All posts by Richard

Book Notes: Range

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts comparing Tiger Woods and Roger Federer – the former famous for his early start and continued effort in one area, the later choosing relatively late what he wanted to do. The importance here is “match quality” – where by you enjoy what you are doing. Where as Tiger was lucky that the thing which his father started him on he was matched to, other people who start equally early who are not a fit will give up or not put in the effort to be grate. As such there are some advantages in choosing after trying a variety of things to see which are are a match to.

This book explains how increasingly people get deeper and deeper into a field, the book highlights that this increasing domain expertise is no longer the holy grail which it used to be. With domain knowledge more easily accessible online the skills of searching and putting together information from different domains is key. A key point that the book makes is that, although team diversity can improve the situation having individual diversity is much more powerful.

Individuals are capable of more creative integration of diverse experiences than teams are

alva taylor and henrich greve

One of the key takeaways for me is the importance of taking complicated problems and trying to see similarities to other problems – the use of analogies is a very powerful way to see what work has already been done which on first sight may not entirely appear relevant. Varied analogies might then lead to solved works which can then be applied to the problem at hand.

Serial inventors are people who

  • high tolerance for ambiguity
  • systems thinkers
  • technical knowledge from peripheral domains
  • repurposing what is already available
  • adept at using analogous domains for finding inputs to the invention process
  • ability to connect disparate pieces of information in new ways
  • synthesizing information from many different sources
  • they appear to flit among ideas
  • broad range of interests
  • they read more (and broadly) than other technologists and have a wider range of outside interests
  • need to learn significantly across multiple domains
  • communicate with various individuals with technical expertise outside of their domain

Often if you’re too much of an insider, it’s harder to get good perspective

Where it is not possible to have people with range the next best is to have a team which practice active-openmindeness. Here, instead of trying to convince others that they are wrong, people try to ask questions to identify why they might be wrong. Through this people improve their own idea and perspective on how to solve the problem.

As such companies should build a Congruence (a social science term for cultural “fit” among an institution’s components – values, goals, vision, self-concepts, and leadership styles) which can aid in effective decisions making.

Consensus is nice to have, but we shouldn’t optimise happiness, we should be optimising our decisions.

Book Notes: The Dichotomy of Leadership

The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the previous book Extreme Ownership the content itself is quite simple but it is the stories from Iraq along with the lessons which make it an interesting read.

  • People and mission – you have to care about the people and also the mission, the two (at times) might be opposing e.g. having to let some people go so that the company can remain viable not doing it may mean the business fails.
  • Micromanagement and la say fair – being too controlling can be bad and so can being too hands on, you have to balance both and find an appropriate middle which will change with different situations
  • Resolute but not overbearing – setting and expecting high standards also being pragmatic on which is critical for the mission and what is not
  • When to Mentor, when to Fire – most people just need help to grow but if this is not producing improvements then it is the tough call to have to let someone go which is important for the team not to have to carry someone who is not up to the job.
  • Train hard, but train smart – training is key to growth but the training effort needs to be targeted to improve the team not just repeating easy exercises.
  • Proactive not reckless – being proactive and pushing things forward but with consideration if things don’t go as planned. Sometimes proactivity removes time for opposition or valuable discussion and risk evaluation which is reckless.
  • Disciplined not rigid – being disciplined is important but having procedures for everything goes too far. There needs to be a balance where by the important procedures exist but there is also space for leadership at all levels.
  • Hold people accountable but don’t hold their hands – requiring the approval of all work means that the leader quickly becomes a bottleneck and although there is a place for people doing this to be accountable for their work there is also a need for the leader to actually lead and clearly explain the why so that the team have space.
  • Leader and a follower – a leader must lead but also know when to follow someone either more senior or more junior (perhaps with more specialised knowledge etc)
  • Plan but don’t overplan – planning is important as this help set the direction, assess risks and ensure alignment. The challenge is to know when to stop planning and when to start doing as the plan can never be perfect.

Humility is the most important quality in a leader

  • Humble not passive – humility is good but not if it means an unwillingness to push back, voice concerns, stand up for the good of the team or provide feedback.
  • Focused but detached – there needs to be a balance between looking into low level detail and thinking about the higher level picture. Neither on their own is sufficient and their balance is key.

Book Notes: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book provides a number of stories which highlight that the history and background have echoings for a long time to come. The fist story is about the importance of community of the duration of people lives. The impact that groupings by age have on future performance in sport, given that a child nearly one year older will be better than people at the other end of the year group physically. That genius is not an individual’s efforts but as a result of the opportunities people had e.g. Bill Gates having access to a computer terminal before most other people etc. The impact of culture in plane crashes where a hierarchical culture endangers lives. How number systems in asia gives them an advantage in maths. How people who herded animals are more aggressive than people who tended fields – animals are easier to steal than a field of potatoes – has impact for generations to come.

Book Notes: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents the following leadership laws:

  1. Lid – your level of impact is capped by your leadership abilities, grow leadership grow your potential for impact
  2. Influence – this is leadership. Management is about processes, entrepreneurship is about finding ideas and pioneering is about being first. Leadership is about influencing others through your character, relationships, knowledge and past success and failures, intuition and experience, plus abilities – certainly not title.
  3. Learning Process – leaders are learners, every day a small amount. There are no overnight leaders.
  4. Navigation – to see the bigger picture and to chart a course towards the goal
  5. Addition – make things better for the people who follow you by valuing others, growing ourselves and relate to others values
  6. Solid Ground – trust is the bedrock.
  7. Respect – people follow people stronger then themselves. Natural leadership is a start – one of the greatest pitfalls is relying on this and not growing. Respect others, have courage, success, loyalty and help others.
  8. Intuition – leaders see everything through a leadership perspective, this intuition is grown over time and is key so that when struggles come along they already see things through leadership.
  9. Magnetism – people attract people who are similar in age, gender, values, attitude, background, energy, abilities and leadership.
  10. Connection – leaders connect through openness and sincerity, vision, them (members), belief, direction and hope.
  11. Inner Circle – no leaders ride alone, it’s about having a great team with variety of skills to complement each other. A strong inner circle means better leadership.
  12. Empowerment – secure leaders give power to others. Keeping out of other people’s way is tough and insecure people don’t trust others so medle. Strong leaders give credit when things go well and take the blame when they don’t.
  13. Picture – people do what they see. As a leader you need to model the behaviours you want and you need to build a vivid picture of what you are trying to achieve.
  14. Buy-In – people buy into the person then the vision. Building personal relations is key to people buying into you.
  15. Victory – leaders find ways for the team to win, success is important for team morall and without it everything is much tougher.
  16. Momentum – a team with momentum is unstoppable. So with some victories and growing people builds momentum that means that the team will achieve more and more.
  17. Priorities – good leaders realise that being busy does not mean accouplishing things. Prioritisation is key – there is just not enough time to do everything.
    What are the 20% of tasks which are actually important. If things could be done 80% as well by someone else then delegate.
  18. Sacrifice – a leader has to give things up to grow. Be that giving up a well performing team to grow a new one or giving up personal time or location.
  19. Timing – timing is key. The right action at the wrong time gives the wrong result, so does the wrong action at the right time. Getting time and action to work together is critical.
  20. Explosive Growth – leaders who develop leaders – succeed, grow the top 20%, focus on strengths, treat individuals uniquely, invest time in others and impact people beyond their reach.
  21. Legacy – everything comes to an end so thinking for legacy and long term success is important. Many leaders don’t grow people in their team and leave a whole when they move on – don’t do this as your work will go to waste.

Book Notes: The Productivity Project

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite often people think that productivity is about being busy , here the book focuses on what we accouplish. It is easy to get into a “factory” mindset focused on efficiency e.g. how many words did I write, however this is not productivity something such as writing a valuable book is.

To be productive we need three elements

  • Prioritise – not all tasks deliver as much value, limit to 3 per day
  • Biological Prime Time – work with your body, not against it find when you work best
  • Procrastinating – Tasks which are: Boring, Frustrating, Difficult, Unstructured or ambiguous, Lacking meaning, Lacking intrinsic reward – we naturally differ thing which match these criteria, instead we should lean on them e.g. if a task is boring how can we make it interesting?

Sometimes procrastinating is just a symptom that your life just doesn’t match what you’re interested in and … maybe you should do something else.

Tim Pychyl
  • Meet your future self – Make a vivid picture of you in the future as a real person, then you will less likely defer tasks to them
  • The Internet kills productivity – There are too many distractions, disconnect
  • Ignore time – manage your energy and attention to become productive not time
  • Working less – value space to refocus and recharge not time working even though working longer hours feels more productive it’s not
  • Cleaning house – group together low value/low attention tasks
  • Zen of productivity – we have to seperate the feeling of productivity from productivity itself, e.g answering emails are easier and give us enjoyment like Netflix, but don’t contribute to the high value items which we should be guarding
  • Shrink the unimportant – e.g. answering email feels productive but that does not mean it contributes to your highest value tasks so shrink the tasks which don’t.
  • Removing the unimportant – hire a (virtual) assistant to offload tasks
  • Emptying your brain – write down tasks so they don’t consume brain power
  • Rising up – review a list of “hot spots” e.g. finance, relationship to keep on track
  • Making room – having room so your mind can wander is great for problem solving
  • Attention hijackers – disable notifications, remote things which distract you
  • Mindfulness – focus on doing just one thing
  • Refueling – food, exercise and sleep have big impacts. Alcohol takes energy from tomorrow, caffeine from later today.

Book Notes: Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The lessons from the book are simple and listed below, however the book is more interesting than these notes because of the stories on which these principles were discovered.Extreme Ownership – fundamentally is about

Extreme Ownership requires leaders to look at an organisation’s problems through the objective lens of reality, without emotional attachment to agendas or plans. It mandates that a leader sets ego aside, accepts responsibility for failure, attack weaknesses and consistently works to build a better and more effective team. Such a leader does not take credit for the team’s success but bestows that honor upon its members. When a leader sets such an example and expects this from junior leaders within the team, the mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level. With Extreme Ownership, junior leaders take charge of their smaller teams and their piece of the mission. Efficiency and effectiveness increases exponentially and high-performance, winning teams are the result.

  • Extreme Ownership – By leading and taking responsibility
  • No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders – Bad leaders blame others and don’t succeed
  • Believe in your mission – Truly understand why the mission is important
  • Check the Ego – Ego stifles planning, advice, criticism… the worst ego is yours
  • Cover and Move – The company wins, not the team. Support and work with others
  • Simple – Keep things simple so everyone can understand, if its complex its forgotten
  • Prioritise and Execute – If you try to take on everything you’ll fail at everything
  • Decentralised Command – Grow leaders with teams of around four to six people
  • Plan – Get the lowest levels to plan then brief at high level encouraging interaction
  • Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command – Provide more visibility up & down
  • Decisiveness amid Uncertainty – You will never have all the info but decide now
  • Discipline Equals Freedom – Leadership is a balance, being disciplined gives space

Book Notes: The Four

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book looks at the bussiness model for:

  • Amazon where it is all about investing in removing barriers so that you can get products quicker triggering gratification,
    • Story telling -> Cheap Capital -> 100x risks (loop infinitely…)
    • Amazon is destroying the significance of brands
  • Apple which is all about people wanting to make themselves feel good
    • Wealthy people are surprisingly homogenous in their buying habits
    • Apple are premium products and price with mass production costs
    • Selling the products as an experience in their stores not just a product
  • Facebook having such a large network of people thus being so valuable as a result
    • An average of an hour a day is spent on Facebook’s digital “properties”
    • Data on billions of identities allows micro targeting
    • Polarised opinions are better views and click bait
    • It claims to be a platform, not media, abdicating responsibility for content
  • Google which is a god in the sense that it gives bussiness and it takes it away
    • Huge amounts of trust by users
    • A change in their algorithm can spell the end for a company (e.g. about.com)
    • Search -> pages -> advertising revenue can be bed for publishers

T Algorithm

  • Product Differentiation
    • Great products break through the clutter
    • Don’t just think about adding, think about what you can remove/simplify
  • Visionary Capital
    • Storytelling is key
    • A bold vision gives you cheap capital
  • Global Reach
  • Likability
  • Vertical Integration
    • Own the whole experience
  • AI
  • Accelerant
    • Attracting talent is key to succeeding
  • Geography
    • You need to be based near the tallent, they won’t come to you

You

It’s never been easier to be a billionaire and harder to be a millionaire

You have to be great, it’s now a global world and there are so many average people. Emotional maturity is key – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills are not optional but essential.

One thing which was quite interesting in this book was the suggestion to go to a university and transfer to the best university you can after the first year when people drop out meaning it is easier to get into than in the first year.

You can’t win without stepping on the field. Hire A people because they hire As, Bs hire Cs.

Go to a city, the network effect is key, remote working will not give the advantages co-location will. Get equity in the companies you work for a live within your means. Stay loyal to people, not organisations. Don’t follow your passion follow your talent. When you leave, leave graciously as you never know when you might meet these people again. We regress to the mean sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down – if you are up don’t expect to stay there if you are down look up. Ask for and Give Help.

The author presents a company like an alphabet, when it starts it is at A –

  • Entrepreneurs here you need people who have high tolerance for risk, can sell, and are too stupid to know they are going to fail.
  • Once the company is rolling and access to capital it is better served by a visionary individual who can scale the company.
  • Later in the alphabet there is the operator who keeps the company going with job security important and low risk.
  • After this there is the pragmatist has no romance for the glory days and helps the company through a managed decline cutting costs, selling bussiness off.

It is rare for a CEO to cover more than two stages.

Book Notes: The Unicorn Project

The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Redshirts, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order by Gene Kim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For full disclosure I received a free copy of The Unicorn Project in advance of publication in exchange for a review. The content of the review are still my own independent thoughts.

The Unicorn Project is the second book about Parts Unlimited set at the same time as The Phoenix Project, whereas the initial book looked more at Devops this book looks from the perspective of a developer. As with the first book it is written in a very engaging manner.

Near the start of the book we are welcomed to The Phoenix Project by Maxine with one of her first challenges of getting the project to run on her machine, having been in a place where it’s taken a week to get projects to run I immediately empathised with the challenge. From there the book presents a few concepts throughout the story. In the first part of the book it focuses on the Five Ideals :

  1. Local and Simplicity – things should be easy to understand and pickup
  2. Focus, Flow and Joy – people should be able to actually get on with the job
  3. Improvement of Daily Work – always striving to remove process bottlenecks
  4. Psychological Safety – innovation is risky so people must be safe to take risks
  5. Customer Focus – a focus on value for the customer

The book briefly talks about the functional practice of immutability, the importance of data as “the new oil” and it makes two other points and cross functional teams.

From Zone to Win they look at ways the business can innovate by looking at “Horizon 3” projects (more speculative R&D) in addition to their core bussiness i.e. “Horizon 1” (bussiness as normal). For completeness here “Horizon 2” is the transformation where the core bussiness might need to be shaken to be able to cope with the new innovations.

The other concept which is worth mentioning is the idea of Core vs Context. “Core” is something which is core and unique to your bussiness, “Context” are things which you bussiness needs to operate but would likely be better to buy in as a service rather than run & maintain or develop in house. One tool which I found quite interesting on this was the Wardley map plotting Commodity vs Value to identify which you should develop and which just to buy.

Book Notes: The Trusted Advisor

The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, Robert M. Galford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is quite focused on the bussiness service of being an advisor however, I feel, that in companies we are all advisors to other people and as such there are a few key points that are relevant to nearly everyone. For an advisor to be effective it means that they have to be listened to – as such this is much more about the personal relationship rather than simply technical understanding.

Build Trust and a Relationship

Advising is very personal, there needs to be a high level of trust for it to be effective. The book proposes that Trustworthiness contains

  • Credibility – context expertise through accuracy and completeness over time. By:
    • Being truthful
    • Never exaggerating, even things like “our best people”
    • Show you have energy and care about their topic
    • Network people/bring others together to talk directly
    • When you don’t know say so quickly
    • Provide some examples of your work in advance
    • Relax, you know more than you think you do if not then don’t be there
    • Do your homework
    • Don’t show off
  • Reliability – be dependable and consistent. By:
    • Make specific commitments on small things and deliver quick
    • Send materials over in advance for review to save time
    • Ensure meetings have clear goals, not just agendas, and complete the goal
    • Match the clients fit and feel over terminology, format etc will save them time
    • Review agendas with the client to ensure they feel their time is well spent
    • Reconfirm scheduled events and notify of rescheduling as soon as possible
  • Intimacy – with someone you can talk about difficult topic and feel they care
    • Take courage and show trust first
    • Show candor as well, don’t be afraid to debate actively
    • Find fun and fascination by getting to the emotions of the decisions
    • Take care how you push – right topic, right time, right phrasing of questions.
    • Practice in advance to feel how you think things will land
    • To reduce bussiness risk you have to take a personal risk to grow intimacy.
    • One of you has to move first and it’s going to be you.

and is reduced by

  • Self focus – there is nothing worse than feeling the advisor cares about themselves more than the customer
Don’tDo
Have a tendency to relate our stories to ourselves
A need to too quickly finish their sentences
A need to fill empty spaces in conversations
A need to appear clever, bright, whitty, etc
An inability to provide a direct answer to a direct question
An unwillingness to say I don’t know
Name-dropping of other clients
A recitation of qualifications
A tendency to give answers too quickly
A tendency to want to have the last word
Closed-ended questions too early
Putting forward hypothesis or problem statements before the client has had chance to
Passive listening/watching the client like a TV set
Let the client fill in empty spaces
Ask the client to provide what is behind issues
Use open-ended questions
Not giving answers until given the right to do so
Focus on defining the problem not the solution
Reflect, listen, summarise
Say you don’t know when you don’t know
Acknowledge feelings
Listen without distractions
Resist requests to provide solutions too early
Trust in adding value after listening not during
Take responsibility for failed communication

Provide Advice

The key part with providing advice is to think from the client perspective – not just to provide advice but to provide options in a way that it is clear to them from which they can choose a direction based on your recommendation, shows a deep understanding of the bussiness and political world they are in and addresses any concerns so that the advice can be adopted.

  • Engage
    • Where there ideas worth talking about and an advisor worth talking to
    • Engagement is not a one time thing but regular to check in with old clients
  • Listen
    • Listening for what is said and unsaid to fully understand the client and problem
  • Frame
    • The advisor helps the client crystalise the problem and clarifying the many problems
    • Consists of formulating problem statements, hypothesis and points of view built around what is valuable for the client
  • Envision
    • Understanding what are we really aiming for?
    • What will it look like when we get there?
    • How will we know when we are there?
  • Commit
    • To understand what it will take to get to the vision
    • For the client to buy into the change

Book Notes: Leadershift

Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace by Maxwell John
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me this was a book which resonated very well with my thoughts and opinions so it was quite an enjoyable read and one I would recommend.

  • Focus: from soloist to conductor – it’s not about you its about the team
    • Going slower so you can go further – you have to work with others so they can grow
    • Recognise you need others – working with people not against them
    • Making the effort to understand others – helping people succeed
    • Wanting others to shine more than you do – when others shine you deliver
    • Helping others to become better every day – supporting others growth
  • Personal development: from goals to growth – its about always striving to get better
    • Inside growth – growth results in better performance not targets
    • Growth in a few vital things – Relationships, Leadership, Growing others and a positive attitude
    • Growth without a finish line – continuous growth
  • Cost: from perks to price – its not about what you get its about what you give
    • Reality – everything worthwhile is uphill
    • Example – leaders must climb the hill first
    • Consistency – never get to stop climbing
  • Relational: from pleasing people to challenging people – your aim is not to be liked but to grow people
    • Shift from what you gain to how you can help, improve your organisation
    • Value people so they put in their best, serve them, empower them, motivate them
    • Work to set expectations up front
    • Ask yourself the hard questions first
    • When a tough conversation is needed, do it right
    • 25% will support you, 50% are undecided, 25% will resist change – support the 50% join the supporting 25%
    • Balance care with candor
CareCandor
Values the Person
Establishes the Relationship
Shores Up Weaknesses
Offers Comfort
Makes the Team Pleasant
Values the Person’s Potential
Expands the Relationship
Brings Out Strengths
Offers a Challenge
Makes the Team Productive
  • Abundance: from maintaining to creating – it’s about pushing forward and not resting
    • What zone are you in?
      • Coasting – doing as little as possible
      • Comfort – doing what you have always done
      • Challenge – do what you’ve not done before
      • Creative – think what I’ve never thought before
    • Get creative
      • Fuel Passion
      • Celebrate Ideas
      • Foster Autonomy
      • Encourage Courage
      • Minimise Hierarchy
      • Reduce Rules
      • Fail Forward
      • Start Small
  • Reproduction: from ladder climbing to ladder building – from just your success to helping others succeed
    • How high will others go with help?
  • Communication: from directing to connecting – from telling people what to do to helping them by working together
DirectingConnecting
Authoritative
Talking
Top Down
Enlisting
Assuming
Gives Answers
My Agenda
Collaborative
Listening
Side by Side
Empowering
Understanding
Asks Questions
Your Agenda
  • Improvement: from team uniformity to team diversity – there is power in diversity
    • Diverse teams fill in knowledge gaps
    • Diverse teams have different perspectives
    • Diverse teams have different experiences
  • Influence: from positional authority to moral authority – for people to want to follow you because of your reputation for excellence
    • There are many types of authority – natural, positional, knowledge, situational, relational, proximity, success, mentoring and seniority authority.
    • Levels of authority
      1. Position – people follow because they have to
      2. Permission – people follow because they want to
      3. Production – people follow because you demonstrate competence
      4. People Development – people follow because you help them become competent
      5. Pinnacle – people follow because you have a reputation for excellence
  • Impact: from trained leaders to transformational leaders
Trained LeadersTransformational Leaders
Know How to Lead
Are Liked
Influence Today
Ask People to Follow
Love to Lead
Are Trained
Help People
Have a Career
Impact a Few
Know Why They Lead
Are Contagious
Influence Today and Tomorrow
Ask People to Make a Difference
Love the People They Lead
Are Trained and Transformed
Help People Change
Have a Calling
Impact Many
  • Passion: from career to calling
CareerCalling
Mainly About You
Something You Choose
Separated from Your Best Life
You Can Take or Leave It
Something You Can Do
Measured by Success
Mainly About Others
Somthing Chosen for You
Integrated into Your Entire Life
Never Leaves You
Something You Must Do
Measured by Significance