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This book review was originally going to be lighter than ones in the past.  Rather than go in depth I planned to highlight sections of a chapter that really stood out to me.  After going through my notes, I realized I had a lot to say about the some of the chapters.

I was influenced to buy this book when I noticed it on the desk of a new employee at a former company.  I was already in the process of leaving when she was coming in, and had high hopes for her.  I liked her way of thinking and was upset I would not be able to learn a lot from her with me joining a new company.  When I saw this book on her desk, I figured it was a good idea to get myself a copy.

Introduction: The First 90 Days: The Break-even point

This section of the introduction stood out to me the most because I thought it was a fresh approach to starting a new job.  In essence, a new employee’s goal is to get to a break-even point as early as possible.  To get to this point, they should contribute as much value to the new organization as they have consumed from it.  In theory, the book suggests this be done within the first 90 days of a new job.

There is one story and then my  personal take that I will make as to why this stood out to me.  The story:  I interviewed at one company for a position that was being created to fit a new role.  I did not get the job, but one question the CEO asked me was, “How long would it take for you to get in the swing of things?”  Because it was a new industry and the job was being created from scratch, I answered, “Six months.”  I wonder if I had said “90 Days” instead if it would have resonated better with him.  I’ll never know, and I moved on.  My take:  Sometimes you have to do hard things up front to get a reward later.  Save your money now, and you can retire early.  Spend a few extra hours learning a new skill, and you are more valuable.  Those types of things I think relate to consuming value early in the new job, and start adding value back once you’re capable of doing so.

Chapter 1: Assessing My Intrinsic Interests

There were two main pieces I enjoyed in Chapter 1.  The first had more to do with elements that I believe is one of my strengths.  It has to do with learning the new culture and making sure you observe how things are run at the new company.  To develop the right connections you need to expand your communications to those outside your vertical relationships.  I fully understand this concept, and have done a great job of it in the past and would continue to do so wherever I am.

The other part of this chapter that really stuck out to me was the self assessment of intrinsic interests.  There is a table in the chapter where cell there is a ‘problem’ and you have to rate from 1 to 10 how much that problem interests you.  On the adjacent page is a similar table that you transfer your numbers.  Where the first table appeared random with problems, the second table categorizes the columns into “Technical”, “Political”, and “Cultural”.  The rows are categorized as “Human Resources”, “Finance”, “Marketing”, “Operations”, and “Research and Development”.  After totaling all my results, I found that there was a significant difference in the “Technical” column as well as the “Financial” row.  All other columns and rows were within a few points of each other.  This combination however, was further off.  What it says to me, is that this may be an area of weakness for me that I should pay extra attention to in my new role.  The book refers to these areas as “blind spots”.

Chapter 2: Accelerate Your Learning

The key lesson I learned from this chapter is that you can’t always take ‘what worked in the past’ and apply it to your current situation.   The culture could be different, and people may not be receptive to your ideas.  You need to adapt your ideas to fit into the the culture of your new environment.  The chapter then goes on to create a “Learning Agenda” by figuring out answers to questions about past performance, determining root causes, and history of changes.  It lists questions about company’s present vision and strategy, people, processes, land mines and early wins.  Finally it wraps up the learning plan with questions about the future revolving around challenges and opportunities, barriers and resources, and culture.

It goes on to list external sources of insight that you can identify.  Depending on your industry this could be customers, suppliers, analysts, etc.  Internal sources from various departments could also be used (sales, R&D, other staff).

If you’re in a management position, it suggests meeting with your direct reports one-on-one and asking each person the same 5 questions.  This should be done in this structured manner so you can compare your results.

Chapter 3: Match Strategy to Situation

This chapter evaluates companies using a method called STARS.  A company typically falls into one of 5 situations in the model.  Without getting into as much detail as is listed in the book, a brief description:

Start-Up – Getting a business off the ground.  No strategy or clear framework established.  Gives you the opportunity to create things from scratch.
Turnaround – Business is in trouble.  Employees are demoralized.  Gives you the opportunity to improve because the need to fix is known.
Accelerated growth – Business is growing.  Structures need to be established and new employees brought on-board.  People are motivated.
Realignment – Don’t settle.  Employees need to stay motivated.  The organization can see it’s strengths.
Sustained success – Taking it to the next level.  Finding ways to do this.  The good news is a strong team is already in place.

If I had to grade the company I was previous at and compare it to the one I’m currently in, I would say the company I left was somewhere around Turnaround and Realignment.  (The book mentions that certain pieces of a company can be at different stages in the model.)  In Table 3-3 it does a good job explaining the key differences between turnaround and realignment and what actions should be taken depending on where the company fits.   The previous company has made a lot of changes without a clear vision to see what would stick.  Eventually they may figure it out but it will take time.  The company I am current in is likely in Realignment or Sustained Success.  They are aware of their problems, and what they need to improve processes.  Now they are in the execution mode to achieve their goals.

 Chapter 4:  Negotiate Success

The focusing on fundamentals section of this chapter was my key takeaway.  Areas they touch upon: Be careful of a boss who is hands off.  If the boss doesn’t reach out to you, you have to try harder and reach out to them.  Your boss needs to be aware of what you’re working on.  Don’t surprise them.  When you do approach your boss with  a problem, show that you’ve looked into it and help him address the problem.  Don’t tell them everything you’re working on, just the things they need or want to hear.  Lastly, don’t expect your boss to change.  Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss.  Get on the good side of those that are close to your boss.

There’s a section that outlines 5 conversations you should have with your boss surrounding situations, expectations, resources, style, and personal development.  Two in particular I liked:  In the expectations conversation the author recommends steering towards under-promising and over-delivering.  I always try to guide people in this direction, especially when giving high-level estimates.  My main reason is people tend to be too optimistic and over-promise and under-deliver.  At worst, my suggestion ends up being realistic.  At best, you exceed the deadline and look all the better.  The other piece I enjoyed was the section on knowing your boss’ style.  The example they gave was if you leave messages for your boss and they don’t respond but then later come and ask you about the subject, you realized your boss doesn’t use that mode of communication effectively.  You will need to find out how your boss prefers to communicate.

Chapter 5:  Secure Early Wins

The story that opened up the chapter was interesting.  A woman is promoted to head customer service at a leading retailer, and worked with her former peers (now direct reports) to gain consensus and build quality improvement goals in a participative culture.  She made other changes, but ultimately she worked with her team in creating goals and achieving results.

The chapter focuses on getting wins that are important to your boss.  This appears to be a recurring theme.  Obviously for a good reason – if you’re boss is happy you will likely be in a good place.  One section I found interesting was on building credibility.  The author mentions in your first few weeks you won’t be able make a measurable impact.  However you need to achieve small wins early because people are already forming opinions about you based on the little they know.  Your early moves will shape their perceptions.

Chapter 6: Achieve Alignment

The first part of this chapter that stuck out to me was  when they spoke about a common trap where companies try to restructure their way out of deeper problems.  Companies tend to change their org chart rather than deal with their real issues such as processes, skill bases, and culture.  Ignoring this could cause misalignment and lead to backtracking and damaged credibility.

The other piece I liked was the starting point (ironically) of the Getting Started section.  They emphasized looking at how your unit is positioned with respect to the larger organization’s goals and priorities.  Make sure your mission, vision, and strategy are thought out and integrated.

The reason these two topics stuck out to me is because of the company I came from, and the company I joined.  I think the company I left has process issues they should focus on to gain momentum.  The company I joined has department goals and objectives that relate and roll up to the organization’s goals, mission and vision.

 Chapter 7: Build Your Team

The “Avoid Common Traps” section at initial reading seems like obvious stuff, but when you evaluate it deeper you realize that many companies still face these issues.  I’ve heard stories of new managers criticize  previous leadership.  They think they’re playing hero when in reality they’re building a brick wall against their new team. Instead, the author recommends assessing current behavior and making changes to support improved performance.  Another piece of this section I related with was in regards to keeping teams too long.  Inheriting teams can present a difficult situations especially based on the scenario in which the team was inherited.  You may also be constrained in your ability to make changes.  The hard advice to take is you need to set deadlines for reaching conclusions about the team and what actions should be taken, and you need to stick to the plan you created.  The last piece of this section I enjoyed was in regards losing good people.  A quote from the book, “When you shake the tree, good people can fall out, too.”  It’s tough losing good people and takes an extreme amount of effort to get back to the level you were at when you had them.  Time is lost in the search for a new person, they need to be on-boarded, etc.  While the author mentions this can’t always be avoided, the recommendation is to let the top performers know early and often that you recognize their capabilities.

The other section of the chapter I enjoyed was “Test Their Judgment”.  One statement I found interesting was “Some very bright people have lousy business judgment, and some people of average competence have extraordinary judgment.” Some smart people lack certain abilities you would think come naturally from them, and other people you might not expect to will surprise you with ideas.  The bottom line is you want to analyze the decisions people make.  It may be difficult to do in a work situation if you are new, so the author recommends feeling the person out for topics they are passionate about.  Once you find out what that is, ask them to make predictions on a given scenario.  See what choice they make and have them analyze why they made that choice.  Later, follow up to see what happens.  This allows you to test a person’s ability to exercise judgment in a particular area.  The skills they used can then be applied to the business domain.

Based on the length of this chapter’s review, you might be able to tell I enjoyed this chapter slightly more than the others thus far.

Chapter 8: Create Alliances

The further I got into this chapter, the more I enjoyed it.  It was also one of the main chapters where I felt I could stop thinking about the past and start thinking about the present.  One piece I really liked was in the section on mapping influence networks.  The author describes an influence network as channel for communication and persuasion that operates in parallel with the formal structure.  I when the author talked about having your boss connect you to key stakeholders.  He suggests you ask them for a list of key stakeholders he thinks you should get to know and set up meetings with them.  (The author also mentions ‘paying this forward’ and doing this for new employees that come after you, which I agree with.)  One thing I would add to this strategy, is feel free to expand that initial request to those around you.  In my present situation I’ve reached out to my peers, my boss, and levels above my boss when appropriate, as well as other people in the organization from other departments.  Use resources you have to find what other resources might be good for you to meet.

One piece I didn’t relate to right away but understood more as I read it was the section on drawing influence diagrams.  For me personally, I don’t think I’d physically draw them out as described in the book, I think I read people well enough to be able to make this connection in my head.  In summary you draw co-workers in a diagram and connect people via arrows.  The bolder the arrow, the more influence the person at the base of the arrow has over the person the arrow is pointed to.  Some people in your diagram will support your initiative, some will oppose it, and some will be neutral.  They will be labelled appropriately.

I particularly liked the section building ‘alliances of convenience’.  These are people you may not always see eye to eye with on a day to day basis but do come to agreement on specific areas.  You want to work with these people and educate them to your viewpoint.

There are various reasons people may disagree or oppose your goal.  They may believe you’re wrong, fear you, or just be comfortable with the status quo and be resistant to change.  Don’t treat these people as enemies.  Rather try and find out what it is that motivates them to oppose your point of view, and work on countering that argument.  The author mentions that success in winning over adversaries carries significant symbolic weight that will resonate with others.

Later in the chapter the author describes different strategies you can use to influence people.  Methods include: consultation, framing, choice-shaping, social influence, incrementalism, sequencing, and action forcing events.  During consultation you are engaged and actively listening.  You ask questions and encourage people to voice their concerns.  Finally you summarize and feedback what you have heard.  I took the benefit of this approach as mutual understanding and showing the person you treat them with respect.  I think it works well when you have someone who shares that same level of respect with you.  The framing technique mentions carefully crafting your persuasive arguments on a person-by-person basis.  Your argument needs to take an appropriate tone to resonate well with the other person.  The author goes into detail about Aristotle’s theoretical categories of logos (make logical arguments), ethos (elevate principles that should be applied and values that should be upheld – fairness and building a culture of teamwork are used as an example), and pathos (making emotional connections).  One very important piece that I completely agree with on this strategy is where the author mentions preparing for counterarguments you expect your opponents to make.  The author says, “Presenting and decisively refuting weak forms of expected counterarguments immunizes audiences against the same arguments when they’re advanced in more potent forms.”  I frequently use this technique when I know I will have to deal with difficult people.  In advance of an upcoming conversation, I think of typical counterarguments that they might have.  By being prepared, I find I have more success in the conversation and am able to work with the other person rather than have them become irrational.  Choice-shaping describes how you can influence how people perceive alternatives.  To me this all has to do with how you present options.  Social influence is about the impact of opinions of others and rules of societies in which they live.  This ties in with earlier pieces about influence groups.  Essentially if you get buy-in from a well respected person others are likely to follow.  Incrementalism is about taking baby steps to reach your goal rather than making once big change.  Sequencing is being strategic about the order in which you seek to influence people to build momentum.  This was another one I connected with.  If you meet with the right people in the right order, you can gradually build momentum and gain support.  For people into investing, I looked at this as interest compounding over time.  Your area of influence grows and grows.  In the book, the author mentions scheduling a series of one-on-one and group meetings to create this momentum.  These are techniques I use frequently when working on detailed projects.  Lastly action-forcing events deals with getting people to stop deferring decisions.  I think this technique should be used regularly in meetings with people.  In a typical meeting I have a section for action items that I assign to people with due dates for completing the action.

There was a lot in this chapter, I especially enjoyed the last section on influencing strategies.  To summarize, the strategies I really lean towards are:  consultation, framing, and sequencing.  At a smaller level I also like social influence.  While I think action-forcing events is important and required, I don’t see it as an influence strategy but more of a requirement for making change.  Based on the length of this chapter review you might be able to tell it was also one of the ones I enjoyed.

Chapter 9: Manage Yourself

This chapter focuses on evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.  There is a section on taking stock in yourself based on where you are in your transition.  On a scale of low to high it asks you to answer some questions.  I’ll highlight some below and provide my responses:

  • How excited are you?  Response:  High.  I’m motivated to perform well in my job.  I want to start strong out of the gate and set a good example upon initial impressions of me.
  • How confident are you?  Response:  Medium.  My confidence in my job is growing, but because it is a new segment in the healthcare industry, I feel I have a lot to learn before I can truly feel comfortable in what I do.
  • In control of your success?  Response:  Medium.  Again, I think I have to work with others to understand and achieve deliverables on my end.
  • With whom have you failed to connect?  Response:  Everyone I have worked with has been very friendly in reaching common goals.  Where there is conflict, people respect each other.  This is a positive change compared to what I have seen in the past.  However, I would like to build connections and get to know people at a more personal level.
  • Which interactions exceeded your expectations?  Response:  There have been some people I have worked with that have taken the extra step to make sure I understand something.  Experienced people at a company usually forget this when they are working with someone new and use acronyms and program names that are foreign to the new person.  It’s helpful when people go the extra mile and is something I would pay forward when training the next new person.

One comment in this section I connected with was when the author mentions that the difficulties we face may be the result of deeper personal vulnerabilities that could take us off track.  The book has some examples that follow (Know when to say no, defending a bad decision, being busy but avoiding the important work) and the one that I think I need to focus on is isolation.  I’d like to work on making and maintaining the right connections.  The book uses other examples that I don’t concern myself with, such has discouraging people from sharing information with myself, as I don’t think I’d let that occur.  In my case I think I would work on being more assertive, focus on communication efforts, and display confidence.

The next section covers the 3 pillars of self management.  Pillar 1 is adopting the 90-day plan.  Pillar 2 is developing personal disciplines.  “Knowing what you should be doing is not the same as doing it.”  Sometimes we know we have a difficult task in front of us and put off doing it.  Getting started is the hardest part.  Once you’re in it, it doesn’t seem so bad.  Devote time to planning.  Develop a plan-work-evaluate cycle.  Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day to evaluate what you did and plan what you want to do the following day.  Focus on what’s important.  Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.  Don’t commit to things right away.  Take the time to make sure doing something a good idea.  Pillar 3 details building support systems internally and externally.  Make sure you have a good work-life balance.  Build an advice-and-counsel network of internal and external people.

Lastly and most importantly, stay on track.

Chapter 10: Accelerate Everyone

The first part of this chapter discusses different types of transitions and the support that may be needed.  Table 10-1 discusses some of the reasons for transition failures.  Some I thought to be interesting are:

  • Insufficient clarity about expectations and mandates – I’ve seen or heard about people getting ‘thrown in the trenches’ without much to go on.  They are then held accountable for results without really knowing what the organization’s goals are.
  • Having a Darwinian leadership culture – Similar to the bullet above, leaders don’t get enough support when cultures tend to have a sink-or-swim approach to development.  More organizations should do a better job of building leaders in house.
  • Leaders are expected to do their old job and their new job:  I’ve seen this as well.  Companies need to set a date of transition and honor it for the sake of the employee.  While the person in the new role can assist with tasks in their old role, they should not be held accountable for it.
  • Culture Adaptation – People are expected to figure out the culture on their own and can make early mistakes.  A company can do a great job describing what their culture is, but it can also be helpful to describe how they live it.

I also enjoyed the section titled “Deliver Support Just in Time”.  It describes how transitions evolve through a series of predictable stages.  People usually do investigative work to learn and gain clarity.  Then they define a strategic direction for the organization and then make key decisions around talent and processes.  The author mentions how leaders should be offered transition support in digestible blocks.  In their new role they only have so much time to devote to learning and planning.  Companies I have worked for accomplish this through online training courses and documentation organized in a way to bring new people on board and slowly immerse them into the topics that are new to them.  Another option the author recommends is to leverage the time before the new leader starts the official position.  Provide people with key documents and tools that might assist them before they start.  I really like this idea and would use it in the right situation.  As a new leader coming on board, it may be helpful to email your new supervisor and ask for this type of information up front.

In matching transition support to transition type, they focus on two types of transitions specifically.  In a promotion, leaders face a new set of challenges.  What is needed of them in this new role are very different from the skills that got them into the new role.  Resources should be provided to help the new leader understand what new skills it takes to be successful at this new level.  With on-boarding, new leaders face many foreign challenges.  They have to learn a whole new set of processes, learn the company culture and subcultures, and create new relationships.  Resources should be available to help them understand what is needed to connect with key people to increase their productivity early on.

Final Thoughts

I thought this book was very good.  I wouldn’t go as far to say it was excellent.  I think it tried to face the challenge to target a wide audience.  In doing so, some parts or chapters focus on executive leaders while others are tailored towards middle managers.  Having said that, it is still a very good book.  Readers will have to take the time to focus on the pieces that could apply to them, and take advantage of the learning opportunities available throughout the book.  I would recommend it to anyone starting at a new company who wants to make a strong first impression or anyone in an existing company about to take on a promotion.

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I came across this book by chance.  I heard of a great website called Basecamp that is used for managing small projects.  They sent me an email to the address I registered with about a book by the creators of the site.  I read some of the literary reviews on the front and jacket and was surprised not only at the names I saw (Seth Godin, Mark Cuban, Tom Peters, Tony Hseih), but also at what they had to say.  I was excited to find out what the book had to offer.

I was initially skeptical.  I was worried this was going to be one of those books where I could find myself relating to it because the ideas offered were pretty generic and could be applied to anything.  I was pleased when they proved me wrong.  There may be areas where I didn’t agree with their viewpoints, but overall I think it was an inspiring read.

Learning from Mistakes

To start however, I disagreed with the authors said the beginning where they discussed the concept that learning from your mistakes is overrated.  Instead, they suggest learning from your successes.

I think you should learn from both as long as they lead to growth and future successes.  They offer some pretty haunting statistics that people who fail initially will continue to do so.  The questions I have that aren’t answered here are:  What if someone with an entrepreneurial spirit happens to fail the first time, are they doomed forever?  What about people like Steve Jobs who has failed in the past but has also succeeded?

Much later on in the book, they talk about under-doing the competition.  They describe what a great product the Flip video recorder is, even with it’s minimal features.  However, Pure Digital Technologies, the company that developed the Flip video recorder, has failed in the past.  They started out by designing disposable digital cameras.  They had the same features as regular disposable cameras, but you could pick and choose which pictures you wanted to save or delete.  They had trouble selling these disposable digital cameras because people seemed to hold onto the ones they bought rather than dispose of them.  Had they not learned from their mistakes and improved, we would have never seen the intuitive Flip device.

Planning is Guessing

“Plans let the past drive the future.”  Plans are inconsistent with observation.  Planning hinders us from picking up opportunities that come along.  They actually recommend working without a plan.  We can pick up as we go along.  To blindly follow a plan that has no relationship with reality doesn’t make sense.

This is one area where I strongly agree with the authors, and one of the main reasons I bought the book since I saw this mentioned on the back cover.  Many projects I’ve participated in have required a ‘plan’.  Many projects I participated in have never met the plan date.  This is probably because…

…Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity

The authors say people who stay late and work weekends aren’t doing it because there is too much work to be done, they do it because they’re not getting enough done at work.  We’re not getting enough done at work because we’re constantly being interrupted.  Most of us get our work done early in the morning or late in the evening when there are less people to bother us.  The rest of the day is filled with monotonous meetings, emails that need replying, and chatty co-workers.

They recommend blocking off ‘alone time’ where people aren’t allowed to get in  our way.  They recommend some crazy rules like “No Talk Thursdays” or blocking off 10am-2pm on your schedule where no one can talk to you.

I say do whatever works for you.  Turn your email off, sign off of instant-messaging, and put your phone on Do-Not-Disturb.  If you work for a company that has multiple offices, pay the other location a visit and hide in a cubicle.  If they’re flexible about working from home, take advantage once in a while and get things done.

Meetings are Toxic

One item they mentioned that I liked was the thought that email trumps meetings.  Have you ever been on a productive email chain where there was back and forth between a group of people, with progress being made, only to have a manager say “instead of going back and forth maybe we should have a meeting…”  But think about it for a second.  Email let’s you think about it and absorb what is being said.  You don’t need an instant reply with half-thought comments.  If email is working, there’s no need to take a group of people away from what they’re working on so they can sit in a room and comment once every 10 minutes.

Some reasons why the authors are anti-meeting that I agree with:

  • They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense
  • Meetings procreate.  One meeting leads to another, and another…

They also mention how meetings are like TV shows…regularly scheduled at a specific time each week.  So we set aside 30-60 minutes several times a week even if there’s little progress.  They recommend scheduling 7 minute meetings in Outlook if that’s all the time that’s needed.

Meetings are expensive.  If you invite 10 people to one meeting, that’s 10 hours of work you just lost.  Factoring in mental switching costs, they say it’s more like 15 hours of work lost.  Meetings are often liabilities, not assets.

Workaholism

I also liked what the book had to say about workaholism.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I think working too hard has more drawbacks than benefits.  Co-workers tout how many extra hours they stayed late finishing up a project.  The authors call workaholism stupid.  “Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.  It just means you work more.”

Workaholics work harder not smarter.  They throw hours at problems.  They make up for “intellectual laziness with brute force.”  It’s smarter to figure out you can’t do something and ask for help or to give up, than to throw endless hours at a problem.

Workaholics make people who work normal hours feel inadequate.  Now no one is happy because the workaholics are complaining and the normal working people don’t feel good enough.

Draw a Line in the Sand

Here is where I have some respect for the authors.  When I was testing out Basecamp (after dabbling in Microsoft Project in the past) there were features I wish it contained.  (Mainly to give tasks sub-tasks.)  But here they state their reason for not doing so (and leaving out other features that people might request) is to keep the product simple.  Although I may get frustrated when there’s something I want that they don’t do, I like the fact that they stuck to their guns and kept it simple.  They didn’t start adding features that would bloat and complicate the product.

An example from the book is a sub shop in Chicago.  The shop orders bread early in the morning and closes up when they run out.  When asked why they don’t order more, they replied that the bread isn’t as good later in the day.  A few extra dollars isn’t worth selling food they aren’t proud of.  Are  a few half-assed features worth selling a product you aren’t proud of?

Mission Statement Impossible

There’s a difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something.  They use an example of a car rental’s mission statement that promises to do all these great things and going ‘above and beyond’ to ensure customer satisfaction.  What really happens when you rent a car, is that the front desk is dirty, the room is cold, and they’re trying to sell you insurance.

I feel the same could be said for bland resume objectives, which I talk about here.  You need to stand by what you say, and don’t just write something fancy that makes you look good.  People will see right through you.

The More Massive an Object, the More Energy Required to Change Its Direction

I really like that statement.  When companies start out, they have less mass.  As they grow, the longer it takes to get things done.  Some items that increase mass that they mentioned:

  • Permanent decisions – Be careful what path you take.  You may make a choice you can’t turn back from.
  • Meetings – Standing meetings are useless.  I wish I could get up and leave when I feel like I have nothing to gain or give to the meeting.
  • Thick Process – You get longer than a couple pages on a process and you’ve lost my attention.  Keep it simple.  Use diagrams.
  • Long-term road maps – Technology changes.  People’s needs change.  Regulatory items come out of nowhere.
  • Office politics – Don’t be fake.  I can see right through it.  And it bothers me.

If you can avoid these things you can change direction more easily.  Huge companies take years to change direction because they talk instead of act, and meet instead of do.

Some Constraints are Good

You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.  Do a few things really well than a lot of things in a mediocre fashion.  You can’t do everything and do it well.  There is a limit to how much time, money, and resources are available.  Once you push the limits on one, you sacrifice one of the other two along with quality.  Southwest chooses to only fly Boeing 737s.  If something breaks on a plane, they have the parts to repair it.  They keep their costs down.  Less is more.

Throw Less at the Problem

In typical situations, when things aren’t working out, people are inclined to throw more resources (people, time, money) at the problem.  All this does is exacerbate the problem.  Try cutting back instead.  I’ve seen this work in the real world on occasions.  Often people will come to me with a problem.  Sometimes, I delay in helping them right away.  A while later when I ask if they still need help, they told me they overcame the problem on their own.

Doing less forces people to think differently.  They have to base their decisions on the limited resources available to them.  If you keep trying to do more, deadlines will continue to be pushed back and budgets will continue to be exceeded.

Launch Now

Set artificial deadlines for yourself.  If you had to launch your product in 2 weeks, what would you cut?  Once your product does what it needs to do, get it out there.  Those other features can be done later.

I have mixed feelings about the above statements.  I agree small businesses need to get their product out there, but at the same time they can’t ship pure crap.  It has to be of a quality that customers are willing to accept.  Customers should be made aware of what your product does and does not do.  If not, you better have some good persuasion skills.  When a product I worked on first launched, the scheduling module didn’t work and the site was ready for training.  The trainer was a smooth talker, and in a Jedi style move, told the customer, “You’re not even open yet…why would you want to schedule now anyway?”  The customers were convinced, and the software was ready to schedule when they were.  A bold move, but it worked out in the end.

Illusions of Agreement

Another favorite section of mine.  They talk about how the business world is inundated with documents, reports, and processes that do nothing but waste people’s time.  No one reads them.  They take forever to make but only seconds to forget.

Instead of describing a process over 12 pages, write a 1 page diagram that shows the different steps.  Remove layers of abstraction.  If you’re writing requirements, create a picture instead of writing in paragraph form how it is supposed to work.

Your Estimates Suck

We have no idea how long something will take.  We estimate based on a ‘best case scenario’.  But somehow they end up slipping.  They recommend breaking up the project into smaller pieces that are more manageable.  The smaller something is, the easier it becomes to estimate.

Long Lists don’t get done

I’m a huge fan of making to-do lists.  For some reason I get satisfaction when I crossed items off.  They say long lists are burdensome, and recommend making shorter lists.  Break a list of 100 items into 10 lists of 10 items.  You’ll be less terrified to get started when you know you only have 10 items to tackle.  Feel free to re-arrange your lists as you complete items.

Be Original

If you copy others all you’re doing is catching up.  Your product will always be inferior.  Be influenced, but make sure you’re doing something different.

This reminds me of the difference between the Wii knockoffs you see in stores.  The Wii knockoffs are direct copies of the Wii Sports video game.  Companies that build these knockoffs make a quick profit but they don’t seem to be around for long.

Another way to prevent people from copying what you do is to inject unique qualities into your company that aren’t easily duplicated.  Zappos.com does this through exceptional customer service.  Customer service reps do not have scripts and have the power to do almost whatever it takes to make sure the customer is satisifed, as I also mentioned in this review of Seth Godin’s Tribes book.

Just Say No

You can’t do everything for everyone.  Sometimes you just have to say no.  Don’t avoid it because it makes you uncomfortable.  The example they used to drive the point is to imagine your a chef.  If a group of customers say your food is too salty or too hot, you make a change.  If a customer asks you to put bananas in your lasagna, you have to turn them down.  “Making a few vocal customers happy isn’t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else.”

When you do say no, do it in a polite manner.  Be honest.  Explain why you can’t do something for them.  They go as far as to suggest recommending them to a competitor instead.  Better to have them happy with someone else, than miserable with you.  Which leads to the next topic…

Let Your Customers Outgrow You

The scenario they use is to imagine you have a customer that pays your company a lot of money.  In the past, you’ve tried to please them in every way.   You tweak and change the product for this one customer’s request and you start to alienate your original customer base.  Then one day, that customer decides to leave you.  Now you’re left with a product with features that are useless to all of your remaining customers.

They recommend working on features that will help you grow new customers.  If you focus only on your existing customers, you become too tailored to them and stop creating features that would pull in new clients.

The authors had customers give them heat for not adding features to their product.  The customers’ business was changing and the authors’ product wouldn’t work for them anymore.  The authors said no.  Their reasoning was simple:  They would rather have their older customers outgrow their product than never be able to grow into them in the first place.  Don’t add so many features into your product that you overwhelm the new users from ever wanting to use it.

Don’t Write It Down

They pose the question, “How do you keep track of what customer’s want?”  And they answer it with, “Don’t.”  I actually did this test with some people at the company where I work.

If you don’t write it down, you’ll remember the important things.  The things that come up over and over again.  Customers and co-workers will keep reminding you.  If there’s a request that you keep forgetting, it’s a sign that it isn’t very important.  It’s the ones that are constantly presented to you that are really important.

Build an Audience

Companies have customers.  Lucky ones have fans.  But the luckiest have audiences.  An audience comes to you on their own.  Compare the cost of the work involved in trying to attract audiences with that of spending tons of money on advertising and trying to reach the right people.

When you have an audience you don’t have to buy they’re attention, they give it to you.  So start slow.  Create a blog, join twitter, speak in public, whatever it takes to slowly build your audience.  Then when you need to say something important, people will already be listening.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Perfect

They say it’s okay not to be perfect.  It may not seem as professional, but it will seem a lot more genuine.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of this, because it’s what I’d like to see if someone was presenting something to me.  On the flip side, I think you have to know your audience.  If they’re expecting perfection, and you have flaws, you better handle that well.  If you try to hide your imperfections and they see through it, you’re in trouble.

Press Releases Are Spam

One place I worked at emailed everyone in the company a press release as they sent them to customers.  And if I thought our own press releases were annoying, I can only imagine what our customers thought.  (In the book they refer to press releases as being sent to journalists, but I’m reviewing this book as it relates to me.)

They refer to a generic pitch sent to hundreds of strangers spam.  They’re not personal.  Your  introduction to the people reading them is too vague to make a connection.  They recommend reaching out to people via email or telephone instead.  That’ll make you stand out far better than some generic press release.

Resumes are a Farce

Resumes are a joke, filled with action verbs that don’t mean anything.  Responsibilities and job titles are hardly accurate.  In reviewing resumes in the past, I’ve found this to often be true.  You have to be careful with what you put on a resume, because the interviewer can call you out on it.  You better be able to talk about that glorified bullet point.

People who take the shotgun approach haven’t done any research on the companies they’re applying to and should be avoided.  I’ve talked here and here why the shotgun approach should be avoided.

5 Years Experience Means Nothing…

I have a friend who is hesitant to put his resume online without staying at a job for 3 years.  He thinks 3 years shows loyalty and dedication to the job.  I say you’re sitting around, procrastinating, and stalling.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting some feelers out.

The authors believe that number of years experience mean nothing.  A baseline experience is required, but after that what difference does 3 years experience doing a particular job have over 2 years and 2 months?  They say it may take as little as six months to learn a skill, but after that the curve flattens out.  The people that want to do well will learn fast.

…The Same Can be Said for Formal Education

Your GPA in college doesn’t matter.  90% of the CEO’s running the top 500 American companies didn’t go to Ivy League colleges.  Moreover, some of the things you learned in school shouldn’t be applied in the business world:

  • In school, the longer a document is, the better.  In the business world, the longer a document is, the more likely it won’t get read.  (Same goes for emails.)
  • In school, using big words looks impressive.  In the business world, you want to keep it simple to make sure all audiences understand what you are saying.
  • In school, the format is just as important as the content.  In the business world, I care more about understanding what you have to say than how you present it.

Hire Great Writers

If ever deciding between more than one person to fill a position, the authors recommend hiring the best writer.  They believe their writing skills will pay off, regardless of the position.  Clean writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Good writers make things easy to understand.  They know their audience.

Test Drive Employees

Some people are pros at interviewing.  Too bad they don’t always work like pros.  In contrast, maybe they don’t interview all that great but they turn out to be great workers. If possible, hire people for mini projects to feel them out.  See how they react to certain situations, and evaluate their work ethic.  If it goes well, you can choose to keep them.

Everyone on the Front Lines

A former co-worker mentioned this in the past and I fully support it.  In the book they refer it it as the ‘front-of-house/back-of-house’ split.  The developers work in the ‘kitchen’ while customer support handles the customers.  The problem is that the chefs never hear what the customers are saying directly.  As an example, they use the children’s game Telephone.  You have a group of ten kids transmitting a message down the line.  By the time it gets to the last person, the message is distorted.  The more people you have between the customer and the developer, the more likely their message will become blurred.

In the book they recommend that everyone in the company interact with the customer a few times a year.  I think it would be awesome if developers took customer support calls or held focus groups that totaled 5 days a year.  It would allow them to see what customers really think of their work.  I don’t think that’s asking for much.

Trust Your Employees

If everything constantly needs your approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers.  It makes them think you don’t trust them.  “What do you gain by banning employees from visiting a social-networking site or watching a YouTube video?”  You will gain nothing.  The time doesn’t convert to work.  They’ll just figure out another way to not do work.

Better Hours is Greater Than More Hours

The real title of this section is “Send people home at 5.”  The dream employee for most companies is someone in their twenties with no life outside of work.  They counter that argument saying it may not be as great as it seems.  It perpetuates the myth that “this is the only way.”

People will work harder at work when they have something (or someone) to go home to.  They will be more efficient because they want to get out of there.  They use their time wisely.

ASAP is Poison

I ignore emails from people if they abuse the use of ASAP.  The authors go into detail here on why people should stop using the term.  Essentially, ASAP is implied.  If you start using ASAP in all your emails, all of a sudden everything is a high priority, which in effect makes nothing a high priority.

If a task doesn’t get done this very instant, more often than not, it will be okay.  It won’t cost you your job, cost the company a ton of money, and it will save you unneeded stress.

You can only do one thing at a time.  Reserve the use of ASAP for true emergencies.  A true emergency is where there are direct, measurable consequences to inaction.  For everything else, there’s time to think it through.

Final Thoughts

Rework is a quick read, and I found it to be one of my favorites.  Their ideas are inspiring and can be used to get the ball rolling if things are feeling stale.

It is mainly geared to entrepreneurs and small businesses.  I don’t think many of their ideas can be applied to large companies as it is too late in the game for them to enact many of the tips in the book.

I would say this is a must read for anyone who has the power or the inspiration to create change. I may have disagreed with their thoughts on failure at the beginning, but I really liked what they had to say in the rest of the book.  I’d say more, but I have a 7 minute meeting to attend.

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A few years ago I was a business analyst at a software company.  One of the magazines I subscribed to was Pragmatic Marketing.  I always enjoyed reading this magazine because I found the things they talked about could easily be applied to my job.  One day I received a package from Amazon.com, and inside was this book.  The writers from the magazine got together and wrote the book, and lucky for me I got it for free.

Summary

Tuned In is about focusing on your customers and potential customers in a unique way that creates memorable experiences.  A common quote said throughout the book, “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.”  It doesn’t matter what you think.  You need to tailor your products and services toward your customer.  They use examples throughout the book that further explain this, and the one that stands out easily is the iPod.  Other companies made MP3 players but they didn’t listen to their customers to find out what they really wanted.  Apple got it right, and now they own the majority of the MP3 player market.  At the other end of the spectrum are companies that are “Tuned Out, such as the former Circuit City.  In order to save money, they decided to fire their experienced employees and hire cheaper replacements.  Look at what is currently  happening to Blockbuster.  They can’t seem to find a way to win over customers, and chains are closing all over the country.  Companies need to connect with their customers if they want to stay in the game, and this book offers a great strategy on how to achieve that goal.

Chapter 1: Why Didn’t We Think of That

This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book.  The authors explain their reason for coming together to write the book.  One major point I took from this chapter is that innovation isn’t always the answer, focusing on revenue often leads to failure, and listening to your customers creates dangerous false signals.  This is explained in more detail in Chapter 2.

In the past, I’ve had my own concerns with companies that use revenue as their driving factor.  These companies believe “We need to create more revenue so we can survive.  Therefore, we’ll focus on generating more sales, and that will allow us to hire more support reps.  Having more support reps will shed a better light on our product, create more referrals, and generate more sales.”  The problem I have with that approach is you lack service early on, and you can never get good referrals if you don’t have good service to back up your early sales.  The book refers to this tuned-out approach as ‘inside-out’ thinking.  If companies were tuned in, they would develop a better product from the start, and strike a balance between sales and support.  Customers would like the product, refer it to others, and new sales would be generated.  The book refers to this tuned-in approach as ‘outside-in’ thinking. Tuned in companies listen to what the market demands, understands their problems, and creates products and services that buyers want to pay to solve.

The chapter also summarizes the steps in the Tuned In Process, which become chapters later on in the book.  They are:

Step 1: Find Unresolved Problems – How do we know what market and product to focus on?

Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas – How do we identify who will buy our offering?

Step 3: Quantify the Impact – How do we know if we have a potential winner?

Step 4: Create Breakthrough Experiences – How do we build a competitive advantage?

Step 5: Articulate Powerful Ideas – How do we establish memorable concepts that speak to the problems buyers have?

Step 6: Establish Authentic Connections – How do we tell our buyers that we’ve solved their problems so they buy from us?

Another concept used throughout the book is the creation of a ‘resonator’.  The idea is to create a product or service that buyers want to talk about, want to buy, and will recommend to others.

The leaders at organizations need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • What business are we not in?
  • Who are our buyers?
  • What’s unique about our offering?
  • What’s our positioning strategy?
  • How can we compete?
  • Why do the other guys seem to win more often?
  • How can we turn a profit?

One of the bullets in the chapter summary that I really liked says, “Organizations make the same common mistakes again and again: guessing at what the market wants, basing products and services on what current customers request, and trying to create a need in the market by relying on expensive advertising or an army of salespeople.”

Chapter 2: Tuned Out…and Just Guessing

Some companies don’t understand their customers.  They think a newer product is better than the existing product because it is newer.  Some examples:

  • A company in the 60’s designed a better mousetrap than the regular wooden ones.  It was a total flop and the company reverted back to the older product.
  • The U.S. Government issued dollar coins and no one used them.  What is ironic is they tested the coins before putting them in circulation and the results of the study said it would fail.  They chose to ignore the study.  (This reminds me of putting Jay Leno on at 10pm.)
  • A refrigerator that was connected to the internet.  It included a screen with an LCD display, MP3 playback,  and a webcam among other features.  Did anyone stop to ask if people wanted all this on the fridge?  What problem did this solve?

There is a really  nice graph in the book that shows how Tuned In companies can be successful.  On the Y axis is Unit Sales Growth.  On the X axis is customer satisfaction.  There are 4 quadrants in this graph.

  • Low Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Innovation is Everything
  • Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Customers Know Best
  • High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Revenue Cures All
  • High Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Tuned In

In my experience, companies often get stuck in High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction, followed by Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction.  With the former, they believe revenue fixes all problems but get caught in a vicious circle and customers are never happy.  With the latter, they try to keep current customers happy that they lose focus of the other areas of running a business, such as developing new products and features that would bring in new customers.  A company needs to strike the balance between keeping current customers happy and generating new sales.

The only time a company should innovate a product is when the new features solves new problems of current customers or problems for a different type of customer.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  Companies can’t worry about the competition if they aren’t focused on what the real problem is: what the market problems are that buyers encounter.  Companies that solve this problem will be successful.

The authors ask some really good questions to these points mentioned above.  A couple that I liked are, “How often do you participate in internal meetings to discuss ‘strategy’ or ‘positioning’ or ‘messaging’ and then the entire discussion is based on the opinions of the people in the room and not the facts?” and “How often does the person with the loudest voice in your conference room (or the executive with the biggest title) win an argument?” and lastly my personal favorite, “How often are your organization’s internal problems (to get a product to the market, reduce costs, or impress the board and shareholders) more urgent to you than your buyers problems?”

Chapter 3: Get Tuned In

This chapter discusses the steps that should be taken prior to starting the Tuned In process.  One thing they mention is that listening to your existing customers is not enough.  The reason is because then you are only solving current problems.  You are not innovating and creating new things which would allow you to grow.  An example they use in the book is with the car sharing service Zipcar.  Zipcar allows you to live in a big city but still travel short distances by renting a car for a few hours.  You can rent a car to go to the grocery store and return it when you’re done.  It seems like such a great idea, yet none of the existing car rental companies thought of it for over 50 years.  The authors say that the reason this hasn’t happened is because many successful companies tend to tune out after their first success.  They don’t go into the marketplace to discover new problems and opportunities.  (At first I thought, “Wait didn’t the mousetrap people in the previous chapter do this?” but I realized they were separate issues, they had a product that worked great and didn’t need improvement, and if they wanted to expand, perhaps they could have looked into traps for other kinds of rodents.)

Think of Apple.  They could have stopped at the computer.  But where would it have gotten them?  Instead they decided to branch out in the music world, create a fantastic audio player, design a marketplace from scratch for obtaining new music and podcasts and revolutionize the way we use our phones.

The following chapters explain the six steps in the Tuned In process in detail.

Chapter 4: Step 1 – Find Unresolved Problems

This chapter focuses on what problems exist that (prior to someone coming forward to solve it) still do not have a solution.  Some examples used in the chapter are:

  • a Magnavox television with a power button that sends a signal to the missing remote control to start beeping for 30 seconds so it is easier to find
  • Quicken was created when the founder’s wife was complaining about balancing her checkbook

Sometimes you can figure out what problems need to be solved just by asking customers.  However they won’t always give you a direct answer, and you have to figure out a solution based on their comments.  The book refers to this as “expressed” and “unexpressed” problems and “stated” and “silent” needs.  This is how Magnavox was able to figure out a solution to the ‘missing remote’ problem customers were mentioning.

When the founder of Quicken, Scott Cook, first built Quicken, he went directly into people’s homes and studied how they paid bills and managed their money.  He didn’t assume his problems were their problems.  He observed the problems they had and built the product to better serve them.  The book mentions that the best way to collect unresolved market problems is to visit buyers in a non-selling situation (preferably on their home turf) and get their feedback.  I think this is invaluable. The best way to find out what your customers needs are is to meet them in the same place where they use your product.  Observe what they do during the day and how it relates to your product.  How can your product make what they do better?  Is there anything about your product that slows them down that could be improved?

People like talking about their problems, they will open up if you are willing to listen.  They think their ideas will help a good organization make a product that will make their lives easier.  They have nothing to lose by talking to you.

The chapter then describes the different types of customers.

  • Customers are existing customers who already use your product or service.  You evaluate their problems in a rearview mirror, and make small improvements to your existing product.  Customers can distract you from discovering unresolved problems that might exist in a new market, which would prevent you from obtaining new customers.  The book recommends listening to your customers, but they should be a smaller part of the Tuned In Process.
  • Evaluators are people who are actively thinking about purchasing your product or service.  Evaluators can be tricky to deal with because they are actively searching for something to solve their problems.  Your product has to offer solutions to their current problems.  If you cannot provide a solution to their current problems they will look somewhere else.  If you don’t win the sale with evaluators, it is good to do a win-loss analysis to see why they didn’t choose you.  The book also recommends that they be a small but important audience during the Tuned In Process.  They actually recommend leaving them alone during the sales process (from a marketing/product standpoint), and conducting the in-depth win-loss analysis after they have made their decision.
  • Potential Customers are people who are not yet your customers but have problems that your product or service could or could potentially solve.  The examples mentioned above with Magnavox and Intuit involved meeting with potential customers and developing a product to meet their unresolved problems.  The book says this is the most important category of people to spend time with.  This is the best way to create breakthrough experiences that resonate.

Why not just send the salesperson to find out the customer’s problems and offer products?  Because salespeople need to balance the task of keeping the customer happy and offering new products that customers don’t want.  Evaluators will do anything to avoid the sales process.  The book says that sending a salesperson to learn about a buyer’s problems can turn a relationship bad before the conversation even starts.

Chapter 5: Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas

This chapter discusses the different types of potential customers.  An example used early in the book is the water bottle company Nalgene.  The bottles were originally sold to labs because they were lighter than glass and more durable.  Scientists started using them for a different purpose and were them outdoors for drinking.  Nalgene picked up on the trend and started offering them to different types of customers.  In addition, they started showing up on college campuses, a third ‘buyer persona’.  They solved a problem, and created a market in many different areas.

It is important for companies to understand the different types of buyers because it opens up additional possibilities.  Another example used in the book deals with the hotel industry, and how there are many different types of buyer personas that they could cater to.  Examples are:

  • business travelers who require wireless internet and hotels closer to business districts
  • hotels with large conference rooms for seminars
  • vacation travelers who want a fun experience
  • entertainers who need a place to stay after a concert
  • couples planning a wedding reception

In the examples above, one hotel can’t solve all the different needs.  But a chain of hotels under the same family can.  Hilton has the Hampton Inn for the cheaper business traveler, Hilton Garden Inn for the more comfortable business traveler, and the Hilton resorts for families, weddings, and conferences.

Buyer personas were also used in the 2004 and 2008 elections.  In 2004 politicians reached out to NASCAR dads and security moms.  In 2008 it was Joe the Plumber and soccer moms.

The authors borrow a term from Strangers in a Strange Land and talk about grokking customers.  To fully understand your customer, you need to put yourself in their world as much as you can.  You need to understand them so deeply that you can ascertain the market problems they aren’t able to describe on their own.  The Magnavox television remote in a previous chapter is a good example.

Lastly, they recommend you name your buyer personas.  Naming them allows you to become comfortable with them and better tailor to their needs.

Chapter 6: Step 3 – Quantify the Impact

The Tuned In example used at the beginning of this chapter described the advent of StubHub.  Prior to StubHub, if people wanted to get rid of their sporting event or concert tickets, they had to scalp them.  StubHub was able to identify this market problem and quickly become the largest ticket marketplace in the world.  What makes this quantifiable is that buyers and sellers have prices in mind with what they’re willing to sell or pay for the tickets.  In addition, StubHub allows sellers to get rid of tickets they no longer want, even if it’s at a loss.  Something is better than nothing.

There are 3 questions that must be answered when considering the potential of your product or service.

  • Is the problem urgent?
  • Is it pervasive in the market?
  • Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved?

The authors suggest we run our ideas through these three criteria filters and that the answer must be “yes” being before we try to implement the product/service.

Is the problem urgent? Do people really care about the problem you are trying to solve?  (Apparently no one needs wi-fi on the fridge, but a television that finds a remote appears to be useful.)

Is the problem pervasive? How many people have this problem?  Do the people that share this problem have unifying characteristics?

Are people willing to pay to solve the problem? The grocery delivery service PeaPod is a good example.  They’ve found a niche of people who do not like to go to the supermarket to shop for groceries, but don’t mind paying a surcharge to have them delivered to their doorstep.

The authors recommend surveying potential markets as a measurement tool.  They don’t recommend surveying existing customers to find unresolved problems.  Rather, they think visiting potential customers in-person allows you to see what their real life activities are like, and your observations may better answer any questions you may have had.

Absent any real data, conference rooms are just full of opinions.” How often do you hear someone say, “We’re hearing there are a lot of problems around ‘xyz’” but then the person has no data to back it up?  If you’re going to say something is a problem, have the data to back it up.

Another point in this chapter I liked is to make sure you fully solve a market problem.  If you only partially solve a  market problem, you open the door for competitors to sweep in with a better solution.  (The e-Reader battle is a good example.)

If you’re going to use metrics, measure what matters.  Many managers deliver numbers such as calls answered, or calls resolved within 24 hours, etc.  All that means is that they’re working hard but not smart.  The authors suggest measuring how many meetings with buyers the team conducts, how often do employees meet with actual people, how does your product resonate with current customers.  Measure what matters.  From a previous blog post about a Seth Godin book, be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Chapter 7: Step 4 – Create Breakthrough Experiences

This chapter describes what companies can do that make them stand out amongst the crowd.  One experience that pops in my head is the old iPod commercials that had silhouette backgrounds with the white headphones.  After seeing it for the first time, you knew exactly what that commercial was and looked forward to watching it each time because the songs changed.

The authors describe a breakthrough experience as occurring when each experience stage (evaluation, purchase, use, and after-sale service) are all working successfully.  The experience stages are described below.

Discovery: Buyers need information prior to making informed decisions.  Tuned In companies create material that people want to read.  An example used in the book suggests a company running a blog where real people describe how they solved a problem.  They suggest using experiences that are simple, nonthreatening, and useful.

Packaging: Edible Arrangements does this well.  The fruit, wooden sticks, and chocolate probably costs a quarter of what people pay for it, but because of their packaging and ‘arrangement’ of the fruit, people are willing to pay a premium.

Using: The product should be simple to understand and implement.  It should be intuitive to help consumers engage your product.  An example used in the book dealt with one of the authors taking a car to a repair shop.  They needed a loaner car, and the dealership tuned the radio in the loaner car to the same station as the car they were dropping off.  A local valet company by my airport does a similar thing when you call to be picked up from the airport.  When you arrive at the valet station they’ve turned your heat on in cold weather, and have the radio on.

Service: Tuned Out companies outsource their after-sale support.  Tuned In companies realize that customers will talk to family and friends (or other businesses) about their experience.  You want a good reputation.

The authors talk about companies finding their distinctive competence. The authors say that buyers choose your product because your company has unique abilities that allow you to solve their problem better than anyone else.  They make a point that this differs from core competency. Core competency says what your company is good at, where distinctive competence says what you excel at better than anyone else.

They provide a list of ideas and say the distinctive competence could be one of the following:

  • An important feature. The example describes how Volvo focuses on safety.
  • Another possibility of ergonomics. The example describes a special remote used for giving presentations.  The Wii Remote would also be a good example.
  • A distinctive business model. The example describes streamlining processes to keep costs down, such as Zipcar has done.  When Dell first came out they also streamlined customizing PC’s.
  • A deep understanding of one particular buyer persona. The example describes a car repair shop that focuses on Land Rovers.  People from a large radius will drive to this dealership to get their car serviced.

I really liked this part about distinctive competence.  I think successful companies need to evaluate what is they currently do, or need to do, that makes them better than the competition.

Chapter 8: Step 5 – Articulate Powerful Ideas

Inc.com’s book review said if you read nothing else, read this chapter.  I personally thought Chapter 7 should take that prize, but I’m not the professional book reviewer.

This chapter focuses on how to create memorable concepts that speak to problems that buyers have.  The example used in the book dealt with a colleague looking to build a new home.  Money was not an issue, so the colleague interviewed the best architect first.  In the book they refer this architect as the ‘rock star’ of architecture.  The ‘rock star’ showed up late for the appointment, and recommended options that he thought he would like to explore, instead of options that the colleague was interested in.  The colleague decided to interview other candidates to see what else was out there.  The lesser credentialed architect showed up on time.  He spoke with the colleague for several hours to find out their lifestyle and preferred living situation.  The choice was obvious, and they went with the second architect.

I’ve had similar situations recently with meeting vendors for my wedding.  We met with a couple of DJ’s, but we went with the one that we related to the best.  The first couple we met with told us how great they are and how they get the audience on the dance floor.  The one we went with showed us a portfolio that was 5 inches thick of thank you letters from previous customers.  We went with the videographer that showed us his previous work while he met us for coffee at Starbucks.  We chose the tux shop that gave us a personal touch, made us try on different tuxes and colors instead of the first place we went to where the employee was arguing with his co-worker in the middle of working with us, didn’t have us try anything on, and didn’t offer any suggestions.

In all the scenarios mentioned in the two paragraphs above, the right vendors resonated with their customer.  They became likable.   They took the time to find out what compelled us and used that to keep us interested in them.  A couple examples used in the book to do this are:

  • Affinity Mapping:  Find out the different problems buyer personas have and how you can solve them.  The example used in the book mentioned how Zipcar solved problems for many different types of buyers.  Examples are:  buyers who don’t want to pay for car insurance; buyers who don’t want to locate a spot for downtown parking; buyers who don’t need a car most of the time.
  • The Elevator Speech:  You have to get your message across is about the time you would typically spend in an elevator, aka a sentence or two.  I’ve seen this recommended as career advice where you need to state who you are in less than 15 seconds.  I talk about this in a little more detail here.  They recommend that the best elevator speech is in your buyers words, not your own.  Because of this, it is essential you complete your affinity map first before developing your elevator speech.
  • The Acid Test:  They recommend locating people who fit the buyer personas you used in the examples above and run your elevator speech by them.  Then gauge their response.  See if you would be interested if you heard it from someone else.  Would you want to move to the next step?
  • Refining the Resonator:  The elevator speech is the starting point.  The final step is to make it into a memorable concept.  Examples used are slogans from famous companies such as Burger King’s “Have it your way,” or Bounty’s “The quicker picker-upper.”.  Not only are they catchy, but they’re rooted in a set of problems that these products solve for their customers.

The next section discusses poorly written mission statements.  Tuned Out organizations are all over the place with their mission statements instead of articulating on a core set of values.  This causes buyers to turn away because they will want to work with an organization that understands their problems.

They recommend having different messages for each of your buyer personas.  Each type of buyer will require something different from your organization because each has a different problem for your organization.  The authors say that your ideas are more likely to resonate if you develop them for each buyer persona instead of relying on a generic set of broad messages for everyone.

Chapter 9: Step 6 – Establish Authentic Connections

This chapter discusses establishing connections with your buyers so they buy your products to solve their problems.  During this chapter they reiterate the importance of understanding the problems of your various buyer personas.  We must first understand our buyers before we can try to solve their problems.  By understanding your buyers and relating to their problems you will develop empathy with them as people instead of trying to relate to them as data.

A part I found interesting is when the authors mention how marketing companies are paying tons of money to TV and radio spots, as well as other media outlets, in interruption marketing.  These types of companies are tuned out, and are forcing us to pay attention to their message.  When they fail understand how to connect with us, they spend even more money on more aggressive marketing messages which makes people ignore them even more.

They refer to these types of companies as getting their name out in one of two ways, either ‘buying their way in’ or ‘begging their way in’.  Either way, they say it won’t work.  They recommend establishing connections by targeting specific buyer personas with content that you create especially for them, rather than trying to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

A test they refer to mentions looking at your company’s marketing materials.  Count the number of times you see the words “we” “us” “our” or the company’s name compared to the number of times you see “you” and “your”.  If you see more of the latter, you are establishing connections with your buyers.  You need to focus on what the buyers need to hear rather than what you want to say.  Successful companies focus on buyers and the best ways to reach out to them.

Another part of the chapter I liked involved telling us we need to ‘unlearn’ what we have learned in the past.  We need to unlearn the marketing habits we were taught of constantly pitching our product.  They go back to the point of creating information that helps our buyer personas answer their questions.  All of your marketing materials should be created from the buyer’s perspective.  Rather than pitching products and services, you should work from the buyers point of view, and paint a picture of how your organization can solve their problems.

Chapter 10: Cultivate a Tuned In Culture

This chapter discusses how to bring the six steps of the Tuned In process together.  The authors say that in order for companies to stand out they need to follow each of the six steps.

They describe a couple examples where companies did not utilize all 6 steps, and then failed to resonate with customers and be successful.  The Segway was a prime example.  There was a ton of hype leading up to the release of the Segway.  However, they failed to examine their buyer personas in detail.  They originally designed their product for city people to get around town; the product was too expensive for this type of buyer.  However, a different buyer persona they didn’t originally think of started scooping them up at that price point.  How often do  you go to the airport and see security guards whizzing by on these devices?  If Segway did more research they could have targeted this audience from the start and saved themselves a lot of time and money.

To launch your product you need a winning sales team and distribution strategy.  Train your sales staff to describe the problem your product solves to to potential customers.  One of the “Top Ten Actions to Create a Tuned In Culture” that stood out to me was #7:  “Don’t talk about what your product or service does.  Tell customers which of their problems the product or service will solve.”

Chapter 11:  Unleash Your Resonator

Chapter 11 summarizes success stories of people or companies who have used the Tuned In Process.  Some examples are:

  • Thomas Edison enhancing the light bulb for consumers (even though he wasn’t the one who originally invented it.  Enter “Joseph Swan” in Google for more information.)
  • Cell phone lots in airports
  • The USPS “Forever” stamps
  • Dutch Boy making easy to open paint containers

An example of a company switching from thinking inside-out to outside-in was when Apple went from making the Newton to the iPod.  They authors state that “companies are ineffective because their field groups and customer-facing organizations spend more time postulating and  pontificating around scenarios that support their offerings than listening and learning about problems their customers actually  have (and are willing to spend money to solve.)”  That comment pushes what they’ve said in previous chapters about finding out what customers problems are, and creating products that solve them.

They describe what makes a Tuned In leader.  They say a Tuned In leader doesn’t obsess about the competition; instead they obsess about market problems.  They understand the market problems completely before they create a product experience.  They follow the steps in the Tuned In process that results in a breakthrough experience that resonate with customers.

Final Thoughts

When I first received this book, it sat on my shelf before I read it.  When I finished a previous book, I gave this one a shot.  I am really glad I did.  I think this book forces you to think, “What can I do differently?”  It allows you to evaluate yourself or your company to see where you might be lacking.  I think it’s a great book that should be read by anyone working in product management.  The whole concept of researching and defining “buyer personas” is something I think companies fail to do.  If done well, doing the proper research will make those companies stand out from the crowd and become a market leader.

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This book is all about rejecting the status quo, leading your own tribe, and getting people to come along.  If this movement can be successful then companies can thrive.  Anyone in the organization can lead.  Individuals have more leverage than ever before.  Your idea could change the game.  Take a stand.  Make a difference.

A tribe is a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.  Tribes are everywhere.  With the help of the internet, they don’t need to be localized.

The Factory

Many of us are stuck working for companies who follow archaic rules.  They not only try to avoid change, but they actively fight it. We’re pessimistic and are worried about the outcome of change. We manage instead of lead.  The problem is that without change you cannot sustain your success.  Examples used in the book included AOL and Sears. Once successful companies at the top of their game, they are now lost in the shuffle amid better companies who embraced change.

An example that might be relevant to today’s culture, is Facebook.  A few years ago MySpace was #1 in the social networking world.  Then Facebook started to change.  At first people resisted the change creating groups “Bring back the old Facebook.”  But look at Facebook now.  It proudly sits at #1 because they kept innovating.  Even as Twitter has emerged, Facebook keeps adding features to remain competitive.  And when was the last time you logged into your MySpace account?  Better yet, when was the last you made a change to your MySpace page?

Managers vs. Leaders

A manager completes tasks assigned to them by someone else.  They don’t encourage change because they do not feel that it is required of them.  They are worried they will get fired.  Leader’s don’t care for this organizational structure or process.

I recently heard stories from friends of mine who received very negative, one could say threatening, emails from their managers in attempts to motivate them.  Rather than saying, “What did we miss?  How could we have done this better?  Let’s look at it together and see what we can do.”  the worker was told, “You can be sure this will be mentioned on your review.  I can’t believe what a poor job this was.”  I think the manager felt threatened about the quality of his worker, but did not react in a way to make his worker want to do better.  In a similar situation, after a delivery went bad, a manager sent out an email to his team saying “Maybe you guys should update your resumes with the results of this project.”  If that was sent to me, I would have updated my resume all right.

A tribe contains a leader with motivated employees.  The employee wouldn’t need to be reprimanded, because they would want to improve their work.  In a tribe, the leader and the employees under him have common interests.

Average and Mediocre

Companies often strive to maintain the status quo.  This will work in a stable environment.  But with new technology and the recent economic events nothing is stable.  Time moves too fast, and if you don’t change to keep up you’ll be left behind.  Instead people fight hard to defend the status quo and prevent change.  It wears them out.  It’s like being stuck on a sinking ship with nothing but a bucket to move incoming water.  They don’t have time to patch the hole, or even to try and figure out where it’s coming from.  They’re too busy moving the water.  Sooner or later that ship will sink.

Companies that destroy the status quo will survive.  It is up to the leaders within these companies to push for this to happen.  We can be the leaders.  It doesn’t matter where we fall on the org chart.  We just need to speak up, and motivate enough people to see the need for change. “In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from managers who push their employees to do more for less.”

The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle states that a company will reward a good employee by promoting him to a level where he becomes incompetent.  “Johnny is a really good Support Rep, the best we’ve got.  Let’s promote him to Support Lead.”  Johnny ends up being a terrible lead.  He was great at a support rep and working with customers, but he just doesn’t have the management or leadership skills.  This, in a nutshell, is the theory behind the Peter Principle.

Godin states that this can be counter-acted if the right people are promoted.  Leaders will realize that their skill set may not be the best fit for the new position, but being aware of this, they will learn what is required to do the job well.

If we are aware that we are not good at a new position, we’ll do what we can to try and be better at the position.  However, I see ‘The Peter Principle’ happening too often in the real world.  People are put in the wrong positions progress slows.  It would be ideal if the leaders above them then work with these people to try and make them better at their job.  In today’s world of ASAP and “have to have it now” leaders would have a hard time doing both their job and mentoring their subordinates.

Curious George

Godin says there are 2 kinds of people:  fundamentalists and the curious.  Fundamentalists consider whether a fact is acceptable to their belief before they accept it.  A curious person will explore first and then consider whether or not they accept the ramifications.  A curious person will embrace the tension between his core beliefs and something new.  They will think heavily on it and come to a decision on whether or not to embrace it.

This small section of the book may have been my favorite.  I immediately thought of when some people discuss politics.  Regardless of weighing the pros and cons of one side, they immediately take the side of their political party.  “This is what my party believes therefore I believe it to be right.”  I prefer to weigh each topic separately.  It bothers me when people see things always as black or white; a lot of topics have a grey area, and there is no right or wrong answer.  Learn as much as you can before you make a choice.  Be curious.

A Leader Gets His Hands Dirty

Today’s society leads us to believe that leaders are egotistical and driven by fame and recognition.  Godin says the opposite is often true.  Leaders who give are more productive than leaders who take.  An example describes how leaders sometimes sit in cubicles with their co-workers.  I witnessed this at one of my former jobs.  Often the office manager would sit in the cubes with his co-workers and make sure everyone was doing okay.  He ended up getting a very nice promotion.  His leadership skills are what led him to the new role.  I think he’ll be successful in anything he chooses to do.

Another example Godin mentions is how Jimmy Carter now builds houses for Habitat for Humanity.  Leaders like this get ‘paid’ by watching their tribe thrive.

Someone towards the top of the pyramid that doesn’t get their hands dirty is too far from the action to make a difference.  If they don’t see the day to day activities they aren’t in a position to make an impact.  A leader who works hard to get to the top, remembers what it took to get him there, and then remains involved with his tribe will be successful.

Leadership and Bravery

Leadership requires acting like the underdog.  Managers follow rules, they live by the book.  Following the book is hard work but it feels safe.   Leaders challenge the rule book.  They recommend things that don’t exist yet.  This takes bravery.  Managers are happy to do just enough to get by.  Real leaders fight for a worthy cause that people want to join.

The easiest thing we can do is react to something.  The second easiest thing we can do is respond to it.  The hardest thing to do is to initiate something.  Leaders initiate.  When others take themselves out of the game, leaders swoop in and create opportunities for themselves.

A line in the book I says “The status quo is persistent and resistant.”  People think that what they have is better than the risk and fear that comes with the unknown.

Life is Short

Life is too short to be both unhappy and mediocre.  We shouldn’t keep counting the days until our next vacation; rather we should construct our lives in such a way that we don’t feel like we need to escape.

Thermostats vs. Thermometers

A thermostat is much more valuable than a thermometer.  All a thermometer does is indicate the status of something.  The thermostat has the ability to change the environment.  This goes back to previous posts where I’ve disagreed with metrics.  A metric is a thermometer.  You need to do something about the results of those numbers if you want to see changes.  You can’t just have meetings explaining the results of the quarter and expect things to change for next quarter.  You need an action plan.  Godin says every organization needs at least one thermostat.  I would debate that in a very successful company you have a thermostat in every department.

Maintain the Status Quo

People show up to work every day.  They do the same thing they did last week.  They expect something to change because they are following processes. Isn’t one of the definitions of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result?

Customer service reads from scripts and escalate issues to the next tier.  Successful companies like Zappos don’t use scripts.  Successful employees would want to learn how to solve a problem instead of escalating it.  Successful companies would encourage employees to do this.

People go through these routines because they feel they have to, not because they necessarily want to.  It leads to ‘the long slow death of the stalled organization.’  Leadership is the antidote.

Believe in what you do, do what you believe.  If it’s any good people will follow you.

Connecting

Godin makes a lot of strong statements that really make you evaluate yourself and how you present your ideas.  For example, if you hear my idea and don’t believe it, that’s my fault.  If you see my product and don’t buy it, it’s my fault.  If you don’t learn what I am teaching, I have let you down.

I can design my products so that you will want to learn more.  I can make them user friendly.  I can captivate an audience when I am teaching.  The choice is mine.

Recruit

When you are trying to get people to join your tribe, don’t start with the leader of the opposition.  You are better off persuading individuals who have not attached themselves to a philosophy yet.  If you can convince them to join your tribe, others will see the benefits and follow.

Try Something New

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is a very well known orchestra who needed a new conductor.  They could have picked one from the resume pool of thousands of applicants.  They hired a 26 year old newbie from Venezuela named Gustavo Dudamel instead.

They could have went with the tried and true.  But they went with something new.  They wanted something that could attract new audiences.  They got that with Gustavo.

Positive Deviants

Leaders can appear throughout the ranks in an organization.  Managers do not like deviants.  A deviant goes against standard processes which a manager sees as a failure.  A manager tries to get rid of deviants.  Leaders understand that change is necessary.  Change allows processes to become more productive, leading to happier people.  A leader welcomes deviants.

The Peanut Butter Manifesto

Brad Garlinghouse, a former Yahoo employee wrote a very persuasive memo to his superiors.  He noticed the flaws in the company’s strategy and offered solutions on how they can improve.  The full text can be found here, and I highly recommend you read it.  The memo was leaked and featured in the Wall Street Journal.  It started a chain of events that led to the CEO’s departure and kept Yahoo breathing for a few more years.  (Ironically as of this writing Brad has left Yahoo and joined AOL.  It looks like he enjoys fixing companies that were once #1 but have since taken a hit.  Maybe his next job will be at MySpace.)

Now

Godin says that the very nature of leadership is that we’re not doing what has been done before.  If we were we would be following instead of leading.  It is up to us to make the choice to lead.  We can do what thousands of others have done in the past.  Or we can try something new.

In closing Godin asks us if we’ve gotten anything out of the book, perhaps by highlighting or post-it-ing it to death, to give this copy to someone else.  I’ll leave a copy of this book on the bookshelf in my office.  I encourage you to read it for yourself, and put it back for the next person.

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I can’t remember how I first heard about Seth Godin.  I added his blog to my Google Reader and have been a fan ever since.  He creates new blog posts daily.  They’re usually short and direct, which is ideal for me.  I recently read The Dip, and here’s what I thought about it and how I relate to it.

What exactly is the Dip?

I interpret the Dip as ‘the point of no return’.  It’s when you are excited to try something new but don’t know a lot about it yet.  So you dive right in.  It’s fun at first, but then you get to a point where a little more skill is required.  Do you stick it out, or do you quit?  That’s where the dip lies.  Sure, you’ll learn a new language.  You buy Rosetta Stone or books on tape.  You do the first couple of lessons and never use them again.  That’s the dip.  You want to learn how to create flash animations.  You buy a book on Flash, read the first chapter, and it collects dust on your bookshelf.  That’s the dip.  You want to lose 15 pounds.  You tell yourself you are going to go to the gym 5 days a week and start eating right.  On day two you have a headache and decide to skip the gym and pick up McDonald’s.  You tell yourself you’ll start tomorrow instead.  That’s the dip.

At first whatever it is you are doing is new and exciting.  But then there’s the dip.  The dip is when it gets hard.  You have to make a choice.  Do you realize it’s not for you and quit, or do you tough it out and reach the other side?  It’s okay to quit if you know it’s not for you.  But quit when you reach the beginning of the dip, don’t do it when your at the bottom.  If you do it when you’re at the bottom of the dip you’ve wasted a lot of your time.  If you can get through the dip, and WANT to get through the dip, then you’ll be one of the best at what you chose to do. Benefits come to the smart people who push through the dip because only a tiny number of people can manage to do this.  Benefits also come to the smart people that quit early and are able to focus their efforts on something that is a better fit for them.

The toughest part is deciding what dips we should quit early on and what dips we should push through.  Whichever ones we decide to stick with, we should be aim to be the best there is for that market.

Last House on the Left – The Cul-De-Sac

Another term mentioned often throughout the book is the ‘cul-de-sac’.  The author describes it as a situation where you work and nothing changes.  It doesn’t get better or worse, things remain the same.  It’s a dead-end job.  If you want to grow as a person, you need to get off it fast once you realize you are in one.  Being in a cul-de-sac prevents you from doing other things.  The types of people I picture in cul-de-sacs are those semi-retired middle aged women working in the local bookstore to pass the time during the day.  They are there for the job, but don’t see a need to move on up.  They really don’t care to satisfy the customer or make their day special.  If your goal is to make it to the top, you don’t want to be in a dead-end job. You should always look to be growing.  Give yourself and your employees something to work towards.  It will motivate them each day to work hard.

An Example

A good example the author uses to explain the dip is with snowboarding.  It sounds new and exciting, so you think about taking it up.  Learning even the basic skills is where the dip lies.  It takes a few days to learn the simple skills during which you will catch a few bruises.  It’s easier to quit than to keep going.  Therefore, the brave thing is to tough it out and get all the benefits that come from scarcity.  However the mature thing is not to start if you know you likely won’t make it through the dip.  The stupid thing to do is to start, waste a lot of time and money, and quit right in the middle of the dip.

Diversification Doesn’t Always Work

Record companies hire thousands of artists hoping one makes it big.  A job-seeker takes a shotgun approach and sends his resume to 100 different companies hoping one will respond.  These people are relying on luck.

Real success is rewarded to those who focus their efforts.  An example Godin uses is a woodpecker can tap 20 times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, or the woodpecker can tap 20,000 times on one tree and get dinner.  The bird focused his efforts, and he was successfully rewarded.

Why Get Through the Dip?

Getting through the dip makes you scarce, perhaps irreplaceable.  Seth Godin recommends cancelling the space shuttle program because it is a cul-de-sac.  No one has the guts to cancel it.  However, if it did get cancelled, it would force us to invent a better alternative. People stick with it because it’s easier to stick with something that we’re used to. I feel the same way about the auto industry; I would not have minded seeing companies the government supported not get help, since it would have led to newer, better, more efficient companies.  I have thoughts about the airline industry as well, not in terms of getting rid of them, but I feel there has to be a more efficient process to board and un-board passengers, taxi planes, etc.  It takes more time to board and take off than it does to fly.

Average is for Losers

The author says that the next time we realize we’re being average and feel like quitting we have only two choices.  Quit, or be exceptional.  Average is for losers.  This is a wake up call to people at the crossroads in their career.

When To Quit

When it’s a dead-end.  When you have a mountain to climb and the reward at the top isn’t worth the effort to get there.  We don’t have the time to be the best at the projects that excite us and at the ones that don’t.  When you’re wasting your time coping.  Our time is better spent doing something else.

My Assignment

Seth recommends to write down the circumstances with which we are willing to quit, and when.  I’ve kept mine private, but they are written down.

Final Thoughts

This book opens up your eyes when you’re stuck.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Just because you are breathing does that mean you are alive?  Don’t stick around because it’s easy.  Don’t stick around because you are comfortable.  Don’t stick around out of fear of the unknown.  Stick around if you think you can make a difference.  Stick around if you think you can be the best.  Stick around when you can conquer the beast that is the dip.

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I started (3/09/09) working at my new job (at my old company, the one I worked at prior to my most recent one, which was my first job out of college).  I met with the CEO on my first day back, and he passed along the book "Wooden on Leadership".  My first question was "Who’s John Wooden?"  But a simple Wikipedia search gave me the answer. In a nutshell, he was a coach at UCLA from 1948 to 1975 and won 12 national championships, more than any other coach.

Since I recently finished reading and reviewing my previous book, 48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller, I figured it was a good time to start reading a new one.

Prologue

Wooden didn’t care much about winning, he was more happy to see people reach their full potential than win a championship.  He didn’t like the attention that winning a lot of games came with; always having to answer to reporters, conduct interviews, etc.  If he had a magic lamp he would wish for coaches he had a good relationship with  to win just one national championship, and for coaches he did not have warm feelings for he would wish for them to win many championships.  He enjoyed practices more than the games themselves because it was during practices that he could teach others how to achieve greatness by helping the team to succeed.

Introduction

Prior to the introduction is a picture of a pyramid.  I couldn’t find a good example as displayed in the book, with the definitions, but a decent example of the pyramid can be found here.  More will be explained about the pyramid in later chapters, but feel free to reference the picture.

One quote from the book I really enjoyed was: "I believe leadership itself is largely learned.  Certainly not everyone can lead, nor is every leader destined for glory, but most of us have a potential far beyond what we think possible."  Basically, it means if we work hard enough, we have the potential to succeed.  He carried with him advice his father told him when he was younger:  " Don’t worry about whether you’re better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can become.  You have control over that; the other you don’t."

Winning is the by-product of success.  He never fixated on winning during his time at UCLA, rather he focused on making sure his players gave everything they had.  If they did that the score took care of itself.  Wooden emphasized how much the 1959-60 season was his favorite.  They went into the last game of the season with a record of 13-12.    Broadcasters thought it would be a miracle if they finished above .500.  They weren’t expected to be a decent team.  Yet they won that last game, and finished 14-12.  The team wasn’t the most talented, but they gave the best they had.

Don’t Hastily Replace the Old Fashioned with the New Fangled – "There is no progress without change, but not all change is progress."  This sounds similar to the talks about change in the 48 Days book I previously mentioned.  Here, the author mentions that if it’s not broken, don’t change it.  There are methods he used with players early on that didn’t need tweaking since they worked.

Write Down the Tasks, Initiatives, and Actions that Each Member of  Your Team Needs to Do to Perform at His or Her Peak Level – We need to be specific for each of our direct reports.  We can’t afford to be too general, and overemphasize the results.  We can’t assume they will understand how to "increase sales by 15%."  Rather we should give them concrete goals, such as "make 5 more calls per week."  Luckily for me, before I even read this chapter, I did just that with one of my employees.  I noticed their output numbers were slightly lower than those of his peers.  I explained to them the results on Tuesday, and asked him if he could increase his numbers by Friday.  By Wednesday afternoon he had already doubled his numbers from what he had done all day on Tuesday.

Part 1:  The Foundation for Leadership

Chapter 1: The Pyramid of Success

Wooden created a pyramid of success that has multiple layers.  Chapter one describes the bottom tier of the pyramid.  The author spent a lot of time deciding what would go into the pyramid.  After a few years he settled on what will be mentioned in the upcoming chapters.  Much like the Great Pyramid in Egypt, Wooden’s pyramid was built over time.

Wooden sees the two cornerstones of the pyramid as being most important.  They are the foundation that the pyramid is built upon.

Industriousness – "There is no substitute for work."
Enthusiasm – "You must truly enjoy what you are doing."

This goes back to the old saying, "Love what you do, and you never have to work a day in your life."

Within the two cornerstones are the following:

Friendship – "Requires a joint effort."
Loyalty – "To yourself and to all those depending on you."
Cooperation – "Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way."

Loyalty was at the center of the bottom tier, just as it should be in all things.  It is not possible to be a great leader if you do not display loyalty to your team and organization.  Outside of marriage, loyalty to your team is probably the strongest connection you will have in life.

I really enjoyed the quote under cooperation of the three center items in the bottom tier.  Your initial idea may not be the best idea, so make sure you get feedback and input from your peers.  A leader has to be committed to what’s right rather than who’s right.  However, the leader must have the final say after a decision is made, and it must be accepted by the team.

Chapter 2:  The Pyramid’s Second Tier

The first item on the pyramid’s second tier is:

Self-Control.  "Keep emotions under control."  Self-Control is a necessary quality of a leader, because if he cannot control himself, he cannot control his team.  Choices we make in our personal lives affect our professional lives.  Self-Control also creates consistency because the leader who has self-control can keep the team in line.

Other items on this second tier:

Alertness – "Be observant and eager to learn and improve."
Initiative – "Learn from failure."  The team that makes the most mistakes usually wins.  Action taken to correct mistakes usually leads to better quality, because the team that learns from their mistakes assesses the situation more carefully next time.
Intentness – "Be determined and persistent."

Chapter 3:  The Heart of the Pyramid

The tiers on this pyramid appear to be more physical in nature, yet are related to the non-physical.  They are:

Condition – "Moral, mental, physical.  Moderation must be practiced."  Mental and moral fitness is just as important as physical fitness.  There must be a balance.  The leader must set an example.  He goes onto mention that workaholics lack balance.  He sees this as a weakness that can cause problems sooner or later.  The first problem is likely to be inconsistency in performance.  Sounds like he’s in agreement with my thoughts on the subject.
Skill – "Knowledge and ability to execute fundamentals."
Team Spirit – "An eager to sacrifice personal interest for the welfare of all."  The star of the team is the team.  Teams win games, individuals do not.  What helps the organization ultimately helps them.
Poise – "Be yourself."  Stick to your beliefs regardless of how bad the situation may be.
Confidence – "Be prepared and keep perspective."

And finally, at the top of the pyramid:

Competitive Greatness – "Be at your best when your best is needed."

Part 2: Lessons in Leadership

Chapter 4:  Good Values Attract Good People

Wooden would interview college applicants before they were offered scholarships at UCLA.  One applicant came with his mother, and was very rude to her when she asked a question during the interview.  He never made an offer to that student because his he didn’t have good values.  Values lead to integrity.  A leader has to make a person believe that their tasks are critical to the success of the company.  You want a team of people who have character.  You don’t want a team of characters who happen to be people.  It’s tough to coach character, and it’s difficult to teach character to adults.  Rather, we need to have the courage to make character count among the qualities we seek in others.

Beware Those Who’ll Do Whatever It Takes to Win A good set of values is part of successful leadership.  Be wary of those who will do anything to win.  It is an attitude of a flawed competitor.

Chapter 5:  Use the Most Powerful Four-Letter Word

You don’t have to treat everyone alike or like everyone the same.  – It’s okay to have favorites within the organization, but never replace fairness with favoritism.  Give each individual the treatment he or she earns and deserves.

Know what time it is. – There are times to be flexible and times to be firm.  Know the difference between rules that can be waived occasionally and those that go to the core of your philosophy.

Chapter 6:  Call Yourself a Teacher

Get a good hat rack.  A good leader will have to play many different roles including teacher, demonstrator, counselor, role model, psychologist, motivator, timekeeper, quality control expert, talent judge, referee,organizer, and more.  A good leader knows when to delegate, but an effective leader assumes many roles and wears many hats.  A good demonstration beats a great description.  A leader has to lead by example.  Be what you want your team to become.

Chapter 7:  Emotion Is Your Enemy

One must control their emotions.  It is okay to show intensity, but keep emotions under control.  A leader cannot be ruled by emotions.  His team cannot be ruled by emotions.  One rule Wooden emphasized was that when a player scored a basket, they were supposed to give a ‘nod’ to a player that helped on the play.  Nothing annoys me more than watching a football game with a team could down by 21 points, and a player on the losing team sacks the QB and then starts showboating and making a scene.  Someone should tell this player his team is down by 21 points, and it is not the time to celebrate.

Chapter 8:  It Takes 10 Hands to Score a Basket

To describe this chapter in one sentence, "The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts."  Teamwork, with each player performing his role, creates success.  An analogy used in the chapter says that although the driver of a race car team gets all the glory, he can’t do it without his team performing their "lesser" duties behind the scenes.  In praising employees, Wooden recommends to praise the superstars in private, but praise those with lesser roles in public.  We should also go out of our way to praise those quiet performers who make things happen.

You can’t let superstars focus on individual statistics.  This mirrors Joe Torre’s thoughts in the book, "The Yankee Years".  Alex Rodriguez was always focused on his individual stats, and Torre wanted him to concentrate more on helping out the team.

Chapter 9:  Little Things Make Big Things Happen

This chapter focuses on paying attention to detail.  Wooden isn’t afraid to admit he doesn’t get things right the first time, and there are many parts throughout the book that touch upon this.  If something isn’t working, he will tweak it a bit.  His attention to detail is almost artistic.  He has drills that teach players how to put socks on properly to avoid blisters, the right way to tie your shoes, and the right way to make free throws.  At the same time, he’s willing to take exceptions to people who might do something a certain way if it produces results.

Chapter 10:  Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

Preparation is the key to success.  Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  One section which I really like is titled "You Can’t Give 110%".  Instead, give all you have, which is 100%.  "Give 100% today, because you can’t make up for it by giving 110% tomorrow.  You don’t have 110%, you only have 100%, and that’s what I want from you right now."

One of the few rules Wooden never altered in all his days of coaching was the requirement to be on time.  We can all work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  How effectively are we using the time we are given?

This chapter really focuses on time management, and being effective.  It is probably my favorite chapter in the whole book. If you read nothing else, read this chapter.

Chapter 11:  The Carrot is Mightier Than a Stick

This chapter compares and contrasts offering rewards for potential good behavior against telling people what the consequences are for bad behavior.  While I appreciate Chapter 10 the most, I probably learned the most from this chapter.  A leader must get his team to perform at their peak level in ways that benefit the team.  Do you do that by dangling a carrot in front of them or by beating them with a stick until they do it?  Wooden prefers dangling a carrot.  Its denial creates desire, yet you get what you want, thereby transforming the carrot into a stick.

As described earlier, Wooden sometimes learns from mistakes he’s made in the past and changes his stance moving forward.  He provides an example in this chapter.  He used to have a zero-tolerance policy on smoking.  He immediately dismissed a student after he caught him smoking.  Because of this, the student lost his scholarship which would have helped him through college.  Wooden changed from having a lot of rules and fewer suggestions to having a few rules and lots of suggestions.  He recommends favoring firm suggestions over strict rules.  Doing this allows you to not get locked into a long list of rigid rules.

He finishes the chapter speaking of how and when to criticize players.  Only the leader should criticize, and you shouldn’t allow teammates to criticize each other.  Additionally, he recommends offering bits of praise when you criticize, and do it in such a way to soften the blow while delivering your message.

Chapter 12:  Make Greatness Attainable By All

Wooden explains in this chapter to try and find what makes someone great and to play to their strengths.  Once you find what a person is good for, make them feel good about their role, and make them want to do it well.  In an example he provides in the book, there were times when he had to do this for players in supporting roles.  For example, one player was soley used in practices.  This player would backup the team’s starting center, and this allowed the starter to enhance his skills.  Wooden went on to say how he had to explain the one players role and how much it meant for the good of the team.  It is our responsibility as a leader to to educate those on our team of the importance of their role.

We should encourage ambition in talented individuals, but they must learn to walk before they run, and before they learn how to walk they must learn how to crawl.  The ambitious individual must master their assigned roles before they can advance into new ones.

Chapter 13:  Seek Significant Change

I liked the opening quote in this chapter.  "Be uncomfortable being comfortable, discontent being content." We can’t get too comfortable.  We have to innovate to improve.  "The uphill climb is slow, but the downhill road is fast." Throughout the book, Wooden is never afraid to try new ideas.  He realizes where things he has tried could be improved.  He recommends surrounding ourselves with people strong enough to change our minds.  I welcome this.  I am quick to admit my ideas may not be the best, but a group of ideas from a team has the potential to generate something really good.  Improvement is always possible, and we must stop saying "No" and start asking "How?" in order to find it.

Chapter 14:  Don’t Look at the Scoreboard

Again the opening quote is something I agree with, "Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out." I find that people who think like this in a group can create positive results.  You have to play with the cards you are dealt, so make the most of it.

Wooden shows his project management skills (although he may not have realized it) by starting with the end in mind.  His goal is to win the conference championship.  So he analyzes what he needs to do to get there.  And when he gets to the beginning, he concludes that it starts (sounds funny doesn’t it?) with taking full advantage of every practice.

Chapter 15:  Adversity Is Your Asset

Here Wooden actually says what I just described above, and that is to play the hand you’re dealt.  He tells how he got started at UCLA.  Initially he wanted to coach for Minnesota.  He had interviewed with both Minnesota and UCLA.  He made the decision to go to Minnesota in his mind, but waited for the offer.  Minnesota told them the offer would be made at a specific date and time.  Wooden gave UCLA a phone call and told them in all likelihood he would be turning down their offer.  When the phone call never came, he told UCLA he would accept their offer.  It turns out that the telephone lines were down in Minnesota which is why he missed the call.  By then, it was too late.  He didn’t go back on his word.

This chapter closely relates to Chapter 14.  We have to make the most of a situation using the assets we have available.  We cannot control what happens, but we can control how we react to what happens.  You cannot let up or quit when things go wrong, because that sends the wrong message to the team.  This reminds me of a saying a lot of my friends have, "Everything happens for a reason…"  I disagree.  I think it is possible to "Find reason in why things happen."  By finding a reason, we can learn from it.  "Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out."

Part 3:  Lessons From My Notebook

The last part of the book contains excerpts from notebooks that Wooden used throughout his career as a teacher and coach.  There is a ton of good information in this section, but I’ll just comment on the pieces I liked the most.

Normal Expectations

Wooden created a list of "Normal Expectations".  Here are some items from his list that really stood out to me:

1.  Be a gentleman at all times.  (I’d change this to act professionally at all times, since this can be better applied to both sexes.)
2.  Be a team player always.  (Working independently is fine, but always keep the team goals in mind.  Is what you are doing for the good of the team?)
3.  Be on time whenever time is involved.
5.  Be enthusiastic, industrious, dependable, loyal, and cooperative.
6.  Be in the best possible condition – physically, mentally, and morally.
7.  Earn the right to be proud and confident.
8.  Keep emotions under control without losing fight or aggressiveness.
9.  Work constantly to improve without becoming satisfied.
10.  Acquire peace of mind by becoming the best that you are capable of becoming.

****

1.  Never criticize, nag, or razz a teammate.
2.  Never miss or be late for any class or appointment.
3.  Never be selfish, jealous, envious, or egotistical.
4.  Never expect favors.
5.  Never waste time.
6.  Never alibi or make excuse.
7.   Never require repeated criticism for the same mistake.
8.  Never lose faith or patience.
9.  NEver grandstand, loaf, sulk, or boast.
10.  Never have reason to be sorry afterwards.

I really like this list.  I plan to use it.

Your Replacement

In 1972 Wooden was having heart problems and had to go to the hospital.  He appointed two of his assistant coaches leadership responsibilities in his absence.  In the book is a printout of the practice schedule for one of the days Wooden was gone.  Wooden was very impressed with how well it was put together.  The content and substance was very similar to his own.  He goes on to say, "A leader truly dedicated to the team’s welfare doesn’t make himself irreplaceable."  I think the same could be said for members of the team.  They should work hard to make sure other members can fill in for them when they are not available.

Final Thoughts

Overall I thought this was a good read.  You can see throughout the book that Wooden always worked on improving his ideas.  If something could be enhanced, he looked into it.  He learned from his mistakes.  He was very regimented and organized.  I believe it worked for him, and it could work for any of us.  I would definitely recommend it to someone looking to motivate them self, or anyone looking for ways to improve their management skills.

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Conclusion and Final Thoughts

This is the conclusion of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the previous chapter, follow this link: Chapter 11:  Sunks, Rags, and Candy Bars

A good story I enjoyed from the conclusion described how eagles teach their babies to fly.  An eagle’s nest is created with thornbush strands.  On top of the strands are leaves and feathers to create a nice cushion and mask the fact that there are thorns underneath.  As the baby eagles grow up the parents start to remove some of the leaves and feathers.  The parents leave morsels of food just past the nest, forcing the eagles to move closer and closer to the edge.  Eventually the baby eagles will have to leave the nest and learn to fly.

The author concludes the book by reminding us we should always keep learning.  Technology is moving too fast, and things we’ve learned not too long ago may already be obsolete.  Moreover, we can always learn new skills and abilities to do any job better.

Following the conclusion is a great collection of sample resumes, introduction, cover, and follow up letters, additional reading suggestions, and helpful web links.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book.  There really wasn’t a chapter that I thought should be skipped.  The beginning of the book is all about discovering yourself.  The middle of the book describes the process.  The end of the book motivates the reader.  I thought the religious undertone seemed awkward at first, but it mixed well with the book.  Even if someone is not religious, the meat of the book revolves around the steps anybody should take.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone looking to jump-start their career.  Even if one is content with their current job, this book may be the advice someone was looking for to make the jump from good to great.

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