Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes: Rebel Ideas

Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts off with some stories highlighting the importance of diverse knowledge and experience. The book highlights that no only do homogeneous groups underperform but they underperform in predictable ways – not only do homogeneous groups share the same blind spots but they reinforce them as such groups become more sure of their judgements.

One of the challenge with diverse groups is that discussions in them are cognitively demanding – including plenty of debates and disagreements as a result of different perspectives being aired. Such groups (in the experiment) typically came to the right result but they were not certain of it because the discussion highlighted the inherent complexity. Compared to a homogenous group which was more likely to be wrong because of mirroring behaviour and not challenging blind spots, as a result they were also more sure they were correct.

When we have complex (as opposed to simple) problems e,g, economic forecasts then there is no single model which takes everything into account as such using multiple models by different people produces a better result. The reason for this is that each forecaster has their own frame of reference and builds a model to reflect that including its blind spots, however different economists (as an example) have different worlds views so by combining them the results can be more inclusive. In this world having clones of the best economists in the world would not produce the benefit which diversity brings.

In uncertain times people are naturally attracted to people who are dominant leaders. The ironic part is that at exactly these times is when the diversity of opinions is of it’s most importance.

Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs – because they see beyond the status quo and can envisage new products and ways of working which people who are incumbent can not.

Echo chambers – the interesting part is that their opinions tend to become stronger when exposed to opposing ideas. The reason is that when they feel under attack they find holes in the other persons arguments which confirms their position. As such they hear but dismiss outside voices which they don’t trust, they trust their opinion and those who agree with them.

When people are in small diverse communities there is less opportunity for echo chambers to form, the challenge is in large environments (e.g. the internet) it is very easy to find people who agree with your perspective and to make a reinforcing group.

Book Notes: The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The one simple thing which everyone should take away from this book is – you have a bussiness plan, in it there are assumptions – run experiments to test each of the assumptions. With this you can then see if you should pivot the strategy for your vision if people don’t react as you were expecting, however first you must launch early and learn. Then you can optimise your product using experiments to refine.

To see if things are going the right way don’t just use number of people vs time – these up and to the right graphs are misleading/vanity metrics. Instead use cohort analysis where you see of the 100% of people who visited your site, the percentage that signed up, the percentage that signed up and used the product etc – if you are making changes and these percentages stay the same then things are not improving. To do this needs small batches and speedy feedback loops.

Experiments must be : Actionable, demonstrating clear cause and effect, accessible, aka understandable, and auditable, to be able to go and actually validate the accuracy of the numbers so we have trust in them.

There are two engines for a bussiness : growth, acquiring customers, and revenue, earning money from customers.

If things are not improving and the current state is inevitable then a pivot is needed, there are various types of pivots:

  • Zoom in – focusing on a sub part of the product
  • Zoom out – where the current product becomes a feature of a bigger product
  • Customer segment – where your customers turn out to be not the ones you expected
  • Customer need – by getting to know our customer we find a greater need for them
  • Platform – turning from a product to a platform
  • Business architecture – e.g. from B2B to B2C
  • Value capture – a change in monetisation or revenue models
  • Engine of growth – viral (word of mouth), sticky (returning) or paid (adverts)
  • Channel – how the content is delivered e.g. DVD or internet
  • Technology – using a different technical solution to solve the same problem

Book Notes: Wooden on Leadership

Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden, Steve Jamison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book starts by going through the pyramid – highlighting the corner stoned of industriousness (proactivity) and enthusiasm then building up layer by layer. However they key to the book is really in team work – the examples are all about basketball are relevant to all teams. Building an environment where “what can I do to help the team?” is much more important than “how can I get ahead?”. Focusing on the team performing at it’s peak- not on the opposition. Using the analogy that it takes 10 hands to score a basket.

Book Notes: Our Iceberg Is Melting

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John P. Kotter and Holger Rathgeber,
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set the Stage

  • Create a sense of urgency – aid others see the importance for acing
  • Pull together the guiding team – build a team with leadership skills, credibility, communication, authority and analytical skills

Decide What to Do

  • Develop the change vision and strategy – clarify the future and how to get there

Make it Happen

  • Communicate for Understanding and Buy In – ensure that you get as much buy in as possible
  • Empower others to act – remove barriers to those who want to make the vision a reality
  • Produce short-term wins – create visible success as quick as possible
  • Don’t let up – press hard and fast after the initial wins.

Make it stick

  • Create a new culture – hold on to the new behaving and make them succeed until it is strong enough to replace the old traditions

Book Notes: The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with everything the concepts are simple but their applications are where they add real value.

Systems thinking – humans are really bad at seeing the impact of cause and effect where the effect is separated from the cause by time. There are three elements – reinforcing feedback which are engines of growth, balancing feedback which acts to slow things down near a target and delay which makes the consequences occur gradually. An important part is that people are actors in the system, not bystanders.

Building the learning organisation – to be able to have a learning organisation the first thing you need are individual learners. The way to achieve this is the pursuit of personal mastery through the tension built with individuals personal vision and striving towards it from their current position.

Mental Models – we all have our own model of the world which impact us constantly. These models our base on our personal experiences. The problem is that these can limit what we can achieve and how we can work with others.

Building shared vision – building a shared vision helps align mental models to the future. With having the same vision in everyone’s mind it is much easier to travel in the same direction. Very often people are told a vision but aligning on it is key.

Team learning – very often people learn things but that knowledge does not spread. This means that the team or organisation are destined to repeat the same problem again and again which wastes the teams energy and time. Building and sharing team learning improves the effectiveness of the organisation.

Book Notes: Crossing the Chasm

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents five different groups involved in the purchasing of purchasing of bussiness technology. Each of these have different characteristics, without understanding this and trying to just do the same thing companies fail. The key presented in the book is the chasm which needs to be crossed in order for the product to be a financial success.

Innovators: The Technology Enthusiasts – these people love the product for the technical genius. They don’t even fully care if it works, they just love to try things out.

Early Adopters: The Visionaries – these are the people who can see the potential of the product. They will likely buy it at a premium because they think it will give them an advantage over the competition. This is a great cash injection but care must be taken so as not to over promise to these people else it will hold you back later. Visionaries are lead by enthusiasts.

The chasm

Early Majority: The Pragmatists – this is where the money really is. The challenge is that these people want more than just your product – they want it to be supported, integrated etc. These are people with a budget which you need to win over without any major challenges.

Late Majority: The conservatives – they have a focus on stability, price, simplicity etc. Conservatives are lead by the pragmatists but are still very cautious.

Laggards: The Skeptics – you will never win these people over, they are negative about what you will deliver. You will never win them over but by minimising the distance between what you sold and what they got they will be unable to negatively influence.

Crossing the chasm

Companies which go hunting for sales at any cost end up satisfying no one and fail. The key is to be the largest fish in a small pond and to do that you need to carefully select a single market which you are going to invade, then link hitting the lead bowling pin other markets will fall later.

To put it simply, the consequences of being sales-driven during the chasm period are fatal

The key is not to target the biggest market, it is to target the one which has the biggest urgency for their problems to be solved. The target is a market which is

Big enough to matter, small enough to lead, good fit with your crown jewels

Then work out how to make your product easiest for them to buy.

Where as the initial product launch will get you to the chasm getting a “Whole Product” launched is what the majority need. The completion of the whole product will likely be made up with other companies such as partners and Allies. The challenge with these arrangements are a mismatch in company cultures, planning cycles, sides over selling etc.

Pragmatists will not buy unless they can compare, as such competition is a prerequisite of their bussiness.

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.