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.

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

BR 258: Reboot by Jerry Colonna

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

Comments: This isn’t a “how to” lead book. It is a “here’s what leading technology companies looks like” from the perspective of a CEO coach. This book will resonate a lot more with you if you have an interest in tech start-ups. For everyone else, it may be a category 3 (“shelf it” for later book). I still believe it is one of those that you have to include on your bookshelf because I believe the central premise of the book is important – better humans make better leaders.

Insights that resonated:

1. Better humans make better leaders.

2. Heartbreak is universal. True grit is not only having your heart broken – but it is also managing to keep that heart open despite the losses.

3. What if being lost is part of the path? What if we are supposed to tack across the surface of the lake, sailing into the wind instead of wishing it was only at our backs? What if feeling lost, directionless, and uncertain of the progress is an indicator of growth? What if it means you’re exactly where you need to be, on the pathless path?

4. I took a few writing courses in college. The extraordinary poet Marie Ponsot would talk about the crow sitting on your shoulder saying things like: “That sucks,” ”How could you write that?” and “Are you kidding me?”

Diminutive, chain-smoking Marie would jut her tobacco-stained finger into the air, punctuating every word: Shoot. The. Damn. Crow.

5. One day, the Tibetan teacher Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood. When he returned, he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere!

His first thought upon seeing them was, “I have got to get rid of them!” He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be.

Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them the dharma. If chasing them out won’t work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins teaching about existence and nonexistence, compassion and kindness, the nature of impermanence.

After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there. They simply stare at him with their huge bulging eyes; not a single one is leaving.

At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, “It looks like we’re going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me.”

In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there.

So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. “Eat me if you wish.” He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.


When dealing with the toughest challenges – the kind that involves the demons inside of us – brute force turns out to be a blunt instrument. Acceptance, kindness, and a willingness to open our hearts and minds to the learning ahead of us enable us to make the progress we seek.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Leadership · Management

BR 254: The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

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

Comments: This book is to corporate leaders what “Shoe Dog” is to sports entrepreneurs and “The Hard Things About Hard Things” is to tech entrepreneurs. Surprisingly candid, incisive, and insightful. A phenomenal read – the sort of book that should be mandatory reading in every graduate school of business.

Top 3(+) Lessons: 

1. There’s a wonderful story about how Bob got Roy Disney to waive off a lawsuit against him early in the book. The lawsuit was a culmination of years of perceived slights and pent up frustration against the Disney board and leadership. Bob gave Roy the title of Chairman Emeritus, a small consulting fee, and an office at Disney. While folks criticized Bob for bending over to Roy’s demands, Bob shared that most people just want a bit of respect. And, in difficult situations, it is so important to not let our ego get in the way of that happening.

2. I love how straightforward Bob is through the course of the book. There is no false humility. He believed he deserved to be CEO, hated that he was made to go through the ringer for it, and made it count when he got the chance.

3. That said, he also demonstrated a lot of patience as he went through a series of changes and acquisitions before getting the job. He was 54 when he finally became CEO.. and, boy, did he make it count.

4. “Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest manufacturer of trombone oil in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year.”

5. There was an incredible anecdote about how he pulled the plug on the Twitter acquisition on the sunday before the deal was announced. “It just didn’t feel right” – he’d earned the right to trust his gut by then.

6. When faced with expected internal resistance about Disney+, he convinced the Board to change all executive bonus agreements to a rating decided by him on how much they were contributing to the shift to streaming. Another brave move.

 

1. Read ASAP! · Career · Leadership · Management · Self Improvement

BR 237: Great at Work by Morten Hansen

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

Comments: Morten Hansen kicks this book off sharing that he thinks of this book as the work accompaniment of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (he also has 7 work principles). As someone who thinks of the 7 Habits as the best book I’ve read, this is a bold claim. But, and here’s the best part, his book lives up. I found it insightful, useful, and applicable. This book was part of my end-of-year reflection and will be a big part of my “get better” themes for 2019. And, it is a book I wish I had when I started my career.

First 3 principles:

  1. “Do less, then obsess.” In sharing the difference between the South pole expeditions of Robert Scott and Ronald Amundsen, Morten Hansen makes an interesting point on focus. Amundsen focused completely on one form of transportation – dogs – while Robert Scott struggled with five.
  2. “Redesign your work for value.” Cutting priorities isn’t enough. We need to obsess about value. Value = Benefits to others x effectiveness x efficiency.
  3. “Passion + Purpose.” Purpose is when you make valuable contributions to others or society that you find meaningful and doesn’t do harm. Purpose asks what can I contribute while passion asks the opposite. Match both.

Every principle resonated.

1. Read ASAP! · Career · Leadership · Parenting · Psychology · Relationships · Self Improvement · Skills

BR 233: Non violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg

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

Comments: Simple, profound, life changing. Someone I know describes this as “algebra” for communication – a must read for anyone who communicates (i.e. all of us). I think that’s a great description. Putting this book to action will be my top focus in 2019.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. Keeping observation and evaluation separate in our thinking and communication is one of the hardest things to do. There’s a time to observe and a time to evaluate – almost never a good idea to do both at the same time.Words like always and never communicate evaluation. Communicating observations can be powerful.
  2. I feel is often misused when we use it so say things we think. “I feel I’ve been mistreated” or I feel misunderstood or I feel you..
  3. We don’t know how to communicate needs. :) empathic listening is all about listening to feelings and needs.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Leadership · Management

BR 226: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

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

Comments: This will be a fun read if you are a Pixar fan. I enjoyed Ed Catmull’s narration of the Pixar story as most other versions I’ve read focus largely on the genius of John Lasseter (who, as expected, is a key character in this book too). I think my rating for the book was tainted a bit because of the news around John Lasseter’s sexual abuse allegations. :-(

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. For all the care you put in artistry, visual polish doesn’t matter if you’re not getting the story right.
  2. Drawing well requires us to learn how to see. The difficulty with drawing is that we let our mental models of objects get ahead of us and get us to jump to conclusions. So, we lose track of what is actually on the page. Art teachers teach students to conquer this by getting them to draw an object upside down or by asking them to drag the negative space around the object – both of which don’t require mental models.
    This is applicable to problem solving. Don’t just look at the problem. Look at the context/situation around it. In Pixar, a scene could sometimes only be fixed by looking at the entire story or preceding scenes.
  3. If there is more truth in the hallways than meetings, you are in trouble. For managers who go out of the way to prevent surprises, get over it.
1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Leadership · Parenting · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 218: Mindset by Carol Dweck

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

Comments: This is a seminal work. The concept underlying this is the same as in Marilee Adams’ book – Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. However, this makes the case for a growth mindset by adding a ton of well researched examples and a lot of scientific rigor.

Mindset is central to how we approach things. And, we always have a choice between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

The belief that people/adults cannot change wreaks a lot of havoc in the world. Here’s hoping more folks read this book.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Companies are better off reminding manager’s about Growth mindset first before doing any kind of training.

2. The best environments combine challenge and nurture. They involve high standards in an environment of trust.

3. Praise children for effort, not ability. When a child does something fast and perfect, Carol says – “sorry that was so easy and a waste of your time.”

2. BUY it! · Leadership · Psychology

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.