Archives for category: Business

Ever have books that hang around in your book pile for way longer than would seem rational?

The book’s premise was obviously interesting enough to find its way into the pile in the first place, but repeatably fails to be interesting enough to make it the next step and actually be read. I don’t know how long Measure What Matters has been in my possession, but it has been a while.

Of course, as is often the case when finally getting around to reading a long overdue book, one thinks the book is great. I suspect my reticence is to do with the books subject matter: goal setting. I have a complicated relationship with goal setting, or more precisely with goal setting as it is usually described to people in the business world. I’ve often found that systems of formulaic goal setting overly burdensome and lacking in coherent structure. However, how can one not be intrigued by a book that describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as soulless numbers!

Measure What Matters touts a system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) which are used in multiple different formats by companies such as Google, The Gates Foundation, and Bono’s One Charity. What soon becomes clear, however, is that what Mr. Doer is proposing is a culture shift in how companies measure performance and direction. It also has the acceptance that with OKRs there will be failure. In fact, if there is not failure, team members are probably not setting ambitious enough goals. What also resonates is the duality of goals for leaders of teams, but with the teams themselves setting their own goals on how the team can get there. A mix of top down and bottom-up objectives.

The culture shift in Measure What Matters is pervasive, extending into employee reviews and relationships between teams, supervisors, and leaders. The book is also honest about implementation and change management – steps often overlooked in this kind of book. Filled with examples for what works and does not, Measure What Matters is almost a spiritual partner to that most revered of business books (well by me anyway) Traction by Gino Wickman. (I have never reviewed Traction for my site due to being just too intimidated by it.)

A great example of “honest” OKRs rather than the “soulless” KPIs is the example given of an objective of reducing office cleaning costs by 25%. At its most basic, the simple measure of whether the costs went down by 25% could mean that the goal was achieved. However, Mr. Doerr not only suggests ways of measuring the quality of cleaning, but also suggests that to be a true OKR the person responsible for this OKR should have their office in the area being cleaned – thereby being directly affected by the key results of the objective.

This is not a book of cold and soulless analytics. This is a book that reminds us that there is more to business objectives than math. That the way to achieve greatness is to have greatness as the objective. To be motivated by failure as much as by possibility.

For once, I am excited about a book about goal setting and goal setting in general. Having a road map helps, but understanding that emotion and intuition also have their place helps more. Measure what matters is a bible text for the modern manager.

cover "Happy at any cost"

“The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsiesh,” is the subtitle.

This book, however, is a tragedy.

Happy at Any Cost is the story of on undoubted visionary leader; their quest for not just their own happiness, but also for the happiness of others. This in turn leads to a lot of good, a lot of success, but ultimately exploitation, substance abuse, and the death of a beloved figure in the world of business and Las Vegas.

Unlike Aimee Groth’s 2017 book “The Kingdom of Happiness” which I reviewed here, and is an inside look at the Las Vegas “Downtown Project” and by extension Zappos, this is the telling of the story of Tony’s last two years as he struggled with mental illness and substance abuse issues put in the wider context of the rest of his life. This is also a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs and for those who can be swept up in vision without dealing with, or caring to deal with, the nuts-and-bolts details that make visions work.

Employing an interesting dual timeline structure, Ms. Grind and Ms. Sayre present an exhaustively researched, and deeply unnerving, tale of Tony Hsieh’s rise and fall. His rise as a tech entrepreneur at Link Exchange, then becoming CEO of what turned into Zappos, his evangelism for company culture with his book Delivering Happiness, and becoming a leading Las Vegas civic figure with the Downtown Project. His fall with the problems with the Downtown Project, issues with Zappos’s adoption of a new company structure called Holocracy, his move to Park City, Utah, his “retirement” from Zappos, and his struggles with alcohol, drugs, and mental illness. It also tells the story of Tony’s last days up to and including his death after a house fire in Connecticut.

Happy at Any Cost very much frames Tony’s life story as a coping mechanism for mental health issues and has the worthy goal of pointing out that if there was not the social stigma long associated with mental health issues perhaps it would have been easier for those around him to help. It is interesting to note, that a reading of Tony’s book Delivering Happiness, particularly in retrospect, leaves the reader with the feeling that the focus on fun and party atmosphere that permeates the book could easily be a coping mechanism for other issues. Where it perhaps most accurately hits the mark is in its exploration that having happiness as a goal in itself as ultimately self-defeating and that happiness should be a by-product of whatever drives you.

I find Tony a fascinating figure to discuss. Someone with gargantuan visions which he often left others to implement. Sometimes that worked and other times it failed. By definition, someone’s legacy is based on what marks they leave behind. Tony was someone who talked about culture and put culture at the front of their business model when nobody, literally nobody, was talking about company culture. For all its flaws, Tony helped rejuvenate Downtown Las Vegas and make it a vibrant hub of new business. However, Tony unbelievably left no will making the unraveling of his estate a legal nightmare for his family and associates. Given his investments in Las Vegas real estate, and businesses, this is likely to be a story with many subsequent chapters and potential consequences.

“A failure of leadership due to a lack of management” was my conclusion to the story told in “The Kingdom of Happiness.” It is hard not to look at “Happy at Any Cost” and come to the same conclusion.

Tony was someone who was in serious trouble near the end of his life. Many of those around him tried to help, some undoubtedly exacerbated the situation, and some just bought into that this was the vision. This book, in some ways, is a celebration of what Tony was able to achieve, which makes the ultimate tragedy even more real and poignant.

It is a haunting tale of what happens someone creates their own world where they no longer hear the world “no.”  

Does anyone care about reviews anymore?

Well – yes we should, however, even amongst those of us who care about reviews, we quite possibly care a bit less.

Why?

As the always insightful Mike Blumenthal says in this article about the fall in user and review growth on Yelp and this article on the fall in reviews on Google Local, things are not looking great for the review space. It cannot all be blamed on COVID-19. The trends of reduced new user numbers and a significant slowing in the rate of new reviews was well in place before the pandemic.

So, what is going on?

I believe what we are seeing is what I have dubbed “The Karen Effect.” The origins of the term “Karen,” meaning in rough terms a middle-aged white woman demanding to speak to the manager, being overly officious / unreasonable, or just being downright racist, is not exactly known. However, the term Karen exploded in usage during 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer of the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd. Karen today could mean anyone, of any gender, losing their temper over or generally overreacting to a perceived wrong.  

This rise in petty unreasonableness and overly bad behavior, towards those working in service industries or retail, during the pandemic has in turn given rise to another phenomenon: the sharing of this behavior online. I wrote about my fears about clients trying to leverage live streams and social platforms in an aggressive manner in this 2016 post. While this weaponizing of the documenting of interactions with a business has been successfully attempted, it has also backfired.

The first time I became aware of the potential for this tide to turn was after seeing this 2014 viral video:

This is an all too familiar scene that could have happened yesterday rather than eight years ago. A customer, believing they have been wronged, exacting their revenge on social media and in doing so exposes their own failings and unreasonableness. It also highlights the extremes to which employees will go to try and address customer complaints and keep their cool while doing so.

This is the Karren Effect.

What does this have to do with reviews?

Videos of front-line employees being polite, following their business’s policies, and trying to help a customer are not great social capital. In fact, they are boring. Watching a customer “lose their sh*t” over a perceived wrong is great social capital and in turn adds a measure of retribution for someone being punished for bad behavior. This, of course, is not always the case. Some businesses screw up, act badly, and can be badly represented by employees. But since the rise of the Karen, and the flooding of social media showing just how bad things can be, would you trust a stranger’s opinions about a business? Particularly a negative opinion? The embrace of video on social media, and everyone having a high definition video camera in their pocket, or more likely in their hand, has meant that good content can be generated from bad behavior – although generally not for the person behaving badly.

Likewise, influencer marketing and the dubious reputation that it has in many circles has also not helped the review space. While many social media influencers go to great lengths to inform their followers as to when posts are a paid promotion and thereby stay on the right side of the law, others do not and also try to leverage their “influence” into free products and services.

Influencers who try to abuse their Influence has also fallen foul of “The Karen Effect.” Most social media users have little tolerance for influencers those who abuse their power – a power given to the influencer by those same social media users – and businesses despise them. This leads us back to reviews. If influencers, who by definition are known to their audience, are not be trusted with their opinions due to undisclosed commercial relationships, how can review platform users trust complete strangers – regardless of whether the review is good or bad?

The Karen Effect is the loss of trust in the opinions of strangers.

One can hope that the Karen Effect leads to a resurgence of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or gives rise to another organization of a similar ilk. I have always bemoaned that most of the complaints about Yelp and Google Local were effectively dealt with by the BBB and that it was businesses, by not supporting them, that led to their diminished standing today and the rise of Yelp and Google Local.

It seems that people are looking for someone to trust online. They are finding other users online lacking. It will be interesting to see what fills the void.

I rarely write book reviews about books I don’t like.

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about a book I despise.

I have never read a more immoral and unethical book than Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power.” It does not have a luxury of the possible satirical nature of Machiavelli’s “The Prince;” a book that Mr. Greene quotes extensively. It also has no excuse of being from a different age given its original publication date of 1998.

The 48 Laws of Power is a book that argues that we all should lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want and hold on to what we have. It argues that customers and colleagues are marks to be taken advantage of. Friends are to be feared and loyalty is valueless; other than as something to exploit. The book seems to be saying that everyone is out for themselves, and so to do anything other than to be looking out for one’s self makes you a fool.

This outlook, of course, flies in the face of pretty much all current management theory and treats all interactions as a zero-sum game: there must be a winner and a loser in everything. It ignores the work of mathematician John Nash Jr. and the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, it is interesting that the book does not mention the prisoner’s dilemma and the bias that groups have towards cooperation.

The book is filled with historical examples and examples from myth. However, these examples are cherry picked and contain little historical context and no moral framework. An advisor keeps quiet about their fears of following Napoleon into war, because they ultimately feel they will fail and therefore cause their own downfall – never mind all the people who died at the battle of Waterloo, so long as the advisor keeps their “power.” The book fundamentally misinterprets the failures of the Treaty of Versailles, and by way of repudiation, the success of the Marshall Plan.  It claims Claudius pretended to be a fool to seize power, rather than someone who by happenstance became emperor and, by being highly educated, a highly effective administrator.

This book endorses the worst fears about politicians and managers that are held by those who elect them or follow them. A reading of this book, taking as fact that this is how all those in power do, or should, behave essentially makes the case for revolution and collectivism. If everyone is only out for themselves, and you can’t trust anything anyone says, then what use are leaders? People infected (and I use those words with great care) by the thought processes in this book have no place in the modern workplace.

This book also provides instructions on conning people, in creating a cult (not kidding), and scapegoating the innocent to protect one’s own position. The book endorses narcissistic behavior and manipulation to seduce people and is generally sociopathic.

And it’s a shame.

For this book does contain a lot of good information. Its problems lie in its total lack of a moral framework. The book also has merit for anyone who feels they may be being manipulated, to understand the mindset and tools of the manipulator. But these arguments are a stretch for a book of this length and depth. I think a good barometer for organizations, is upon seeing this book on a bookshelf, to ask those around you what they thought of it. Those that embrace it, rather than act with revulsion at its amorality, should be treated as this book itself would recommend treating them – with distrust and suspicion.

This is not a good book. It puts forward a dangerous point of view because there are people who will, and I’m sure do, use this as a manual to scheme and manipulate those around them – and think that it is okay to do so. This book is almost everything that is wrong with the world today, and everything that is wrong with business – ever.

There way are better explanations of how to view the world and the behaviors of others, and even on how to get ahead in the workplace. It is hard to find one that has such an ugly view of people, society, and history.

There are few people who would argue with the statement that math is at the heart for most of our modern world. What is less well understood is what happens when that math goes wrong. And it does. All the time!

Mr. Parker’s highly amusing and thought-provoking book is about math and computers, but what becomes clearer as the book goes on is that this is also a book about systems and how and why systems can fail. There are lots of examples of people adding up numbers incorrectly or trying to take shortcuts to make the math simpler, which in turn leads to devastating and sometimes lethal consequences. However, it the subtler applications of mathematics where “Humble Pi” really scores.

For example, looking at 30- or 40-year-old kitchen appliance, still in use, is often accompanied by a phrase such as “they don’t make things today like they used to.” While this might seem obvious at first glance given that we are talking about an appliance working well beyond its expected lifespan, this is actually an example of “Survivor Bias.” If we looked at how many of the appliances had been manufactured, and then looked at how many were still in daily use, the chances are that we would recognize that this surviving appliance is an outlier and that the vast majority of the appliances have actually long been replaced or broken down. It is only the existence of this surviving outlier that prompts the idea even though we would likely not comment on its existence were more of the appliances in existence. The appliance’s rarity generates a false narrative that can only be understood by understanding the underlying math of the number of appliances produced.

For managers there is much to take away from Humble Pi. Mr. Parker encourages us to look at systems like layers of sliced Swiss cheese. All systems should be made of multiple layers – the checks and balances of any good system. But it is important to understand that there are possibilities for mistakes in every layer of a system – the holes in the cheese. The challenge as designers of systems is to ensure that the holes in each layer do not align. The author uses the example of two different nurses in a hospital performing a complicated drug calculation the same way and both making the same math mistake leading to a medical error.

Related to this idea of errors being a natural part of a system is the impact of a lack of tolerance for errors on new employee training. If managers terminate employees for making mistakes, the people who are left to train new employees are those who are must less likely to make mistakes. These are probably the worst people to train new employees who are obviously more prone to making mistakes. If instead, we teach employees to work a system that can detect mistakes and provide feedback, a system where the holes do not line up, then we will overall have far less mistakes – even when people are new. As the books says, humans can be very resourceful in finding ways to make mistakes.

This is not just a book about rounding errors, and why you should turn your computer off regularly. It is a book about what it means to be human in a world that relies and is built on mathematics, which humans are inherently not very good at. It is a fun and interesting read that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Who does not hate networking?

“A Friend of a Friend…” by David Burkus makes the case that we are doing networking all wrong, or not at all, and that there is a better way of thinking about personal networks. With a few caveats, I think there is a lot to learn from Mr. Burkus.

To most people, the purpose of networking is to be able to leverage your network for professional ends. That means reaching out to those people with whom you have “close ties” and seeing what they can do for you or who they can introduce you to. The author suggests, however, that “loose ties,” those that you have fallen out of touch with or never had a terribly close connection with in the first place, are a better way of leveraging your network connections. It is these loose ties that are more likely to bring a diversity of thought to your circle. With some intriguing data, the book put forward the idea that people who have similar thinking, and world view, tend to cluster together. As an example of this clustering of similar thinking patterns, Mr. Burkus uses the example of voting patterns, because voting districts tend to increase in their preference for a particular party over time – even when allowing for jerrymandering!

Trying to increase the diversity of thought to improve your exposure to ideas is not without risks. While most people would agree that they and others are subtly influenced by those around them, what is less well realized is that even the behavior and habits of friends of friends can influence our rates of obesity, smoking and stopping smoking to give just a few examples. Influence is contagious.

While for some it might seem that social media could be an ideal solution to these networking issues, the author urges us to use caution and to treat social media as a potential tool rather than as a panacea. Social Media can exacerbate the very issues highlighted above – a lack of diversity of thought, through the contagious nature of influence.

What has been known in some entrepreneurial circles and at some high-end retreats is that one of the best ways to get to know someone, without all the baggage of status and perceived worth, is to actually complete a task with a stranger – helping to prepare a meal is the most focused on example, but taking a class on almost any subject when collaboration is required works just as well.

In a refreshing change from most personal development and business books is to find the resources that accompany the book freely available from the authors website, with a commitment to keep them there. https://davidburkus.com/resources/

Where the book is lacking is in the assertion that personal friends and connections can also turn into good and productive business connections or partners and vise versa. While this is undoubtedly true, and the book serves up many examples of it working in the real world, it does not explore or even caution of the HR issues and general pitfalls of not having clear boundaries in the workplace for both those involved and those around them. While it is a relatively minor quibble, it does seem to be strange oversight given the book’s otherwise excellent attention to detail and research.

“A Friend of a Friend” is an excellent resource for those who find networking unnatural. It also explains why it looks so easy for some and borderline impossible for others. The success of its promise, and premise, still has a lot to do with personal motivation, but these tools are that are relatable and accessible for all. This book is for the introverted, extroverted, and the closet introverted alike.

This is a difficult and complicated book to review.

Being someone who has been an advocate of email, as opposed to other forms of business communications, such as text messaging and apps, I started reading this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Email does not have the sexiness factor of other tools; however, it does have distinct advantages for businesses.

Like many books with provocative titles, “A World Without Email” is arguably mistitled. The central tenant of the book is that email, and other communication tools that are often put in its place such as Slack, create a “hyperactive hive mind.” This hyperactive hive mind makes us so concerned with the work of reading and answering messages, that it frequently gets in the way of our actual jobs and that it is ill suited for most of the communication that is needed anyway. What Mr. Newport is suggesting in this book is that we reevaluate how we perform work rather than just assume that the way we have always done it is best.

The arguments for doing this are pretty compelling for a project-based workplace, where “knowledge workers” are producing materials. Where most of the arguments in the book fall down is when it comes to managers supporting other employees in a service-based industry – such as a veterinary hospital. Or a business where “training” your customers to communicate in a particular way is difficult if not impossible. Having said that what should actually be taken away from “A world Without Email” is not the title, but the idea that we should carefully look at our workflow and information exchange and build systems and protocols that actually work for what our employees need. This is of course opposed to making our employees bend to what an ad-hoc exchange of information, using a tool such as email can give rise to; a hyperactive hive mind.

A surprising recommendation from this book, is the suggestion that what is often missing from businesses for their knowledge workers is support staff. This does not mean a return to the days of typing pools and Mad Men-esque assistants outside every office door; but it does suggest that leaders need to understand that for knowledge workers, switching between their primary focus and communication, can dramatically impact the former without significant gains it the latter. Assistance in communication can result in productivity increases that far outweigh the costs of that assistance.

There is, however, a real danger that the wrong lessons from this book will be drawn. For example, that implementing a tool such as Trello, a task-based management app, will remove the need for meetings or other forms of digital communication. In fact, I find the focus on the evils of email while ignoring the much greater issues that can arise with text messaging and apps such as Slack, undermines some of the book’s credibility.

The idea, that workflow in business communications needs a more formal protocol, has been around for a while in various forms. Mr. Newport makes a good argument for devoting time and energy into a workflow protocol for you and your business. What is not so clear from “A World Without Email” is whether what actually needs to change is our relationship with email and other forms of communication – practicing good communication hygiene for example – rather than abandoning the tool all together for its own misuse.

To sum up this a book that is worth reading, thinking about, and even discussing with your team. It is not a book to adopt trite slogans from and use to justify making rash decisions.

Business is rarely one size fits all.

What allows us to feel like we belong somewhere?

How do we harness belonging to create buy-in for our teams and how do outside influences affect our own sense of belonging in the world? What can damage that sense of belonging? How do we avoid destroying what we seek to create?

In Daniel Coyle’s book , The Culture Code – which I reviewed here, he puts forth the idea that the things that create great culture in groups and teams do so by triggering a sense of belonging. These are things such as uniforms, special phrases or codes, and a shared vision of purpose. By triggering these ‘belonging cues’ we feel safe and part of a collective. We have shared values and a shared identity. This feeling of belonging is even more strongly triggered when there is an outside enemy or outside set of circumstances.

The fear of the outsider being used as a rallying cry for uniting a people has a dark reputation in history, but also has its more positive outcomes as well. The dramatic drop in crime in New York city in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks being an obvious example.

My own personal sense of belonging was also triggered in the shadow of tragedy.

When the 10/1/17 mass shooting happened at the Route 91 Festival in my adoptive hometown of Las Vegas, which killed 58 people (60 at the time of this writing), there was obviously shock and horror from not just people in Las Vegas, but also around the country. People who live in Las Vegas have an odd relationship with its tourist nature, in as much as there is great respect for the people who visit and for the things that draw them to our town, but that does not necessarily mean that we want much do with those people or those parts of the town. However, to attack those things, and those people is very much seen as an attack on the entire city. A city based on welcoming strangers to our town, and hoping that they have a good time during their visit.

The reaction of the city, with people lining up around the block to donate blood, the general feeling of outrage that this could happen, and that someone could abuse our hospitality in such a hideous manner, created a greater sense of ownership of this odd place in the desert where I live than at any other time in previous five years of my residency.

But something else happened at the same time in Las Vegas.

The city got its first professional sports team in the Vegas Golden Knights (VGK).

To the hockey world and the sports pundits, this was less than a joke. A city which had no history of support for major league sports, that has shown little interest in hockey, and where it was 115 degrees in the summer. It seemed like a terrible idea from just about every corner. However, at its darkest hour – or what certainly felt like its darkest hour at the time, the Vegas Golden Knights showed that they wanted to be part of the community, which let’s face it – they were not.

What happened next is the stuff of fairy tales. An unprecedented run for the Stanley Cup, and a city adopting a sport and a team as their own – making Las Vegas one of the best places to experience a hockey game in the country. For the whole story of that first year, I cannot recommend enough the documentary “Valiant” the trailer for which you will find below.

 I should explain at this point explain that I have no time for sports. Apart from the odd summer evening watching baseball, more for the company and enjoying the summer evening in a crowd, than for anything happening on the field, sports was something that other people did.  So, the question becomes, how did I become the owner of three hockey jerseys? What happened that first year of the Vegas Golden Knights, and in successive years, to make mee feel like they were my team, but also to become proud and emotional about my adoptive hometown? How did I come to believe that I belonged as a Vegas Golden Knights fan and that by extension that I felt ownership of a city that is, by definition, a place to be visited?

The Route 91 tragedy was obviously a horrible event for all concerned, but it was also a serious blow to the city and to its self-image. Las Vegas – America’s playground to quote the movie Ocean’s Eleven – a safe place for people to go a little wild. To shatter that image in the eyes of the wider world, also damaged that image in the eyes of the people who live and work here. The Vegas Golden Knights were also a team with an image problem. The players were all cast offs from other teams, and they were expected to be the worst team in the league that year – and possibly for years to come. That alignment of adversity created shared purpose.

And then against all odds the Golden Knights started, and kept, winning. A city which needed something to cheer and be happy about – got it in spades. The Vegas Golden Knights belonged to Las Vegas and Las Vegas belonged to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But there was more than fate at work in this bonding. The Vegas Golden Knights created their own medieval pantomime as a branding exercise; however, they also adopted the symbols and sounds that have come to epitomize Las Vegas. The sounds of coins, the roll of a dice, a mascot named “Chance,” “Viva Las Vegas”, and just the very golden coloring of anything and everything in sight made the Golden Knights feel like Las Vegas, but also to feel that it was okay to embrace the visitor tropes of Las Vegas.

People like to take pride in things, and it was easy to take pride in the Vegas Golden Knights. The fan experience was considered the best in the league, they continued to play well, cleanly, and get involved in the community. It also brought pride to the city because the Golden Knights did not exist for visitors – although all are welcome. They existed for the residents of Las Vegas.

The symbols of Golden Knights became synonymous with the city of Las Vegas, and with #VegasStrong. The uniforms, symbols, the shared experience of adversity, and the games created a whole new culture. A culture that the people of Las Vegas could belong to.

For that first Vegas Golden Knights season in 2017 / 2018 I was not a fan or even really bought into the culture. I was aware of it building all around me; but being aware of how the triggering of belonging cues can feel like manipulation I tried to stay aloof. It was not until the beginning of the 2018 / 2019 season, and going to my first game, that I finally succumbed, and ultimately embraced the sport and the team.

Fast forward to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first game of the second round. The Vegas Golden Knights vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado were considered the favorites, of not just the series, but of the entire playoffs. Game one is a disaster for the Golden Knights. A 7-1 loss. Not only do they look out classed on the ice, but they show their frustration by getting into fights and giving up penalties. This culminates in Vegas enforcer Ryan Reeves kneeing on the head of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves in apparent retaliation for an earlier hit by Graves on Vegas player Janmark. Reeves was tossed from the game and received a two-game suspension. The VGK receive an extraordinary nine-minute penalty, and arguably play their best hocky of the game for the first seven minutes of that penalty, until two Vegas players decide they would rather hit a Colorado player rather than defend, and Colorado scores yet again.

This game caused a great crisis of faith for me. In the game and in the team I had come to love. Vegas is known as a team that plays “heavy, but clean.” Reeves actions, seemed dangerous, petty, and revengeful. In addition, the entire team seemed petulant at the resounding loss. To add to the disappointment, Reeves had been an outspoken advocate for police reform in the light of the George Floyd murder, and yet here he was kneeling on the head of another player. A professional, using excessive force because he could.

Chuck Klosterman in his book “But What If We Are Wrong?,” which I reviewed here, talks about the fall in popularity of boxing, and the potential for the fall of professional football, due to mainstream occasional fans, as opposed to dedicated “my team can do no wrong” kind of fans, being turned off by the serious life threatening injuries than can occur in those sports.

At the end of that game against Colorado, I was ashamed to be a Golden Knights fan. I believed that they had betrayed what they stood for. Other fans had a problem with them losing in such spectacular form – I didn’t. My problem was with them seeming to being petty and vengeful.

Game two of the series, while still a loss for Vegas, began to restore my faith in the team as they acquitted themselves as professionals.

However, just nine games later again my faith would be shaken. Testing my commitment to this sport and to being a fan. This time due to the behavior of the fans themselves.

Round Three, Game four, was not a good game for Vegas. Ultimately a 4-1 loss for the VGK at home. However, seeing your team booed off the ice at the end of the second period and at the end of a power play but their own fans was more than a little disquieting. As was the failure of the two people next to me and the eight people in front of me not returning to their seats for the 3rd period. I did not want to belong to a fan base that only supported a team when they were winning. Near the end of the game, Montreal scored an empty net gold making the score 4-1. There has always been fans who leave near the end of a game when it is obvious that their team is going to lose. This, however, was not a few fans.

This was an exodos.

I estimated 2/3s to 3/4s of the auditorium.         

It was heartbreaking for the players I’m sure. Yes, they did not play well, or it would seem with much heart, but they did not deserve to be treated that way. Vegas has always seemed to have a hospitable fan base. Welcoming opposing fan bases into T-Mobile Arena, making sure they felt welcome in our barn and in our city. It has also forgiven its team for its losses and supported them as they once supported us. Its one of the things that I love about supporting the team – everyone was generally ways positive, friendly to all, and just wanting to have a good time. It the light of this game some fans expressed that the team deserved it as they had not shown up to play, and that far worse happened at other areas with other teams.

But that misses the point. Vegas was supposed to be different.

Cultures are made up of shared beliefs, shared values, and a shared sense of identity. This is reenforced by the sharing of uniforms, language, and customs. Damage to the sense of belonging by upending any of these threatens that fragile culture.

I myself have found myself feeling like an outsider in a culture I helped create in an online community, due to the shifting priorities of those in charge, a lack of inclusiveness, and a feeling that my sense of wanting to contribute was devalued and unappreciated. The feeling that I’m getting far less out than I’m putting in is often why people leave companies.

We mess with shared values and culture at our peril. These are fragile things. Belonging allows us to feel safe. It flips a switch in our cave-person brain and tells us “it’s ok,” “you are among friends,” “the saber tooth tigers are not going to get you today.”

But belonging goes further. Belonging allows us to feel. To connect. To bond. To Think.

All we do as humans is think, feel, and run around.

Cultures have to be fought for, to champion for, but they are not a bottomless well. When that sense of belonging is gone, it is gone for good.

I am still a Golden Knights fan, but there were some ugly moments for our team and the fan base during these playoffs.

Our teams that we lead and belong to, if we are lucky, have the same sense of belonging that fans feel for sports teams. But we can damage them just as easily as sports teams can by our actions and inactions.

Belonging is what we all want. But it can never be taken for granted.

Ted Talks are ubiquitous, almost to the point of self parody. The great Ted Talks, and there are many, are internet classics. But what makes Ted different? And what makes a good Ted Talk? And what’s the difference between a good Ted Talk and a great one? More to the point, what can we learn from past Ted talks to improve our own talks and presentations?

I should start out by stating that Talk Like Ted does all of the above and more; however, it is quite possible that you would never get that far as it has an extremely crass and hyperbolic introduction in the stereotypical style of an old fashioned business self help book.

And that is a shame.

Because the rest if the book is not like that at all. What Talk Like Ted actually does is to deconstruct what makes, not only the most popular Ted Talks work online and in person, but also what makes the format work as a whole. With engaging stories about the talks themselves, and the people behind them, it connects the dots between seemingly dispersant topics and styles of talk.

A constant theme that Mr. Gallo makes in the book, is that creativity flourishes with constraints. Ted’s 18 minute limit on talks not only makes the talks ideal for consuming during a coffee break, and therefore increasing their viral potential, but also makes speakers clarify and simplify their ideas – much as Twitter does with its 140 character limit. In fact, a great take away from the book is to make your talk title fit into 140 characters and still be able to communicate the idea behind your presentation.

Another feature of Talk Like Ted, that sets its self apart just being a study of what makes Ted talks great, is its understanding that speakers often have no choice but to make their presentations longer than 18 minutes due to the expectations of conferences and audiences. By giving speakers the structure of successful talks, Mr. Gallo also presents ways to enhance and elongate without undermining the fundamentals already established. It would have been all to easy to just say “talk less.”

Well written and impeccably researched, Talk Like Ted, is both dissection of a cultural phenomenon and a self help guide for those that speak in front of others, or want to. This is book to refer back to, so I do encourage readers to get a physical copy. While I have an audio copy I know I will be referring back to it for my next talk and so a physical copy is on the way.

A two copy recommendation – a very Ted idea.

Being, effectively, a self-taught manager, there are things you come across that drive you crazy. One of those things is the insistence, from people with MBAs, to only look at data when it comes to decision making. While I am a great proponent of education; I have my career in spite of a lack of further education – not because of it, I find the constant insistence on relying on data to be frustratingly narrow minded and lacking in imagination.

Restoring the Soul of Business, Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala is one of the few business books that actually supports the downplaying of data, and by god is it refreshing to hear.

I should make clear; this is not a “touchy feely” plea for businesses to be based on being nice to people; but the business case for giving equal weight to both “stories” and “spreadsheets.” That the best business decisions are often not data driven, but driven by the experiences and ideas of individuals.

There are points in the book, like with many books that argue for seemingly “too good be to true” ideas and concepts, that the reader can become frustrated and want to yell “Yes, but..” Mr. Tobaccowala; however, deftly sprinkles in touches of reality which gives context, and caveats, to benefits that seem to have no place in the business world of real people.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a plea for the middle ground. That data has its place, and is not an omnipotent modern god as pointed out by Cathy O’Neil in her excellent Weapons of Math Destruction that I reviewed here, and that people with ideas and intuition, stories in other words, can balance each other in the workplace. Over reliance on either the “story or the spreadsheet,” a phrase that does begin to grate after a while, is a trap to which we can all fall into; and many businesses already have.

It is the realism of Restoring the Soul of Business that makes it a book worth listening to. That data driven companies tend to have cold cultures and little innovation which in turn leads to poor customer service. The examples litter the headlines; Southwest Airlines vs. United Airlines for just one example.

While there are lots of books that ask us to take a better look at our data, I have reviewed a number of them, this is one of the few books making the case for balance.

And that makes it a fresh, and interesting read, and a book to take to heart.

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