First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Essentialism: A book review by Bob Morris

EssentialismEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Greg McKeown
Crown Business/Imprint of Crown Publishing Group

“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).

Sunday, April 20, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simon Pont: An interview by Bob Morris

Pont 2013Simon 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.

* * *

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.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Simon cordially invite(s) you to check out the resources at this website:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Better Mousetrap: A book review by Bob Morris

Better MousetrapThe Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy
Simon Pont
Kogan Page (2012)

“Reality is a collective hunch.” Lily Tomlin

When I noted the subtitle of Simon Pont’s book, “Brand Invention in a Media of Democracy,” I immediately – and incorrectly – assumed that his focus would be on how effective branding can help to create or increase demand for whatever is offered, be it a product, a service, or both. In fact, Pont has much of value to say about brands, branding, marketing, and consumers. However,but the scope and depth of his perspectives include more, much more.

According to Steven Wright, “The early bird may catch the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read someone observe, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” To which Pont responds, “So said Ralph Waldo Emerson in toast of the innovative spirit and the rewards that (should) follow. I guess ‘Build it and they will come’ is an abridged riff on the same. That is, assuming ‘it’ is any good. And that’s always the trick.” I agree.

What we have in this volume are Pont’s perspectives on a world in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves. They sit within a wild, weird, and wonderful frame of change. But there is a frame. I don’t believe change is the only constant, but that certain fundamental truths remain rock-solid. Up remains up, down down, gravity prevents us from falling into a big blue sky…and people don’t fundamental change. That’s the frame.”

These are among the passages that were of greatest interest and value to me, listed to indicate the range of subjects that Pont discusses with rigor and eloquence:

o The Brand Organic (Page 10)
o Brands Must Behave, Must Woo (15)
o “Yours Digitally”: Brand Charisma’s Second Coming (48)
o You Are Your Own Mousetrap (78)
o In Strangers We Trust (94)
o The Age of the Accelerated Consumer (97)
o Through a Glass Darkly (122)
o Truth, Lies, and Advertising (147)
o Irrational Reasoning, Magpie Desire and the Watch from Outer Space (156)
o “Digital”: What It s, What It Isn’t (196)
o The Second Fundamental: Avoid Launching Ghost Ships (218)
o The Kids Have Taken Over the Place (233)
o The Fabric of Things (261)

Years ago, one of the screenwriters and Hollywood insiders, William Goldman, observed, “Nobody knows nothing.” Goldman agrees with Socrates; Pont and I agree with them. “It takes a guy as smart as Goldman to so accurately nail it, and while he was talking pointedly of the movie industry, the line applies pretty much across the board…Goldman means that no one knows anything for sure, that foresight is a hunch, that everyone is making it up as best they can, and that life’s winners are those who smile at the truth of it and can cut a wake through a Sargasso of ego, guesswork, bullshit, and chance.”

Pont urges his reader to accept the fact that building a better whatever requires a different mindset than the one she or he had when beginning to read this book. Stated another way, Pont urges his reader to think differently about thinking differently. The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books suggests that “what got you here won’t get you there.” Presumably Pont agrees with me that, to paraphrase Goldsmith, “what got you here won’t even keep you here,” wherever that may be.

The world we share is indeed one in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves.” So must we if we are to survive and, perhaps, succeed. Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kevin Murray: An interview by Bob Morris

Kevin Murray is Chairman of the Public Relations Division of Chime Communications, a London-based international marketing services company. Chime’s PR Division is ranked number one in both the PR Week and Marketing magazine public relations league tables for the UK. He started his career as a Crime Reporter on The Star Newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa. He later moved in to public relations in the UK and was Director of Corporate Affairs for the UK Atomic Energy Authority before becoming Director of Communications at British Airways.

He moved to Bell Pottinger in 1998 and has considerable experience in managing complex and global communications projects and departments. He has led significant issues and crisis communications campaigns amidst the heat of international controversies in the chemicals, nuclear, aviation, and banking sectors, to name but a few. He also has years of experience coaching chairmen and chief executives on communication, and has drawn on that experience to add to the content derived from his interviews with the leaders in this book, The Language of Leaders: How Top CEO’s Communicate to Inspire, Influence and Achieve Results, published by Kogan Page (2012).

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

*     *     *

Before discussing The Language of Leaders, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

There is no doubt my wife of 35 years has been the most influential on my development.  She has always shown me where I need to be a better man, a better friend, a better father or a better husband.  She’s also been a great counsellor to me in my career and a huge support.

The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

I have been hugely privileged to advise leaders in all sorts of companies for the past three decades and to work closely with them in periods of incredible change and stress.  Watching them perform, observing how they behave and how they lead, all of this has been very impactful on my development.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

A big turning point in my career was when I was fired from my job as Director of Communications for British Airways.  I had spent two years there being required to be a messenger of often bad news, with no ability to influence change in the organisation.  Prior to that, at the Atomic Energy Authority, I had been in charge of all change programmes and had become very used to being a change agent.  The huge contrast between the two jobs was very influential in the way I have thought for the past 15 years.

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

When I was at school I intended to go to university and study to become a veterinary surgeon.  All my subjects were science-based.  However, while serving in the army during my national service, I engineered a weekend aptitude test at a university in Johannesburg.  The results were very clear.  A career in journalism or public relations was required.  This changed the way I saw the world, and I went into journalism at the age of 19.  Ever since that day I have been having so much fun that I keep thinking somebody is going to find me out because it never feels like working.

Here’s a hypothetical question about interviewing. For present purposes, let’s say you are writing a book about history’s greatest leaders. If it were possible, which five (5) do you wish you could meet with and interview? Why? What specifically would you be most interested in learning from each?

If I were able to I would love to interview Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Genghis Khan and Ronald Reagan.  Each would have the most amazing stories to tell and I would want to explore with them issues like the power of a grand vision, the art of delegating in huge organisations, the ways they thought about communicating in order to win support, and how much they thought charm and humour was necessary in leadership.

Long ago, one of the founders of Hill & Knowlton, John Hill, observed that public relations is (or should be)  “truth well-told.”  Do you agree?

I couldn’t agree more.  I hate that public relations is often dismissed as “spin”.  Public relations activities are about persuasion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  In today’s transparent world not telling the truth is far too dangerous.  You will, ultimately, be found out and the damage will be great.  Public relations management is really what it says on the tin.  It is about trying to manage your relationships with your various publics.  Unless you have good relationships

All organizations need effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of operation. In your opinion, how best to develop them?

One of the things I kept hearing from all of the leaders I interviewed is that the only way you can build agile organisations today is to create more leaders everywhere.  The difference between leadership and management is that leadership is about engaging with people’s emotions to inspire them to the cause.  Management is about controlling behaviours to achieve results.  Great leadership appeals to both the heart and the mind.  In my opinion, the more leaders are taught these softer skills of relating to people, motivating them, recognising and uplifting them, the more successful they will be as leaders.

I am among those who think that crisis does not develop character in a leader, it reveals it. What do you think?

Having worked in the chemical industry, the nuclear industry, the airline industry, and many others I have had more than my fair share of crises, sometimes global in nature.  I have seen leaders implode during a crisis and I have seen leaders respond amazingly in these situations.  I do think those who are poor leaders are the ones who are most likely to fail in a crisis, because often the crisis has been caused by behaviours and decisions and poor leadership that preceded it.  But it also true you can see the real strength of a leader when he or she has to stand up and be counted.

Most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also ranked among those most profitable and having the greatest cap value. In my opinion, that is not a coincidence. What do you think?

I agree.  All of my research has shown that happy and engaged employees usually deliver great results.  I sometimes believe that the customer should come second, because you can never put them first if you haven’t encouraged and inspired your employees.  Time and time again, I have seen examples of highly motivated employees giving effort that went beyond any contractual obligation, to achieve outstanding results for their companies.  I firmly believe that this issue of engagement and inspiration makes the difference between ordinary results and great results.

I think that films very effectively dramatize important business lessons. That is why, when conducting workshops and seminars on leadership, I use brief clips from films such as Paths of Glory, Twelve o’clock High, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Tunes of Glory. Which films would you consider if teaching a workshop or seminar on teamwork?

What a good idea.  I think I would be looking at films like The Godfather, Groundhog Day, Seven Samurai (one of Ikira Kurasawa’s several masterpieces, on which The Magnificent Seven is based) and, yes, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Each of these will have powerful lessons about leadership and teamwork.  To be current I would throw in Avengers Assemble – a great story of a dysfunctional group learning to play to their strengths while working together.

In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders will face during the next 3-5 years? Any advice?

I think one of the biggest challenges facing leaders in general today is that of sustainability.  Time after time I heard the leaders I was speaking to talk about the idea that you cannot have a thriving business in bankrupt society.  You have to have a healthy environment, a healthy society and only then can you have a healthy and thriving business.  I believe that businessmen are going to have to get a lot more long term in their thinking about business and try to find ways to get away from the tyranny of quarterly reporting.  This will take courage, it will take purposeful education of shareholders, but in truth there is no alternative.  Already consumers are demanding more of the brands they buy from, and more ethical, responsible behaviours.  This will be a movement that will gather pace and become unstoppable.  Leaders must get ahead of that curve or else risk being turned into dinosaurs.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Kevin cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:,1929.aspx

Sunday, May 13, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Branded Mind: A book review by Bob Morris

The Branded Mind: What Neuroscience Really Tells Us about the Puzzle of the Brain and the Brand
Erik du Plessis , with Nigel Hollis and Graham Page
Kogan Page (2011)

A travel guide and operations manual for exploration and management of the “Damasian paradigm shift”

With assistance contributed by Nigel Hollis and Graham Page, Erik du Plessis provides his reader with an update on recent developments in the field of neuromarketing to explain “how people think and how people think about brands.” He invokes an especially appropriate extended metaphor when noting in the Introduction that, like a jigsaw puzzle, “the brain consists of many pieces, each unique in appearance and function. All these work independently, and in harmony, to produce the big picture. The big picture is termed `behaviour.’ If only one piece of the brain is faulty then the big picture is also faulty.

“To complete a jigsaw puzzle you need to know the picture on the cover of the box, and you need to study the individual pieces when trying to assemble the puzzle. If you do not know what the final picture looks like and merely proceed by trying to assemble the pieces you will waste your time. Similarly, just looking at the picture on the cover tells you very little about the way the puzzle is assembled. Something similar is true of the brain.” This brief excerpt suggests what this book is about and by what process de Plessis’ intends to explain what neuroscience really tells us about the puzzle of the consumer brain and the brand.

This is by no means an “easy read”; on the contrary. However, it will generously reward those who read it with great care. In fact, I strongly recommend this sequence:

1. Read the Foreword, the Table of Contents, the Introduction (Chapter 1), and then the “Summary of implications for neuromarketing” on Page 244.
2. Re-read them at least once more and highlight key passages.
3. Then read Chapters 2-4 and highlight key passages.
4. Re-read highlighted key passages thus far, then Chapters 5-18 and again highlight key passages.
5. Then do the same for Chapters 19-23, Chapters 24-28, and Chapters 29-30

To repeat: du Plessis will generously reward those who read (and even more generously reward those who re-read) this book with great care. With both rigor and eloquence, he explains why emotions are not in conflict with rational behavior; indeed, they cause rational behavior. For those who are eager to understand the consumer brain and the decision-making process it tends to follow, this insight is of incalculable value. Better yet, du Plessis creates for it a neurological context, a frame-of-reference, within which to understand both its nature and implications.

Of special interest to me is what du Plessis has to say about Antonio Damasio’s somatic marker theorem. What does it achieve? “It forces attention on the negative outcome to which a given action may lead, and functions as an automated alarm signal which says: Beware of danger ahead if you choose the option which leads to this outcome…Somatic markers probably increase the accuracy and efficiency of the decision process. Their absence reduces them.”

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a farmer’s market at which merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In the same spirit, I provide excerpts in my reviews. No brief commentary of mine, however, can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of valuable substance that du Plessis provides in The Branded Mind. It is a brilliant achievement. For those who read it and then re-read it with appropriate care, its value will be incalculable.

Saturday, May 12, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Language of Leaders: A book review by Bob Morris

The Language of Leaders: How Top CEO’s Communicate to Inspire, Influence and Achieve Results
Kevin Murray
Kogan-Page (2012)

How and why your values-driven behavior speaks much louder than anything you say, however eloquently

Kevin Murray shares what he learned during his interviews of 57 business leaders plus contributions by four others. Almost all have UK backgrounds and current affiliations and thus provide perspectives that I found of special interest. It came as no surprise, however, that what has helped them to influence others to achieve high-impact results is essentially no different from what has also proven effective for other leaders in the Americas, Europe, and Asia: effective communication.

In Chapter 3, he identifies and examines what he characterizes as “the 12 principles of effective communication” and none is a head-snapping revelation, nor does Murray make any such claim. They range from “Learn how to be yourself, better, if you aspire to be a better leader and communicator” to “Learn, rehearse, review, improve – always strive to be a better communicator.” If you were to draw up a list of the greatest leaders throughout history, my guess is that – however different they may be in most respects – all were an effective communicator and most (if not all) were a master raconteur.

The title of this book refers to “language” in both verbal and non-verbal domains. In fact, as countless research studies have proven, body language and tone of voice determine at least 80-85% of impact during a face-to-face encounter, with the remainder of impact determined by what is actually said. Moreover, as Murray correctly points out, aspiring leaders must have credibility as well as communication skills. Bill George is among those who have much of great value to say about “authenticity” that develops while following a True North. James O’Toole asserts that all great leaders possess what he characterizes as a “moral compass.” The point is, people will not believe the message if they do not trust the messenger.

Murray offers an especially crisp and concise description of inspiring leaders who make us want to achieve more. “They persuade us to their cause, win our active support, help us to work better together and make us feel proud to be part of the communities they create…If need be, great leaders [also] get us to face ugly reality, and then give us a new sense of direction and optimism. Along the way, they help us to see how what we do makes a difference. They listen to us and they respect us. We feel involved and committed. We watch them for cues, and we feel great when they recognize our efforts – and then we try even harder.”

As I read this portion of the book’s Introduction, I immediately thought of Winston Churchill’s frank communications throughout the worst of the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940. Yes, Churchill inspired people to fight on but he left no doubt as to the perils his nation and its people faced. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering…You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

Murray, those he interviewed, and others who also contributed to the process offer an abundance of information, insights, and wisdom that can help almost anyone to develop a fluency in “the language of leaders” but, that said, I hasten to emphasize once again what Murray stresses throughout the book: Trust is essential to leadership and people will only trust and respect those who are authentic.

Those who aspire to become great leaders, and to engage others in the achievement of great results, must effectively communicate those values that guide and inform their behavior. Fluency without integrity is, at best, artifice and at worst, deceit…or as the example of Adolph Hitler suggests, evil. Leaders must be worthy of those whom they are privileged to serve.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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