First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Decision Paralysis vs. Preference for Variety

I have reached the point where I just need to quit reading.  It is all so confusing.  (This is not the first time I have reached this point…)

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink and the Heath brothers in Switch tell us that we are better off with fewer choices.  Give us too many choices, and we arrive at decision paralysis.

Here are the key quotes from these two books:

From Blink:

If you are given too many choices, if you are forced to consider much more than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralyzed.  Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgments, we have to take steps to protect that frugality.

From Switch:

Decision paralysis.  More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan.  This behavior is clearly not rational, but it is human.

And now this from Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational (via Andrew Sullivan):

Capuchin monkeys like change:
The implications of this simple experiment shed some light on consumer behavior, [Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University] said. Earlier work on variety-seeking has found that people eat 43 percent more M&M candies when there are 10 colors in the bowl instead of just seven. “People choose variety for variety’s sake,” Ariely said. “They often choose things they don’t even like as well just for the variety. We knew about this, so the interesting thing was to figure out how basic it is.”


Ariely is somewhat puzzled that humans can get stuck in a rut and not seek more variety. “Ask yourself: How many new things have you tried lately? Have you tried every cereal in the cereal aisle?” It may be that you’re enjoying a daily bowl of a cereal that you would rate as an 8, when just a few feet away on the shelf there is a cereal you’d rate as a 9, but you’ve never tried it.
Businesses can push variety on customers with assortment packs, Ariely suggests, and vicarious experiences like the Food Network can encourage exploration as well. “How do we get ourselves to explore? Even monkeys do it — so maybe we should also try more variety.”

So – we’re paralyzed by too many choices, and yet we like and want more variety.

I’m confused – again.  It’s the story of my life!

Saturday, March 27, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Make Yourself Irreplaceable – Again – Every Day (reflecting on Godin’s Linchpin) – with update

From the script for the movie Titanic:

Andrews - before hitting the iceberg

Five compartments. She can stay afloat with the first four compartments
breached. But not five. Not five. As she goes down by the head the water
will spill over the tops of the bulkheads… at E Deck… from one to the
next… back and back. There’s no stopping it.

The pumps–

The pumps buy you time… but minutes only. From this moment, no matter
what we do, Titanic will founder.

But this ship can’t sink!

She is made of iron, sir. I assure you, she can. And she will. It is a
mathematical certainty.
(Smith looks like he has been gutpunched).


It has all disappeared.

The way we worked, the way we organized work, the way we climbed within a company or organization in the logical and steady advancement of our careers – it is pretty much gone.  And it is not coming back.

Maybe not for everybody.  Not yet.  But – it is already a done deal.  The world has changed.  “It is a mathematical certainty.”

I remember hearing an interview years ago with a factory worker.   He had been laid off, and his job was not coming back.  He had done nothing wrong.  He was a hard worker, he showed up everyday, he kept getting promotions.  But, the factory itself was not up-to-date, and the company was closing it.  He was simply out of work.  And not just out of work. He was lost.  He sounded lost.  You felt for him.  He had spent his life as  a conscientious worker.  And now…nothing.

Seth Godin writes about this in Linchpin, and he warns us that no one is safe.  No one.

Here’s a quote from the book:

Many white-collar workers wear white collars, but they’re still working in the factory…
It’s factory work because it’s planned, controlled, and measured.  It’s factory work because you can optimize for productivity.  These workers know what they’re going to do all day – and it’s still morning.
The white-collar job was supposed to save the middle class, because it was machineproof.  A machine could replace a guy hauling widgets up a flight or stirs, but a machine could never replace someone answering the phone or running the fax machine.
Of course, machines have replaced those workers…  Worse, much worse, is that competitive pressures and greed have encouraged most organizations to turn their workers in to machines…
Our world no longer fairly compensates people who are cogs in a giant machine.

He then includes a simple drawing that illustrates that if your job description can be automated — and someone is trying to automate it right now! — you are doomed.

I’m reading Linchpin and feeling sad – challenged – invigorated – anxious.  The sad part is that I know he is right, and a whole lot of people are in for it.  The challenged and invigorated part is because it tells me why I have to keep moving, changing, growing.  The anxious part — well, I don’t have to tell you.  Every day, I have to keep finding new ways to make myself valuable to somebody.  And that is…  exhausting.

In Switch, the Heath brothers tell us that any time we have to think about doing something, anytime that what we are about to do is not on automatic pilot (i.e., needing supervision, where we have to pay attention to and supervise our actions), then we are faced with an emotional and physical energy drain.  It takes little energy, especially emotional energy, to accomplish a task that is on automatic pilot.  They put it this way:

Self-control is an exhaustible resource…  Much of our daily behavior is more automatic than supervised, and that’s a good thing because the supervised behavior is the hard stuff.  It’s draining.

Godin says that now, practically all work is going to have to be off of automatic pilot.

The quote above:
These workers know what they’re going to do all day – and it’s still morning.

The reality:
Everybody now has a “job” in which he/she does not yet know what to do all day each day.  You make it up/discover it/learn it as you go.  And if you can’t do that, you can be replaced with some form of automation.

Update: please read the comments for some back and forth discussion and my attempt at clarification.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Switch & Tribes & Many Other New Business Book Synopsis Presentations now available at

Karl Krayer and I have just completed our 12th year of monthly presentations of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

Our webmaster (thanks, Dana!) has just uploaded a number of these on our companion website,  When you purchase one of our presentations, you receive the handout, which includes representative key quotes from the book, and an outline of the content of the book.  In addition, you receive the audio of our synopsis in an MP3 format, which you can listen to on your computer, load into your iPhone/iPod, of use in any other way you would like.

The way to take maximum advantage of this is obvious – listen to the recording while following along with the handout.  This is what the participants at our live monthly event do each month.  But you can get plenty of information by listening alone while you work-out or drive, or just by reading the handout alone.

Here’s a testimonial from the CEO of a mid-sized, growing company.  He knew that a client was a fan of one the books we had presented, and wanted to discuss the book’s implications for his business.  The CEO purchased our synopsis from our site, read over the handout (he did not have time to listen to the audio), and then met with his client. The client had read the book – the CEO had not.  As they discussed the book, it was clear that our handout had provided enough of the important content that the CEO actually had a better grasp of the key content and transferable principles of the book than the other person had, who had actually read the book.

If you have never ordered from us, you might want to read the FAQ’s to understand where these presentations and recordings were made, and learn a little more about what we offer.  Some of these were presented by my colleague Karl Krayer, and the others were presentations I made.

Here is a partial list of the new titles now available on our site.  And more are coming each month.

59 Seconds

Book author(s) Richard Wiseman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March

The Design of Business

Book author(s) Roger Martin

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February

Fierce Leadership

Book author(s) Susan Scott

Presented at FFBS in TYBTL

The Healing of America

Book author(s) TR Reid

Presented at the Urban Engagement Book Club

Inside Advantage

Book author(s) Robert Bloom with Dave Conti

Special Presentation

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

Book author(s) Verne Harnish

Special Presentation


Book author(s) Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February


Book author(s) Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Presented at FFBS in 2009 December


Book author(s) Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March


Book author(s) Kevin Maney

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January


Book author(s) Seth Godin

Presented at FFBS in 2009 January

Tyranny of Email

Book author(s) John Freeman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January

Saturday, March 13, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It doesn’t matter what you think/feel/want – the world (your world!) is just going to keep on changing

I’m getting frustrated (almost mad) – again

I can barely use the two remotes on my TV.  And the different remotes in the different classrooms I teach in.  Each and every one is different!  Why do they do that to us?

And I can barely navigate the web sites I read.  I don’t know how to interpret all the boxes, phrases, buttons, tabs.   I’m sinking in the ocean of change.

And now I read that I’ve got to learn how to use the internet “cloud.”  And now I read that in the blink of an eye I’m going to have to buy a 3-D TV.  And…

I don’t like all this change.  I’m not yet adjusted to the last new product; new approach; new, new thing.  And now there’s a new, new, new thing.

It’s kind of like my razor.  I remember shaving with a single blade razor.  For years!  Then, for the next years, my razor had two blades.  And the advertisers promised me that a closer shave would be impossible.  LIARS! Because then they came out with three blades.  And, yes, that was in fact a closer shave.  And now, it’s four blades.  Well – I’m drawing the line.  When it hits ten blades, I’m stopping right there – I refuse to go to 11!

You get the picture.  What is the norm today is already on its last legs.  In nearly every arena.

Man, the change blizzard/ocean/onslaught is tough to deal with.

The Heath brothers tell me why I don’t like all this change.  It is work to change. To not change takes no effort at all.  To change requires actual effort.  Here’s the quote from their newest book, Switch:

The status quo feels comfortable because much of the choice has been squeezed out…  The most familiar path is always the status quo.

The familiar path is easier to follow.  But — and here’s the lesson — it’s not necessarily the better, wiser path to follow.

I wish I did not have to change — so much.  But I will.  And so will you.

Rant over.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The right question vs. the wrong question — insight from Switch by the Heath Brothers

The right question:

“What’s working, and how can we do more of it?”

The wrong question:

“What’s broken, and how do we fix it?”

Look for the bright spots, the places where things are better — study them, copy them, spread the practices.  This may be easier said than done, but it is absolutely critical to positive change.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | 1 Comment

I’m salivating — I can’t wait to present these books…

Confession time.  In the next few months at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I am presenting synopses of the following three books, and I can’t wait!

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  (Read Bob Morris’ terrific review here).

The Checklist Manifesto:
How to Get Things Right by Dr. Atul Gawande

{Here’s an excerpt from the Business Week review:
But the scope of the book goes well beyond medicine. With The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande has entered Gladwell-land. Fellow New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell has produced three best sellers—The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers—by stacking up detailed, seemingly unrelated anecdotes to bolster a larger, universal thesis. Gawande follows the same blueprint, examining all manner of disparate tasks, from flying a plane to building a skyscraper, to show how checklists can improve outcomes. Read this book and you might find yourself making checklists for the most mundane tasks—and be better off for it.}


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink.

Seldom (maybe never) have I been this jazzed about so many selections at once.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the books I choose to present.  And many of them are incredibly valuable.  But there is “love,” and then there is “I can’t wait, I’m salivating, love,” which occurs only rarely, when I get to present a book that truly rings my bell/floats my boat/gets my juices flowing.  In the next few months, I’ve got three such books – books I can’t wait to read.

Just letting you know.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Find the bright spots”

Chip and Dan Heath

In their latest book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard published by Broadway Books (2010), Chip and Dan Heath devote all of Chapter 2 to an explanation of how and why to find what they call “bright spots.” That is, “You are simply asking yourself, ‘What’s working and how can we do more of it?’ That’s the bright-spot philosophy in a single question.”

A second related question is, “Who’s really doing well and what can be done to have him or her do more of it?”

A third and related question is, “What can we learn from what’s working well and who’s doing well that can be shared with and applied by others?”

I agree with the Brothers Heath that, “Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.”

My take on all this is that bright spots are not solutions. Rather, they are positive (hence encouraging) indicators of what and/or who can help to achieve a series of small solutions. Meanwhile, keep in mind that certain mindsets are unwilling and/or unable to see bright spots or at least acknowledge their existence. Those who see them sooner than anyone else does — and then respond to them effectively — have what could be a significant advantage.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to create a “herd” of support to “unleash change”

In their latest book, Switch, be published by Broadway Books on February 16, 2010, Chip and Dan Heath share hundreds of adhesive ideas as they explain “how to change things when change is hard.” Of special interest to me are those that examine “contagious behavior” at the individual, group, and societal levels. Jay Winsten, a public health professor at Harvard, offers an excellent case in point. In the 1980’s, he became interested in the idea of a “designated driver.” At that time, the concept did not exist in the U.S. No one here knew what a “designated driver was. Winsted and his team at Harvard were determined to create a social norm “out of thin air.”

They established contact with the producers, actors, and writers associated with 160 prime-time television programs. They requested only five seconds of dialogue featuring or referring to the designated driver idea.

After three years, nine out of ten people were familiar with the term designated driver. Of much greater importance, alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined from 23, 626 in 1988 to 17,858 in 1992. “Winsten used the power of television to simulate a social norm. But you don’t need Hollywood to create a herd.” That is, almost anyone (regardless of available resources) can “unleash change” by executing the right strategies and tactics to create a critical mass of support. Switch is best viewed as both a “tool box” and an operations manual for doing that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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