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BR 286: Amp It Up by Frank Slootman

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Comments: An interesting insight into the psychology of a 3 x successful tech CEO – Kevin Slootman scaled Datadog, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) “Years ago, I used to hesitate and wait situations out, often trying to fix underperforming people or products instead of pulling the plug. Back then I was seen as a much more reasonable and thoughtful leader — but that didn’t mean I was right. As I got more experience, I realized that I was often just wasting everybody’s time. If we knew that something or someone wasn’t working, why wait? As the saying goes, when there is doubt, there is no doubt.

(2) There’s a lot of upside to be unlocked by just being operationally excellent. Build good strategy and then spend disproportionate amount of energy creating a great operational cadence that helps your team/organization execute well.

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BR 282: The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C Mann

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Comments: I started reading The Wizard and the Prophet after reading this post on Seth’s blog. An excerpt:

Mann has given us a deeply researched narrative, a book that will change the way you see just about everything in the natural world and its relationship with humanity. It’s about an epic struggle and mostly, about our future.

It seems to be about two obscure characters of the 20th century, but it’s not. It’s about each of us and the tools we can choose to bring with us to the future. I found myself switching camps every few minutes.

Seth called it his book of the year. It is definitely up there on my list for the year too.

Charles Mann deconstructs some of the most important issues of our time – including food, water, and climate – and contrasts two approaches to tackling these problems.

The first is the school of sustainability built on the work of William Vogt that asserts that we need to consume less and be more mindful of ecological balance. And the second is the school of innovation built on the work of Norman Borlaug that focuses on innovation as the way out.

The book is incredible thanks to the way Charles Mann interweaves the story of these two men, the tussle between these schools of thought, and the complex challenges ahead of us on issues like food, water, and climate.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) There is no perfect strategy – there are only trade-offs. Both approaches bring trade-offs and there never has been or will be a perfect answer.

(2) When we deal with complex problems that don’t have clear answers, the middle path between the two approaches tends to be the way. That’s because taking the middle path helps us find the relative best of both approaches without necessarily attaching our identity to either.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Technology

BR 281: Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone

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

Comments: Amazon Unbound is the follow up to Brad Stone’s excellent first book about Amazon – “The Everything Store.” It chronicles the growth of Amazon from incredible retailer to an all conquering conglomerate. A fascinating read for anyone interested in technology.

Insights that resonated: 
(1) “It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” | John Steinbeck

An amazing starting quote.

(2) I was repeatedly blown away by Jeff Bezos’ propensity to invest in new and interesting bets. There are a number of occasions where his best and brightest share conversations with him that led to their deployment into a completely new and unproven bet. These bets went onto become billion dollar companies. But, the intentionality with which Bezos went after these – both in deploying high potential talent and staying close to it in the early days – was telling.

(3) The book drove home how much Amazon culture just resembles Jeff Bezos. The drive and intensity of the company mirrors Jeff’s drive and intensity.

(4) Brad also spent time on how wealth changed Jeff – leading eventually to the failure of his marriage. Extreme wealth and celebrity are very hard to handle.

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BR 276: On the clock by Emily Guendelsberger

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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.

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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 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.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Design · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Technology

BR 249: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

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Comments: Book of the year. It’s impact on me was as follows – every time I hear someone say “that makes sense – should work” or something similar, I stop in my tracks and remind myself that things that the idea that things that make sense should work is a falsehood.” Alchemy has put in a reminder as strong as any that things that work don’t need to make sense and that a dash of alchemy is often what we need to solve problems. In that sense, its impact on me was profound.

Top 3 Lessons: 

1. The opposite of a good idea is often a good idea. The most successful supermarkets post recession were either really cheap or really expensive. Luxury brands work. So do mass market ubiquitous ones.

2. The Earl of Sandwich asked for a type of food that would allow him to eat without leaving the gambling table. The sandwich since has received mass adoption. But innovation happens at the edges. Not for the average user.

3. Why do we have reason? So many animals have survived just fine without it and evolution doesn’t plan for the future and predict reason will be necessary for us to send someone to the moon. One interesting theory is that we developed reason as a way of justifying our actions to others – a necessary investment in a legal and PR department in a highly social species.

It is honestly really hard to bring this down to a top 3.

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BR 248: Valley of Genius by Adam Fisher

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

Comments: This book would be category 2 if you are a technology buff. It is a wonderfully put together collection of commentary of the story of Silicon Valley in a unique format – as excerpts from various interviews. I loved the first half of the book as there was a lot about the early history of the valley that was new to me.

Top Lessons:

  1. I was frequently reminded of the notion of clusters of talent. It happened at Fairchild Semiconductor (leading to Intel), happened at General Magic (leading eventually to the iPhone), and then at PayPal and so on.
  2. History doesn’t repeat itself.. but it does rhyme. A lot of the issues around content moderation were faced in “The Well” and a lot of what Napster struggled with was a precursor to Spotify.