Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reid Hoffman – The Startup of You

To succeed professionally in today’s world, the author (co-founder of LinkedIn) asserts that we need to manage our careers using the entrepreneurial mindset and the following strategies:

1) Develop competitive advantage, which includes the interplay of three factors – assets, aspirations & market realities

a) Assets are what you have now and include soft assets (e.g. knowledge base, skills, network, personal brand etc..) and hard assets (e.g. cash, computer, physical possessions etc..).

b) Aspirations capture your deepest goals, passion and vision for the future.

c) Market realities reflect the supply and demand of what you offer the market place relative to competition

2) Formulate plan ABZ

a) Plan A is what you are currently doing (day job) and the implementation of your competitive advantage. This plan gets tweaked iteratively as needed.

b) Plan B is what you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or route to get there. This plan often gets activated when Plan A is no longer viable due to an inflection point, that requires a change in skills or environment. The pivot will ideally move to an adjacent niche, something different but related to what you are already doing. Cultivate plan B on the side, while still focused on plan A.

c) Plan Z is the fall back position: the lifeboat in case plan A and B fail. Invoking plan Z should allow you to retreat, regroup and develop a new plan A.

3) Build a powerful professional network by cultivating real and lasting relationships

World class professionals build networks to help them navigate the world. The first rule of building a genuine relationship is to provide value to the other person, without needing a return favor. Just like personal relationships, professional ones should be cultivated by regular focus and attention or they fade away and die.

Invest in yourself, invest in your network and invest in the society. These three investments will give you the best shot at reaching your highest professional potential.

4) Pursue breakout opportunities by being resourceful, tapping in to the professional network and taking massive action

5) Take intelligent (and acceptable) risks as you pursue professional opportunities. Trying to avoid risks is not possible. If you don’t find risk, it will find you. Be proactive and take calculated risks.

6) As you navigate professional challenges, tap network intelligence from people you know for valuable information, advice and insights to make better career decisions. How you gather, manage and use information will ultimately determine whether you win or lose

It is a fantastic book and a must read. You can find more information about the book here.

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Frans Johansson – The Click Moment

In all walks of life, for individuals and organizations alike, breakthrough success is thought to be achieved through careful strategy selection, planning, analysis and execution. But according to the author, there isn’t really a “secret recipe” for success. Rather,

success is far more random and often due to serendipitous instances, which he calls the click moments.

The idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate and focused mastery (Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers) will yield success holds true, but only if the playing field does not evolve and the rules are set, e.g. chess, tennis etc. But most of us are playing in an ever changing world, where the rules change all the time. This is the reason, author argues as to why randomness, serendipity and luck play a vital role in determining success in various fields.

If success is random, how does one go about seeking it? The author suggests three strategies to harness randomness and drive success in our lives and organizations.

First is to create click moments by

1) Taking your eyes off the ball in order to see and connect with the possibilities around you. When, we focus on one thing exclusively, we tend to miss everything else around us. So take time, to explore things that are not related to your goal.

2) Using intersectional thinking. Insights gained from intersection of two or more different cultures, fields can create a click moment. Thus, make a conscious attempt to explore fields, cultures and industries diverse from your own.

3) Following your curiosity. It is the way your intuition tells you that perhaps, something interesting might be in works. It is one other key drivers that allow serendipity to happen.

4) Rejecting the predictable path. It will force your to seek random, unpredictable choices.

Second is to make purposeful bets

All the above strategies, improve the odds of creating the click moment, but that alone does not guarantee success. Indeed, one has to actually execute on the opportunity, which again requires taking actions and making bets fraught with risks. The author then recommends the following strategies for idea execution

1) Place many purposeful bets to improve your odds of success

2) Minimize the size of the bets as it not only minimizes risk but also allows you more chances to get it right

3) Take the smallest executable step that can validate the idea.

4) Calculate affordable loss, not ROI (Return on Investment). Rather than seeking maximal ROI to make decision, use the metric – If you can afford the loss do it.

5) Use passion as fuel, as it keeps us going when the bets are not working out.

Lastly, harness the complex forces

Given the world we live, our actions can often have unintended consequences that can affect the end results. There are often complex forces beyond what we can account for that allow for events and actions to change, build and or propagate in myriad ways. The author suggests the following strategies to harness the complex forces

1) Create large hooks by taking action and doing something, anything, so that the complex forces can latch on to your actions.

2) Take a closer look at unexpected surprises as they might cradle an opportunity within it.

3) Look for an opening that could be advantageous and act on it.

4) Spot momentum and intensity. They can help us identify if an idea is about to be swept  up by forces exponentially greater than any we could amass on our own.

5) Double down when you have discovered complex forces working in your favor.

The book provides many real life examples to drive home the new success paradigm and is a fascinating and thought provoking read. You can get more information about the book and the author here

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James Citrin – The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers

According to the authors, every individual’s professional career is marked by three stages: the promise phase (individual is trying to find her roots and understand her value and strengths), the momentum phase (the individual is now building perceived and experiential values), the harvest phase (the individual has proven herself many times over and now takes on the role of an expert/consultant).

Regardless, some careers languish in mediocrity, while others become extraordinarily successful? What differentiates one from the other? The authors identify key patterns seen in people who have achieved mega successful careers. Briefly,

1) Know your value: Determine your strengths and weaknesses and use that information to identify a role, that plays to your strengths. Break down the desired role into set of core components required to excel at it and seek experiences in those areas. Become a sponge and learn from your experiences. Take every opportunity to master your strengths. Seek a mentor early on and learn from his or her experiences.

2) Being a benevolent leader: There is a common misperception that the only way to get to the top is the claw yourself up. The faster, simpler and more sustainable way to get to the top is to be carried there. This is accomplished by first surrounding yourself with a great team and then helping them succeed. Have excellent integrity and character, vision/strategy and communication plan. Delegate non-critical and critical tasks and coach your team to be accountable, responsible and results-oriented. Revel in their successes. They will carry you to the next level.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” – William Jennings Bryan

3) Solve the permission paradox: Asking for direct permission to take on additional responsibilities and showcase your talents is always the best way to go. But it can be hard to get. If so, the implied permission strategies are available and each can be effective, when used in appropriate situations. They include – demonstrate competence in building blocks (e.g. specific skill), get the credentials (e.g degree or certification), clean the slate (e.g. switch to new job or division), barter (trade something of value for permission to expand your role) and masquerade as the leader (provide leadership where there is no obvious authority)

4) The 20/80 performance factor: Focus on the 20% of the tasks that generates the highest 80% of successes. 80% of the your job description usually offers little opportunity for differentiation as you are seeking to meet the predefined objectives. It’s the last 20% that truly allows you to differentiate yourself from the rest of your peers. Go the extra mile and provide more value than asked of you and it will propel you to dizzying heights.

5) Play to your strengths: Align yourself into a job that plays to your strengths, a great boss, a great team, a great industry and one that has potential for future growth. When you align your strengths and passion, compensation will follow.

This book is one of my favorite reads and a must for anyone interested in managing their professional career effectively. There are no quick fixes. The key is to chart a macro career plan spanning years and then work towards it methodically. You can get more information about the book here.

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Napoleon Hill – Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude

In this book, the author suggests that we have been bestowed with an immense power to transform our lives. This is the power of positive mental attitude (PMA) and has the ability to attract  wealth, success, health, happiness and whatever aims we may have in life.

Our attitudes shape our future.  PMA is an essential ingredient in all success.  But mastering the PMA attitude alone is not enough. The author also highlights  key principles that are necessary in combination with PMA to attain our goals.  They include:

1) Definiteness of purpose – Set clear cut  and specific goals. They will motivate you to take concrete actions.

2) Accurate thinking – Clear the mental clutter including  fear of failure, negative feelings, emotions, passions – habits, beliefs and prejudices.

3) Applied faith – If you are religious or spiritual, ask for divine guidance and help in finding the right solution. If you are not, believe in yourself and the infinite intelligence (Universe) to help you find the solution.

4) Master mind – Surround yourself with people invested in your success as well as those who can help you reach your goals.

“We translate into physical reality the thoughts and attitudes which we hold in our minds, no matter what they are”

5) Enthusiasm – It is the perfect anti-dote to setbacks and negative emotions.  Be your own cheerleader.

6) Going the extra mile –  Edison tried more than 10,000 experiments before he developed the incandescent bulb.

7) Personal initiative – Don’t wait for things to happen. Seek them out and make them happen.

8) Pleasing personality – In other words,  hone your communication skills – verbal, written and listening. Become an effective communicator.

9) Using cosmic habit force – Apply the universal laws, whether you are aware of them or not.  For e.g. daily affirmations and visualization are thought habits that can transmute dreams into reality.

10)  Maintaining sound physical and mental health –   Nothing can be accomplished and enjoyed,  without good physical and mental health.  The bigger the goals, the heavier the lifting you will need to do. Ergo, maintain optimal health.

11)  Self-discipline –  Avoid procrastinating and stay disciplined towards your goals.  DO IT NOW.

12) Creative vision – Every one has creative ability, the key is harnessing it.  The source of all ideas are knowledge acquired through experience,  knowledge accumulated by others, and the infinite intelligence.

13) Controlled attention – Stay focused on task at hand and your goals.

14) Budgeting of time and money – Allocate appropriate time and resources such that your actions and efforts are maximized towards achieving your goals.

15) Teamwork –  Lean on your master mind alliance and work together towards common goals.  The whole is equal to sum of all the parts and greater than any of its parts.

16) Learning from defeat – Setbacks and defeats are part of life. But in those defeats, you may succeed in discovering something even greater, if you have the right attitude.

This book ranks amongst one of my all time favorites. The ideas that the author puts forth in this book were  conceived in the 1930’s and first published in 1960.   Even so,  they are just as relevant today as they were back then.  A must read.  You can access it here

 

 

Steve Kaplan – Be The Elephant

Businesses large or small cannot afford to stand still in midst of rising costs, diminishing profits and changing market realities. Rather, the trick is to become an elephant big enough to make a difference, healthy enough to withstand financial currents, strong enough to influence the market and smart enough to avoid growth pitfalls. The author suggests a few key ideas and processes to consider in order to grow the business safely, while maximizing product/service value

1) Approach & mindset to sustainable growth – The secret to successful growth is to approach it as a solid, well thought out project, with focus on sales, infrastructure and domain knowledge, the same way you would approach starting a new business from scratch. We tend to have a huge bias towards believing our business model will succeed, which can be destructive. Strive to be pragmatic with your business model and acknowledge the risks. Invite criticism by surrounding yourself with people who will tell you what they really think, rather then what they think you want to hear.

2) Effective business modeling & decision making – A business model is essentially an assumption model based on your cost estimations and profit projections. The best way to minimize guesswork then is to shoot for specifics and/or hard numbers. The four statements you need for successful business are the month by month – projected revenue, projected cash-flow, projected income (profit/loss) and finally the fiscal year projected balance sheet.

3) Assembling a growth matrix – There are two possible growth strategies – horizontal and vertical. Horizontal growth entails finding new customers for your existing products/services. Vertical growth focuses on getting your current customer base to buy new products or services. A growth matrix can help you organize your revenue stream(s) such that you can identify white space in areas you are not serving with products, services or customers, consequently growth opportunities. Rank these opportunities in terms of their probability of success, evaluating each growth opportunity objectively, comparing potential risk with its potential rewards.

4) Successful action plan – One you have decided on the growth initiative, its time to implement it by putting together a successful action plan as follows. First, the team & leadership needs to be in place that are driven and committed to success. Second, detailed operational process for the new business, while also keep current customers satisfied. Third, execution timeline, metrics and accountability against each task. Fourth, is communication that is seamless and consistent across the organization.

5) Creating value & the perfect USP – There are four categories of customers. Quality seekers who are looking for the best product regardless of price. Service seekers need to feel cared for and that any product related problems after the sale will be addressed right away. Price seekers want to get the lowest price. Finally, the Satisfaction seekers are motivated by the need to feel safe and enjoy a sense of belonging via status, security and/or approval by others. Your product or service USP (unique selling proposition) and thus your branding should be aligned with the category of customers you are enticing to buy your product.

Measures to ensure a successful transition to greater growth include:

  1. Respecting the microscope
  2. Sharing the spotlight
  3. Involving others in shaping the business
  4. Promoting from within
  5. Communicating effectively

6) Process building –  Well thought out processes enable you to manage growth and build the organization.  Create an overview map of key processes of your company and go through each process step and chart out actions to complete that step. Re-examine the  processes in light of your growth expectations and make necessary modifications as well as combining tasks for higher efficiency.

In the end, the key  is to try and have all your bases covered, with the right people, right plan and key resources at hand, before you enter the growth phase.

The book is an excellent manual for current and future entrepreneurs to understand what pitfalls to avoid and best practices to apply to their business.  You can find more details on the book and/or the author here.