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

BR 273: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou

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

Comments: A practical book for the first time manager. I’ve enjoyed Julie’s blog posts and think she comes across as positive and authentic. She did so here too.

Insights that resonated: The premise of the book is – be thoughtful about how you manage your team and keep adapting your style and processes as time passes. I thought Julie delivered on that with lots of insights from her time leading a fast growing design team.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.