During some recent travel I had enough time to read Seth Godin's Linchpin, cover to cover in one sitting. Well actually it was two sittings back to back with a layover in Dallas Fort Worth, but close enough.
Looking back, I almost wish I had stretched this over several days since the concepts take a bit of time to bake. Godin appropriately points out early in the book that the ideas will meet with resistance in your mind. In fact, one of the main premises in the book is this idea that we are all basically of two minds. Our creative social mind, and a nicknamed "lizard brain" that resists risk and sometimes sabotages our ability to put forth our best effort. My lizard brain was on full alert as I crammed through the book, but strangely that helped me to at least validate some of the theories in the book in real time.
This book is different from the other Godin books that I have read in that it wasn't prescriptive in how to accomplish a goal, reach an audience, or spread an idea. It was more of a manifesto, a plea for the reader as an individual to be different. The different that Godin is pushing for requires breaking the rules of conformity and abandoning the repeatable cookie cutter factory-like methods that so many industries cling to in the name of quality. He asks the reader instead to focus on human interaction and emotional nuance and makes a compelling argument that this will allow the reader to stand out, do more, and become indispensable to the organizations they serve.
Godin rounds out his argument with anecdotes of modern successful linchpins, historical perspectives about why the current career landscape encourages cookie cutter behavior but actually favors certain types of rule breaking, and even gives some basic evolutionary neurology backing for his theories.
This book is a great read if you are looking to stretch your mind a bit about what it takes to stand out, be successful and make a difference.
It took me two attempts to get through Outliers. The first time I started reading this book, I had trouble getting past the fact that everyone focuses on the “birthday” success factor when talking about the book, and outside of sports I tend to think that other factors are more important to success. I’m glad that I decided to re-tackle this book on the plane because the latter part of the book covered some of my own preconceived ideas about success, and added several new facets as well.
If you have heard of Outliers have most likely heard the correlation between professional sports “stars” and their birthdays. Basically Gladwell highlights a correlation between those who are the oldest players in a year-group, and those who grow up to be successful athletes. This correlation is provable across many different sports, and Gladwell argues that the attention these players get from being just a bit better due to physical advantages means that they get more playing time, more praise and more practice, and that this cascades and accumulates, ensuring that they have more opportunity to excel and become experts.
The later part of the book brings in many other factors that drive “Outlier” like success. There are a few other circumstance type drivers, such as the year when someone is born, or the historical experiences that a culture shares. Gladwell also points out several Outliers that had happenstance advantages, such as being given a unique opportunity at a key point of personal development.
Gladwell revisits the idea of “time spent practicing” later in the book, but in more of a comparative way instead of the “10,000 hours to excellence” that was highlighted earlier in the book. One such comparison was academic achievement in different countries, compared with the lengths of their school year. This highlighting of marginal differences was much more compelling to me than the first part of the book. I also appreciated that the end of the book discussed some ways we can eliminate the biases that our “normal” way of life imparts on us.
The last running theme that struck a chord with me was that success is not a matter of personal will, but rather a mixture of will, chance and opportunity. I do paradoxically wonder what happens when more people are given the knowledge of what it takes to become an Outlier, and they set their will toward making it happen.
This small book by David Sokol holds some interesting perspectives about managing change, from one of Warren Buffett’s chief lieutenants. A lot of focus is placed on the Plan, Execute, Measure, Correct cycle, and after reading this book, it’s very easy to notice the absence of the “Measure, Correct” portion of the cycle in many change initiatives. Too often as leaders, we have a tendency to stick to the plan simply because we are committed to our decisions.
Sokol makes judicious use of personal and business anecdotes to highlight the points he’s making, but doesn’t belabor the reader with too much domain specific detail.
If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s an excellent quick read.
Ken Auletta has written a great book about the changes that are happening in advertising and in media, against a backdrop of Google’s rise to prominence, with some interesting insights into the Google culture.
Auletta seems to have enough proximity to some of the major players that he paints a vivid picture of the personalities and motivations of high-level Googlers, specifically highlighting why Google is different from most major corporations. It would be interesting to hear an inside opinion of how accurate the portrayals were.
This book is a worthwhile read, whether you are involved in the tech industry, media, or even as a consumer who wants to understand more about why and how “free” really works on the Internet.
Sway is one of those books that makes you think about human behavior in an entirely different way. By running through some common scenarios where people behave in seemingly inexplicable ways, and identifying some common themes, Ori and Ram Brafman provide perspectives and tools to help identify and avoid irrationality. The story-telling reminded me a great deal of the styles of Malcolm Gladwell or Steven D. Levitt. Anecdotal evidence was backed by some more rigorous analysis that made the ideas both compelling, and personally believable.
After reading this book, I settled on a new definition for Irrational Behavior: Acting in a way that is counter to or wasteful with regard to your true goals.
Just because someone doesn’t do what you want, doesn’t make them irrational, but when they start making choices that move them away from what they want, they have entered the realm of the irrational.