mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work

After a brief stopover into the world of fiction I closed out 2018 with my 13th leadership and management book: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by the Basecamp cofounders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Hansson also created a small web framework called Ruby on Rails.

Who recommended the book? I follow Hansson on Twitter (@DHH) and he naturally posted a bit about the book when it released back in October 2018. So this is technically the first Manager Reads book that was recommended by the author.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover of this book is simple and reality-defying. On a black backdrop it features a list of things that make work terrible in white and then, in a rebellious red, a cross over these terrible things with the title in a handwritten style. A suspension of belief is required because if we are to think that the red ink is all handwritten that’s impossible because no one can draw two lines that straight.

Inside the pages of the book feel thick but the most interesting thing is how much the layout of the pages looks like a high school student liberally interpretting spacing and margin requirements to eek out the perception of increased content length. This book features some of the largest margins I’ve ever seen. Given most chapters average two to three pages, most paragraphs don’t have more than three sentences, and there is an empty line in between every paragraph I can’t help but feel they were aiming for a little extra oomph to make the book appear longer. There’s nothing wrong with being concise but it just looks weird. 🤷‍♂️

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Fried and Hansson see work these days as far too crazy. Their solution to this is to eliminate the crazy and embrace calm. Calm is everything to them and it’s a prerequisite to success and continued growing success. They separate their book into four sections with a unifying idea and then dive into crazy things and strategies to be less crazy. Here I’ll highlight the most interesting idea from each section.

  • Curb Your Ambition - Our goal: No goals - Goals are fake. They are arbitrary numbers people pick and they can push people to compromise on their morals and integrity. Instead of goals, the authors advise focusing on staying in business and serving customers well.

  • Defend Your Time - Effective > Productive - People are too focused on staying busy and filling every moment of the day with things. Instead, people should be focused on opening up more time to do real work and cutting down on things to do, not adding more.

  • Feed Your Culture - Low-hanging fruit can still be out of reach - Low-hanging fruit can be harder and more involved than it seems especially if it’s something new. Respect that something you’ve never done makes it hard, not easy.

  • Dissect Your Process - Worst practices - Best practices are oftentimes not the best at all because what works for one company oftentimes will not work for another company. Anytime you are considering a best practice, first remember to reconsider.

The book is filled with many short lessons and things to look out for in a company. Some will resonate with you, others won’t. If all of them resonate with you, you should improve your job situation and join us at the purple pastures of Twitch. We’re hiring!

Favorite quote from the book? “Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? If you feel there’s some crazy going on at your job, this book can be a worthwhile read. While it identifies problems making our work environment toxic and unhealthy, it doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions besides applying for a job at Basecamp where they don’t do any of the crazy things the book highlights. I liked a few chapters here and there, but overall didn’t feel this book provided much value for me, which ultimately might be a good thing.

Notes in Evernote? In a book calling for calm my notes on 🐘 feature the word 36 times.

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A Tale for the Time Being

The past six months of reading has been packed with leadership and management books so as 2018 closes out I decided to start weaving in some fiction books. I don’t recall how A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ended up on my reading list… But if I had to guess it was probably the beautiful cover.

The book tells two stories. The first is Nao, a young Japanese teenager, who decides to take her life but before doing so wants to document the life of her great grandmother, a centenarian Buddhist nun. The second is Ruth, a novelist, who stumbles upon Nao’s diary on a beach in Canada.

"A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be."

As the novel weaves back and forth we get peeks into Nao’s evolving and changing world and then switch into the present where we see the impact those peeks have on Ruth. Nao’s story was a page-turner, but in comparison Ruth’s were less exciting. That said, I enjoyed reading this book. I can’t put my finger on what kept me hooked. It isn’t packed with much in the way of narrative for a 400+ page book. Things happen but that’s just setting the scene for character development. At some point I stopped looking forward to what was happening and more to how it was going to affect Nao and Ruth.

"Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

Being a huge sucker for anything that resembles the time travel of Chrono Trigger and Radiant Historia, I was looking forward to more plays on time and quantum physics but found the delivery was a bit shallow. Ozeki teased some fantasy and science-fiction elements but there wasn’t much delivered in this department. In that moment of disappoint, I could relate a lot to Ruth who grasped at the impossible in her attempt to find and connect with Nao. The lines in this book blended writer and reader and ultimately even I felt pulled into this medley. To Ruth Ozeki, well played! 👏

Manager Reads - Orbiting the Giant Hairball

The holiday break has been great so far: spending time with family, eating (a ton) of Portuguese food, and catching up on the reading backlog. This time on Dragon Ball Z…. Oh wait… The next book is Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie.

Who recommended the book? This book was recommended by my manager, Ravi. I’ve had this one sitting on my desk and while you should never hunger to read a book because of it’s cover, this one has been nagging for my attention every time I glance at it.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? Out there doesn’t properly capture how unique this cover is. Forget fonts, the title is produced by very raw, rough, and unique letters. For those unable to decipher the title, it’s provided below the illustration and highlighted for good measure. The cover has a nice, thick weight to it and the thick pages inside are just as unique and special as the cover. They are sometimes covered with a nice simple font and other times illustrations and sometimes even hand-written notes, but usually it’s a combination of all these things. MacKenzie’s tenure at Hallmark ended with the job title of Creative Paradox so expect the unexpected!

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? It’s not worth spoiling the stories or all the lessons this book puts forth because the fun of reading this book is never really being sure what the next story or moral will be. But we can at least cover the titular principle: Orbiting.

The Giant Hairball is the summation and tangled mess of a company’s policies, procedures, business decisions, successes, and failures. In short, the Hairball is the corporate mindset and it stifles creativity. The ideal plae for people is in Orbit where they can explore and operate beyond the Hairball but still remained connected to the corporate mission.

There are many more stories, many more ideas, and many more lessons but they ultimately tie to the idea that we are all creative geniuses at birth but many forces conspire to smother our creativity and make us normal. It’s our job to launch ourselves into Orbit where we can be who we were truly meant to be.

Favorite quote from the book? “If we do not let go, we make prisoners of ourselves.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? This was easily my favorite leadership book I have read so far. And on top of that, it’s one of my favorite books in general. It’s an amazing - and very unique - ride that will be sure to touch and move anyone who picks it up. Read it!

Notes in Evernote? If there was ever a book that my notes failed to do justice to capture, this one would be it: there is so much beyond text in this gem. That said, the Manager Read templates dictates that I invite you to review my notes on 🐘.

Enjoyed this episode of Manager Reads? Check out more in the Manager Reads corner!

Manager Reads - Turn the Ship Around!

Keeping with books written by authors with a military background, the 11th book in the Manager Reads saga is Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by retired U.S. Navy captain David Marquet. Yes, that exclamation mark followed immediately by a colon is killing me softly.

Who recommended the book? This book was recommended by a member of the Twitch Manager Book Club. The club focuses on reading books aimed at leveling up our leadership and management skills.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? I like the cover of Turn the Ship Around mostly because it has a nuclear submarine on it which is undoubtedly cool. For those who aren’t impressed by a nuclear submarine perhaps the quote from Fortune magazine declaring this book “the best how-to manual anywhere for managers” will get you to pick this one up. The kerning between the T and u in Turn is way too tight though; the T encroaches heavily over the u. Inside the book are pages thick enough to resist highlighter. Font and the rest aren’t noteworthy which in itself is 👍.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? The core of Marquet’s transformation of the Santa Fe from one of the worst submarines in the Navy to one of the best was shifting the team on board from the leader-follow structure to the leader-leader structure. Instead of the traditional model where there is a single leader and the rest of the organization following that individual, the leader-leader posits that everyone can be a leader and that organizations will be better served by everyone stepping up to be a leader.

To make this transformation Marquet focused on first divesting control and then focusing on improving competence and clarity to support that divested control. For each of these three pillars, Marquet offers mechanisms to achieve them. Here are my favorite mechanisms for each pillar:

  • Control - Use “I intend to…” to turn passive followers into active leaders - Swap the use disempowered phrases like “Request permission too…” to empowered phrases like “I intend to…” A minor shift in langauge can have profound impact on someone’s sense of ownership, turning people from passive followers to active leaders.

  • Competence - Take deliberate action - Marquet writes this mechanism was the single greatest tool for reducing mistakes aboard the Santa Fe. This mechanism reminds me of the point and calling method that is leveraged by Japanese rail workers to reduce “workplace errors by up to 85 percent.”

  • Clarity - Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors - When avoiding errors is the goal, you aim to reduce errors. Teams should focus on achieving excellence instead. This will provide a larger and stronger motivator and you’ll still get a reduction in errors.

Marquet tells us a story that includes failures, small wins, hiccups, bigger successes that ultimately turned the Santa Fe into a very well run submarine that went on to produce many leaders long after Marquet departed. It’s a powerful story and even though a nuclear submarine isn’t a typical nine-to-five job all the mechanisms and learnings can be applied to everyday work.

Favorite quote from the book? “A vast untapped human potential is lost as a result of treating people as followers.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? After reading ten leadership books I finally picked one that told a story over the entire length of the book and it 👏 was 👏 great. Marquet’s story of turning the Santa Fe around is moving. Leadership is consistent work and neverending; even if someone is given a high-functioning team, we can always do better. Why not make leadership a team activity for everyone then? Marquet’s breakdown of the things that brought him success show that the path can be practical and is applicable to work everywhere. Read it!

Notes in Evernote? While my notes may cover the mechanisms Marquet used to turn the Santa Fe around they certainly don’t capture the enthralling narative of that journey. You can review my notes on 🐘.

Enjoyed this episode of Manager Reads? Check out more in the Manager Reads corner!

Manager Reads - The Dichotomy of Leadership

Next up in the Manager Reads adventure is a book I’ve been looking forward to since reading Extreme Ownership. Pack some rations because this title is quite the mouthful: The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Who recommended the book? Extreme Ownership has become a very popular book at Twitch. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book and got reminded by several colleagues when it finally came out.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover of The Dichotomy of Leadership is very clever and ties into the central theme of the book: split down the middle with the top half in black and the bottom half in white. Balance between opposite extremes is the foundation of this book. This book isn’t a #1 New York Times Bestseller yet, so for now the cover has to settle for “From the Authors of the #1 New York Times Bestseller.”

Both Extreme Ownership and Dichotomy clock in around 300 pages but the kerning in Dichotomy is smidgen tighter (i.e. 33 lines of text per page in Dichotomy versus Extreme’s 32) so you’re getting more words per page. All in all, from its cover and page quality this is a solid book.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Extreme Ownership wrote that exceptional leaderships take absolute ownership of everything in their world. It seems some people took “extreme” a bit too literally which may have prompted the authors to write this sequel. In The Dichotomy of Leadership Jocko and Leif argue that leaders must constantly seek balance between opposite forces that pull in opposite directions. While there are countless dichotomies a leader must navigate, twelve are covered:

  1. The Ultimate Dichotomy - Leaders must care deeply about their team but be willing to put them at risk to accomplish the mission.
  2. Own It All, But Empower Others - Leaders must find the balance between micromanagement and a hands-off leadership style.
  3. Resolute, But Not Overbearing - Leaders cannot be too lenient but at the same time should not be inflexible on things that don’t matter much.
  4. When to Mentor, When to Fire - Leaders must mentor and lead underperformers, but if after that someone cannot perform at the required level they must be let go.
  5. Train Hard, But Train Smart - Training must be hard and push people out of their comfort zone but it can’t be so hard that it crushes the team and diminishes the opportunities for learning.
  6. Aggressive, Not Reckless - Leaders should lean forward and default to being aggressive (i.e. proactive) but should also ensure risks have been assessed and mitigated.
  7. Disciplined, Not Rigid - Leaders should adopt standard operating procedures but need to leave room for a team to adapt and adjust to unique situations.
  8. Hold People Accountable, But Don’t Hold Their Hands - Leaders must teach a team to hold themselves accountable by explaining the why of things because direct oversight over everything is not feasible.
  9. A Leader and a Follower - Leaders must lead but also need to be able to follow others, leaning on the expertise and ideas of other people.
  10. Plan, But Don’t Overplan - No plan is bad, and planning for everything is also bad. Each risk should be evaluated and contingencies should be put in place after assessing risk versus reward.
  11. Humble, Not Passive - Leaders must be humble to grow and entertain new ideas but must also be ready to stand firm when there is a risk to the team.
  12. Focused, Not Detached - Leaders must be attentive to details but can’t be so in the weeds that they lose track of the larger picture.

Per the Extreme Ownership format each dichotomy is covered with a real-life story of SEAL training or combat in Iraq, an overview of the principle, and an application to everyday businesses. The dichotomies covered are all reasonable scales for a leader to consider. Oscar Wilde preceeded the SEALS by over half a century but likely put it best: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Favorite quote from the book? “Humility has to be balanced by knowing when to make a stand.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? The Dichotomy of Leadership presents a series of gradients that leaders should be cognizant of, but fundamentally the book didn’t move me at all compared to Extreme Ownership. Chapter after chapter I found myself thinking “Yes, this all makes sense” but I longed for a gem that would shift the way I viewed leadership. While it’s very helpful to have concise expressions of dichotomies I would only recommend this book if you feel there is some inbalance in your leadership style.

Notes in Evernote? Ready to dial your dichotomies into a harmonious and productive balance but want to use a cheat sheet? The word extreme shows up 18 times in my notes on 🐘.

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