“Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler.” Albert Einstein
As I began to read this book for the first time, I was again reminded of the Einstein observation as well as Greg McKeown’s previous book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, in which he and co-author Liz Wiseman juxtapose two quite different personas whom they characterize as the “Multiplier” and the “Diminisher.” Although they refer to them as leaders, assigning to them 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. They devote a separate chapter to each of the five Multiplier leadership roles.
In Essentialism, McKeown focuses on what must be done to increase what is essential to an organization’s success – as well as to an individual’s success – by reducing (if not totally eliminating) whatever is not essential to such success. I agree with him: Almost anyone in almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) can choose how to expend time and energy; reduce/eliminate “noise” and clutter, preserving only what is exceptionally valuable; and decide which few trade-offs and compromises to accept while rejecting all others. Essentialists have what Ernest Hemingway once characterized as a “built-in, shock-proof crap detector,” one that is especially reliable when detecting their own.
“There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: ‘I have to,’ ‘It’s all important,’ and ‘I can do both.’ Like mythological sirens, these assumptions are as dangerous as they are seductive. They draw us in and drown us in shallow waters.”
These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of McKeown’s coverage.
o The Cluttered Closet Test (Pages 17-19)
o The Essentialist Mind-Set: A Three-Step Process (20-25)
o Discern the Vital Few from the Trivial Many (60-61)
o How to Create Spaces to Design, Concentrate, and Read (65-71)
o Clarify the Question (80-81)
o A Mind Invited to Play (86-89)
o Protecting the Asset: Ourselves (94-96)
o The 90 Percent or NOTHING Rule (104-107)
o How to Cut Out the Trivial Many (116-117)
o From “Pretty Clear” to “Really Clear”: Two Common Patterns (121-124)
o The Power of a Graceful “No” (131-0135)
o The “No” Repertoire (140-143)
o How to Avoid Commitment Traps (148-154)
o EDIT: The Invisible Art (155-162)
o LIMIT: The Freedom of Setting Boundaries (163-167)
o How to Produce More by Eliminating More (188-192)
o FLOW: The Genius of Routine (203-205)
o The Essential Life: Living a Life that Really Matters (236-237)
McKeown also provides an appendix, “Leadership Essentials,” during which he suggests and discusses five:
1. Be Ridiculously Selective in Hiring People
2. Go for Extreme Empowerment
3. Communicate the Right Things [values, standards, objectives] to the Right People at the Right Time
4. Check in Often to Ensure Meaningful Progress
Greg McKeown makes frequent use of terms such as “less,” “more,” and “better.” For example, the essentialist mind-set affirms “Less but better.” We know what he means: Less (if any) of what is non-essential but better results. In this context, as he explains, essentialists are trimmers and pruners, eliminating organizational fat while strengthening its muscles and bones. That is especially important these days when, on average, less than 30% of those who comprise a U.S. workforce are actively and positively engaged; the other 70+% are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively undermining efforts to achieve the given business goals.
Obviously, no brief commentary can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. I encourage those who share my opinion to check out David Shaked’s Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement, published by Kogan-Page (2013).
Simon Pont is a writer, commentator and brand-builder. Hollywood movie studios, Icelandic investment banks, British chocolate bars and Middle Eastern airlines figure amongst his time on the inside of Adland.
He is the author of The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy, and a novel, Remember to Breathe.
His next project, Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything, is scheduled for worldwide release (June 2013) through Kogan Page.
Simon is also Chief Strategy Officer at agency network Vizeum, though when asked, he has always wanted to say he is a spy.
He has never been a spy.
He is however married and has three children.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Better Mousetrap, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Pont: It has to be family. Family: in the true multi-generational sense of the word. My parents set the moral compass, and I’ve always felt myself hugely fortunate to have been brought up with an emotional safety net that was unconditional, that was always there. I’m now a parent, and parenthood is the most incredible, off-the-chart seismic shift, as far as life-stages go. At least, it has been for me. My future personal growth will inevitably be defined by my children and the positive role I want to try and play in their lives.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Pont: You know, there’s never been one stand-out Mr. Miyagi type figure in my career, radiating warmth and charisma and setting the standard. There have been a couple of Buddy Ackerman types – and there’s no need to name real names – but what I am very conscious of is that overall, I’ve actually been very fortunate. There’s been a sizeable cast of characters, mostly very good and only a few questionable, who I’ve learned from. And that’s been hugely instructive in helping me decide what kind of professional I want to be, and the kind that I don’t. But to name a few names for all the right reasons, I’d happily cite Moray MacLennan, Hans Andersson, Jon Wilkins, Greg Grimmer, and Hamish Davies. In each case, and each in their own way, we’re talking about hugely impressive, inspiring, and fundamentally very decent human beings.
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.
Pont: I don’t think there’s ever been just one! I think careers are twisty-turny things full of great highlights, 50-50 judgements calls, and a few near-disasters. Along that road, with hope, you bump into a fair few moments of revelation.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Pont: For me, a formal education’s been very important. It’s a good, solid grounding, but it’s also been the necessary series of experiences – from which I now understand how I work, think about things, explore ideas, investigate themes, and then, put those thoughts together. Quite simply, you have to read a lot of words, and put a lot of words down, before you get to a place where you find your own process and writing approach.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you started working full-time? Why?
Pont: Stop playing at being a grown-up and just be a grown-up. I think that’s fair advice to anyone in the early days of their career. By definition, when you start out in business, you’re naive, because your only former points of reference are academia and being a student; in most respects, being a “kid”. And it’s only experience that takes the edge off that immaturity. But there is a ‘but’. Once you’ve entered the business world, you’ve entered it, so you might as well stop “pretending”, stop play-acting, drop the pretence, and go at it full-tilt. I think real credibility and success comes from believing in yourself and what you’re capable of, even if you don’t have so much “experience” to draw upon. It’s not an easy message, of course, but self-doubt only gets in your way. So don’t have any. Or at least, work on editing it.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Pont: That’s a terrific question. I’m a big film fan. Swimming with Sharks and Wall Street are brilliant yesteryear windows on the working world. Margin Call, from 2011, is another great snapshot on a particular moment in time – but that’s not what you’re asking. Citing movies about the work-place isn’t the same as a movie that necessarily dramatizes business principles.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Simon cordially invite(s) you to check out the resources at this website: