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: “Start with Why”

Book Review
Book: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

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

Takeaways from the Book

Manipulation Does Not Create Loyalty

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

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

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

Charisma and Finding Your Why

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

Logos vs. Symbols

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


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

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

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

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

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

Review: “The Power of Positive Leadership”

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

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

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

Takeaways from the Book

The Importance of Positivity

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

Dealing with Difficulty

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

Vision and Purpose

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

Weed Out the Negativity

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

Tips for Leading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

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

Takeaways from the Book

Expertise Takes Hard Work

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

Mental Representations

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

Deliberate Practice

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

Other Insights

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

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

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

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

Review: “Rise”

Book Review
Book: Rise by Patty Azzarello

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

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

Takeaways from the Book

Deal with the Chaos

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

Ruthlessly Prioritize

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

Make More Time

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

Working with Your Strengths

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

The Level Dilemma

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


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

Authentic Networking, Not Politics

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

Confident or Fearless: Your Choice

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

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

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

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

Review: “Mindset”

Book Review
Book: Mindset by Carol Dweck

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

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

Takeaways from the Book

Qualities of the Fixed Mindset

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

Qualities of the Growth Mindset

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


Comparing the Two Mindsets

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

Implications for Teaching and Training

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

Applications for Parents

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


Other Insights

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

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

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

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

Review: “Ego Is The Enemy”

Book Review
Book: Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
I love books that teach tangible skills, but books that make you contemplate your moral fiber and strive to improve as a person are even better. Ryan Holiday’s new book Ego Is The Enemy is absolutely a book that made me want to improve my character. Incorporating ideas from ancient and modern philosophers, war generals, politicians, and businessmen, Ego Is The Enemy challenges readers to not let pride stand in the way of attaining or repeating success.

Takeaways from the Book

The Perils of Ego

  • “Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.”
  • “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.” -Marina Abramovic
  • “We can seek to rationalize the worst behavior by pointing to outliers. But no one is truly successful because they are delusional, self-absorbed, or disconnected.”
  • “Ego needs honors in order to be validated. Confidence, on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.”

Ego Shadow

Don’t Believe Your Own Press

  • With success comes the temptation to tell oneself a story, to round off the edges, to cut out your lucky breaks and add a certain mythology to it all…It’s a type of storytelling in which eventually your talent becomes your identity and your accomplishments become your worth. But a story like this is never honest or helpful.”
  • “Crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It’s also dangerous and untrue. Writing our own narrative leads to arrogance.”
  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard Feynman
  • “Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution—and on executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here.”


  • “When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes—but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.
  • “One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible.”
  • “What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”
  • “We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn…For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things in life, but it is almost always a component of mastery. The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote.”

Don't Stop Learning

Lifelong Learning

  • “It tends to surprise people how humble aspiring greats seem to have been…The reality is that, thought they were confident, the act of being an eternal student kept these men and women humble.”
  • “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” -Epictetus
  • “An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.”
  • “I never look back, except to find out about mistakes…I only see danger in thinking back about things you are proud of.” -Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann
  • “This characteristic (focusing on how to improve even in success) is characteristic of how great people think. It’s not that they find failure in every success. They just hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards. And those standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.”

Hard Work

  • “The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.” -Paul Graham
  • “To become what we ultimately hope to become often takes long periods of obscurity, of sitting and wrestling with some topic or paradox.”
  • “Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.”

Other Thoughts

  • “Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.”
  • “Play for the name on the front of the jersey and they’ll remember the name on the back.” -Credited to several people, including Tony Adams

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Other notable books by the author:
The Obstacle Is the Way
Trust Me, I’m Lying
Growth Hacker Marketing

Review: “Grit”

Book Review
Book: Grit by Angela Duckworth

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Angela Duckworth made quite a splash with her first book. Grit presents a strong argument against talent reigning supreme in the workplace. Duckworth’s research compellingly posits that grit–which she defines as passion plus perseverance–is a better predictor of future success than talent. I was inclined to buy into that concept before reading Grit, and Duckworth pushed me over the edge. This book is especially influential for anyone in a hiring role, where tradeoffs often must be made between raw talent and resume strength versus work ethic and perseverance. If this topic interests you, I’d recommend also checking out Duckworth’s TED talk (you can find it at the bottom of this review).

Takeaways from the Book

Grit and Why It Matters

  • “In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.
  • “What we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit—our passion and perseverance for long-term goals. An obsession with talent distracts us from that simple truth.”
  • “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”
  • “Not a day goes by that I don’t read or hear the word talent…It seems that when anyone accomplishes a feat worth writing about, we rush to anoint that individual as extraordinarily ‘talented.’”
  • “If we overemphasize talent, we underemphasize everything else.”
  • “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”


Talent Is Not Enough

  • “The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses poses of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum…The plain fact remains that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only very exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.” -William James
  • “Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius. For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking…To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’” -Frederich Nietzsche
  • “In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook. It lets us relax into the status quo.”
  • “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” -Will Smith
  • “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.” -Will Smith

Continuous Improvement

  • “As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Necessarily, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong—so they can fix it—than what they did right. The active processing of this feedback is as essential as its immediacy.”
  • “And after feedback, then what? Then experts do it over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence become unconscious competence.”
  • “In her interviews with ‘mega successful’ people, journalist Hester Lacey has noticed that all of them demonstrate a striking desire to excel beyond their already remarkable level of expertise…’It’s a persistent desire to do better,’ Hester explained. ‘It’s the opposite of being complacent. But it’s a positive state of mind, not a negative one. It’s not looking backward with dissatisfaction. It’s looking forward and wanting to grow.’”

Deliberate Practice

  • “After you’ve discovered and developed interest in a particular area, you must devote yourself to the sort of focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery. You must zero in on your weaknesses, and you must do so over and over again, for hours a day, week after month after year.”
  • “The really crucial insight of (Anders) Ericsson’s research, though, is not that experts log more hours of practice. Rather, it’s that experts practice differently. Unlike most of us, experts are logging thousands upon thousands of hours of what Ericsson calls deliberate practice.”
  • Requirements of deliberate practice:
    • A clearly-defined stretch goal
    • Full concentration and effort
    • Immediate and informative feedback
    • Repetition with reflection and refinement

Deliberate Practice


  • Purpose = “The intention to contribute to the well-being of others”
  • “While interest is crucial to sustaining passion over the long-term, so, too, is the desire to connect with and help others.”
  • The Parable of the Bricklayers: “Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’ The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’ The second says, ‘I am building a church.’ And the third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’ The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.”
  • “Whatever you do, whether you’re a janitor or the CEO—you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.”

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

  • Those with a fixed mindset interpret setbacks as evidence that they don’t have the “right stuff”—they are lacking talent and they’re not good enough. They believe that intelligence is largely immutable in each person and can’t change very much.
  • Those with a growth mindset believe they can learn to do better. They recognize that although everyone begins with predilections to certain areas, intelligence and talent can be substantially changed with hard work.
  • Praising talent reinforces the fixed mindset, whereas praising effort reinforces the growth mindset.
  • “If you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to do well in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with other people.”
  • “A fixed mindset about ability leads to pessimistic explanations of adversity, and that, in turn, leads to both giving up on challenges and avoiding them in the first place. In contrast, a growth mindset leads to optimistic ways of explaining adversity, and that, in turn, leads to perseverance and seeking out new challenges that will ultimately make you even stronger.”

Final Thoughts

  • “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done concisely and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.” -Dan Chambliss
  • Surround yourself with people of grit: “The thing is, when you go to a place where basically everybody you know is getting up at four in the morning to go to practice, that’s just what you do. It’s no big deal. It becomes a habit.”
  • “We all face limits—not just in talent, but in opportunity. But more often than we think, our limits are self-imposed. We try, fail, and conclude we’ve bumped our heads against the ceiling of possibility. Or maybe after taking just a few steps we change direction. In either case, we never venture as far as we might have. To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:

Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk – “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

Review: “Smarter Faster Better”

Book Review
Book: Smarter Faster Better 
by Charles Duhigg
Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
I loved Charles Duhigg’s first book, The Power of Habit, so I was excited to see he had released a new business/psychology mash-up. Smarter Faster Better explains how to leverage our brain’s hardwiring to increase productivity. Covering topics from motivation to teamwork, Duhigg shares how we can perform with greater efficiency and lead our teams to accomplish higher-reaching goals.

Takeaways from the Book

“Productivity, put simply, is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort. It’s a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle. It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.”


  • “Self-help books and leadership manuals often portray self-motivation as a static feature of our personality…But scientists say motivation is more complicated than that. Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed…The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.
  • “When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster.”
  • “You know when you’re stuck in traffic on the freeway and you see an exit approaching, and you want to take it even though you know it’ll probably take longer to get home? That’s our brains getting excited by the possibility of taking control. You won’t get home any faster, but it feels better because you feel like you’re in charge.” -Mauricio Delgado
  • “This is a useful lesson for anyone hoping to motivate themselves or others, because it suggest an easy method for triggering the will to act: Find a choice, almost any choice, that allows you to exert control. If you are struggling to answer a tedious stream of emails, decide to reply to one from the middle of your inbox.”

Motivational Poster


  • Google’s People Analytics team undertook a study code-named Project Oxygen to determine why some managers were more effective than others. “Project Oxygen found that a good manager (1) is a good coach; (2) empowers and does not micromanage; (3) expresses interest and concern in subordinates’ success and well-being; (4) is results oriented; (5) listens and shares information; (6) helps with career development; (7) has a clear vision and strategy; (8) has key technical skills.”
  • Another Google People Analytics’ project, Aristotle, investigated what makes high-performing teams. They found five key norms: (1) Teams need to believe that their work is important. (2) Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful. (3) Teams need clear goals and defined roles. (4) Team members need to know they can depend on one another. (5) Most importantly, teams need psychological safety.
  • “There are always good reasons for choosing behaviors that undermine psychological safety. It is often more efficient to cut off debate, to make a quick decision, to listen to whoever knows the most and ask others to hold their tongues. But a team will become an amplification of its internal culture, for better or worse. Study after study hows that while psychological safety might be less efficient in the short run, it’s more productive over time.
  • “The best tactic for establishing psychological safety is demonstration by a team leader. It seems like fairly minor stuff, but when the leader goes out of their way to make someone feel listened to, or starts a meeting by saying ‘I might miss something, so I need all of you to watch for my mistakes,’ or says, ‘Jim, you haven’t spoken in a while, what do you think?,’ that makes a huge difference.” -Amy Edmondson
  • Another research project—this one undertaken by psychologists from Carnegie Mellon and MIT—reached similar results: “It was the norms, not the people, that made teams so smart. The right norms could raise the collective intelligence of mediocre thinkers.” Two behaviors were shared by all high-performing teams: (1) “All the members of the team spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’” (2) “The good team tested as having ‘high average social sensitivity’—a fancy way of saying that the groups were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves, and the expressions on their faces.”


  • “In the age of automation, knowing how to manage your focus is more critical than ever before.”
  • “We aid our focus by building mental models—telling ourselves stories—about what we expect to see.”
  • “Envision what will happen. What will occur first? What are potential obstacles? How will you preempt them? Telling yourself a story about what you expect to occur makes it easier to decide where your focus should go when your plan encounters real life.”
  • A large research project conducted at a midsize recruiting firm found that “the firms’ most productive workers, its superstars, shared a number of traits”: (1) “They tended to work on only five projects at once—a healthy load, but not extraordinary.” (2) “They were signing up for projects that required them to seek out new colleagues and demanded new abilities.” (3) They were “drawn to assignments that were in their early stages.” (4) “They loved to generate theories—lots and lots of theories, about all kinds of topics, such as why certain accounts were succeeding or failing, or why some clients were happy or disgruntled, or how different management styles influenced various employees…The superstars were constantly telling stories about what they had seen and heard. They were, in other words, much more prone to generate mental models.”

Goal Setting

  • GE helped initiate SMART goals as well as STRETCH goals.
  • “Some 400 laboratory and field studies [show] that specific, high goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ‘do one’s best.’” -Edwin Locke and Gary Latham
  • “Making yourself break a goal into its SMART components is the difference between hoping something comes true and figuring out how to do it.” -Gary Latham
  • SMART goals occasionally fail because they don’t evaluate whether the goal itself is important or trivial. Always make sure you’re doing the right things.
  • “Numerous academic studies have examined the impact of stretch goals, and have consistently found that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity.”
  • “The reason why we need both stretch goals and SMART goals is that audaciousness, on its own, can be terrifying. It’s often not clear how to start on a stretch goal. And so, for a stretch goal to become more than just an aspiration, we need a disciplined mindset to show us how to turn a far-off objective into a series of realistic short-term aims.”

Wikipedia Michael Scott


  • “Creativity is just connecting things.” -Steve Jobs
  • “A lot of the people we think of as exceptionally creative are essentially intellectual middlemen. They’ve learned how to transfer knowledge between different industries or groups.” -Uzzi
  • “We can create the conditions that help creativity to flourish. We know, for example, that innovation becomes more likely when old ideas are mixed in new ways. We know the odds of success go up when brokers—people with fresh, different perspectives, who have seen ideas in a variety of settings—draw on the diversity within their heads. We know that, sometimes, a little disturbance can help jolt us out of the ruts that event the most creative thinkers fall into, as long as those shake-ups are the right size.”

Absorbing Data

  • “Our brains crave reducing things to two or three options. So when we’re faced with a lot of information, we start automatically arranging it into mental folders and subfolders and sub-subfolders.” -Eric Johnson
  • “When information is made disfluent, we learn more.”
  • “Recording a speaker’s comments via longhand is both harder and less efficient than typing on a keyboard…writing is more disfluent than typing, because it requires more labor and captures fewer verbatim phrases. When the researchers looked at the test scores of those two groups, however, they found that the hand writers scored twice as well as the typists in remembering what a lecturer said.”

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

Other books you may enjoy:
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Work Rules by Laszlo Bock
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Other notable books by the author:
The Power of Habit

Review: “Black Box Thinking”

Book Review
Book: Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Although his first book Bounce was really good (you should check it out if you haven’t yet), Matthew Syed’s new book Black Box Thinking reaches a whole new level. I always take notes on the books I read, and my notes for Black Box Thinking are absurdly long because there’s so much I want to remember from this book. Syed dynamically contrasts the airline industry and the health care industry–two industries that view failure very differently. I work in an “agile” software development company that places a huge emphasis on failing fast and learning from mistakes, so this book hit home for me. I think it will for you too…regardless of whether you’re coming from the world of software, banking, health care, retail, or anywhere else.

Takeaways from the Book

How the Health Care Industry Deals with Failure*

  • “In 2013 a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety put the number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm at more than 400,000 per year…This is the equivalent of two jumbo jets falling out of the sky every twenty-four hours. ‘What these numbers say is that every day, a 747, two of them are crashing. Every two months, 9/11 is occurring,’ (Peter J. Pronovost, MD) said. ‘We would not tolerate that degree of preventable harm in any other forum.’ These figures place preventable medical error in hospitals as the third biggest killer in the United States—behind only heart disease and cancer.
  • “Observing more senior physicians, students learn that their mentors and supervisors believe in, practice and reward the concealment of errors. They learn how to talk about unanticipated outcomes until a ‘mistake’ morphs into a ‘complication.’ Above all, they learn not to tell the patient anything.” -Nancy Berlinger
  • “This kind of reasoning represents the essential anatomy of failure-denial. Self-justification, allied to a wider cultural allergy to failure, morphs into an almost insurmountable barrier to progress.”
  • “The problem isn’t that patients aren’t finding out about mistakes; it’s that doctors aren’t finding out about them either, and are therefore unable to learn from them.”
  • *Caveat: Syed is careful to acknowledge that those in the health care industry are deeply passionate about their craft and the people they serve. He explains that any failures of the industry are due to the incentives/disincentives of the system rather than any malicious intent of individuals.

How the Airline Industry Deals with Failure

  • “In aviation, things are radically different: learning from failure is hard-wired into the system.
  • “Mistakes are not stigmatized, but regarded as learning opportunities. The interested parties are given every reason to cooperate, since the evidence compiled by the accident investigation branch is inadmissible in court proceedings.”
  • “Every aircraft is equipped with two almost-indestructible black boxes, one of which records instructions sent to the onboard electronic systems, and another that records the conversations and sounds in the cockpit. If there is an accident, the boxes are opened, the data is analyzed, and the reason for the accident excavated. This insures that procedures can be changed so that the same error never happens again.”
  • “Through this method aviation has attained an impressive safety record…In 2013, there were 36.4 million commercial flights worldwide carrying more than 3 billion passengers, according to the International Air Transport Association. Only 210 people died. For every one million flights on Western-built jets there were 0.41 accidents—a rate of one accident per 2.4 million flights.”

Airline Black Box

Success Arises from Failure

  • “The explanation for success hinges, in powerful and often counterintuitive ways, on how we react to failure.”
  • “Progress in most human activities depends, in large part, on our willingness to learn from failure. If we edit out failure, if we reframe our mistakes, we are effectively destroying one of the most precious learning opportunities that exists.”
  • “For our purposes, a closed loop is where failure doesn’t lead to progress because information on errors and weaknesses is misinterpreted or ignored; an open loop does lead to progress because the feedback is rationally acted upon.”
  • “By looking only at the theories that have survived, we don’t notice the failures that made them possible. This blind spot is not limited to science; it is a basic property of our world and it accounts, to a large extent, for our skewed attitude to failure. Success is always the tip of an iceberg…Beneath the surface of success—outside our view, often outside our awareness—is a mountain of necessary failure.”

Cognitive Dissonance

  • “‘Cognitive dissonance’ is the term Festinger coined to describe the inner tension we feel when, among other things, our beliefs are challenged by evidence.”
  • “When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.”
  • “It is precisely in order to live with themselves, and the fact that they have harmed patients, that doctors and nurses reframe their errors in the first place. This protects their sense of professional self-worth and morally justifies the practice of nondisclosure.”
  • “Intelligence and seniority when allied to cognitive dissonance and ego is one of the most formidable barriers to progress in the world today.”

Cognitive Dissonance

The Narrative Fallacy

  • “We are so eager to impose patterns upon what we see, so hardwired to provide explanations that we are capable of ‘explaining’ opposite outcomes with the same cause without noticing the inconsistency.”
  • “Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.” -Daniel Kahneman
  • “When we are misled into regarding the world as simpler than it really is, we not only resist testing our top-down strategies and assumptions, we also become more defensive when they are challenged by our peers or by the data. After all, if the world is simple, you would have to be pretty stupid not to understand it.”


  • “Blame is, in many respects, a subversion of the narrative fallacy: an oversimplification driven by biases in the human brain.”
  • “In short, we have to engage with the complexity of the world if we are to learn from it; we have to resist the hardwired tendency to blame instantly, and look deeper into the factors surrounding error if we are going to figure out what really happened and thus create a culture based upon openness and honesty rather than defensiveness and back-covering.”
  • “What should be crystal clear is that a desire to apportion blame, before taking the time to understand what really happened, is senseless.”
  • “There is almost no human action or decision that cannot be made to look flawed and less sensible in the misleading light of hindsight.” -Anthony Hidden


  • “The most important quality I look for in people coming to Dyson is the willingness to try, fail and learn.” -James Dyson
  • “The mistaken idea that success is an instant phenomenon destroys resilience.”
  • “Self-esteem, in short, is a vastly overvalued psychological trait. It can cause us to jeopardize learning if we think it might risk us looking anything less than perfect. What we really need is resilience: the capacity to face up to failure, and to learn from it. Ultimately, that is what growth is all about.”
  • “If we drop out when we encounter problems, progress is prevented, no matter how talented we are. If we interpret difficulties as indictments of who we are, rather than as pathways to progress, we will run a mile from failure. Grit, then, is strongly related to the Growth Mindset; it is about the way we conceptualize success and failure.”

Other Thoughts

  • “If we wish to fulfill our potential as individuals and organizations, we must redefine failure.”
  • “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford
  • No one can possibly give us more service than by showing us what is wrong with what we think or do; and the bigger the fault, the bigger the improvement made possible by its revelation. The man who welcomes and acts on criticism will prize it almost above friendship: the man who fights it out of concern to maintain his position is clinging to non growth.” -Bryan Magee
  • “Innovation cannot happen without failure. Indeed, the aversion to failure is the single largest obstacle to creative change, not just in business but beyond.”
  • “My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can…which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that. But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer…I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.” -Andrew Stanton

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

If you like this book, you may like…
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Other notable books by the author:
Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success