Today is World Book and Copyright Day organised by the UNESCO which celebrates and promotes reading, publishing and copyright. In that spirit, TBS is showcasing three latest business books which we just cannot put down and three must-read business/self-help books we have gotten the opportunity to review.
The following interviews were sourced from the Author Talks series of interviews prepared for McKinsey Publishing by NPD
Fred Dust on making conversations count
In his new book, designer Fred Dust offers a blueprint for having more productive, deliberate, and purposeful conversations.
What problem are you trying to solve with this book?
Fred Dust: The global, local, corporate, and familial inability to successfully navigate hard conversations. I thought, by the way, I'd find answers in the spectacular or far flung—Japanese tea ceremonies or pilgrimages—but in the end many of the most remarkable and transformational anecdotes come from seemingly mundane circumstances. Sometimes it's as simple as taking a deep breath before talking to an angry neighbor or noticing the change that occurs immediately after talking about a movie you've seen with friends.
In a year when everything went virtual, your book also offers practical lessons on designing conversations to drive impact. Talk about how to achieve that when we all have conference-call fatigue, and the personal connections that can happen in face-to-face events are absent.
I've been running virtual conversations, convenings, and serious strategy discussions since March 1, and they've been, on the whole, human, humane, joyful—even fun. But one of the first things I'd recommend is throwing out the old rule book you might have and rewriting the rules of conversations. They do not have to happen via Zoom; it can be a one-on-one phone call, working together on a Google doc. Think of conversations as asynchronous; break up a 90-minute call into three 30-minute calls over three days.
Maybe most important, design in the things that get designed out through technology—mostly the human. Ditch the backdrop in favor of real life—I've had CEOs telling me they finally see their people and, likewise, their employees saying that their boss feels more human. Add in a surprise, a bit of suspense; ask people to tell a short story about who they were at 12. Just a little bit of human can take us a long way.
Nicolai Tillisch on how to frame ambition (and not let it frame you)
Tillisch, a McKinsey alumnus who now works with the global coaching firm Cultivating Leadership, talked about how seeing so many people struggle with achievement spurred him and his coauthor, Nicolai Chen Nielsen, to create a framework and tool kit to help them.
What problem are you trying to solve with this book?
Nicolai Tillisch: The problem we focused on is that too many ambitious people are working really hard without becoming as successful as they could be or sacrificing much more of their fulfillment in life than they need to.
We found that, actually, there's a lot of doubt out there. There are indications that up to half—and in some cases well beyond half—of the people we consider ambitious actually doubt whether the effort they are making is worth it. They struggle to keep everything together in their lives.
For me personally, I came into the research because I was looking at how I could help people perform. And then suddenly a whole picture opened up—that this is not just about performance. It really is holistic: you can achieve, but if you don't have growth and well-being at the same time, it will be really difficult.
What is the core concept behind 'return on ambition' and how can you measure it?
The book defines ambition as a powerful yearning and drive to attain a future state that is different from today's and challenging to reach. And that's relevant for most ambitious people. So this book can be read by somebody who just joined the firm, and it can be read by somebody who is well into their career. The way we measure this is that we simply have a formula: return on ambition equals achievement plus growth plus well-being. And all three factors are vital.
Also, each element impacts the others. They are interdependent. So what we saw, and it's actually quite beautiful, is that when we interviewed people we considered to be successful over time and also assessed them as having a fulfilling life, one of the very clear patterns is that they nurture all three factors—achievement, growth, and well-being—on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, we found so many examples, and also a ton of research, indicating that if you compromise on one of the three for a long period of time, then you will hurt the two others.
What are the seven 'frenemies' of ambitious people?
The seven frenemies double as the virtues of ambitious people. They are competitiveness, desire, perseverance, boldness, independence, convention, and flexibility. And what we have seen is that most ambitious people can recognize several of these in themselves.
For me personally, I have a very close relationship with perseverance and competitiveness. Going all the way back to school and academia, I would never have gotten to where I am had it not been for these friends. But down the line, they also started dominating me quite a lot, and it was very exhausting for me and also for my colleagues. And in hindsight, I sacrificed way too much with my family and friends.
So what is very clear is that these two particular frenemies—perseverance and competitiveness—have increasingly managed me. And the moment I became aware of this, I took the conscious choice to, basically, overrule my instincts and follow my intuition. You might say that my normal thought patterns, my behavioral habits, are not supporting what I'm trying to do now. And that's a huge shift. But it's possible.
Once you decide that ambition has created an imbalance in your life, how do you set a new target?
The big disease of ambitious people is that they try to do too much. They have too many goals or equivalents to goals. They spread themselves thin. So the book counters that by distinguishing between long-lasting principles, one short-term improvement priority, and weekly intentions. The book contains a dedicated tool for each of these three.
It's not only about setting a target but also learning from that target and expanding your future capacity. And you can make this exciting and pursue it in a way that you take good care of yourself.
A big takeaway for leaders is how they think about their own ambitions and also the people who helped them achieve these ambitions. Because this is not just about those achievements. When you want people to do their absolute best over time, you need to pay attention not only to their achievements themselves.
The biggest trend right now in work is to look not at employee satisfaction but at employee life satisfaction. So you need to look at the whole picture.
Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini on 'Humanocracy'
In their new book, Humanocracy, the authors argue that we need to excise bureaucracy and replace it with something better.
What problem are you trying to solve with this book?
Gary Hamel: We wrote Humanocracy because we believe—as societies, as individuals—that we can no longer afford organizations that waste more human capacity than they use. Given the challenges we face as a species, we cannot afford organizations where only 15 percent of employees are truly engaged in their work. We cannot afford organizations where less than 30 percent of the people are really called on to bring their initiative and their originality to work.
Our goal is to move from a bureaucratic model that is focused on maximizing compliance to one that is focused on maximizing contribution. And to make that switch, we are going to have to challenge the very fundamentals of how we think about our organizations. Do we need so many managers? Do we need so many layers? Do we need all the rules and processes? Our answer is no. But to create that future, we're going to have to unlearn most everything we've learned over the last 150 years about how you organize people at work.
If bureaucracy is not the answer, what is?
Michele Zanini: This is really about what we learned from people on the front lines. It was truly moving, not just surprising. We met employees who design their own large and complicated equipment, who contract out to suppliers, who talk to the customer directly, and who are just incredibly entrepreneurial. They basically start their own businesses and manage them. They get to make significant business decisions. They harness their expertise, their imagination, and their relationships with their colleagues.
It just brought home to me, and to Gary, the amazing level of talent that is simply wasted in most large organizations, where people don't have these opportunities. And all this energy, this creativity, comes from people and occupations that would typically be described as low skill, right? But our experience suggests that the term "low skill," especially when it comes to a specific occupation, says very little about the people who are in those jobs, and a lot more about our prejudice that we need to slot "commodity people" in "commodity jobs."
Right. We hear a lot of talk about meritocracy, but do we actually mean it? What's your take?
Gary Hamel: In traditional organizations and large organizations, your power and influence correlate with your position, with positional authority. And what you have in effect is an aristocracy of administrators. We believe that what we need in organizations are multiple hierarchies, where your influence and your compensation reflect your pure attested competence and your genuine value add. And that all of the energy of human beings should go into creating more value and not those zero-sum battles for promotion. We describe that as a meritocracy.
We are very aware that many people in the world don't have the opportunity to build their skills, to build their talents, and that some people are given a lot greater opportunity to build the things that allow them to thrive in organizations. And we see that we can change this. We can go to people on the front lines at every level. We can give them the business skills. We can give them the opportunity to experiment, to innovate, and to grow their capabilities that allow them to therefore grow their contribution and claim a greater share of the total rewards. That's what we mean by meritocracy.
How do companies roll back bureaucracy? What steps can a CEO take?
Michele Zanini: We would suggest two. First, start with yourself. You know, bureaucracy kind of makes jerks of us all. And sometimes we get inured to the biases and the elitism that comes from a top-down management style. And so, ask yourself, "In what way am I behaving more like a bureaucrat and not so much like a leader who catalyzes the initiative and the imagination of colleagues?" The second thing is to invite the whole organization on this journey with you. Busting bureaucracy is a complex task, and no one person will have all the answers on how to do that. We think that the journey to humanocracy should be open to everyone who is willing to shape the organization's future, in a way that elicits the best thinking and generates deep commitment.
Four must-read self-development and business books worth your time
We have talked about and reviewed a lot of business and self-help related books over the course of time. Still, as a #WorldBookDay special, we showcase the three of our favourite business/ self-help book so far. They are definitely worth checking out if you have not already.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work, argues that this was not the case with influential figures like Carl Jung, J.K Rowling, Woody Allen, and Bill Gates. Leveraging the ability to concentrate without distractions for extended periods of time, they pushed their minds to their limits making breakthroughs and creating value which was hard to replicate. The author calls this ability "deep work" and believes that with the advent of social media and the ubiquity of digital technology, modern workplaces have increasingly made knowledge workers (academics, bankers, lawyers, programmers, etc.) immersed in shallow, cognitively less-demanding work that keeps them busy long enough to make them forget the value of going deep. Notably, the book asks us to commit to a different lifestyle and work habit that maximises deep work while minimising shallow work as much as possible. This involves time-blocking (detailed scheduling and routines), the evaluation of our professional and lifelong goals and the identification of the steps to achieve it while incorporating deep work and embracing boredom to let our subconscious mind solve complex problems in the background.
Flash Crash: A Trading Savant, a Global Manhunt, and the Most Mysterious Market Crash in History by Liam Vaughan
It was the start of a regular morning for Mr Nachhattar Singh Sarao, on April 21, 2015, a well-respected man in his late 60s, and a long term resident of Hounslow. Little did he know that he was about to answer the door to the police who were there to arrest his football-crazy son Navinder Singh Sarao, the man accused of fraud, market manipulation and being the perpetrator of the infamous "Flash Crash" of 2010. Liam Vaughan has been covering financial markets for a decade. His book covering the incident documents the real-life financial thriller that offers an in-depth look into one of the most notorious market crashes and its aftermath. The infamous flash crash was so complex and volatile that it forced authorities to investigate haystacks of algorithms and still end up with inconclusive results. The US market melted so much that it lost around $1 trillion within just twenty minutes. The first act of the book gives us the story of Sarao's childhood, his involvement in trading and his meteoric rise. The other two acts are about Sarao's rage against the machines, his armada, also known as the flash crash, his investment failures, the whistleblower Mr X's revelations about Sarao, his legal battle and release.
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
New York Times Bestseller, The $100 Startup written by Chris Guillebeau tells you everything you need to know about starting your own business by providing value to others and while securing freedom in the process. In fact, "freedom" and "value" are the two overarching themes of this book. The author who himself is a successful writer, entrepreneur and world traveller analysed 1,500 respondents who were able to establish businesses making over $50,000 a year, despite having startup costs of less than $1,000. By focusing on fifty of the most intriguing case studies, the author provides insight into what enabled these "solopreneurs" to capitalise on the skills they already had to achieve more freedom and financial success. Aspiring entrepreneurs will find themselves referring to this book over and over while building their businesses. The late Steve Jobs had once said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life", the book helps us not to.
The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Dr Laurence J Peter and Raymond Hull
Organisational mismanagement and inefficiency are all around us. Think about when you had to wait in line for hours and fill out multiple forms to receive a simple service or when you read about the large corporate scandals in the newspaper. Why does this happen? Dr Laurence J Peter in his book "The Peter Principle", first published in 1968, suggests that any organisation that has a hierarchical structure will fall victim to the Peter Principle by inevitably recruiting incompetent managers who contribute to project failures and are no longer promoted. This is a result of employees being promoted to a position where they reach their "level of incompetence" and are unable to contribute efficiently. The book uses satire and humour to be brutally honest about organisational dysfunction. It offers advice to readers on how to detect incompetence and achieve job satisfaction by avoiding "final placement"— the job position where they will reach their level of incompetence. As for those who have already reached their level of incompetence, the author recommends that they focus on their quality of life rather than on overpromoting themselves into oblivion. Rather grimly, the Peter Principle also indicates that every position in a company will eventually be filled with people who have reached their level of incompetence. For those of us planning to scale the promotional ladder, "The Peter Principle'' is a humorous yet potent reminder of the pitfalls of over-promotion. It is a must-read classic for management enthusiasts or anyone who works in a hierarchical organisation