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: “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: “Fix It”

Book Review
Book: Fix It by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, Craig Hickman, Tracy Skousen, and Marcus Nicolls

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
I was honored to receive an advance copy of Fix It, which comes out on May 31st. When I cracked open the book, I was a bit skeptical about the “choose your own adventure” format employed by the authors, but the format worked really well. Fix It provides practical, actionable ideas that I’ve already begun to use in leading my team at work. The book is definitely more pragmatic and useful than many other leadership and management resources, as every concept is fleshed out in immediate “solutions” that other corporate leaders and executives have employed in their companies. Although some of the recommended solutions were a bit “soft” or seemingly unrelated to the specific topics in which they were mentioned, I definitely learned a lot from this book and would rate it as one of the better business books I’ve read all year.

Takeaways from the Book

“Getting accountability right makes all the difference in the world and is the key to unlocking individual talent and potential.” -Ginger Graham

The authors’ definition of accountability: “Accountability is a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving Key Results: See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.”

The 16 Accountability Traits
SEE IT: Acknowledging reality and seeing things as they really are
1) Obtaining the perspectives of others*
2) Communicating openly and candidly*
3) Asking for and offering feedback*
4) Hearing and saying the hard things to see reality

OWN IT: Connecting past efforts with what we are going to do to achieve what we want
5) Being personally invested
6) Learning from both successes and failures
7) Ensuring my work is aligned with key results
8) Acting on the feedback I (we) receive*

SOLVE IT: Tackling real problems and removing true obstacles on your road to results
9) Constantly asking “What else can I (we) do?”
10) Collaborating across functional boundaries
11) Creatively dealing with obstacles
12) Taking the necessary risks*

DO IT: Taking accountability to make things happen and get things done
13) Doing the things I (we) say I (we) will do
14) Staying “above the line” by not blaming others
15) Tracking progress with proactive and transparent reporting
16) Building an environment of trust*

*In the interest of brevity, I have only summarized ideas from six of the accountability traits rather than all sixteen. The summarized traits are identified with asterisks in the list above.*

Obtaining the Perspectives of Others

  • “We all operate on limited information based on where we stand relative to the challenges we face. As a result, we rarely see the whole picture, relying instead on just our own bias and restricted point of view.”
  • “If you’re too busy to walk the hallways or plant floor to chat with your people, too busy to let people know you want to know, then you’re doing something wrong.”
  • “A certain degree of humility is critical to getting accountability right. Humility is a deep, authentic acknowledgment that we can’t do it alone, that we should be mindful of the perspectives others bring, and that we can be better and do more with input from others…Humility is on the list of the most essential leadership attributes because it strengthens one’s ability to learn. To be humble means to be teachable…Humility promotes a very personal and real recognition that the experiences and opinions of others matter, and that they can make a difference in your success.


Communicating Openly and Candidly

  • “A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms…Candor is the key to collaborating effectively.” -Ed Catmull
  • “You don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or policy are being hashed out. Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and…hold them close.” -Ed Catmull
  • “Our advice: let go of the false belief that not being open and candid is ever an option. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What would I say if this were my own company, if it were my own money, my own reputation, my own legacy at stake?’”
  • “Being open and candid is always better than letting truth languish in the shadows.”
  • “Bad news never ages well.” -Alan Taylor

Asking for and Offering Feedback

  • “Feedback is oxygen. It’s lifeblood. We can’t grow and develop without it.”
  • “For more than two decades, working with thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of people at every organizational level, we have found one reliable rule: You probably won’t get feedback unless you ask for it.
  • “You will distinguish yourself in a very positive way if you become good at offering and asking for feedback.”
  • “Feedback done properly is one of the highest forms of mutual respect one can express in a professional setting.”

Michael Scott Head on Hands

Acting on the Feedback I (We) Receive

  • When your people suggest ideas you disagree with, you should not shut them down. Instead, respond with, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” You can (and should) close the loop later by saying, “You know, I had time to think about your idea, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you…”
  • “Your first reaction should be one of gratitude.” -Jason Schubert
  • “Acting on any feedback you receive will create the experience for others that you really do want feedback, and that you will consume it in a way that makes taking the risk to offer it worthwhile.”
  • “It’s important to realize what a gift feedback is and treat it like that. I never, ever blow anyone up for telling me truly bad news. I try to categorize bad news and good news as ‘just news,’ and never, ever shoot the messenger. This attitude keeps the feedback channels open and the information flowing.” -Brad Lee

Taking the Necessary Risks

  • “We have found that every breakthrough requires a ‘break with’ something. A break from the way you’ve always done things, from familiar patterns and systems, in order to try something untried, untested, or unproven.”
  • “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -Einstein
  • “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.” -Thomas Edison
  • “Success is simply about working hard and delivering results and staying uncomfortable.” -Hugh Ekberg
  • “Intentionally look for opportunities and make choices that will take you outside your comfort zone. And do this every day.” -Hugh Ekberg

Building an Environment of Trust

  • “Trust is the outcome of getting accountability right, and becoming an accountable person.”
  • “Yes, results are certainly important, but you should be more proud when folks who worked for you go on to succeed beyond you. That’s your badge of honor.” -Mark McNeil
  • “Accountable people can be counted on to do what they say, to not blame others, and to listen carefully to their colleagues, all essential ingredients to building trust.”
  • “One sure way to foster greater trust in people is to help them see that you as a leader are doing everything possible to make them better, build them up, and promote them.”
  • “To elevate others, you want to try to constantly eliminate your own job by teaching it to subordinates, so you don’t have to do today what you did yesterday.” -Hugh Ekberg
  • “When people believe you care, trust is automatic.”
  • “When you guide and don’t tell, people may fail a bit more, but they will also grow more, learn more, have more ownership, and bring more results to the company table.” -Jim Arnold

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
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Other notable books by the authors:
The Oz Principle by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman
Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith
How Did That Happen? by Roger Connors and Tom Smith

Review: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

Book Review
Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
This book deserves a place of prominence on the shelf of every aspiring leader. Carnegie is a master of communication who can teach you how to inspire your co-workers with grace and positive speech. This book completely redefined the way I look at leadership, and Carnegie’s writing has had a similar impact on numerous friends of mine as well. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better book on leadership and communication skills.

Eminem How to Win Friends

Takeaways from the Book

Praise > Criticism

  • “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”
  • Lincoln “had learned by bitter experience that sharp criticisms and rebukes almost invariably end in futility.”
  • “I will speak ill of no man…and speak all the good I know of everybody.” -Benjamin Franklin
  • “Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do.”
  • “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors. I never criticize anyone. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.” -Charles Schwab
  • “In our interpersonal relations we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.”

Leading with Influence

  • “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”
  • “Tomorrow you may want to persuade somebody to do something. Before you speak, pause and ask yourself: ‘How can I make this person want to do it?’”
  • “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

The Power of Listening and Showing Interest in Others

  • “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”
  • “We are interested in others when they are interested in us.” -Publilius Syrus
  • “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”
  • “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” -Henry Ford
  • “You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  • “To know all is to forgive all.”
  • “I judge people by their own principles—not by my own.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “You deserve very little credit for being what you are—and remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are.”

Impressive Acts of Leadership

  • “Charles Schwab was passing through one of his steel mills one day at noon when he came across some of his employees smoking. Immediately above their heads was a sign that said ‘No Smoking.’ Did Schwab point to the sign and say, ‘Can’t you read?’ Oh, no not Schwab. He walked over to the men, handed each one a cigar, and said, ‘I’ll appreciate it, boys, if you will smoke these on the outside.’ They knew that he knew that they had broken a rule—and they admired him because he said nothing about it and gave them a little present and made them feel important. Couldn’t keep from loving a man like that, could you?”
  • “General Robert E. Lee once spoke to the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, in the most glowing terms about a certain officer under his command. Another officer in attendance was astonished. ‘General,’ he said, ‘do you not know that the man of whom you speak so highly is one of your bitterest enemies who misses no opportunity to malign you?’ ‘Yes,’ replied General Lee, ‘but the president asked my opinion of him; he did not ask for his opinion of me.’
  • “The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.” -Lao-tse

Michael Scott Fear or Love

Other Insights

  • “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “Leadership gravitates to the person who can talk.”
  • “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.”
  • “About 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people.”
  • “It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”
  • “All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.” -Motto of the King’s Guard in Ancient Greece
  • “Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle.”
  • “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.” -Carlyle
  • “Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask. People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.”

Carnegie’s Instructions on How to Lead

  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  • Ask questions instead of giving orders.
  • Let the other person save face.
  • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.
  • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  • Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

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

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

Other notable books by the author:
The Art of Public Speaking
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Review: “Made to Stick”

Book Review
Book: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
This is arguably the best business book I’ve ever read. Chip and Dan Heath provide powerful stories, relevant examples, and instructional workshops that teach how to craft better messages for your audience. It’s one of the best books out there for marketers, teachers, and just about anyone who wants to get an idea into the minds of others. 

Takeaways from the Book


  • “If you have to tell someone the same thing ten times, the idea probably wasn’t very well designed. No urban legend has to be repeated ten times.”
  • “A successful defense lawyer says, ‘If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.’ To strip down an idea to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize…Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.”
  • “When you say three things, you say nothing. When your remote control has fifty buttons, you can’t change the channel anymore.”
  • “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • “People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.”
  • “Analogies make it possible to understand a compact message because they invoke concepts that you already know.”



  • “We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period of time by systematically ‘opening gaps’ in their knowledge—and then filling those gaps.”
  • “Mysteries are powerful because they create a need for closure.”
  • “If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.”
  • Gap Theory = “The goal is not to summarize; it’s to make you care about knowing something, and then to tell you what you want to know.”


  • “Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images…because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.”
  • “Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways.”
  • “Concreteness is a way of mobilizing and focusing your brain.” (Example: Name as many white things as possible in 15 seconds. Okay, great. How big is your list? Now try the test again, but name as many white things as possible that are located in a refrigerator. Easier, right? That concreteness helps your brain narrow in on a smaller, more manageable assignment.)


  • “The takeaway is that it can be the honesty and trustworthiness of our sources, not their status, that allows them to act as authorities. Sometimes antiauthorities are even better than authorities.” (Example: A lifelong smoker with emphysema can be a powerful “antiauthority” for a non-smoking campaign.)
  • “The use of vivid details is one way to create internal credibility—to weave sources of credibility into the idea itself. Another way is to use statistics…Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.”


  • “Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are hired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”
  • “The goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.”
  • “[John] Caples says companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. ‘The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).’


  • “Mental practice alone—sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish—improves performance significantly…Overall, mental practice alone produced about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.”
  • Three basic plots compose the majority of amazing stories: 1) The Challenge Plot 2) The Connection Plot 3) The Creativity Plot
  • “The problem is that when you hit listeners between the eyes they respond by fighting back. The way you deliver a message to them is a cue to how they should react. If you make an argument, you’re implicitly asking them to evaluate your argument—judge it, debate it, criticize it—and then argue back, at least in their minds. But with a story, Denning argues, you engage the audience—you are involving people with the idea, asking them to participate with you.”
  • “Stories focus people on potential solutions. Telling stories with visible goals and barriers shifts the audience into a problem-solving mode.”


The Enemy: The “Curse of Knowledge”

  • “Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it. And that, in turn, makes it harder for you to communicate clearly to a novice.”
  • “One of the worst things about knowing a lot, or having access to a lot of information, is that we’re tempted to share it all.”
  • “When a CEO urges her team to ‘unlock shareholder value,’ that challenge means something vivid to her. As in the Tappers and Listeners game, there’s a song playing in her head that the employees can’t hear. What does ‘unlocking shareholder value’ mean for how I treat this particular customer? What does being the ‘highest-quality producer’ mean for my negotiation with this difficult vendor?”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Contagious by Jonah Berger
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the authors:
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Review: “Influencer”

Book Review
Book: Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
The team at Vital Smarts (Patterson, Grenny, et al.) have written some of my favorite books on leadership and communication. Their book Influencer reveals key insights into how to influence others. The concepts apply across many fields–non-profit organizations, social entrepreneurship platforms, for-profit corporations, etc., as evidenced by the wealth of examples cited in the book. Similar to Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, this book provides tangible examples rather than theoretical fluff.

Takeaways from the Book

Focus on Behaviors

  • “When faced with a number of possible options, take care to search for strategies that focus on specific behaviors…It turns out that all influence geniuses focus on behaviors…They start by asking: In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?”
  • “Master influencers know that a few behaviors can drive big change. They look carefully for the vital behaviors that create a cascade of change. No matter the size of the problem, if you dilute your efforts across dozens of behaviors, you’ll never reach critical mass. If your problem is common, odds are the research has already been done for you.”
  • “When behaviors must be customized to your personal or local circumstance, look for vital behaviors by studying positive deviance. Look for people, times, or places where you or others don’t experience the same problems and try to determine the unique behaviors that make the difference.”
  • “When it comes to altering behavior, you need to help other answer only two questions. First: Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort?) And second: Can they do this thing? (If not, why try?)”

Arnold Persuasion

Persuading Others to Follow

  • “The great persuader is personal experience. With persistent problems, it’s best to give verbal persuasion a rest and try to help people experience the world as you experience it.”
  • “The most powerful incentive known to humankind is our own evaluation of our behavior and accomplishments.”
  • “The biggest motivators of excellence are intrinsic. They have to do with people’s accountability to themselves. It’s wanting to do well, to be proud, to go home happy having accomplished something.” -Don Berwick
  • “You must replace judgment with empathy, and lectures with questions. If you do so, you gain influence. The instant you stop trying to impose your agenda on others, you eliminate the fight for control.”
  • A research study conducted by Dr. Everett Rogers determined that “the merit of an idea did not predict its adoption rate. What predicted whether an innovation was widely accepted or not was whether a specific group of people (opinion leaders) embraced it. Period.”

Personal and Team Leadership

  • “Who shall set a limit to the influence of a human being?” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “If you aren’t willing to go to the mat when people violate a core value (such as giving their best effort), that value loses its moral force in the organization.”
  • “Insist on immediate feedback against clear standards. Break tasks into discrete actions, set goals for each, practice within a low-risk environment, and build in recovery strategies. Finally, make sure that you apply the same deliberate practice tactics to physical, intellect, and even complex social skills.”
  • “I learned a long time ago that credit is infinitely divisible. Give it away every chance you get, and there’s always plenty left for you.” -Dr. Don Berwick
  • “When choosing rewards, don’t be afraid to draw on small, heartfelt tokens of appreciation. Remember, when it comes to extrinsic rewards, less is often more. Do your best to reward behaviors and not merely outcomes. Sometimes outcomes hide inappropriate behaviors.”

The Power of Environment

  • “Rarely does the average person conceive of changing the physical world as a way of changing human behavior. We see that others are misbehaving, and we look to change them, not their environment…Consequently, one of our most powerful sources of influence (the physical environment) is often the least used because it’s the least noticeable.”
  • “The fact that different groups of employees are exposed to wildly different data streams helps explain why people often have such different priorities and passions. Different groups, departments, and level of employees worry about very different aspects of the company’s success, not because they hold different values, but because they’re exposed to different data…It’s hard to expect people to act in balanced ways when they have access to only one data stream.
  • “Simply put, propinquity is physical proximity, and (Leon) Festinger and others spent a good amount of time studying how it affects our behaviors and relationships…Festinger discovered that the frequency and quality of human interaction is largely a function of physical distance…At the corporate level, bosses who interact the most frequently with their subordinates generally have the best relationships. And who interacts the most often? Bosses who are located closest to their direct reports…If you want to predict who doesn’t trust or get along with whom in a company, take out a tape measure.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Other notable books by the authors:
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Change Anything by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Review: “Crucial Conversations”

Book Review
Book: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
I don’t re-read books often, but I made an exception for this one. I’ve now read it three times, and I plan to revisit this book for the rest of my life. It’s honestly that good. Crucial Conversations is packed with insights into how to deliver a tough message. The most valuable lesson I learned was the tendency of the human brain to craft biased hero/villain stories amid periods of conflict with others. I draw upon concepts from this book everyday in my interactions with my colleagues, spouse, and friends.

Takeaways from the Book

What is a “Crucial Conversation”?

  • “When conversations matter most, we’re usually at our worst.”
  • Crucial Conversation = A discussion between two or more people where…
    1. Stakes are high
    2. Opinions vary
    3. Emotions run strong

*Note: Jenna Ryan on The Self Love U Blog has more amazing Crucial Conversations sketchnotes on her blog. Click on the link for her site or the image above to see more of her work.

The Shared Pool of Meaning

  • “When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open.” They ask clarifying questions to encourage others to add their knowledge to the “shared pool.”
  • Generating a shared pool of meaning has several advantages:
    • “As individuals are exposed to more accurate and relevant information, they make better choices.”
    • “When people purposefully withhold meaning from one another, individually smart people can do collectively stupid things.”
    • When a decision is finally reached, everyone knows why/how you got there and can be committed to the final decision.

Work on Yourself Before Working on Others

  • “Although it’s true that there are times when we are merely bystanders in life’s never-ending stream of head-on collisions, rarely are we completely innocent. More often than not, we do something to contribute to the problems we’re experiencing.”
  • “It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills.”
  • “The best at dialogue speak their minds completely and do it in a way that makes it safe for others to hear what they have to say and respond to it as well. They are both totally frank and completely respectful.”

Embrace “And” > “Or” When Making Decisions

  • We often fall into the pitfall of making a “sucker’s choice” between two ugly options. Example: We think we need to choose between bringing up something important or being kind. We can have both.
  • “What makes these sucker’s choices is that they’re always set up as the only two options available. It’s the worst kind of either/or thinking. The person making the choice never suggests there’s a third option that doesn’t call for unhealthy behavior. For example, maybe there’s a way to be honest and respectful. Perhaps we can express our candid opinion to our boss and be safe.”

Create a Safe Environment for Voicing Productive Conflict

  • When put into challenging situations, people often resort to silence or violence. To counter this unproductive tendency, establish mutual purpose in conversations with others.
  • “Mutual purpose means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values.“
  • Example: “Pro-life” advocates were asked to partner with “pro-choice” advocates to establish a mutual purpose between their two groups. Despite the fact that both sides had passionate opinions about abortion, they were collectively able to establish a mutual purpose of reducing teen pregnancies. This shared purpose aligned both sides behind a common goal—despite the fact that they vehemently disagreed with each other on many other issues.
  • Use contrasting to rebuild safety when others misinterpret your intent in the discussion. Contrasting sets the boundaries of your message by expressing what you DO mean and what you DON’T mean.
  • For instance, if one of your personable team members needed to work on their technical skills, contrasting could sound like this: Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think that you’re not doing a good job as an Account Manager. You have incredible interpersonal skills and clients love working with you. I just think you could be even better if you worked on your technical proficiency. Strive to learn the details of our technical processes and you would be unstoppable.

Path of a Story

Don’t Confuse Stories with Facts

  • “Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. That is, we add meaning to the action we observed.”
  • The Path to Action: See/Hear —> Tell a Story —> Feel —> Act
  • We cannot help the fact that our brain instantly constructs a story based upon a set of observations. However, we can work to always put facts before interpretations (stories) and open our minds to other stories that fit the facts we’ve observed.
  • We often turn others into villains by telling a bad story for them based on what we’ve observed. “When you find yourself labeling or otherwise vilifying others, stop and ask: ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what this person is doing?’”

State the Path that Led to Your Story

  • Example: “The cheating husband”
    • The Facts: Carole reviews her and her husband Bob’s monthly credit card statement, only to find that there’s a charge from the “Good Night Motel”—a cheap place located not more than a mile from their home.
    • Carol’s Mental “Story”: “‘Why would he stay in a motel so close to home?’ she wonders. ‘And why didn’t I know about it?’ Then it hits her—‘That unfaithful jerk!’”
    • Other “Stories”: What story did Carole tell herself? What other stories could be told from these facts?
    • The Truth: “The couple had gone out to a Chinese restaurant earlier that month. The owner of the restaurant also owned the motel and used the same credit card imprinting machine at both establishments. Oops.”
  • Sometimes it’s important to share your story with someone during a disagreement. In those instances, it’s vitally important to first lay out the facts that led you to craft that story. Here’s why:
    • Facts are the least controversial.
    • Facts are the most persuasive.
    • Facts are the least insulting.
    • Facts contribute to the shared pool of meaning.
  • Just like Carole, we jump to conclusions frequently. These conclusions are often fraught with unfair assumptions and inadequate facts. Be careful what story you tell. Take a second to ask clarifying questions and assume positive intent. You often don’t have all the facts.

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

Other books you may enjoy:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen, and Bruce Patton

Other notable books by the authors:
Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
Influencer by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Review: “Thanks for the Feedback”

Book Review
Book: Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Books like Crucial Conversations and How to Win Friends and Influence People teach how to give tough messages. Thanks for the Feedback addresses the other side of the conversation: how to understand and respond to feedback. I cannot express how much I learned from this book. Stone and Heen tackle a tough topic (receiving feedback can really suck) with honesty and real-world examples. I’m sure I’ll still wince the next time I receive a tough message from my wife, co-worker, or boss, but this book gave me a good framework for receiving and understanding feedback.  

Takeaways from the Book

Strive to Learn from Everyone—Regardless How They Give Their Message

  • The majority of our learning will come from people who are not adept at giving feedback, so “if we’re serious about growth and improvement, we have no choice but to get good at learning from just about anyone.”
  • “Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you always have to take the feedback. Receiving it well means engaging in the conversation skillfully and making thoughtful choices about whether and how to use the information and what you’re learning. It’s about managing your emotional triggers so that you can take in what the other person is telling you, and being open to seeing yourself in new ways.”
  • “Identity is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us, and when critical feedback is incoming, that story is under attack.” We need to see the feedback for what it is: feedback about the situation—not feedback condemning who we are as a person.

Positive Feedback

Three Forms of Feedback

  1. Appreciation (thanks)
  2. Coaching (here’s a better way to do it)
  3. Evaluation (here’s where you stand)

“Each form of feedback—appreciation, coaching, and evaluation—satisfies a different set of human needs. We need evaluation to know where we stand, to set expectations, to feel reassured or secure. We need coaching to accelerate learning, to focus our time and energy where it really matters, and to keep our relationships healthy and functioning. And we need appreciation if all the sweat and tears we put into our jobs and our relationships are going to feel worthwhile.”

Work to First Understand the Feedback

  • “The better you understand the feedback, the more likely you are to find something in it that is useful, or at the very least to understand the ways in which you are being misunderstood, and why.”
  • “Even if you decide that 90 percent of the feedback is off target, that last golden 10 percent might be just the insight you need to grow.”
  • “We judge ourselves by our intentions, while others judge us by our impacts.”
  • “Talk about intentions and impacts separately: ‘I’ve been working hard to be more patient. And yet it sounds like that’s not the impact I’m having. That’s upsetting. Let’s figure out why.’”

You are Wrong

Two Very Different Personal Mindsets

  • Fixed Mindset: “Whether we are capable or bumbling, lovable or difficult, smart or dull, we aren’t going to change. Hard work and practice won’t help; we are as we are. Feedback reveals ‘how we are,’ so there’s a lot at stake.”
  • Growth Mindset: “These folks see themselves as ever evolving, ever growing…How they are is simply how they are now. It’s a pencil sketch of a moment in time, not a portrait in oil and gilded frame. Hard work matters; challenge and even failure are the best ways to learn and improve. Inside a growth identity, feedback is valuable information about where one stands now and what to work on next. It is welcome input rather than upsetting verdict.”

Encourage Productive Disagreement and Feedback

  • “Explicit disagreement is better than implicit misunderstanding.”
  • “Even when we have access to the same data, we tend to notice different things.”
  • “In fact, we’re both biased, and we each need the other in order to see the whole picture more clearly.”

Avoid Labels and Put Facts Before Interpretations

  • We often slap labels on behavior when giving feedback to others (“Be more proactive”, “Act more professionally”, etc.). However, those labels come woefully short of conveying what we’ve observed and actionable ways to improve.
  • “In our minds, we have a high-definition movie that captures all that we mean by those labels—the bad behavior, the angry tone, the irritating habits that we endure. When we use a label, we’re seeing that movie, and it’s painfully clear. It’s easy to forget that when we convey the label to someone else, the movie is not attached. All they’re hearing is a few vague words. This means that even when we ‘take’ the feedback, it’s easy to misconstrue the meaning.”

See the System at Play—Don’t Blame the Individual

  • “Feedback is often expressed as ‘This is how you are, and that’s the problem.’ But in relationships, ‘This is how you are’ really means ‘This is how you are in relationship to how I am.’ It’s the combination—the intersection of our differences—that is often causing the problem…It is not a problem that you speak only Swedish and it is not a problem that I speak only English. But together we’re in trouble.”
  • “Each of us is part of the problem. Maybe not to the same extent, but we’re both involved, each affecting the other…It takes the two of you being the way you are to create the problem. That’s how systems work.”

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
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Other notable books by the authors:
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen, and Bruce Patton