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: “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: “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: “Killing Giants”

Book Review
Book: Killing Giants by Stephen Denny

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
Killing Giants teaches you how to use small size to your advantage. Stephen Denny shares ten tips and dozens of stories of how “little guys” exploited the bureaucracy and slowness of their biggest competitors to carve out their own niche and become profitable. This book is life-giving to any young entrepreneur or startup company that feels helpless when viewing their competitive landscape.

Takeaways from the Book

10 Tips for Killing Giants:

1) Thin Ice – Pick a fight in a place where they can’t beat you

  • “Thin Ice is dangerous to companies who are too big to venture far from the relative safety of familiar ground…But you know the ice can support your weight. You made this patch of ice in the first place. So taunt the giant all you want. When we create our own Thin Ice, we change the environment to suit our needs. We move the public dialogue to a place where the giant is unprepared to go.”
  • Jim Koch from Boston Brewing Company (maker of Samuel Adams): “Could a giant do what we do? It’s not impossible. It’s difficult because it’s not what they’re good at. They’re good at cost-effectively mass-producing beers that appeal to the mass market. They could make craft-styled beers if they put their minds to it. But it’s hard for a big company to care about such specialized products. It’s not outside their capabilities, but it’s like McDonald’s. Could McDonald’s make filet mignon? Of course, but it’s not the business they’re in.”

Lil Sumo vs Big Sumo

2) Speed – You are quicker and more maneuverable; take advantage

  • “Strive to move so fast that you’re on iteration five or ten before the giants can even enter the market. They’re slowed down by bureaucracy, meetings, and corporate red tape. You’re not.”
  • “There’s no time or sympathy for second guessing. Make a decision and let’s execute to the best of our abilities toward that goal.”

3) Win in the Last Three Feet – Smart brands find ways to leverage other people’s investments

  • “In every transaction, there’s a moment just after the giant thinks he’s got the sale and just before the customer hands over their money. This gap is an opportunity for a smart, agile competitor to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Winning in the Last Three Feet is an old retail expression, but it speaks universally to the idea of understanding that it’s never over until it’s over…Those last three feet are where giant-killers live.
  • “Winning in the Last Three Feet requires that we understand how our customer makes decisions—where they look for information, what they value the most, and exactly when they will be committing their money.”

4) Fight Dirty – Pick the fight you can win and fight by your own rules

  • “Competing with giants on an equal footing, under the same assumptions and playing by the same rules, is a losing game.”
  • “Question the givens. One of the greatest tools we have at our disposal is our ability to judiciously question what we at first assume to be unquestionable.”

5) Eat the Bug – Up the ante in a game they don’t want to play

  • “Learn to love what the giant considers taboo. Be willing to do what they aren’t and build a business out of it, every day. Go ahead. Do the unthinkable. Eat the bug.”
  • “Giants have little to gain by publicly taking on a minor player. You, on the other hand, have everything to gain: publicity, validity, and the sure knowledge that giants don’t want this much attention. The court of public opinion tends to side with the underdog.”

6) Inconvenient Truths – Make the math hurt; implement new pricing strategies

  • Giants assume the win. They figure that nobody ever got fired for buying from the big player in the market. Change the math of the transaction by packaging your deal differently than the Giant.
  • “How can you change the shape of the transaction to make the sale in a more palatable way? Challenge the givens…Change the shape of the transaction. From ‘bottom of the pyramid’ example of single-serving-size packets of detergent to the fractional ownership model for luxury executive jets, changing the shape of the transaction changes our expectations and lowers the barriers to acceptance.”

7) Polarize on Purpose – Don’t fit in and be polite; force people to make a choice

  • “No one chooses you by accident. Force the decision. They’re either with you or against you. Polarize your market on purpose.”
  • Decide who you’re not. Polarizing your market for a reason means you accept the fact that not everyone is going to sing along with you. Some will be put off by what you’re doing. However, for those who see themselves in what you’ve created, you will have created a deeper sense of ‘we’ for every fan who’s in on the joke and how embraces the humor and the insider feeling of your brand. Instead of being safe and vanilla, you’ve decide to make a choice and be something more personal to a smaller group of hard-core customers.”

8) Seize the Microphone – Dominate the conversation with confidence and swagger

  • “It doesn’t matter if you have one or more giants in your market. They may be big, but that doesn’t mean they’re leading the conversation…You don’t have to accept they you’re not big enough to be the industry spokesman, so naively grab the microphone and speak up for the whole industry. The giant hates this, but your customers love it.”
  • “You will make yourself the spokesperson for the industry, so that anyone making a buying decision in your space has to actively pick you—or actively decide not to pick you. Regardless of their decision, you’re never going to be ignored.”

Arrows in Target

9) All the Wood Behind the Arrow(s) – Resoundingly win in a few key areas

  • Pick one or two things to do better than any other company in your market. Ride those strengths to your success by relentlessly focusing upon them.
  • “Winning in one particular spot means choosing to dominate a discussion the giant doesn’t want to contest.”

10) Show Your Teeth – Purse your competitive advantage vigorously

  • “Marketers have to take risks. Well-informed, calculated risks. That’s what marketers need to do to cut through today’s clutter and get their message heard.” -Frances Allen
  • “Give the elephant in the room a catchy and unfortunate nickname. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where the truth is hanging in the air and no one seems to want to say it. There is real power in articulating what everybody else is thinking. When you say, ‘Don’t pay the brand tax,’ you’re giving voice to what we all intuitively know.”

Other Notes

  • “Once a company reaches a critical mass of size, they have different problems. Brands stop focusing on being good at what made them great and start being great at making much more of what they make.”
  • “The longer a company is successful, the less they feel the need to revisit how they do what they do.”
  • “Nobody likes to be forced to compete when they’ve got other things on their to-do list…giant-killers mess things up by laying down challenges that giants didn’t anticipate and see no glory winning.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:

Review: “The ONE Thing”

Book Review
Book: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
The ONE Thing changed the way I live and work. It helped me break unproductive habits and recognize many ways in which I was working inefficiently. I strongly recommend this book for leaders and managers who struggle with more work than hours in the day. I felt much like you until I read this book. Now I am able to prioritize what has to get done each day and focus on those priorities before doing anything else.  

Takeaways from the Book

The Perils of Multi-Tasking

  • “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” -Russian Proverb
  • “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” -Steve Uzzell
  • “Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.”
  • The time cost of context-switching: “The cost in terms of extra time from having to task switch depends on how complex or simple the tasks are.  It can range from time increases of 25 percent or less for simple tasks to well over 100 percent or more for very complicated tasks.” -Dr. David Meyer
  • “Workers who use computers during the day change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour.”

Multitasking Dwight

Relentless Prioritization and Focus Are Necessary

  • “When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.”
  • “The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”
  • “Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there.”
  • “Be like a postage stamp–stick to one thing until you get there.” -Josh Billings
  • “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”
  • “Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.”

What’s Your ONE Thing?

  • “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”
  • “Until my ONE Thing is done, everything else is a distraction.”
  • “If you want to get the most out if your day, do your most important work – your ONE Thing – early, before your willpower is drawn down. Since your self-control will be sapped throughout the day, use it when it’s at full strength on what matters most.”
  • “To experience extraordinary results, be a MAKER in the morning and a MANAGER in the afternoon.” That is, do your own creative work early in the day. This kind of work generally requires large blocks of time to think and brainstorm new ways to execute your own projects. Use the afternoon for meetings and overseeing your team.

Other Things to Bear in Mind

  • “People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” -F.M. Alexander
  • ”Be careful how your interpret the world; it is like that.” -Erich Heller

Application to My Life
Keller and Papasan urge the reader to prioritize only ONE Thing in each area of life that makes everything else unnecessary or less important.  You’ll find my list below.  What’s yours?

  • Marriage ONE Thing: Go on a date night with my wife Kaylyn every week
  • Personal ONE Thing: Read 60+ books every year
  • Physical ONE Thing: Play basketball at least once per week and work out 2+ times every week
  • Spiritual ONE Thing: Read the Bible 4+ times every week
  • Leadership ONE Thing: Meet with one of my four mentors every month over coffee or lunch
  • Financial ONE Thing: Update our budget spreadsheet at least once per month
  • Travel ONE Thing: Take one international vacation and one other vacation every year
  • Work ONE Thing: Spend 15-30 minutes each day sorting/prioritizing the new software development requests that have come in to our team

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
The 80/20 Manager by Richard Koch
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Other notable books by the authors:
The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan
The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan