As a final word of discouragement: a great culture does not get you a great company. If your product isn’t superior or the market doesn’t want it, your company will fail no matter how good its culture is.
Ben Horowitz, What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture
Start here (the 1st actual essential): you’ve got to have a product, or service, that the market wants. And, your version of the product or service has to be really good to succeed in this modern-day, zero to one marketplace.
But, once you’ve got that, now you need a whole lot of other elements to be successful. These might fall under a general category of “culture.” With plenty of emphasis on team building.
Here’s how one person described it to me: I had a conversation with a very successful small business owner this week. His business is flourishing, but he faces a challenge with building, and keeping, an effective team. His team is not large; but essential to his business success.
He definitely provides a service that is needed in the marketplace. And he provides a version of the service that is very good indeed. But, the challenge of getting the team right, with team members striving for excellence always, is his challenge.
As we talked, we focused on three elements that are critical.
#1 – His team members have to be exceptionally competent. This is a business where things simply must not fall through the cracks. If they do, then the ripple effects are not good; not good at all. So, attention to detail — competence — is critical. And, the team members have to be competent all the time; in every interaction with the people/clients/customers.
#2 – His team has to have good team chemistry. They have to work well together. They have to be attentive to each other; helping each other all the time. And they have to “enjoy” working together.
I was reminded of a line from the new Jim Mattis book, Call Sign Chaos: Were the troops comfortable speaking in my presence? Did they nudge one another in appreciation of a wisecrack or incorrect remark? Did they feel at ease with their immediate superiors?
You can call this chemistry; you can call this team morale. But the team members have to get along, enjoy working together, and genuinely have each other’s back, helping to make each team member ever-more effective. Because the team members have to “watch” for the possible cracks that have to be filled. No “one” can do this without the help of good team members.
#3 – His team has to have the right systems in place, and follow those systems to the ”T.” Yes, this is directly related to the competence issue. But even if the individual is competent, if the system is deficient, the team will not be effective.
Here, the wisdom of W. Edwards Deming is worth remembering:
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
“Every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it does.”
So, these three are essential competence; chemistry; and system mastery.
And, yes, hiring the right people – people who can get along with and work well with other team members; people who are reliably competent; people who can learn to work within a system, letting nothing fall through the cracks – hiring such people is always the critical need.
So, how’s your team doing?
My purpose in writing this book is to convey the lessons I learned for those who might benefit, whether in the military or in civilian life.
“Does,” he asked, “the Colonel Have Another Outstanding Solution?” Thus did Chaos become my call sign.
“Be polite, be professional—but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”
Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos
Today is Veteran’s Day. And, this month at our First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of a fine book by a truly revered veteran. This is not the first book I have presented written by veterans, but one would be hard pressed to find a better exemplar than General Jim Mattis, US Marine Corps (Ret.).
The book I presented is Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West, Random House. 2019. It is an exceptional book.
I realize that this is quite subjective, but this is the impression that I had as I read this book: this man took his life and work assignments very seriously. Which is exactly how it should be when a person leads others into life and death conflict. Jim Mattis is a man worthy of the highest respect. His substance, his gravitas, oozes from every page of this book.
I always ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book will give you a pretty good history of recent decades of American military conflict, and action. It is worth reading for this alone.
#2 – This book will help you understand the kind of decision-making that a leader is required to make. And, it will help you know how to make better decisions.
#3 – This book will make you examine your own reading/studying habits. We all need to study more thoroughly.
Here are just a few excerpts directly from the book; the best of my highlighted passages:
• In my view, when the President asks you to do something, you “just do it.” So long as you are prepared, you say yes. Whether asked to serve by a Democrat or a Republican, you serve. “Politics ends at the water’s edge.”
• It now became even more clear to me why the Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: that reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead. … the Marine Corps’s insistence that we study (vice just read) history, paid off.
• Everyone needs a friend, a purpose, and a chance to belong to something greater than themselves.
• Everywhere we sailed, at every landing and every exercise in foreign countries, I was introduced to the enormous value of allies.
• The first is competence. Be brilliant in the basics. Don’t dabble in your job; you must master it. …That applies at every level as you advance.
• Analyze yourself. Identify weaknesses and improve yourself. …if you’re not a good listener, discipline yourself. Your troops are counting on you.
• Third, conviction. This is harder and deeper than physical courage. Your peers are the first to know what you will stand for and, more important, what you won’t stand for. Your troops catch on fast. State your flat-ass rules and stick to them. They shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
• At the same time, leaven your professional passion with personal humility and compassion for your troops. Remember: As an officer, you need to win only one battle—for the hearts of your troops. Win their hearts and they will win the fights. Competence, caring, and conviction combine to form a fundamental element—shaping the fighting spirit of your troops. Leadership means reaching the souls of your troops, instilling a sense of commitment and purpose in the face of challenges so severe that they cannot be put into words.
• Nick’s example stuck with me: When tasked with supporting other units, select those you most hate to give up. Never advantage yourself at the expense of your comrades.
We have been fighting on this planet for ten thousand years; it would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated advantage.
• If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps maintains a list of required reading for every rank. … All Marines read a common set; in addition, sergeants read some books, and colonels read others.
At no rank is a Marine excused from studying.
• I knew from their ranks what books they had read.
• As Churchill noted, “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
• I don’t care how operationally brilliant you are; if you can’t create harmony—vicious harmony—on the battlefield, based on trust across different military services, foreign allied militaries, and diplomatic lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete.
• Note to all executives over the age of thirty: always keep close to you youngsters who are smarter than you.
• As S. L. A. Marshall, the noted Army historian, wrote, “It is by virtue of the spoken word rather than by the sight or any other medium that men in combat gather courage from the knowledge that they are being supported by others….Speech galvanizes the desire to work together. It is the beginning of the urge to get something done.”
• PowerPoint is the scourge of critical thinking. It encourages fragmented logic by the briefer and passivity in the listener.
• Dick Stratton, who was held in the Hanoi Hilton for 2,251 days as a “prisoner at war,” had taught me that a call from the field is not an interruption of the daily routine; it’s the reason for the daily routine.
Here are a few of the lessons from the book, that I highlighted in my synopsis:
- Coach the people you lead:
- You are not their friend. You are their coach and commander
- Build morale…
- Were the troops comfortable speaking in my presence? Did they nudge one another in appreciation of a wisecrack or incorrect remark? Did they feel at ease with their immediate superiors?
- Point people to the lessons of history – which means, of course, that you must really know the lessons of history.
- Yes; yet again, work ethic. In both preparation, and execution.
- the Marines threw rocks at Amtracs, simulating shrapnel
- I and the assault element leaders practiced mechanized maneuvers until we could do them in our sleep.
- My intent was to rehearse until we could improvise on the battlefield like a jazzman in New Orleans.
- Make the Leader’s Intent clear – crystal clear – and communicate it to all the troops very clearly!
- For this reason I came down hard on anyone who said, “Sir, my mission is to bring all my men home safely.” That’s a laudable and necessary goal, but the primary mission was to defeat the enemy, even as we did everything possible to keep our young men and women alive.
- Identify, and execute, your basics:
- Regrettably, too many of the men I’ve seen killed or wounded failed to perform the basics.
- You have to win with the team you have!
- The battalion sergeant major told us lieutenants to focus on training the young Marines we had, not worry about the ones we didn’t have. — I would make do with what I had, and not waste time whining about what I didn’t have.
- Throughout my career, I’ve preferred to work with whoever was in place. When a new boss brings in a large team of favorites, it invites discord and the concentration of authority at higher levels.
- Cultivate your allies…
- diplomats; other branches of service; military personnel from other countries – you need them all!
- be willing to learn from the “others”
- Look ahead… cultivate the ability to look ahead…
- “There is a gift,” Napoleon wrote in his memoirs, “of being able to see at a glance the possibilities offered by the terrain….One can call it coup d’oeil [to see in the blink of an eye] and it is inborn in great generals.”
And here are my six lessons and takeaways from this book:
#1 – You need to read more. No; more than that…you need to study!
#2 – You need allies. Welcome them; embrace them; respect them; praise them; learn from them.
#3 – Go in, fully equipped, to fully accomplish the task at hand.
#4 – You need to spend lots of time with the “grunts.” Listen to them.
#5 – People do best when they get to make their own decisions. Set the vision (the “intent”), and then set the people doing the work a little more free.
#6 – Morale really matters. Monitor the morale of your team. Improve team morale in every way, every chance you can.
I have read, and presented synopses of, many, many books dealing with leadership issues and challenges. This book by Jim Mattis may be one that I move to the top of my recommended list. He described how he started at the bottom, and kept taking his preparation, his opportunities, and his assignments, seriously. He learned to lead. And, now, he shares what he has learned. This is simply a terrific book!
My synopsis of this book, which includes the audio recording of my presentation, along with the pdf of my multipage, comprehensive handout, will be available soon from this web site The “buy synopses” tab has a search box to search by title And you can always check the newest additions by clicking here.
At the October First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, I presented my synopsis of the provocative new book by Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers. Well, I am in the midst of talking to some strangers myself. Our house was damaged in the great tornado of 2019, and we are working with an insurance adjuster and contractors.
Dave Lieber writes the Watchdog Column for the Dallas Morning News, and he warned of people offering to do work that they weren’t fully qualified to do. (And, yes, some are also out-and-out dishonest). Putting the Dave Lieber column, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book together, I think my wife and I were able to make wiser decisions regarding the tornado-aftermath repair work we needed done.
So, after I shared a thank you in a tweet to Mr. Lieber, Dave wrote a column, quoting the Malcolm Gladwell book (and me): How author Malcolm Gladwell’s idea about trusting people can help you avoid a scam. (The print version – see photo – used a different title).
Here’s an obvious thought: we should all know to do our homework about the people we work with. But this book, and Mr. Lieber’s column, made the point so strongly, and effectively, that maybe I finally learned why this is important.
I think Mr. Lieber’s column is a good reminder and summary of some of the key content of the book Talking to Strangers. You might find it useful.
And, here is my earlier blog post with my lessons and takeaways from this good book: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell – Here are my Six Lessons and Takeaways.
The New York Times has published its November, 2019 list of Best Selling Business Books. There are a few new books on this month’s list.
For the first time in quite a while, we have presented synopses of fewer than half of the books on the month’s list at our monthly Dallas event, the First Friday Book Synopsis. I have presented synopses of #4, The Infinite Game; #5, Dare to Lead; #6, Atomic Habits; and #10, Outliers.
I have also recently presented the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Talking to Strangers. That book is a top-ten nonfiction best seller, but not categorized as a business book.
And, I’m pretty sure I will select #1, and #2, for early in 2020, the new books by Ryan Holiday and Marc Benioff. I am a fan of both of these men: Mr. Holiday as a writer, and Mr. Benioff as a business leader and activist.
Here is the NY Times November, 2019 list of best selling business books. Click over to the New York Times site for more information on these books, and a link to the Times review of Outliers.
#1 – Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
#2 – Trailblazer by Marc Benioff and Monica Langley
#3 – Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#4 – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
#5 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#6 – Atomic Habits by James Cklear
#7 – Fair Play by Eve Rodsky
#8 – What it Takes by Stephen A. Schwatzman
#9 – Shut Up and Listen! by Tiulman Fertitta
#10 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
You can purchase my synopses, with the audio recording of my presentations, and the pdf of the multi-page comprehensive synopses handouts, by clicking on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page. Click here for our newest additions. My synopsis of The Infinite Game will be available soon.
I wrote this book to rally those who are ready to challenge that status quo and replace it with a reality that is vastly more conducive to our deep-seated human need to feel safe, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and to provide for ourselves and our families.
it is our collective responsibility to find, guide and support those who are committed to leading in a way that will more likely bring that vision to life.
Simply put: The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible.
Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game
Simon Sinek helps us remember the basics; very important basics. He did that with his book Start with Why. And he does it again with his new book, The Infinite Game. I recently presented my synopsis of this book at the November 1 First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.
In the book, he makes one key point, fleshed out with many stories, examples, and implications. His point: business is not a game with a final clock; it is an infinite game. And the biggest implication is that business people need to play a very long game, and pretty much ignore the “next quarter is all that matters” game plan that way too many leaders follow.
And, this really has to be understood at the beginning of this conversation: Milton Friedman, and his essay from 1970, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine — (as opposed to the view of Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations). Friedman insisted that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business, to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” — In other words, according to Friedman, the sole purpose of business is to make money and that money belongs to the shareholders.
He gives credit to Professor James P. Carse, who penned a little treatise called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility in 1986. According to Carse, a finite-minded leader plays to end the game—to win. And if they want to be the winner, then there has to be a loser. — Carse’s infinite player plays to keep playing. In business, that means building an organization that can survive its leaders.
Here are the key differences between Finite Games vs. The Infinite Game…
- Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game.
- Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.
- There is no such thing as winning education; no one is ever crowned the winner of careers; there is no such thing as winning global politics. And there is certainly no such thing as winning business. All these things are journeys, not events.
In my synopses, I ask: What is the point (of this book)? My answer for this book is: Business is not working very well; for many companies, and for many people. The problem is that we are viewing and approaching business as a Finite Game. The solution is a genuine mindset change; a redefinition of business as an Infinite Game.
And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three answers.
#1 – We are too focused on the next quarter. This book will compel us to take a longer view.
#2 — We are too focused on profits only. This book will take a more inclusive view – which will, ironically, lead to greater profits in the long run.
#3 – We are too focused on winning by beating our competition. This book will re-focus our attention to a “worthy rival,” in the midst of an “everyone can win” environment.
Here are a few key highlights from the book (the best of Randy’s highlighted passages):
• Decades after the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense during the war, had the chance to meet Nguyen Co Thach, the North Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s chief specialist on the United States from 1960 to 1975. McNamara was flabbergasted by how badly America misunderstood their enemy. “You must never have read a history book,” McNamara recounts Thach scolding him. “If you had, you’d know we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians… Don’t you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years?”
• Sadly, over the course of the past thirty to forty years, finite-minded leadership has become the modern standard in business.
• According to a study by McKinsey, the average life span of an S& P 500 company has dropped over forty years since the 1950s, from an average of sixty-one years to less than eighteen years today.
• We call it “vision” because it must be something we can “see.”
• We need something with permanence for us to rally around.
• I am often surprised how many visionary leaders don’t think they need to find the words for or write down their Cause. They assume that because their vision is clear to them it’s clear to everyone else in the organization. Which of course it’s not. A Just Cause that is preserved on paper can be handed down from generation to generation; a founder’s instinct cannot.
• I often meet senior executives who seem to suffer from a kind of “finite exhaustion.”
It’s a strange quirk of human nature. The order in which a person presents information more often than not reveals their actual priorities and the focus of their strategies.
• With each ethical transgression that is tolerated, we pave the road for more and bigger ethical transgressions.
• Put a good person in an environment that suffers ethical fading, and that person becomes susceptible to ethical lapses themselves. Likewise, take a person, even one who may have acted unethically in the past, put them in a stronger, more values-based culture, and that same person will also act in accordance with the standards and norms of that environment.
He argues that you, and all business leaders, will default to the finite game. Over and over again. Maintaining an infinite mindset is hard. Very hard.
- Here are five essential practices for the infinite game:
- Advance a Just Cause — A Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision. …A Just Cause is not the same as our WHY. A WHY comes from the past. It is an origin story. It is a statement of who we are. …A Just Cause is about the future. It defines where we are going. It describes the world we hope to live in and will commit to help build.
- Build Trusting Teams
- Study your Worthy Rivals
- Prepare for Existential Flexibility
- Demonstrate the Courage to Lead
- And this great just cause must be:
- For something — affirmative and optimistic
- Inclusive — Open to all those who would like to contribute
- Service oriented — for the primary benefit of others
- Resilient — able to endure political, technological and cultural change
- Idealistic — Big, bold and ultimately unachievable
- He strongly warns against Ethical Fading: Ethical fading is a condition in a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles. In fact, if we look closely, we begin to see signs of ethical fading in lots of businesses.
- And here are my five lessons and takeaways:
#1 – The short game will likely end up with only short gains. Aim for the Infinite Game.
#2 – The goal is not short-term profits, but long-term…endurance; loyalty; community…
#3 – Be very clear about developing a true Just Cause. And stick to seeking to fulfill that cause!
#4 – The Infinite Game might save you from ethical fading. And that can only be good for our society (and, yes, maybe for your company).
#5 – Reject, and renounce, the “I must win” mindset.
This is a good book, with a great and important point. It is certainly worth a careful pondering…
My synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my full, comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, will be available soon from this site. Click here for our newest additions. And, you can purchase my synopsis of his earlier book, Start with Why, by clicking here.
Reading a lot of books is not quite equal to learning what is in those books, is it?
I have been giving a whole lot of thought to this. I have been thinking about my own life trajectory. I have been thinking about speeches and presentations I have heard – and given. And I have been thinking about watching audiences. And I have reached a conclusion.
I am not the only one to reach this conclusion. But so many people have not paid attention to this.
Here is my conclusion: “passive” learning is not really learning.
Learning requires active learning. It requires serious work. It requires active participation. It requires listening, and reading, and writing, and pondering, and reviewing, and studying. Especially studying!
Last Friday, I presented my synopsis of Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis. It is a book about a lot; but it is also a book about learning; learning from studying. The book is filled with insights about this. Start with this one, directly from the book:
PowerPoint is the scourge of critical thinking. It encourages fragmented logic by the briefer and passivity in the listener.
Note what he says. Using PowerPoint is not a good practice because it “encourages passivity in the listener.” That is a genuinely important and significant observation.
In my synopsis handout, I included this: There is a difference between reading – and – studying.
- Mattis learned from; quoted from…Alexander the Great; Marcus Aurelius; General Grant, Rommel, and a host of others… —
- I read broadly and selected a few battles and areas where I was weak to study deeply.
- Read history, but study a few battles in depth.
- Learning from others’ mistakes is far smarter than putting your own lads in body bags.
- On a Saturday morning, the sergeant major requested that I drop by for a quiet discussion. Technically, I outranked him, but no lieutenant with his wits about him is slow to respond when his top noncommissioned officer wants to talk with him alone. “You are a very persuasive young man,” he said, handing me a book about a Roman centurion, “but it would be best if you did your homework first.”
- But I well recall an Israeli exchange officer, on a sweltering run in the Virginia woods, bellowing at me that the physically vigorous life is not inconsistent with being intellectually on top of your game. “Read the ancient Greeks and how they turned out their warriors,” he said.
Jim Mattis read (still reads) a lot of books – a lot of books! But more than just reading the books, he studied the books.
And he did so as a Marine. The Marines assign reading, with a specific book list, for each rank. From early in his book: It now became even more clear to me why the Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: that reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead. … the Marine Corps’s insistence that we study (vice just read) history, paid off.
One advantage was that an officer could assume that the Marines listening knew some common stories and principles from the books they had read; learned from the books they had all read!
Here’s what I think: we are way too passive in our learning. We look at slides; we listen to audio books. But we don’t recap; we don’t outline; we don’t underline, and highlight, and re-fresh our memory.
In other words, we don’t STUDY!
And, if we don’t study, we don’t really learn.
And there is so much we need to learn; so much important stuff to learn.
I think it’s time for a revival of study habits.
Are you in?
See also this blog post: The Warrior Monk General and his Traveling Library of 6000 books.
• By the way, Jeff Bezos has also gotten rid of PowerPoint at Amazon; for these very reasons.
• And, also, my synopses are great tools for those wishing to study books more seriously. Check out our new additions by clicking here. (My synopsis of Call Sign Chaos will be available soon).