Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Notes - Rework

Great read of little snippets about organizational leadership. Targeted for business people and entrepreneurs, but like most of these kinds of books, highly applicable for teams that you work on. My comments are in [brackets].

Enough with "entrepreneurs"
Let's retire the term entrepreneur. It's outdated and loaded with baggage. It smells like a members-only club.
Instead of entrepreneurs, let's just call them starters. Anyone who creates a new business is a starter. You don't need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase, or an above-average- tolerance for risk. You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started.
[great one - see Students Who Start]

: Start making something
Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute.

: Start a business not a startup
Anyone who takes a "we'll figure out how to profit in the future" attitude to business is being ridiculous. That's like building a rocket ship but starting off by saying, "Let's pretend gravity doesn't exist." A business without a path to profit isn't a business, it's a hobby.

: Less mass
Mass is increased by: long term contracts, excess staff, permanent decisions, meetings, thick process, inventory (physical or mental), hardware software and technology lock ins, long term road maps, office politics.
Avoid these things whenever you can. That way, you'll be able to change direction easily. The more expensive it is to make a change, the less likely you are to make it.
Huge organizations can take years to pivot. They talk instead of act. They meet instead of do.
[very relevant for me right now - I see lots of mass which is getting in the way of people, teams and orgs being as nimble as they could or should be.]

: Start at the epicenter
The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.
The way to find the epicenter is to ask yourself this question: "If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?"
[makes me think of vision and mantras]

: Making the call is making progress
You want to get into the rhythm of making choices. When you getting that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale. Decisions are progress. Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can't build on top of "We'll decide later," but you can build on top of "Done."

: Be a curator
You don't make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That's a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that's not on the walls. Someone says no. A curator is involved, making conscious decisions about what should stay and what should go. There's an editing process. There's a lot more stuff off the walls than on the walls. The best is a sub-sub-subset of all the possibilities.

: Reasons to quit
why are you doing this?
what problem are you solving?
is this actually useful?
are you adding value?
will this change behavior?
is there an easier way?
what could you be doing instead?
is it really worth it?

: Meetings are toxic
When you think about it, the true cost of meetings is staggering. Let's say you're going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That's actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You're trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time. And it's probably more like fifteen hours, because there are mental switching costs...
[if we were brave enough to quantify this, meetings as we know it would come to an end.]

: Quick wins
Momentum fuels motivation.
If you absolutely have to work on long-term projects, try to dedicate one day a week (or every two weeks) to small victories that generate enthusiasm. Small victories let you celebrate and release good news.
So ask yourself, "What can we do in two weeks?" And then do it.

: Don't confuse enthusiasm with priority
The enthusiasm you have for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of its true worth.
So let your latest grand ideas cool off for a while first. By all means, have as many great ideas as you can. Get excited about them. Just don't act in the heat of the moment. Write them down and park them for a few days. Then, evaluate their actual priority with a calm mind.

: Don't write it down
How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said.
If there's a request that you keep forgetting, that's a sign that it isn't very important. The really important stuff doesn't go away.

: Build an audience
All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have audiences.
When you build an audience, you don't have to buy people's attention - they give it to you.

: Hire when it hurts
The right time to hire is when there's more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time.

: Pass on great people
Some companies are addicted to hiring. Some even hire when they aren't hiring. They'll hear about someone great and invent a position or title just to lure them in. And there they'll sit - parked in a position that doesn't matter, doing work that isn't important.
Great has nothing to do with it. If you don't need someone, you don't need someone.
[I'm not sure I agree with this one. A big question is also what is your process if you find someone great and bring them on.]

: Strangers at a cocktail party
Hire a ton of people rapidly and a 'strangers at a cocktail party' problem is exactly what you end up with. People appease instead of challenge.
And that appeasement is what gets companies into trouble. You need to be able to tell people when they're full of crap.
You need an environment where everyone feels safe enough to be honest when things get tough. You need to know how far you can push someone. You need to know what people really mean when they say something.
[very insightful - reminds me of the forming/storming/norming/performing concept of teams]

: Hire managers of one
Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don't need heavy direction. They don't need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do - set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc. - but they do it by themselves and for themselves.
How can you spot these people? Look at their backgrounds. They have set the tone for how they've worked at other jobs. They've run something on their own or launched some kind of project.
You want someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through.
[see Students Who Start]

: Send people home at 5
You don't need more hours; you need better hours.
When people have something to do at home, they get down to business.
You want busy people. People who have a life outside of work. People who care about more than one thing.

: Don't scar on the first cut
The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. "Someone is wearing shorts? We need a dress code." No, you don't. You just need to tell John not to wear shorts again.
Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are like codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.
This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy - one scar - at a time.
Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again.

: Inspiration is perishable
Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date.


  1. awesomeness. i'm reading this right now, and sharing it with my teams. glad you're on it too!

  2. what fun lon. some good stuff in there huh?