3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction

BR 265-267: The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi

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

Comments: Growing up as a Hindu in India, I listened to many fascinating mythological tales with supernatural beings, incredible powers, and such. This work of fiction aims to make sense of it all with a fascinating and believable tale. Very well crafted.

Insights that resonated:

1. The central insight was about the importance of being as principled as possible. That, in turn, means striving to apply those principles 100% of the time. There were many cases where the hero (Shiva) had a strong cause to bend the rules or make exceptions. But, he refused to do so – winning the respect of his followers as a result.

2. Provide the framework for discussion and let people arrive at solutions themselves.

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BR 264: No Rules Rules by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings

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Comments: A helpful insight into Netflix’s culture – which is unique even by Silicon valley standards.

Insights that resonated:

1. Optimize for high talent density and attract + retain this talent by paying top-of-market. Do this in cash – not with bonuses, RSUs, etc. There are thus no stock cliffs at Netflix – it is the manager’s duty to keep ensuring the employee is continually paid top-of-market. Employees are encouraged to do their own research as well – e.g. interview elsewhere and come back with a competing offer to ensure the manager has the right data.

2. Netflix is a high performing sports team, not a family. One practice that drives this hope is “the keeper test.” Every 6 months to a year, every employee is encouraged to ask their manager – “if I had an offer to leave Netflix, would you fight to keep me?” If the answer is yes, all is well. If no, then the employee is paid a generous severance. If in between, it is a chance to receive helpful constructive feedback and course correct. It helps that this is not done in isolation – candid feedback is a big feature of the culture at Netflix.

(I’ve thought about this practice a bunch since and think it would be helpful across companies with different cultures.)

3. After optimizing for high talent density, provide near complete freedom and responsibility for creative roles – no control processes (e.g. expense, procurement, etc.) and complete decision making power. This comes with the responsibility to do the right thing for Netflix.

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BR 262: Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

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Comments: I enjoyed reading this book. General McChrystal starts out with a lofty aim – to prove that he had a better approach to management than the traditional hierarchical org chart. I’ve read a few books that have attempted to propose better alternatives. This one sounded the most promising based on his experiences leading the Special Ops force against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

This would be a category 2 book (“Buy it!”) if you’re interested in management and/or the military.

Insights that resonated:

1. Focus on leverage instead of efficiency.

2. My summary of what I took away below –

I read “Team of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and co. recently. The book makes the case that rigid organization structures – the legacy of the assembly line – need to be replaced by a more flexible model – a “Team of Teams.”

The book makes the case that rigid organization structures may have worked in a world where we dealt with complicated problems. But, they don’t work in today’s world characterized by complex interactions and rapid technological changes. And, it is inspired by the experiences of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s experiences leading the Joint Special Operations Command against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

I was skeptical as this is a topic many have attempted to tackle with limited success. But, the book came highly recommended and I think it justified the recommendation. I was positively surprised at the clarity of thought and found it applicable.

The book makes 3 recommendations to move from rigid organization structures to to a “Team of Teams” –

1) Shared consciousness: Replace attempts at blocking information based on access and seniority and embrace broad and open sharing of as much information as possible. The more shared the context, the better everyone on the ground will be able to operate.

2) Decentralize decision making: Once you’ve provided the context, enable folks on the ground to make decisions and strategic calls. They likely have more information than their leaders and any attempt at gaining approval will slow people down.

3) Gardener leaders instead of chess players: Rigid organization structures invoke the image of leadership as skilled chess players. They concoct amazing strategy and the pawns on the ground follow orders. In a team of teams, leaders act more like gardeners – tending to the system and organizational culture – and enable teams to be quick and decisive.

Management systems are hard to change. The assembly line model, as an example, has stuck around for more than a century. But, the book does a good job explaining that the days of celebrating efficiency are over.

We need to spend more time thinking about effectiveness and leverage.

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BR 261: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb

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Comments: Fooled by Randomness is classic Nassim Taleb in that it is insightful and provocative. It just didn’t hit the heights of “Skin in the Game” in terms of what I took away. Perhaps it is because I had given a lot more thought to the role of chance in our lives – the topic of this book.

Insights that resonated:

1. We habitually underestimate the role of chance in our lives.

2. On randomness and stoicism.

“Having control over randomness can be expressed in the manner in which one acts in the small and the large. Recall that epic heroes were judged by their actions, not by the results.

No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word. There is nothing wrong and undignified with emotions—we are cut to have them. What is wrong is not following the heroic or, at least, the dignified path.

That is what stoicism truly means. It is the attempt by man to get even with probability. Stoicism has rather little to do with the stiff-upper-lip notion that we believe it means. The stoic is a person who combines the qualities of wisdom, upright dealing, and courage. The stoic will thus be immune from life’s gyrations as he will be superior to the wounds from some of life’s dirty tricks.”

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BR 260: What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz

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Comments: There’s a lot to like about Ben Horowitz’s book on culture. His first book was just a tough act to follow.

Insights that resonated:

1. Culture – what you do is who you are.

2. Choose virtues instead of values -> Values are what we believe. Virtues are beliefs that we pursue or embody.

3. The amount of communication required in a relationship is inversely proportional to the amount of trust in it.

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BR 259: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

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Comments: I think this book is a good place to start if it is one of the first books you read about leadership and culture. Dan Coyle pieces together many wise notes – the importance of vulnerability, psychological safety, sharing appreciation, etc. – with a collection of good stories. It just didn’t work for me.

Insights that resonated: Trust in a team is proportional to psychological safety.

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BR 257: The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

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Comments: A nice read – one of those books that could have been a long blog post though. :-)

Insights that resonated:

1. Values aren’t values until they cost us something. This lesson from a while ago was reinforced with a story focusing on the decision made by CVS pharmacies to not sell cigarettes (more here).

2. To change outcomes, we must change behavior. And, to change behavior, we must change culture. There was a memorable story about how Alan Mullaly changed the culture within Ford by insisting executives stopped bringing slides that showed all their initiatives marked as “green” despite the company not turning a profit. “We are going to lose billions of dollars this year. Is there anything that’s not going well here?” (more here)

3. The title itself. Life is an infinite game.. think long term. :-)

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BR 252: Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

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Comments: Got off to a promising start as it promised to detail how Bill Campbell became such an influential executive coach. However, it quickly just became a gushing list of platitudes. So, the book works as a lovely memoir if you knew Bill Campbell in some ways. For folks who’d like to learn more about the “how” behind Campbell’s magic, it falls short.

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BR 250: Who Gets What and Why? by Alvin E Roth

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Comments: This was a case of reality unable to meet expectations. Prof Roth is a Nobel Prize winner thanks to his pioneering work on creating a market for kidney transplants and it was recommended by a good friend who works with me on our hiring marketplace at LinkedIn. The book started off with plenty of promise as he spoke about the impact of marketplaces in our lives.. but the book was understandably focused on the marketplaces he’s worked on (kidney exchange, school enrollment, and law clerk enrollment). It is great in many respects and opened my eyes to some of the complexities involved in these markets.

It was just not what I was seeking. :)