Friday Book Review! Grit by Angela Duckworth

gritThe Power of Passion & Perseverance

Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, won a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship, an award so prestigious that it is also known as the “genius grant.” As Duckworth explains in the foreword to her latest book, Grit, the award of the grant reminded her that throughout her childhood, her scientist father would despair that she was no “genius” — in other words, that she just wasn’t smart enough or didn’t have a great-enough talent in anything.

And he was right. As Duckworth explains in her book, genius or talent didn’t win her the coveted MacArthur Fellowship: It was grit. According to Duckworth, grit is the combination of unbridled passion and unrelenting perseverance — a combination, she writes, that will overcome innate talent or hard work or high IQ or any of the other assumed key success factors for individuals. Duckworth first demonstrated the power of grit at West Point, where she sought to answer a question that had eluded a number of psychologists for decades: Why did so many new cadets drop out in the first training program of their West Point careers? Only a tiny portion of candidates make it through the admission gauntlet into West Point — and only if they receive a high-enough Whole Candidate Score, which carefully measures the likelihood that candidates have the mental and physical capabilities to make it at West Point. Thus, most should be in a position to survive the brutal seven-week training course known as “Beast Barracks.” Yet, many didn’t — and surprisingly their scores on the Whole Candidate Score bore no correlation to whether or not they dropped out.

In July 2004, Duckworth had new cadets take her Grit Scale, which was…(click here to continue reading)

Friday Book Review! The Network Imperative by Jerry Wind, Megan Beck, Barry Libert

The Network Imperative

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Not too many years ago, the idea of a hotel chain that didn’t own a single building or an international taxi service that didn’t own any cars might have seemed ludicrous. Today, of course, we know there are international companies worth billions of dollars in market value whose business model depends on customers connecting with independent suppliers of the service — not on the ownership of physical assets. In The Network Imperative, authors Barry Libert, Megan Beck and Jerry Wind describe the scalable, networking-based business model that is revolutionizing industries. Ebay, Uber, TripAdvisor and even Visa are examples of companies built on a network business model. One could argue that network firms are specific to certain industries. The authors disagree. “Be aware,” they write. “Investor capital, customer revenue and affinity, top talent and market buzz are shifting away from established firms toward network organizations.” According to their research, “digital networks are entering almost every industry, even some of the most mundane.”

High Performance

A quick comparison by the authors of market values between traditional and what they call “network firms” is revealing. For example, Hertz boasts a $7 billion market capitalization; Uber’s valuation is listed at more than $70 billion. Other business-performance measures also highlight the value of network firms. For example…(click here to read the full review)

Friday Book Review! Sprint By Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz

Image result for sprint by jake knappIn a new book, Sprint, Google veteran Jake Knapp and his Google Ventures co-authors John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz insist that it is possible to focus on a problem, consider different solutions, choose one, prototype the solution and test it on customers in just five days.

The “sprint” process, as it is called, has been applied hundreds of times for companies in which Google’s venture-capital arm has invested. Sprint offers a detailed step-by-step guide to successful sprints.

Monday, When It All Begins

On Monday, for example, the sprint team — a small group with a multifunctional background — will map out the problem and choose a target on which to focus. The first step is to set the long-term goal. This is followed by listing “sprint questions” that question assumptions and lay out obstacles in the form of questions.

The next step is mapping. The key to successful mapping, according to the authors, is to keep it simple. The map, created on a white board, is customer-centric: the key customers are listed along the left margin, with the rest of the space dedicated to a drawing that recreates the customer experience from beginning to end (arrows are valuable here). The next step, “ask the experts,” consists of interviews with people who have the knowledge to provide ideas to the problems first laid out in the sprint questions and highlighted by the map.

Sprint is filled with snappy little brainstorming techniques, and one of them appears in the “ask the experts” portion of the process: the HMW note. The members of the sprint team use post-it notes to ask “How Might We” questions of the expert that address the unknowns or concerns that have arisen. Expect the map to be redrawn as the experts reveal unexpected problems or offer unexpected solutions.

Monday ends with “choosing the target.” The map has been redrawn (and is by now plastered with HMW sticky notes), and now the team chooses one particular aspect of the customer experience on which to focus.

The authors break down the rest of the days in the same clear, step-by-step manner. They give the order in which the major tasks for each day must be accomplished, offer tools and methodologies to help accomplish the tasks, and offer real examples throughout from their clients.

Friday Book Review! Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

Image result for smarter faster betterNew York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, overwhelmed by deadlines and commitments, sought advice from a friend of a friend: Atul Gawande, best-selling author, surgeon, Harvard professor, advisor to the World Health Organization and entrepreneur. Duhigg wanted to know how he could be as productive as Gawande.

Duhigg defines productivity as “attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort … It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.” Gawande replied that he was “running flat out with my various commitments,” confirming to Duhigg that even the most productive people in the world became overbooked. He later discovered, however, that Gawande did not have time for him just then because he was going to a rock concert with his children followed by a mini-vacation with his wife. “There were people out there who knew how to be more productive,” Duhigg writes. “I just had to convince them to share their secrets with me.”

The result of this quest is Duhigg’s newest book, Smarter Faster Better. In this fascinating book, Duhigg uses wide-ranging illustrative narratives backed by scientific studies. The Story of Two Planes In his chapter on how to focus better, for example, Duhigg tells the stories of two flight emergencies. In the first case, the pilots became overwhelmed by sudden alarms (after hours of autopilot flying), and instead of seeing the big picture and making the simple correction required (slightly lowering the nose of the plane), they focused intently on the wrong indicators in front of them. The nose of the plane kept pointing further upwards until the plane stalled and fell in the ocean, killing all 229 aboard.

The pilots, explain Duhigg, had fallen victim to “cognitive tunneling,” which occurs when a suddenly overwhelmed brain compensates by focusing exclusively on whatever stimuli is in front of it, in this case irrelevant gauges and printouts. In the second narrative of the chapter, an engine explodes, severely damaging one of the wings. The damage was so extensive that the pilot could have been easily overwhelmed by all that was going wrong. Yet, by imagining that he was flying a simple Cessna instead of a giant, highly complex Airbus 340, the pilot focused on what he had to do to turn the plane around and land it safely. It was the most damaged Airbus 340 ever to land safely. The key was the “mental model” that the pilot had created in his head by telling himself a story: that he was landing a Cessna. To continue reading, click here.

Friday Book Review! The Third Wave by Steve Case

Image result for third wave steve caseIf the title of AOL founder Steve Case’s book, The Third Wave, sounds eerily familiar, it is no accident. Case remembers reading futurist Alvin Toffler’s book of the same name in college and wanted to be part of Toffler’s “electronic global village.” And he was. The term AOL seems very oldschool today — and Case explains what happened further in the book — but there was a time when the company he founded, based on the concept of provided services via the Internet, was a pillar of the information age — or more specifically what he calls the “First Wave” of the information age.

The First Wave of the Internet, writes Case, “was about building the infrastructure and foundation for an online world.” It was led by companies such as Cisco, Sprint, HP, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Apple, IBM and AOL, who created the hardware, software and networks that connected people to the Internet and to each other. Once everyone was online, the Second Wave kicked in. We are still in this Second Wave, the era of the information age, when companies, Case explains, built “on top” of the Internet. Think Google, eBay, Amazon, Twitter and even the iPhone.

We are, however, on the cusp of a Third Wave of the Internet, writes Case, in which the Internet becomes a “ubiquitous force in the world” connected to everything we do. The Internet will be part and parcel of all the facets of our lives, including our healthcare and education systems, and even what we eat. As Case puts it eloquently, the Third Wave “is the era in which products will require the Internet, even if the Internet doesn’t define them. It is the era when the term “Internet-enabled” will start to sound as ludicrous as the term “electricity-enabled,” as if either were notable differentiators.”

First-Wave Issues Society often advances in linear fashion so that the present era moves forward from the past, and the future moves forward from the present. In some ways, however, the Third Wave represents a return to the world of the First Wave — not in outcomes but in means. In other words, success in the Third Wave will depend in large part on the success factors of the First Wave, including a heavy reliance on collaboration and partnership, careful attention to policy and the courage to scale high barriers to entry. Building the infrastructure in the First Wave was capital-intensive, and the same investment partnerships will be required to redraw a nation’s healthcare system or other components of our society.

The Second Wave was different; it was the era when billion dollar companies could be built by a few tech-savvy friends with a computer and a good idea (example: make it easier to search the Internet). The barriers to entry were low, as were the required upfront investment. There still may be some best-selling apps on the horizon, but good luck launching another Twitter or Facebook from your dorm room. One of the domains in which Third-Wave entrepreneurs must be fluent, Case writes, is in government policy.

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Review: The Founder’s Mentality By Chris Zook and James Allen

Image result for The Founder’s Mentality By Chris Zook and James AllenNew companies are notoriously fragile. Yet, as any company grows, moving past its tumultuous beginnings, it runs into three crises, write veteran Bain consultants Chris Zook and James Allen in their book, The Founder’s Mentality. The first crisis is overload: the company fails to scale its business successfully, succumbing instead to internal dysfunction. The second crisis is stall-out: bureaucracy and organizational complexity sap the energy and agility of the company’s younger days. The third predictable crisis is free fall: saddled with an obsolete business model, the company watches its market share dissipate.

According to the authors’ research, the reason for companies inevitably facing (and often being defeated) by these crises can be traced to the loss of what they call “the founder’s mentality.”

The founder’s mentality consists of three defining traits.

The first is, according to the authors, “the insurgent mission” — the belief that the company is not simply selling products but is at “war” with an industry stuck in the past or underserving customers.

The second defining trait of the founder’s mentality is “the front-line obsession,” which is more than an intense focus on customers and the front-line employees who serve them. Founders tend to obsess about every detail in the customer-company interface.

Finally, the third defining trait is “the owner’s mindset.” When people work for a small company fighting for its survival, they see themselves as owners of the company. They are completely invested in its success.

These founder’s mentality traits give a company its edge and its energy. But over time, as the company grows and becomes more hierarchical and more entrenched, as executives are further and further removed from the front lines, and as a dedicated bunch of committed “owners” becomes a large mass of employees, this edge and energy dissipate.

In order to overcome the inevitable crises that companies will face in their history, they must keep or restore the founder’s mentality.

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The Three-Box Solution by Vijay Govindarajan

Speed Review: The Three-Box SolutionIt’s an age-old problem for business: succeeding today while preparing for the future. One might think that today’s success lays the foundation for the future, but in business such thinking is a guaranteed path to failure. Just ask Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Each dominated their categories only to find themselves in bankruptcy court. While they were winning in the present, they were laying the groundwork for failure. In sum, what you do today to succeed has less relevance on what you’ll need to do tomorrow than you might think.

From Linear to Non-Linear

Hindsight is always 20/20, especially in strategy and innovation. In real-time, however, how to allocate attention and resources to maintain the present while building the future is far from obvious. Enter Vijay Govindarajan, a professor at Tuck School of Business with a number of best-sellers on strategy and innovation to his name. In his new book, The Three-Box Solution, Govindarajan offers a framework, based on three boxes, that is both methodology and mindset for attacking the dual and often conflicting imperatives of succeeding today and preparing to succeed tomorrow.

Box 1, according to Govindarajan, is about managing the present — implementing the strategies, tactics and approaches required to operate at “peak efficiency.”

Box 2 is about forgetting the past — divesting businesses and letting go of practices and assumptions that are becoming obsolete.

Box 3 is about creating the future — developing new business models to ensure long-term success.

Companies must pay attention to all three boxes at once, which means, Govindarajan explains, focusing on both linear and non-linear innovation. Linear innovation is extrapolated from a company’s current activities. Non-linear innovation doesn’t build on current activities but, instead, targets new and old customers with new business models and products. Linear innovation is vital for success in Box 1; non-linear innovation is at the heart of Box 3.

It is perhaps Box 2, however, that holds the key to the entire framework. In order to transition from present to future, Govindarajan explains, you have to deal with the past. Toy- and game-maker Hasbro offers one example of how the three-box solution works. Launched in the 1920s by three brothers, Hasbro was known for its traditional products such as the Monopoly game. Its distribution model was simple: toy stores. With the arrival of the Internet, it’s distribution expanded to the web.

To keep customers coming back for more, Hasbro maintained its Box 1 linear innovations — for example, developing Star Wars-themed versions of its classic Monopoly and Mr. Potato Head.

However, it is Hasbro’s Box 3 non-linear innovations that have positioned the company for long-term success.

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Strategies to Combat Gender Bias

Image result for breaking through biasWomen continue to face unconscious biases in the workplace that undermine their success, according to Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris, authors of the new book Breaking Through Bias. Although written by long-time activists working to break down barriers to women in the workplace, Breaking Through Bias is not an indictment of gender discrimination but, rather, a straightforward guide on how women can achieve success in spite of the discrimination.

For Kramer and Harris, a husband-and-wife team of attorneys, the secret to overcoming the gender bias, deliberate or unconscious, that pervades today’s workplace is to develop an effective communication style through which women can display their competence and experience while neither encouraging nor buying into gender stereotypes. The authors call this attuned gender communication.

The general message of the book, however, is twofold. First, while women are not to blame for gender stereotypes, they sometimes undermine their own efforts to overcome such stereotypes. The second message is that many women do not even attempt to battle stereotypes; instead they buy into them.

For example, a study of men and women who had graduated from an elite international MBA program revealed that women were far less likely to apply for jobs in finance and consulting and far more likely to apply for general management jobs — no doubt because of the unconscious bias of the women that men are better at math or handling the pressure of consulting, while women are better at the soft skills needed to successfully manage people.

The focus of their book, however, is to help women who refuse to buy into the biases but understand that they have a responsibility to help themselves. The challenge of this “help yourself” message is illustrated in the story of a leader that Kramer was coaching remotely. Ellen was constantly passed over for promotions because, according to her superiors, she was a “sloppy thinker.” When Kramer finally met Ellen, she discovered a leader who dressed so casually “it was hard for me to tell if she was wearing her pajamas or a sweat suit.” At Kramer’s suggestions, Ellen started dressing “like a banker” and never heard the “sloppy thinker” comment again.

The story does not end there, however. Kramer recounted Ellen’s experience in a workshop and learned later that many of the women criticized Kramer’s actions. “These women said that I had advised Ellen to be inauthentic and to buy into traditional stereotypes,” Kramer writes. Although disappointed that she had failed to get her message across, Kramer was also sad. “I realized that the women who had criticized me were unlikely to get as far as they wanted to in their own careers if they really thought that a woman would lose her authenticity if she didn’t go to important meetings dressed in her pajamas,” she writes.

The fact of the matter is that impressions count, and indeed, the importance of managing impressions is one of the key lessons in the book. As the authors explain, “…..

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Book Review: Shoe Dog By Phil Knight

Shoe DogNike is one of the world’s most famous brands. Its swoosh, famously created by an art student for just a few dollars, is ubiquitous. Its outsourcing business model is considered genius by some, controversial by others. Everyone knows Nike — or at least we think we do.

Shoe Dog, the story of Nike written by its founder, Phil Knight, offers a new perspective on the brand. Knight tells a surprisingly riveting tale. The book’s chapters are organized by year, and much of the book is spent on the first 10 years of the company (launched in 1962). As with a detective series in which we know the detective will emerge unscathed, the fact that we know the ultimate outcome of this story does not deter from the white-knuckle ride on which Knight expertly takes his readers. Knight is able to convey the fear and frustration of living on the edge that continues year after year, even as his company continues to grow. For example, Knight describes receiving the “pair count” (how many pairs of shoes shipped) from the warehouses every day. Because he depended on daily sales to generate the cash he needed to keep the business, then called Blue Ribbon Sports, alive, “the daily pair count determined my mood, my digestion, my blood pressure, because it largely determined the fate of Blue Ribbon,” he writes. “If we didn’t “sell through,” sell all the shoes in our most recent order, and quickly convert that product into cash, we’d be in big trouble.”

Blue Ribbon Sports may not be familiar to many, but it was the original name of the company that Knight founded in 1962 (the word “Nike” does not appear until nearly 200 pages into the book). Although known today as the king of outsourced manufacturing, Knight’s “Crazy Idea” — the business model he developed as a Stanford MBA student — was to introduce quality Japanese shoes to America, and specifically the Tiger, manufactured by Onitsuka Company (now Asics) in Kobe, Japan. For a number of years, Blue Ribbon Sports, a company that only existed in Knight’s mind when he traveled to Japan and told Onitsuka executives that he was its representative, was happy to be an importer of Japanese shoes — until, as Knight eloquently describes, Onitsuka decided to break its contract and surreptitiously replace BRS as distributor. The cold war battle between Knight and the man who would become his nemesis, an Onitsuka executive named Kitami, is almost worthy of the tense dance between John Le Carre’s George Smiley and the elusive Karla — which explains…(click here to continue reading this review)

Review: Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

Most people don’t plan their lives, write Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, authors of Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want. Instead, people drift through the years, going where circumstances take them rather than taking control.

Living Forward offers a game plan for taking control through a tool call a “Life Plan,” which, as the authors explain, will answer three vital questions.

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Whenever you make a plan, you must begin with the destination. Only by knowing where you are going can you figure out how you can best get there. For the authors, the destination of a life is one’s legacy. Thus, the first question a Life Plan answers is

How do I want to be remembered? The best way to identify your desired legacy, according to the authors, is to write your own eulogy. This rather impertinent process forces you to think about what you would like others to say about you at your funeral.

The first step, of course, is to understand who those others will be. Writing your eulogy, the authors explain, begins with identifying all of your key relationships, either by individual name or by group (e.g., my peers in the company). You then describe how you want to be remembered by each group.

Most of us live extremely busy lives. However, the authors note, a busy life is not a sign of success if you are not busy doing the right things: the things that are most important to you. The second question answered by the life plan is about priorities:

What matters most to me? To help readers determine their priorities, the authors offer a tool based on what they call Life Accounts. The term is chosen for its connotation of bank accounts — that is, accounts that either have a growing balance, consistent balance or declining balance. Grouped in three concentric circles around the YOU at the center, the first three Life Accounts — spiritual, intellectual and physical — involve your relationships with yourself. The second concentric circle of three Life Accounts — marital, social and parental — involves your relationships with others. Finally, the outermost concentric circle of three Life Accounts — vocational (your job), avocational (your hobbies) and financial — concerns your output.

These are prototypical Life Accounts, but the authors emphasize that people may have different accounts and even a different number of accounts. Every individual must determine what is most important to them and, thus, create their own Life Accounts. Whatever the specific accounts may be, “the goal is to have a positive balance in each of your Life Accounts,” the authors write.

The authors cite two criteria that for them are the essential components of a positive balance in a Life Account…..(click here to continue reading)