mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Manager Reads - Powerful

Next up on the Manager Reads saga is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while: Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Matty McCord, the co-creator of the (in)famous Netflix Culture Deck.

Who recommended the book? I first saw the Netflix culture deck back in 2017 when I was staying limber and exploring new career opportunities. What recently, and ultimately, got Powerful on my reading radar was a recommendation from a former Twitch colleague, Peter Yang, who is the Gary Oak to my Ash Ketchum when it comes to reading books.

Judge the book by its cover, font, page quality? The cover of Powerful is simple and stays on brand with the Netflix red and white. In a moment of exercising humility, the Powerful title uses raised lettering but not the author’s name. The very wide kerning on “Building a Culture of” compared to the tighter kerning on “Freedom and Responsibility” irks my weak but yet strong design sensibilities. Also, all items on the cover are the same width except the Culture Deck shout-out at the top which also tears at my soul. Inside the book, everything is played close to the chest with nice, thick pages, a standard-serif font, comfortable leading, and a line width that lets a reader quickly float from one line to another.

Thoughts on the book and the big take-aways? Powerful covers eight principles that help build a high-performance culture.

  1. The greatest motivator for people is to be on a team with other great people.
  2. Every single employee needs to understand how the business works.
  3. People want to hear the truth about the business and their performance, not a watered down version.
  4. Everyone in the company should engage in open debate over business decisions.
  5. The best time to hire the team you need in the future is now.
  6. Hiring great people, and letting go those who don’t meet the bar, is critical to success.
  7. Instead of paying some percentile in the top of the market, pay top of market.
  8. Tell people how they’re doing frequently and people aren’t a good fit, help those people find new opportunities that are a good fit.

While some of the ideas and stories in Powerful come off as harsh, one cannot deny that Netflix is getting things done with an unconventional model. Since we all know that running a video streaming service is like running a nuclear submarine, I see a lot of Turn the Ship Around in Powerful: divest control to the team but ensure there is competence (hire only the best) and clarity (ensure everyone understands the business) to achieve success.

Favorite quote from the book? “A business leader’s job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time.”

Elevator pitch for suggesting (or not suggesting) the book? Netflix culture presents a compelling counterpoint to how most companies operate and I respect Netflix for setting a great bar for engineering excellence. But in my opinion, Netflix culture swings too far against the grain and ends up deep into rough-and-tumble territory. This does not mean there aren’t important lessons here that we can leverage to make our company a place that empowers everyone to do their best work. Read it… You probably won’t agree with every idea but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re bad ideas.

Notes in Evernote? Ready to inject freedom and responsibility into your company but can’t even commit to reading a book? Feel free to review my notes on 🐘 to whet your appetite for the entire book.

Most of the world’s wisdom is written down in its best books. Manager Reads is a series covering books on management and leadership, focusing on books that can improve your own leadership with the wisdom of others. Enjoyed this post and want to see more? Check out more at Manager Reads.