Book Review

#NOW: A book review

There is a small sliver of time in which everything happens. It’s that narrow bridge between the past and the future called “now”. Now is the only space of time any of us has. Not what was, not what will be, simply now. Every action happens in the now. We can have hope or anxiety about what will be, fondness or depression about what was, but we experience life right now.

What we did yesterday determined where we are today and what we do today creates the path to the tomorrow. Imagine a Venn diagram with two overlapping rings (or just look at the image of the book cover). The one on the left is the past, the right is the future, and the overlapping middle represents Now. Hold on to that image – it’s about to become important.

Behavioral strategist Max McKeown, Ph.D. has written several notable books on innovation, strategy, adaptability, and operating at our potential. It’s no secret I am a big fan of his writing style and ability to apply academic rigor to complex subjects while making them easy to understand and actionable.  Simply put, I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest book: #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

#NOW is a fairly quick read yet thorough and well documented. It pulled me in and carried me along, yet is substantial enough to warrant considerable time thinking about each page and sentence. When I first received the book, I initially meant to read the intro and flip through a few pages, but the next thing I knew, a couple of hours had passed and the pages were filled with sticky flags, highlighter marks, and handwritten notes.

“This book argues that for most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction… This is a book about the joy of moving. It is a book about motivation, because motivation means to be moved.” ~ from the introduction

#NOW explores the world from the perspectives of two types of people: Nowists and Thenists. The book is not a critique of the Thenist approach, nor is it a self-indulgent dissertation on the author’s approach to life and how everyone should be like him (gag). Instead, it’s an exploration of the two perspectives, the benefits of the Nowist approach, and how any of us can bring more of being a Nowist into our own lives. More than just a book of fluffy, happy platitudes, the concepts are demonstrated through real life examples, case studies, and research.

“The past is what you can’t change. The future is what you can change. #NOW is where everything changes.” ~ from the introduction

So what is a Nowist? They are change hungry doers who thrive on moving forward. They know what they are moving towards, embrace uncertainty, expect good things to happen, use internal measures of happiness, revel in potential, test themselves, and seek to master new skills. Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned. Nowists build off the past while moving to the future.

Nowists precrastinate (think about that for a bit) and love to keep things rolling forward. They are active within their own lives and “believe that done is better than perfect.” Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters summed this approach up well when he once said, “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be bad ass.” He was talking about making authentic music where the unique human imperfections are a strength, but the philosophy applies to living life.

There is an old motocross racing adage that sums up an important part of the Nowist approach: When in doubt, gas it! A healthy dose of throttle does not help in every situation, but it’s amazing how often it will be the saving grace that settles things down and propels you through when the track gets ugly or you lose control. Similarly, the Nowist approach values impulsiveness. Not the reckless, thoughtless, kneejerk impulsiveness of an immature teenager, but the functional impulsivity that comes from analyzing and deciding quickly and then moving forward with full commitment, correcting as you go.

Nowists strive to make decisions that are both accurate and fast. They realize that more time spent on a decision doesn’t necessarily improve accuracy, that moving forward with a good enough decision is better than getting trapped in inaction trying to make a perfect decision. So often, we treat speed and accuracy as mutually exclusive even though they clearly aren’t. It’s just as possible to make a quick, accurate decision as it is to spend a lot of time coming to the wrong decision. Why spend more time than necessary identifying and moving forward with the right solution? Further, action enables us to evaluate and refine our decisions as we go. Movement gives us information that can never be gained from inaction.

“Get moving. Accomplish something small. Do something you enjoy. Embrace what moves you. And start again.” – p. 48

Except… well, often easier said than done. Slow can feel prudent (even when it isn’t) and fast can feel reckless (even when it isn’t). Adding complexity can feel smart (even when it isn’t) and simplifying can feel lazy (even when it isn’t). Overanalyzing and overcomplicating seems like high effort and hard, valuable work (but only when we value the perception of struggle over actual results).

If you’re not a natural born Nowist, how do you make the switch? Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon. Habits and mindet hold us in place. How do you let go of the inertia of inaction?

Although the Nowist approach is contrasted with Thenist, it’s not either or. No matter where we are currently on the spectrum, we can all shift and adopt a more Nowist approach. We can start using the behaviors and mindset and create the joy of possibility and action and creating new in our lives.

Across and throughout 230 pages, #NOW provides the ideas, actions, and tools to make the shift. I fear my summary of the Nowist approach sounds a bit idealist and esoteric. The book is very focused on the practical application of the research behind the ideas.

For me, #NOW provided a fresh perspective on important ideas and served as a much needed reminder and inspiration to keep moving forward, to emphasize action as much as analysis, and seek joy in the process.

Everything you think you know about success is wrong (a book review)

Success is how you define it and mediocrity is one of my biggest fears. We all have different definitions of what success means to us in all aspects of our lives. I have some big ideas about the contribution I need to make before I leave this planet and the thought of not living up to those ideals terrifies me.

The challenge is that “pretty good” is a reasonably easy target while “extraordinary” requires a completely different level of choices and commitment. And those actions have to exist in a life where there’s a job, family, friends, pets, house chores, hobbies, etc., etc. No surprise that comfortable distractions are a lot more attractive than committed actions.

As one who enjoys anything that will help me be at my best, I have a love/hate approach to personal development books. Much of it is syrupy feel-good nonsense, but some is very legit and useful. The problem is, even the good stuff is usually just repackaged ideas that have been around for the last 50-100+ years.

Some very large names in the field have done quite well rehashing ideas from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. Tony Robbins summarized the wisdom of the ages best with his Ultimate Success Formula which goes something like: 1) Know what you want; 2) Know why you want it; 3) Take massive action; 4) Notice what’s working or not; and 5) Change your approach until you get your results. Simple, straightforward, and intuitive, but perhaps not sufficient. No one who’s made it to adulthood should be surprised by any of those steps, yet most of us are still stuck in ordinary.

The title for this review comes from the back cover of Dan Waldschmidt’s (@danwaldo) book EDGY Conversations: Get Beyond the Nonsense in Your Life and Do What Really Matters. He takes a different approach and asserts that goals, hard work, and tenacity are not enough because we are our own worst roadblock. Our beliefs and behaviors, excuses and justifications keep us in comfortable mediocrity. Truly rising above, standing out, and making a difference requires a completely different level of commitment, thought, belief, and action.

“Because success isn’t about knowing more, It’s about being more… The reality is that you already know what to do… The real question is, what will you do about it? Who will you choose to become.” – Dan Waldschmidt

Contrary to what the infomercial experts and hope pushers tell us, Dan wholeheartedly acknowledges that the whole being extraordinary thing is really freakin’ hard. Knowing what to do is easy; actually doing it is miserably difficult. The movies make it look simple, right? A three minute montage with some upbeat music in the background and suddenly the underdog is a martial arts winning, freestyle rapping, marathon running, dance champion with a Harvard degree and a thriving side business bootstrapped into a global powerhouse. But in real life it comes down to who we are choosing to be and the decisions we are making every day.

The author reminds us that outrageous success comes as much from what we say “no” to as it does what we say “yes” to. And in our instant gratification you-deserve-to-have-it-all marketing saturated world, saying “no” is weird. And painful. And miserable. And necessary.

This book is the author’s approach to breaking past ordinary. His formula is based on the acronym EDGY: Extreme behavior, Disciplined activity, Giving mindset, and Y(h)uman strategy. The last letter’s a stretch, but the writing is spot on. Actually, I could have shortened this review to: If you like his blog, buy the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with his blog, check it out here. Dan’s not into business or life as usual and has a contrarian approach written in direct one and two sentence paragraphs with brilliant turn of phrase and a deep belief that the reader has it in them to be amazing. If you don’t like his blog, you really won’t like his book. If you like the blog, you’ll find he brings powerful examples and a very human vulnerability beyond his normal writing to the book.

So here’s the ugly secret truth: life is so much easier when you have excuses or others to blame for not creating the results you want. Sure, you don’t accomplish what you want, but you get to be comfortable in your mediocrity. This book is aimed at stripping those illusions away and challenging you to set that comfort aside to pursue your intentions with the ferocious, relentless tenacity of a Spartan warrior. It’s not wondering what to do, it’s not creating a 10 point success checklist, it’s being the person you need to be.

All day, every day.

creating a more human business (book review of “the happy manifesto”)


I marked a few important pages…

Like it or not, the future of work is here

The future of work excites me, fascinates me, and frustrates me. Work as we know it isn’t really working anymore. Work is designed as though people are interchangeable machines instead of being designed to help people be at their absolute best. It’s designed around outdated ideas on when and where and how work MUST be done. It’s based on the (profoundly, incredibly stupid) idea that the boss is the supreme expert in all things work getting things done through apathetic, incompetent minions. We’re doing 21st century work based on ideas developed in the industrial revolution.

People aren’t cogs, people are the point. Business gets done for, through, and by people. I can’t say it enough. It’s common sense obvious. Employees are people, customers are people, vendors are people, managers are people, CEOs are people. Yet, the simple idea that designing business for people (humanizing business) leads to better results is somehow radical. Those too-crazy-for-business-school ideas exist and thrive in organizations that let them.

The thing is, we know better and it’s changing. The future of work is here, examples exist now. Companies like Zappos get attention and flak for challenging the status quo, doing things their own way, and building the company around customers and employees. So many pundits and analysts dismiss the challenges to business school models as trendy fads or unworkable if you aren’t Google, ignoring the under-the-radar examples that have been too busy succeeding for decades to be bothered to care what critics think.

One of those businesses is Happy Ltd., an IT training and e-learning company repeatedly recognized as one of the 20 best places to work in the UK, with accolades and awards from Management Today, Financial Times, and the Great Place to Work Institute. How? Henry Stewart (@happyhenry), the company’s founder, shares his not-so-secret secrets in: the happy manifesto: Make your organization a great workplace (available in free and discounted versions through Henry’s website or at


Answers right in front of me

In so many ways it’s the type of book I’ve been looking for and it has been sitting on my bookshelf for at least a year and a half. The publisher had originally asked if I’d like them to send me their catalog to see if there were any titles I’d like to read and review Of course, there’s only one answer to that question and I quickly read and enjoyed Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human but the happy manifesto sat unread. I enjoyed and got so much out of this book that it hurts I ignored it for so long. Sigh.

“That is what this book is about. Its aim is to help you, throughout your organization, to put in place the structure to make that freedom and trust possible.” ~ Henry Stewart

The book based on the author’s 20+ years of experience running his own company based on the principles described. He writes in a clear, straightforward way and provides real-life examples. The author shows what worked, what didn’t, asks some painfully thought provoking questions, and replaces conventional business methods with approaches so radically common sense they seem counterintuitive. I’ll highlight a few here.


Get out of the way

Many people have observed that the best thing leaders can do to enable people to work at their best is to set clear expectations and then get out of the way. Easier said than done for most leaders. How far out of the way? How about “pre-approving” ideas by giving the team full permission to implement their proposals without the leader reviewing it? How about the leader completely removing themselves from the approval process and ensuring they don’t see (and interfere) with new ideas until they are well established? How about removing blame and creating structures that encourage innovation? How about encouraging disobedience?

“Generally I try to avoid telling people what to do but, if I do, I know there is a fair chance the member of staff will do something completely different anyway, if it seems a better way to help the customer or achieve the result that is needed.” ~ Henry Stewart


Create ways for employees to say “yes”

People need to know what is expected and where the boundaries are yet rules often turn into all the reasons an employee can’t help a customer or get things done. Using systems based on principles versus unyielding rules and policies can give people the freedom to solve problems and move things forward. How often do we see rules are put into place to prevent problems caused by a small percentage of people instead of helping the vast majority be at their best? On the flip side, how often do we trust expect the people doing the work to find the best ways to get the job done?

“A rule has to be obeyed. In response to a rule you are expected to suspend your judgement. A system is the best way we have found so far to do something. If any member of staff can think of a better way in the situation they are in, they are encouraged and expected to adapt the system.” ~ Henry Stewart


Get rid of the things getting in the way of great work

Research shows (again and again) that organizations which are great workplaces are more financially successful. Interesting then that creating a great workplace isn’t a priority and expectation for maximizing shareholder value. I’m a firm believer that the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience (I wish I knew who first said that). It makes sense yet organizations rarely focus on the employee experience.

The author shares an interesting twist on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs he refers to as “a management hierarchy of needs”. Among all the needs Workplace Safety and Comfort is at the bottom with Freedom at the top. What stands out to me is how little effort we make in organizations to meet all the levels of this hierarchy. It’s as though we meet the most basic of needs and declare it a job well done (and wonder why engagement levels are so painfully low).  AND just as Self-Actualization is unsustainable and meaningless if our basic physical needs aren’t met, trying to create Freedom at work without meeting all the other needs first is unrealistic and primed to fail.

First, are your people’s basic needs being met? Have you asked them what gets in the way of doing their job well? Second, what are you doing to engage people’s higher motivations?” ~ Henry Stewart


Seeing clearly

Transparency is becoming a bit of a buzzword, but how many take it to heart? How many organizations make everything available to everyone? Company financials? What would happen if everyone suddenly had the information they need to make decisions, understood why and how financial decisions are made, and those decisions were transparently exposed to all?

What about [gasp, shudder] salaries? Are your salary decisions fair, unbiased, unprejudiced, and reflective of the value a person creates for the organization? If the answer is “no” you have bigger problems than people simply knowing each other’s salaries.


How important is hiring at your company?

Your company has probably stated that “people are our most important asset” or some such. Sounds good, but… How big of a stand is your company willing to take on that principle? The software company Valve famously made this statement in their employee handbook: Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe. Nothing else comes close. It’s more important than breathing. So when you’re working on hiring – participating in an interview loop or innovating in the general area of recruiting – everything else you could be doing is stupid and should be ignored!

How important are people to your company’s success? How important is hiring on future results? What’s the cost of a bad hire? How much effort is put into training hiring managers and selection teams? It seems like so many companies are happy to have warm bodies OR hold out for perfection based on a wish list of “requirements” that is largely irrelevant to a person’s ability to do the job (e.g., requiring a degree, any degree). From my observation, few give hiring the emphasis it deserves.

Are you able to prove they have the skills and ability to do the job or does your selection process only highlight their ability to interview well? There’s a big difference between being able to talk a good game about doing the job and actually delivering. Are you able to determine how well they will enhance and support those around them?

Do you have an easy way to reach out to the most interested people whenever you have an opening (hint: a post and pray approach doesn’t count)? Do you have a ready list of people interested in working for you as soon as a position comes open or do you make everyone apply even when there isn’t a job so “they’ll be in the system”? Are you surprised when they don’t?


“Profits are important and necessary but not sufficient.”

He’s preaching to the choir here (What’s the Purpose of a Business?) How differently would business be organized and conducted if it were based on the idea that profits are a means, not an end? How much better would organizations be at creating profits if they had all their employees fully behind the meaning and purpose of the work they were doing?

“I’m in business to make a profit. Of course I am. But I’m also in business to make a difference. Otherwise what is the point?” ~ Henry Stewart


Leaders should be good at leading (for a change)

Promoting the most technically skilled people into management roles and expecting them to be immediately and naturally good at leading would be a completely unbelievable and ludicrous idea, except it’s pretty much a given. Everywhere. It’s patently ridiculous yet is The Way Things Are Done.

Running counter to this, the author’s company divides management into two functions: 1) strategy and decision making which is handled by elected department heads; and 2) supporting, challenging, and coaching which is done by coordinators. These may be the same people or may be different and employees have a say in who their leader is. It sounds weird and it completely flies in the face of the more traditional “promote the most skilled and who cares if they can manage others” approach, yet it seems to work for them.


And that’s really it, isn’t it?

We can argue Happy Ltd.’s approaches, ridicule them for being unfamiliar or seeming unrealistically idealistic, yet… it works for them. That doesn’t mean it will work for everyone in every situation, but I get excited because it if works in one place, it just might work in others.

So the question isn’t, Does this approach work? The question is How can I put his approach to work in my team / department / organization?

The Innovation Book: a completely biased unreview

The Innovation Book by Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown) was announced this week. You might know that I’m a big fan of Max’s books and his ability to distill huge concepts down into useful ideas. For me, a review of any of his books could be done as: “Max wrote it? Buy it, read it, use it, love it.” But this book is a bit special to me.

I have a strong interest innovation, but in our over-hyped, over-jargoned, over-#hashtagged world, the word loses meaning. It’s open to mis-interpertation, mis-use, and just plain missing the mark. Too often, we confuse innovation with technology or a direct line to profitability. We think of it as easy and straight-forward and talk about it as though it comes without cost or pain or failure. None of which is true.

The opening line of the first chapter brings some much needed clarity: “Innovation – or practical creativity – is mainly about making new ideas useful.” Practical creativity. Businesses like the results that come from successful innovation, but how many can stomach the process of innovation? It amuses me to think of business leaders telling their teams and divisions, “We need to be more practically creative if we’re going to stay competitive.” It’s true, of course, but creativity is a non-linear process full of starts, stops, failures, break downs, blind alleys, and happy accidents. It requires experimentation, iteration, and comfort with not knowing where things are leading. It means activity, decisions, and actions that may not pay off any time soon – certainly not this quarter – and requires a mindset of investing in the future. It requires giving up the known for unknown and business dogma for business heresy. That leader might as well say, “We need to spend more time and resources experimenting with ideas that might not work if we’re going to stay competitive.”

But we do want innovation, so how do we put practical creativity to good use? The Innovation Book is both guide book and user manual. Across the book’s six parts, it looks at how to increase your own ability to be more innovative, create environments and cultures to lead others to innovation, refine creative ideas into practical usefulness, and avoid the pitfalls that can prevent new ideas from never quite catching on.

The book shows examples of innovation winners – generally uncelebrated people and businesses whose new ideas pushed the world forward in often unglamorous ways. From non-stick cookware to feminine hygiene to medical products to corporate turnarounds, Max shows that innovation is so much more than being the next hot Silicon Valley startup.

On the flipside, we learn from examples of innovation losers – people and businesses at the tops of their games who painfully missed, ignored, or outright rejected changes in their industries they should have been leading. Money, technology, and a name brand don’t always lead to useful ideas, smart decisions, or happy endings.

The final section of the book is a tool kit with a couple dozen innovation models presented to provide guidance, frameworks, and different ways of thinking about and approaching innovation. As much as we humans might crave the One Right Answer and want the Five Point Plan For Guaranteed Success, the models are a useful reminder that there is no single way to approach innovation and no certainty of success. There are many, many approaches to choose from as you explore the unmapped areas of new ideas.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide an unbiased review because, well, I am biased about this book. I gave input on two pre-publication drafts and developed and facilitated a six-session class based on the book while the text was still being revised and updated (I wrote about the experience: here and here). The best review I can give for the book is to share an endorsement I provided for it: Strips big ideas down to their essence, making the complicated understandable and turning the theoretical into real-world practical.

In other words: Max wrote it. Buy it, read it, use it, love it.

what thinks you? – book review

Do you feel like stretching the brain muscle a bit today? Ever wonder how to get around the conventional HR thinking? Or maybe you just want to spend a few minutes a day challenging your thinking?

I have the book for you: “What Thinks You?” by Broc Edwards of the Fool With A Plan blog.

So starts Melissa Fairman’s (@HRRemix) review of “what thinks you? a fool’s eye view of human resources” over at HR reMix. She has nice things to say about the book, but more important are the thoughts and questions it provoked for her. My favorite comment from her review is:  How does Broc read my mind and articulate my thoughts so well and then take it in a completely different direction?

Check out the rest of the review (and take some time to look around her blog – she does nice work).




flashback friday: a book review of “Social Gravity”

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’m hard at work on a special project and trying to get ready for speaking at two conferences in April. All good stuff, but it hasn’t left much time for this blog. I’ll be back soon. 

 Today’s flashback was originally posted on October 22, 2012. Joe and Jason are good souls and do great work. Check ’em out.

Networking for the sake of networking comes off as crassly self-serving. It tends to feel vapid and hollow and more than a little creepy. Building relationships because it’s fun, useful, and mutually beneficial is a whole ‘nother story.

Business equals people equals business. Can’t get around it. Business gets done through, for, and by people. Period. We can deny it and struggle and wonder OR we can recognize and embrace it. Want to be better at business; want to get more done? Get better with people. Build stronger relationships.

That’s where Social Gravity by Joe Gerstandt (@joegerstandt) and Jason Lauritsen (@jasonlauritsen) comes in. Ultimately, Social Gravity is less about networks and more about “authentic, mutually beneficial relationships.” As the authors say in the introduction: “What you know helps you play the game, and who you know helps you change the game.”

We all know that who you know matters, but most of us spend our time resenting it rather than doing something about it. Section 1” …It’s Not What You Know…” focuses on reminding us of the importance of relationships, the difference they make in getting things done, the need for high quality relationships, and the distinction between using social media as a tool to enhance relationships vs confusing likes and follows with actual relationships. Relationships have power and how we harness and use that power makes a tremendous difference.

Us humans generally get in our own way by either overcomplicating things or trying to get long-term success through shortcuts. Section 2 “Discover the Laws of Social Gravity” delves in to the areas that most networking advice seems to miss completely. The authors expand on taking the long-term approach to building relationships, being open to connecting with others, being our real and authentic selves, and contributing our time and effort in meaningful ways. These are all important, obvious, common sense ways to meet great people and build mutually beneficial relationships. They are also generally ignored and dismissed by those in the throes of networking frenzy who prefer the whitebread, fast food, business-card-trading shortcuts. It’s shifting from style to substance, from activity to results, from superficial to meaningful, from networking to relationship building. And that’s a powerful shift.

Throughout the book, Joe and Jason share real life examples of how relationships have affected their lives. Most striking are the small things that lead to huge differences. From Joe finding a key person within his company by connecting with someone from outside the company to Jason’s connections not helping him move to (my favorite) Jason’s hairstylist meeting and eventually marrying Joe after two unrelated groups of friends met up one Saturday night. Relationships, big and small, change lives.

As I look back on my life, many of my most important relationships seem to have started almost by chance. Many of the most important events were due to my relationships with others. Great opportunities came from key people vouching for me or putting me in touch those who could help. Sometimes it was intentional, but often it wasn’t. For me, Social Gravity is a reminder and blueprint for helping me be more deliberate and effective in connecting with others. To do what I already know how to do, but do it more consistently and intentionally and do it better.

Relationships matter.



book review: Be A Free Range Human

psst. Hey you. Want to know a secret?free range human

Don’t tell anyone, but the world has changed in the past few years. Massively. Technology has made us all interconnected, made location irrelevant, and costs almost nothing.

This thing called the Internet connects us all email, social media, Skype, and online commerce. Computers, tablets, and smart phones hook us to it 24/7. Work is more about processing information than making widgets so we can live anywhere and work everywhere. It’s amazing!

What’s that? You knew that already? Everyone knows that? Really, then why do we still organize our work and structure businesses as though carbon paper is the latest innovation? Why do we keep the way we do work stuck in the forgotten past? What if much of what we’ve been told about career and business success is now irrelevant (or even wrong)?

If we really got how much the world has changed, we’d realize the dream of just a few years ago is now a distinct possibility: Freedom! No office, no schedule. Working from bookstores, coffee shops, and tropical beaches. Your office – your entire business – packed into a laptop bag; all you need is an outlet and a Wifi connection. Live anywhere, work everywhere. That’s the dream, right?

Timothy Ferriss popularized the idea with his book The 4-Hour Workweek and Marianne Cantwell now gives us a practical how-to guide with Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills.

Let me say this up front: even if you’re not looking to drop out of the corporate world, there’s still quite a bit of great information here. Many of the skills that let you be an independent consultant, contractor, or solopreneur translate well to any career. Even if you are not wanting to leave your current role, Marianne underscores how much work has changed so quickly, and how career-savvy employees can take advantages of those changes.

When we consider how different the world is, we realize we can do business differently. Networking and relationships replace advertising, credibility replaces business cards and letterhead, and an internet connection replaces expensive office space. Location has become irrelevant for many jobs and businesses. Results count for more than prestige and purchased impressiveness. Why spend money on the trappings of a “business” when you can simply bypass all that and provide value?

The author shares what she has learned both in her own transition and in coaching and helping other make the leap to the free range life. Refreshingly, it’s not a call to quit today and figure it out tomorrow. Rather, she advocates a much lower risk approach of doing small experiments and starting off with as little expense and overhead as possible. She advocates playing and experimenting and testing, starting small and finding what will scale to a larger business and what you’ll actually enjoy doing. The book has plenty of examples and case studies, exercises to help you think it all through, and links to additional information.

The author clearly takes to heart the idea of standing out and being true to self as a competitive advantage. Not a new message, but well delivered. She reminds us that being all things to all people is a tried and tested formula for grey mediocrity. Standing apart creates people who don’t understand us and don’t like us AND creates excitement and loyalty for those who do appreciate it. It’s not being average at everything for everyone, it’s being great at a few things for a specific audience. The “beige army” (as she calls them) strongly wants you to join them in mediocrity. They hate to see anyone stand out, be different, or succeed uniquely (remember Puttnam’s Law?). They want you to fit in and be average and do things the way they think everybody does things.  They will bully and push and complain and criticize, but aligning yourself with them only ensures conformity, not success. She highlights how there’s little point in reducing your strengths to appease them – they weren’t going to buy from you anyway. Far better to cultivate a small group of diehard customers that love you than pandering to a large group of potential customers that don’t hate you.

Without giving it all away, here are some topics to look forward to:

  • A great section on networking that works. She never refers to her approach as networking because it’s not done as an add-on or a separate activity, rather it’s done authentically as a natural course of the day. How to grow your business without advertising.
  • Creating status and credibility without the overhead of unnecessary business trappings such as nice offices, business cards, brochures, etc.
  • The four (plus one) free range business types.
  • How to test your idea in a week to see if it will work.
  • Why you don’t need a business plan.
  • Why it’s a business-killing idea to try to make everyone your customer. The paradox is you will actually reach more customers by concentrating on fewer customers.
  • The do’s and don’t’s of getting press.
  • Communicating like a human, not a business drone.

A few quick gems from the author:

  • If you can’t see the woods for the trees, the answer isn’t to add more trees.
  • … don’t use the fact that you’re not world class in two hours as an excuse not to keep going.
  • For every person who laughs at you when you are at your brightest, someone else loves you for exactly the same reason.
  • The middle of the road is the most dangerous place to be (that’s where you get run over by fast-moving traffic).
  • Be the person who does it differently; be the example you’re looking for.

That should have you covered. Again, whether you’re looking to set up shop from the world’s beaches or just want to bolster your career, there is a lot of great information offered up. Practical, straightforward, easy to read. Good stuff and worth a read.

Live anywhere, work anywhere. What thinks you?





In the spirit of transparency: a while back, the publisher asked me if I’d like them to send me their catalog to see if there were any books I’d like to read and review. [YES! Now, please!] This was one of the books that caught my eye so they kindly shipped me a copy.



unshrink (book review)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? ~ Marianne Williamson


I cannot tell you that Unshrink is the most important book you’ll read this year. I can tell you that it’s one of the most important books I read this year. It expresses, challenges, and expands thoughts and ideas about unbinding and unleashing humans and business and allowing us to expand and grow beyond our current constraining beliefs.

We are limited. Reduced. Operating so far below our potential because of the myths that we have believed, accepted, and perpetuated. We don’t need to expand our potential, we need to shed the myths that keep us shrunken and small so we can expand into the enormous potential awaiting us. We have the tremendous opportunity (obligation?) to unshrink ourselves, others, business, and the world.

That’s the premise of Unshrink by Max McKeown and Philip Whiteley. First published in 2002, I just came across it this year and have read it twice so far. It’s no secret that I’m an enthusiastic fan of Max McKeown – his books are consistently thought provoking, accessible, practical, and enjoyable to read – and this book is no different. At only 116 pages (133 with notes), Unshrink is also a quick read – assuming you can get through it without filling the margins with notes, which I couldn’t.

Why, though? Why unshrink? At the individual level, it’s painful to see (or be) someone hobbling themselves with the shackles of misguided myths about who they are and who they should be. Us humans are so amazing yet consistently play so small. Our potential is there yet we ignore it, dispute it, deny it.

Now expand that out. Businesses, communities, and countries are made up of individuals. When individuals are constrained below their potential so are the groups they are a part of. Businesses are less competitive and less profitable. Communities are more dysfunctional, less likely to attract newcomers. Countries, fueled by the soundness of communities and commerce, are likewise as restrained, hobbled, and shrunk as the individuals.

We often confuse short term spikes in performance measures with actual sustainable results. We think in terms of all or nothing. If a little of something is good, then an extreme amount must be extremely good. Yet, life consistently shows that few things are all or nothing. There is always a tradeoff based on points of diminishing returns.

The authors focus on replacing seven common, deep-seated myths with guiding principles. The myths are so familiar and entrenched that they are generally unquestioned as common sense. Yet, they are not common sense and rarely stand up to the light of real-world outcomes. The myths may have had truth in them at one time or been useful in a limited capacity, but have become dangerous when pushed to the all or nothing extremes. Better than an unquestioned myth is an adaptable principle.

Without giving too much away, the myth of “you are what you do” becomes the principle “you are what you can become”. It sounds like such a small shift, but is key to unshrinking ourselves. The myth of “work always comes first” is replaced with the real-world observable principle “life always comes first”. Holding to the extremes of the myths shrinks us and keeps us shrunk. The principles enable us to unshrink and expand.

Common management theories are driven by the myth that “organizations are machines.” Under this myth, people become easily and equally replaceable cogs, gears, and parts. Leading with this belief means stripping out our humanness, our individual strengths and weaknesses, our passions, and all the things that make us unique in order to make us conform into parts that really are the same. This comes at tremendous cost at both the individual and organizational level.

Replacing that horrible myth with the more accurate principle that “the organization is a community”. Thinking about it as a community means understanding that our differences can be important and valuable, each person’s contributions are unique, and each member of the community is interdependent with – not separate from – every other member. False rigidity is replaced with organic fluidity. The illusion of control is replaced with the power of influence. Machines are built, but communities are fostered. Machines are static and soon outdated; communities dynamic and ever changing and evolving. Machines break down, yet communities adapt.

There is much more. The authors delve into four other myths and principles aimed at unshrinking ourselves, others, and our businesses. All are worth more time and attention that I can offer here.

This book is for those who see that we operate below our potential, who are discouraged by the artificial separation between people and business, who imagine and hope for better. The authors conclude: We have been brought up to believe that there is always a trade-off or a choice between doing that which is good and that which leads to success. Such an assumption is wrong, and this is a tremendously liberating realization.

Your thoughts?


the future-now of work: a review of “Culture Shock: A Handbook for 21st Century Business”

This book is Will McInnes’ (@willmcinnes) invitation to make a difference in your organization and change the world. He extends a hand and asks you to join him in considering what business could be, should be, and – in several cases – already is. This is the future-now of business and work.

I am fascinated with the humanness of business. I like business and I believe that business is people and people are business. Humans – and humans alone – create business results. It seems so obvious, but gets overlooked, ignored, and dismissed in the forever pursuit of the short-term shortcut. We remove humanness thinking it will create greater results. Instead it creates disconnects between people and their contributions; it chokes off engagement. What if work had purpose and meaning? What if it were different? That’s this book.


Imagine if your business was driven by a “purpose of significance”. What would work look like if your business wanted to do great things beyond cut its own throat to make a quick dollar for shareholders? It works for Patagonia, Noma, Grameen, and of course Apple and Google. Purpose sounds all gooey new agey soft but it is simply the “why” your business exists.

What if your organization was more democratic and got more input from more of the right people? What if we could (finally!) ditch or at least minimize the hierarchy and move decisions from a narrow few to a broader many? Interestingly, this is a no brainer method for running a country, yet freakishly terrifying to many as a way to run a business. So much of this “new” way of doing business that Will describes underscores the idea that we have to give up control to get influence because, ultimately, influence has far greater reach and power than control. If we move past the idea that we have to control and create every good idea, we are able to tap into a much broader and deeper pool of ideas, insight, and perspective.

Progressive Business

If it’s true that “the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience” (and I believe it is) then the most competitively rational actions a business could take would be to radically bolster the employee experience. Yet, what tends to happen? Businesses strive to gain an advantage by cutting, narrowing, dehumanizing. It’s as though they are saying, “We’ll gain new business and create customer loyalty by doing everything in our power to ensure that they are served by the most unsupported, undertrained, worried, demotivated, disconnected, disengaged, and uncaring workforce we can possibly create.” Lunacy.

What if – play along with me here – we did the opposite and created a workforce that was supported, well trained, secure, fired up, passionate, and cared about creating great results for their customers, co-workers, and company? Nah, that’s too crazy. Or is it?

Having Fun With Humanness

Zappos is a tremendously celebrated and studied company. They are at the heart of a huge number of articles and case studies of how they do business differently and get different (better!) results. Yet for all their fame, glory, notoriety, and profits, how many businesses have really tried to emulate them? It’s like we all cheer them and then say, “But, it’ll never work at my company.”

But what if it could? The point isn’t to be just like Zappos, Apple, etc., etc.; the point is to find ways to celebrate and inspire humanness, personality, meaning, fun, authenticity, and transparency. How much time and energy get wasted keeping up corporate appearances?

Will shares some stories and principles from Zappos, W. L. Gore, and his own company, NixonMcInnes. Some of my favorites are:

  • Zappos’ Culture Book, which is “a ‘collage of unedited submissions from employees’, that gives every employee the opportunity to say what they feel and think about the company.” That level of transparency takes massive courage, but what a great tool for building and celebrating people and culture.
  • Zappos’ Reply-All Hat. This is basically a dunce hat for those who accidently hit “reply all” when responding to an email. We’ve all done it. It’s embarrassing. Why not have some fun with it?
  • W. L. Gore’s small facilities. They discovered early on that when a facility gets above 200 – 250 people, the communication, relationships, innovation, engagement, etc. suffers. To counter this, they keep their plant size small and will build a new facility whenever their current facilities are getting too many people. What? Does this mean that relationships and people are important to business success? Is that business blasphemy or just a pretty basic understanding of the intersection of people and work?
  • NixonMcInnes’ Church of Fail. This is a ritual designed to acknowledge mistakes, bring them out in the open, and learn from them. It also helps people get comfortable with the idea of failure (a tip: there is no innovation without failure) and serves as a reminder that everyone in the company has setbacks. Rather than covering them up, drag them out and let everyone benefit from them.
  • NixonMcInnes’ Happy Buckets! I love this idea for its simplicity. They measure employee happiness every day using three buckets and tennis balls (even your budget can afford this). At the start of the day there is a full bucket of balls and empty Happy and Unhappy buckets. On the way out of the office at the end of the day, employees grab a ball and put in in the bucket that best sums up their day. The results are tracked and used as reference point for discussions. Again, a simple act that creates greater transparency and provides information for leading and managing.

So What’s it Going to Take?

Better leadership, yo. That’s what it’s going to take. Your people won’t be able to change business if you aren’t making it ok by setting the example and leading the charge.

How authentic and transparent are you willing to be as a leader? How open are you to the feedback that will help you develop yourself and others?

Are you willing to do a 360-degree survey to get feedback from those around you?(Will shows you how he does it for almost no cost. Use the money you save to buy some buckets and tennis balls).

Are you willing to share your setbacks and failures? Will you be first in line at the Church of Fail?

Are you willing to be emotionally congruent and share how you are feeling? (Gasp! A leader with emotions!)

Are you willing to use new/social technology to improve your results by gaining information and acting and deciding closer to real time, without the lags and delays that happen when leadership is isolated from the front line?

Organizational Openness

This is a big subject in the future-now of work and it is simply continuing the trend of authenticity and transparency; of giving up control to gain greater influence (and results). Some quick examples:

Culture: do people have access to almost all information (e.g., financial data), is there honest and direct communication and collaboration, are silos and info hoarding unheard of?

Work Environment: are workspaces set up to allow easy collaboration, are people allowed to choose the technology best for their job (or are they stuck with one option that works marginally well for everyone), is IT a gate keeper or a work enabler?

Innovation: do all great ideas come from just a few people or are ideas crowdsourced from employees, customers, and maybe even competitors?

Marketing & Communication: Can your organization come to grips with the idea that marketing is now two-way and they can no longer control – only influence – the message? Would your company be willing to post an unedited Twitter/Facebook feed of ALL comments made about the company on the front page of the website?

Change Velocity

How fast is change happening? [answer: very, very, exponentially very fast].

How fast can your company change? A better question: how fast can you change? Does it matter if there is an ever-widening gap between you, the company, and your customers/the world. [answer: uh, yeah, it does. A lot.]

At a time when continued success is dependent on your ability to effectively change, I’m reminded of the old quip: some people make things happen, some people watch things happen, and some people ask, “What happened?”

Will describes eight areas that affect your company’s change velocity and what you can do to pick up the pace in each area. This section will only be important to you if you ever do any planning, hiring/firing, rewards, need to deal with structures/processes/systems, or want to create attitudes that support change…

Anything Else?

Just sections on digital strategies and fair finances. I won’t go into detail here because I’m sure your org already practices open book accounting, fair (and open) rewards,  collective budgeting, employee ownership, etc. etc. Yawn, right? All old hat stuff that everyone does…

Oh wait, you mean salaries aren’t known in your company? Financials aren’t published (and your employees couldn’t read them even if they were)? Hmmm…


My conclusion: I loved it and you should read it. But then, I’m biased. I was already sold on some of the concepts Will presents. He does a great job fleshing them out and expanding them and introducing me to companies where the ideas are actually in use. It’s a well written book with plenty of case studies and examples from current organizations, including his own.

This book inspires me, makes me a little relieved to find others thinking this way, and also torques me off to no end that this is the future-now of business and the world hasn’t arrived yet. The promise is there; the reality is slower in coming. But that’s actually good news – the businesses that make the shift to being human, authentic, and transparent will (in my less than humble opinion) gain significant advantages. BUT, in some ways these advantages can’t/won’t be measured directly with our current measures (where does “humanness” show up on the balance sheet?) This isn’t bad, but it is important to be aware of: if we’re shifting how we think about work and business we also need to shift how we are measuring and evaluating it.

All of this involves a big leap of faith. Consider the knights in shining armor: they were very well protected from swords and arrows. The weight of the armor slowed them down, but they were heavily defended from enemies. Then gunpowder came along and suddenly all that armor was a hindrance. The competitive advantage that had existed on the battlefield for years and years and years was suddenly a sitting-duck-route-to-failure. The rules for success changed completely and it was actually safer to be significantly less protected but much, much more nimble by wearing no armor. It’s obvious in retrospect, but I suspect that was still a tough decision to take the leap, give up the known safety, and shed the protection, despite the “knowledge” that it might be better to not have it.

How many businesses are at that decision chasm today? Being big, armored, controlled, and locked down – protected by layers of armor – was crucial to success not that long ago. The world has now changed and that protection now looks dangerous, counterproductive, and useless against the future-now of business.