Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: TO SELL IS HUMAN

to-sell-use-thisTo Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink

Recommended for: People trying to persuade others


Daniel Pink is known in the Agile and Lean circles for another great book, Drive. Those that follow my blog know I struggle with trying to get people to change. I was excited to see he had written this book.

Pink’s premise is that while 1 out of 9 people are in sales, the other 8 also sell. We are all trying to persuade others all the time. Unfortunately, many of the truisms that we’ve accepted about selling are either outdated or just aren’t correct. From my own experience, much of what he writes about will be counter-intuitive to most or will sound wrong simply because this isn’t what we’ve been taught. Its quite the eye opener.

Pink’s a great storyteller and easy to read. His ideas are backed up by research, mostly from the field of psychology, and is all cited.

There was a lot of good takeaways here and its a book, of course, that deserves further study. This is my top 25:

  1. We used to be in a world where the seller had more information than the buyer, but now we live in a world (thanks to the internet) where the buyer has as much information as the seller if not more. We have to change our approach.
  2. Empathy is an important attribute to have in sales, but studies show it is more beneficial to understand what is going on in another’s head than in their heart.
  3. Know who the key players are involved in making a decision, but more importantly, understand their biases and preferences. This will help you better allocate time, energy, and resources to the right relationships. It would suck if you spent a year trying to persuade someone only to learn they are not the person you need to persuade.
  4. Learn to mimic others (but don’t over due it) touching is also helpful (though make it appropriate).
  5. Studies show that its not the extroverts who do better at sales, despite what we may think. Those who are considered ambiverts are the best. Introverts do about as good as extroverts, though not as quite.
  6. We are more likely to be persuaded by people who are more like us. Its because they remind us of us. For those who are not like you—find things you have in common. Its ok if its small talk—like you have the same type of dog. People are more likely to move together when they share common ground.
  7. Positive emotions are good to have in a sales pitch, because they are contagious. Use them. Related- if you believe in something, you are more likely to be able to sell it.
  8. People with the ratio of 3:1 positive emotions to negative emotions are more likely to move someone. Those whose ratio exceeds 11:1 are less likely. These people are, or come off, delusional.
  9. Optimism is good. It can stir persistence, steady us during challenges, and stoke confidence that we can influence our surroundings. Even the best salesmen aren’t optimistic all the time, though. They can take things personally, just like everyone else.
  10. The more you are able to explain away bad events as temporary, specific, and external, the more likely you are to persist.
  11. Every silver lining has a cloud. It isn’t about banishing negative emotions. Negative emotions are crucial to our survival. They prevent unproductive behaviors from cementing into habits. They deliver useful information on our efforts. They alert us to when we’re on the wrong path.
  12. There is a difference between people who solve problems and those who are trying to find the problem. Pink looked specifically at Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels’s study in creativity. The findings are that people who have creative breakthroughs in various disciplines tend to be problem finders not solvers. Problem finders sort through vast amounts of information, experiment, are willing to switch directions, and often take longer to complete their work (and I would add– that’s the rub—people want their results NOW!!)
  13. When selling ourselves, its more important to focus on our potential. Don’t just fixate on what you achieved yesterday. Emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow. There are studies by Tormala and Jia of Stanford University that suggests this is the right approach. Sounds counter intuitive.
  14. “Clarity on how to think without clarity on how to act can leave people unmoved.”
  15. When selling an idea, don’t get lost in the details. Think about the essence of what you are exploring—the 1% that gives life to the other 99%. Understand that 1% and learn to explain it to others. This will make you more likely to move others.
  16. He suggests trying to come up with a one word pitch that encapsulates what you are wanting to do. This is the elevator pitch on acid and works pretty well in our world where people’s time is getting more and more limited. For example, Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign’s strategy was encapsulated with the word, “Forward.”
  17. Another good tactic to use is to pitch using a question. For example, Reagan asked the American people “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Pink warns this can backfire. You need to know your audience. Mitt Romney tried this in 2012 and it didn’t work because plenty of people thought they were better off.
  18. He also suggests the rhyming pitch. People will remember it. Remember Johnnie Cochran in the OJ Simpson trial, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”
  19. When you are preparing your pitch, ask yourself these three questions: “What do you want them to know?,” “What do you want them to feel?,” and “What do you want them to do?”
  20. He suggests you start observing and making a collection of how others make successful pitches and emulating.
  21. Get feedback on your pitch. Many people are surprised by the disconnect between what they think they’re conveying versus what others are actually hearing.
  22. Study improv. You can apply these lessons to selling. Interestingly enough, sales have learned from theater for some time. It used to be they went off a script, but now they are seeing the benefits of being able to act like a good improv actor.
  23. Pink said its important not to try and get into a I must win situation. He said the idea isn’t to win, its to learn. Alfred Fuller of Fuller Brush fame said “Never argue. To win an argument is to lose a sale.”
  24. Its important for when you are trying to move someone to understand that you are dealing with a human being. They are not an anonymous case study.
  25. Most sales are geared toward self-interest. However, studies have shown that moving people by appealing to their self-transcending side is much more effective. Improving other’s lives and in turn improving the world is the lifeblood and final secret to moving others.

Great book. Like I said, I’ll be coming back to this one again.

It can be bought here.

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BOOK REVIEW: THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE

The-Signal-and-the-Noise-Why-So-Many-Predictions-Fail-but-Some-Dont-4356DAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail- But Some Don’t
by Nate Silver


Nate Silver seems to be the “It” guy for statistics. In 2009, Time Magazine listed him as one of the most 100 influential people in the world. He’s know for forecasting baseball and elections with good accuracy and consistency.

I picked up this book in the hope of better understanding statistics, particularly hoping it would strengthen my understanding what is noise and what is signal in business.

The book is not only a good journey through statistics covering such topics as global warming, baseball, the market, hurricanes, and terrorism, but also takes some side routes into psychology and sociology.

Here are my biggest takeaways:

  • People love to predict things, but we are not very good at it.
  • We have evolved to recognize patterns. The problem is our world has become so inundated with information, we believe we can see patterns in randomness when there isn’t any.
  • Aggregate forecasting is typically more accurate than an individual forecaster—up to 20% more accurate.
  • It is always easy to sort out the relevant signals from irrelevant ones after the fact. Case in point: 9/11 terror attacks.
  • Math classes need to teach statistics and probability instead of geometry and calculus. This isn’t the first time a very wicked smart person said this (Deming, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Arthur Benjamin come to mind).
  • Silver warns we need to move away from the spectrum that things are 0 or 100% certain. They usually aren’t. We need to take a more probabilistic approach.
  • We are naturally drawn to people who make the big/bold predictions. Silver said this is because they sound persuasive.. They are usually wrong more than they are right, though. Silver calls these types of people hedgehogs. Those who are better at predicting Silver calls foxes, These people take a more complicated approach to predicting and are more probabilistic. They are more likely to be correct. You typically don’t hear from the foxes in our society.
  • When the facts change, foxes will change their forecasts. This may make them appear to be weak to others. Hedgehogs typically double down.
  • Americans believe we can control our fates (called determinism). This makes it hard for us to swallow the concept of probability.
  • Because Americans are a deterministic people, it is difficult for forecasters, who deal in probabilities, to turn their messages into deterministic ones.
  • One of the biggest things Silver talks about when making predictions is to understand Baye’s Theorem. When I read it, it was over my head, and much of it sounded subjective, but after awhile, it was starting to make more sense. I want to review and study this in more depth. It might help me.
  • We can never make perfectly objective predictions, they will always be tainted by a subjective POV.
  • In order to accelerate our learning process, we need to test ourselves by making predictions in the real world and see how they pan out instead of relying on a statistical model.
  • Heuristic strategies (or rules of thumb) are good to use when predicting, but we need to have the wisdom to know when to discard them. He used an example of chess when Bobby Fisher sacrificed higher value pieces in order to gain strategic advantage.
  • He introduced me to the concept of Complex Systems. This sounds like it needs to be investigated more. I’ve already ID’d a book about it.
  • Silver said he believed skilled poker players are better than 99% of the population at making good probabilistic judgments. He said playing the game will refine these skills.
  • Its fine to move away from consensus, but the further you do, the stronger your evidence must be in order for you to believe you are right and everyone else is wrong.
  • He says anyone who is interested in forecasting must read Principles of Forecasting by Scott Armstrong. It should be considered canon.
  • Advice from Michael Mann, a global warming advocate on dealing with naysayers and persuading a public that does not deal with uncertainty and is used to overconfident forecasters: “…be very clear about where the uncertainties are . . . but [do not] have our statements be so laden in uncertainty that no one even listens to what we’re saying.”
  • Its important to not pretend that you don’t have prior beliefs. Work to reduce your biases. State your beliefs up front so people know that you have a subjective filter.
  • Be willing to test your ideas. Don’t wait for a flash of insight. Progress usually comes from small incremental and sometimes accidental steps.

Admittedly, A lot of what Silver wrote went over my head (I had to skip some sections when my head started to hurt), but I came away with a much better appreciation about deciphering signal and noise– it is hard for everyone, even the experts.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: DEEP CHANGE

Deep ChangeDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within
by Robert E. Quinn


This book scared me.

After completing it, I realized what I would need to be willing to do in order to make real change in my organization. Facing that thought was frightening.

The book was recommended by a participant in the TNE Study Sessions series as a way of making effective change in an organization.

Quinn is different than other management scientists in that he believes the external world can be changed by altering our internal world. In other words, where most believe that change must come from the top down, he proposes it can start from the bottom up and that one person can make a difference.

There is a ton of stuff in here that was really good and worthy of restudy, but here are some of my bigger takeaways:

  • Quinn says that most organizations are slowly dying (he calls it slow death) and they are taking their employees along with them. For the organization, this slow death is literal, for the individual, it is more figurative—the person is dying inside, i.e. losing who they are.
  • Quinn talks about different strategies people employ when dealing with slow death. Most accept it for what is is, and die with the organization. Others take the strategy of doing their best and, at the same time, preparing an exit strategy. Quinn says the problem with this strategy is that most find the same problems in the next organization they go to. A third option is to change your paradigm to one of transformation.
  • His “Tyranny of Competence” chapter was excellent and explained why we we often rely on heroes to manage and why they so often fail. The technically competent person who doesn’t know how to handle people begins to control every facet of their people’s lives and morale plummets. Technically competent people must play well with others and must train others to become better, or they must go. (I have witnessed this personally.)
  • “The Internally Driven Leader” was probably the best chapter. Quinn reviews three typical paradigms- Technical (the front line worker), Transactional (the manager), and Transformational (a change leader). He explains these paradigms and how our culture emphasizes the technical and transactional paradigm. One who wants real change must embrace the transformational paradigm.
  • Those who have a transformational paradigm hold the view that their vision must be realized at any cost. The system is seen as not just a technical or political system, but also a moral one.
  • Their source of credibility is their behavioral integrity. They must walk the walk and talk the talk. Every action must be in align with the vision, otherwise they are seen as a hypocrite.
  • Those who embrace the transactional paradigm are internally driven. They appreciate technical competence and political exchange, but are able to see beyond it. They do not see survival as a driving force. Their main objective is the realization of their vision. Identification with the organization is so complete that the leader is willing to die for the vision or principle because it is right. (SCARY).
  • Those who hold a transformational paradigm are rare.
  • Quinn argues that one doesn’t need new skills and competencies to create change, you need a new world view (not sure I agree—one needs to have the power of persuasion).
  • Organizations, by their nature, are there to create equilibrium, not change.
  • Every couple of years, you need to bet your job, otherwise, you aren’t doing your job. But don’t be stupid. You can’t be wild and fly off on every issue. You have to pick the issues that really matter. (I took this to heart)
  • Excellence is a form of deviance. You become excellent because you do things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others. Why would someone want to do it? Because it is the right thing to do and it brings about enormous self satisfaction. That is the key motivator—these leaders do it because they know it is right.
  • It is much easier to solve today’s problems than to mold the future. It is easier to be an analyzer and task master than developmental and a visionary motivator. Transformational leaders can be both. They link the operational present with the developmental future. This is what makes them persuasive. Useful visions inspire people to new levels. (I think these are wise words).
  • Learn to listen to the voice of the organization, not your individual voice. The individual voice maintains self-interest. The organizational voice wants the organization to succeed. It bows to truth and doesn’t care about power. It seeks to expose painful realities. It seeks the collective good. The inner voice is often a threat to those in authority. It is the most potent source of power in an organization.
  • Quinn points out that when a leader decides his organization must change, he typically expects others to change, not him. This is human nature, but is why many change initiatives fail.
  • We are too often fixated on task completion instead of maintenance. Most will agree that maintenance is important, but no one makes the time to do it. We are under pressure to just complete tasks. However, all we are really doing is kicking the can down the road and allowing the crisis to appear later.

This book made me question how far I am willing to go to make a change. I drew the conclusion that I have the transformational paradigm, what I lack is a realistic strategy for implementing change. He proposed that change is built on the fly (he equated it to building a bridge as you are trying to cross) and that resources will just appear if your vision is strong enough (sounds little voo-doo to me, but who knows?).

Its a book I will definitely be referring to moving forward. It can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Charisma Myth

The-_Charisma-_Myth-_Olivia-_Fox-_CabaneDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
by Olivia Fox Cabane


I’ve been wanting to read this book for three years now when I first heard a podcast with the author, Olivia Fox Carbane, at The Art of Manliness.

The premise of the book is that charisma is not necessarily something someone is born with. Its something that people can learn and use as a weapon in their leadership arsenal.

I’m often confounded on how one changes people’s minds and paradigms. I started thinking about how Deming emphasized the importance of psychology. He usually talked about it in reference to how people learn or are motivated, but shouldn’t we also use psychology to change people’s minds? Charisma would be an awesome thing to have in a change agent’s tool belt.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  • The book starts off with an example of how Marilyn Monroe could turn her charisma on and off at will. The story goes Munroe was riding in a train with a reporter in New York, but no one knew who she was. Then all of the sudden, Munroe just turned ‘on’ and she was suddenly mobbed.
  • The three sources of charisma is presence, power, and warmth.
  • Of these, Cabane said if you can just master presence, you will have a tremendous advantage.
  • Cabane says its important to focus on your internal charisma before focusing on the external. This will give you a solid foundation so you can always be ‘on’ when you need to be–don’t be caught flatfooted or unaware. You must be prepared mentally for tough situations to retain your charisma.
  • One of my big takeaways was her admonition to get used to being in uncomfortable situations. She said to learn to recognize when you are uncomfortable and then purposely invite it (like standing the wrong direction in a crowded elevator). You will soon get used to be in uncomfortable situations and won’t be so easily flapped. For someone who doesn’t like being in uncomfortable situations, this was a big lightbulb and one I’ve thought about a lot lately and have started to practice.
  • Some tips for becoming stronger mentally–rewrite reality (she said charismatic people are often living in their own weird world), visualization (she said create happy situations before hand–things that really get you jazzed–then being it to mind when you are feeling low), visualize a hug (it releases oxytocin and will calm you), or create an imaginary advisory council in your mind (Napoleon Hill did this).
  • She said its very important to have a lot of self compassion.
  • There are different types of charisma including visionary and focused charisma.
  • Body language is important. It can change your mood and behavior. The one thing she suggests is to be the big gorilla. Make yourself take up space and act powerful–like a gorilla. I’ve used this a lot. It seems to work. I at least feel more confident.
  • She said to treat everyone like they are the star of their own movie you are watching.
  • She says to dress like the people you are trying to influence–though dress on the upper edge of it (i.e.–dress like everyone, but be the one who is better dressed than most). She said its part of our tribal instincts. We want to be around people who look like us.
  • She had other advice in the book for negotiating and giving good presentations.
  • The author says that for those who master charisma, they often feel alone. They are always expected to do more and achieve great things. Those who are charismatic and don’t deliver will be destroyed by a disappointed society.
  • Cabane said once charisma is mastered, it can be extremely powerful. She pointed out that for some time, leadership gurus said it was a bad thing to use charisma. Peter Drucker said it was dangerous and pointed out the most charismatic people of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao. She warned charisma can be like a knife. It can be used to heal or used to harm and it must be used responsibly.

Does all this work? Yes, I believe so. After reading this book, I feel more charismatic and I’ve felt my confidence growing. I already feel like I may be better influencing people. I’m going to be studying this book and applying its principles more often.

I listened to the book on Audible, but plan to get a hard copy. The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: Deming’s Profound Changes

profound-changesDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
Deming’s Profound Changes: When Will the Sleeping Giant Awaken?
by Ken Delavigne and Dan Robertson


I first learned about this book while listening to one of the Deming podcasts interviewing Daniel Robertson.

Though it took me a little while to get into it,  this is one of the best books I have read in some time.

The book’s premise is about how our current traditional style of management came to be (i.e. Frederick Taylor’s management theories), why it is damaging business and how accepting Deming’s new management philosophy will help us improve. The authors emphasize Japan is doing so well because they have abandoned Taylorism and adopted Deming’s principles. The authors believe Japan is wondering when America will also make the switch—thus the tag line “When will the sleeping giant awaken?”

I think this quote taken from the book summarizes the intent:

We will win, and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Taylor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too.” ~Konosuke Matsuhita, Founder, Matsuhita Electronics (Panasonic), 1988.

My favorite take aways (this was tough to sort out—I tried to shorten this list the best I can, but there is simply a ton of stuff in here):

  • Self-managed teams sound Deming-like, but unless they are managed as a system, they will suboptimize and will have a tendency to listen only to the voice of the customer (ex. focusing on specifications) instead of listening to the voice of the process. This sounds very much what scrum teams are trying to do with their focus on customer value. This has certainly made me think.
  • Many people don’t understand continuous improvement. Continuous improvement must be in a specific direction guided by purpose or an aim. In order to do this, people need to continuously gain new knowledge and we are not used to doing that.
  • There was a study done on what it was the Japanese were doing differently. It was found what they were doing was reducing complexity. I.e they were understanding and then simplifying the system. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly they were simplifying, but whenever they did this, it created positive ripple effects throughout the organization. (Terrifying. It seems every place I work with wants to achieve some objective and if making something complex achieves that aim, so be it. I’m not sure how we break out of this mindset). This whole chapter was fascinating to me.
  • The authors list out six dimensions of complexity: number (number of employees, departments, work batches, etc.), volume, density (ex. being geographically spread out), process time (lead or cycle time), variation, and context level (i.e. a manager will understand and see things at a different level than an employee and vice versa).
  • Western management focuses on ROI in the beginning, but the Japanese understand that reducing complexity eventually pays returns. (Wow. How do you convince a CFO of that strategy??).
  • Management is constantly under scrutiny and pressure from stock holders, creditors, and often the press. All of these folks want RESULTS. This creates a culture obsessed with outcomes and self interest (i.e. they don’t want to lose their power or career) and creates a short-term mindset. The authors note its no wonder managers are constantly making demands on their organizations that exceed their capacity. They force the system to shoulder increased complexity and thus make the system less capable.
  • The effects of increased complexity are often subtle and hard to detect in an organization and difficult to trace back to where the issue originated.
  • He gave a list of excuses commonly held for the decline in U.S. competitiveness and debunks each one. These include labor issues (such as with Unions), foreign competition and not buying American, lack of automation, trade barriers, government interference, lack of employee motivation, and employee education. The authors state the underlying message with all these issues is that we are managing wrong and we must change.
  • The authors suggest that those who are attempting to promote change need to understand the various elements of it. This will help them bring about change and improvement more swiftly. Change will take a great deal of time and effort and there will be many forces, directly and indirectly, opposing it. Fortitude, faith, and courage are essential.
  • The authors also discuss why people want to be managers and discuss how we need to be promoting the right people into these positions by looking for certain characteristics. They also discuss how to develop these types of managers.
  • They give a strategy on implementing change. They said to break issues into Cosmic (i.e. deep complex issues), low-hanging fruit, and no brainers. They said to go after the low-hanging fruit. I was surprised by this strategy as the Toyota Way goes after the root problem. They said when you solve enough low-hanging fruit and no brainer issues, the Cosmic issues have a tendency to go away.
  • They suggest a good way to figure out what to start working on first is to ask the question, “What bugging you?” I started asking this question when I solicit feedback from our customers.
  • They suggest we do the following: Be an exemplar, Keep Growing in Knowledge, and Widen Your Personal Orbit of Influence (this last one is what I struggle with).

 

1952533952-frederick-taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor. The authors premise is the West is stuck in a modern-day form of Tayloristic thinking, a style of management invented over a hundred years ago. Good for its time, but its way past time to evolve.

Though the book explains Taylor’s philosophies, I’m still not sure I understand them despite a whole chapter on it. Of course, I can be dense. I reckon I need to review.

 

I thought it interesting the authors emphasize Taylor as being the biggest impact on modern management, but they don’t mention the 1841 head-on train collision and the subsequent adoption of military-style organization. This event is cited in two books I’ve read (The Leaders Handbook and The Leaders Guide To Radical Management) and given as the main reason for modern style management.

I thought some of the examples were a little dated, for example the computer industry examples, though pertinent and correct, were stated as something new, but are now near 20 years old. During the podcast interview, Robertson stated he doesn’t think the book needs to be updated because the advice is still the same.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Leader’s Handbook

leaders-handbookDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Leader’s Handbook
by Peter Scholtes


This book is at the top of John Hunter’s books-to-read and he recommended it to me. Thanks John!

Peter Scholtes was a student and colleague of Dr. Deming from 1987 until Dr. Deming’s death in 1993 and is considered a key player in promoting and teaching Deming’s philosophy. Alfie Kohn, who is well known in Deming circles and someone I admire, was close to Peter Scholtes and often speaks of him with fondness.

This is a great book. Scholtes is a great writer (often employing humor). Scholtes breaks down Deming’s teachings into digestible form and gives some great real world examples.

Lots of takeaways here. These are some of my favorites:

  • He has a section about the history of why people manage the way we do. This is cool for a history nerd like me and for someone who is always asking why people do the things the way they do.
  • He compares the competences needed for traditional management (Forcefulness, motivator, decisiveness, willfulness, assertiveness, results-oriented, task oriented, integrity and diplomacy) vs the new (Deming) management style (Systems thinker, understanding variation, understanding how we learn and improve, understanding people and why they behave the way they do, understanding how these four things interact with one another).
  • He talked about the mile-wide/inch-deep philosophy vs. an inch-wide/mile-deep philosophy. This is basically doing many things at once but not being good at any of them vs doing just a few things but doing them extremely well.
  • He believes a company’s success will be reliant upon their ability to do good for society vs. being primarily focused on profits and return on investment. That’s a tough pill for many to swallow (though I certainly believe it).
  • He talks about how when a customer complains its an opportunity to learn. Positive feedback makes us feel better and provides a boost to our spirits but offer little else.
  • He pointed out that a competitive edge is having speed for delivery. He had a newspaper snippet that suggested a company have 10-15% idle capacity to keep the backlog smaller and give the company quicker customer response times (this is similar to David Anderson’s belief that slack is a secret weapon). My own thoughts–This is a REALLY tough sell for management. They simply don’t get this concept.
  • He advocates the need for interdependence. One thing he suggests we start asking is “What do you need from me that you are not getting? What are you getting from me that you don’t need?” I’m trying to integrate this into my own work.
  • He pointed out that many of us don’t like using statistical methods because the way we were taught about it ruined us. He said he didn’t like it either and found “columns of numbers to be a sure cure for consciousness.”
  • He had some really good advice on listening skills (don’t give advice, don’t judge, don’t talk the speaker out of their feelings, don’t sympathize– be supportive instead).
  • He talks about heroes and our culture’s fascination with them. This has created the mentality that if something is broken, a hero must come along and fix it. The system is regarded as the source of the problem rather than the source of the solution. This notion is reinforced by Hollywood who often feature heroes overcoming a corrupt or helpless system.
  • He talks about how hard it is for a leader to change a world set in its ways. The culture is set in short term thinking and it makes it tough to think long term. He says because we are at a threshold of change, the leader must be good at both the short term and long term philosophies. This is tough (tell me about it!).
  • He says its difficult for a leader to change when everything they’ve known and done has gotten them to where they are currently.
  • Awesome quote found in the book- “In management, the first concern of the company is the happiness of the people connected with it. If the people do not feel happy and can not be made happy, that company does not deserve to exist.” ~Kaoro Ishikawa.
  • He said converting your boss is a long shot. You probably do not have influence with them and they are working from a different agenda than you are. This makes me sad. Further, he says you may do wonderful things, but until you win the hearts and minds of the people at the top, you will not have significant impact on your organization. This also makes me sad. He says the best thing that will probably happen is that you learn and benefit and bring it with you to your next job.
  • In order to get leadership’s buy in, you will have to meet their definition of success. This isn’t easy because what their definition of success may be different than the new philosophy. If you don’t get the credibility from leadership, though, your ability to influence is nil.
  • If you want to influence your boss, you need to know who he respects and who influences him. If you can influence them, this may be the way to influence your boss.
  • Opposing your boss is foolish, just as it is foolish for a smaller person to engage in a head-on collision with a smaller person (I need to be careful about this, but I absolutely refuse to be bullied and live my life in fear).
  • He advocates the onion patch strategy for change. I’ll be using this.
    1. Learn everything you can.
    2. Identify the area over which you have influence.
    3. Identify your priorities.
    4. Recruit allies.
    5. Have data (use it to indicate the validity of your approaches and describe the current situation and process).
    6. Communicate artfully.
    7. Don’t argue with those who disagree

Scholtes may be best known in the Deming community for his arguments against performance appraisals. Deming was often asked by his audiences what we should do instead. Deming once replied “Whatever Peter Scholtes says.” This is the book folks recommend for debunking the performance appraisal. I found this chapter one of the least interesting parts of the book. I wonder if its because I personally haven’t had much concerns about performance appraisals.

Negatives- I’m not a fan of the spiral bound, but its the only format I see for this book. I wonder why it was chosen. It made me think of a school workbook. Though there are activities at the end of each chapter, I didn’t perform any of them. Maybe I should have. I don’t know. These activities reminded me of the days where I had to do homework—which I hated. (NOTE: John Hunter explained the spiral bound binding. This is a direct result of continuous improvement. Scholtes first book, The Team Handbook, was often read by people doing work on the job, but with the traditional binding, the book kept closing on itself. The Leader’s Handbook has the spiral so the people using it can read the book without it closing on itself).

I’m glad this book is in my library and I’ll be referring back to it. You can buy it here.

BOOK REVIEW: Out of the Crisis

out-of-the-crisis-by-w-edwards-demingDAN’S SCORE: Stars 3.5
Out of the Crisis
by W. Edwards Deming


Agh. I hate giving my hero’s book 3.5 stars, but let me explain.

This is Deming’s first book published on his management philosophy (1982). I understand, of the two books he wrote on the subject (the other being The New Economics), this one is the most difficult to read. My feeling is Dr. Deming wasn’t used to writing toward the management audience (his previous books were geared toward statisticians) and was so darn brilliant he didn’t know how to ‘dumb’ down his message yet.

I was able to understand about 66% of it. However, I got lost when he delved into statistical analysis and when he gave examples from manufacturing. His style is also a little unusual: a mixture of dryness with flashes of absolute brilliance. Still, I can see why many people would just put the book down or not even bother. They would think its too hard or it doesn’t apply to their line of work. It might be a reason why many just don’t get the Deming message.

Don’t get me wrong. I got a lot out of this book and I did enjoy it. Here are some of the big take aways:

The report on Japanese Automotive Stamping was a very interesting read. It was cool to see what the Japanese manufacturer thought was important to their company (cleanliness, obsession with quality control, importance of training, belief that people are their most important asset, visual communication, etc.)

I enjoyed reading about Deming’s thoughts on goals, focusing on specifications vs. reducing variation, what an incoming manager must do (he must learn), how management tries to implement techniques instead of focusing on improving people, the concept of an immediate customer and an ultimate customer, the importance of learning from a master (and not a hack), why a customer may not have valuable feedback on a product until after using it for a long time (for example, an automobile), how some specifications are beyond the capability of a process (I started using this phrase), the importance of finding vendors and partners committed to continuous improvement, his emphasis on training, his warning against learning something solely by reading a book, and how its natural for people in a company to be suspicious of outsiders telling them how to improve their work (yet he stresses the importance of having outside help).

He introduced me to some new quotes from himself and others. One of my favorites was this one: “They will have courage to break with tradition, even to the point of exile among their peers.” I’ve felt this a lot since my Agile ‘conversion.’

Some of his points hurt. It made me realize how far I have to go. For example:

“Today, 19 foremen out of 20 were never on the job they supervise. . . They can not train them nor help them [their staff] as the job is as new to the foreman as it is to his people . . . He does not understand the problem, and could get nothing done about it if he did.” Ouch. I’m one of those foremen.

He bemoans the fact that the educational system is putting out math ignoramuses. I’m sure Deming would think this would apply to me. I’ve always found Math difficult. I actually have a fear of it.

I was surprised to hear him say that teamwork isn’t always the answer for achievement. He said there are some who are fine doing work by themselves, contribute to the organization, and should be supported. With agile being so team oriented, this idea made me think.

Something he said didn’t sound right: “A pupil once taught cannot be reconstructed.” Is he saying that once a person is taught how to do something, they are stuck doing it that way forever? I’m not certain I agree.

One of the things he talks about is how quality control circles must have management involvement and will eventually fail if they don’t. It made me think about retrospectives in scrum. By rule, management is not to come to these. The thought is that the team will not be open with each other if management is there and management will tell the team what they did wrong or fault the team for what they believe needs to be fixed. However during most of the retrospectives I’ve participated in, the team discussed things that were beyond their control and what frustrated them the most—i.e. things only management could fix! I think, ideally, a retrospective SHOULD have management involvement and would greatly benefit the team and the organization. HOWEVER– in order to reach this ideal state, a great deal of trust must exist between manager and employees. Fear must be completely driven out so the team feels comfortable speaking up. Management would also have to have a great deal of humility to listen to the lowly workers. Admittedly, this would have to be a very mature agile model for this to happen, but I think the agile community needs to promote this line of thinking.

Although, I learned a lot, I would not recommend this book for someone who is new to Deming. I’d recommend The Essential Deming, The Deming Dimension, or Fourth Generation Management instead. However, I think this is essential reading for any Deming disciple. Just wait a little while in your understanding before you pick it up.

Out of the Crisis can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Toyota Way to Service Excellence

the-toyota-way-to-service-excellence-by-liker-and-rossDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Toyota Way to Service Excellence
by Jeff Liker and Karyn Ross


Liker’s first book, The Toyota Way, was a game changer for me. The points he made kept me up at night. Seriously! I recommend it as a go-to book for people learning agile (or even for those who have been at it for awhile!).

When I saw his new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, co-written with Karyn Ross, was about to be released, I knew I had to get it. I was excited to see it was geared toward the service industry, which many say agile concepts don’t fit.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of nuggets that got me thinking. Looking back over my notes, I have tick marks, stars, and the word “interesting” in the margins all over. Here are some of my favorites:

  • This book talks a lot about change management. That in itself was a good reason to get it. Liker explains the difficulties with American vs. Japanese paradigms and why Lean type of management makes sense to the Japanese but is harder for Americans to grasp. Part of this is Mechanistic (Americans) vs Systems (Japanese) thinking. He included  a cool graph showing the differences. He also pointed out that the Japanese are better at organizational learning than Americans (we are better at individual learning).
  • Related, Liker states its been his experience we cannot change a person’s paradigms with logic, facts, motivational speeches, and intense classroom training. Liker said there are too many defense mechanisms for the brain. It takes time and practice and corrective feedback from skilled coaches. In short “you cannot order, buy, or quickly achieve changes in philosophy.” This is exactly the opposite of what American management wants to hear. We want things NOW. This makes it very tough to change a Western-style organization.
  • He shared researcher Geert Hofstede’s website that shows comparisons of world cultures indicating our emphasis on Individualism, Long term orientation, and Risk avoidance. Americans are highly individualistic, think short term, and take risks. The Japanese are collective thinkers, think long term, and are risk adverse. I’ve shared this website with my own company. Because we are international, I thought it might help us understand each other better and how we work.
  • He has a section titled “Changing Senior Management Thinking.” Liker says senior managers get where they are because they are confident, passionate, convincing and believe they are right. This makes a very tough nut to crack, especially when they are stuck in a traditional American/Western mindset. His advice for midlevel professionals on this matter:“Do your best to learn and grow and make your team the best in the business. The worst that will happen is that lower performers will resent you. But in the long term you will win because you are learning and developing your team and will be rewarded at your current or next employer. Taking on the kingdom and attempting to transform the culture of a multinational corporation is self-defeating. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Start by changing yourself and then find ways to positively influence others, one person at a time.” This is similar to what Deming admonished (and yes, Deming was mentioned often in the book. Liker calls him sensei Deming. Heh.).
  • He gives a really good example of PDCA in action and shows how it can be rapidly deployed. It really got me to better understand how PDCA works and I’m looking to see where I can apply it with my own work.
  • He talks about how Toyota carefully chooses and grows its partners. He has a section warning on the risks of outsourcing services. I’d been drawing this conclusion myself because if one does not have a partner that does not share your values and doesn’t embrace continuous improvement, you are in for a lot of pain. I’ve experienced this in my own company.
  • He states the importance of having a coach or mentor. I’ve thought about this a lot. I certainly read a lot and practice on my own, but I think this is where I am really lacking. I’m really not sure where to find one or one who would be willing to mentor me. Maybe I should make more of an effort to find one.

So, why does it get 4 stars instead of 5? Admittedly, some of this stuff just didn’t make sense to me. The book is very nuts and bolts and if it made my head begin to hurt, I skipped the section (the part about A3 particularly made me cross-eyed). Perhaps I’m not ready for some parts yet and need to come back and study it when my understanding matures. Also—the book switches to a narrative/fiction like style to explain a typical Lean transformation at a fictional service industry. While the point was certainly made (and I applaud Liker for trying something different), at times this format came off a little too hokey for me. It started sounding a little too “rainbows and unicorns.” I’d like to have seen these dialed back a little.

Despite this being an excellent book, I think it may be a little too advanced for the beginner. Liker references Toyota Kata throughout the book. I’m wondering if one should start there or perhaps read The Toyota Way.

Overall, though—excellent book. Glad its in my library. I’ll be referring to it.

Also–the co-author, Karyn Ross, recently did an interview over on LeanBlog sharing some of her experiences about writing the book and her own journey learning Lean. Her interview gave me some seeds for another post.

Buy the book here.

BOOK REVIEW- Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos

understanding-choasDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos
by Donald J. Wheeler


Why is a variation book on an Agile blog? Well, I did say this was Evolving Agile. I’ve come to understand the concepts Agile is teaching is only part of the puzzle. I believe W. Edwards Deming to be the grandfather of Agile. Understand Deming—better understand Agile. And Deming emphasized understanding variation above everything else.

I read this book at a time when several things were happening in my life that were pointing towards understanding variation. One was I was discovering Deming and this was the one concept I really struggled with. The second was my company was investing in people learning Six Sigma. I was unable to attend the training, but was certainly interested (ironically, my company was also trying Agile, but were having an awful time implementing it—I wonder how the Six Sigma experiment is going). All signs seemed to be pointing me in learning it.

I first saw this book listed in an article written by Davis Balestracci, “Deming is Dead . . . Long Live Deming.” (btw, this is one of the first online articles I read about Deming and is an EXCELLENT read. I highly recommend it. Its also where I got the idea to read Deming Dimension and Fourth Generation Management).

Balestracci recommends this book, among others, to read instead of spending a ton of money getting a Six Sigma belt. This book was recommended by others as a good starting point for beginners.

Its a good book and I learned a lot. Having a fear of math, I was leery about reading it, but Wheeler is a good writer and breaks things down in an easy-to-understand way for us who are math challenged. There’s lot of pictures and graphs. Its broken down into small segments so easily digested. Its also short—about 121 pages without the appendix. I finished it in less than two weeks (and I’m a slow reader). It teaches the concept of variation, explains the jargon, and walks one through examples and what to look for. Some of the bigger things I learned about was specifications (this is the voice of the customer) and that the actual process—represented by the control charts is the voice of the process. Its important to understand the difference between the two. It also goes over special and common cause variation which is key to understanding variation. In the end, it got my feet wet and I tried my hand at making control charts (which I will write about in a future post).

For better understanding agile– the immediate effect was it helped me better understand the concept of velocity. For example–if your team has a velocity of 50, 47, 52, 41, 37 there is no reason to panic that your team’s performance is getting worse (or worse yet-get mad at them for slacking). Its just the natural variation in your team’s system. The key will be figuring out how to reduce the variation. Simply understanding this concept helped me tremendously as a scrum master and agilest.

Ultimately, though, I couldn’t make the leap from the book’s examples (which were primarily from the manufacturing and financial sector) into my own IT world. In other words, I didn’t quite understand how it could help me with what I was doing specifically. Still, it showed me this stuff made sense after all–I just needed to now figure out how I could apply it.

Bottom line—this is a great book to start to understanding variation.You may not come away with how exactly it can help you, though, like me. I would recommend Fourth Generation Management as a follow up. Joiner goes into more detail about how to reduce the different types of variation and is more nuts and bolts.

Buy Understanding Variation here.