Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Speed Review: PeakAnders Ericsson, co-author of the new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, has spent a lifetime studying what it takes to become an expert. His work was cited in the best-selling book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, who used Ericsson’s research on expert violinists as the basis for his “10,000-hour rule.”

According to this rule, if you practice for 10,000 hours, you will become an expert. Gladwell’s rule is an oversimplification of his research, Ericsson argues, although Gladwell does get the general concept correctly: To become an expert, it takes a huge number of hours of practice.

At first glance, this rather unsurprising assertion hides a deeper and more controversial implication: No one is born with vastly superior talent. Just to be clear, Ericsson launches his book with the poster child for innate superior talent: Mozart. As everyone knows, Mozart was a musical genius — both as a performer and a composer — at an age when most children were focused on playing with their tiny (lead, at that time) toy soldiers.

While not discounting the talent of young Mozart, Ericsson and his co-author, science writer Robert Pool, argue in Peak that Mozart would not have been Mozart had he been born the son of a cobbler. Thankfully, for the world, Mozart was born the son of a musician, whose apartment was filled with all kinds of musical instruments — all of which Mozart learned to play beginning at the age of four. Mozart, it turns out, practiced for thousands of hours just like the other experts in Ericsson’s book.

Of course, not all practicing is equal. Ericsson identifies three different types of practicing. The most basic type of practicing is naïve practice, the generic rather mediocre practicing that children muddle through as they go from piano lesson to piano lesson. They will not become star performers, nor do they intend to.

A much more effective type of practice is what Ericsson calls purposeful practice. Purposeful practice is ….

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Review: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

NeverSplitTheDifference_LgNever Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference, a new book on negotiation, presents an alternative to Getting to Yes, the classic text by Roger Fisher and William Ury of Harvard. For author Chris Voss, the use of rational tools and techniques is not the most effective approach for negotiations. Instead, the key to success, especially in very dangerous negotiations, is tactical empathy, which he describes as “emotional intelligence on steroids.”

As reflected in the title of his book, Voss, the former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, did not develop his theories on negotiation in the halls of academia. An education that began as a beat cop on the mean streets of Kansas City continued as he joined the FBI and eventually traveled the world as the agency’s chief negotiator in the most dangerous situations. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the most valuable lessons he learned was not in a jungle negotiating with ruthless terrorists, but in the streets of Pittsburgh.

A drug dealer had kidnapped the girlfriend of another drug dealer. As Voss listened to the tapes of the two drug dealers talking, he heard the aggrieved dealer ask the kidnapper, “Hey, dog, how do I know she’s alright?” The kidnapper paused and then said, “Well, I’ll put her on the phone.”

Already an experienced negotiator, Voss recognized the power of that question. It was the prototype of what he would eventually call the “calibrated question,” a highly impactful tool because it gives the other side a sense of control even if they are doing what you want them to do. If the drug dealer had said, “Put her on the phone!” the other dealer would either have refused — because he didn’t want be controlled — or demanded
something in return. When responding to the question, “How do I know she’s alright,” the kidnapper feels in control because he is making the decision to put the hostage on the phone.

Calibrated questions reflect the philosophy of emotional intelligence on steroids. Never Split the Difference is filled with compelling, often harrowing stories that further illustrate the empathy-based techniques and approaches that Voss advocates.

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Developing Everyone in the Company: An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

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An Everyone Culture

The culture of Next Jump, an e-commerce tech company, is summarized in a catchy phrase: Better Me + Better You = Better Us. In other words, if I grow, develop and become more successful, and if I help you grow, develop and become more successful, then the entire organization becomes more successful (i.e., more profitable). Next Jump put some real weight behind the words through the structure of its compensation, which is 50/50: 50 percent of your pay depends on how you impacted revenues, and 50 percent depends on how you implemented the Better Me + Better You = Better Us culture.

Next Jump is one of three companies whose practices and philosophies are at the heart of An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. (The other two featured companies are hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and movie theater conglomerate Decurion Corporation.) Kegan and Lahey call these companies Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs). The core philosophy of a DDO is that a company’s success depends on everyone in the company having an opportunity to grow. For a DDO, development is not one of the features of the company. Deliberate development is the engine that drives the company forward, as vital and irreplaceable as the engine of an automobile.

There is no dearth of volumes describing the importance of putting your people first. And having presented its argument that developing people is the single most important function of a business, An Everyone Culture could easily tumble into a series of intuitive but motivating howto’s, which would probably include a chapter on listening with empathy. However, Kegan and Lahey are scientists, and building on their research on adult development, they have created a robust model for organization-wide development that incorporates three dimensions:

Aspiration. DDOs have a culture that relentlessly pushes people to grow, not only as employees but also as people. The authors call this the edge.

Communities. People must not only want to grow but must be enabled to grow, and that requires safe, trustworthy communities. The authors call this home.

Practices. The final dimension incorporates the actual development practices and routines of the organization. The authors call this the groove. Implementing these three dimensions requires a series of “discontinuous departures” — principles, practices and structures that represent a true departure from business as usual. A total of 12 discontinuous departures animate the DDO framework.

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11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want

TheArtofPeopleDave Kerpen, the author of The Art of People, has developed a remarkable career around a key skill: being likeable. Kerpen is the founder of a social-media software company called Likeable Local as well as co-founder of a branding consultancy called Likeable Media. In his first two books, Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business, Kerpen explained how being likeable, which emerges from listening, storytelling and building relationships, was key to success in online marketing and business, respectively.

In The Art of People, Kerpen expands the scope of his approach to success even further, laying out a step-by-step manual for likeability in all situations. As the title of his book eloquently conveys (perhaps the reason Kerpen released his grip on the “likeable” brand name), being likeable is about the “art” of people. Becoming likeable is not a mechanical exercise; it is not about learning how to manipulate people to achieve your ends. Likeability is driven by authentic and transparent emotions.

A Lesson in Authenticity

Kerpen tells the story of listening for 20 minutes (while waiting for his phone to charge) as a tipsy stranger at a New York City party described her life, her hopes and dreams, and her disappointments. Eventually, the phone was charged and Kerpen was ready to leave, at which point the stranger, whose name was Jackie, realized she had monopolized the conversation. “What about you?” she asked. “Are you traveling anywhere?” This question led Kerpen to describe an imminent trip to San Francisco and to ask, almost as a joke, whether she had any connections at a highly exclusive Napa Valley restaurant for which he had not been able to get reservations. Jackie, it turns out, did have personal connections at the restaurant and was able to get the sought-after reservations for Kerpen and his wife. The story is a lesson in authenticity. Kerpen did not “chat up” Jackie in order to use her influence with the restaurant. He certainly had no idea this New York City stranger would have connections to the world-famous Bay-area restaurant he was interested in. However, he had been genuinely interested in her stories and her frustrations. “I listened and connected and helped her feel less lonely, if only for a few moments, and that happened to lead to my getting exactly what I wanted most at the time,” he writes.

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Review: #AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuk

#AskGaryVeeGary Vaynerchuk is the prototypical social-media business success. The son of a wine shop owner, Vaynerchuk started a video blog called Wine Library TV — a quirky discussion about wine by a young man who loved the Jets and spoke about which wines fit best with Lucky Charms. Ten years later, Vaynerchuk is a highly successful social-media entrepreneur and, through his firm VaynerMedia, a sought-after consultant advising Fortune 500 companies. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. And since 2014, he is the host of #AskGaryVee, another YouTube show that, this time, is focused on helping his listeners succeed as entrepreneurs.

He brings that same mandate to his latest book, #AskGaryVee. Based on questions from his viewers, #AskGaryVee is a highly valuable primer on what works in social-media entrepreneurialism and in entrepreneurialism in general. For example, his advice to worry about the top line and not the bottom line when building a business (which aligns with his advice to solopreneurs that “cash is oxygen”) is compelling given Vaynerchuk’s meteoric rise to riches.

Of course, Vaynerchuk is first and foremost a social-media expert, and his concise overview of all the important social-media platforms that exist today is alone worth the price of the book. Another typically illuminating chapter is entitled “Content and Context,” in which he answers questions related to building compelling content and gaining exposure for that content.

For example, one viewer asked him how to get people to engage in a new and small channel. The answer: quality and hustle. “That’s all you can do: put out great content, engage with your tiny audience, and go out and try to get exposure for your content by collaborating or getting press or guest posting on someone else’s platform,” he writes. Many of the questions are quite specific. One viewer asks, for example, if he should avoid doing podcasts or videos because he has an accent. Vaynerchuk points to Google co-founder Sergey Brin and replies that accents should not stop the questioner (adding that if he doesn’t get an audience, it isn’t because of the accent). Another questioner asks whether short or long videos are better; Vaynerchuk answers that it doesn’t matter. He himself broke the commonly accepted “shorter-is-better” rule when he launched WLTV, which consisted of 40-minute videos.

Every chapter in #AskGaryVee is filled with this type of clear-cut, specific advice generated by the questions from his fans.

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Review: The Go-Giver Leader by Bob Burg and John David Mann

TheGo-GiverLeaderAt first glance, the setup for Bob Burg and John David Mann’s fable, The Go-Giver Leader, seems to be only tangentially about leadership. The main protagonist, Ben, is trying to close an M&A deal: He has been charged by his company to persuade the leaders of an acquisition target — a manufacturer of high-quality chairs — to let his firm buy the company.

While Ben is not in a leadership position, the authors convincingly demonstrate that Ben’s assignment requires him to do what leaders must do if they are to be successful: convince others to take action because they want to. By not having the power over those he’s trying to convince, Ben’s situation accurately reflects the current state of leadership today: Your title doesn’t buy you respect, and a command-and-control leadership style leads to the disengagement of those you lead — and eventual failure as a leader.

When he first arrives on the scene, Ben is convinced that his success depends on “take, take, take”: taking control, taking charge of the situation, taking command.

As the book advances, Ben meets the four company executives he must convince to sell. These four executives are each portrayed as successful leaders who inspire their employees and managers. Each of these four also represents four different facets of leadership.

Allen, one of two brothers who co-founded the company, represents vision. Through his conversation with Allen, Ben learns that the challenge is not to have a vision but to keep people focused on the vision — what Allen describes as “holding the vision.” This facet of leadership is summarized as leading from the mind.

Augustine, the other brother, represents empathy, or leading from the heart. One of the key lessons Ben learns is that pull is more effective than push. Counterintuitively, the more you yield, the more power you have.

Frank, the VP of production who has been with the company since its founding, represents grounding — that is, getting the job done. The best leaders, Ben learns, are people who can actually do the work. The key attribute here is to lead from the gut.

Finally, Karen, the VP of Finance and Personnel, represents the soul of the company. Karen is very supportive of employees undergoing life-changing, personal challenges. Through Karen, Ben learns the importance of leading with your soul.

With the help of a mysterious mentor — the friend of a friend whom he meets for daily lunches in a local restaurant, Ben is able to develop his four keys to legendary leadership:

1) Hold the Vision, 2) Build Your People, 3) Do the Work and 4) Stand for Something. Ben, however, learns the fifth and decisive key to leadership — Practice Giving Leadership — on his own (with a little help from his mentor) at the turning-point moment in the book. Giving leadership is based on the philosophy that great leadership is never about the leader. You are not the “deal,” which is, in fact, the reverse of “lead.” At the climax, Ben discovers that, indeed, “the best way to increase your influence is to give it away.” Burg and Mann, authors of the best-seller The Go-Giver Leader, have written a compelling fable that succeeds as both a thought-provoking learning tool and, rather surprisingly, as a work of fiction with an unexpected plot twist at the end

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Review: How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

When someone would tell comedian George Carlin to “have a nice day,” Carlin would react angrily: “What if I don’t want to have a nice day?” Unlike Carlin, most of us would prefer to have nice days, but in our overworked, over-stressed and overbooked lives, it is not always easy. A new book by former McKinsey consultant Caroline Webb promises to come to our rescue. Entitled How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life, it uses the advances in behavioral science, psychology and neuroscience to help us overcome or mitigate all of the stresses, setbacks and mishaps that create the many bad days or bad moments we endure.

The Essential Sciences

Webb begins her book with a quick look at three scientific advances that are key to understanding how we will be able to create a good day:
• The two-system brain. Our brains run two opposing systems in parallel, she explains. The deliberate system is our conscious thinking, slow and rational. The automatic system is subconscious, fast and instinctive. The deliberate system calculates a 15 percent tip; the automatic system makes us jump back before we are hit by a car.
• The mind-body loop. The mind and body are interconnected in ways we never realized. We knew happiness leads to a smile, but we did not know smiling (no matter how we feel) will make us happier.
• The discover-defend axis. We are constantly moving along an axis, anchored on one end by a defensive outlook, expecting attack at any moment, while anchored on the other end by a discovery mood, seeking out rewarding experiences.

 

Having laid the scientific groundwork,Webb then covers her seven building blocks of a good day:

Priorities: setting the intentional direction of the day.
Productivity: making the most of the hours of the day. Relationships: having positive, productive interactions.
Thinking: making wise choices, being creative and smart. Influence: maximizing the impact of what we say and do.
Resilience: overcoming setbacks and annoyances.
Energy: boosting enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Webb offers clear guidelines for each of the building blocks. Thus, for example, the section of the book on productivity includes chapters on single-tasking, planning deliberate down time, overcoming overload and beating procrastination. The chapters related to influence cover getting through their filters, making things happen and conveying confidence. Throughout the book, Webb carefully links the science introduced at the beginning to her directives. Down time increases productivity, for example, not only because a brain needs to rest but also because neuroscientists have discovered that the subconscious brain keeps working even when the conscious brain is at rest.

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Review: Dealstorming by Tim Sanders

CZ2YTDQVAAEn3p2Effective sales methodologies are usually based on a disciplined step by-step process that moves the relationship between buyer and seller from contact to close. The concept of brainstorming — the freewheeling, ad-hoc practice of putting a diverse group of people in a room and letting them throw out ideas without constraints or criticism — seems to be a poor fit for the discipline and focus of the sales deal. Former Yahoo! sales executive Tim Sanders disagrees. He acknowledges that advocates of brainstorming can overstate its effectiveness — recent studies have shown weaknesses in solutions emerging from brainstorming sessions. However, he argues, the brainstorming process also offers certain strengths — the power of collaboration among a wide group of stakeholders and contributors, the openness to innovative ideas — that can be missing in the traditional sales process.

Collaboration is vital: The enduring myth of the individual super-salesperson cutting amazing deals is highly unrealistic in an age of highly complex business-to-business sales. Even those organizations that boast about their sales teams are still probably dealing in sales silos that incorporate little input from other areas of the company. Thus, Sanders has been a long-time practitioner and proponent of what he calls “dealstorming” — a problem-solving methodology that combines the collaborative and inclusive features of brainstorming with the linear discipline of the sales account-management process.

In his fifth book, Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenge, Sanders provides a detailed description of the dealstorming sales process — specifically designed to help salespeople stuck in a deal with an intractable problem. From the sales perspective, the path to innovative solutions for the client is often blocked by other functions of the company that insist that the innovations can’t be developed or implemented, or will be unworkable or ineffective. Frustrated by the resistance, sales professionals refer to these other functions as “the land of no.”

 

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Review: Under New Management by David Burkus

Speed Review: Under New Management“Management,” declares business school professor and author David Burkus in the introduction to his new book, “needs new management.” According to Burkus, too many companies are clinging to old assumptions, old processes and old habits that have grown obsolete. In Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual, he introduces a number of modern, sometimes surprising, approaches to management that directly challenge past practices and attitudes.

Burkus describes, for example, how some companies let employees take as much time off as they want. There is no allocation and monitoring of vacation days: If you want to take a vacation, take a vacation. Burkus also describes the concept of paying employees to quit. The longer you’ve worked at a company, the more cash you will get paid for quitting (up to a certain threshold).

A sample of the other new management approaches covered in the book includes:
• Banning emails
• Eliminating managers
• Making salaries transparent
• Abandoning open-office layouts
• Putting customers second.

Although they may sound counter-intuitive, if not fanciful in some cases, all of the new approaches presented by Burkus have been successfully implemented. The concept of paying employees to quit, for example, was made famous by Zappos, which will pay $4,000 in cash if new employees quit their jobs. Amazon has pushed the concept even further, offering cash for quitting once a year (the offer is a one-off at Zappos). The first year, employees are offered $2,000 to quit, and the offer goes up $1,000 every year after that until it reaches $5,000. The annual offer then stays at the $5,000 level.

Eliminating managers is one of the more surprising concepts in the book, yet it has also been successfully implemented. Burkus describes how new employees at Valve Software, an online gaming development firm estimated to be valued at $3 to $4 billion, have to get used to the fact that no one will tell them what to do.

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Review: Presence by Amy Cuddy

 In 2012, Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy presented a TED talk on power poses and how the body impacts the mind. Viewed by tens of millions of people, Cuddy’s TED talk is the second most-viewed talk in TED’s history. Her book is Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. That Cuddy’s research resonates so broadly is not surprising, as it addresses head-on the anxiety and sense of powerlessness that most of us feel in the face of daunting challenges or high-pressure situations.

The desire for “do-overs,” for example, is an experience that most people have shared. They wish they could go back into the job interview room and convey, through much better words, why they are the best candidate; they wish they could have a second chance to pitch their venture to a panel of potential investors; they wish they could erase the reaction they had to a senior leader’s proposal and replace it with a reaction that would be impressive and memorable.

We’ve all been there. Even 18th-century French philosopher and writer Denis Diderot experienced that emotion, which is why he coined the phase “l’esprit d’escalier” — staircase wit or, in an updated version, elevator wit. It refers to those perfect words that come to us only after we’ve left the meeting and are on our way out of the building. What happens, explains Cuddy, is we recover the presence that we lost under the pressure of the situation.

Presence, writes Cuddy, “is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” Cuddy is not asking us to embark on a journey of self-discovery to the Peruvian mountains; she is simply helping us to succeed in that meeting, so that the wit occurs in the conference room and not on the staircase. The key to presence, writes Cuddy, is to feel personally powerful. Even social power — being in a position to control situations — will not overcome personal powerlessness. Personal power requires knowing our values and being true to our values. It requires an alignment of the various parts of ourselves: our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors. Cuddy calls this “synchrony.”

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