BR 203: Payoff by Dan Ariely

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

Comments: Payoff is a short book that is both simple and powerful. If you love Dan Ariely’s work and/or behavioral economics, you will enjoy this book.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. We tend to underestimate the power of goodwill in building motivated teams and work environments. If there’s one thing you take away from this book, it is that appreciation and goodwill are more powerful incentives than any financial incentives (assuming people’s pay covers basic needs).

2. Purpose matters over pleasure. Understanding why we do things goes a long way in helping us stay motivated.

3. As humans, we care a great deal about legacy. We’ve had a big fascination for life after death since the time of the pharaohs and that fascination continues today.

Book notes here.

BR 199: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

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

Comments: I rarely re-read books but decided to re-read this during my end-of-year break as I’ve come to appreciate how wise this book is. It delivered, again. I’d spent most of my first reading in the first half/personal victories portion of the book. This time, I spent more time in the public victories. So much to learn, do and build.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. To know and not to do is not to learn. Beautifully drove home the point that I haven’t “learned” nearly as much I say I have.

2. Seek to understand and then to be understood. In the spirit of knowing and not doing, this has become an important part of “engagement” theme this year. I am still too impatient too often.

3. Seeking win-win requires a combination of courage and consideration.

Stephen Covey’s masterpiece is so good that it makes the “Read ASAP” list twice. 🙂

Book notes here.

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 184: Persuadable by Al Pitampalli

persuadable, al pitampalli

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

Comments: A really good book. I didn’t find it as new simply because it involves broadening Jeff Bezos’ philosophy about people who are right a lot continually changing their mind. In Persuadable, Al helps us understand how to think about being persuadable and shares a compelling rationale for being so.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Two of my favorite business tales – Jeff Bezos on being right a lot  and Ray Dalio’s investment approach.

In 1981, Dalio was sure US was on the brink of a recession because he felt the government was too leveraged. He began publicizing it. But, to Dalio’s surprise, the stock market surged and led to a tremendous embarrassment and loss of fortune.

So kept detailed records of every trade he made and began noting what happened with every investment – learning from both his success and painful losses. Pain + success = progress. Kept finding “rules” for the market and kept improving it.

2. Thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings which normally emphasize leadership bravado and single-mindedness, we focus a lot on consistency. So much so that whole political campaigns are won the moment a candidate switches views on a topic. While the rationale for this is because political candidates are often guilty of changing views based on when it suits them, we also end up punishing those who’re changing it because of better data.

Abraham Lincoln, for example, was a notorious flip flopper who changed his views on the civil rights movement as new data presented itself. even black scholar and activist W E B De Buy? who was often critical of Lincoln admired his always critical and flexible brand of leadership.

3. The overall point of the book is to view our approach to life and business as an evolving thesis. Seek new information, keep improving the thesis and get better.

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 175: Why CEO’s Fail by David Dotlich and Peter C Cairo

why ceo's fail, ceo

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

Comments: Powerful book that is best characterized by a single powerful insight – most CEO failures are really failures of self awareness. It is hard for senior leaders to be self aware because, as you move up, your jokes become funnier and your insights become more insightful.

I didn’t do a book summary but did reflect on the takeaways from the book – that’s 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 157: Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel

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

Comments: A nice read on Nelson Mandela’s life. I took away a few nice stories and the quote – “courage is not the absence of fear but the realization that there are things more important than fear.” Mandela really lived that quote.

I was hoping for more depth, however..

Top 3 Learnings: 

1. Mandela really had to change with the times. He was a revolutionary of sorts at first and, as he grew, he became the peacemaker. His 26 years in prison were fundamental to that change..

2. He repeatedly demonstrates the power of choice. He even alienated those who supported him by adopting a peaceful political stance following his release (which was negotiated in fairly contentious circumstances). He chose not to lead with anger.. and what a great choice that turned out to be.

3. Mandela always was a charismatic change maker. He had his way even in prison – that leadership streak never left him. As he matured, he just chose to channel it differently. Once he’d made that decision, however, he put in extraordinary effort to make it happen. For example, he learnt Afrikaans to understand his then-enemy and made friends with the guards. In doing so, he expanded his capacity to understand people differently. He no longer saw his captors as the enemy. Instead, he realized they were men just like him and understood where they came from. He went on to embrace their sport – Rugby – and used the world cup to unite the country in 1995 (Cue: The movie Invictus).

Book notes here.

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.