Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Shoe Dog Book Cover Shoe Dog
Phil Knight
Biography & Autobiography
Simon and Schuster
April 26, 2016

In Shoe Dog, Phil Knight shares the unbelievable saga behind the creation of Nike. It is a riveting read and a flat out miracle that Nike exists at all. Knight never envisioned creating an industry, he just wanted to solve a problem he was intimately familiar with from running track at the University of Oregon. He had a dream. This, as most innovators will tell you, is the most important reason for starting a company.

As you follow all the twists and turns Knight experienced as he built his business, it’s amazing to realize how easily it could all have fallen apart. It’s a good reminder that a “failed” business could have had a great idea but didn’t have the right circumstances or collection of people to champion it. So many things have to go right for a business to succeed.

The most interesting aspect for me was the cast of characters that Knight assembled and their willingness to do what it took to get their products to market. I’d venture to guess that not many people—and Knight had at least two--would be willing to pick up and move across country, create and staff an office, and all while taking on a new role in the company—then do it all over again once it was a success because the company had a need.

This is a story of someone who refused to give up on his dream no matter what obstacles he faced. The writing is engaging--you feel like you’re listening to a friend. It is the best memoir I’ve read in a long time.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Triggers Book Cover Triggers
Marshall Goldsmith & Mark Reiter
Decision-Making & Problem Solving
Crown Business
May 19, 2015

Triggers is a good reminder that we are a product of our environments (mental, physical, spiritual, social, etc.) and that we have the ability to tweak them to improve our chances of success. Goldsmith focuses on helping you identify “triggers” to problematic behaviors and creating an action plan. The goal is to give you a choice--respond or react.

What was different about this take on behavior change was the addition of mindfulness to the equation. In practice, this shows up as creating a series of questions in order to measure the effort you’re putting in around achieving your change in behavior and having an accountability partner ask them of you daily (versus checking to see whether you’ve achieved the goal itself which focuses only on the outcome.) For instance, “have I done my best to eat healthy today?” versus “did I lose weight today?” It puts attention on the variable you have complete control over and is very empowering.

There are some useful nuggets to help you live with more intention in order to be the person you want to be. It was worth the read.

Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life

Steal the Show Book Cover Steal the Show
Michael Port
Business & Economics
Mariner Books
October 18, 2016

If you’re expecting a straightforward “how to present” book, you’ll be disappointed. Instead you’ll walk away with really solid information on all aspects of good communication. A former actor, author Michael Port argues that presentations/speeches/interviews are all performances and as such start much, much earlier than when you walk on stage.

Thinking of interactions as performances is a useful construct because it helps keep you focused on how to communicate the points you need to make in the most powerful way. He gives practical techniques for creating stories, improvising, opening and closing presentations, and how to “crush your fears.” Because he was an actor he reminds you to use your body and get (and keep) your mind in the game.

Unlike many self-help tomes, he emphasizes that you need to find your own voice/style (vs following his “formula”) and he gives you help in discovering it. Because this book is jam packed with information you’ll probably want to refer back to specific sections once you’re ready to apply them after you’ve had a chance to digest the book.

If you want to be a more effective communicator, this book is a must read.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic Book Cover Big Magic
Elizabeth Gilbert
Body, Mind & Spirit
Riverhead Books
September 22, 2015

This is an easy-to-digest book about the nature of inspiration. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love uses her own experiences to show how she chose to face her fears in order to live a creative life. Her belief is that all of us are creative in some way—it’s up to us to figure out how to express it. She believes the best way is to stay curious and avoid needless suffering. In fact, she flat out rejects the idea of the “tortured artist” saying that it’s just an excuse for bad behavior—and I couldn’t agree more!

Her story about how Dr. Brene Brown, who gave one of the most viewed TED Talks in the world, was able to make the writing process work for her was fascinating. As an academician, Dr. Brown had written papers for years with little enjoyment. However she loved public speaking. Using Gilbert’s advice, she rounded up 3 friends and decamped to a beach house where she proceeded to speak her book to them while they took notes. After each “chapter” she’d take their notes, transcribe, and then read it back to the team. They would then probe and capture her answers. By using her preferred way of tapping into her creativity, she was able to more easily and powerfully express her ideas. And she and her friends had fun at the beach—and yes, she did pay her friends!

She doesn’t pussyfoot around the inevitable fear that shows up when you try to do anything creative. Her advice is to not worry about the outcome. It’s the “done is better than perfect” school of thought. She says that there’s beauty in just completing something. Her examples of when she chose to let stories out into the world that weren’t perfect because fixing them weren’t worth it were really instructive. It’s the process of creativity that is so rewarding, not the cash and prizes that few achieve.

This book will inspire you, give you “how to” ideas, and encourage you to live a more creative life.

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days Book Cover Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days
Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Brad Kowitz,
Bantam Press
March 10, 2016

This book gives you a field-tested, step-by-step, process for taking any idea from its infancy to a go/no go decision—in just five days. It probably sounds too good to be true—I sure was skeptical. However, author Jake Knapp, created the Google Ventures sprint process and has led sprints for everything from Gmail to Google X which gives him some pretty serious credibility.

Sprint is an interesting and entertaining read filled with great real-world examples of how different companies used a sprint to answer critical business questions. The format follows the framework of an actual sprint so you understand what happens each day along the way. While each sprint is an exercise in speed and urgency it’s not at the expense of good thinking. It really drove home how much can be accomplished when there is a very tight, shared deadline against a focused objective—and meeting-a-rama is not part of the equation.

You’ll want to go and immediately run a sprint when you get back to work after reading this book. It’s so logical to focus your best thinkers for five days in order to save hundreds of meeting hours, time going down blind alleys, and the politicking that comes along with any change. But the resistance to trying a new way of problem solving is anything but rational. In fact, just convincing management and team members to take 5 consecutive days to dedicate to solving one specific business problem—no matter how critical—seems daunting. The authors are very clear about what can (and has) gone wrong in previous sprints--most specifically not having the decision maker there for the entirety of the session.

It certainly seems worth the effort to pilot a sprint (assuming your problem is appropriate) within your span of control in order to help make a business case to management. With the pace of business ever increasing, anything that can help make better decisions faster is worth trying.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Scrum Book Cover Scrum
Jeff Sutherland
Business & Economics
Crown Business
Tue Sep 30 2014 00:00:00 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard Time)


Scrum is a well-written and interesting book for those looking to be more productive in any area of their lives. The author (and his peers at Easel Corporation) was the first to refer to the holistic product development approach pioneered in software development and introduced by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka as “scrum.”

In The Knowledge Creating Company, Takeuchi and Nonaka described their approach as a form of "organizational knowledge creation, [...] especially good at bringing about innovation continuously, incrementally and spirally". Essentially one cross-functional team across multiple overlapping phases tries to go the distance together, “passing the ball back and forth.” (Scrum refers to the rugby play in which the two teams pack tightly together and try to gain possession of the ball which is tossed in among them working together as a unit.) Scrum is the antithesis of the traditional linear, sequential approach typically illustrated in a Gantt chart.

Sutherland’s experiences provide a practical reminder of how to manage your time whether or not your company uses Scrum. He reminds us to allocate our mental energies and resources appropriately, immediately address issues, prioritize to avoid overwork, and the dangers of becoming complacent. He also covers teams—characteristics of great ones, perspective on optimal group size, and the need for zero tolerance for disrespect, incivility, or abuse at work. Scrum is a good reminder that we have more control over our time than we think.

FIFA’s “Not My Problem” Problem

FIFA“I know many people hold me ultimately responsible … (but) I cannot monitor everyone all the time. If people want to do wrong, they will also try to hide it,” so says Sepp Blatter, FIFA President since 1988. This is exactly what allowed corruption to thrive within FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the international governing body of association football (known as soccer in the US!), futsal (modified soccer), and beach soccer.

As you’re probably aware, the US Justice Department unsealed a 47-count indictment against 14 defendants—including FIFA bigwigs, sports marketing executives, and the owner of a broadcasting corporation—with charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. The corruption charges came as no surprise to those in the industry. In fact, the most common reaction was “why did it take so long?”

The culture of a company/association comes from the top. The behavior and cues the leader gives teaches others what is/is not acceptable. It’s exactly why so many people believe that NJ Governor Chris Christie had a hand in Bridgegate, even though no evidence has been found to link him to it. The reasoning is that he created a culture of bullying and retribution so his lieutenants figured closing the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee mayor who refused to support Governor Christie was a good idea.

Sepp Blatter joined FIFA 40 years ago as the 12th employee of the organization. The US indictment charges that kickbacks totaling more than $150 million have occurred over the past 20 years—all on his watch. As a consummate politician who has survived 17 years of scandal, accusations of corruption and the rise and fall of internal political challengers it is hard to believe that he had no knowledge of the actions of his senior level staff. It’s true he “can’t monitor everyone all the time.” He didn’t need to. As the leader he could and should have monitored his direct reports and investigated any hint of wrongdoing. While he has not personally been accused of misdeeds he did not hold his senior level staff accountable for ethical behavior thereby implicitly condoning corruption. For all intents and purposes Blatter is FIFA and therefore should be held accountable for the egregious behavior of his staff.

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The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

The Hard Thing About Hard Things Book Cover The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Ben Horowitz
Business & Economics
Tue Mar 04 2014

Ben Horowitz is the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz a very successful and unique venture capital firm that is modeled on the approach Creative Artists Agency, the Hollywood talent agency, created. He is known as an experienced and respected Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is also pretty quirky. That explains why the lifelong rap fanatic starts each chapter with lyrics from his favorite songs. If you’re listening to the book it’s a real hoot to hear a very white man try and embody different rappers 🙂

The book is designed to give advice on building and running a startup—but the real reason to read it is that it provides a lot of insight into the mindset of a CEO and other top-ranking executives who are making decisions (often in a vacuum.) He has a dramatic story to share and that makes this book an entertaining, fast read.

Horowitz was shocked to learn that treating people well was good business which was a surprise. The fact that he called it out really helps you understand the CEO mindset as does the concept of a “wartime CEO” vs a “peacetime CEO.” It explains how Steve Jobs, a wartime CEO, could treat people horribly yet engender loyalty and ultimately success.

He simplifies the job of CEO to a few critical functions: making decisions in absence of all the data, having the courage to stand behind and in front of your decision, and being able to sell others on your decisions. These are important skills to develop regardless of your leadership level.

As someone who prides himself on his authenticity, it was painful to hear Horowitz’s constant referral to the CEO in his examples as a "she." It seems a blatant attempt to be PC and it felt like he's talking down to potential women CEOs, and it eventually becomes insulting.

That said this book is worth reading as an autobiography with interesting insights from the top.

Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith

Selling the Invisible Book Cover Selling the Invisible
Harry Beckwith
Business & Economics
Business Plus
Tue Mar 20 2012

Review:This practical guide walks you through the process of marketing services that the customer cannot see and experience before buying. However, you don’t need any marketing knowledge to benefit from this book. Regardless of your job title you can easily apply these learnings to marketing yourself to influencers as well as prospective—and current—employers. For instance:

  • "In most professional services, you are not selling expertise - because your expertise is assumed, and because your prospect cannot intelligently evaluate your expertise anyway. Instead, you are selling a relationship. And in most cases, that is where you need the most work." You are judged on how you are perceived. We’ve all seen people get ahead based on their relationships, not their expertise. Work on how you interact with others and build trust with all stakeholders.
  • "First, accept the limitations of planning...Second, don't value planning for its result: the plan...Third, don't plan your future. Plan your people." Sound advice for any manager.
  • "Positioning (Al Ries and Jack Trout) says: 1) You must position yourself in your prospect's mind. 2) Your position should be singular: one simple message. 3) Your position must set you apart from your competitors. 4) You must sacrifice. You cannot be all things to all people; you must focus on one thing." I would add that if you don’t position yourself, others will do it for you. Choose what you want to be known for and make sure all of your communications—visual, verbal, physical, etc.—tell that story.

This book is easy to pick up when you just have a few moments. It is written anecdotally which makes it a quick and entertaining read as well as a good reference down the road.

The Tyranny of Strategy

strategy picsHow many times is the word “strategy” used in a work day? 10X, 20X, 50X+??

In fact it’s used so often (and frequently incorrectly) that it has become background noise in many workplaces. We’ve been conditioned to focus on strategy. It used to make a lot of sense when the marketplace was relatively static. Now things change in moments. Communication channels are interactive. Responsiveness is essential.

A strategy is predicated on market assumptions. With a constantly evolving marketplace the chances that your assumptions are correct are lessened. How are you going to ensure your strategy is going to get you where you want to go?

It’s time to give tactics a little love. They are (or should be in this environment) equal partners to strategy. Brands are looking to create a memorable experience to break through the clutter and stand out among their competitors. Tactics provide those experiences and can offer a powerful feedback loop to planning. From a business standpoint you can make a good case for this approach.

Take a look at how you’re treating those in your company who provide these services. Traditionally strategic planners have been seen as much more valuable than those who are able to operationalize ideas. It’s time to reevaluate. A good idea unexecuted provides no value to the bottom-line. Are you appropriately rewarding “doers”? More importantly are you demonstrating that all groups within your company provide value, not just a few departments?