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 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.

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?

Team dysfuncWelcome Signtion is rampant and it creates a boatload of work for everyone. Doing little things consistently to assure your staff they are valued (assuming they are!) and to demonstrate the culture you desire can go a long way towards changing the dynamic and tone of your team.

Consider this sign that welcomed a new staffer, Marisol, on her first day. She was thrilled, it reinforced her decision to come on board, and staffers knew to seek her out to introduce themselves. And it cost what, $20?

Assign someone on your team to routinize activities for things like welcoming new staffers, celebrating and communicating promotions and departures, and creating holiday celebrations. Make sure there is backup if that person leaves. Regardless of how crazy work gets, try to make at least a cameo appearance at team events to show your buy-in.

Let’s not make work harder than it has to be.

Defending seemingly stupid decisions is one of the thankless tasks of management. It’s a tough position to be in–understanding the reasons behind decisions but being unable to share them. Especially when faced with naïve staffers who assume that communicating decisions is a simple case of “telling the truth.” You can’t share so your character gets called into question.

Many decisions seem stupid because they are bereft of context—sometimes for legal reasons, other times for strategic ones—making decisions seem not only stupid but capricious. Add in a general mistrust of management and it’s easy to see how staffers can become judgmental. Not that it makes it any easier when you’re on the receiving end—especially when you have the best of intentions. These types of misunderstandings happen every day and contribute to corporate suffering.

How can we bridge this gap? (more…)

Will your company stay competitive in 2014 and beyond? After all, increasing profit margins through efficiency-based techniques–process improvements like Six Sigma, downsizing, and other structural changes—have been done to death. Often at great cost…both literally and figuratively.

Today’s workplace means dealing with uncertainty, urgency, and high stakes situations on a regular basis. No amount of process can solve those problems. It’s time to focus on effectiveness. More specifically leadership accountability for creating and sustaining a great culture.

Over 30 years of research has shown that high trust company cultures provide tangible business benefits. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, companies on the “100 Best Places to Work” lists provide:

• 2X the stock market returns
• 65% less turnover
• 2X better performance

versus the general market. The research is clear. (more…)

Few question the impact Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership had on drawing attention to the American civil rights movement. Segregation and discrimination were a way of life for many until enough people challenged the status quo. So it is with corporate suffering. You might take issue with the fact that I’m equating the two. I would argue that the impact of corporate suffering extends far beyond the workplace much like discriminatory policies and behaviors. (more…)

Now that’s a directive you rarely hear. Yet companies—software giant SAP for one–are recruiting people with autism in order to take advantage of their particular skills. What’s the learning for the rest of us?

Everyone has something to offer.

According to Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne’s blogpost on today’s HBR Blog Network “The Case for Hiring ‘Outlier’ Employees,” SAP understands that “people with autism have an exceptional ability to focus on the repetitive, detailed work of software testing.” It’s not charity; it’s a sound business decision. (more…)

A long holiday break allows us to regain our perspective. Looking back at all the “crises” and issues that drove me crazy last year has been enlightening. I’ve found that in many cases I created my own misery by not clarifying expectations, not communicating effectively, and letting deadlines slide because “everyone is so busy.” Not only did I do the wrong thing for myself, I did the wrong thing for the business. That’s what is so insidious about corporate suffering—you think you’re doing the right thing but all your good intentions end up exacerbating the situation. (more…)

Daring Greatly Book Cover Daring Greatly
Brené Brown
Gotham Books

Review: This is a thought-provoking discussion on intentional vulnerability. You may know Brené Brown from her incredibly popular TED Talks (if not, go watch!)

Her most recent book takes her topic—vulnerability—and provides insights, research, and practical examples using her own life story to illustrate her points. Vulnerability is not weakness," writes Brown. In fact, "Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences."

Brown makes the case for facing your fears in order to live a “whole hearted life” which she defines as one of deep attachment to people, the environment, and your work. It’s the difference between being “in the game” vs on the sidelines of life. Most of us try to be invulnerable so that we can avoid being hurt but the tradeoff according to Brown is that we end up feeling disconnected, unfulfilled, and unloved. We are all interdependent so real courage will always be needed in order to live a live without regrets.

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Taking Control of Your Career® Bootcamp Content Overview

Our Bootcamp is designed to get you back to feeling like yourself fast. To avoid overwhelm, we cover critical topics sequentially so you can make small changes quickly and experience immediate results.

1. New Beginnings

We start by creating a clear picture of your desired outcome and showing how feeling stuck can benefit you. You’ll also learn how to increase your physical and mental energy and a quick (less than 5 minutes!), easy way to improve your mood.

2. Setting Yourself Up For Success

It’s easier to succeed when your environment completely supports you. You’ll learn how to easily analyze yours and bring it into alignment. We’ll also cover techniques for viewing your work situation in a neutral, productive way–allowing you to move within it effortlessly.

3. Values & Standards

Values impact your behaviors, decisions, relationships and direction in life. Yet your values are often not aligned with your workplace. Standards are what we honor because we believe they will lead us to our goals. Logically you’d think high standards would result in a superior result but just the opposite often occurs. In this session we’ll cover how to maintain your standards when they’re not shared and how to stay true to yourself without making it an issue for others.

4. How Your Best Intentions Work Against You

If you’re like most achievers, you welcome and thrive on responsibility. Sometimes, however, your life can feel like one long “to do” list leaving little time to figure out what is working – or not – in your life. We’ll cover how to retrain your teammates, how to redefine your role and the concept of “responsibility without authority” – having one without the other makes success impossible.

5. Core Beliefs

Understanding how personal beliefs drive behavior is critical to freeing you from feeling trapped. This is a deeply personal and important aspect necessary to move into action. You’ll learn how to uncover the core belief that is out of alignment and the 5 step process you can use to replace it.

6. Who is in Control of Your Life?

Control is like catnip to high achievers – we all want it. But surprisingly few exercise control in the one area where they actually have it. This cycle of relentlessly trying to get control over an uncontrollable situation is exhausting and self–defeating. Resetting expectations so you can focus on fulfilling activities will provide the energy you need to regain your perspective and take action.

7. Setting Boundaries

If you’re surrounded by those who constantly violate your boundaries it will create conflict, drama and drain your energy. When you set and maintain appropriate boundaries you will experience an almost immediate reduction of stress. We will review the 5–step boundary setting process; discuss how to hold the line without alienating others or compromising your standards, and the implications of not being able to say “no”.

8. The Path Forward

Your work each session will have helped you uncover your personal traps and provided strategies for overcoming them. We’ll do a quick review and focus on how to use your strategic plan so you’ll never get in this situation again. We’ll also review how to appropriately take responsibility, how to manage workplace expectations and perceptions and the best habits for self–management when “overwhelm” strikes again – as it inevitably will.