Good Strategy, Bad Strategy Book Cover Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
Richard P. Rumelt
Business & Economics
Crown Books

Review: Strategy is probably the most misunderstood business concept. If you’ve ever been told to be “more strategic” (particularly by a manager who can’t define what that means), this book is for you. It does an excellent job of clearly defining strategy and giving real world, easy-to-understand examples of both good and bad strategy. The author untangles strategy from other concepts that often masquerade or are confused as strategy eg performance objectives, competitive goals, etc. and helps the reader identify symptoms of bad strategy.

It’s interesting, thought-provoking, contrarian in many respects, both theoretical and practical—in fact there’s so much in this book I plan to reread it at least once if not more. Well worth your investment.

We can spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion trying to look good to others. “What will people think?” “What if I fail?” “How will I be judged?” becomes the endless loop we hear in our minds. This line of thinking keeps us incredibly busy but doesn’t make for a very happy existence.

When how you’re perceived by others matters most to you you’re likely to make consistently poor decisions about where to focus, where to invest your time and energy, and who to connect with. If you’re lucky you’ll realize early on that you are not the center of the universe and, in fact, no one really cares about you. This is not to say you don’t have friends and family but at the end of the day no one cares about you nearly as much as you do. This is a very, very good thing.

Why? Because it means that your definition of success is the one that matters. After all only you know what’s truly important to yourself and what will make you happy. When you achieve what matters to you you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction instead of never being satisfied no matter how many promotions, awards, or honors you receive.

It also means that you are free. You can make mistakes, change directions, try again, and create yourself ad infinitum. Since no one is really paying close attention and most have very poor memories, you can learn from your experiences and use them as stepping stones to your ultimate success.

Best of all those voices in your head go away. It’s ultimately not about what others think. Can you live with yourself and the choices you’ve made? If so, you’ve achieved success.

Comfort zones as defined by the esteemed Wikipedia are:

“a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk….A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security.

Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.”

While business experts suggest we regularly step outside our comfort zone, in my experience very few do. After all, most of us aren’t comfortable with ambiguity. We’d rather stay in a bad situation than take a chance that the next one might be worse. When we choose to only play within the boundaries we’ve created for ourselves we deny ourselves growth, new experiences, and opportunities. The irony is that, as the definition above noted, we’re doing so because we believe in “an unfounded sense of security.” A comfort zone is just a mirage we’ve created to provide us with a sense of order, security, and risk-free living.

When you really think about it, isn’t everything you really want outside your comfort zone?

I’m not suggesting that routine isn’t important. It can provide a sense of security and be an efficient use of time. But when routine is the entirety of your life it can become a problem. Inertia is very powerful. Instead why not consciously recognize the box you’ve put yourself in and take regular small steps towards what you really want? Then you can take comfort that you’ve done what you could to live a life with no regrets.

About the last thing achievers ask for is help, yet it’s often the best strategic move you can make. If you do it right, you’ll get better results, those who help you will feel good about their efforts, and others will learn more about you.

When you make requests, the onus is upon you to know what you want and to express it in a way that makes sense. Resist the urge to make blanket requests; instead, think strategically about who is best able to help you in specific areas. (By the way, this goes for job transitions too.) Usually people make requests but in a very vague way, e.g., “I’m looking for a job in marketing,” “I’d like another senior position with a good company,” or “I’d like to work somewhere close to home.” While all of these statements may be true, they don’t give others enough direction to allow them to help you.

At work, identify who you think will be most helpful to you by considering what expertise is needed for your project, what your project has in common with past successes, and which coworkers can provide you with the political help you’re going to need to get the job done. If you’re not sure who fits the bill, identify those who will be able to advise and direct you.

Remember, you’re not asking anyone to do your job, you’re asking for a specific contribution, so be sure to clarify your expectations. Make it easy for people to help you by creating a short summary of your situation. Tell them why you are asking for input and then make the “ask.” Your request should be specific, clear, and actionable.

For instance, say you’re launching a product in another market for the first time. You might want to ask the team lead of the last successful launch what they wished they’d known during the launch. You could speak with someone who is an expert in the new market and ask what they believe is the biggest inaccurate assumption marketers make when dealing with that audience. You are gathering intel, learning from others, and making others appropriately aware of what you’re up to. Win-win-win.

When people take action and focus on their careers, it’s almost always in response to dissatisfaction they’re experiencing at work. And that dissatisfaction often gets in the way of finding a solution. You’re so consumed with what isn’t working that it’s difficult to let go of it, clear your head, and focus on what you really want.

Ruminating on what isn’t working, spending time evaluating what others are (or aren’t) doing, and imagining that it will be difficult to resolve your situation saps your energy. It also takes a surprising amount of time and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have no energy to address where you want to go so you just remain there.

Focus. Use your time wisely. Prioritize yourself.

Tackle your personal thinking projects first thing in the morning—come to work early and start the day by putting yourself first. It is a powerful message to send yourself and it puts control back in your hands. You’re being proactive instead of reacting to the events of the day and the agendas of others. Decide what you really want, and don’t discount the possibility that you may find it within your present company. If you’re clear on what you want, you may just need to tweak your job duties to increase your happiness at work.

If you catch yourself going down an energy-wasting thinking path, stop. And if you can’t stop immediately, give yourself a time limit: “I am going to spend 5 more minutes trashing x, y, z and then I will move on to more productive things.” Sometimes you need to process what is happening to move beyond it—but keep those thoughts to yourself, try to be objective in what you’re saying, and then move on to what you can control…your future.

Many of us forget that we have a choice in how we view the world. Imagine how different our experience would be if we believed the world was full of interesting people and lots of opportunity instead of filled with people who are out for themselves. It would feel much different wouldn’t it?

Knee-jerk negativism can be seriously detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you spend time listening to the conversations around you I guarantee you that 99% of them will be fear-focused—fears about what may happen, what’s not working, interpretations of what the actions of others may mean, and reiterations of what isn’t possible. Whether these ideas are accurate or not, we go through exactly the same emotions we would if they were true. Negativity drains us. Literally.

When you’re surrounded by negativity it is difficult, if not impossible, to see opportunities. You’re so conditioned to looking for the bad that you automatically filter out anything that contradicts that idea. It’s not surprising, especially when you look at our influencers in the world, and in particular, the media. It has become increasingly focused on the negative, partly due to the advent of the 24/7 news cycle where bad news draws much higher ratings than good news.

Because there is so much information coming at us and we have so many demands upon our time, we don’t always think about the perspective of those who are providing information—whether they’re newscasters, peers, friends or family—it just seems easier to believe whatever they’re saying. Do so at your peril. (How’s that for drama?)

It takes effort to remain positive and open in the face of relentless negativity. But it can be done. It’s a habit, like any other. The first step is becoming conscious of your environment and the influences you allow into your mind. Consciously challenge them and think about the perspective of the people providing information before you choose what you want to believe.

Are coworkers who constantly focus on what isn’t working trying to justify why they’re not succeeding? Are they looking for reasons not to try different things? Are they threatened by the very idea that trying hard could achieve results? Or is it just a habit with them?

Negativity is an energy vampire. Emotions, attitudes, and perspective are contagious. Be careful what you choose to focus upon so that you can reserve your energy for people, activities, and ideas that fill you up, not deplete you. The upside is that not only will you benefit, you’ll be able to spread your positive energy to others.

The Icarus Deception Book Cover The Icarus Deception
Seth Godin
Business & Economics

Review: In this book Godin steps a bit out of his marketing comfort zone and into the world of motivation. He believes that our new economy is about throwing off the artificial limitations we’ve been taught to believe in order to create more meaningful and financially rewarding work for ourselves. It’s a truly inspirational message--although for some of us it’s a stretch to consider our work as “art.”

In the back he gives examples of those who have pursued their “art” which helps you wrap your mind around the concept of work as art. If you’re a fan you’ve heard much of this message before but it’s worth reading this book because his thinking challenges our day-to-day assumptions about what is possible for each of us.

As an aside, from a marketing standpoint this book is an interesting experience in alternative approaches--Godin created a Kickstarter campaign for this book in order to convince his publisher to promote it. You can see the original request on the Kickstarter site.

Start with why Book Cover Start with why
Simon Sinek
Business & Economics

Review: ... they buy WHY you do it." Sinek makes a convincing case using companies like Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and HP to demonstrate his hypothesis however his ideas are equally relevant when applied to individuals. Once you figure out your “why” life’s decisions and actions become infinitely easier.

In this inspirational book you’ll learn that figuring out why your company’s existence is meaningful to your customers is the most important task of any leader. Knowing your why sets the foundation for a long-term business strategy that can easily adapt to market conditions. While others may produce the same end product, if you know your why and have communicated it effectively your customers will respond to those intangible values and beliefs and remain loyal. The book provides many examples of the “what” and the “why” using popular companies as examples. There’s not much on the “how” but reasonable people can figure that out for yourself. In a refreshingly change from other business books, he observes that there are no short cuts to long-term success.




Contagious Book Cover Contagious
Jonah Berger
Business & Economics
Simon and Schuster
Tue Mar 05 2013

Review: This is a fascinating read about what makes ideas contagious. Backed by research, the author uses contemporary examples (Will it Blend? on YouTube; the song Friday by Rebecca Black; and United Breaks Guitars) to demonstrate why these videos caught on. He breaks down the reasons into six key STEPPS (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories.) While it’s easy to see how these concepts could be applied to products and services, they can also be used for your own ideas in the workplace. If you’re interested in getting traction for your ideas, read this book.

Great by Choice Book Cover Great by Choice
Jim Collins, Morten T. Hansen,
Business & Economics
Harper Collins
Tue Oct 11 2011

Review: This is a worthwhile read, similar in style to Collins’ previous books Good to Great and Built to Last. This one focuses on companies that succeed in times of great uncertainty and draws lessons from their actions. Although the research they based the book on ended in 2002, the conclusions they’ve drawn are relevant today. The book focuses on “10Xer companies” eg a company that beat their industry by 10 fold. Only 7 companies out of 20,400 companies qualified: Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, and Stryker.

Key conclusions: 10Xers are very disciplined, focused on data, and stick to their plan (called a “20 mile march”); 10Xers weren’t more innovative but were iterative in their innovation approach (“fire bullets” eg see what works, “then cannonballs” eg blow it out once you know what works); 10Xers employ "productive paranoia" eg have cash reserves and are flexible in interpreting the trends in their business and industry; 10Xers operate using Specific, Methodological, and Consistent (SMaC) rules to create consistent success; and finally 10Xers had a better “Return on Luck” (ROL) because they took full advantage of luck when it occurred and had enough of a buffer to mitigate any bad luck they encountered. This book provides directional information about how to thrive in an uncertain business climate.

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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.