1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Money · Technology

BR 276: On the clock by Emily Guendelsberger

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

Comments: Emily G spent 2 months each in an Amazon warehouse, an AT&T/Convergys call center, and a McDonalds and compiled her experiences and observations in a fantastic book.

Insights that resonated: The one idea that I kept coming back to was a recognition of the privilege in my life. I get to get a steady paycheck solving puzzles that are sometimes challenge, occasionally difficult, but never hard. However, the average hourly worker’s life is the exact opposite – an unsteady paycheck and a hard job.

There are many memorable anecdotes that will stay with me – customers throwing coffee and sauce at McDonalds, getting hourly pay deducted for a bathroom break at Convergys, chugging free pain medication at Amazon, Amazon colleagues doing a DIY root canal at home to avoid missing work and paying a dentist, among others.

It made me ponder the effects of global trade and technology while also considering the possibility of Universal Basic Income.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Management · Technology

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

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

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management

BR 262: Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

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

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management

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

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

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology · Skills

BR 259: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

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

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship

BR 257: The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

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

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. :-)

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Self Improvement

BR 256: Upstream by Dan Heath

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

Comments: I love books by the Heath brothers. While this didn’t quite hit the heights of a Decisive or Switch, it was still a good book that sought to focus energy on attempting to solve problems upstream vs. simply reacting to crises.

Insights that resonated:

1. “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

2. I loved this story from the beginning of the book.

“You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the direction of the water—a child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore.

Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well.

Then another struggling child drifts into sight. . . and another. . . and another.

The two of you can barely keep up.

Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, seeming to leave you alone.

‘Where are you going?’ you demand.

Your friend answers, ‘I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.’”

Other notes here.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Technology

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

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

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.

4. SOMEDAY it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Management

BR 245: Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan

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

Comments: I think this might work for folks who are working in an old-world industry with no exposure to technology driven workplaces. It didn’t work for me. I got through 80% of the book before I quit.. so, I might have missed something game changing in the last 20%…

3. SHELF it · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Management · Psychology

BR 242: Principles by Ray Dalio

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

Comments: This is going to be a controversial rating for a book that has been lauded a fair bit in the mainstream media. Ray Dalio is a legendary investor and is clearly very smart. I just happened to follow his work via his videos and his “Principles” website after having done a case on Bridgewater in graduate school. So, a lot of the book wasn’t new to me. It would be in the “Buy it” category otherwise.

Top 3 Lessons: 

1. Ray Dalio’s success built on investing since he was 12 + reflecting on experiences + approaching every decision with a fear of being wrong (never being over confident).

2. First order and second order consequences are often in opposition. Unhealthy food has a good first auto consequence but a bad second out a consequence.
Question – Will you choose a painful healthy route or an unhealthy comfortable delusion?

3. Managers are engineers. They focus on setting up the machine to create the outcomes they seek. Build systems first, then put people in.