BR 144: Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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

Comments: I think the Heath brothers are the best business book authors out there. Made to Stick was brilliant. They managed to surpass it with “Switch.” And, against the odds, they’ve delivered another great book.

As always, a perfect blend of stories, research “wrapped” in an easy-to-remember and apply framework. I’ve begun implementing the learnings from this book already and I’m sure it will go on to be a very important part of my decision making.

(Add on Mar 16 2016: Quick add more than a year after writing this post: This book did impact my decision making and I carry the WRAP framework card in my wallet. )

Top 3 learnings:

Instead of 3 learnings, I’ll share a somewhat long overall synthesis. Please ignore the formatting – this is just a copy paste. You’ll see a better formatted learnographic on soon. 🙂

The first step to decision making is understanding the difference between kind environments and wicked environments.

Kind environments – where feedback is clear, immediate, and unbiased by the act of prediction. e.g. the weather.

Wicked environments – where feedback is unclear, delayed and biased by the act of prediction. e.g. stock markets, new products introductions.

“Gut” works well in kind environments e.g. if you are well trained in chess/football, you know there are only so many different possibilities. So, your gut is an important data point.

In the stock markets, however, the gut might be a data point but doesn’t suffice.  Life is also a wicked environment. As a result, we tend to make decisions with narrow frames and overweight the short term.

We need a good decision making process to make good long term decisions. Hence, the WRAP framework –

W – Widen your options (avoid narrow frames and “whether or not” decisions)

R – Reality test your assumptions (fight confirmation bias)

A – Attain distance before deciding (resist short term influences, make decisions aligned to core priorities)

P – Prepare to be wrong (don’t get cocky about your decisions)

W – Widen your options (avoid narrow frames and “whether or not” decisions)

  1. Make sure you have at least 3 options before making a decision – and think AND not OR – can you follow multiple options at once?
    Whenever you hear a decision being prefaced by “whether or not,” it is time to reconsider.

  1. Find someone who has solved your problem.
    Sam Walton who made many Walmart decisions by copying competitors.

  2. Toggle between “Promotion” and “Prevention” mindsets.
    Circuit City’s actions in the aftermath of the 2001 stock market crash was a perfect example – they cut down underperforming stores (prevention) and also invested in new product lines (promotion)

R – Reality test your assumptions (fight confirmation bias)

  1. Tripadvisor it!  Zoom out (consider base rates) and zoom in (take a close up)
    Pick a job like you would a sushi bar on tripadvisor. Speak to lots of people and get an overall rating. Then, take a close up at negative feedback.
    Similarly, when engaging with experts, don’t ask them for predictions. Ask them historical trends and understand them to really understand your probabilities of success.

  2. Fight confirmation bias – spark constructive disagreement by considering the opposite point of view
    Alfred Sloan, legendary CEO of General Motors, refused to make decisions if there wasn’t at least one opposing point of view.

  3. Ooch before you leap
    An “ooch” is a small experiment to test a hypothesis. Approach a decision like a designer approaches a design – put together a prototype first and gather feedback.

A – Attain distance before deciding (resist short term influences, make decisions aligned to core priorities)

  1. Identify and refer to your 3 core priorities
    Take stock of what matters to you. You might decide against that expensive car if your long term priorities are to save and invest wisely.

  2. What would you advise your best friend to do? / What would a new person do?
    Intel took one of it’s biggest decisions after years of debate – getting out of memory and focusing entirely on processors – by asking the question “What would a new person do?”

  3. Try the 10/10/10 rule
    How would you feel 10 minutes from now? What about 10 months from now? And 10 years from now?

P – Prepare to be wrong (don’t get cocky about your decisions)

  1. Bookend the future – view it as a full spectrum of possibilities
    A top fund manager creates a whole range of potential future stock prices and a list of criteria that would make the upper end of the range more of a possibility. Predicting the future is impossible – viewing it as a spectrum of possibilities is realistic and guards against over confidence.

  2. Set a tripwire/trigger to review your decision
    What if Kodak, who religiously followed their 1980 report that said digital cameras would not get mainstream in the next decade, had a set a “tripwire” saying that they would review their decision not to enter digital cameras if adoption was greater than 10%? Would it have filed for bankruptcy in 2010?

  3. Create a realistic job preview
    Call centers did a much better job of retaining employees when they gave them a one day job preview taking them through the worst situations they might face. This triggered all sorts of coping mechanisms and also increased determination among the future employees.

If you were to make a quick spur-of-the-moment decision, I’d suggest a quick version of the WRAP process

W – Make sure you have at least 3 options or find someone who has solved your problem

R – Tripadvisor it!

A – Identify and refer to your 3 core priorities

P – View the future as a spectrum of possibilities and set a tripwire

The key principle – Follow and trust the process. You might fail on individual decisions. That’s okay.

Bookbytes here and learnographic here.

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 “” 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

BR 142: Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

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

Comments: If you love technology, you will find this book very interesting. It felt a bit gossip-y in that it focused a lot more on the dynamics of a handful of people who were responsible in building Twitter. You come to learn how Twitter nearly imploded multiple times but, against the odds, survived to change the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. A strong board of directors is a key in every company as in life. It is very important to have people who have a long term interest in you who are then willing to call bullshit on your decisions and occasionally, guide you to move to a better place.

2. Complexity, conflict, clash of egos, etc., are not the words that come to mind when you think of the glory of a start-up’s journey to success. They’re part and parcel of the journey, however. And, it is worth remembering that no good comes without significant pain and learning. The book explores the path of these multi millionaires who all learnt some very tough life lessons in the process.

3. Twitter was founded by a bunch of geeks who saw it as a way of connecting with people. These weren’t people with strong social bonds or relationships. They understood the power of technology in helping people like themselves find connection. I thought it interesting that Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in the process of getting back at the girlfriend who dumped him. Scratching your own itch is a very powerful reason to build a company that changes the world.

BR 141: Give and Take by Adam Grant

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

Comments: A very good book. It does really make you think about how you lead your life and establishes giving to be the best long term strategy.

Top 3 Learnings
1. There are 3 kinds of people – givers, takers and matchers. Takers never do well in the short term, matchers do consistently well whereever they go and the givers are either at the top or the very bottom of their fields. The givers at the top of their fields are what Grant calls “Other”-ish givers. They have a self interest in giving but don’t give at the expense of their performance. The givers at the bottom are those who give even if it is not in their long term interest to do so. Give a lot.. but be a bit selfish (not self centered) about it.

2. It is best to “chunk” your giving rather than do little bits every day. People who volunteer 3 hours on a  weekend are happier than those who do 30 mins every day. 100 hours was found to be the golden number for volunteering that gave maximum happiness returns.

3. It is in our interest to give a lot more than we get. In the old economy, takers weren’t as easily found out as today. Our track record follows us everywhere and being short term focused isn’t a good strategy.. and definitely isn’t a path to happiness.

Book notes here

BR 140: Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson

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

Comments: This is a really fast paced, fun book with many simple but actionable insights on how to live a happier life. Improv acting sounds very fun and Patricia Ryan Madson distils 12 principles for us to follow and incorporate into our lives.

I enjoyed the book and interviewed Patricia too – she was everything I’d imagined her to be after reading her book.

Top 3 Learnings

1. Life is no different from an improv act. You can make all the plans you want.. but you just have to learn to improvise to be happy.

2. Patricia cautions us against over preparation. Often, we overdo the amount of preparation and forget to be human and fallible.

3. Notice your gifts. Every day, we use and consume things that have been made with a lot of effort by others. It is only when we learn to notice these gifts and become more aware of our blessings do we get better at improv and thus, life.

Book notes here