The video recording of our July session of the First Friday Book Synopsis is now available on YouTube. Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.
The two books are:
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
(Each of the two book presentations is around 25-30 minutes in length)
Here is the YouTube link.
Some of what you might do with these recordings.
#1 – You can watch them. The best way to watch them is to print out the handout in advance, have it in front of you, and follow along as you go. If you have never seen one of my presentations, you will see that I am quite handout intensive.
#2 – You can share the link with others. You may know someone who would like to know the key content of the books being presented. Please share the link to these presentations with others
#3 – You might use them as a discussion starter for your team. Some of these presentations are perfect for that. Get everyone to print out the handout, then watch the video as a group, and then discuss lessons and takeaways and implications for your team.
This is a time for learning and reflection. My synopses can help. I hope you find these useful.
Here are the other First Friday Book Synopsis sessions now available on YouTube.
May, First Friday Book Synopsis:
Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.
The two books are:
The Catalyst by Jonah Berger
The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey
Here is the YouTube link:
June First Friday Book Synopsis
Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.
The two Books are:
Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Here is the YouTube link:
The New York Times has just published its list of best-selling business books for July, 2020. Again this month during pandemic season, Atomic Habits is #1 on the list.
My theory on why this is still #1 is simple: we are all having to work on ourselves, and this means that we need to get rid of bad habits and cultivate good habits – habits that are good for us, and are useful in this new work environment. This book provides genuine help for that quest.
After our August First Friday Book Synopsis, we will have presented 8 of these 10 books at our monthly book event in Dallas. I have presented Atomic Habits, Dare to Lead, The Ride of a Lifetime, Outliers, Extreme Ownership, and (after our August 7 session), The Deficit Myth. And my former colleague, Karl Krayer, presented Grit and Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Note: This month’s list includes three books written by women authors.
These eight books provide great insight. I strongly recommend all eight. (I’m sure the other two are good books, but I have not read them…).
Here are the ten best selling business books from the New York Times list for July, 2020. Click over to their site for links to reviews of some of these books.
#1 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
#2 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#3 – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#4 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
#5 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
#6 – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
#7 – Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
#8 – The Buddha and the Badass by Vishen Lakhiani
#9 – Grit by Angela Duckworth
#10 – The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton
I record my synopses, and make them available for purchase. Each synopsis come- with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation. Click on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. And click here for our newest additions.
Well over 100 people are joining us on our “Remote” First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings. We had participants from all over the country. Please share this word far and wide — all are welcome!
July 3, 2020 – Zoom
Two Book Synopses: The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger andStamped from the Beginning by Ibram X, Kendi.
Where: on ZOOM
When: This Friday, July 3, 7:30 am
The presentation will conclude shortly after 8:30 am
Speaker: Randy Mayeux
Click here to join in on Zoom:
We are all set for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis.
If you have ever attended our event, you know that I am handout intensive. You really will be able to follow along better with physical copies of the handouts in front of you. So, if you have a printer, please print the handouts.
#2 — Come on in for conversation whenever you can. I am still new to this whole Zoom practice, but I have enabled the “enable join before host” button. So, you can come in, and talk to folks. I will plan to join the meeting around 7:00, but will keep myself pretty much muted until I begin the program at 7:30. And, I will not “end the meeting” for a while after, if you want to continue conversations with others after we officially conclude.
#3 — Here is the info, with the link to join the gathering:
Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: July 3, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis
Time: Jul 3, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)
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You might want to read this post. It has a printable one-sheet reminder on how to make the most of your remote learning experience.
Remote Learning 101 – Read this before attending your learning session.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon — We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, Rice University
The problem with the modern world, as Bertrand Russell put it, is that “the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Each month, I present two book synopses at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. One of the ripple effects of this schedule is that I have to start reading the next month’s books pretty quickly after each month’s event. Thus, I don’t have the luxury of pausing, pondering, reflecting, thinking about the books that I just presented. And this is a shame.
In June, I presented two books worth pondering over. This post is about the excellent book Think Like a Rocket Scientist: : Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol. It is written by a former rocket scientist – he worked on one of the probes to Mars — who then went to law school, and is now a writer and professor.
This is a book that says big problems can be solved. But, to solve them, you have to dream big, and get to work.
In my synopses, I ask: What is the point?
The point of this book is: We have to make major, massive breakthroughs to actually go forward. To do this, we have to learn how to think like a rocket scientist.
And I ask: Why is this book worth our time? My three reasons for this book are:
#1 – This book provides a short, but quite valuable history of key moments in our exploration of space. This is worth knowing.
#2 – This book reveals with vivid detail how we close our minds to genuinely new ideas. We need to combat this tendency.
#3 – This book gives us tangible ways to put thinking-like-a-rocket-scientist into practice. These are valuable exercises, and worthwhile steps to follow.
In my reading, I highlight many, many passages. I include a whole bunch of my highlights in my synopsis handouts; a few pages worth. Here are the best of my highlights from this book; direct excerpts from the book, the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages:
• You won’t be a rocket scientist by the end of this book. But you’ll know how to think like one.
• You’ll learn how our obsession with certainty leads us astray and why all progress takes place in uncertain conditions.
• If you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected.
• As adults, we fail to outgrow this conditioning. We believe (or pretend to believe) there is one right answer to each question.
• “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
• “Discovery comes not when something goes right,” physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn explains, “but when something is awry, a novelty that runs counter to what was expected.”
• Upheaval precedes progress, and progress generates more upheaval.
• “We didn’t know what we were doing when we landed” on Mars, Squyres admits. “How can you know what you’re doing when no one has done it before?”
• “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair said, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
• You switch from being a cover band that plays someone else’s songs to an artist that does the painstaking work of creating something new.
• “My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.”
• “The story of the human race,” psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote in 1933, “is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”
• “Most highly successful people have been really right about the future at least once at a time when people thought they were wrong,” Sam Altman writes. “If not, they would have faced much more competition.”
• When we seclude ourselves from opposing arguments, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt our established patterns of thinking.
• “One mark of a great mind,” Walter Isaacson said, “is the willingness to change it.”
• “One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination,” Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling once observed, “is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”
• Economist Tyler Cowen wrote a detailed analysis of how, in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, he “badly underestimated the chance that something systemic had gone wrong in the American economy.” Cowen admitted his remorse: “I regret that I was wrong, and I regret that I was overconfident in my belief that I was right.”
And then, in my synopses, I share a few of the notable points and principles from the book. Here are quite a few from what I shared:
So, what does in means to think like a rocket scientist? Here is the author’s answer:
To think like a rocket scientist is to look at the world through a different lens. Rocket scientists imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable. They transform failures into triumphs and constraints into advantages. They view mishaps as solvable puzzles rather than insurmountable roadblocks. They’re moved not by blind conviction but by self-doubt; their goal is not short-term results but long-term breakthroughs. They know that the rules aren’t set in stone, the default can be altered, and a new path can be forged.
- We need a factor of ten, not a factor of one
- incremental improvement is fine; until it isn’t
- we are wired to settle for incremental improvement
- It all starts with reasoning from first principles
- Aristotle, who defined it as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” — René Descartes described it as systematically doubting everything you can possibly doubt, until you’re left with unquestionable truths.
- There really is an absolute tendency to stick with, and protect, the status quo…
- We really do need to learn some new things…
- When necessary, we must unlearn what we know and start over.
- Richard Branson –
- you can walk into a room; and walk back out again — Richard Branson writes, “You can walk through, see how it feels, and walk back through to the other side if it isn’t working.”
- Steve Martin; and Alinea (Restaurant)
- WHAT’S REMARKABLE ABOUT both Steve Martin and Alinea is that they took a sledgehammer to themselves when they were at the top of their game.
- The Kill the Company Exercise – (“Red Teaming,” in the Military exercises)
- It’s one thing to say “let’s think outside the box.” It’s another to actually step outside the box and examine your company or product from the viewpoint of a competitor seeking to destroy it.
- X kills entire projects; and rewards those (financially, and otherwise) who call for killing the project…
- Keep things simple
- Every time you introduce complexity to a system, you’re giving it one more aspect that can fail.
- “Every decision we’ve made,” Musk says, “has been with consideration to simplicity.…
- the (inexpensive) blanket vs the incubator for newborn babies — The device to provide warmth had to be inexpensive and intuitive so it could be used by an often-illiterate parent in a rural environment without reliable electricity.
- Beginner’s mind
- In Zen Buddhism, this principle is known as shoshin, or beginner’s mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” …encourages its employees to “walk in stupid” every day and approach problems from a beginner’s viewpoint.
- Use the right words…
- not what “would” you do; but what “could” you do? — the “could” group stayed open-minded and generated a broader range of possible approaches.
- Test as you fly…
- When she started competing, Amelia Boone was a lawyer at a major Chicago law firm. On a typical training day, Boone would go for a run in a wetsuit, dunking herself in and out of the icy waters of Lake Michigan, with the frigid winter wind whipping against her face.
- If we applied the test-as-you-fly rule, we would practice our speech in an unfamiliar setting, after downing a few espressos to give us the jitters. We would do mock interviews while wearing an uncomfortable suit, with a stranger ready to throw curveballs at us.
- Aim for progress – bold progress…
- But the world doesn’t work this way. Our default mode is regress—not progress. When left to their own devices, space agencies decline. Writers wither. Actors flare out. Internet millionaires collapse under the weight of their egos.
And I always conclude with this: Here are my seven lessons and takeaways:
#1 – You don’t have to do things the way they have been done. And, maybe…probably…you should not.
#2 – You don’t have to do the things that have been done. You can do something new; aomething that has not been done. This might be a very good thing to do.
#3 – You will have blind spots. Identify them. Be very wary of them.
#4 – You really do need to change your mind about something(s) – work on that.
#5 – You will make mistakes. Learn to learn from them. And when you do, realize that this mistake will not be the last mistake that you make, that you need to learn from.
#6 – Broaden your circle. You need to embrace more divergent thinking.
#7 – You probably need to read more books, and study more issues. Get better at that; get more active at that.
- And a footnote:
- Randy’s message to Tyler Cowen would be; you could be wrong again!
I have read so many books dealing with the challenge of innovation; of leaving the status quo behind, and how very difficult that is to do. This is one of the better books to help you think differently; to help you think like a rocket scientist.
My synopses are available for purchase at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation. This synopsis will be added soon. Click here for our newest additions.
There’s no recipe for motivating teams when your business has turned to crap. That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
It is a hard time for us all. And there are some especially hard things to deal with, some difficult decisions to make, during this hard time.
At the June First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz. This is the second book I have presented by Mr. Horowitz, though this one is the first book he wrote. In Dec., 2019, I presented his later book, What you Do is Who You Are.
Ben Horowitz is one half of the Andreessen Horowitz Venture Capital Fund. He worked in the early days of Netscape with Marc Andreessen, built and developed the first actual Cloud Company – and, in selling it, became a billionaire — and is now an author, and a venture capital fund leader.
In my synopses, I always ask What is the point? Here is my answer for this book: Being a leader, at the executive level, or at the top CEO level, is demanding, but “easy,” when things are going very well. But leadership during difficult times is indeed much more difficult. The hard thing about the hard things is that there are no easy answers.
And I ask, why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book is a short history of some key elements of the birth, and rise, and fall, of parts of Silicon Valley. It is interesting history.
#2 – This book is a great tutorial on how to take a company from brand new, to large, to sold.
#3 — Most of all, this book is a book to help you understand that there is in fact a big difference between the hard things in business and the easy things in business.
I always include key excerpts from the book; the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages. Here are just a few of the ones I included in my synopsis handout – ok, more than the usual number that I include in these blog posts. There were so, so many good highlighted passages:
• The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.
• With Marc and me, even after eighteen years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong in my thinking, and I do the same for him. It works.
• No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.
• Michael Ovitz. Michael was on Loudcloud’s board, but more important, he had formerly been known by many observers as the Most Powerful Man in Hollywood. “Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.”
• An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.
• Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
• Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through the Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it.
• As a corollary, beware of management maxims that stop information from flowing freely in your company. …For example, consider the old management standard: “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.” What if the employee cannot solve an important problem?
• At this level, almost every company screens for the proper skill set, motivation, and track record. Yes, the reason that you have to fire your head of marketing is not because he sucks; it’s because you suck.
• If you don’t have world-class strengths where you need them, you won’t be a world-class company.
• When a company multiplies in size, the management jobs become brand-new jobs. As a result, everybody needs to requalify for the new job.
• When things go wrong in your company, nobody cares. The media don’t care, your investors don’t care, your board doesn’t care, your employees don’t care, and even your mama doesn’t care. Nobody cares. …Spend zero time on what you could have done, and devote all of your time on what you might do. Because in the end, nobody cares; just run your company.
• My old boss Jim Barksdale was fond of saying, “We take care of the people, the products, and the profits—in that order.” “Taking care of the people” is the most difficult of the three by far.
• Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.
• Nothing makes things clear like a few choice curse words. “That is not the priority” is radically weaker than “That is not the fucking priority.” …We certainly could not tolerate profanity used to intimidate or sexually harass employees, so I needed to make the distinction clear. …As I see it, we have two choices: (a) we can ban profanity or (b) we can accept profanity. Anything in between is very unlikely to work. … However, this does not mean that you can use profanity to intimidate, sexually harass people, or do other bad things.
• Hire people with the right kind of ambition. …The surest way to turn your company into the political equivalent of the U.S. Senate is to hire people with the wrong kind of ambition.
• While I’ve seen executives improve their performance and skill sets, I’ve never seen one lose the support of the organization and then regain it.
• The Law of Crappy People: For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title. …The rationale behind the law is that the other employees in the company with lower titles will naturally benchmark themselves against the crappiest person at the next level.
• In top dojos, in order to achieve the next level (for example, being promoted from a brown belt to a black belt), you must defeat an opponent in combat at that level.
• Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.
• The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least ten times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing.
• Great CEOs face the pain.
• Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.
• More senior executives will recognize the shit sandwich immediately and it will have an instant negative effect. To become elite at giving feedback, you must elevate yourself beyond a basic technique like the shit sandwich.
• I like to ask this question: “How easy is it for any given individual contributor to get her job done?”
• Of course, even with all the advice and hindsight in the world, hard things will continue to be hard things.
Here are a few of the points I included in my synopsis handout, from the book:
Here are a few of the points I included in my synopsis handout, from the book:
- Let’s start here:
- it is the hard things that will get you. The easy things are…easy.The hard things are…truly difficult. – So, how do you prepare to handle the hard things? Maybe you don’t; other than to acknowledge the difficulty, and give it your all.
- Somehow, the top leaders have to see the future. No…they have to see the future to create; they create that future that they see.
- The CEO – is the only one who can see all the pieces. The only one!
- Maybe the biggest insight in the book: Peacetime CEOs vs. Wartime CEOs (Horowitz: By my calculation, I was a peacetime CEO for three days and wartime CEO for eight years).:
- This was wartime. The company would live or die by the quality of my decisions, and there was no way to hedge or soften the responsibility. The only choices were survival or total destruction.
- “There are lots of good peacetime CEOs and lots of good wartime CEOs, but almost no CEOs that can function in both peacetime and in wartime. You’re a peacetime/wartime CEO.”
- Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.
- Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy, audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
- The world looks one way in peacetime but very different when you must fight for your life every day. In times of peace, one has time to care about things like appropriateness, long-term cultural consequences, and people’s feelings. In times of war, killing the enemy and getting the troops safely home is all that counts. I was at war and I needed a wartime general. I needed Mark Cranney.
- There are no silver bullets – you have to use the lead bullets –
- you have to do the hard work of becoming good enough to be better than the competition — We had to build a better product. There was no other way out.
- “Ben, those silver bullets that you and Mike are looking for are fine and good, but our Web server is five times slower. There is no silver bullet that’s going to fix that.”
- Train your people!
- People at McDonald’s get trained for their positions, but people with far more complicated jobs don’t. It makes no sense. …A lot of companies think their employees are so smart that they require no training. That’s silly.
- The manager should do the training…
- When you fired the person, how did you know with certainty that the employee both understood the expectations of the job and was still missing them? The best answer is that the manager clearly set expectations when she trained the employee for the job.
And here are my six lessons and takeaways;
#1 – Get very good at identifying the specifics of your challenge: what are you trying to build/provide; who is your competition; can you be better than your competition?
#2 – Are you ahead of the pack? Are you staying ahead of the pack?
#3 – Have you found good advisors, who will speak the truth to you? Do you have the humility to listen to them; and the courage to reject their counsel If you know you are right and they are wrong?
#4 – Can you identify the genuinely hard things about your job?
#5 – Can you be honest, and human, at the same time?
#6 – Do you read books written by people that have wisdom worth learning and emulating?
Who should read this book? Obviously, any leader facing hard and difficult circumstances. And, maybe the rest of us, leader or not, to help us understand both hard times and hard decisions, and the struggles that our leaders go through during such hard times.
This is quite a good book!
My synopses are available for purchase on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, and the audio recording of my presentation. The synopses delivered in June will be available soon. Click here for our newest additions.
We have the June First Friday Book Synopsis on YouTube
Did you miss the June 5 First Friday Book Synopsis on Zoom?
We have the video available on YouTube.
Both synopses available: The Hard Thing about Hard Things and Think Like a Rocket Scientist
I (Randy Mayeux) presented both synopses. People print the handouts, and follow along. You can download the two synopsis handouts by clicking here.
Here is the video, from YouTube, from the Zoom presentation:
And, if you missed the May session, click here:
Here is the video of the May First Friday Book Synopsis – The Innovation Stack and The Catalyst.
Coming on July 3, on Zoom, two more good books. Find the Zoom details here.