Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process

A3Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process
by John Shook
Recommended for: Anyone who wants to get better at problem solving, organizational leaders wanting to create a problem solving culture.

From the day I met him, my friend and Lean mentor, Jerry Bussell always recommended using an A3 for the problems I encounter. I ignored him. The A3 was something I didn’t understand during my Lean studies and I had a tendency to gloss over it. During a recent outing, he stressed to me the importance of being a problem solver. I agreed this was something I wanted to improve about myself so decided to give A3 a study and a try.

For those that don’t know, the A3 is a Lean tool a person uses who is held responsible for investigating a problem and offering countermeasures. It is typically conducted on an A3-sized paper. Shook’s book is the gold standard for learning the tool.

A3-Report-for-Feeding-the-Baby0001

Example of an A3. Problem– feeding the baby! TheKaiZone,org

This is what I got out it:

  1. The ultimate goal of the A3 is not to solve the problem at hand, but to make the process of problem solving transparent and teachable in order to create an organization populated with problem solvers (what organization doesn’t want that?).
  2. The A3 forces you to slow down and think, patiently, instead of just rushing ahead looking for solutions (i.e. firefighter mode). It forces individuals to observe reality, present facts, propose working counter measures designed to achieve the stated goal, gain agreement, and follow up with a process of checking and adjusting for actual results. That’s powerful!
  3. You must know what the problem is, why its important, and how it ties into what the organization is trying to accomplish. This was an important concept for to me. I think we get so stuck on our solutions, we forget what the problem really is.
  4. An A3 properly done will produce enemies. (Ouch). This is because as you explore ideas and go into finer details of how people get their work done, the greater degree of turf wars and general push back or resistance you will find.
  5. Don’t be discouraged. Challenge people with facts, push them to explain their thinking. Refuse sub-optimal results. The more an A3 sparks healthy debate, the more it has done its job.
  6. Once you complete the process, you will become the company’s expert on the problem. You must then become a champion for getting it implemented or until another course is decided to be taken. This is a great way of gaining influence, I believe.
  7. A challenge for me– Shook asks, instead of being discouraged by the unending nature of problems cropping up, can you become encouraged by the unending opportunity and challenge?
  8. Shook recommends using the term ‘countermeasure’ instead of ‘solution’. Countermeasures indicates temporary responses to specific problems where as solutions imply something permanent. Nothing should be permanent. Countermeasures serve until a better approach is found or conditions change.

I am going to try the A3 in the workplace, but I do have concerns:

  • The A3 requires patience and understanding. Most American organizations have a culture that values action and decisiveness. When I showed this book to a very trusted and respected colleague of mine, he indicated that it looked like analysis paralysis. Uh oh.
  • Nigel Thurlow who is connecting the Agile-Lean divide, believes the A3 is better suited for a linear system, not a complex one, which is what many organizations are facing these days. Thurlow is good friends with Shook; I’d be curious as to what Shook has to think about Thurlow’s opinion on this matter. I’m also curious if Thurlow has an alternative.

This book made me realize I was good at figuring out what was causing problems, but I needed to get better at coming up with countermeasures. It showed me how. I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl.

The book can be ought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Machine that Changed the World

machineThe Machine that Changed the World
by James Womack, et al.

Recommended for: Beginners to Lean, car enthusiasts, change agents, managers and leaders

I’m a little embarrassed. I’ve been such a Lean advocate and never actually read this book. I thought it would be a good follow on to my review of My Life with General Motors so went ahead and read it.

I was challenged to make my blog posts smaller, so instead of listing out points, I’m going to list out the biggest thing that jumped out at me.

The book’s authors were often asked by traditional mass production managers what key organizational strategy Lean plants used. The answer: transfer the responsibility to the workers and create a system that quickly traces defects to its ultimate cause. This means creating a dynamic workforce that is founded upon team work that uses a simple and responsive system for detecting problems and understanding the overall status of the plant. Sounds like an Agile team, huh?

Researchers said this is not easy to create. Workers have to know all the other jobs in their group. They also need to be coached to think proactively. These are things we try to do as Agilists.

The authors concluded this type of work force can only be created if the workers believe management values them and are willing to sacrifice to retain them and delegate responsibility to them. This creates a reciprocal relationship between worker and manufacturer. They share a fate and creates a willingness to participate toward the betterment of the company because everyone benefits.

If we take this lesson into our own work as Agilists, how do we reconcile the contract-workforce model so prevalent in IT? When budgets are cut, the human ‘ballast’ is jettisoned. Contractors are under no illusions their employer will stick with them through thick and thin. This creates a lack of commitment between worker and organization. What does it mean for our Agile initiatives if the company choses to stick to this model?

The book can be found here.

BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting-the-Giant-Hairball-9780670879830Orbiting the Giant Hairball
by Gordon MacKenzie
Recommended for: Change agents, creative types stuck in the stifling corporate culture and what you can do about it, storytellers

This book was given to me my by my friend and agile coach, Jamie Gillis, who considers this book a game changer for his life.

This might be one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. MacKenzie was an artist at Hallmark for several decades and the pages are covered in doodles. Its almost like reading someone’s sketch book! MacKenzie is a master storyteller. This book inspired me to be improve this skill.

MacKenzie calls corporate culture a giant hairball. He likens policies, procedures, and decisions made by a corporation as individual hairs which when added over the lifetime of the company, becomes an enormous hairball. One orbits the hairball by latching on to the corporate values that resonate with you and use this to fuel your creativity.

Some of my top take-aways and favorite parts of the book:

  1. As is the world of physics, so too in the corporate world: the gravitational pull a body exerts increases as the mass of that body increases. Like physical gravity it is the nature of corporate gravity to suck everything into the mass– the mass of corporate normalcy.
  2. The ghosts of past successes outvote original thinking.
  3. Some people try to escape a giant hairball by going to another company, but find the company is a hairball just like the one they left.
  4. The whole of reality is too much for the conscious mind to grasp. We can only comprehend a slice. So too with civilization and companies. These realities are imposed on the worker. This creates a cocoon that gives us a sense of emotional security through a connection of shared belief. But its also a shroud that binds and cripples us as badly as the ancient practice of binding Chinese women’s feet.
  5. Hypnotizing a chicken. I had never heard of this before and I’ve been around chickens much of my life. He says when we join a company, that is what we are doing. Our face is pushed down to the line. The company line says, “This is our history. This is our philosophy. These are our procedures. These are our politics. This is simply the way we are.” What we need to do when we are being pushed down to the line is to find the goals of the organization that touch your heart. And release your passion to follow those goals.
  6. When a corporation prizes those who heroically overwork themselves in stress filled jobs, the company is telling others: make your job difficult, stretch yourself thin, stress yourself out, and eventually you too may be honored with executive approval. If you desire the blessings of the Mighty Corporate Fathers: work longer hours than is sensible, take on more responsibility than is sensible, make your job harder than is sensible. Do this and your sacrifices will be celebrated and your worth confirmed. This is seductive and plays into the old illusion that if we just work hard enough, and if we just work long enough we will finally be found valuable, be found lovable, and find security. If we fall for this seduction, quality of life erodes.
  7. He described job descriptions like boxes. People are not allowed to step into each other’s boxes. Instead he says we  should be performing like dancers. I like this analogy.
  8. Mandatory Fun- the force feeding of some cockeyed activity to a captive audience with intent to generate joviality. These don’t work. Instead, it generates discomfort that everyone feels but no one acknowledges.
  9. Any time a bureaucrat (a custodian of the system) stands between you and something you want or need, your challenge is to help that bureaucrat discover the means harmonious with the system to meet your need. I like this strategy!!
  10. He talked about organizations as mechanistic (and asphyxiating) versus organic (and vitalizing). I’ve often used these same descriptors for traditional management thinking.
  11. In the end, he finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to stop trying to change the hairball but instead offer to help those who want a fuller more original work experience.
  12. Compassionate emptiness– the state we need to enter when people come to us with their burdens. Stop trying to fix people. People will leave feeling unheard and you will feel a sense of helplessness. When someone comes to you, listen in silence. Imagine yourself being an empty vessel existing only to receive as fully as possible and without judgment. I absolutely love this!
Hairball Doodles

I love this book’s style. It was so fun and easy to read. I finished it over a weekend.

MacKenzie and I have drawn a lot of the same conclusions about management and it was refreshing to see his take on it. I’ve often called corporate systems giant balls of tangled yarn. A giant hairball is also fitting.

Though enlightening, his advice is a coping strategy rather than an antidote. I can appreciate this tactic for those who have grown tired of fighting the power, though I find it sad that he has drawn this conclusion and suggests others do the same. I don’t see the problem as a corporate problem. Its a management problem. Companies, no matter how big or small, are creating hairballs all the time. We shouldn’t expect our employees to just orbit, otherwise our company is doomed. The solution is stop making (and reduce) the hairball!!

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: My Years with General Motors

My YearsMy Years with General Motors
by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.
Recommended for: Change agents who are trying to understand the traditional corporate mindset.


This book is regarded as a must-read for management. It was a best seller when it was published in 1964. Peter Drucker recommended it as a must-read for his students and for managers.

For 50 years, GM was a worldwide powerhouse–the largest automotive company in the world. Success breeds a lot of copy cats and GM’s organizational structure, strategy, and attitudes served as a model for many different types of industries. Many of its principles still hold sway today in corporate America.

Drucker described the book as enjoyable reading. I found it to be 21 hours of uninspiring, soul-sucking verbosity. Still,  if you are a change agent for a more progressive style of management, this book may give you insight into how the traditional corporate mind thinks and how many organizations are still organized.

Sloan’s purpose of the book was to establish a new profession, the manager, and to spell out exactly how to do it. Sloan himself would be the exemplar of the professional manager.

It lays out the corporate strategy for GM in detail. Yeah. Its tedium. Marketing strategy, corporate organization, production schedules, pricing, financial controls (he talked about this a lot. He considers it key in GM’s success), acquisitions, research and innovations, ROI, decision-making structures, handling dealerships (which are franchises–I never knew that), forecasting sales, reporting and communication, talent acquisition (especially at the leadership level), company expansion, personnel matters, and lessons learned (he has a LOT of lessons learned. Good for him). It made me appreciate more what all a CEO has on his mind and their capacity to handle it all.

peter-drucker-4

Mr. Drucker says you have to read this book, even though ol’ Pete had a lot of critical things to say about GM’.

Sloan spends almost a whole chapter discussing unions. You can tell by his tone that this is a sore spot for him. Drucker had criticized him for how he handled them. I wonder what Sloan would have thought about what happened at NUMMI.

He also spent a whole chapter on GM’s bonus plans, which rewards individual contribution. He spent a lot of time defending it, I assume because plenty criticized it including Drucker. Sloan said to abolish it or severely alter it after 45 years could destroy the spirit of GM’s management and he credited the bonus plan for much of the company’s success.

I was disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, that Sloan didn’t talk about operational excellence nor how GM got workers up to speed during the war years (he glossed over it as being a challenge and adjusted production expectations).

Good take aways:

  • Sloan talks about how people want variety and choice and your company must be able to provide this.
  • He says an organization must be adaptable. He gave the example of Ford and the Model T (I wonder what he would have said about the company’s turn-of-the-century struggles and eventual 2009 bail-out).
  • He warned against building a company to support a genius (he implied this was what Ford did). I wonder what he would think of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk?

Insights into the roots of traditional management attitudes:

  • Decisions should be made by capable and rational men coming together. Their focus should be focused on benefiting the shareholders.
  • Increased efficiency does not flow from the increased effectiveness of the workers, but from more efficient management and investment in labor saving devices.
01tail fin

VROOOM!!

Despite its tedium, the book included some interesting parts on the early history of the automotive industry. Sloan spends a lot of time discussing GM’s early competition with Ford. GM simply could not take on the Model T (GM acquired Chevy to compete). Eventually, though, the company’s strategy of “a car for every purse and every purpose” took hold and left Ford in the dust. I was also interested in how GM began to emphasize styling. The classic tail fins of the 50s were inspired by fighter jets!

Walter Friedman with the Harvard Business Review wrote an article surmising My Years with a fifty year perspective in 2014. It can be found here. I recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: DRIVE

Drive_The_Surprising_Truth_About_What_Motivates_Us_1-sixhundredDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Recommended for: Any new manager, anyone who wants to learn the best way to get the best out of your people.

This one has been on the top of my reading list for quite awhile. It keeps coming up on podcasts I listen to (Mark Graban and This Agile Life).

The premise of the book is that when it comes to motivating people, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. If we want to strengthen our companies, elevate our lives, and improve the world we need to close this gap. Our current model for business is to use sticks and carrots to motivate, but these don’t work and can cause harm. Science shows the way to upgrade. Pink sites three essential elements: 1. Autonomy- the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery- the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose- the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Here’s my top 21 takeaways:

  1. Workers were once approached like parts in a complicated machine. If they did the work in the right way at the right time, the machine would function smoothly. To ensure it continued, you rewarded the behavior you sought and punished the behavior you discouraged.
  2. Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self determined and connected to one another. When that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.
  3. Rewards (carrots) can deliver a short term boost, like a jolt of caffeine, but the effect wears off and can reduce a person’s long term motivation to continue the project.
  4. Some advocates say that extrinsic motivation is all evil, but Pink says this isn’t true. What’s true, he says, is that mixing rewards with inherently interesting, creative, or noble tasks—without understanding the science of motivation—is a very dangerous game. He created this flow chart to help you determine when to use rewards:rewards-simple-flow-chart
  5. Goals that people set for themselves and are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. Goals imposed by others—sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores– can have dangerous side effects.
  6. All goals are not created equal. Goals and extrinsic rewards aren’t inherently corrupting, but goals are more toxic than traditional management thinks.
  7. Carrots can cause addiction. Rewards and trophies can provide a delicious jolt, but the feeling soon dissipates and to keep it alive the recipient requires even larger doses and more frequent doses (scary!).
  8. Ensure that the baseline rewards—wages, salaries, benefits are adequate. Without a healthy baseline, motivation of any sort is difficult and often impossible.
  9. Any extrinsic reward should be offered after the task is completed. If you offer the reward before hand, people will focus on the reward instead of the task. In other words, shift from “if-then” rewards to “now that” rewards. HOWEVER, repeated “now that” bonuses can become “if-then” entitlements which can crater effective performances.
  10. Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than their reward seeking counterparts in the long run. Its not true for the short term, though. However, continuing to get short term results is difficult to sustain.
  11. We forget that management does not emanate from nature. Its not like a river or a tree. Its like a tree or a bicycle. Its something humans invented.
  12. Good change agent strategy– If you want to work with more progressive management-style people the best strategy is to become one yourself. It becomes contagious.
  13. Transitioning to autonomy won’t or can’t happen in one fell swoop. Plucking people out of controlling environments and plopping them into autonomous ones will cause the people to struggle. Organizations must provide scaffolding.
  14. The highest most satisfying experiences in people’s lives is when they are in the state of Flow (Its a fascinating concept if you haven’t heard of it before. Take a look!!).
  15. One source of frustration in the workplace is the frequent mismatch between what people must do and what people can do. When what they must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom.
  16. A challenge must not be too hard nor too easy in order for a person to achieve flow. Pink calls these Goldilock tasks (not too hot not too cold).
  17. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term Flow and who studies it, conducted an experiment that deprived people of Flow. The subjects experienced what is called general anxiety disorder in the medical field. People become sluggish, they complained of headaches, many complained of difficulty concentrating, some got sleepy, others were too agitated to sleep. Csikszentmihalyi said that just after two days, people’s mood became so deteriorated it became inadvisable to continue with the experiment. Conclusion—flow is a necessity. We need it to survive. (I found this fascinating!)
  18. Csikszentmihalyi discovered we are more likely to experience flow during work than during leisure.
  19. “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to somethin greater and more permanent than oneself.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  20. Great people have one sentence that describes their purpose (ex. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and kept the Union intact.”). Orient your life toward a greater purpose by summarizing it in one sentence. So ask: “What’s your sentence?”
  21. Ask yourself each night before you go to bed, “Was I better than yesterday?”

At the end of the book, Pink lists essential reading to learn more, highlights management thinkers who get it (oddly, Deming wasn’t listed—he would have been all over this book), provides a glossary for new terminology, and gives suggestions on how to improve motivation in organizations and personal lives (exercising and motivating kids!).

Pink also gives questions for people to discuss among themselves. I’d be curious to have a traditional manager read this book and see what they think. I can’t help but hear them saying already, “Yes, but . . .”

I think this is a must-have book for any leader or manager. As a matter of fact, if I were to recommend just one book for a manager to read, I believe this would be the one. Its powerful.

You can buy the book here.

BOOK REVIEW: GRIT

GritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Recommended for: improvement agents, systems thinkers (as a counter to their beliefs), parents, the education community, people wanting to reach their life goals.

I’ve seen this books floating around the educational circles. Its part of the growth mindset movement in our schools. The book’s premise is that our ability to be gritty (i.e. being able to relentlessly pursue an objective) is what will determine our ability to succeed in life and lays out strategies on how to get more grit.

The book and Duckworth’s ideas have been criticized by systems-thinkers who believe that most of our problems are systems/culture/environment related and praised by those who believe that we need to become better individuals in order to become successful.

Here’s my top 25 takeaways:

  1. Americans endorse hardworking over intelligence by five times when asked about hiring a new employee. However, in practice, we have a tendency to favor “naturals.” (I have personally seen this. We want people who ‘just get it.’)
  1. There’s a grit test in the book. I scored in the 60% which, according to the survey, means I’m grittier than 60% of the population. Should I put this on my resume? Heh.
  1. Grit is about working on something you care about so much your willing to stay loyal to it. Its not about just falling in love, but staying in love.
  1. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Good quote.
  1. She suggests envisioning your goals in a hierarchy. The top level goal (your life philosophy) is supported by mid-level goals which are supported by low level goals. The lower level goals change in order to meet the higher level goals. Top level goals are written in ink. Lower level goals are written in pencil.
  1. You might have to do things in your lower level goals that you don’t want to do in order to reach your higher level goals.
  1. Grit is about holding the same top level goal for a very long time. This is your life philosophy and is so powerful that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity.
  1. Positive fantasizing is when you have a high level goal, but no lower level goals to reach it. You live with the short term great feelings about your goal, but in the long term, you live with disappointment of not having achieved the goal. This is common.
  1. Grit, just like other character attributes like honesty and generosity are genetically influenced, but also experience influenced.
  1. She had a chart that showed the older you are, the grittier you are. It was quite pronounced. Two ways to interpret this—the older generation grew up in a time when grit was more important (i.e. they just worked harder as they’ve always claimed) or we become more grittier as we get older.
  1. For some, purpose dawns early, for others, it takes many years of refinement. (I fall into this camp. I’m definitely a late bloomer).
  1. For the beginner, novelty is anything they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.
  1. “Some people get twenty years of experience, others get one year of experience twenty times in a row.” Another great quote.
  1. Grit paragons exude kaizen. There aren’t any exceptions. (Glad to hear this).
  1. This is how experts practice (called deliberate practice)—they create a stretch goal. They are very specific on what they want to do. Instead of practicing what they do well, they strive to improve weakness. They then give the goal great effort and undivided attention. Experts typically practice when no one is watching. Experts hungrily ask for feedback on how they are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right.
  1. Experts say they do the practice that they don’t like so they can better enjoy what they love.
  1. Doing crazy hours of practice is not the same as deliberate practice. There’s a story of the Japanese Rowing team inviting Mads Rassmusen (Danish rower and double World Champion and Olympic Gold winner) to visit them. He was shocked at how many hours they were putting in. Its not hours of brute force exhaustion you are going after he told them. Its high quality training goals pursued for just a few hours of the day.
  1. Infants and toddlers don’t seem to be bothered when they can’t get something right. They practice it over and over again until they do. What happens? It seems to be that once they get older, they realize their mistakes cause a reaction in some grownups. We frown. Our cheeks puff out. We point out that they are doing something wrong. What does this teach them? Embarrassment. Shame. Fear. Between coaches and parents, they’ve learned that failing is bad. After awhile, they aren’t willing to stick their necks out and give their best effort.
  1. Paragons of grit all believe their hard work and struggles are worth it because somehow they see it helping other people.
  1. Don’t say setbacks aren’t discouraging. That’s not realistic. Of course they are discouraging. Instead believe that setbacks don’t discourage you for long. Always get back on your feet.
  1. You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference in someone’s life. If you care about them and get to know what’s going on, you can make an impact. Try to understand whats going on in their life and help them through that.
  1. Learned industriousness—the idea that hard work and reward can be learned. Without experiencing the connection between reward and effort, animals, including people default to laziness. Calorie burning efforts is, after all, something that evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Psychologist Robert Eisenberger at the University of Houston has done research on this (this sounds like evidence for X style management).
  1. If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. (aha! So there is systems-thinking in this book!)
  1. It seems the hard way to get grit is to learn it yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you are around people who are gritty. You’re going to act grittier.
  1. Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own.

Duckworth admits there needs to be inquiry into exploring the possible downsides of grit. For example, she admits there is a danger in sticking with something for too long. What is the cost of the pursuit? Our family? Relationships? Health? Money? Time? Duckworth says that people with grit are often described as obsessive. When does this go too far?

Overall, I found this book inspiring and I often find myself thinking on what Duckworth has to say, particularly on how we go about setting and accomplishing our goals.

As noted, her ideas and research seem to run, at first glance, counter to systems-thinking. Her thesis is that we need to strengthen the individual in order to get ahead. However, she also argues that gritty culture creates gritty individuals, which is a systems idea.

After reading this book, I’m thinking we need both. For us systems-thinkers, we need grit when our influence is low, because we are unable to improve the system, but when our influence becomes greater, we have the responsibility to improve the system (Deming often remarked that our system is destroying the rugged individual—we need to fix this).

My concern, though, is that within our dualistic culture, we will concentrate on one or the other and because we are an individualistic society, we will focus more on the individual. This book may be giving those with this mindset too much ammunition. Perhaps this is why, Alfie Kohn, who I admire a lot, has been highly critical of Duckworth’s work. His argument against it can be found here.

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: THE WORLD IS FLAT

The World is FlatThe World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman.

Recommended for: Anyone who has a job! Students about to enter the real world, parents.


Thomas Friedman is the New York Times‘s Foreign Affairs columnist and the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. He travels the globe extensively to get a better understanding of his work. The World is Flat, which explores globalization was #1 New York Times bestseller and received the inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in November 2005. I’d heard a lot about this book over the last year or so and was glad to finally get a chance to read it.

Friedman said the purpose of the book is to create a framework to maximize and manage globalization to our benefit. Many of us are uneasy about the ‘flattening’ of the world (some of his stories certainly scared the bejezus out of me). Friedman says its natural. He says it happens every time we have a technological revolution. The difference this time is its happening a lot faster.

This was another book that was tough to narrow down to my favorite parts. Friedman had fascinating examples of outsourcing, the reasons why the world globalized, how India became our tech center, and the dangers of oil dependencies.

After a lot of work, I narrowed it down to 25 points:

The Scary Stuff

  • He didn’t use these exact words, but Friedman makes no bones that what can be outsourced will be outsourced.
  • Venture firms want new companies to become profitable quickly so they can then sell them, also, they want to make sure companies are hiring the brightest– this leads to outsourcing.
  • The average wage of a high skills mechanist in America is $3,000-$4,000 a month. The average for China is $150.
  • The problem is not just that outsourced companies will work for less, that will work more hours, they don’t take the same amount of holidays or days off. Other countries’ employees will work 15-18 hour days and come in on the weekends. They are doing this because they have a dream to work at Microsoft.
  • Other countries do not want to work for us or be us, they want to dominate us. They want to be the ones creating the companies of the future. They are not content on where they are.

Why Are We Struggling?

  • We are a leisure-time society. In China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In the U.S., Britney Spears is Britney Spears.
  • Our culture needs to better prize education. Immigrants’ children inhabit the top ranks of math and science. Our kids aren’t interested in it. China and India have a long tradition of parents telling their children that the greatest thing they can be in life is an engineer or a doctor. (My wife pointed out that this is actually not prizing education as much as it is prizing an occupation. We still need firefighters, teachers, public servants, etc.).

The Upside

  • This has happened before. It happened when we connected New York to California by rail. It happened when we connected America to Western Europe and Japan. It happened again when we connected America, Europe, Japan, to India, and China. We will get through it and get better because of it.
  • One reason people fear globalization is because they believe that there are only so many jobs to go around and we are losing them. This is wrong headed. The pie is not a fixed amount. As these jobs are sent overseas, people have more of an income to spend, and it creates a larger pie.
  • It is easy to demonize free markets and the freedom to outsource and offshore because it is so much easier to see people being laid off than being hired.
  • In the end, everyone is going to benefit, there will always be fear, but the fear is good, because it stimulates a willingness to change and explore and find things to do better.
  • America still has huge advantages– we have innovative businesses, good universities, labs, retailers, and the best regulated and most efficient capital markets in the world for taking ideas and turning them into products and services. We are the best country for taking a risk on an idea. We also have an advantage with intellectual property protection, the most flexible labor laws, the world’s largest domestic consumer market, the most first adopters (if you starting something new—you better have a presence in America). We also have had political stability. Finally, we are a great place for different types of people to come together and meet. China, India, and other countries will not be successful until they have successful capital markets and they won’t have these until they have rule of law that protects minority interests under conditions of risk.

What to do

  • As the world flattens and new ways to collaborate are made available to more people, those who will succeed will be those who learn the habits, processes, and skills the quickest (there is no guarantee that this will be America).
  • You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with knowledge and ideas to seize them.
  • People need to become less specialty tools and become more Swiss army knives.
  • The most important attribute you can have is creative imagination—the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities, and profits.

Change Management

  • Management, shareholders, and investors don’t really care where the profits come from, but they do care about sustainability.
  • “Transformation begins with a sense of crisis or urgency. No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.” Lou Gestner.
  • Sometimes the best strategy is to get the big players to the right things for the wrong reasons because waiting for them to do the right thing for the right reason can mean waiting forever.
  • When it comes to economic activities, one of the greatest virtues a country or community can have is a culture of tolerance.
  • Trust is essential in a flat world—you have up to a thousand people involved in a company and who have never met before.

Respect for People

  • Friedman believes terrorism is spawned by the poverty of dignity, not money. Terrorists often talk about being humiliated. He said humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations and in human relations.
  • Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright said terrorists are “walking the streets of life, searching for tall buildings—for towers to bring down, because they are not able to be tall like them.”
  • People do not change only when they must. They change when they see that others like themselves have changed and flourished.

Other/Interesting

  • He used to say that no two countries that had a McDonalds had ever gone to war with each other. He calls is the Golden Arches theory of Conflict Prevention. He now has the Dell Theory– no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain. It would bring both countries to their knees and wouldn’t be worth it.

The book isn’t without its critics. Many have argued the world is not as flat as Friedman is making out. I tried a couple of things he said we can do now (such as finding the address of someone just by Googling their phone number and looking up people on the internet to find out more about them—no dice). Still, I think we can all agree that we are heading in that direction, though, and we need to get a jump on it. This book certainly gave me a wake up call, increased my awareness for what the world has become, helped me better plan what I can do to do a better job in it, and what I can do to help others be prepared (such as my kids.)

The book can be bought here.

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.

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.