The New York Times has published its November, 2019 list of Best Selling Business Books. There are a few new books on this month’s list.
For the first time in quite a while, we have presented synopses of fewer than half of the books on the month’s list at our monthly Dallas event, the First Friday Book Synopsis. I have presented synopses of #4, The Infinite Game; #5, Dare to Lead; #6, Atomic Habits; and #10, Outliers.
I have also recently presented the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Talking to Strangers. That book is a top-ten nonfiction best seller, but not categorized as a business book.
And, I’m pretty sure I will select #1, and #2, for early in 2020, the new books by Ryan Holiday and Marc Benioff. I am a fan of both of these men: Mr. Holiday as a writer, and Mr. Benioff as a business leader and activist.
Here is the NY Times November, 2019 list of best selling business books. Click over to the New York Times site for more information on these books, and a link to the Times review of Outliers.
#1 – Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
#2 – Trailblazer by Marc Benioff and Monica Langley
#3 – Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#4 – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
#5 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#6 – Atomic Habits by James Cklear
#7 – Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
#8 – What it Takes by Stephen A. Schwatzman
#9 – Shut Up and Listen! by Tiulman Fertitta
#10 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
You can purchase my synopses, with the audio recording of my presentations, and the pdf of the multi-page comprehensive synopses handouts, by clicking on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Click here for our newest additions. My synopsis of The Infinite Game will be available soon.
I wrote this book to rally those who are ready to challenge that status quo and replace it with a reality that is vastly more conducive to our deep-seated human need to feel safe, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and to provide for ourselves and our families.
it is our collective responsibility to find, guide and support those who are committed to leading in a way that will more likely bring that vision to life.
Simply put: The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible.
Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game
Simon Sinek helps us remember the basics; very important basics. He did that with his book Start with Why. And he does it again with his new book, The Infinite Game. I recently presented my synopsis of this book at the November 1 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.
In the book, he makes one key point, fleshed out with many stories, examples, and implications. His point: business is not a game with a final clock; it is an infinite game. And the biggest implication is that business people need to play a very long game, and pretty much ignore the “next quarter is all that matters” game plan that way too many leaders follow.
And, this really has to be understood at the beginning of this conversation: Milton Friedman, and his essay from 1970, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine — (as opposed to the view of Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations). Friedman insisted that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business, to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” — In other words, according to Friedman, the sole purpose of business is to make money and that money belongs to the shareholders.
He gives credit to Professor James P. Carse, who penned a little treatise called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility in 1986. According to Carse, a finite-minded leader plays to end the game—to win. And if they want to be the winner, then there has to be a loser. — Carse’s infinite player plays to keep playing. In business, that means building an organization that can survive its leaders.
Here are the key differences between Finite Games vs. The Infinite Game…
- Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game.
- Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.
- There is no such thing as winning education; no one is ever crowned the winner of careers; there is no such thing as winning global politics. And there is certainly no such thing as winning business. All these things are journeys, not events.
In my synopses, I ask: What is the point (of this book)? My answer for this book is: Business is not working very well; for many companies, and for many people. The problem is that we are viewing and approaching business as a Finite Game. The solution is a genuine mindset change; a redefinition of business as an Infinite Game.
And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three answers.
#1 – We are too focused on the next quarter. This book will compel us to take a longer view.
#2 — We are too focused on profits only. This book will take a more inclusive view – which will, ironically, lead to greater profits in the long run.
#3 – We are too focused on winning by beating our competition. This book will re-focus our attention to a “worthy rival,” in the midst of an “everyone can win” environment.
Here are a few key highlights from the book (the best of Randy’s highlighted passages):
• Decades after the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense during the war, had the chance to meet Nguyen Co Thach, the North Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s chief specialist on the United States from 1960 to 1975. McNamara was flabbergasted by how badly America misunderstood their enemy. “You must never have read a history book,” McNamara recounts Thach scolding him. “If you had, you’d know we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians… Don’t you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years?”
• Sadly, over the course of the past thirty to forty years, finite-minded leadership has become the modern standard in business.
• According to a study by McKinsey, the average life span of an S& P 500 company has dropped over forty years since the 1950s, from an average of sixty-one years to less than eighteen years today.
• We call it “vision” because it must be something we can “see.”
• We need something with permanence for us to rally around.
• I am often surprised how many visionary leaders don’t think they need to find the words for or write down their Cause. They assume that because their vision is clear to them it’s clear to everyone else in the organization. Which of course it’s not. A Just Cause that is preserved on paper can be handed down from generation to generation; a founder’s instinct cannot.
• I often meet senior executives who seem to suffer from a kind of “finite exhaustion.”
It’s a strange quirk of human nature. The order in which a person presents information more often than not reveals their actual priorities and the focus of their strategies.
• With each ethical transgression that is tolerated, we pave the road for more and bigger ethical transgressions.
• Put a good person in an environment that suffers ethical fading, and that person becomes susceptible to ethical lapses themselves. Likewise, take a person, even one who may have acted unethically in the past, put them in a stronger, more values-based culture, and that same person will also act in accordance with the standards and norms of that environment.
He argues that you, and all business leaders, will default to the finite game. Over and over again. Maintaining an infinite mindset is hard. Very hard.
- Here are five essential practices for the infinite game:
- Advance a Just Cause — A Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision. …A Just Cause is not the same as our WHY. A WHY comes from the past. It is an origin story. It is a statement of who we are. …A Just Cause is about the future. It defines where we are going. It describes the world we hope to live in and will commit to help build.
- Build Trusting Teams
- Study your Worthy Rivals
- Prepare for Existential Flexibility
- Demonstrate the Courage to Lead
- And this great just cause must be:
- For something — affirmative and optimistic
- Inclusive — Open to all those who would like to contribute
- Service oriented — for the primary benefit of others
- Resilient — able to endure political, technological and cultural change
- Idealistic — Big, bold and ultimately unachievable
- He strongly warns against Ethical Fading: Ethical fading is a condition in a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles. In fact, if we look closely, we begin to see signs of ethical fading in lots of businesses.
- And here are my five lessons and takeaways:
#1 – The short game will likely end up with only short gains. Aim for the Infinite Game.
#2 – The goal is not short-term profits, but long-term…endurance; loyalty; community…
#3 – Be very clear about developing a true Just Cause. And stick to seeking to fulfill that cause!
#4 – The Infinite Game might save you from ethical fading. And that can only be good for our society (and, yes, maybe for your company).
#5 – Reject, and renounce, the “I must win” mindset.
This is a good book, with a great and important point. It is certainly worth a careful pondering…
My synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my full, comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, will be available soon from this site. Click here for our newest additions. And, you can purchase my synopsis of his earlier book, Start with Why, by clicking here.
Reading a lot of books is not quite equal to learning what is in those books, is it?
I have been giving a whole lot of thought to this. I have been thinking about my own life trajectory. I have been thinking about speeches and presentations I have heard – and given. And I have been thinking about watching audiences. And I have reached a conclusion.
I am not the only one to reach this conclusion. But so many people have not paid attention to this.
Here is my conclusion: “passive” learning is not really learning.
Learning requires active learning. It requires serious work. It requires active participation. It requires listening, and reading, and writing, and pondering, and reviewing, and studying. Especially studying!
Last Friday, I presented my synopsis of Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis. It is a book about a lot; but it is also a book about learning; learning from studying. The book is filled with insights about this. Start with this one, directly from the book:
PowerPoint is the scourge of critical thinking. It encourages fragmented logic by the briefer and passivity in the listener.
Note what he says. Using PowerPoint is not a good practice because it “encourages passivity in the listener.” That is a genuinely important and significant observation.
In my synopsis handout, I included this: There is a difference between reading – and – studying.
- Mattis learned from; quoted from…Alexander the Great; Marcus Aurelius; General Grant, Rommel, and a host of others… —
- I read broadly and selected a few battles and areas where I was weak to study deeply.
- Read history, but study a few battles in depth.
- Learning from others’ mistakes is far smarter than putting your own lads in body bags.
- On a Saturday morning, the sergeant major requested that I drop by for a quiet discussion. Technically, I outranked him, but no lieutenant with his wits about him is slow to respond when his top noncommissioned officer wants to talk with him alone. “You are a very persuasive young man,” he said, handing me a book about a Roman centurion, “but it would be best if you did your homework first.”
- But I well recall an Israeli exchange officer, on a sweltering run in the Virginia woods, bellowing at me that the physically vigorous life is not inconsistent with being intellectually on top of your game. “Read the ancient Greeks and how they turned out their warriors,” he said.
Jim Mattis read (still reads) a lot of books – a lot of books! But more than just reading the books, he studied the books.
And he did so as a Marine. The Marines assign reading, with a specific book list, for each rank. From early in his book: It now became even more clear to me why the Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: that reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead. … the Marine Corps’s insistence that we study (vice just read) history, paid off.
One advantage was that an officer could assume that the Marines listening knew some common stories and principles from the books they had read; learned from the books they had all read!
Here’s what I think: we are way too passive in our learning. We look at slides; we listen to audio books. But we don’t recap; we don’t outline; we don’t underline, and highlight, and re-fresh our memory.
In other words, we don’t STUDY!
And, if we don’t study, we don’t really learn.
And there is so much we need to learn; so much important stuff to learn.
I think it’s time for a revival of study habits.
Are you in?
See also this blog post: The Warrior Monk General and his Traveling Library of 6000 books.
• By the way, Jeff Bezos has also gotten rid of PowerPoint at Amazon; for these very reasons.
• And, also, my synopses are great tools for those wishing to study books more seriously. Check out our new additions by clicking here. (My synopsis of Call Sign Chaos will be available soon).
This morning at the Nov. 1 First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopses of Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by Jim Mattis; and The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Both of these books were good; informative; challenging. I liked them both. But, a confession: I more than liked — I loved — the Mattis book. It is a book that overflows with substance. Really, really good book!
I will post blog posts, with my lessons and takeaways, for both of these books soon.
(I am actually a little behind on my posts; I still have to do one more from our October event, for the book The Optimist’s Telescope. Part of my problem: my schedule is still pretty disrupted due to the aftermath from the tornado that hit nearly two weeks ago).
And, a special thank you to Tach Branch-Dogans on her helpful bonus session on building your referral connections. (Our bonus sessions run from 8:30-9:30, immediately following our regular First Friday Book Synopsis sessions). Sheri Wilson will lead our bonus session on Dec. 6, on Financial Foundations.
For our December 6 First Friday Book Synopsis gathering, I will present synopses of two more books; as I do every month. (We are in our 22nd year of monthly gatherings).
I have selected the really good book on customer service, from the folks at Disney and Ted Kinni: Be Our Guest. And also, the new book by Ben Horowoitz: What you do is Who You are: How to create Your Business Culture.
Plan to join us: Dec. 6, 7:00 am, the Park City Club, Dallas.
Here is the flier with all the details. You will be able to register soon from this web site.
(Note from Randy: this has been my longest “non-blogging” spell in quite a while. In addition to a busy speaking schedule, our house was hit by the tornado last Sunday. (Yes – really). We are still digging out, and we are in the midst of repairs, and adjustments. So, sorry for the absence).
When Malcolm Gladwell comes out with a new book, it is always an “I’ve go to read this one immediately” reading experience. He is, in my view, the absolute master at story-telling. And his stories provide all sorts of opportunities to ponder big questions.
At the October 4 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, I presented my synopsis of his latest book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know. I actually presented this synopsis less than one month after it was published.
Here is a general comment before I share some of the key content, along with my lessons and takeaways. This book has received some not-so-favorable reviews. The complaint seems to be that he sort of adequately describes a problem, and offers little in the way of solutions. My comment to that is: that is what makes his books so valuable. He raises issues, gets us thinking, and makes us ponder reality. And, this book definitely puts us square in the midst of some very real issues and challenges. We do make some horrible mistakes in reading strangers,
I asked: What is the point of this book? Today we are now thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives, and backgrounds are different from our own. The modern world is not two brothers feuding for control of the Ottoman Empire. It is Cortés and Montezuma struggling to understand each other through multiple layers of translators. Talking to Strangers is about why we are so bad at that act of translation.
And I include this in my synopsis: Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – We are not very good at evaluating the intentions, and truthfulness, of strangers we encounter. This book will…help us understand why we are not very good at it..
#2 – This book will help us understand that the problem we think we have identified may not be the problem at all.
#3 – This book is a great book of really revealing stories, written by probably the master story-teller of our age. You would enjoy reading this book, in spite of the very difficult issues raised.
In the book, Mr. Gladwell tells stories of many “encounters between strangers” — Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler; a police officer, Brian Encinia, and Sandra Bland; many people connected to/interacting with Bernie Madoff; a spy from Cuba hidden in plain sight in the highest of positions in our intelligence agencies; Jerry Sandusky, and Larry Nassar; among many others. The bottom line: we really aren’t that good at discerning the “truth” about the people we interact with.
Here are a few of my highlighted passages from the book. (I include many more in my synopsis handout):
• “I am ready to face a world war!” Hitler exclaimed to Chamberlain at one point. Hitler made it plain that he was going to seize the Sudetenland, regardless of what the world thought. Chamberlain wanted to know whether that was all Hitler wanted. Hitler said it was. Chamberlain looked at Hitler long and hard and decided he believed him. …“In short I had established a certain confidence which was my aim, I thought I saw in his face I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”
• Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler are widely regarded as one of the great follies of the Second World War. Chamberlain fell under Hitler’s spell. He was outmaneuvered at the bargaining table. (Chamberlain about Hitler) He gave me the double handshake.
(Note: Churchill was never in Hitler’s physical presence; never met him) — Winston Churchill, for example, never believed for a moment that Hitler was anything more than a duplicitous thug. Churchill called Chamberlain’s visit “the stupidest thing that has ever been done.”
• We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.
• The issue with spies is not that there is something brilliant about them. It is that there is something wrong with us.
• To snap out of truth-default mode requires what Levine calls a “trigger.” A trigger is not the same as a suspicion, or the first sliver of doubt. We fall out of truth-default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. • We do the opposite. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.
• To Markopolos (who spotted Madoff for the fraud he was), dishonesty and stupidity are everywhere. “They trust the accounting firms, which you should never trust because they’re incompetent. On a best day they’re incompetent, on a bad day they’re crooked, and aiding and abetting the fraud, looking the other way.”
• The Holy Fool is someone who doesn’t think this way. The statistics say that the liar and the con man are rare. But to the Holy Fool, they are everywhere.
• Because we trust implicitly, spies go undetected, criminals roam free, and lives are damaged. …but the air would be so thick with suspicion and paranoia that there would also be no Wall Street.
• If every coach is assumed to be a pedophile, then no parent would let their child leave the house, and no sane person would ever volunteer to be a coach. We default to truth—even when that decision carries terrible risks—because we have no choice. Society cannot function otherwise. …And in those rare instances where trust ends in betrayal, those victimized by default to truth deserve our sympathy, not our censure.
• That is the paradox of talking to strangers. We need to talk to them. But we’re terrible at it—and, as we’ll see in the next two chapters, we’re not always honest with one another about just how terrible at it we are.
• When a liar acts like an honest person, though, or when an honest person acts like a liar, we’re flummoxed. …We are bad lie detectors in those situations when the person we’re judging is mismatched. …Madoff was mismatched. He was a liar with the demeanor of an honest man.
• Students think it is a good idea to be trained in self-defense, and not such a good idea to clamp down on drinking. …But the issue is not how men behave around women when they are sober. It is how they behave around women when they are drunk, and have been transformed by alcohol into a person who makes sense of the world around them very differently.
• At the end of the trial, Emily Doe read a letter out loud to the court, addressed to Brock Turner. Every young man and woman who goes to a bar or a fraternity party should read Emily Doe’s letter.
Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less. But that’s not quite right, is it? That last line should be “Show men how to respect women and how to drink less,” because the two things are connected.
• The thing we want to learn about a stranger is fragile. If we tread carelessly, it will crumple under our feet. …And from that follows a second cautionary note: we need to accept that the search to understand a stranger has real limits. We will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that.
• I have now watched the videotape of her encounter with Brian Encinia more times than I can count—and each time I do, I become angrier and angrier over the way the case was “resolved.”
• What went wrong that day on FM 1098 in Prairie View, Texas, was a collective failure. Someone wrote a training manual that foolishly encouraged Brian Encinia to suspect everyone, and he took it to heart.
• Here are some of the key observations from Talking to Strangers. (Much of what follows is also taken directly from the book):
So…what is this book? — Today we are now thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives, and backgrounds are different from our own. The modern world is not two brothers feuding for control of the Ottoman Empire. It is Cortés and Montezuma struggling to understand each other through multiple layers of translators. Talking to Strangers is about why we are so bad at that act of translation. — Each of the chapters that follows is devoted to understanding a different aspect of the stranger problem. — In all of these cases, the parties involved relied on a set of strategies to translate one another’s words and intentions. And in each case, something went very wrong.
- The two “puzzles”
- Puzzle Number One: Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?
- Puzzle Number Two: How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than not meeting them?
- Some rather obvious warnings:
- you can’t tell if someone is trustworthy by looking into their eyes. You can’t ever tell that way. Not you; not anyone!
- Chamberlain was acting on the same assumption that we all follow in our efforts to make sense of strangers. We believe that the information gathered from a personal interaction is uniquely valuable. — The people who were right about Hitler were those who knew the least about him personally. The people who were wrong about Hitler were the ones who had talked with him for hours.
- The big explanation—we simply “trust” people. And, if we don’t, society would not work as well…
- We have a default to truth: our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest.
- You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them. — But he wasn’t willing to believe that he (Madoff) was an out-and-out liar. Simons had doubts, but not enough doubts. He defaulted to truth.
- The key distinction: I’m going to come back to the distinction between some doubts and enough doubts, because I think it’s crucial.
And here are my six lessons and takeaways:
#1 – We do have to interact with strangers, constantly. We can’t change this.
#2 – We do have to “trust” the people we interact with. Life and society will not work if we don’t trust each other.
#3 – You/we really do not know how to read people; how to tell if they are trustworthy…
#4 – Beware of “coupling” dangers: e.g., if there is depression in your house, do not keep a gun around.
#5 – Our society needs to reward the needed “Holy Fools” – but, seriously, we don’t want too many of them
#6 – We really are bad at talking to strangers. If we can’t get better at it — and; we may not be able to get much better at it — at least we can become more aware of how bad we are at it.
Malcolm Gladwell has given us much to think about. From the trends described in The Tipping Point, to the 10,000 hour rule described in Outliers, to our quick and slow evaluations in Blink, to the contests described in David and Goliath, and now to this about how to be wiser in our interactions with strangers…he helps us think about how we think about people, circumstances, and challenges. I wholeheartedly recommend that you read this book. It will make you think!
A personal note: our neighborhood was decimated by the tornado. The house directly across from us lost its entire roof. Around the corner, a house was completely flattened. Big, beautiful trees are cracked in two, and everywhere piled up at the curb up and down our streets. People are knocking on our doors, offering to do some of the needed work. I thought of this book, and made a decision – I would hire no one without some kind of “data” to back up their expertise. I cannot make an assessment with just my interactions with the strangers knocking on our door. In one instance, someone offered to take out a “damaged” tree; and we called a licensed arborist; one we carefully researched, but had never met.. Her assessment: the tree definitely does not need to be removed. This book saved me (ok; our insurance company) money; and saved a beautiful tree).
My synopsis will be available soon – with the audio recording of my presentation, plus the full, multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, on this web site. Click here for our newest additions from the last few months.