but soon realized that Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan would be focusing on an especially serious challenge that most people face every day: How to develop the ability to “rewrite the future”? That is, “rewrite what people know will happen.” In this brilliant book, they explain how Three Laws of Performance can help their reader to complete a natural shift “from disengaged to proactive, from resigned to inspired, from frustrated to innovative.” Part I (Chapters 1-3) “takes these laws one at a time, and shows how to apply them” and answers the question “Why do people do what they do?; then Part II (Chapters 4 and 5) “looks at leadership in light of the Three Laws” and answers the question “What are the interrelationships between language and occurrence?”; and finally, Part 3 (Chapters 6-8), “is about the personal face of leadership” and answers the question “How does future-based language transform how situations occur to people?”

Note: “What exactly does [the word] occur mean? We mean something beyond perception and descriptive experience. We mean the reality that arises within and from your perspective on the situation. In fact, your perspective is itself part of the way in which the world occurs to you. `How a situation occurs’ includes your view of the past (why things are the way they are) and the future (where all this is going”). Indeed, they assert, “None of us sees how things are. We see how things occur to us.”

Throughout their narrative, Zaffron and Logan urge their reader to keep in mind that the Three Laws of Performance really are laws, not rules, tips, stages, or steps. Each of the three “distinguishes the moving parts at play behind an observable phenomenon. A law is invariable. Whether you believe in gravity or not doesn’t lessen its effect on you.” Nor does any of the three lessen its effect on performance. The challenge is to understand them, to understand how there are interactions and even interdependences between and among them, and most important of all, how to apply them effectively, productively, and consistently.

Bennis and the others have their own reasons for thinking so highly of this book. Here are two of mine. First, Zaffron and Logan’s ideas about “rewriting the future” may at first seem (as Bennis’ suggests) “astonishing” but not after understanding exactly what they mean by it. Specifically, to “rewrite” is to overcome the quite normal tendencies of not seeing and hearing what is but, rather, only what we expect based on past “occurrences”; of protecting and defending what James O’Toole so aptly describes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom;” of encouraging and, if necessary, forcing others to accept our determinations of what is and is not real; and of using descriptive language (i.e. that which accurately depicts the world as it once was or is now) rather than future-based language (also called generative language) to “craft vision, and to eliminate the blinders that are preventing people from seeing possibilities.” In essence, “rewriting the future” involves using future-based language that projects a new future that replaces what conventional thinking predicts, once a process of “blanking the canvas” has been completed. Zaffron and Logan explain that process on Pages 74-81. I also suggest re-reading the discussion of “Rackets” on Pages 45-47.

Another reason why I think so highly of this book is that, in Chapter 6 (“Who or What Is Leading Your Life?”) Zaffron and Logan share some especially interesting insights about “taking on some deep work – the kind of work that needs to be done for us to be leaders in our lives. And we really mean being a leader in all respects of our lives, including at work, in relationships, with family, with community, even with all of society.” As I worked my way through this chapter, much of the material resonated with material in another book that I also highly admire, Alan Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. With regard to the subtitle, Watts explains that there is no need for a new religion or a new bible. “We need a new experience — a new feeling of what it is to be `I.’ The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized.  The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”

This is precisely what Zaffron and Logan have in mind when stressing that each individual must first understand and then be guided and informed by the Three Laws before attempting to transform others. In the final chapter, they urge their readers to take on and then sustain seven commitments that, when made with integrity, will break the “performance barrier” in various conversation, first with one’s self and then with others. For example, commit to creating a new game by declaring that something is important. “That is what you are putting at stake, and it is what you are holding yourself accountable to. When others commit to the [new] game with you, they join you on the field.”

This what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras have in mind when advocating that an organization commit to what they call a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. As they explain in Built to Last, it is “a huge and daunting goal — like a big mountain to climb. It is clear, compelling, and people `get it’ right away. A BHAG serves as a unifying focal point, galvanizing people and creating team spirit as people strive toward a finish line…a BHAG captures the imagination and grabs people in the gut…Indeed, when you combine quiet understanding of the three circles with the audacity of a BHAG, you get a powerful, almost magical mix.”

Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan are world-class pragmatists. They have no illusions or delusions about how difficult the challenges will be for those who make the seven commitments. However, they offer this strong reassurance to their reader: “There are no circumstances in business or in life that you can’t handle with the Three Laws. No matter what hurdles you have to jump, challenges have to face, unfamiliar territory you have to cross, you’re ready for it. Play the game passionately, intensely, and fearlessly. But don’t make it significant. It’s just a game.”


Tuesday, February 28, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keeping Newspapers from Going the Route of the Milkman

Today, I picked my newspaper up off the lawn and brought it in to my house to read with my coffee.  I didn’t have to take my daughter to school because of President’s Day, so I came back inside my house.

From all indications, this ritual is on the road to extinction.   Many reports predict that all newspapers will transform to on-line versions where readers can see the content on a PC, mobile device, tablet, cell phone, or other electronic piece.  Indeed, some newspapers have already gone that route, in the midst of many others folding.

Many of you may not be old enough to remember the milkman.  When I was little, competing dairies would deliver two bottles of milk, ice cream, butter, and other goods directly to your door.   Only one service still does that today, Schwann’s, and it has added many other food items and ready-to-eat meals in order to be profitable.   If we don’t intervene, the delivery of daily print newspapers will go the way of the milkman.

This does not have to be the case!  I am reminded in the now-classic work by Jim Collins, Good-to-Great, where he discusses the Hedgehog Concept.  Of the three components, one is “understanding the denominator that drives your economic engine.”  Or in other words,  what is it that keeps your lights turned on? 

For newspapers, this is not subscriptions.  The number of subscribers to daily and weekend newspapers continues to dwindle nationwide.  If the denominator were subscribers, print newspapers would be history. 

Clearly, the  economic factor is advertising.  As long as companies are willing to advertise in print editions of papers, we will still have them produced and delivered. 

If you love your paper delivered to your door, if you like picking it up off the lawn and taking it with you when you leave in the morning, the key is not to encourage your friends and co-workers to subscribe.  Rather, it is to frequent the advertisers who invest in the paper with your business, and further, to let them know that the ad they placed in the paper influenced your buying decision.  You can say at Macy’s, “I want to see the dress you advertised in the paper on Sunday,” which reinforces that is how you got there. 

The simplest way to reinforce print advertising is to use the coupons that businesses pay for to print, giving you discounts or tw0-for-one purchases.  If customers don’t use them, advertisers will stop paying for the newspapers to print them.  And, when advertisers stop paying for printing, that will turn out the lights for papers.

Think about that.  Do you really want a world where there are no print newspapers?  Where everyone stares at a cell phone or tablet on the bus?  Where you can’t sneak a peek at a headline and make a mental note to find more about it later?  Where you eat cereal with your spoon in one hand and your stylus in the other?  Where you have to send a link to a friend instead of clipping an article with a handwritte note and mailing it?  Really – do you also appreciate receiving e-Cards? 

Not me.  I’ve got my coupons from Saturday’s and Sunday’s paper.  I’m ready to turn them in this week.  I want to support print editions. 

The good news is that there are plenty of households that still subscribe to physical newspapers.  Many homes on my street, including me, have more than one paper thrown and waiting for them each day.  I also take the print edition of the Wall Street Journal.   We are not starting from a base of zero. 

If enough people want to keep papers printed, we can do that.  It is just a decision that enough of us need to make and want to do.

How about you?  Let’s talk about it really soon!




Monday, February 20, 2012 Posted by | Karl's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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