Review: “All In”

Book Review
Book: All In by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
All In is a great primer for how to create an amazing culture in your company. Although the book doesn’t offer many fresh insights on organizational culture, it is full of great reminders for how to keep your team engaged and aligned to company values. As I read All In, I evaluated my company against the leadership traits and practices described in the book. I would advise you to do the same. All our companies would be better if we could practice what Gostick and Elton preach.

Takeaways from the Book

Sell the Story, Not the Product

  • “Good companies will tell you what they do and how they do it; great companies focus on why they do what they do for their customers.”
  • “As counterintuitive as it may sound to some, the thing that sets you apart from your peers is rarely what you sell or how you package or promote it. You all look pretty similar to us consumers. No, unless you’ve just invented the iPod of your industry, it’s likely that your competitors offer, more or less, the same things you do at about the same prices. The secret of moving a business forward is in getting your working population to differentiate you.”
  • “Keep your mission simple and aspirational, and your values to a manageable list—three is ideal, with five as a maximum.”

 Look for Disconfirming Feedback

  • “Most organizations are oblivious to what customers find attractive about rivals. The best leaders encourage vigilance for disruptive solutions or trends that might harm or benefit their firm.”
  • “A culture of customer focus provides channels for employees to report upward issues they see on the front lines, rewards them when they spot something important, encourages them to find challenges invigorating, and empowers people at all levels to respond to those challenges with alacrity and creativity.”
  • “There’s something exhilarating about facing the facts head-on, something that helps people feel like they are being brought into the inner circle.”

Big Leap

Importance of Agility and Innovation

  • “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” -Steve Jobs
  • “The most agile companies aren’t afraid to allow different, interesting organizational structures to exist, reflecting the diversity of the tasks it has to perform to meet customer requirements. And in these firms, people and assets are redeployed and reconfigured rapidly when the market shifts.”
  • “In customer-focused firms, leadership puts more responsibility in the hands of key employees who are asked to push the entire organization forward. They are given permission to disrupt and innovate with the customer in mind.”

 Aspects of a Fantastic Culture

  • “You as the manager are the core influencer of the kind of culture at play in your team, division, or whole company.”
  • “Tell it like it is. Great managers leave the ‘pillows’ at home, the tendency most of us have to soften the blow (and thereby dilute clarity). They have hard conversations with employees and even clients, thus building honest long-term relationships. A singular characteristic of these great leaders is their ability to keep their emotions in check during these discussions while focusing team members on positive outcomes.”
  • “Managers must create a WIIFM, or ‘what’s in it for me,’ for each person. We would be hard pressed to name a successful executive we’ve encountered in our travels ho hadn’t put considerable thought into delivering value to his or her customers. The trouble is, very few leaders spend much time answering what’s-in-it-for-me questions for their employees—the people who serve those customers with either energy and smiles or grudging reluctance.”
  • “Allowing employees to insert their style and creativity into an assignment without unnecessary censorship demonstrates trust in employees’ abilities. And the experience of taking the lead builds competency, a sense of ownership, and trust in you as a leader. Look, we know it’s hard to hold back criticism, and a manager wants to always be right, but a good rule of thumb is, ‘It it’s 70 percent as good as you would have done it, then leave it alone.’”
  • “Following our first instinct to do the right thing, even ignoring any personal consequences, will nearly always create respect from those around us.”
  • “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” -Peter Drucker

Culture Strategy

Importance of Recognition and Feedback

  • “Top-down and peer-to-peer recognition fulfill separate human needs. The first enhances a sense of job security, of well-being, and that there are opportunities for development. The latter emphasizes that you have friends at work, that you are accepted, and that others have your back.”
  • “The following formula can help leaders recognize employees or help peers thank each other: Do it now, do it often, be specific, be sincere.”
  • “Cultures that treat everyone the same, no matter their personal contribution, are demoralizing for high achievers.”

 Strong Guiding Principles Used by a VP at American Express

  • “We communicate openly, honestly, and candidly.”
  • “We seek solutions and not blame.”
  • “We try to involve people in decisions that affect them.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Other notable books by the authors:
The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
The Orange Revolution by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Review: “Zero to One”

Book Review
Book: Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Peter Thiel is one smart dude! After co-founding PayPal, he funded Facebook, LinkedIn, and SpaceX, among other successful start-ups. This book, written with Blake Masters, is Thiel’s instruction manual for how to think like an entrepreneur. The most fascinating idea in the book is Thiel’s description of a “creative monopoly.” He convincingly argues that true competition is counterproductive to society, and that society benefits from the creation of creative monopolies that bring in true profits. 

Takeaways from the Book

Going from Zero to One

  • “Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work—going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things—going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done.”
  • “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerburg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
  • “Properly understood, any new and better way of doing things is technology.”
  • “By creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.”

Lessons for Start-Ups

  • “What valuable company is nobody building?…Creating value is not enough—you also need to capture some of the value you create.”
  • “Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can. Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.”
  • “Always err on the side of starting too small. The reason is simple: it’s easier to dominate a small market than a large one.”
  • “If you focus on near-term growth above all else, you miss the most important question you should be asking: will this business still be around a decade from now?
  • “The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed.
  • Interesting interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

Walking Away from Competition

Creative Monopolies

  • “Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.”
  • Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
  • “Non-monopolists exaggerate their distinction by defining their market as the intersection of various smaller markets…Monopolists, by contrast, disguise their monopoly by framing their market as the union of several large markets.”
  • “Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can’t…Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits.”
  • “Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world. Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better. Even the government knows this: that’s why one of its departments works hard to create monopolies (by granting patents to new inventions) even though another part hunts them down (by prosecuting antitrust cases).”
  • “Every new creation takes place far from equilibrium. In the real world outside economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot. Monopoly is therefore not a pathology or an exception. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.

Monopoly Google

Lessons for Investors

  • “When a big company makes an offer to acquire a successful startup, it almost always offers too much or too little: founders only sell when they have no more concrete visions for the company, in which case the acquirer probably overpaid; definite founders with robust plans don’t sell, which means the offer wasn’t high enough.”
  • “The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Any big market already served by competing companies is even worse. This is why it’s always a red flag when entrepreneurs talk about getting 1% of a $100 billion market. In practice, a large market will either lack a good starting point or it will be open to competition, so it’s hard to ever reach that 1%.
  • “The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.” This is known as the Power Law: “a small handful of companies radically outperform all others.”
  • “As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude better will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
Startup CEO by Matt Blumberg

Other notable books by the author:
The Diversity Myth by David Sacks and Peter Thiel

2014 Year in Review

Favorite Quotes
1) “I am more afraid of an army of one hundred sheep led by a lion than an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep.” -Charles Maurice de Talleyrand
2) ”If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Albert Einstein
3) “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” -Abraham Lincoln
4) “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela
5) “I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” -Larry King
6) “Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it.” -Roald Amundsen
7) “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
8) “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” –Dale Carnegie
9) “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” -Abraham Lincoln
10) “What you will become in five years will be determined by what you read and who you associate with.” -Charles “Tremendous” Jones

Number of Books Read = 83
Number of Pages Read = 23,487

Non-Fiction Highlights
1) Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
2) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
3) Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
4) Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
5) Brief by Joseph McCormack
6) Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
7) The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
8) Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
9) Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
10) Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Fiction Highlights
1) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
2) The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
3) The Gunslinger by Stephen King
4) The Prestige by Christopher Priest
5) The Shining by Stephen King

Check out Awesome QuotesBook Recommendations, and Recent Reads anytime during the year by visiting the other pages on this site!