Book Review

quick book review: how to SELF-DESTRUCT

Written by Jason Seiden, this book wins the longest title award. The full title is: how to SELF-DESTRUCT: making the least of what’s left of your career (and what to do if you fail at failing)

The short version: I really enjoyed it. It’s funny, off-beat, and spot on career advice. A quick and useful read.

The longer version: There are a lot of career success books on the market, but this is the only one I’ve seen that makes its point by describing how to completely prevent success. I find this most powerful with the little things that we tend to think of as quirky or not that big of deal. By flipping them around, Jason makes it obvious how damaging they could be.

Three quick examples:

1. On appearance…

Nothing says “No more promotions for me, thank you!” like a pair of khakis and an oxford. The unpressed, only-work-once-since-you-washed-it-last Banana Republic uniform is still the most subtle,  yet effective way to keep yourself off everyone’s “next in line for the presidency” radars.

2. On long job titles…

There is an inverse relationship between the length of someone’s title and her status within the corporate hierarchy. If your job title can be abbreviated into three letters, you’re not failing hard enough. On the other hand, if your title must be abbreviated in order to fit on your business card – and especially if it requires additional explanation before it makes sense to anyone outside your immediate department – kudos to you, you are well on your way to being overlooked by just about everyone.

3. On stalling your forward progress…

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Well, this one’s easy: venture nothing!

Chapter titles include:

Falling Down of Your First Job

Making the Least of Junior Management

Frittering Away a Business Education

Alienating Your Friends & Family

Squandering Your Money.

Just in case you “fail at failing” (that is, you actually want to succeed), Jason also includes the straightforward take on each subject at the end of the chapters (on red pages so you can’t miss it).

How to SELF-DESTRUCT offers a unique perspective and a funny take on a serious subject. This isn’t a new book – it was published in 2008 – but just came across my radar and lept to the top of my “need to read” stack after I spent a few minutes flipping through it. It’s also a quick read, perfect for a two or so hour flight. Enjoyable and practical – a tough combination to beat.

really real: a short book review that isn’t

My daughter came home distraught one day when she was in the second grade. Over the previous weekend her class had an assignment to make a turkey out of construction paper and decorate it. She was upset because she felt hers looked terrible compared to all the other kids’ turkeys. She has always hated doing a poor job and it tore her up.

A few days later we got to see all the turkeys during a parent/teacher conference. My daughter’s looked like it was hastily made by a second grader at 7:15pm the night before it was due (and for good reason). The other turkeys looked like they had been painstakingly crafted by 35 year olds with serious scrapbooking technology and skills at their disposal. Not that I’m judging or bitter.

Actually, it provided the opportunity for some great life lessons about the value of doing your best and comparing your results to your own individual efforts, skills, and potential versus setting your self-worth based on the results of others.

Fast forward to November of 2011 and she was very excited about participating National Novel Writing Month. She was at the computer for a month straight, typing away at six in the morning before she had to get ready for school, in the evenings, on weekends, and begging to stay up late so she could keep working on it. I love to write and it would have been all too easy to take over so I stayed out of it almost entirely, answering questions when asked, but not much more. She did get some help from a 20-something family friend, mainly around formatting and getting it uploaded onto a self-publishing site. The story was all hers.*

I was proud of her perseverance, drive, and passion. It was pretty cool that she had written a 40+ page story. How many 5th graders could say that? How many adults could?  Good stuff.

Then we received several proof copies and that changed everything. It went from being a words on the computer to a glossy cover, paper and ink, honest-to-goodness ISBN coded book. It was real. Authentically real. Really real. She had written a BOOK! Something I had always wanted to do, but never done. She did it at 10 years old.

And then it went live on amazon.com. Not just a really real book, but a really real book that others can purchase – just as authentic as all the other books. Don’t know why that makes it more real, but it does. I’ve shifted from pride to outright awe. A very, very cool achievement.

Lots of leadership and HR related lessons in all this:

  • She’s a great writer. Far better than anyone her age has a right to be. Why? She loves to read and she loves to write. Her skill is not by accident. She’s exposed herself to good writing and she’s practised it. A lot.
  • Commitment matters. Results happen when you are dedicated to achieving getting it done come Hell or high water.
  • Likewise, self-motivation trumps all. I could not have forced, cajoled, commanded, or bribed the amount of dedication forged by her internal fires.
  • She’s more enthusiastic about writing than, say, spelling. As much as she strives to do great work, she never lets perfectionism get in her way. Consequently, she gets stuff done.
  • She cares more about her results than anyone’s opinion. She’s a fearless writer (and public speaker) so she makes it happen.
  • It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know what you’re not supposed to be able to do. No one ever told her that kids don’t write and publish books. Please don’t tell her now – she’s too busy preparing to write the next one.
  • Physically holding the results – or a symbol of the results – is very, very powerful. It transforms ideas to reality. It makes the ephemeral SOLID.
  • Confidence and self-esteem comes from effort not cheerleading. Trophies don’t matter. The bloodied-but-unbowed effort behind them does.

Your thoughts?

*In case you’re wondering… It’s called “Bo”. Here’s the description from the back cover: Horses are going missing left and right. Nobody’s doing anything. The sheriff is “dealing with other matters.” One morning, ten year old Lucy sees smoke coming out of the canyon. That night, she and her German Sheppard decide to check it out but as they leave the house they find two men stealing THEIR HORSES. What follows is the start of a great adventure.

relationships matter. a short book review of “Social Gravity”

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 and Jason Lauritsen 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 own 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.

Stability is a dangerous illusion: a brief review of “Adaptability” by Max McKeown

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. ~ W. Edwards Deming

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

Change.

Everyone talks about it, many fear it, but what do you do with it? The newness and novelty of change can be exciting or the uncertainty can be crippling. The faster and bigger the change, the more crucial our ability to adapt. Those individuals, companies, and even nations, who have long-term success are those who can successfully adapt from where the world was to where it’s going. Yesterday’s success strategy is tomorrow’s failure if the world moves on without us.

Adaptation is vital, but how do we adapt? How do we make the leap from doing what we know has worked in the past to what we think might work in the future? Big questions. Max McKeown (@maxmckeown) offers insights, rules, and steps for successful adaptation in his book Adaptability: The art of winning in an age of uncertainty.

He states, “Adaptability is the most important of human characteristics…. All failure is a failure to adapt. All success is successful adaptation.” (emphasis added). Think about that for a while: all failure, from the fall of nations to your cousin’s ugly divorce to giving up on your goal fit back in your old size is failure to adapt. Failure to change and adjust and evolve our strategies and actions.

Yet, just adapting is not enough. It is completely possible to adapt and still fail. The right solution at the wrong time for the wrong situation isn’t of much use, never mind the wrong solution. Likewise, just succeeding may not be enough either. Max identifies four possible outcomes of any situation, based on how well we adapt to that specific situation: collapsing (this is bad), surviving /coping (better, but not necessarily pleasant), thriving (what we often aim for), and transcending (game changing good).

Max’s focus, as stated in the introduction, is on winning. “Not just winning by playing the same rules, but playing better. And not just winning where there has to be a loser. My interest is in understanding more about how social groups can move beyond the existing rules to find games that allow more people to win more often.” I love this concept: why survive when you can thrive and why thrive when you can transcend?

So often our focus is just on getting by, getting through, putting the change behind us and returning to the way things were. Imagine what we could do if we elevated our game and consciously approached adaptation as an opportunity to radically expand the playing field; to get beyond the silly zero-sum games where someone has to lose in order for us to win; to create the rising tide that raises all ships?

To help us shift our approach to thriving and transcending, Max identifies 17 rules for successful adaption grouped into three steps. Everything is discussed with examples from an incredible variety of topics, some ancient, some still developing even as the book was published. He looks at adaptability through the lens of  Formula One racing, ants, the publishing industry, orange juice, Mini Coopers, NFL, Easter Island, Netflix, Starbucks, an Italian village, a women’s movement in Liberia, video games, Spiderman the Musical, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, baseball, the Occupy movement, Lego, Tata Motors, and more. Through it all, the ideas, rules, and strategies presented are relevant to everyone seeking to adapt better and play bigger.

I am a big fan of Max’s writing style. He consistently makes the complicated simple, the difficult understandable, the philosophical real-world relevant, and the seemingly ordinary brilliant. He has an easy to read approach, but it took me a while to get through the book because I found myself spending time highlighting, underlining, making notes in the margins, and staring off into space contemplating the ideas presented. Good, good stuff.

Adaptation is never easy. It requires letting go of the known, changing our perception, and jumping into uncertainty. Max shows us some ways to make the leap in the right direction.

Note: In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, you should know I received a free review copy from the publisher. You might have too if you’d been paying attention when they offered them on Twitter.    🙂

short book review: Dangerous Ideas by Alf Rehn

Innovation and creativity are all the buzz. You can’t escape the flash flood of blogs and articles telling you how to be more creative. I had gotten pretty jaded and had started thinking that maybe we should worry less about being Innovative (with a capital “I”) and worry more about just making better stuff and providing better service.

I want to believe that the true masters of creativity and  innovation do NOT start the day with a big whoop and a cheer of “Let’s innovate today!” Rather, they just relentlessly ask how they can improve things and look beyond the walls of their own fields and ideas. They ignore how it’s “supposed” to be done and instead do it right.

That’s where this book comes in. The subtitle is “When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset” and Alf delights in being provocative and contrarian. He works hard to keep us thinking creatively about creative thinking.

I found it a straightforward and good read. It flows well and moves right along, which is a bit of a rarity amongst business books with substance. And it does have substance. Some of the high points:

  • He shows how people typically approach creativity from very uncreative ways. And why that shouldn’t surprise us.
  • Alf takes on the Belief around the cult of innovation that prevents us from innovating and he shows how our brains are hardwired to avoid innovative thinking. He goes on to point out that our discomfort with being different causes us to back off and prevents truly creative thoughts.
  • Creativity is hard freakin’ work. It’s unpleasant. It’s difficult. It involves wrestling with the unknown and untried. No wonder people resist.
  • When innovation is more hindrance than blessing (blasphemy?).
  • How and why copying other ideas plays a big role in actual innovation. What, you say, copying is not creative! Well, you may be wrong (hint: Steve Jobs did not actually invent the MP3 player).
  • Why we only think we want a bunch of creative people in the company.
  • The fun of conflict and value of opposition when trying to think creatively.
  • Diversity and creativity and why efforts at diversity generally come up lacking real diversity.
  • “The World’s Shortest Course of Creativity”. Yes, he does actually provide ideas and exercises to help you be more creative. It shouldn’t surprise you that they are probably not quite what you’re expecting.
  • The importance of shutting off creativity and actually producing something. Analytical types suffer “paralysis of analysis” and creatives can get caught in a similar whirlpool of thinking, thinking, and thinking some more without actually doing. That doesn’t help.

All in all, a very good take on creativity and innovation and one that I have enthusiastically already recommended to others. A little hard to track down in the States (the internet is your friend), but well worth the effort.

quick review: The Strategy Book

“The Strategy Book” by Max McKeown – brilliant and practical. I posted a slightly different version of this over on amazon a few weeks back, but it’s worth repeating.

I had been following the author for a while on Twitter (@maxmckeown) and I ended up getting a copy of the book through a promotion. Once it arrived, I moved it ahead of the long list of books in waiting. Less than 30 pages in I was recommending it to others and I ordered several of the author’s books for our corporate library.

The Strategy Book

This is one of those books where, if I’d highlighted all the ideas that grabbed me, I’d have ended up with practically all of the book in yellow. The author is concise and down to earth, yet has a very engaging and conversational style. He does a great job of condensing big ideas into simple sentences.

Barely finished, I immediately moved his book “The Truth About Innovation” to the top of my reading stack. And then “Unshrink” (and my department is now reading it as part of our ongoing development). Next up, “Adaptability”.

Definitely my new favorite author. Track it down, read it, enjoy. Really, really great stuff.

More info: http://www.maxmckeown.com/thestrategybook