Monthly Archives: December 2017

Review: Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really intriguing book which covers some really interesting and though provoking topics, it is also a really long book so here I just list some questions and points that it raises.

Why are we the only kind of genus Homo animals? How our bigger brains mean that we are technically born prematurely. How fire was so important to us. Why stories are important. How companies came to be formed. How we accidently ended up farming. The birth of writing and why numbers are fairly universal but letters not so much. How biases come to be enforced from a chance happening to law which means disadvantages leading to cultural prejudices which then leads to a reinforcing of the laws or disadvantages into a self perpetuating cycle (e.g. votes for women). Why does money exist? How do banks work. Why trust is so important why we could not function without it. Why does religion is the mix of human norms and values along with a belief in superhuman order, including communism, exist. Humanism – liberal for each person), socialist (for humankind species) and evolutionary (to protect the gene pool from degradation). Why did Europeans go so far but others did not. Why is America not named after Columbus – because he believed the map was complete and that everything had been discovered. How capitalism works and how it is based on trust in the future. How companies took over the world and explored new words and got protection from the state. The lead from capitalism to consumerism. How the stage champions strong individuals because of strong markets but this leaves weak communities for which it has to step in e.g. with health care. Why have we got more peace now than any time in the past – atom bombs or less tangible assets (e.g. software)?

The book raises some really interesting questions at the end which is sort of half answers and half leaves open. Are we actually any happier now than we were in medieval times? The answer is likely not really. We have changed the world so much and treat animals poorly. What does the future bring? Or more key “What do we want to want?”

Review: High Output Management

High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book defined a managers rate of output as:

Ax, activities : information gathering, nudging, decision-making, role model. These can be internal to your organisation or these can be influences onto external organisations.

Lx, leverage : a high leverage might be where a large number of people are affected by the action, where peoples actions are effected over a long period of time, providing a unique piece of knowledge or experience. It is important to note that leverage is not always positive, e.g. managerial meddling which can be solved by ensuring people have a sizeable team to manage. It is possible to reduce the organisations output by doing something as well as increasing it.

Tx, time : reducing the time it takes to do things will improve output. e.g. context switching is a proven production killer, as such batching of similar tasks together improves efficiency by reducing the time taken to complete the activity. Reports are more a medium for self-discipline than a way of communication. Writing the report is important; reading it often is not.

Improving output can be by increasing the rate of work, increasing the leverage associated with an activity or shifting the mix of activities from those with lower leverage to those with higher leverage.

The book highly advocated one-to-one meetings and notes – this should be considered the subordinates meeting, they should last an hour, should be near the subordinates location of work, potential problems are key to cover, both participants should take notes – which acts like a commitment from the subordinate that something is going to happen, keep a list of topics to be discussed, personal issues usually get brought up at the end of the meeting (I, not the author, keep the half hour after a one-to-one free just for such occasions).

Decisions should be made in a way where there is a free and open discussion about the problem and potential solutions, a clear decision is made which everyone then fully gets behind. There are challenges with the discussion part because of personal emotions such as pride, ambition, fear, embarrassment and insecurity. Having a chairperson in a group can help ensure that the discussions are suitable and pull the group together to make a decision yet it is key to ensure that not too little or too much time has been spent on the free discussion. There is a strong temptation for the leading officers to make decisions themselves, without the sometimes onerous process of discussions, however if this produces the best result it will only be because of a fluke as opposed to a properly considered range of options.

Organisational structure – mission verses function. It is likely that there are elements of both in an organisation but also having people people dual report to both a mission and function e.g. the security guard might need to report to both the site manager but also a global head of security.

Modes of control – free-market forces, contractual obligations, cultural values. If the problem is well defined (in terms of complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity) and people are only self interested then the free-marked provides a mechanism of you getting what you want (e.g. a toaster). If the problem is well defined but you need to operate as a group then a contract can be formalised (e.g. renting an office). If the problem is not well defined and you have to work as a group then cultural values are key to getting what is required to be produced (e.g. software product development).

When issues are identified with subordinated they tend to go through the following stages – ignore the issue, deny the issue, blame others, assume responsibility, find solution. The key transition is to assume responsibility – from the previous stages this is a physiological one, after this the solutions are purely logical.

There are two ways that someone can produce more – they either need to be better motivated or they need to receive more training. Both of these are key responsibilities for managers.

Separately to general management there are also some specifics for detailing with production management.

For manufacturing there is a difference between market demand and production capacity – it is important to forecast the two separately as using production capacity to drive market demand will result in either too much being produced or not enough when you could have sold more. Different sides (marketing and production) can look at how they can meet the others sides numbers which can then be used for bussiness decisions.

Metrics provide windows into the black box which is production.

The sooner you can identify a problem the better since this will be at the lowest cost.

Review: Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Traditionally carrot and stick type management has been used as a way to get employees to do what the company wants. This might work fine for routine mechanical tasks but not creative ones.

Carrot and stick motivation can extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity and dissuade good behaviors such as unethical behavior create addictions as well as encourage short term thinking.

There are tasks which really must be done where people might be “bribed” to do them, for these tasks explaining why the task is important, acknowledging it is boring plus giving people autonomy to do it as they want makes the task less painful.

Giving bonuses for work reduces intrinsic motivation where as giving random rewards afterwards does not reduce intrinsic motivation.

To boost the intrinsic motivation there are three elements.

  • Autonomy :
    • over task – what they do,
    • over time – when they do it,
    • over team – who they do it with and over technique – how they do it
  • Mastery :
    • is a mind set where you believe there are always things to improve on and is linked to when people are in flow – doing tasks which are slightly more challenging than you are capable of.
    • To achieve mastery requires:
      • effort,
      • grit and
      • deliberate practice.
    • Mastery is an asymptote, the closer you get to it the harder it is.
  • Purpose :
    • people want to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring then themselves.
    • The goal is to make the world better – profit is just the catalysis rather than the objective,
    • what words do people use – if people say words like “we” when referring to the company they feel ownership unlike using words such as “they” and
    • policies such as allowing people to decide how they give back to the community or allowing people time to peruse their own interests

The book presented a few tools of which two of them particularly jumped out.

Flow test

  • Which moment produce a feeling of “flow”? Where were you? What were you working on? Who were you with?
  • Are certain time of the day more flow-friendly than others? How could you restructure your day based on your findings?
  • How might you increase the number of optimal experiences and reduce the moment when you feel disengaged or distracted?
  • If you’re having doubts about your job or career, what does this exercise tell you about your true source of intrinsic motivation?

Autonomy audit

  • How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work – your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your time at work – for instance, when you arrive, when you live and how you allocate your hours each day?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your team at work – that is, to what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate?
  • How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work – how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job?