Sunday, May 30, 2010

Comeback - A review

I read an interesting book by Andrea Redmond and Patricia Crisafulli called Comebacks: Powerful Lessons from Leaders Who Endured Setbacks and Recaptured Success on Their Terms. It is the story of 10 different senior executives who rose to power, fame and reputation and then were abruptly terminated or some major catastrophe happened and they were pushed aside. The book deals with their trials and tribulations.

Some of the people interviewed included:

1) David Neeleman: Former founder and CEO of JetBlue

2) David Pottruck: Former CEO of Charles Schwab & Co.

3)Patricia Dunn: Former HP chair

4) Christopher Galvin: Former CEO of Motorola, Inc.

5) Herbert "Pug" Winokur: Former board member for Enron Corp.

6) Harry M. Jansen Kraemer, Jr.: Former Baxter International CEO

7) Jacques "Jac" Nasser: Former Ford Motor Company CEO

8) Durk Jager: Former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble Co.

9) Jamie Dimon: Former president of Citigroup

10) Dale Dawson: Former CEO of Truckpro, L.P. and head of investment banking for Stephens, Inc.

What I gained from the book is that the ability to bounce back from setback is one of the greatest abilities that anyone can have. I have often said "fail often, fail fast, fail cheap" meaning to not be afraid to try new things. And one of my favourite books is by Paul Stolz - Adversity Quotient who talks about ways to build resilience and thrive despite setbacks.

Success in adversity also comes from being extremely self aware.

Often, senior executives are undone due to politics.

It often takes time to regain success after being knocked off of course.

I never dwelled much on my many failures. I do believe people should learn from their failures, but its almost morbid to go into a study of them

A couple of quotations from the books:

"No matter how bleak or terrible things look, or whatever the perceptions are, there is life after what you experience or what you have gone through. It is not necessarily apparent at that period of time"

"No matter how successful you are, there are always setbacks. Success in life demands the ability to bounce back"


I rarely book report on the non-business/self development or leadership books that I read but I thought I would mention one I recently read. Escape by Carolyn Jessop is a compelling true story.

From the book:

"I was born into a radical plygamist cult. At 18, I became the 4th wife of a 50 year old man. I had 8 children in 15 years..."

The book tells of the abuse of power and how cult religion can create overpowering situations where people endure horrific things. It also gave insight into how a family of 35 lives. Sounds chaotic. It speaks of the politics in the family and the cult.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Secret of Shelter Island Review

I stopped my 13 mile run at 8 miles today (so I guess it really was not a 13 mile run). Was not sure why I stopped but it just seemed too tough to keep going. Then I weighed myself and found I had dropped 4 pounds (I had weighed myself just before the run). Clearly the reason was dehydration - that is 2 litres of water I lost.

I have been trying to be more aware of my body signals and have noticed that dehydration (even without exercise) is one of the things that impact my mood.

While in the library yesterday The Secret of Shelter Island - Money and what Matters caught my eye. I assumed it was going to be about Long Island Shelter Island but it is not. It is more a book about Affluenza - how to appropriately deal with money and how it relates to happiness.

It is a great and well researched book with the basic message - Money cannot make you happy and in many cases can make you miserable.

The book has lots of great quotes:

"An unexpected monetary windfall can alter your life in ways you cannot imagine. Some people change their priorities or make bad decisions. Others lose sight of their long held values. Still others discover they have attracted the wrong sort of people they mistakenly call friends."

It quotes Mark Skousen's book Econopower as saying the 4 elements of Happiness are:

1- Rewarding and honest employment
2 - Recreation
3 - Love and friendship
4 - Spiritual development

Laurence G. Boldt once wrote "The life you spend doing what you love is a different life indeed from putting your life out to hire to the highest bidder. The only way you can can say it makes no difference is to say life makes no difference."

And it quotes Warren Buffet "we've long felt that the only value of stock forecasters is to make the fortune tellers look good...forecasts are poison and should be locked up in a safe place away from children and also from grownups"

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Whole New Mind

Yesterday while waiting in Penn station I bought a book from Craig at Penn Station books. I love the way a small company can compete with a large seller by simply having the right location. And in this case also from the personal touch.

I went into the store and asked if he had a few specific books, and not only did he walk me to the shelf and try to look for them, he called his wife to see if they had a copy upstairs.

Another thing that impressed me was when I asked if he had a business card and he didn't have one with him, he actually ran to the back of the store to get one. I asked him if he was the owner because he clearly was acting like one, and sure enough he was. One of my goals in life has been to try and hire people who act like they are owners.

The book I bought was by Daniel Pink called "A Whole New Mind:Why Right-Brainers will Rule The Future". As the title suggests, the whole theses of the book is that our society, which was once valued a strong back and hands and then moved on to valuing left-brained and MBA-type thinking, is going to be moving to creative, design-type thinkers.

The book has a section on how the brain works, which ties in with some of the other books I have read on the brain.

One reason given for the right brain people becoming the new ruling class is that left brain activities can be globalized. So programming, tax return preparation, legal work, etc., which were all expensive, well-paid jobs in the left brain society can be moved offshore where people can complete the tasks less expensively.

This reminds me of John Naisbitt's book, Megatrends, where he talked about the increase in computerization and mechanization, but there is still a need for a human touch.

"High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond he quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning".

At the end of every chapter is a section on things to do to increase right brain thinking and to help gain an appreciation for right-brained things like visiting a design museum or going to an art museum, listening to classical music, etc.

I am likely more right-brained and creative than much of my left brain success would indicate. I know that because of what I have done I tends to be unconventional and more on the creative end than the logical end.

It is interesting that this book was referred to me by a member of Goldenseeds, which is a group that invests in women entrepreneurs (so of course most of the people in the group are women), and it seems to me that more women are more dominant right brained than left brained. I have always thought that women were already the ruling class, as a matter of fact, the Queen of England is visiting RIM.

When you think of traditional right brained activities you think of things like painting, music and all the creative tasks which I don't generally consider myself to be very good at. As a matter of fact, because of my focus on business through the years I have spent almost no time on any of the "artsy" type things because I figured there were lots of people who could do it better and cheaper then I could. So why would I bother to waste my time on it, so to speak.

I was relieved to find out that right brain activity not only refers to that type of creativity but also refers to the type of creativity that I have used in entrepreneurial situations which has helped me with my business's success and much of what is pointed to is that design helps develop products that are easier to use. The example they use is the voting machines that were so confusing (poor design) to use that people spoiled their ballots.

Although the book over-advocates that the right brained people will be the winners, I think it had to do that to make the point. In reality, my opinion is that we need a healthy balance between the right and left portions of our brains.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flavor of the Month and Email Commandments

I read a great little book last night by Martin VanDerSchouw called Flavor Of The Month, a leadership fable about management mantras, methodologies processes; practices. Learn what works in the real world.

I normally don't like "storybook" business books, but fairly early on in this I was gripped by a small graph titled "How acquisitions mislead". Although almost half of my growth through the years came from acquisitions I have seen many downsides. Although many people are in love with acquisitions, they are not in love with the success of the business. The gist of it is that often sales go up, but expenses also go up at the same rate so extra profit is not generated.

The sad reality of many acquisitions is that the synergy expected never transpires.

One chapter was called "First define the what, then define the how". I know the power of the How Question.

There was a great set of email rules. I know we all struggle with email volume.

1) E-Mail should be used as a confirmation tool and not as a primary means of communication.

2) Don't use e-mail to have hard conversations. Talk to people. This means in person, whenever possible.

3) Keep e-mails as short as possible. Use bullet points and lots of white space to convey information.

4) Avoid attaching filed in e-mails as it leads to all kinds of version management problems. Use collaboration software, hyperlinks, and references to ensure document consistency.

5) If action is expected from the receiver place ACTION REQUIRED: in the subject heading along with the requested action. Then explain the request following the rules.

6) For complicated requests, contact the receiver using a second channel of communication to confirm understanding.

7) Do not assume receipt of e-mail is the same as understanding.

8) Never reply to all when you receive an e-mail that makes you angry or upset. Everyone can tell someone (you or the original sender) is just covering their tail.

9) If you receive an e-mail that is upsetting try sitting on it for 24 hours. In man cases you will find that people did not intend for it to be interpreted the way you did, and a little cooling off will do everyone good.

There's another chapter titled "Manage deliverables not tasks". I guess this would be the same as saying don't be a micromanager, while at the same time setting appropriate goals.

One of the final chapters was called "Processing won’t get you there. People will". I do believe in many cases that it is the people who will get you there, however I am also a big believer n process, and think that good process helps average people become above average.

I know right now in my current position I am working hard to develop good process.

The final chapter is called "The new reality" and points out 7 ideas:

1) People change easily, but are difficult to change.
2) First define the what, then define the how.
3) Manage deliverables, not tasks.
4) Manage starts not finishes.
5) Performance metrics.
6) Late, over budget technical successes are failures.
7) The need for strategic alignment

All in all a good fast read with lots of gems.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Way We are Working is not Working

My new favorite book is The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working-The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance.

This book is written by Tony Schwartz who authored another great book called The Power Of Full Engagement.

What I found interesting about the fact that I love this book is that one of my highest values is work ethic, and a lot of what Tony is advocating essentially involves less work ethic. See what he says in HBR in For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More.

The book cited a study that Malcolm Gladwell also cited in his best selling book Outliers: The Story of Success. "People at the very top don't just work harder, or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder". The gist of this is that almost anyone can be good at anything if they work at it hard enough. It does have to do with the number of hours put in provided those hours are high focus.

"A growing body of research suggests that we are most productive when we move between periods of high focus and intermittent rest. Instead, we live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in any of them-or fully disengaging from any of them."

There is a chapter entitled We Can't Change What We Don’t Notice. " We are already the most over informed, under reflective people in the history of civilization."

One of the things I loved about the book was that they strongly endorse success habits. I am completely in sync with what the author has to say. "Will and discipline are wildly overrated. That's why we struggle so hard to make changes that last. Even when the need for change is obvious and our intentions are strong we often fall short."

There was an entire chapter called sleep or die. Over the years, I have changed my view, in that I no longer think that sleep is for wimps. I believe sleep is necessary. "No single behavior, we've come to believe, more fundamentally influences our effectiveness in waking life than sleep."

There is a chapter on the poverty of attention. This is very similar to what I view on the myth of multi tasking. "Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking of possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out what seem several simultaneous possible objects or trains of implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others."

"Once we're distracted by something new, we often forget about the original task. Given the limits of our working memory, out of sight often literally means out of mind."

The book pulls together many of the concepts that I currently believe in. One principle is pulsing from high intensity to low intensity. Another principle is success habits.

There is a chapter on health and exercise and clearly I am a health and exercise guy so resonate with that.

It is a well-researched, well-written book and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cleveland Half Marathon

I ran the Cleveland Half Marathon today. I always want to be in good enough shape to run a half without doing extra training (unlike a full which requires real work)

The weather was perfect. 55 degrees to start. Slightly overcast. Warmed to perhaps 65 during the race. The course was also almost perfect. Largely flat. A few hills on bridges but not much other than that.

I finished in 1:47:03 or 8:10 per mile (a half is 13.1 miles or 21.1 K). Was hoping to beat 1:45 but still it was a good run. I always use the power of 3 goals. I achieved 2 of 3.

I think worse than the marathon was the 9 hour drive back to Long Island. Not real smart after running. Wonder which contributes most to my soreness.

And for those who don't like the race stories and who prefer the book reviews:

I read a cute little book by a Retired Deputy Judge, H. Clark Adams called Your Turn to Judge - Forty Interesting Cases for You to Decide.

The book outlines the facts and the cases (usually 2 or 3 pages) and then in the back of the book has what the judge actually determined with some reasons.

All of the cases are based in Ontario and all of them are small claims court judgments.

I've been to small claims court many times (when I ran EMJ / Synnex, we often had to resort to small claims court to collect money from our customers). I have found in virtually all cases that the judges were fair. I have not always found this to be the case in higher courts and have often found legal battle to be a negative sum game (lots of stress with little return).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Accelerating Out of the Great Recession

I did an aussi carboload today in preparation for a half marathon tomorrow. And of course now that I have told the world, it is tough to not go run it.

I read Accelerating Out of the Great Recession - How to Win in a Slow-Growth Economy- by The Boston Consulting Group, David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter.

Of course my instant "title reaction" was "everyone always thinks these are the worst of times and wish for the good old times".

As would be expected this book contains lots of interesting statistics. One point that I found interesting because people are often saying that China can help us accelerate out of the recession is "This is not going to happen". Facts just do not lie. Even if China doubles consumption, the impact will be minimal.

There was a section on what they thought today's agenda for CEO's need to be; "Reassessing the challenges and opportunities presented by globalization". "Rethinking how businesses are managed for shareholder value". "Reorganizing compensation systems to align with the risk taking". "Regaining public trust in business". "Developing new models for business leadership". "Helping the management team to think ambitiously about growth by looking beyond today's tough economic environment".

There was a chapter on strategies that included the following: "Focus on innovation". "Capitalize on changes in the external environment". "Unleash marketing and advertising power". "Take the flight to your competitors". " Invest in the future through M&A and divestment". "Employ game-changing strategies".

I particularly like the section on leadership during our crisis: " Walk the floor -and be visible".
"Set clear expectation". Employees respond more positively if they have well-defined expectations. Leaders need to establish the measures of success, both for the short term and for the future. They need to provide clarity about what is the most important in this environment.
"Mobilize the extended leadership team". Leaders should not pilot through the difficult times on their own. They need to bring in their broader leadership group, which will provide complementary skills and multiply the personnel power and brainpower available to tackle critical issues. There is strength in numbers.

It's a good book worth reading with a fairly hopeful message.

They also talked about the golden rule of online marketing which of course is permission. I find that blogging is one of those online ventures that is the ultimate permission. People don't have to look at my blog or I don't send people my blog who have not subscribed.

Of course this means you have to keep value high or you will have no readership.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leadership Under Pressure

Beautiful weekend. Cool enough to plant the vegetable garden. I am feeling healthy. Must be the vitamins. Life is good.

I read a book by Colonel Bob Stewart, Leadership Under Pressure - Tactics from the Front Lines.

Stewart is an ex-politician as well as an ex-solider. He served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. The life and the death decision's he made are literally life and death unlike the one's I made in business which simply seem like life and death.

He starts with a section on the needs of leadership focusing on three areas: the task, the team and the individual. He points out that there are difference's in requirements and priorities in each of these and the three need to work closer together to achieve their ends.

He talked of being in indeterminate situations where it wasn't clear what the mission was and talked about having clear direction and mission makes for high effectiveness. The same lesson but clearly applying in any business situation.

He lists the principals of war:

1-Selection and maintenance of the aim.
2-Concentration of force. Engage the enemy's weakness with your strength.
3-Economy of effort. Do not waste precious resources.
4-Maintenance of morale. Keep spirits up in your team.
5-Offensive action. Maintain tempo by attacking your opponent.
6-Flexibility. Be prepared for the unexpected and deal with it.
7-Cooperation. Ensure that all parts of the team work in unison to achieve the aim.
8-Security. Keep your secrets just that.
9-Surprise. Ensure your opposition knows nothing of your plans until it is too late.
10-Sustainability. Maintain your capability to operate.

These almost all sound like business rules.

There is a good quote on time and procrastination from Sir Stuart Rose, Chief Executive of Mark & Spencer: Don't do tomorrow what you could today. Quite often you know what you want to do, instinctively or through experience. Don't spend too long analyzing and checking it when you should actually just get on with it. It doesn't matter what business you are in today, they are all so fast moving that time is advantage or money.

There was a section on business creativity: A major executive responsibility is to challenge conventional wisdom in a search for better ways to achieve ends. If leaders do not continually look for different ways to do business then they will get stale or lose their edge.

Surely in this respect business is like warfare-the best side will win in the end. Everyone in a company should be positively encouraged to make suggestions that improve any aspect of business, be it production, marketing, selling, human resources or whatever. I know many companies take positive steps, such as financial rewards, to promote the search for new ideas. But in the truth there is no formula or tool that can really help innovation. That is simply not possible. Invention is very human. No machine has yet been able to innovate in the way a human mind can.

In business, as in the military, the best chance of innovating is to employ good people who are quite prepared to try something different.

I used to think that military leadership differed dramatically from non-military leadership and the military leadership is very title oriented and autocratic where I believe the best leadership in business tends to be consensus building a non autocratic.

I've met several senior military leaders and I've seen that despite the command and control structure they tend not to be autocrats and tend to rely on general leadership principals as much as any one in business.

I count General Rick Hillier as one of my friends and even the short interactions I had with him have convinced me that great military leaders are great leaders in general.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Success Habit - Decide Ahead and Product vs Service Company

One success habit that really works for me is deciding ahead. For example, I want to run tomorrow morning. I decide that tonight. I even set out my shoes and shorts. Then running becomes automatic.

Really all habits are about is making something automatic or mindless.

We all have limited self discipline but by making something a habit, we just do it - requiring no (or very little) self discipline.

I use "decide ahead" for everything from working out, eating right (eg. pack my lunch or have healthy food around), doing a specific task or getting a job done. I decide ahead to do it at 10 tomorrow morning. I set an appointment to just do it.


The late founder of ATS Automation Klaus Woerner was asked if ATS was a product company, or a custom design company, to which he replied " We are a service company, because we can not say no".

This statement says a lot. Every company wants to be a product company, so they have to learn to say no, in order to truly find themselves. Choose to be a product or a service company.

Worth thinking about.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton

I recently read a book by Rebecca Shambaugh entitled "Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton".

For those of you who know me well, you know that I don't do politics. This is actually one of my Time Management tips because I have saved days or even weeks over the past number of years by not getting actively involved in politics.

I do this not only as a time management technique. I do this because I am likely going to annoy or irritate half of the population. This would alienate half of my customers, half of my suppliers, and half of my staff.

Perhaps it is a good thing that I have a healthy skepticism of all parties. I will also say that I am quite discouraged by special interest groups always lobbying to try and help themselves and not necessarily the greater good.

This being said, I still believe we can learn from everyone. And Hillary Clinton is clearly a great leader. What I like about this book is that it is not about Hillary Clinton's politics, but rather what leadership techniques we can learn from her.

The books chapters are divided into 7 different topics:

1) Being resilient
2) Being a continuous learner
3) Being "adaptively" authentic
4) Embracing change
5) Being connected
6) Being a great communicator
7) Having resilience and purpose (reminds me of Adversity Quotient, a book that teaches us how to improve our ability to thrive under or through adversity)

Each chapter expands on each topic. For instance, the 5 secrets of resiliency

1) Understand yourself
2) Control your immediate response and make a plan
3) Embrace change
4) Be courageous
5) Never give up!

Also, at the end of each chapter here is a questionnaire or self-survey to help bring home the points n the chapter. This helps to challenge what you think.

From an article Shambaugh wrote on Hillary:

"We all get discouraged at some point in our lives. We reach a point when we wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just give up. We begin to doubt our own abilities and lose faith in others. The "thrill of victory" is no longer so sweet, and the "agony of defeat" doesn't seem so bad. Our energy is drained, and we've stopped having fun. This is when you need to dig deep inside yourself and find that well of determination and inner strength that will help you face your fears, counter the ensuing complacency, and keep you committed to reaching your goals.

Having this sheer determination is one of Hillary's keys to success. Never being a quitter was wired into her DNA early on and was reinforced while she was still in college. When she first arrived at Wellesley, she struggled academically. She called her parents, hoping that they would tell her to come home. She told them that she didn't feel that she was bright enough or up for the academic challenge. Dorothy Rodham, her mother, told her that she had not raised a quitter and that dropping out of Wellesley would be a catastrophic mistake. Hillary stayed in school and, with her incredible work ethic, keen organizational skills, and sheer determination, stayed on top of her grades. In fact, she gained enough confidence in her scholastic abilities to take on political leadership roles and was elected president of the Young Republicans. Pretty impressive for someone who wanted to drop out of school! "

I most liked the last point in the book on leading a purpose, which is to "start now". The message is about the choices we have in life. We all make choices everyday, so make the right choices, and start now!