All posts by Richard

Review: Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book presents the concept of grit and highlight that we can be confused by natural talent and as such feel that people enter the world fully formed – which is far from the case. It states that grid might be genetic but it is also generated by experiences.

You can calculate a grit score based on:

Not at all like me Not much like me Somewhat like me Mostly like me Very much like me
New ideas a projects sometimes distract me from the previous ones*
Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily#
I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one*
I am a hard worker#
I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete*
I finish whatever I begin#
My interests change from year to year*
I am diligent. I never give up#
I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest*
I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge#


Grit is made up of two components – passion and perseverance. The * questions measure your passion and the # questions above measure your perseverance. It is these two qualities themselves which have been shown to be more important to accomplishment that other characteristics, such as IQ.

Grit is about holding a top-level goal for a very long time, persevering at it improving and ultimately succeeding. These are then made up of mid and low level goals. The more unified, aligned and coordinated our goal hierarchies are the better. The Warren Buffett approach to this is:

  1. Write down a list of 25 career goals
  2. Identify the top 5
  3. The remaining 20 goals you should avoid at all cost as these are goals which will distract you

The book poses that this is a simplification and that the goals listed might be related and so they can be grouped into a higher level goal. However the goal is that energy is limited and that to be successful you need to decide what is important and what is not important to exert energy on.

How grit grows:

  1. Interest – you have to have a fundamental interest before you can to build a passion
  2. Practice – this is addressing your weaknesses and proactively trying to get better, not just repeating what you already know. To achieve more you need:
    • A clearly defined stretch goal
    • Full concentration and effort
    • Immediate and informative feedback
    • Repetition with reflection and refinement
  3. Purpose – feeling that your work matters is key to you sustain interest and to practice for a long period of time
    and at all times Hope – to learn to keep going even when things are difficult, if we get knocked down we get up again

It is possible to help people grow grit and some of the ways to do this are through language and by encouraging the uptake of activities.

Using a growth mindset language helps build grit

From terms which undermine a growth mindset and grit To terms which promote a growth mindset and grit
“You’re a natural! I love that.” “You’re a learner! I love that”
“Well, at least you tried!” “That didn’t work. Let’s talk about how you approached it and what might work better.”
“Great job! You’re so talented!” “Great job! What’s one thing that could have been even better?”
“This is hard. Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it.” “This is hard. Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it yet.”
“Maybe this just isn’t your strength. Don’t worry-you have other things to contribute.” “I have high standards. I’m holding you to them because I know we can reach them together.”

Activities where a person has participated for a number of years and have gained achievements (e.g. sport, volunteering, research, hobbies etc) as a result improve grit. A form such as:

Activity Check grad levels of participation Achievements, awards, leadership position, if any
9 _ 10 _ 11 _ 12 _
9 _ 10 _ 11 _ 12 _
9 _ 10 _ 11 _ 12 _

For activities completed for a single year were filtered out. Each activity completed for two or more years they earn a grit point, if they achieved some form of advancement scored a second point and a third if this advancement was deemed “high” e.g. president of a society or employee of the month. The score was the sum of the two activities with the highest achievement so a total score of 6 points. This follow though on activities both requires grit and builds it.

It has been shown that people with grit achieve more and are happier at the same time.

Review: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book resents seven questions which it recommends are used to coach people on the team, it says that these can take just ten minutes and in the book it explains each of them in detail including why the wording and framing are important. The question are

  1. Whats on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What is the real challenge here for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you are saying yes to this what are you saying no to?
  7. What was most useful to you?

Separately to the book the author provides a details of his bookshelf, which he limits the size of. This provides an interesting list of some of the interesting books and can be found here.

Review: Reinventing Organizations

Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
by Frederic Laloux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book looks at what it describes as the leading edge of organisational structure, what it describes as Teal organisations. For comparison it compares them against more established organisational structures which it describes as follows:

Red – Chief exercises power to keep people in line. The people are only together because of fear and thrives in chaotic environments and has a short term focus. Examples are mafia, street gangs etc. Similar to a wolf pack.

Amber – These follow a strict top-down command and control structure. Stability is values and this is implemented thought rigorous processes. As such, the future is the repeat of the past. Examples are the church, military, public schools, governments etc. Similar to an army.

Orange – The goal is to beat competitors, growing and making greater profit. Management is by objectives – allowing people control on how they do things but not on what they do. Examples are multinational companies etc. Similar to a machine.

Green – Within a classical pyramid structure but with a focus on culture and empowerment which allows people to be very motivated. Examples are culture driven organisations etc. Similar to a family.

This is in contrast to the primary focus of the book, teal organisations.

Teal – No pyramid structure, equality and a focus on individuals achieving their best. This is an evolution of the green organisation and can be clearly seen in comparison to Orange organisations.

Orange Teal
Structure
Organisation Structure Hierarchical pyramid Self Organising teams
No manager but a coach if the team need
Coordination Meetings at every level in the organisation, leading to meeting overload No executive team meetings
Coordination and meetings mostly ad hock when needs arise
Projects Heavy process to try to control and prioritise resource No project managers, people self-started projects
Minimum (or no) plans and budgets, organic prioritisation.
Staff function Lots of central staff e.g. HR, IT, purchasing, finance control, quality, safety, risk management etc Functions performed by the team or a voluntary task force
Few central staff only have advisory roles
Human Resources
Recruitment Interviews by trained HR personnel, focus is on fit with job description Interviews by future colleagues, focus on fit with organisations and with purpose
On boarding (mostly an admin process) Significant training in relactional skills and in company cuture
Rotation programs to immerse oneself into the organisation
Training Training trajectories designed by HR
Mostly skill and management training
Personal freedom and responsibility for training
Critical importance of common training that everyone attends
Job titles & descriptions Every job has a title and a description No job titles
Fluid and granular roles instead of a fixed role
Individual purpose (It’s not the organisations role to help employees identify their personal calling) Recruitment, training and appraisals used to explore juncture of individual calling and organisation purpose
Flexibility & time commitment Honest discussions about individual time commitment to work vs. other meaningful commitments in life
High degree of flexibility in working hours, as long as commitments are upheld
Performance managment Focus on individual performance
Appraisals established by hierarchical superiors
Appraisal discussions aims for objective snapshot of past performance
Focus on tema performance
Peer-based processes for individual appraisals
Appraisal discussion turned into personal inquiry into one’s learning journey and calling
Compensation Decision made by hierarchical superiors
Individual incentives
Meritocratic principles can lead to large salary differences
Self-set salaries with peer calibration for base pay
No bonuses, but equal profit sharing
Narrow salary differences
Appointments and promotions Intense jockeying for scarce promotions leads to politics and dysfunctional behaviour
Silos: every manager is king of his castle
No promotions, but fluid rearrangement of roles based on peer arangement
Responsibility to speak up about issues outside of one’s scope of authority
Dismissal Boss has authority to dismiss a subordinate
Dismissal mostly a legal and financial process
Dismissal last step in mediated conflict resolution mechanism
In practice very rare
Caring, support to turn dismissal into a learning opportunity
Daily Life
Office spaces Standardised and soulless professional buildings
Abundant status markers
Self-decorated, warm spaces, open to children, animals, nature
No status markers
Meetings (many) Specific meeting practices to keep ego in check and ensure everybody’s voice is heard
Decision making High up the pyramid
Any decision can be invalidated by hierarchical superiors
Fully decentralised based on advice process
Conflict (often glossed over, no conflict resolution practices) Regular time devoted to bring to light and address conflicts
Multi-step conflict resolution process
Everyone trained in conflict management
Culture restricts conflict to the conflicting parties and mediators; outsiders are not dragged in
Information flow Information is power and is released on a need-to-know basis
Secrecy towards the outside world is the default position
All information is available in real-time to all, including about the companies financials and compensation
Total transparency invites outsiders to make suggestions to better bring about purpose
Values (only on walls) Clear values translated into explicit ground rules of (un)acceptable behaviours to foster safe environment
Practice to cultivate discussions about values and ground rules
Reflective spaces Quiet room
Group meditation and silence practices
Large group reflection practices
Team supervision and peer coaching
Mood management Conscious sensing of what mood would serve the organisations purpose
Community building Storytelling practices to support self-disclosure and building community
Major organisational processes
Purpose (no listening process) Organisation seen as a living entity with its own evolutionary purpose
The concept of competition is irrelevant; “competitors” are embraced to pursue purpose
Practices to listen into the organisations purpose:
– Everyone a sensor
– Large group processes
– Meditations, guided visualisations, etc.
– Responding to outside prompting
Strategy Strategic course charted by top leadership Strategy emerges organically from the collective intelligence of self-managing employees
Innovation and product development Outside in: customer surveys and segmentation define the offer
Client needs are created if necessary
Inside out: offer is dfined by purpose
Guided by intuition and beauty
Supplier management Suppliers chosen based on price and quality Suppliers chosen also by fit with purpose
Purchasing and investments Authorisation limits linked to level in hierarchy
Investment budget steered by top management
Anybody can spend any amount provided advice process is respected
Peer-based challenging of tea’s investment budget
Sales and marketing Brands positioned to fit consumer segmentation (outside in)
Sales force driven by targets and incentives
Marketing as a simple proposition: this is our offer to the world (inside out)
No sales targets
Planning, budgeting and controlling Based on “predict and control”
Painful cycles of mid-term planning, yearly and monthly budgets
Stick to plan is the rule, deviations must be explained and gaps closed
Ambitious targets to motivate employees
Based on “sense and response”
No or radically simplified budget, no tracking of variance
Workable solutions and fast iterations instead of searching for “perfect” answers
Constant sensing of what’s needed
No targets
Environmental and social initiatives Money as extrinsic yardstick: Only if it doesn’t cost too much initiate
Only the very top can begin initiatives with financial consequences
Integrity as intrinsic yardstick: What is the right thing to do?
Distributed initiative taking, everyone senses the right thing to do
Change management Whole arsenal of change management tools to get organisations to change from A to B (“Change” no longer relevant because organisation constantly adapting from within)
Crisis management Small group of advisers meet confidentially to support CEO in top-down decision making
Communication only when decision is made
Everyone is involved to let the best response emerge from collective intelligence
If advice process needs to be suspended, scope and time of suspension is defined

The book highlights that the only way an organisation can transition to Teal is lead by the CEO and with support of the board – others within the organisation don’t have sufficient power to be able to achieve sufficient change to make the transition. If the support of the board or CEO stops then a traditional organisational (more Orange) process will emerge.

Review: First Break All the Rules

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book highlights the importance of great managers, and how they are different to average ones.

When looking at people the research found that the following were generally true:

People don’t change that much
Don’t wast your time trying to put in something which was left out
Try to draw on what was left in
That is hard enough

This leads to a managers role being

  1. Select for talent
  2. Define the right outcomes
  3. Focus on strengths
  4. Find the right fit

Select for talent

Every job requires talent and everybody has them, the key is matching the right talents from the person to the role.  Hire people with the same talents as your best people, don’t look at the talents of your worst and invert them.

Skill – this is something which can be learnt
Knowledge – split into
    factual – from being taught
    experiential – from someones experiences and can’t be taught
Talent – a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied but they can not be learnt and are slow to change.  There are three types:
Striving – Why does someone get out of bed?  What is their motivation. e.g. competitive
Thinking – How a person thinks and weighs up options. e.g. critical thinking
Relating – Who this person relates to or whom they don’t get along with. e.g. networking

Define the right outcomes

There are many ways to get a job done, good managers know to keep out of the way so that the people with the right talents can find the best way for them.  There are some limitations:
Accuracy and safety must not be compromised
Company or industry standards must be adhered to
Required steps are only useful if the desired outcome is not obscured – they only prevent dissatisfaction not boosting satisfaction

Focus on strengths

You have to cast people in the right role for their talents, this is key to getting the best results.

Each person is unique with their own motivation, talents, skills and knowledge.  Great managers spend the most time with the best people, helping the best achieve not focusing on their worst trying to get them to average.  Focusing on your best is the only way you can get to excellence.

If people have a weakness there are sometimes ways to turn this into just a non-talent.  This could be by taking away the workload which they are just not good at e.g. filling paperwork on time, pairing them with someone who has complimentary skills e.g. someone who loves paperwork or working around the problem e.g. removing the need for paperwork.  These are all ways to turn a weakness into a non-talent however if this is not an option then it is best to cast the person into another role.

Find the right fit

There are multiple career paths, not just up.  Someone might want to grow in the work they are doing, move between teams, move up, move down or move out.  It should not be assumed that the right move for everyone is to move up the ladder – each run up the ladder is not just growing in something, it is a completely different job from which there may be no way back – so it is critical that someone moves for the right reason.  If you have an accountant becoming a team leader, the book suggests that a junior inexperienced team leader should get paid less than an experiences accountant to remove the financial advantage to the promotion – if they grow and develop in the role then they will likely earn more but this is not until they have built up suitable knowledge and experience.

Create heroes in every role, no matter what it is if someone is performing it excellently then they should be acknowledged for it.

Are you a great manager?

The book presents twelve questions which they have identified as being good indicators of how employees feel, these are directly from the perspective that employees leave managers and not companies – two people in the same company can respond very differently to the same set of questions if they have a poorer or better manager. The book explains the mountain which these questions climb with people responding Strongly Agree to all at the peak.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
  12. At work, have I had the opportunities to learn and grow?

What your customers want

This is in the book but I feel that it does not really fit with the rest of it and there are many interesting ways this could have been taken in addition, however I include it here for reference.   Customers require:

  1. Accuracy – what they ordered
  2. Availability – location, opening times
  3. Partnership – personalisation, rewards, understanding
  4. Advice – learning, training

Review: Nudge

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents two major concepts – Choice Architecture and Libertarian Paternalism and highlights why people make bad choices, when nudging helps and how to do it.

Choice Architects – these are people who have the responsibility for organising the context in which people make decisions

Libertarian Paternalism – where people should be free to choose but it is legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier, and better. The reason for this is the difference between Humans and Econs

Econs – understand everything clearly and can always make the right decisions, compared to Humans who struggle to make the right decisions in some cases. It is where the difference between Humans and Econs is significant that Nudges can help steed humans and with embracing libertarian Paternalism towards decisions which make their lives better.

Humans suffer from:

  • Anchoring – where people get drawn towards an answer, e.g. a charity asking you to donate $100 will get a larger donation than one asking for $1 even if no one ever gives them the $100.
  • Availability – people build up an unhealthy fear or lack of fear because something is in their mind, e.g. the risk of a boat sinking if a boat has recently sank.
  • Representativeness – humans try to identify patterns of how similar things are. e.g. people would not expect a short person to be a basketball player
  • Optimism and Overconfidence – people over estimate their own ability, e.g. more than 50% of people will say they are above average.
  • Gains and Losses – people hate loosing things, loosing something makes people twice as unhappy as if they gained it.
  • Status Quo Bias – people tend not to want to change things, even simple things like ticking a box
  • Framing – the wording of a question makes a big difference to the outcome
  • Temptation – people are easily tempted and have low will power
  • Repetition – people have a routine (small such as eating snacks or longer) which they stick to and don’t like to change
  • Doing What Others Do and Think What Others Think – people like to copy others (e.g. telling people that 90% of people have completed their tax return is a big motivator for people to do theirs) and think like others (e.g. a popular song becomes more popular because people think they should like it)
  • The Spotlight Effect – people think others are paying much more attention to them than people really are
  • Priming – by asking people about something it changes their action (e.g. are you going to vote tomorrow? increased voter turn out)

When is it good to nudge?

  • Benefits Now—Costs Later – things you enjoy now but will cause issues in the future e.g. drinking
  • Degree of Difficulty – somethings are just more difficult e.g. selecting a mortgage
    Frequency – infrequent decisions probably need the most help e.g. selecting a university
  • Feedback – where there is no instant feedback for a choice e.g. selecting a pension saving
  • Knowing What You Like – e.g menus which suggest “Top selling” items
  • Markets: A Mixed Verdict – Market forces are not perfect, e.g. extended warranty is a product that simply should not exist.

Ways to architect choice:

  • Defaults – most people will choose this
  • Expect Error – design the process so that errors don’t happen or can be resolved easily. e.g. accepting a credit card no matter which way round it is put into the machine
  • Give Feedback – Well-designed systems tell people when they are doing well and when they are making mistakes as quickly as possible e.g. digital cameras showing a preview of the photo
  • Understanding “Mappings”: From Choice to Welfare – e.g. translating numbers into things people understand like physical objects
  • Structure Complex Choices – e.g. buying a house, filtering options to produce a subset for consideration
  • Incentives – Who uses? Who chooses? Who pays? Who profits? e.g. how are payments etc structures? people tend to forget about the opportunity cost and just consider the incremental cost such as the gas for a car and not how factoring in the cost of the car into the calculation.

The book goes on to present some applications of the above on topics such as money management, the environment, organ donation, healthcare etc.

Review: Leaders Eat Last

Leaders Eat Last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t by Simon Sinek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humans get pleasure from a number of chemicals, these fall into positive selfish ones which are there for personal survival, positive selfless ones for the survival of the group and a negative one which cuts us off from the world.

Positive Selfish
Endorphin – enable us to perform hard labor
Dopamine – enables us to feel good when we make progress
Positive Selfless
Serotonin – is the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things or we make people proud who care for us
Oxycontin – helps form bonds of trust, enabling better longer term problem solving between people who trust each other.
Negative
Cortisol – the feeling of anxiety, discomfort or stress caused by a weak Circle of Safety making us more selfish by inhibiting Oxycontin. Cortisol can’t work its black magic when we have someone by our side, only when there is the utmost confidence that the person at their side would do the same for them.

From these all personal emotions flow.

The responsibility of a leader is to provide cover from above for their people who are working below. When the people feel that they have the control to do what’s right, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, then they will more likely do the right thing. Courage comes from above. Our confidence to do what’s right is determined by how trusted we feel by our leaders.

We don’t just trust people to follow the rules, we trust that they know when to break them. In weak organisations people break trust for personal gain – in strong organisations people break the rules because it is the right thing to do for others. If good people work in bad cultures people will be more concerned about following the rules out of fear of getting in trouble or loosing their jobs than doing what needs to be done.

Responsibility is not doing what we are told, that’s obedience. Responsibility is doing what is right – even if that has repercussions (e.g. a fine) but we can only be responsible in a trusting environment.

Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.

It is how people work together which is the biggest indicator of success.

The better the product, services and experience a company is able to offer its customers, the more it can drive demand for those products, services and experiences. And there is no better way to compete in a market economy than by creating more demanding and having greater control over the supply – which all boils down to the will of those who work for us. Better products, services and experiences are usually the result of the employees who invented, innovated or supplied them. As soon as people are put second on the priority list, differentiation gives way to commoditization. And when that happens innovation declines and the pressure to compete on things like price, and other short-term strategies, goes up.

When we have less, we tend to be more open to sharing what we have. People with little share because they realise that it might be them on another day who need it.

When we divorce ourselves from humanity through numerical abstraction, we are, like Milgram’s volunteers, capable of inhuman behavior. When our relationship with customers or employees becomes abstract concepts, we naturally pursue the most tangible thing we can see – the metrics. Leaders who put a premium on numbers over lives are, more often than not, physically separated from the people they serve. When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way. Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers. All managers of metrics have the opportunity to become leaders of people.

When we do not feel safe from each other in the environments in which we work, our instincts drive us to protect ourselves at all costs instead of sharing accountability for our actions. Hording information is a sign of mistrust and self-preservation. If leaders feel they need to be the most knowledgeable then people hide what they don’t know for fear of having others question their authority. Good leaders share knowledge, ask for help and make introductions to create new relationships within their network.

People do more when they see the results of their effort, not just statistics but the actual people impacted by their work.

For people to make the right choices they need to have a sense of higher authority – God, a noble cause, a compelling vision for the future or some other moral code and not a shareholder, customer or market demand. This is essential so that people can feel they can raise their hand when something is going against this.

Dunbars number of 150 people that we can recognise, beyond this people don’t know each other and can’t form bonds of friendship. Traditionally this was the size of a village but these days could limit the size of a factory or office.

Between money or time & effort people value the time & effort someone gives more than the abstract value of money. We value a boss who spends time with us more than someone who just gives us a bonus.

In organisations where there is no safety, people hide mistakes and problems for fear and self-preservation.

The most common display of a lack of integrity is telling people what they what to hear and not the truth

For integrity to be present honesty is key, not to spin something to make it sound better.

Teams led by a directive leader initially outperform those led by an empowering leader. However, despite lower early performance, teams led by an empowering leader experience higher performance improvement over time because of higher levels of team-learning, coordination, empowerment and mental model development

Command and control puts a lot of pressure on succession planning which is a large gamble to find someone as good as the current leader.

There is no legal standing to the idea that shareholders are the true owner of corporations. They simply own shares, which are abstract representations. In legalese, corporations own themselves. And given that shareholders are not the true owners of corporations, corporations have no legal requirement to maximise share price, as many have claimed.

Would you get rid of your own children if you made a little less money than you expected in the year? Then why would you consider sacking people to be able to make the financial targets.

Employees and customers often know more about and have more of a long-term commitment to a company than shareholders do” Focus on customers, employees and products.

Dopamine addictions cause rivalry, competition and although regularly used to boost performance of an individual actually reduces the performance of the organisation.

These days people are impatient driven by two things: First is a gross misunderstanding that things like success, money or happiness, come instantly. Even though our messages and books arrive the same day we want them, our careers and fulfillment do not. The second millennials have grown up in a world in which huge scale is normal, money is valued over services and technology is used to manage relationships. The economic systems in which they have grown up, ones that prioritise numbers over people, are blindly accepted, as if that’s not the way it has always been. If steps are not taken to overcome or mitigate the quantities of abstractions in their lives, in time they may be the biggest losers of their parents’ excess.

Millennials think that, because they have grown up checking their phone then working then sending a text then working some more, they are better at multitasking. They are not better at multitasking. What they are is better at being distracted. Social media is the drug of the twenty-first century.

It is not when things come easily that we appreciate them, but when we have to work hard for them or when they are hard to get that those things have greater value to us.

Serve the people, who will service the customer, who will ultimately drive the business and benefit the stakeholders. In that order.

When a company declares that its cause is to become a global leader or to become a household name or to make the best products, those are selfish desires with no intended value to anyone beyond the company itself (and often not even everyone in the company). Those causes can’t inspire humans because those causes aren’t causes. No one wakes up in the morning inspired to champion that. In other words, none of them is a cause bigger than the company.

Leadership is always a commitment to human beings.

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?

Review: Good to Great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by James C. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book for people who are in a senior leadership position, it shows that any company can be great if they identify what they are good at and they focus solely on that. The book also highlights that this is not an easy of quick transformation taking year (or decades) to get the company doing the things which its good at and improving on it.

The 6 stages (then repeat to gain momentum) of:

  • Having a Level 5 leader

    • These are people who are passionate about the company and not about themselves.  Prepared to make the right decisions for the company no matter how hard.
    • Set up their successors for even greater success
    • More “plow horse” than “show hours”
    • Looks at windows to praise others and mirrors to blame themselves – taking full responsibility.
    • Attribute success to good luck than to personal greatness
  • First who then what
    • Getting the right people in the right places and getting rid of the people who are not right
    • A genius with a thousand helpers model does not scale or provide longevity
    • Three principles:
      1. If in doubt don’t hire
      2. When you know you need to make a change act
      3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems
    • Teams who debate productively in search of the right answer and once they find it commit to it, regardless of personal interests.
    • Compensation is only to keep the right people and not to motivate meaning that great companies did not pay more than good ones.
    • “People are your most important asset” is wrong, “The right people are your most important asset” is
    • The “right” person is more about character traits and innate capabilities than with specific knowledge, background, or skills.
  • Confront the brutal facts
    • Confront your reality, honestly and with diligence to uncover the truth.
    • People need to have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard
      1. Lead with questions, not answers
      2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
      3. Conduct autopsies, without blame
      4. Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored
    • “Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”
    • Charisma can be as much a liability as an asset for a leader
    • Confronting the facts and act on the implications
    • Ignoring the brutal facts of reality is demotivating
  • Hedgehog concept

    • The hedgehog is an understanding strategy of what the company can be the best in the world at, not necessarily what it wants to be the best at.
    • If you can not be best in the world at your core bussiness then that can not be your hedgehog concept.
    • The “best in the world” understanding is a much more severe standard than a core competence.  You might have a competence but not necessarily have the capacity to be truly the best in the world at that competence.  Conversely, there may be activities at which you could become the best in the world, but at which you have no current competence.
    • Identify your economic driver e.g. profit per x which has the single greatest impact
    • Good to great companies base their strategies on understanding, not bravado
    • Getting the hedgehog concept is iterative and not just a single meeting to decide it – on average taking 4 years
  • Culture of discipline
    • Keeping to the three circles is key
    • Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline
    • Within the circles it gives people freedom.  Disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought who then take disciplined action
    • These companies can look dull from the outside but are incredibly diligent and with stunning intensity always trying to make things better to the nth degree
    • Culture of discipline is not a tyrant who disciplines, the latter being extremely dysfunctional
    • The more a company stays in the circles the more opportunity it will have to grow
    • A “once in a lifetime” opportunity is only worth it if it is within the three circles
    • Budgeting against the hedgehog concept identifies which activities should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all
    • “Stop doing” lists are more important than “to do” lists
  • Technology accelerators
    • Good to great companies avoid technology fads, they are only interested in ones which can build on the hedgehog model
    • Technology is used as an accelerator, not as a creator
    • Mediocre companies react and lurch about, motivated by fear of being left behind
    • “Crawl, walk, run” can be very effective during technical change

After following the steps it is key to keep doing them, small increments add to big benefits.  The companies which keep changing direction effectively keep growth down where as if they kept the fly wheel going they would have achieved far superior results.