Review: “Great by Choice”

Book Review
Book: Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
Jim Collins is the preeminent business mind of our generation. He brought us the business classics Built to Last and Good to Great–two works arguably referenced more than any other business books of the past two decades. His newer book Great by Choice adds to his collection of impressive work. Like his other books, Great by Choice is based upon years of research behind what makes companies successful. Unlike his other books, this one focuses on companies in extremely volatile industries. Collins teams up with UC Berkeley professor Morten Hansen to explain why some companies achieve “10X” results that set them apart from their peers who experienced similar business conditions and “luck.” 
Filled with a dozen new helpful terms to explain complex business principles (think “BHAG” and “Level 5 Leadership” from Collins’ earlier works), Great by Choice is an amazing reference for both new and seasoned business readers.

Takeaways from the Book

The Research Process

  • Collins and Hansen set out to answer the central question: “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”
  • “In this study, unlike any of the previous research, we selected cases not just on performance or stature but also on the extremity of the environment.”
  • Collins and Hansen whittled down an initial list of 20,400 companies to 7 companies that consistently surpassed the overall market and their especially turbulent industries over a period of 15+ years.
  • They compared these “10X cases” against “comparison cases” in the same industry. The 10X cases beat their industry index by at least ten times.

The 10X Cases

  • Amgen (compared against Genentech)
  • Biomet (compared against Kirschner)
  • Intel (compared against AMD)
  • Microsoft (compared against Apple)
    • Sidenote: This 10X case surprised me, and I’m sure it will surprise many of you as well. Collins and Hansen look at Microsoft’s performance during the Steve Jobs “wilderness years” when Apple sailed rudderless and lost sight of Jobs’ and Wozniak’s original vision and values. Microsoft flourished during that time.
  • Progressive Insurance (compared against Safeco)
  • Southwest Airlines (compared against PSA)
  • Stryker (compared against USSC)


  • Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led the first successful expedition to the South Pole. His foresight and diligence not only led his men to success, but also to safety. During the same time as Amundsen’s voyage, Captain Robert F. Scott led a separate expedition with the hope of beating Amundsen to the South Pole. Unfortunately, Scott’s lack of preparation and questionable decisions resulted in his own death and the death of all his men during the expedition.* Throughout the book Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen use Amundsen as an analogy for 10X companies.
    • *Note: Historians debate whether Scott truly bumbled the expedition or whether truly uncontrollable factors decided his fate. I won’t opine on which story is more accurate, as I don’t know. Collins and Hansen’s point is that everyone is dealt windfalls of good luck and pitfalls of bad luck. Preparation can sometimes neutralize bad luck, and it’s clear that Amundsen was extraordinarily prepared for his voyage.
  • “[Amundsen] designed the entire journey to systematically reduce the role of big forces and chance events by vigorously embracing the possibility of those very same big forces and chance events. He presumed bad events might strike his team somewhere along the journey and he prepared for them, even developing contingency plans so that the team could go on should something unfortunate happen to him along the way.”
  • “On the one hand, 10Xers understand that they face continuous uncertainty and that they cannot control, and cannot accurately predict, significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, 10Xers reject the idea that forces outside their control or chance events will determine their results; they accept full responsibility for their own fate.”
  • 10Xers exhibit “a triad a core behaviors: fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia. Animating these three core behaviors is a central motivating force, Level 5 ambition.”
  • “10Xers channel their ego and intensity into something larger and more enduring than themselves. They’re ambitious, to be sure, but for a purpose beyond themselves, be it building a great company, changing the world, or achieving some great object that’s ultimately not about them.”

20 Mile March

  • During Amundsen’s journey, he and his men faced many days of good weather and many days of bad weather. Rather than trekking long distances in good weather and making little or no progress in bad weather, Amundsen decided to trek a reliable distance of roughly 20 miles per day. His “20 Mile March” is a perfect example of the persistence needed to achieve success in any realm, including business.
  • “Throughout the journey, Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay far away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace. Amundsen throttled back his well-tuned team to travel between 15 and 20 miles per day, in a relentless march to 90 degrees South. When a member of Amundsen’s team suggested they could go faster, up to 25 miles a day, Amundsen said no. They needed to rest and sleep so as to continually replenish their energy.”
  • “Victory awaits him who has everything in order–luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” -Roald Amundsen
  • “The 20 Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20 Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.”
  • “Accomplishing a 20 Mile March, consistently, in good times and bad, builds confidence. Tangible achievement in the face of adversity reinforces the 10X perspective: we are ultimately responsible for improving performance. We never blame circumstance; we never blame the environment.”
  • “The 20 Mile March was a distinguishing factor, to an overwhelming degree, between the 10X companies and the comparison companies in our research.”

Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs

  • “First, you fire bullets to figure out what’ll work. Then once you have empirical confidence based on the bullets, you concentrate your resources and fire a cannonball. After the cannonball hits, you keep 20 Mile Marching to make the most of your big success.”
  • “Retrospective accounts tend to focus on only the big cannonballs, giving the false impression that 10X achievements come to those with the guts to go always for the big bet, the huge cannonball. But the historical research evidence presents a different story, a story of dozens of small bullets that thumped into the dirt, punctuated by a handful of cannonballs that smashed into their targets.”
  • “10Xers appear to have no better ability to predict impending changes and events than the comparisons. They aren’t visionary geniuses; they’re empiricists.”

Leading Above the Death Line

  • “10Xers remain productively paranoid in good times, recognizing that it’s what they do before the storm comes that matters most. Since it’s impossible to consistently predict specific disruptive events, they systematically build buffers and shock absorbers for dealing with unexpected events. They put in place their extra oxygen canisters long before they’re hit with a storm.”
  • “When a calamitous event clobbers an industry or the overall economy, companies fall into one of three categories: those that pull ahead, those that fall behind, and those that die. The disruption itself does not determine your category. You do.”
  • “We will all face moments when the quality of our performance matters much more than other moments, moments that we can seize or squander. 10Xers prepare for those moments, recognize those moments, grab those moments, upend their lives in those moments, and deliver their best in those moments. They respond to unequal times with unequal intensity, when it matters most.”


  • “A SMaC recipe is a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula. The word ‘SMaC’ stands for Specific, Measurable, and Consistent…SMaC practices can last for decades and apply across a wide range of circumstances.”
  • “When faced with declining results, 10Xers do not first assume that their principles and methods have become obsolete. Rather, they first consider whether the enterprise has perhaps strayed from its recipe, or has forgone discipline and rigor in adhering to the recipe.”
  • “If you really want to become mediocre or get yourself killed in a turbulent environment, you want to be changing, morphing, leaping, and transforming yourself all the time and in reaction to everything that hits you. We’ve found in all our research studies that the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
  • “Changes to a solid and proven SMaC recipe are like amendments to the Constitution: if you get the recipe right, based on practical insight and empirical validation, it should serve you well for a very long time; equally important, fundamental changes must be possible. Continually question and challenge your recipe, but change it rarely.
  • “Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.”

Return on Luck

  • “The real difference between the 10X and comparison cases wasn’t luck per se but what they did with the luck they got. Adding up all the evidence, we found that the 10X cases were not generally luckier than the comparison cases. The 10X cases and the comparisons both got luck, good and bad, in comparable amounts. The evidence leads us to conclude that luck does not cause 10X success. People do. The critical question is not ‘Are you lucky?’ but ‘Do you get a high return on luck?’”
  • “Getting a high return on luck requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life, and not letting up.”
  • “Goals live on the other side of obstacles and challenges. Along the way, make no excuses and place no blame.” -Ray Bourque
  • “We all get bad luck. The question is how to use that bad luck to make us stronger, to turn it into ‘one of the best things that ever happened,’ to not let it become a psychological prison. And that’s precisely what 10Xers do.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Into Thin Air
by John Krakauer

Other notable books by the authors:
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Great at Work by Morten Hansen (coming out in January 2018)

Review: “The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders”

Book Review
Book: The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders by Lee Colan and Julie Davis-Colan

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
I found The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders to be a useful guidebook for improving my own reliability and my team’s output. Like most of Lee Colan and Julie Davis-Colan’s books, The 5 Coaching Habits is a bite-sized read that can be easily consumed in a short plane ride from L.A. to San Fran. The authors don’t waste time with nauseating repetition; they succinctly communicate their thoughts to save time for the reader. My favorite takeaway was the authors’ assertion that a leader’s
 personal reliability is the strongest predictor of their team’s success.

Takeaways from the Book

Personal Reliability

  • “Your personal reliability has a disproportionate impact on your team’s reliability. You must be personally reliable before you can effectively coach your team to generate reliable results.”
  • Leadership is an inside job. It starts with your personal leadership traits, such as integrity, trust, competence, authenticity–all of which are aspects of personal reliability.”
  • “The most important question a leader should ask is, ‘How reliable am I?’”
  • Reliable people have a high say/do ratio. That’s the ratio of things you say you will do to the things you follow through on and do…Simply being aware of your say/do ratio can help change your behavior–improving your follow-through and more cautiously making promises.”
  • “When someone always follows through, it is impressive. It is the quickest way to build credibility and trust with others…However, most people tend to slip on their commitments because they overestimate their available free time, want to please others, have unclear priorities and lack guiding principles for when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to requests.”
  • “The key to being a great coach is being a good student. It all starts with you! If your team sees your thirst for and openness to learning, they will model the same behavior.”
  • “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” -Aesop
  • “To be personally reliable, avoid non-committal answers like ‘maybe.’ Be clear and direct. Redefine the term ‘polite’ by taking the long view. You might be appeasing the other party by saying ‘yes’ now, but you will ultimately disappoint them (and yourself) by overcommitting and possibly not delivering on your word. In today’s noncommittal and less reliable world, ‘yes’ has become the new ‘maybe.’ If your ‘yes’ really means ‘yes,’ you immediately vault into the top 5 percent of reliable people.”
  • “Speaking with specificity creates a sense of reliability and commitment. Ambiguity is the Achilles heel of reliability. Ambiguous language increases frustration and rework, but specific language boosts reliability.”
  • “Build reliability for others and yourself by using specific phrases like these:”
    • “Yes, I will do that for you.”
    • “I’m not sure, but I’ll give you a firm answer by noon tomorrow.”
    • “I will own this.”
    • “I will make time to get this done.”
    • “It will be done by Friday, March 18 at 2 p.m. Central Time.”

The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders

  1. Explain Expectations –> Leads to ALIGNMENT
  2. Ask Questions –> Leads to ENGAGEMENT
  3. Involve Team –> Leads to OWNERSHIP
  4. Measure Results –> Leads to ACCOUNTABILITY
  5. Appreciate People –> Leads to COMMITMENT

Explain Expectations

  • “The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. Lack of clear expectations is the most common reason for performance problems.”
  • “Like any aspect of leadership, gaining alignment does not just happen. It must be intentional. Our late friend and excellent leader Ron Rossetti liked to say, ‘Awesomeness is never accidental.’”
  • Four fundamental questions employees have regarding expectations:
    • “Where are we going?” (Goals)
    • “What are we doing to get there?” (Plans)
    • “How can I contribute?” (Roles)
    • “What’s in it for me?” (Rewards)

Ask Questions

  • “Excellent leaders prevent blind spots by making concerted efforts to keep in tune with the realities of their employees–listening for the truth. This is particularly important because the higher you are in an organization, the more filtered the information you receive.”
  • “He who talks the most loses.” -Andrew Levi
  • “By simply asking questions, your employees will reveal challenges and opportunities that could potentially take you months or years to identify.”
  • “Excellent leaders not only know the right questions to ask, but they also know how to patiently wait for an answer. They are comfortable with silence. If you are not comfortable with the silence, you will fill it with another question that leaves your original question unanswered and squelches engagement.”
  • “After asking an employee a question, your patience creates power. Resist the gravitational pull to fill the void. Your silence creates accountability for a response.

Involve Team

  • “Employees will exchange their involvement for ownership in the outcomes.”
  • “You can get just about anything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want.” -Zig Ziglar

Measure Results

  • “Keeping score brings out our best because we inherently like to win…You can keep score on your revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction, quality, prospect pipeline, cost per sales, employee engagement, defects, inventory, call-center response time and so on…To keep it simple, measure only what matters most. Do not measure everything.”
  • You get the behaviors you are willing to tolerate. If you rank your team by performance level, your lowest performer is a public statement of the performance level you are willing to tolerate. That is what your team sees as your performance standard. Ignoring issues puts your team and your leadership credibility at risk.”

Appreciate People

  • “Unfortunately, the reality is that the lack of appreciation is the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs.”
  • “While we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions. What is important is not how much you appreciate people, but rather how much you demonstrate that appreciation.”
  • “Look for things [employees] are doing well and reinforce it. For example, recognize positive movement or effort toward the goal. Demonstrate your appreciation for their approach, not just their results.”
  • “After interviewing 25,000 leaders, Ferdinand Fournies found the most effective leaders had one thing in common–they expressed a sincere interest in their employees.”
  • “Know your PEOPLE, not just your EMPLOYEES.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Other notable books by the authors:
Sticking to It: The Art of Adherence
The Nature of Excellence
7 Moments…That Define Excellent Leaders

Review: “Principles: Life and Work”

Book Review
Book: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio is one of the 100 richest men in the world, according to Forbes magazine. In Principles: Life and Work, Dalio shares the principles that have led to his success. Told with raw honesty and enlightening examples, Principles is a fascinating look at how Dalio has created the largest and most successful hedge fund in the world. You need only read the first few pages of Principles to discover the uniqueness of Dalio’s approach; he encourages readers to doubt everything, suggesting that radical open-mindedness is the best way to learn. He has built a culture of radical truth and transparency at Bridgewater that has created an “idea meritocracy” where the best ideas emerge after relentless debate between equals. Although the book is somewhat repetitive, I greatly enjoyed Dalio’s forthright personality and insights into how to become a more successful person, leader, and employee. You should definitely check out Principles.

Takeaways from the Book

The Power of Principles

  • “Without principles we would be forced to react to all the things life throws at us individually, as if we were experiencing each of them for the first time.”
  • “All successful people operate by principles that help them be successful, though what they choose to be successful at varies enormously, so their principles vary.”
  • “To be principled means to consistently operate with principles that can be clearly explained.”
  • “Using principles is a way of both simplifying and improving your decision making. While it might seem obvious to you by now, it’s worth repeating that realizing that almost all ‘cases at hand’ are just ‘another one of those,’ identifying which ‘one of those’ it is, and then applying well-thought-out principles for dealing with it. This will allow you to massively reduce the number of decisions you have to make (I estimate by a factor of something like 100,000) and will lead you to make much better ones. The key to doing this well is to:
    1. Slow down your thinking so you can note the criteria you are using to make your decision.
    2. Write the criteria down as a principle.
    3. Think about those criteria when you have an outcome to assess, and refine them before the next ‘one of those’ comes along.”

Learning Humility

  • “The most painful lesson that was repeatedly hammered home is that you can never be sure of anything: There are always risks out there that can hurt you badly, even in the seemingly safest bets, so it’s always best to assume you’re missing something.”
  • “Sincerely believe that you might not know the best possible path and recognize that your ability to deal well with ‘not knowing’ is more important than whatever it is you do know.”
  • “In retrospect, my crash was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it gave me the humility I needed to balance my aggressiveness. I learned a great fear of being wrong that shifted my mind-set from thinking ‘I’m right’ to asking myself ‘How do I know I’m right?’ And I saw clearly that the best way to answer this questions is by finding other independent thinkers who are on the same mission as me and who see things differently from me. By engaging them in thoughtful disagreement, I’d be able to understand their reasoning and have them stress-test mine. That way, we can all raise our probability of being right.”

Thoughtful Disagreement

  • “As you will see, we are simply a group of people who are striving be excellent at what we do and who recognize that we don’t know much relative to what we need to know. We believe that thoughtful, unemotional disagreement by independent thinkers can be converted in believability-weighted decision making that is smarter and more effective than the sum of its parts.”
  • “In other words, I just want to be right–I don’t care if the right answer comes from me. So I learned to be radically open-minded to allow others to point out what I might be missing. I saw that the only way I could succeed would be to:
    1. Seek out the smartest people who disagreed with me so I could try to understand their reasoning.
    2. Know when not to have an opinion.
    3. Develop, test, and systemize timeless and universal principles.
    4. Balance risks in ways that keep the big upside while reducing the downside.”
  • “I urge you to be curious enough to want to understand how the people who see things differently from you came to see them that way.”
  • “To be effective you must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true.”
  • “In thoughtful disagreement, your goal is not to convince the other party that you are right–it is to find out which view is true and decide what to do about it. In thoughtful disagreement, both parties are motivated by the genuine fear of missing important perspectives.”
  • “Remind yourself that it’s never harmful to at least hear an opposing point of view.”
  • “Being effective at thoughtful disagreement requires one to be open-minded (seeing things through the other’s eyes) and assertive (communicating clearly how things look through your eyes) and to flexibly process this information to create learning and adaptation.”
  • “Making suggestions and questioning are not the same as criticizing, so don’t treat them as if they are.”

Radical Truth

  • “To me a meaningful relationship is one that’s open and honest in a way that lets people be straight with each other. I never valued more traditional, antiseptic relationships where people put on a facade of politeness and don’t say what they really think…I spoke frankly, and I expected those around me to speak frankly…When I thought someone did something stupid, I said so and I expected them to tell me when I did something stupid. Each of us would be better for it. To me, that was what strong and productive relationships looked like. Operating any other way would be unproductive and unethical.”
  • “I learned that the more caring we gave each other, the tougher we could be on each other, and the tougher we were on each other, the better we performed and the more rewards there were for us to share.”


  • “I have come to realize that bad times coupled with good reflections provide some of the best lessons, and not just about business but also about relationships.”
  • “Self-reflection is the quality that most differentiates those who evolve quickly from those who don’t. Remember: Pain + Reflection = Progress.”
  • “Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes and unacceptable not to learn from them.”
  • “It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.”
  • “Reflect and remind yourself that an accurate criticism is the most valuable feedback you can receive.”

Harnessing Pain to Drive Positive Change

  • “I came to understand that my encounters were tests of my character and creativity…In gaining this perspective, I began to experience painful moments in a radically different way. Instead of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, I saw pain as nature’s reminder that there is something important for me to learn. Encountering pains and figuring out the lessons they were trying to give me became sort of a game to me.”
  • “In time, I realized that the satisfaction of success doesn’t come from achieving your goals, but from struggling well.”
  • “Regularly use pain as your guide toward quality reflection. Mental pain often comes from being too attached to an ida when a person or an event comes along to challenge it. This is especially true when what is being pointed out to you involves a weakness on your part.”

Embrace Reality and Deal with It

  • “Truth–or, more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality–is the essential foundation for any good outcome. Most people fight seeing what’s true when it’s not what they want it to be. That’s bad, because it is more important to understand and deal with the bad stuff since the good stuff will take care of itself.”
  • “You shouldn’t be upset if you find out that you’re bad at something–you should be happy that you found out, because knowing that and dealing with it will improve your chances of getting what you want. If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything yourself, you are terribly naive.”
  • Ultimately, embracing reality comes down to five decisions:
    1. Don’t confuse what you wish were true with what is really true.
    2. Don’t worry about looking good–worry instead about achieving your goals.
    3. Don’t overweight first-order consequences relative to second- and third-order ones.
    4. Don’t let pain stand in the way of progress.
    5. Don’t blame bad outcomes on anyone but yourself.

Dalio’s 5 Step Process

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of your achieving those goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems to get at their root causes.
  4. Design plans that will get you around them.
  5. Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results.

Other Thoughts

  • “Maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives in order to pursue even better ones.”
  • “Remember that great expectations create great capabilities. If you limit your goals to what you know you can achieve, you are setting the bar way too low.”
  • Idea Meritocracy = Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability-Weighted Decision Making
  • “In the end, accuracy and kindness are the same thing. What might seem kind but isn’t accurate is harmful to the person and often to others in the organization as well.”
  • “Avoid the anonymous ‘we’ and ‘they,’ because they mask personal responsibility. Things don’t just happen by themselves–they happen because specific people did or didn’t do specific things. Don’t undermine personal accountability with vagueness…Someone created the procedure that went wrong or made the faulty decision. Glossing over that can only slow progress toward improvement.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Other notable books by the author:

Ray Dalio’s TED Talk – “How to Build a Company Where the Best Ideas Win”

Review: “The Everything Store”

Book Review
Book: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Amazon is arguably the most fascinating company in the world. In The Everything Store, journalist Brad Stone pulls back the curtain to reveal interesting details about the company’s founding and the customer obsession of its founder. You’ll learn what drives CEO Jeff Bezos and how he came to lead the largest online retailer–a company on track to be the world’s first trillion dollar enterprise. I love business profiles of top leaders and companies, and this is one of the best out there. I highly recommend this book.

Takeaways from the Book

Amazon’s Culture

  • “If you want the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “[Bezos] gave Blue Origin (his space exploration company) a coat of arms and a Latin motto, Gradatim Ferociter, which translates to ‘Step by Step, Ferociously.’ The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy as well. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.”
  • “Your job is to kill your own business. I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.” -Jeff Bezos, to Steve Kessel when he put Kessel in charge of Amazon’s digital-media business.
    • “He believed that if Amazon didn’t lead the world into the age of digital reading, then Apple or Google would.”
    • “You are basically already late,” Bezos told Kessel.
  • “Amazon, Bezos said, was the unstore…Being an unstore meant, in Bezos’s view, that Amazon was not bound by the traditional rules of retail. It had limitless shelf space and personalized itself for every customer. It allowed negative reviews in addition to positive ones, and it places used products directly next to new ones so that customers could make informed choices. In Bezos’s eyes, Amazon offered both everyday low prices and great customer service. It was Walmart and Nordstrom’s. Being an unstore also meant that Amazon had to concern itself only with what was best for the customer.”
  • “Amazon’s culture is notoriously confrontational, and it begins with Bezos, who believes that truth springs forth when ideas and perspectives are banged against each other, sometimes violently.”
  • Amazon has 14 leadership principles. Watch the video below to learn more about those principles.

Amazon’s Hiring Practices

  • “Bezos felt that hiring only the best and brightest was key to Amazon’s success. For years he interviewed all potential hires himself and asked them for their SAT scores. ‘Every time we hire someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool is always improving,’ he said.”
  • “If the potential employees made the mistake of talking about wanting a harmonious balances between work and home life, Bezos rejected them.”
  • “Bar raisers at Amazon–the program still exists today–are designated employees who have proven themselves to be intuitive recruiters of talent…At least one anointed bar raiser would participate in every interview process and would have the power to veto a candidate who did not meet the goal of raising the company’s overall hiring bar. Even the hiring manager was unable to override a bar raiser’s veto.”

Characteristics of Jeff Bezos

  • Continuous Learner: “He went to school on everybody. I don’t think there was anybody Jeff knew that he didn’t walk away from with whatever lessons he could.” -Halsey Minor
  • Hard-Working: “Bezos seemed to love the idea of the nonstop workday; he kept a rolled-up sleeping bag in his office and some egg-crate foam on his windowsill in case he needed to bunk down for the night.”
  • Calm and Confident: “Through it all (failed acquisitions, multi-million dollar losses, failed investments in other companies), Bezos never showed anxiety or appeared to worry about the wild swings in public sentiment.” “I have never seen anyone so calm in the eye of a storm. Ice water runs through his veins.” -Mark Britto
  • Customer-Obsessed: “There are two kinds of retailers: there are those folks who work to figure how to charge more, and there are companies that work to figure how to charge less, and we are going to be the second, full-stop.” -Jeff Bezos
  • Technically-Minded: “Bezos had dreams of becoming an inventor like Thomas Edison, so his mother patiently shuttled him back and forth and back again to a local Radio Shack to buy parts for a succession of gadgets: homemade robots, hovercrafts, a solar-powered cooker, and devices to keep his siblings out of his room.”
  • Competitive: “Bezos’s high-school friends say he was ridiculously competitive. He collected awards for best science student at his school for three years and best math student for two, and he won a statewide science fair for an entry concerning the effects of a zero-gravity environment on the housefly. At some point, he announced to his classmates his intention to become the valedictorian of his 680-student class, and he crammed his schedule with honors courses to bolster his rank. ‘The race [for the rest of the students] then became to be number two,’ says Josh Weinstein. ‘Jeff decided he wanted it and he worked harder than anybody else.’”
  • Brilliant: “He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with, and he was totally ruthless about communicating it.” -Bruce Jones, former Amazon VP
  • Clear and Consistent: “Jeff is very clear and simple about his goals, and the way he articulates them makes it easy for others, because it’s consistent.” -Danny Hillis, friend of Bezos

Bezos’s Vision

  • “There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented. There’s so much new that’s going to happen. People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “We still powered through (various e-reader setbacks) because Jeff is not deterred by short-term setbacks.” -Jeff Wilke, regarding Jeff Bezos
  • “You have to start somewhere. You climb the top of the first tiny hill and from there you see the next hill.” -Jeff Bezos

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

Other books you may enjoy:
The Amazon Way by John Rossman
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Other notable books by the author:
The Upstarts
Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports

Review: “Start with Why”

Book Review
Book: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
I am so thankful I finally read this book. I had heard dozens of people talk about Start with Why, but I prioritized reading other books because I thought 
Simon Sinek’s TED talk (see link at the bottom of this post) likely captured all I needed to know about the book. I was wrong. This book is definitely worth a thoughtful read, and I will likely re-read it several times in the coming years. Sinek cuts to the core of why certain companies and leaders are successful. It all comes down to their ability to define the WHY behind their actions and align all marketing efforts and communication with that WHY. This is an incredible book for marketers, leaders, and anyone looker for a deeper sense of purpose in their work.

Takeaways from the Book

Manipulation Does Not Create Loyalty

  • “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
  • “Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behavior–be it a purchase, a vote or support.”
  • “Selling based on price is like heroin. The short-term gain is fantastic, but the more you do it, the harder it becomes to kick the habit.”
  • “I cannot dispute that manipulations work…But there are trade-offs. Not a single one of them breeds loyalty. Over the course of time, they cost more and more. The gains are only short-term.”
  • “Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

The Golden Circle (WHY -> HOW -> WHAT)

  • “The Golden Circle shows how these leaders were able to inspire action instead of manipulating people to act…When you start with WHY, those who believe what you believe are drawn to you for very personal reasons.”
  • “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money–that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
  • “It’s not WHAT Apple does that distinguishes them. It is WHY they do it. Their products give life to their cause…Apple’s WHY, to challenge the status quo and to empower the individual, is a pattern in that it repeats in all they say and do.”
  • “What authenticity means is that your Golden Circle is in balance. It means that everything you say and everything you do you actually believe.”
  • “It is a false assumption that differentiation happens in HOW and WHAT you do…Differentiation happens in WHY and HOW you do it.”
  • “Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. Absent a WHY, new ideas and technologies quickly find themselves playing the price-and-feature game–a sure sign of an absence of WHY and a slide into commodity status.”
  • “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making.”
  • “[Marketing is] just one of the things I’ve done–it’s not my passion and it’s not how I define my life. My cause–to inspire people to do the things that inspire them–is WHY I get out of bed every day. The excitement is trying to find new ways, different WHATs to bring my cause to life, of which this book is one. Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY–our driving purpose, cause or belief–never changes. If our Golden Circle is in balance, WHAT we do is simply the tangible way we find to breathe life into that cause.”

Charisma and Finding Your Why

  • “Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.”
  • “Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire. Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not.”
  • “Most organizations today use very clear metrics to track the progress and growth of WHAT they do–usually it’s money. Unfortunately, we have very poor measurements to ensure that a WHY stays clear.”

Logos vs. Symbols

  • “Most companies have logos, but few have been able to convert those logos into meaningful symbols. Because most companies are bad at communicating what they believe, so it follows that most logos are devoid of any meaning. At best they serve as icons to identify a company and its products. A symbol cannot have any deep meaning until we know WHY it exists in terms bigger than simply to identify the company. Without clarity of WHY, a logo is just a logo.”
  • “For a logo to become a symbol, people must be inspired to use that logo to say something about who they are.”
  • “Symbols are any tangible representation of a clear set of values and beliefs.”


  • “Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behavior. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviors that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole.”
  • “All leaders must have two things: they must have a vision of the world that does not exist and they must have the ability to communicate it.”
  • “Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Find Your Why by Simon Sinek
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:
Find Your Why
Leaders Eat Last
Together is Better

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

Review: “The Power of Positive Leadership”

Book Review
Book: The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Every leader has dealt with negativity on their team and knows that it can be tempting to give in to negative emotions. The best leaders rise above that temptation and continue to lead with positivity and enthusiasm in the face of difficulty. In The Power of Positive Leadership, Jon Gordon shares his thoughts on why it’s so crucial to remain positive. I desperately hoped this book would offer enough “meat” and offer real content rather than “pie in the sky” aphorisms. Gordon delivered. Thankfully, this book is nothing like the 1950s book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. My apologies to those of you who loved Peale’s book, but I thought it was loaded with pithy sayings rather than substance. If you want a book of substantive information about positivity, check out Gordon’s book The Power of Positive Leadership. I also recommend The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Takeaways from the Book

The Importance of Positivity

  • “One positive leader will inspire many others to become positive leaders as well.”
  • “Throughout history we see that it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the positive leaders who change the world.”
  • “As a leader your attitude, energy, and leadership is contagious, and it has a big impact on your culture.”
  • “Our attitude helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because optimists believe in a positive future, they actually delude themselves into working more to make it possible. Their belief makes them willing to take actions to achieve it.”
  • “Gallup estimates that negativity costs the economy $250-$300 billion a year and affects the morale, performance, and productivity of teams.”
  • “The most important characteristic of a leader is optimism.” -Bob Iger

Dealing with Difficulty

  • “Greatness is never born from easy circumstances. We can become stronger when the world becomes harder.” -Erwin McManus
  • “The Gallup Organization did a study where they asked people to name the best and worst event of their lives. They found that there was an 80 percent correlation between the two events. Somehow the worst event of our lives often leads to the best, if we stay positive, stay the course, and keep moving forward.”
  • “There is always a way forward.”

Vision and Purpose

  • “When people know how they are contributing to a bigger vision and have a bigger purpose at work–and feel like their manager-leader-coach genuinely cares about them–the research shows that engagement soars.”
  • “Purpose fuels positivity and is the reason why you overcome all the challenges and keep moving forward. Purpose is why you wake up and want to transform your team and organization and change the world. Without a greater purpose, there’s no great desire. Every great organization must have a greater purpose for why they exist and every positive leader must be driven by purpose to lead others and make a greater impact.”
  • “People think that hard work is what makes us tired. Hard work doesn’t make us tired. A lack of purpose is what makes us tired.”
  • “Happiness isn’t an outside job. It’s an inside job. It doesn’t come from the work you do but rather the meaning and purpose you bring to your work.”
  • “As a positive leader you will want to carry a telescope and a microscope with you on your journey. The telescope helps you and your team keep your eyes on your vision, North Star, and big picture. The microscope helps you zoom-focus on the things you must do in the short term to realize the vision in your telescope. If you have only a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you have only a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture. You need to frequently pull out your telescope to remind yourself and your team where you are going, and you’ll need to look through your microscope daily in order to focus on what matters most and follow through on your commitments. Together they will help you take your team and organization where you want to go.”

Weed Out the Negativity

  • “You are meant to define your circumstances…Remember that it’s never about the circumstance. It’s not the challenge, change, economy, election, adversity, or setback you are facing. It’s always your state of mind and your thinking that produces how you feel and respond. When you see that the world has no power over you, you will lead more powerfully in the world.”
  • “Positive leadership is not just about feeding the positive, but also about weeding out the negative. As a leader you must recognize that negativity exists and you can’t ignore it. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow, and it eventually sabotages the team and organization. You must address the negativity. Confront it, transform it, or remove it.”
  • “Every one of us will deal with negativity and naysayers on our journey. Not everyone will have the same vision as you. Not everyone will believe in your dreams. Not everyone will get on your bus. But to succeed, your positive energy must be greater than all the negativity.”
  • “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” -Gandhi

Tips for Leading

  • “Positive leaders are humble and hungry. They don’t think they know it all. They are life-long learners who are always seeking ways to learn, improve, and grow.”
  • “I also believe positive leaders and communicators rely on nonverbal communication. They encourage through nods, facial expressions, high-fives, handshakes, pats on the back, fist bumps, and even hugs when appropriate. Positive communication isn’t just verbal. It’s also physical.”
  • “Love is the greatest leadership principle on the planet…We are who we are because someone loved us and our team will be impacted by our love. Love is what separates good and great. Good teachers know their lesson plans. Great teachers know and love their students. Good coaches know X’s and O’s. Great coaches know and love their players. Good salespeople know how to sell. Great salespeople love their clients…If you want to build a great team, business, family, school, or organization, love the people you lead and work with.”
  • “Once you know what you stand for, decisions are easy to make. When your culture dictates your decisions, you are on the right path to positive results.”
  • “It’s important to remember that being a big-time leader starts with doing the little things to serve those you lead.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Other notable books by the author:
The Energy Bus
You Win in the Locker Room First
The No Complaining Rule

Review: “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise”

Book Review
Book: Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule? It was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell based that rule on the research of Anders Ericsson, who just released his own book that sets the record straight on what exactly is required to become an expert in a given field. The 10,000-hour rule isn’t quite true (read Peak to find out why), but it does get a few things right–namely that talent is overrated and hard work rules the day. Ericsson shares research conducted on chess grandmasters, violinists, musicians, ballerinas, and others at the top of the world in their craft. The research conclusively shows that deliberate practice trumps innate talent in the battle for the podium in any given area of expertise. Peak is an amazing book that has practical implications spanning education, sports, and personal drive to be the best in whatever you love to do.

Takeaways from the Book

Expertise Takes Hard Work

  • “We now understand that there’s no such thing as a predefined ability. The brain is adaptable, and training can create skills that did not exist before…Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We can create our own potential.”
  • “I can report with confidence that I have never found a convincing case for anyone developing extraordinary abilities without intense, extended practice.”
  • “When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot it really pisses me off. I tell those people, ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day.’ Not some days. Every day. Ask anyone who has been on a team with me who shoots the most. Go back to Seattle and Milwaukee, and ask them. The answer is me.” -Ray Allen, 10-time NBA all-star and greatest three-point shooter in the history of the league
  • “People do not stop learning and improving because they have reached some innate limits on their performance; they stop learning and improving because, for whatever reasons, they stopped practicing–or never started. There is no evidence that any otherwise normal people are born without the innate talent to sing or do math or perform any other skill.

Mental Representations

  • A mental representation is a brain schema/shortcut developed through deep experience and practice. “Any relatively complicated activity requires holding more information in our heads than short-term memory allows, so we are always building mental representations of one sort or another without even being aware of it.”
  • “The thing all mental representations have in common is that they make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of short-term memory.”
  • “The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredibly memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.”
  • “The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations.”
  • “In any area, not just musical performance, the relationship between skill and mental representations is a virtuous circle: the more skilled you become, the better your mental representations are, and the better your mental representations are, the more effectively you can practice to hone your skill.”

Deliberate Practice

  • “Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.”
  • “Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.”
  • “Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.”
  • Key aspects of deliberate practice:
    1. Requires a teacher who can provide specific practice activities
    2. Involves well-defined, specific goals (not aimed at some vague overall improvement)
    3. Requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions
    4. Involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback
    5. Produces and depends upon effective mental representations
    6. Systematically works to improve micro-aspects of each skill
  • “Remember: if your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.”
  • “The hallmark of purposeful or deliberate practice is that you try to do something you cannot do–that takes you out of your comfort zone–and that you practice it over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, where you are falling short, and how you can get better.”

Other Insights

  • “When people assume that talent plays a major, even determining, role in how accomplished a person can become, that assumption points one toward certain decisions and actions. If you assume that people who are not innately gifted are never going to be good at something, then the children who don’t excel at something right away are encouraged to try something else…The prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.”
  • “Since the 1990s brain researchers have come to realize that the brain–even the adult brain–is far more adaptable than anyone ever imagined, and this gives us a tremendous amount of control over what our brains are able to do.”
  • “This is how the body’s desire for homeostasis can be harnessed to drive changes: push it hard enough and for long enough, and it will respond by changing in ways that make that push easier to do.”
  • “Once you have identified an expert, identify what this person does differently from others that could explain the superior performance.”
  • “To date, we have found no limitations to the improvements that can be made with particular types of practice.”
  • “The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not. And once a pathfinder shows how something can be done, others can learn the technique and follow. Even if the pathfinder doesn’t share the particular technique…simply knowing that something is possible drives others to figure it out.”
  • “I suspect that such genetic differences–if they exist–are most likely to manifest themselves through the necessary practice and efforts that go into developing a skill. Perhaps, for example, some children are born with a suite of genes that cause them to get more pleasure from drawing or from making music. Then those children will be more likely to draw or to make music than other children. If they’re put in art classes or music classes, they’re likely to spend more time practicing because it is more fun for them. They carry their sketchpads or guitars with them wherever they go. And over time these children will become better artists or better musicians than their peers–not because they are innately more talented in the sense that they have some genes for musical or artistic ability, but because something–perhaps genetic–pushed them to practice and thus develop their skills to a greater degree than their peers.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Grit by Angela Duckworth
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Other notable books by the authors:
Toward a General Theory of Expertise edited by Anders Ericsson and Jacqui Smith
Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology by Robert Pool

Review: “Rise”

Book Review
Book: Rise by Patty Azzarello

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Rise is an empowering book. It’s a book that frees you to focus on the truly important things of your job rather than getting caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day tasks that try to bog you down. Author Patty Azzarello encourages leaders to be confident in their abilities, seek to give more than you receive, and ruthlessly prioritize time in order to be successful. She offers tangible ideas for freeing up more of your time to focus on higher-level projects in your work.

Takeaways from the Book

Deal with the Chaos

  • “No one other than YOU has any motivation whatsoever to make you less busy…If you are overwhelmed by the activities of your job and you use up all your time and energy on your current job, you are not ready for a bigger one. Simple as that.”
  • “It’s important to realize that not only do you have permission, but also as a leader you are expected to be able to deal with an overwhelming workload and not be overwhelmed. That’s the job.”
  • “Your job as a leader is to deal with chaos and pressure and make it more manageable. You are supposed to create systems and processes to get more done with less effort. You are expected to think strategically, prioritize, and focus on the most critical tasks. But you’ll never get to do any of this if you don’t first give yourself permission to be less busy.”
  • “Just know that it’s not the work that matters; it’s the outcomes you deliver. You don’t win the game for running up and down the court; it’s the points on the board that count.”
  • “Trust that giving yourself time to think will help you find ways to deliver higher-value business outcomes and get the right work done in less time.”

Ruthlessly Prioritize

  • “Overachieve where it counts.”
  • “Simply put, highly successful people don’t do everything. Watch them. They drop the ball on all kinds of things. They disappoint people. They may have disappointed you from time to time. But if they are successful, the other thing that you will notice is that they have a ruthless focus on the things they care about.”
  • “The ability to work this way is not a status that is granted to you. These people were not given permission to focus on a few things and drop others. They were not less busy or less constrained than others. They took risks. They worked it out. You need to work it out.”
  • “The work almost never comes across the table at you the way you should do it.”
  • “Because you are genuinely succeeding at the things that have the biggest impact on this business, you’ll be forgiven for the things you don’t get done.”
  • “You need to communicate your Ruthless Priorities over and over and over again…Unless you are completely sick and tired of talking about your message, you aren’t even close to getting your audience to adopt it.”

Make More Time

  • “Take some time back. Just take it. Actually schedule time to think. If you have no time to think, you will continue to use up all your time. For a start, schedule two hours per week and hide.”
  • “Make your container of time for your current activities smaller…Decide how much time various areas of work are worth, and don’t exceed that amount of time.”
  • “Don’t resolve things that don’t need to be resolved.”
  • Have a “Don’t Do” list.
  • Create a list with three columns: (1) Things I am getting done (2) Things you think I am doing that I am not (3) Things I know are important that I can’t get to at all
  • “Successful people fail more than unsuccessful people. They try a lot, they do a lot, and they fail a lot. They just get over it and keep going.”

Working with Your Strengths

  • “Manage your circumstances to ensure you’ll be doing what you are naturally good at most of the time.”
  • “Once you have your strengths in focus, you need to think about how you can tune your job to put yourself in your ‘power alley’ more of the time.”
  • “I love my job. I am doing exactly what I am really good at. It’s taken me twenty years to get all the stuff I suck at out of my job description.”

The Level Dilemma

  • “Each time you step up a level, what it means to be good at your job changes.”
  • “Your value is in developing strategy, people, and teams, not in delivering the work personally.”
  • “As a leader who has stepped up, you need to associate your value with different stuff. If you don’t start to associate your value with the higher-level managerial and leadership work, you will automatically gravitate back to the detail, because that is where you feel the value is. You’ll keep working at the wrong level, and you’ll fail to do an effective job as a leader.”
  • “Being stuck in the content and detail is working in the business. Rising above the content to lead and build capability in your team is working on the business. Essentially, you want to spend more time thinking and less time doing. If you are spending all your time doing, you are probably not working on the business.”


  • “I have never seen a smart person damaged by letting a smarter person thrive beneath him or her.”
  • “If you send people the signal that you trust them, and you encourage them to do big things, they will be more motivated to do big things. And more often than not, they will do them.”
  • “The hardest part about building trust is that you need to be unfailingly consistent. As soon as you let up, change your mind, disappear for a while, don’t pounce on a consequence, let something slide, fail to give credit, or back off on communicating, you are degrading trust. I have a mentor who describes this part of leadership as ‘the hard, boring, and required stuff.’ Stay ever diligent on measures, consequences, and communicating. The payoff is big.”
  • “The higher you go, the more you need the support of others. As you advance, success becomes less about what you yourself can do and more and more about what you can accomplish through others.”

Authentic Networking, Not Politics

  • “Keep in mind that networking as two distinct parts: (1) Keeping in touch with the people you already know (2) Meeting new people.”
  • “Most of the power from networking actually comes from keeping in touch with the people you already know.”
  • “Networking is actually about giving, not taking…Once you start to think about building your network by what you can give, and by adding genuine value for others, it becomes much more meaningful and feels much less political. Remember, your network only has value if you put value into it.
  • “The trick to authentic networking: Give when you don’t need anything. Take less than you give—always.”

Confident or Fearless: Your Choice

  • “Fearlessness is partly about having the imagination to see yourself in that role, deserving that role. It is also about being willing to go there before you feel ready and comfortable. Over and over again, I have seen less-talented, less-qualified people move beyond higher performers for the sole reason that they were willing to do so.”
  • “If you aspire to big things or the top jobs, you can’t get there without putting aside your confidence issues and just doing it anyway. If you are smart, you will catch up with your leap. I promise. I’ve done this with pretty much every job transition I’ve made.”
  • “A key test of executive presence is to look like you are doing your job with ease and grace. Even if behind the scenes it is chaos, what people should see is you being calm and in control.”
  • “It’s ok to be terrified. In fact, if you are terrified, you are doing it right! I was lucky to have mentors and coaches share this with me, and I want to share it with you. All executives feel at certain points like they are in over their heads, don’t know what to do, aren’t doing a good enough job, and are going to be ‘found out’—particularly when they start a new job.
  • “One sign that you are on a fast track is that you spend most of your career at the bottom of the pay curve, because you get promoted too quickly to ever climb up a pay curve for a particular level. Part of the success formula is being willing to take these leaps and throw yourself into situations where you don’t know much or where you could be challenged as inexperienced. You need to trust yourself to be smart enough, and then you need to learn really fast!”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Presence by Amy Cuddy
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Other notable books by the author:
Move: How Decisive Leaders Execute Strategy Despite Obstacles, Setbacks, and Stalls

Review: “Fierce Conversations”

Book Review
Book: Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
One of my favorite books is Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. Since reading that book, I’ve been on the lookout for other impactful books that teach how to have meaningful difficult conversations. I finally found one. Susan Scott’s work contains numerous insights useful for having tough conversations with colleagues, friends, and family. The most memorable one for me was Scott’s description of “official truth vs. ground truth,” which is described further below.

Takeaways from the Book

Fierce Conversations

  • “When you think of a fierce conversation, think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think of leadership.”
  • “Doesn’t ‘fierce’ suggest menacing, cruel, barbarous, threatening? Sounds like raised voices, frowns, blood on the floor, no fun at all. In Roget’s Thesaurus, however, the word fierce has the following synonyms: robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, untamed. In its simplest form, a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. While many are afraid of ‘real,’ it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death. Whoever said talk is cheap was mistaken. Unreal conversations are incredibly expensive for organizations and for individuals.
  • “Success occurs one conversation at a time.”
  • “Begin listening to yourself as you’ve never listened before. Begin to overhear yourself avoiding the topic, changing the subject, telling little lies (and big ones), being imprecise in your language, being uninteresting even to yourself. And at least once today, when something inside you says, ‘This is an opportunity to be fierce,’ stop for a moment, take a deep breath, then come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Say something that is true for you.”
  • “During a fierce conversation, my role is not to say what is easy to say or what we all can say, but to say what we have been unable to say. I try to pay attention to things that may pass unobserved by others and bring them out into the open. The most valuable thing any of us can do is find a way to say the things that can’t be said.”

Ways to Know You Just Had a Fierce Conversation

  • You identified and focused on the real issue.
  • You didn’t get sidetracked by rabbit trails.
  • You took him or her deeper and deeper into the issue until you found the core.
  • You weren’t distracted by anything else going on in the room.
  • You used silence powerfully.

Interrogate Reality

  • “We believe that, in order to execute initiatives and deliver goals, leaders must have conversations that interrogate reality, provoke learning, tackle tough challenges and enrich relationships.”
  • Ask yourself, “What are the leaders in my organization pretending not to know? What am I pretending not to know?”
  • “Several years ago I was introduced to the military term ground truth, which refers to what’s actually happening on the ground versus the official tactics. One of the challenges worth going after in any organization–be it a company or a marriage–is getting to ground truth…What is ground truth in your organization? Every day companies falter and fail because the difference between ground truth and the ‘official truth’ is significant.”
  • “The official truth is available for general circulation and is viewed by most team members as propaganda. Ground truth is discussed around the water cooler, in the bathrooms, and in the parking lot, but it is seldom offered for public consumption and rarely shows up when you need it most–when the entire team is assembled to discuss how to introduce a new product or analyze the loss of a valuable customer and figure out how to prevent it from happening again.”
  • “Profitability requires an ongoing interrogation of reality, of ground truth.”
  • “In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.” -Edwin Friedman
  • “The point here is to draw others out with good questions and incredible listening on your part.”
  • “A fierce conversation is not about holding forth on your point of view, but about provoking learning by sitting with someone side by side and jointly interrogating reality. The goal is to expand the conversation rather than narrow it. Questions are much more effective than answers in provoking learning.”

The Decision Tree

  • “The president of the company I worked for in my late twenties took me through this exercise when I was promoted to my first management role. She drew a rough sketch of a tree and said: ‘Think of our company as a green and growing tree that bears fruit. In order to ensure its ongoing health, countless decisions are made daily, weekly, month. Right now in your development, you have a good history of making decisions in these areas [we reviewed those areas]. So let’s think of these areas as leaf-level decisions. Make them, act on them, don’t tell me what you did. Let’s make it our goal to move more decisions out to the leaf level. That’s how you and I will both know you’re developing as a leader.’”
  • “She pointed to her sketch of the tree and explained four categories of decisions.”
    • Leaf Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.
    • Branch Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Report the action you took daily, weekly, or monthly.
    • Trunk Decisions: Make the decision. Report your decision before you take action.
    • Root Decisions: Make the decision jointly, with input from many people. These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the organization.
  • “Remind everyone that the goal is to move more and more decisions out to the leaf level.”
  • “At a GE plant, managers were told, ‘You have six months to teach everyone who reports to you to get along without you.’”
  • “If your employees believe their job is to do what you tell them, you’re sunk.”

Confrontations and Giving Feedback

  • “All confrontation is a search for the truth. Who owns the truth? Each of us owns a piece of it, and nobody owns all of it.”
  • “When we are preparing to confront someone’s behavior, our obligation is to describe our reality concerning the behavior and then invite our partner to describe the reality from his or her point of view.”
  • “People deserve to know exactly what is required of them, how and on what criteria they will be judged (including attitude), and how they are doing. Praise is essential when deserved. And when you praise, keep that conversation separate, focused, and clear. Reserve your praise for specific behaviors and results deserving of celebration and congratulation. Do not use praise as a lead-in to a confrontation.
  • “When we script what others will say and do prior to a conversation, we can be so locked into the responses we’re expecting that when someone responds differently, we do not notice. He may not seem angry right now, but inside I bet he’s seething. I know how he is…Our bodies manifest the pictures our minds send to them, so pay fierce attention to the negative scenario you are running in your mind.”
  • “Healthy relationships require appreciation and confrontation.”
  • “Fierce conversations cannot be dependent on how others respond.”

Other Leadership Lessons

  • “For a leader, there is no trivial comment. Something you might not even remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone looking to you for guidance and approval. By the same token, something you said years ago may have encouraged and inspired someone who is grateful to you to this day.”
  • “I am successful to the degree that who I am and what I live are in alignment.”
  • “As a leader, you get what you tolerate.”
  • “If you want to build a ship, don’t gather your people and ask them to provide wood, prepare tools, assign tasks. Call them together and raise in their minds the longing for the endless sea.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Difficult Conversations
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Other notable books by the author:
Fierce Leadership

Review: “Mindset”

Book Review
Book: Mindset by Carol Dweck

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Over the past several months, I’ve read numerous books that referenced Carol Dweck’s research on the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.” By the fourth or fifth reference, I asked myself why I was bothering to read what amounted to secondary research: authors quoting Dweck. I finally went straight to the source and picked up a copy of Dweck’s book Mindset. In the book, 
Dweck blows the doors off IQ bias and explains why hard work and continuous improvement are more important than innate traits like static intelligence. Powerful book. Powerful research. I definitely recommend checking out Mindset. It will cause you to question many assumptions you’ve likely held about intelligence.

Takeaways from the Book

Qualities of the Fixed Mindset

  • Based on the belief that your qualities are carved in stone
  • Creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over, as everything comes back to a question of whether you’re good enough
  • To those with a fixed mindset, “failure” on a task leads the person to question their identity, intelligence, etc. and apply labels like “I’m a total failure,” “I’m an idiot,” etc.
  • “Leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to (1) avoid challenges (2) get defensive or give up easily (3) see effort as fruitless or worse (4) ignore useful negative feedback and (5) feel threatened by the success of others. As a result, [fixed mindset individuals] may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.”

Qualities of the Growth Mindset

  • Based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate and grow through your efforts
  • In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development
  • To those with a growth mindset, “failure” exposes areas for personal growth, as they now know what they need to improve.
  • Although people may differ in every which way–in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments–everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
  • “Leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to (1) embrace challenges (2) persist in the face of setbacks (3) see effort as the path to mastery (4) learn from criticism and (5) find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. As a result, [growth mindset individuals] reach ever-higher levels of achievement.”


Comparing the Two Mindsets

  • “In one world–the world of fixed traits–success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other–the world of changing qualities–it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”
  • “From the point of view of the fixed mindset, effort is only for people with deficiencies…Why is effort so terrifying? There are two reasons. One is that in the fixed mindset, great geniuses are not supposed to need it. So just needing it casts a shadow on your ability. The second is that it robs you of all your excuses. Without effort, you can always say, ‘I could have been [fill in the blank].’ But once you try, you can’t say that anymore. Someone once said to me, ‘I could have been Yo-Yo Ma.’ If she had really tried for it, she wouldn’t have been able to say that.”
  • “In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it.”
  • “Mindsets frame the running account that’s taking place in people’s heads. They guide the whole interpretation process. The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging: ‘This means I’m a loser.’ ‘This means I’m a better person than they are.’ ‘This means I’m a bad husband.’ ‘This means my partner is selfish.’ In several studies, we probed the way people with a fixed mindset dealt with information they were receiving. We found that they put a very strong evaluation on each and every piece of information. Something good led to a very strong positive label and something bad led to a very strong negative label.”

Implications for Teaching and Training

  • “I think it’s too easy for a teacher to say, ‘Oh, this child wasn’t born with it, so I won’t waste my time.’ Too many teachers hide their own lack of ability behind that statement.” -Dorothy DeLay
  • “Great teachers set high standards for all their students, not just the ones who are already achieving.”
  • “Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.”
  • “Great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”

Applications for Parents

  • “Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence–like a gift–by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”
  • “Does this mean we can’t praise our children enthusiastically when they do something great? Should we try to restrain our admiration for their successes? Not at all. It just means that we should keep away from a certain kind of praise–praise that judges their intelligence or talent. Or praise that implies that we’re proud of them for their intelligence or talent rather than for the work they put in.”
  • “After seven experiments with hundreds of children, we had some of the clearest finding I’ve ever seen: Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.
  • “One more thing about praise. When we say to children, ‘Wow, you did that so quickly!’ or ‘Look, you didn’t make any mistakes!’ what message are we sending? We are telling them that what we prize are speed and perfection. Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning.”


Other Insights

  • Even the IQ test was not designed to test static intelligence. Alfred Binet, its creator, designed the test “to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence.”
  • “It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”
  • “If you only go through life doing stuff that’s easy, shame on you.”
  • “We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that led them inevitably toward their greatness…People with the growth mindset, however, believe something very different. For them, even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements. And what’s so heroic, they would say, about having a gift?”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:
Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck
Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson and Carol Dweck
Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development by Carol Dweck