BR 189: Conscious Business by Fred Kofman

conscious business, fred kofman

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Conscious Business is an all star business book and deservedly so. It is one of those books that can fundamentally change your perspective. I didn’t find the principles necessarily new (lots of overlap with the 7 Habits way of life)- but I thought Fred Kofman’s spin on it was great. The only reason it wasn’t Priority 1 for me is because it goes into “How to” territory a fair bit. While it definitely helped illustrate points he was making, I think it works better for readers who are new to this sort of book.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Consciousness is our ability to be aware and to choose. I found this definition very powerful.

2. Kofman shared the steps to drive people crazy. I found this similar to the steps to creating a cult in Robert Greene’s book on Power. Essentially, it involves being very inconsistent and pretending to be open while not being so. The inconsistency drives people nuts. Sadly, such behavior is a common cause for schizophrenia.

3. Don’t question the emotion. Instead, question the underlying beliefs that lead to the emotion. For example, if Fred’s son believes that there are monsters in the basement, there is no point expecting him not to be scared. After all, we would be scared if we thought so too.

Book notes here.

BR 178: The Alliance by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

alliance

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: The contents and philosophy behind this book is very close to my heart as I’m heading to work at LinkedIn post school. A lot of it felt very familiar and true from my experience at LinkedIn over the summer. Thanks Reid – for sharing it with the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. The best way to retain talent is to accept the fact that talented folks will want to leave. Plan for that.

2. Build talent management around “tours of duty.” These are “missions” of sort which challenge talented employees for a certain period of time and ensure a win-win scenario for both the company and the employee.

3. The best companies treat employee relationships as a two-way alliance. This lasts long after the employee leaves the company.

Book notes here.

BR 176: High Output Management by Andy Grove

high output management, andy grove

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I finally got to reading this book thanks to Ben Horowitz publishing his foreword on his excellent blog. I read and loved the book and can see why Ben had such wonderful things to say. This book deserves its legendary status because it was one of the first examples of an incredible practitioner taking time out to share his wisdom and learning.

I nearly put this book down as priority 2 as Ben Horowitz outdoes this book with “The Hard Thing about Hard Things.” Other books have since lifted some of Andy’s insights and made them more commonplace. However, I decided against that as Andy Grove’s no nonsense style and piercing insights earns it a place among management classics.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Management by outputs – the reason we have “OKRs” or “Objectives and Key Results” as a unit of measurement across all top technology companies

2. Training is the leader’s job. The less the subordinate’s task relevant maturity, the moer the leader should spend time structuring and training the subordinate. Customers should not pay for a poorly trained employee.

3. Meetings are a vital management tool. Don’t waste time criticizing them. Instead, prepare hard and make them worthwhile.

Book notes here.

BR 174: The Outsiders by William Thorndike

outsiders, ceo, management

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a very good book on the border of priorities 2 and 3. I debated pushing it down to priority 3 as I find myself becoming a tougher rater over time. The more books I’ve read, the harder it is to find new insight that truly changes the way I think. This book does a great job bringing together a few really good ideas. However, playing devil’s advocate again, I wonder if a long blog post / research paper would have sufficed.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Counter intuitive results require counter intuitive moves. Outsider CEO’s were most defined as they zigged when their opponents zagged.

2. CEO’s can spend their time (their most valuable resource) doing 3 things – investor relations, operations, or capital allocation. The outsider CEO’s spent most of their time on capital allocation, little on operations and almost none on investor relations. Nearly every one of them adopted some financial instrument that was under used – e.g. buy backs, mergers, acquisitions, etc.

3. They ran lean central teams and often hired strong COO’s who complemented their strengths.

Book notes here.

BR 172: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Good book – especially if you are interested in technology. Lots of interesting points of view on why Google chose to operate the way they did. This is particularly applicable because many of the best known technology firms followed Google’s lead in terms of workplace environment.

I do think there’s an important causality issue in the book’s logic. Eric and Jonathan often make it sound that the way they built Google’s culture and norms resulted in Google’s success. I think it is the other way around – their extraordinary technical insight enabled them to build their unique culture and norms which, in turn, reinforced their technical superiority.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Open plan officers are important for creative work as they result in “collisions” of people that result in ideas being passed around. They are also important as they keep cross functional teams working together. It is just vital that you find ways to have workspaces where introverts can go and focus/get alone time as necessary.

2. Why have perks? Make the office a place where people really want to come to work. The more people want to work from home in jobs that require teamwork and creativity, the more you have a problem.

3. Bill Campbell style 1:1s

Book notes here.

BR 171: Reputation Rules by Daniel Diermeier

reputation rules, trust radar

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Reputation rules was required reading for an interesting course on Crisis Management at school and is written by a former Professor. Good book with many interesting examples. However, if I played devil’s advocate, it did feel like one of those where a long blog post would have sufficed.

Top Learnings:

1. The trust radar was a valuable crisis tool and is one I think I will remember for a long time.  See this post for more.

2. It was very interesting to learn about corporate activist groups from a crisis management point of view.

Book notes here.

BR 159: The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt

Priority: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1) Read ASAP! 2) BUY it! 3) SHELF it 4) SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Outstanding book. The only reason it is priority 2 vs. 1 is because Operations Management may not be everyone’s forte. I read this just beforegraduate  school and I’m sure it’ll be covered in the Operations Management introduction class. I can’t wait.

The other note – it is an excellent audio book as it is produced like an audio movie. Makes for a very interesting read.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. First, understand the goal and ONLY optimize with respect to the goal. Once you understand the goal, understand the bottlenecks. Imagine a plant’s bottleneck / constrained resource can produce 400 units. Having non bottleneck machines produce more than 400 only excess inventory. In fact, if market demand is 300, we are in our interest to produce around 300. The rest is waste.

2.  “Local efficiencies” are useless. Having one part of the plant product top class equipment while everyone is below average and late is useless. The big picture is what matters. Once again, understand the goal and only optimize for it. Beware metrics that result in optimizing parts of the picture at the expense of the whole (e.g. cost cutting on R&D that messes with future pipeline)

3. When trying to understand a problem, think of the Toyota 5 Why system. Ask why 5 times so you get to the route of the problem.

Book notes here.

Add on Mar 16, 2016: This book has had a huge impact on me in retrospect. Some very powerful life analogies here. 2 lessons I’ve repeated many a time –

1. Productivity is actions that us move toward the goal.

2. You can’t optimize sub-systems (point 2).

BR 152: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: If you are, even in the slightest, interested in running a company of your own someday, this book is an absolute must read. This is probably the closest any book will come to being a “CEO how-to” manual.

It is a book I will revisit from time to time.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Leadership is about 3 things – the ability to articulate an idea so people follow you (The Steve Jobs attribute), the ability to be ambitious for the team and not for yourself /to have the right kind of ambition (the Bill Campbell attribute) and the ability to achieve the results you articulate (the Andy Grove attribute) – I’ve never heard leadership spelt out as clearly.

2. The purpose of an organization chart is to facilitate communication. The closer people are on an organization chart, the more they will communicate. (Such a simple idea but one I’d never understood.)]

3. A few money quotes –

The amount of communication required in a relationship is inversely proportional to the amount of trust there is.
‘Managing by numbers is like painting by numbers. It is only for amateurs.’
‘The hero and the coward feel the same. They just do different things. People who watch you judge you on what you do not what you feel.’
‘Hire for strength, not for lack of weakness’
‘Embrace the struggle and remember – the hard things will always be hard things.’

Book notes here.

BR 147: Alex Ferguson – The Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: For some reason, Sir Alex Ferguson fell a bit in my opinion after reading this book. I am still in awe of the man’s ability and achievements and the relentless spirit that he possesses like many greats to keep winning. However, I felt like this book contained one too many pot-shots at ex-players, e.g. Roy Keane. While he asserts a couple of times that he doesn’t carry grudges, his actions seem to say otherwise.

No doubt an incredible manager who will go down as one of the greatest ever. I think he would have gone down as THE greatest ever if he had won another European cup.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Pay attention to the little things. Ferguson and the United staff always paid detailed attention to a potential new signing’s family background, attitude, reputation and mental make up. He believed these signs were a very useful sign of success aside from what the player did on the field.

2. Focus on the infrastructure. Fergie invested incessantly into the United infrastructure – the youth team, the training facility, the medical facility, etc. These undoubtedly set the stage for generations of success.

3. Change is the only constant. He is one of those who truly understood the meaning of “what got you here won’t get you there.” Football teams work in cycles and he ensured he was constantly and proactively bringing change about. He was relentless – both after victory or defeat.

BR 143: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: A very powerful insight into the one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation. It is symbolic that Bezos wanted to call Amazon “Relentless.com” because that is exactly what he is – relentless. Incredibly smart, incredibly driven, incredibly well read, and incredibly determined – a one in a billion combination.

A very inspiring story – there is a lot to learn from this book and from Bezos’ studied and researched style. I loved it. Must read for anybody interested in technology.

Top 3 Learnings
1. Bezos banned PowerPoint in Amazon’s meetings. Instead, he uses 1-6 page memos called narratives. He believes people can hide behind bullet points but it is impossible to not have clarity of thought if you are forced to write full sentences. He is absolutely right, of course. I’ve been using narratives in various projects and it means more thorough preparation than ever before.

2. As Bezos’ grandfather once taught him, it is harder to be kind than clever.

3. This learning isn’t so much from the book as much as it is as a synthesis on the man. The description that comes to mind when I think of is Bezos is “driven learning machine.” Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page are examples. What’s amazing about these people is, aside from their penchant for learning, they are not afraid to take very big swings. It’s an awe inspiring combination and is a reminder that success isn’t a flash in the pan. As they illustrate, it’s a habit.

Book notes here