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

why ceo's fail, ceo

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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.

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BR 172: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

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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.

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BR 157: Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel

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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.

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BR 152: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

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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.

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BR 147: Alex Ferguson – The Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

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Comments: For some reason, Sir Alex Ferguson fell a bit in my opinion after reading this book. I am still in awe of the man’s ability and achievements and the relentless spirit that he possesses like many greats to keep winning. However, I felt like this book contained one too many pot-shots at ex-players, e.g. Roy Keane. While he asserts a couple of times that he doesn’t carry grudges, his actions seem to say otherwise.

No doubt an incredible manager who will go down as one of the greatest ever. I think he would have gone down as THE greatest ever if he had won another European cup.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Pay attention to the little things. Ferguson and the United staff always paid detailed attention to a potential new signing’s family background, attitude, reputation and mental make up. He believed these signs were a very useful sign of success aside from what the player did on the field.

2. Focus on the infrastructure. Fergie invested incessantly into the United infrastructure – the youth team, the training facility, the medical facility, etc. These undoubtedly set the stage for generations of success.

3. Change is the only constant. He is one of those who truly understood the meaning of “what got you here won’t get you there.” Football teams work in cycles and he ensured he was constantly and proactively bringing change about. He was relentless – both after victory or defeat.

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BR 143: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

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Comments: A very powerful insight into the one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation. It is symbolic that Bezos wanted to call Amazon “Relentless.com” 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

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BR 139: The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Zander

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Comments: The reason this book is in the top rung is not because it unearths some revolutionary or novel concept. It is because it advocates a way of thinking that has the power to revolutionize our life. Stephen Covey brought to light our ability to respond to situations (instead of just reacting to them) in his chapter “Be Proactive” but Ben and Roz take it to the next level by imploring us to make finding “possibility” a habit.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Remember rule no.6. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. I need this on a plaque. :)

2. Seeing possibility is a way of life. It’s the learning approach to life – possibility has this magical ring to it. And rightly so.. viewing everything we do from the lens of possibility may be hard work but adds so much in terms of happiness, creativity, fun, and joy.

3. When you make a mistake, say “HOW fascinating.” Again, this isn’t just a cosmetic change. It involves a fundamental change in the way we view mistakes. Hard to do.. but I’m hopeful I will be able to implement it.

Book notes here

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BR 131: How will you measure your life? by Clayton Christensen

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Comments: I wish I had gotten to this book sooner. Clayton Christensen has such a thorough and clear thought process that reading this book is like embarking on an interesting intellectual journey with him.

This book is all about “how” to think rather than “what” to do. It has inspired some immediate changes in my life and I’m sure will continue to do so.

I loved it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing stories from the book for a long long time.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Be careful about viewing indiscretions in terms of marginal cost i.e. maybe I’ll do it just this time. You might think you are making allowance for an extenuating circumstance but life is just a series of extenuating circumstances. No athlete starts out with doping in mind.. it happens one bad decision after another. We can’t commit to 99% of an idea. It’s 100% or nothing.

2. Don’t look products as something people buy. Look at them as things people rent to get a job done. Ikea doesn’t win because it has the most amazing furniture. It wins because people hire Ikea for a quick, painless, cost effective way of re-decorating a home.

Similarly, great relationships involve asking yourself – why would my partner hire a husband/wife in this situation? This way, we focus on empathizing with what the other person wants rather than giving them what we think they should want.

3. Be careful about outsourcing your capabilities – Capability = Resources (what) + processes (how) + priorities (why). Dell began outsourcing small parts of manufacturing to Asus.. and 16 years later, Asus was manufacturing the whole computer. Asus soon started it’s own line of computers and Dell could do nothing since it had outsources it’s capabilities.

It’s important to think of this in terms of our kids. If our kids are constantly raised by someone else and learn processes and priorities from someone else, whose kids are they?

Add on Mar 16, 2016: This book changed my life. Up there with Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits.

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BR 110: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

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Comments: It hammers home a simple idea and really demonstrates the power of a (simple) framework in making ideas stick. Only downside is that it can occasionally be repetitive – but, maybe, that is the point. :)

Top 3 learnings:

1. Start with Why

2. Start with Why. Then move to the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.

3. Start with Why. Always explain your purpose.

I have been working on implementing this in everything I do. It hasn’t become habitual yet but I’m hoping it will become soon. A simple, really powerful idea.

There are lots of other little lessons from the book that I could list in the top 3 learnings but I fear diluting what I really took away from the book.

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BR 84: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni


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Comments: This was the story of how a man-manager turned around an under-performing but team. This parable has a lot of truth in it and there is definitely something to learn from the approach.

Like all “good” books, the framework didn’t stand out. :)