(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

I’ve never watched “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” or “How to get Away with Murder.” So why read, let alone review, a book by the writer and creator of such successful, but ultimately not that interesting (to me) features of the television landscape?

Well, the recommendation by a good friend got me to read the blurb and then the audacity of the idea did the rest.
Shonda Rhimes is a busy, powerful, highly successful, African American single mother in Hollywood who realized after a conversation with her sister that she did not enjoy her life. In a bid to change her life she decided to spend a year saying yes to things she would normally say no to because she was “too busy.”Part memoir, part self help book, part treatise on creating balance between home and work lives, “Year of Yes” is a remarkable book. Funny, honest, deeply personal, and down to earth yet also intellectually satisfying Ms. Rhimes let’s the reader into her world and into her mind. It shows that success does not translate into happiness – but that it can if you’ll let it. The book also is a rallying cry for stretching one’s self and not becoming self limiting due to what scares you.

Where the book really scores for me is in figuring out how to have a successful career, and a balance that with having a fulfilling home life that works for both parent(s) and children. While this is not particularly relevant for me (I’m not a parent) it is interesting from an employer and manger perspective for those that do.

I will not attempt to distill several chapters into a paragraph but the importance of personal rules and creating boundaries is great advice for manager to give to employees struggling with the conundrum of the near mythical work life balance.
While there is plenty for the fans of Ms. Rhimes’s shows, working parents, and those interested in the world of Hollywood television production, there is also just a lot of great advice about personal heath, relationships, diversity, and dealing with stress.
This is one of the most surprising books I have read in a while and it is well worth your time – particularly if you like to say “no.”
Note on the Audio Edition: as I often do with books I listened to the audio version which is read by the author and includes actual audio recordings of speeches that she has makes as part of her journey. Shonda’s personality truly shines through with her performance and I highly recommend this version for adding an extra dimension to and already great book.

I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message. I decided that it was time to share some of these.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.

 

Burnt is a great movie. Staring Bradley Cooper, it’s the story of a chef seeking redemption by opening a new restaurant in London and winning a 3rd Michelin star after imploding and ruining his mentor’s restaurant in Paris.

It’s use as a management tool comes from the relationships of running a team and of how not to treat employees. It does contain swearing, so if that is incompatible with your company culture this movie is not for you.

I feel there two ways to use this particular movie. In whole; individually, to help illuminate how abusive management is contagious and ultimately counterproductive and in a general staff meeting. As a tool in a meeting I found the best way was to isolate certain scenes.

Chapter 5: @ 26:30 through to Chapter 6: @ 36:20 – The preparation for the opening of the restaurant. The attention to detail. Staff working at the top of their game, working as a team, and watching that disintegrate due the the behavior of one employee and then the abuse that is untenable.

Chapter 7: @ 40:44 through Chapter 7: @ 43:45 – Again, the preparation and attention to detail and that things have recovered after the events of Chapter 5 and 6. Does this mean the behavior that was seen in chapter 5 and 6 was ok and worked?

Chapter 9: @ 50:58 through Chapter 9: @ 52:23 – Contagion. Demonstrated behavior turns into learned behavior.

Chapter 10 through Chapter 10: @ 56:03 – More contagion, and now it is difficult to control.

Chapter 12: @ 1:11:52 through Chapter 12: @ 1:16:00 – Appalling behavior has a price to pay – even years afterwards.

Chapter 15: working as a team, and working together, is more important than anything else.

It is unusual to see actual work environments, even though this is quite a dysfunctional one, with the real kind of relationships that employees have between each other in a mainstream movie. A thoughtful viewing of “Burnt” should give any leader pause for thought or something to aspire to. And even with taking scenes in isolation it should allow staff to see how bad behavior from anyone can spread and create a workplace where no one wants to work. It is also nice to see a movie where unacceptable behavior is shown for what it is: unacceptable, rather than celebrated.

By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shines a, sometimes unwelcome, light on the unforgiving nature of Internet shaming. Ronson convincingly argues that almost 200 years ago we abandoned shaming as a form of punishment, not due a lack of effectiveness with rise of the larger towns and cities, but because it was seen as overly cruel.

Ronson has extraordinary access to those who lives have been ruined because of a bad out of context joke, calling out someone for perceived sexist comments, for making perceived sexist comments, and for being too irreverent in a selfie at a national memorial. The author also cleverly focuses on those less worthy of pity; the successful author who gets found out for making up quotes, and exposes our own attitudes to shaming. And then there are those who seem to have beaten the shame cycle; the UK publicist who went to war with the tabloid press, and the small town where almost a hundred of its citizenry where reveled to be visiting a local prostitute.

As well as telling the story of the various victims of the modern age of public shaming, Ronson also tells us of his own journey and grappling with his own role in the shaming of others and of being of control of his internet persona. This does not hang together quite as well as the rest of the book. I have a hard time, for instance, that such a talented researcher cannot look back through their own Twitter history to see who they have previously shamed. However, this is minor quibble and a brave personal exploration and opening up about personal shame.

The book does end on a relatively positive note due to the miracles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however the real point of the book is for the reader to examine how they feel about this return of public shaming. Even for those whom it is hard to defend; the hunters seeking big game trophies, the Vet taking pleasure in shooting a cat with a bow and arrow, and the plagiarizing author, to name but a few – do they really deserve this level of life altering destruction?

For those who answer yes, this book is for you. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is, if nothing else, a testament to how much of a double edged sword internet shame can be, how cruel and destructive it is, and how uncomfortable we should all be with it. The Internet shows us at our best and worst as a culture – it is we who have to change.

Note: I have refrained from using the names of any of the subjects, or related people, in this post so as not to add to add to the problem.

By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

A Very Fictional Exchange

By Mike Falconer

Dr. Try Ingtodomybest: Good afternoon Ms. Dis Satisfied what seems to be the problem?

Ms. Dis Satisfied: Problem? I’ll tell you what the problem is. I’ve been waiting to see you for 45 minutes and then when I do see you it is only for 10 minutes!

Dr. T: I’m sorry, we’ve been rather busy today and we we have had other cases that have taken longer than we would have liked – I’m so sorry for the delay.

Ms. D: You are just too busy, you don’t allow enough time for each appointment. You just try to pack us all in so you can charge as much as you can per hour. Oh and by the way you charge too much – been here 10 minutes and you want to charge me almost $200!

Dr. T: To be perfectly honest there is a certain amount of truth in what you say. We have to schedule based on the best use of our time with the most optimistic length of each visit. If we didn’t, your visit would be even more expensive.

Ms. D: Nonsense. My 10 minute visit should cost the same regardless of what else is going on in this hospital. I am only using 10 minutes of your and the staff’s time.

Dr. T: If only that were the case. You see you also pay for the down time; well actually to be more precise all clients do, just like you all pay for the overhead of the building.

Ms. D: Why should I pay for you doing nothing?

Dr. T: Believe me I don’t want you to, I want you to only pay for the time that you use, but in order for that to happen we need to keep as busy as possible. The busier we are the more efficient use of our labor which is 50% of our cost of your visit.

Ms. D: So what you are telling me is that your time is more valuable than mine?

Dr. T: Only in as much as you value it in that way. In order to make care for your pet accessible there is a balance to be struck between the average waiting time / length of appointment and the cost of that appointment. Let me put it this way, Would you be willing to pay more to guarentee less of a wait time and a longer, on average appointment?

Ms. D: That would be depend on the value of the appointment?

Dr. T: I am assuming that is value as you see it as opposed to how I see it?

Ms. D: Surely they are the same thing?

Dr. T: The value of a heartworm test to me is, other than it being good medicine and the best thing for your pet of course, is what you pay for it and the potential for finding other conditions. If we catch a condition early we can then treat with the better chance of a good outcome because we caught them early. The value for you of a heartworm test is piece of mind and it allows you to receive heartworm preventive which is what is the best thing for the health of your pet. Those points of view both have value, but if our view of value is too out of sync then you won’t get the heartworm test for your dog, neither of us has piece of mind and although your visit will be shorter and I can see another patient more quickly, I will not receive the fee for the test or the medication.

Ms. D: So what you are telling me is that if I want to have a longer appointment with you and less waiting time I would have to pay more?

Dr. T: Well of course. The basic rule of veterinary medicine as things currently stand is the whatever walks through the doors pays the bills. If not enough walks through the doors one of three things happens. We raise our prices, we lower our costs (wages are 50% of our costs remember), or we close.

Ms. D: You could always get more people to come through your doors?

Dr. T: Absolutely, but these are the other side of the coin of raising prices and lowering costs. Getting people through the door when they are not already coming in means lowering prices or raising costs – in other words marketing. If successful it solves the problem if it fails it, course just makes the problem worse.
Ms. D: But this just sounds like all you care about is the money?

Dr. T: The flip side of that is that all you care about is the money! Everyone in the building spends their days with pets and most have made it their career and for less money than they could get in other professions.

Ms. D: I’m tired of that argument – there is value in spending your day with pets most people would love a job like that.

Dr. T: Touche! However the reality does not always live up to the public perception. Hence the high burn out rate and other serious ills of the profession. I’ll give your visit today for free if you can name a television portrayal which matches what actually happens inside a real hospital.

Ms. D: ……

Dr. T: Do you like flying?

Ms. D: No I hate it, packed in like sardines, air travel used to be so stylish.

Dr. T: Why don’t you fly business class or first class?

Ms. D: Because I am not made of money – I come here too often.

Dr. T: A business class seat costs anywhere from 2 – 4 times the price of an economy priced seat because it uses the 2 – 4 times the resources of an economy seat. The most precious of which is, of course, space. Your hankering for the good old days of air travel was when all seats were business class. Lowering the barriers to air travel has meant we can now travel like never before; however, it also means that we do not value it in the same way.

Ms. D: So if I am understanding you correctly, you are telling me that as a Doctor you have to bring in a certain amount of money every hour like a quota. How can I trust you if you are doing this?

Dr. T: That is one way of looking at it. I would rather look at it as I have to carry my share of costs of having a facility like this so it can be open. As long as we charge appropriately the unwritten contract that we have where we charge based on our costs and in return we will make every effort to be cognizant of not taking you for granted and at the same time not letting you take us for granted, will mean that conversations like this will never have to happen in the real world.

Ms. D: Well thank you for your time and for your insights – can I get a payment plan for todays visit please?

– Uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

What makes a great leader?

Why do some leaders succeed in times of crisis and others in times of relative peace?

In Nassir Ghaemi’s impeccably researched book he puts forward the idea that leaders who have some form of mental illness, such as depression or bi-polar disorder, make excellent crisis leaders. To back up his claims he focuses on eight leaders from the world of politics, business, and war: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior, Mahatma Gandi, Ted Turner, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William tecumseh Sherman, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln.

All of these leaders, according to Ghaemi, meet the clinical definition of mental illness to some degree and it is this mental illness that allows them to empathize with those they lead and come into conflict with in the case of depression, and gives resilience and creativity to those with bi-polar disorder.

In other words, in times of crisis we are better off being lead by mentally ill leaders than mentally healthy ones. There are different kinds of leadership for different contexts.

Ghaemi also gives examples of leaders who do not meet the clinical definition of mental illness and who did not excel in times of crisis: Neville chamberlain, Richard Nixon, George McClellan, and perhaps controversially George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

However, perhaps the most controversial part of Ghaemi’s book is the rational that he gives to both Adolf Hitler and the Nazi high command. While not making any excuses for Nazis, Ghaemi does make a compelling case that Hilter suffered from bi-polar disorder that was then exacerbated by the mis-prescribing and abuse of drugs by his doctors. It is this insight that underlines the dangers of not understanding the relationship between leadership and mental illness: “Mental illness can produce great leaders but if the illness is too severe, or treated with the wrong drugs. It produces failure or evil.”

As Ghaemi defines it; “mental illness is the susceptibility of entering manic or depressive states not constantly being in those states. And leaders derive benefits from going into and coming out of those states.

The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal. The worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy. In times of peace mental health is useful. One meets the expectations of ones community and one is rewarded for doing so. In times of war or crisis it is the misfits who fit the bill.”

This hypothesis has dramatic implications for those who lead people, whether it be through politics or employment. At its most basic the concept is that different circumstances require, not just different leadership styles, but different leaders entirely. The leader that builds a company and struggles to build an ongoing concern, may not be the right leader to joy the fruits of their labor. Conversely, the leader who has provided excellent stewardship for years if not decades, may not be he right leader when a crisis envelopes a business.

Ghaemi is perhaps most insightful when analyzing mentally healthy people and the failings that go along with mental health. “The typical non crisis leader is idealistic, a bit too optimistic about the world and himself is insensitive to suffering having not suffered much himself. Often he comes from a privileged background who has not been tested by adversity. He thinks himself better than others and fails to see what he has in common with them. His past has served him well and he seeks to preserve it. He doesn’t acclimate well to novelty.”

A First Rate Madness is an important book for those who seek to understand leadership and what makes good and bad leaders. It is perhaps symptomatic of the stigma attached to mental illness that this book is not more well regarded and its theories more widespread. One cannot read it and not take some serious insights even if rejecting its central premiss.

In short, it is essential leadership reading.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

A short book, Entangled Empathy puts forward the case that for upgrading our relationship with animals to one of responding to the “needs’ interests, desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique perspectives” based on the context of their situation rather than focusing on animal “rights.”

What does context have to do with this subject? Gruen uses the example of man and his children entering a subway car where upon the man sits down and closes his eyes while the children proceed to become extremely disruptive. When eventually someone suggests to the man that he do something about the behavior of the children the man agrees, apologizes, and states that his wife had just died and they don’t seem to know how to deal with it anymore than he does.

Essentially, Entangled Empathy is a rallying cry to abandon ridged ethical principles when dealing with animals and move to a more empathic model. To do this we have to recognize that we already have complex relationships with animals and when it comes to their welfare a one size fits all solution can actually be harmful.

There is a lot of merit to what Gruen is talking about in Entangled Empathy; however, the execution leaves a little be desired. There are some rally quite interesting models used to prove ethical points (such as the man and the children on the subway); however these are not expanded upon with any great new insights. Rather they are broken down to component parts and never put back together again.

Gruen does use a couple of examples from her own life, and work, but they are never fully explored in any meaningful fashion. Anyone who reads the book and expects to finish with a set of tools to better handle animal welfare based on entangled empathy is going to be sorely disappointed.

While certainly interesting, and it gives some food for thought, there is little in the way of answers here which makes Entangled Empathy much more that a statement of principles bordering on “we can do better.”

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


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Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

If you live in Las Vegas…Check!

Have an interest in management and business issues… Check!

And know a number of people in the Downtown / Zappos / entrepreneur community… Check!

Then you can’t help but have heard of Holacracy.

Normally the tones of conversations about Holacracy, and in particular of Zappos’s ’embrace it or leave’ offer to their staff, mix wonder and an unbelieving shake of the head normally reserved for parents of teenagers. This new book by Brian J. Robertson aims to change all that.

The funny thing is that it actually does a pretty good job.

The first real hint that there is more here than just a new business book, is in that the author has been involved in Lean software development and it is almost a throwaway comment- which is unfortunate. Lean is becoming a highly respected way of changing how companies work (please see my review of Lean Hospitals for a better explanation) and there are some interesting commonalities that someone, better versed in both than myself, needs to explore.

At its core, Holacracy is the deconstruction of work into roles, accountabilities, domains, and polices and giving employees the freedom, and the structure, to make modifications when “tensions” arise without the formal structure of supervisors and management. Interestingly, a lot of the housekeeping of Holacracy is in preserving the integrity of the process rather than the comfort of the employees. “It is difficult to hide from empowerment when the organizational process around you continually shines a light on your hiding place.”

Of course, if you are looking for things to turn you off such as parody worthy jargon; “In Tactical Meetings circle members use a fast-paced forum to deal with their ongoing operations, synchronize team members, and triage any difficulties that are preventing progress.” then you will find it. However, it is worth embracing one of the key conceits of the author when describing the adoption or even understanding of a system such as Holacracy: The rules of any game fade into the background when everyone knows what they are doing and how they should do it. It is only when someone breaks the rules, or does not know them well enough, that the rules come into sharp relief.

For those of us who are constantly looking to upgrade our management tool box, there is a lot you will recognize from other areas and other ideas what are worth re-purposing if a complete adoption of Holacracy is never even on your mind. The structured checkins at the beginning of meetings, for example, I am already planning on adopting along with the book’s strategy definition.

Of course, a book of this length (it is a short 200 pages that I read in a morning) can be nothing more than a appetizer or introduction to the world of Holacracy. I would have liked to have seen a few more diagrams and a decent FAQ section: The idea that the CEO of a company unadopt Holacracy at any time but is not above the rules is great to know; but would have been nicer to hear on page 10 rather than page 152!

My main criticism of the book, however, is in the field of Human Resources. What does the disciplinary process look like in a Holacracy? What does termination look like? How does that jive with legal and privacy issues? There is mention of compensation models, but these are brief and experimental at best.

There is something really interesting going on here with Holacracy and it deserves a more positive press that it currently seems to be receiving; hopefully this book will help change that.

But it is not a panacea – at least not yet.

But is is worth your time to find out why!

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