Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How to plan for 2018 vacations with long weekend

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Many Strategies Fail Because They’re Not Actually Strategies

Many strategy execution processes fail because the firm does not have something worth executing.
The strategy consultants come in, do their work, and document the new strategy in a PowerPoint presentation and a weighty report. Town hall meetings are organized, employees are told to change their behavior, balanced scorecards are reformulated, and budgets are set aside to support initiatives that fit the new strategy. And then nothing happens.
One major reason for the lack of action is that “new strategies” are often not strategies at all. A real strategy involves a clear set of choices that define what the firm is going to do and what it’s not going to do. Many strategies fail to get implemented, despite the ample efforts of hard-working people, because they do not represent a set of clear choices.
Many so-called strategies are in fact goals. “We want to be the number one or number two in all the markets in which we operate” is one of those. It does not tell you what you are going to do; all it does is tell you what you hope the outcome will be. But you’ll still need a strategy to achieve it.
Others may represent a couple of the firm’s priorities and choices, but they do not form a coherent strategy when considered in conjunction. For example, consider “We want to increase operational efficiency; we will target Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and we will divest business X.” These may be excellent decisions and priorities, but together they do not form a strategy.
Let me give you a better example. About 15 years ago, the iconic British toy company Hornby Railways — maker of model railways and Scalextric slot car racing tracks — was facing bankruptcy. Under the new CEO, Frank Martin, the company decided to change course and focus on collectors and hobbyists instead. As a new strategy, Martin aimed (1) to make perfect scale models (rather than toys); (2) for adult collectors (rather than for children); (3) that appealed to a sense of nostalgia (because it reminded adults of their childhoods). The switch became a runaway success, increasing Hornby’s share price from £35 to £250 over just five years.
That’s because it represented a clear set of just three choices, which fit together to form a clear strategic direction for the company. (Unfortunately, in recent years Hornby abandoned its set of choices, to quite disastrous consequences, where it was forced to issue a string of profit warnings and Martin was encouraged to take early retirement.) Without a clear strategic direction, any implementation process is doomed to fail.
Communicate your logic. Sly Bailey, at the time the CEO of UK newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror, once told me, “If there is one thing I have learned about communicating choices, it is that we always focus on what the choices are. I now realize you have to spend at least as much time on explaining the logic behind the choices.”
A set of a limited number of choices that fit together — such as Hornby’s “perfect-scale models for adult collectors that appeal to nostalgia” — is easy to communicate, which is one reason you need them. You cannot communicate a list of 20 choices; employees simply will not remember them. And if they don’t remember them, the choices cannot influence their behavior, in which case you do not have a strategy (but merely a PowerPoint deck). However, as Bailey suggested, communicating the choices is not enough.
Consider Hornby again. Its employees — product designers and technical engineers, for example — could all tell me their company’s new choices. But they could also tell me the rudimentary logic behind them: that their iconic brand names appealed more to adults, who remembered them from their childhoods; that the hobby market was less competitive, with more barriers to entry and less switching by consumers. It is because they understood the reasoning behind Frank Martin’s choices that they believed in them and followed up on them in their day-to-day work.
It’s not just a top-down process. Another reason many implementation efforts fail is that executives see it as a pure top-down, two-step process: “The strategy is made; now we implement it.” That’s unlikely to work. A successful strategy execution process is seldom a one-way trickle-down cascade of decisions.
Stanford professor Robert Burgelman said, “Successful firms are characterized by maintaining bottom-up internal experimentation and selection processes while simultaneously maintaining top-driven strategic intent.” This is quite a mouthful, but what Burgelman meant is that you indeed need a clear, top-down strategic direction (such as Hornby’s set of choices). But this will only be effective if, at the same time, you enable your employees to create bottom-up initiatives that fall within the boundaries set by that strategic intent.
Burgelman was speaking about Intel, when it was still a company focused on producing memory chips. Its top-down strategy was clear: (1) to be on the forefront of (2) semiconductor technology and (3) to be aimed at the memory business (not coincidentally a set of three clear choices!). But Intel implemented it by providing ample autonomy and decentralized budgets to its various groups and teams, for employees to experiment with initiatives that would bring this strategic intent to life and fruition.
Many of these experiments failed — they were “selected out,” in Burgelman’s terminology — but others became successes. One of them formed the basis of the Pentium microprocessor, which would turn Intel into one of most successful technology companies the world has ever seen. It was the combination of a broad yet clear top-down strategic direction and ample bottom-up initiatives that made it work.
Let selection happen organically. A common mistake in the bottom-up implementation process is that many top managers cannot resist doing the selection themselves. They look at the various initiatives that employees propose as part of the strategy execution process and then they pick the ones they like best.
In contrast, top executives should resist the temptation to decide what projects live and die within their firms. Strategy implementation requires top managers to design the company’s internal system that does the selection for them. Intel’s top management, for example, did not choose among the various initiatives in the firm personally, but used an objective formula to assign production capacity. They also gave division managers ample autonomy to decide what technology they wanted to work on, so projects that few people believed in automatically failed to get staffed.
Be brave enough to resist making these bottom-up choices, but design a system that does it for you.
Make change your default. Finally, another reason many implementation efforts fail is that they usually require changing people’s habits. And habits in organizations are notoriously sticky and persistent. Habits certainly don’t change by telling people in a town hall meeting that they should act differently. People are often not even aware that they are doing things in a particular way and that there might be different ways to run the same process.
Identifying and countering the bad habits that keep your strategy from getting executed is not an easy process, but — as I elaborate on in my book Breaking Bad Habits — there are various practices you can build into your organization to make it work. Depending on your specific circumstances and strategy, this might involve taking on difficult clients or projects that fit your new strategy and that trigger learning throughout the firm. It may involve reshuffling people into different units, to disrupt and alter habitual ways of working and to expose people to alternative ways of doing things. It may also involve identifying key processes and explicitly asking the question “Why do we do it this way?” If the answer is a shrug of the shoulders and a proclamation of “That’s how we’ve always done it,” it may be a prime candidate for change.

There are usually different ways of doing things, and there is seldom one perfect solution, since all alternatives have advantages and disadvantages — whether it concerns an organization’s structure, incentive system, or resource allocation process. We often resist change unless it is crystal clear that the alternative is substantially better. For a successful strategy implementation process, however, it is useful to put the default the other way around: Change it unless it is crystal clear that the old way is substantially better. Execution involves change. Embrace it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How to Know When You’re on Thin Ice at Work

People who perform poorly in certain tasks often aren’t aware of their shortcomings, but there are signs if you learn how to look for them

It starts with an uneasy feeling: You’re left out of meetings you used to attend. The boss stops offering suggestions. Once-friendly colleagues turn cool.
How can you be the last one to know you’re failing or flailing at work?
“I never saw it coming,” says Nancy Halpern of a layoff on a previous job years ago as a division head for a retailer. “I thought I did a great job. I ran a department and had achieved great results. I prided myself on being very dedicated and committed,” she says.
She sometimes had disagreements with her boss, and her boss occasionally canceled meetings with her, Ms. Halpern says. But she didn’t respect her supervisor enough to try to forge a closer bond.
She realized too late that her boss placed a high value on loyalty and saw her behavior as insubordination. She should have asked her for frequent, specific feedback, such as, “What should I do less of? What should I do more of?” says Ms. Halpern, principal of KNH Associates, a New York leadership-development consulting firm. And she might have taken a few cues from peers her boss favored and picked up on strategies they used.
Misreading important external factors on the job, such as your boss’s values or priorities, is a common misstep. “When your manager starts ignoring you, there’s a reason for it,” says Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners, a Boston career-management consultant.
Scott Samuels sensed trouble when his supervisor stopped giving him feedback during a previous job as a general manager of a new outlet for a food retailer. He also found himself left out of important meetings. He later realized he hadn’t understood exactly how his performance would be evaluated.
He says he was striving to build revenue and keep customers and employees satisfied. But senior managers were intent on posting short-term profits, and “in order to move up and get promoted, one of your primary roles was to make your boss look good. It was sort of a shocking experience,” says Mr. Samuels, founder and chief executive of Horizon Hospitality Associates, an Overland Park, Kan., executive-placement firm.
He soon quit to start his own company, where he makes a point of explaining his own yardsticks of success to new recruits. “I have a tendency to want to scare people off initially. I want them to have a reality check on the pros and cons” of the job, he says.
Other employees spin blindly off-course by misjudging their own skills. One of the most common blind spots is “an overinflated sense of your strengths and capabilities,” says Kevin Cashman, Minneapolis-based author of “Leadership From the Inside Out” and global head of Korn Ferry ’s CEO development practice. “The second is a lack of awareness of your [personal] vulnerabilities.”
One common distortion is called top-down thinking: People who have a preconceived belief about their skills, such as thinking they’re good at logical reasoning, tend to assume they’re performing well at any task that requires logical reasoning, research shows.
Also, in a pattern called the Dunning-Kruger effect, people who are poor performers in a specific domain also lack the ability to recognize that they’re performing poorly in that arena.
And they resist efforts by others to clue them in. People who lack emotional intelligence, for example, tend to disparage negative feedback, saying it’s either inaccurate or irrelevant, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Strengths of even supposed superstars can blind them to their weaknesses and leave them on thin ice. People who are very good at core job skills, such as sales or accounting, often believe those capabilities give them such a powerful advantage that getting along with others doesn’t matter, says Ralph Roberto, president of Keystone Partners. The boss may tolerate the problems these egotists cause by clashing with supervisors, colleagues, subordinates or clients—until they become more trouble than they’re worth. Then the boss delivers a shocking message: “I don’t care how good you are. You’re gone,” Mr. Roberto says.
Bosses are often slow to criticize employees who are struggling. “Some people send a subtle signal: ‘I don’t want negative feedback,’ ” Mr. Roberto says. “And managers dread delivering it, because they know it’s going to be a big fight.”
People often rationalize their failings by benchmarking their job performance against mediocre peers, rather than stars, saying, “I’m not that bad. Look at Joey over there,” says Brian Binke, president of the Birmingham Group, a Berkley, Mich., affiliate of the Sanford Rose Associates executive-search network.
And peers are often the first to see the writing on the wall, he says. Like many managers, Mr. Binke has hesitated to fire poor performers in the past, worrying that it would upset other employees. But when he finally pulls the trigger, Mr. Binke says, the reaction from peers is often, “What took you so long?”
The risk of becoming isolated and unaware of one’s own failings increases as executives rise in the ranks into more complex jobs—especially if they surround themselves with friends and supporters who won’t find fault.
In a perilous twist, what were once your strengths can become weaknesses. Korn Ferry’s Mr. Cashman coached a food-company executive who prided himself on controlling all the details of businesses he ran. This worked fine until he was promoted to managing a unit so big that he couldn’t possibly keep a finger in every pie. “His need for control was squeezing the life out of his highest-potential people,” Mr. Cashman says.
The executive insisted that if he gave up control, everything would fall apart. No, Mr. Cashman says he told him: “Because you’re controlling, everything is falling apart.” The executive heeded the advice, learned to collaborate with subordinates rather than controlling them, and continues to advance in his career, Mr. Cashman says.
  • Your boss stops dropping by your desk with suggestions.
  • You’re left out of important meetings you used to attend.
  • Once-friendly colleagues start to avoid you.
  • You never get any feedback.
  • You never ask for any feedback.
  • You start comparing yourself to mediocre peers rather than stars.
  • You’re not sure what your boss cares about.
  • You don’t care what your boss cares about.

How to Remember What You Read

“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why is it that some people seem to be able to read a book once and remember every detail of it for life, while others struggle to recall even the title a few days after putting down a book?
The answer is simple but not easy.
It's not what they read. It's how they read. Passive readers forget things almost as quickly as they read them. Active readers, on the other hand, retain the bulk of what they read.
There is another difference between these two types of readers: The quantity of reading affects them differently. Passive readers who read a lot are not much further ahead than passive readers who read a little. If you're an active reader, however, things are different.
The more that active readers read, the better they get. They develop a latticework of mental modelsto hang ideas on, further increasing retention. They learn to differentiate good arguments and structures from bad ones. They make better decisions because they know what fits with the basic structure of how the world works. They avoid problems. The more they read, the more valuable they become. The more they read, the more they know what to look for.
Think back to the books you studied in school. Despite the passage of time, most us remember a lot about them. Even if the details are fuzzy, we can doubtless recall the basic plots, main characters, notable themes, and motifs. We didn't just passively read those books. We actively read them. We had class discussions, took turns reading parts aloud, acted out scenes, or maybe even watched film adaptations. No matter how long it has been since we set foot in a classroom, we all probably remember Animal Farm.
Having a deliberate strategy for anything we spend a lot of time on is a sensible approach. But most people don't consciously try to get the most out of the time they invest in reading.
For us to get the most out of each book we read, it is vital to have a plan for recording, reflecting on, and putting into use the conclusions we draw from the information we consume. In this article, we will look at a strategy for deriving the maximum benefit from every single page you read.
First, let's clear up some common misconceptions about reading. Here's what I know:
  • Quality matters more than quantity. If you read just one book a week but fully appreciate and absorb it, you'll be far better off than someone who skims through half the library without paying much attention.
  • Speedreading is bullshit. The only way to read faster is to actually read more.
  • Book summary services miss the point. I know a lot of companies charge ridiculous prices for access to summaries written by some 22-year-old with zero life experience, but the point of reading for fluency is to acquire a repository of facts and details. Nuance, if you will. In this sense, you understand a bit more about why things work.
  • Fancy apps and tools are not needed. A notebook, index cards, and a pen will do just fine. (For those of you wanting a simple and searchable online tool to help, Evernote is the answer.)
  • We don't need to read stuff we find boring.
  • We don't need to finish the entire book. 

“Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself. But each map was incomplete, and I would only locate the treasure if I read all the books, and so the process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to reflect this idea. Which is why the plot of every book ever can be boiled down to ‘someone is looking for something'.”

— Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Before Reading

Choose Your Books Wisely
There are no rules when it comes to choosing books. We don't have to read bestsellers, or classics, or books everyone else raves about. This isn't school and there are no required reading lists. Focus on some combination of books that: (1) stand the test of time; (2) pique your interest; or (3) resonate with your current situation.
The more interesting and relevant we find a book, the more likely we are to remember its contents in the future.
For older books or those that have been translated, check which version is considered to be the best. For example, the Hayes translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is regarded as being truest to the original text, while also having a modern feel.
Get Some ContextA good place to start is by doing some preliminary research on the book. Some books – for example, A Confederacy of Dunces and The Palm Wine Drinkard – have a very different meaning once we know a bit about the life of the author.
For older books, try to understand the historical context. For books written in an unfamiliar country, try to understand the cultural context. Some helpful questions to ask include:
  • Why did the author write this? (Did they have an agenda?)
  • What is their background?
  • What else have they written?
  • Where was it written?
  • What was the political, economic, and cultural situation at the time of writing?
  • Has the book been translated or reprinted?
  • Did any important events — a war, an economic depression, a change of leadership, the emergence of new technology — happen during the writing of the book?
Know Why You're Reading the Book
What are you reading this book for? Entertainment? To understand something or someone you don't know? To get better at your job? To improve your health? To learn a skill? To help build a business?
You have to have some idea of what you want to get from the book. You don't just want to collect endless amounts of useless information. That will never stick.
Skim the Index, Contents, and Preface
Before starting to read a book (particularly non-fiction), skim through the index, contents page, preface, and inside jacket to get an idea of the subject matter.  (This article on how to read a book is a brilliant introduction to skimming.) The bibliography can also indicate the tone of a book. The best authors often read hundreds of books for each one they write, so a well-researched book should have a bibliography full of interesting texts. After you've read the book, peruse the bibliography and make a note of any books you want to read next.
Match the Book to Your Setting or SituationAlthough it's not always practical, matching books to our location and circumstances can be powerful. Books will have a greater resonance as they become part of an experience rather than just supplementing it.
When choosing books, take a look at your own situation and decide on genres or authors that might help you overcome any current challenges. Whatever your state of affairs, someone has been in the same place. Someone has felt the same feelings and thought the same thoughts and written about it. It's up to you to find that book.
For example:
  • Traveling or on holiday? Match books to the location — Jack Kerouac or John Muir for America; Machiavelli for Italy; Montaigne’s Essays, Ernest Hemingway, or Georges Perec for France; and so on. Going nowhere in particular? Read Vladimir Nabokov or Henry Thoreau.
  • Dealing with grief? Read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Torch by Cheryl Strayedor anything by Tarah Brach.
  • Having a crisis about your own mortality? (It happens to us all.) Read Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life or Theodore Zeldin’s The Hidden Pleasures of Life.
  • Dealing with adversity? Lose your job? Read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way.
  • Dissatisfied with your work? Read Linchpin by Seth Godin, Mastery by Robert Greene, or Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
If I were a Dr., I'd prescribe books. They can be just as powerful as drugs.

While Reading

You'll remember more if you do the following seven things while you're reading.
Make NotesMaking notes is perhaps the single most important part of remembering what you read.
The best technique for notetaking is whichever one works for you and is easy to stick to. You need to create your own system. Some people prefer to record notes on index cards or in a commonplace book; others prefer a digital system. Notes are especially useful if you write on a regular basis, although everyone (not just writers) can benefit from making them.
Start by writing a short summary of each chapter and transcribing any meaningful passages or phrases. If you are unsure how to simplify your thoughts, imagine that someone has just tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to explain the chapter you just finished reading. They have never read this book and lack any idea of the subject matter. How would you explain it to them?
In The 3 Secrets That Help Me Write and Think, Robert Greene describes his notetaking process this way:
When I read a book, I am looking for the essential elements in the work that can be used to create the strategies and stories that appear in my books. As I am reading a book I underline important passages and sections and put notes … on the side.
After I am done reading I will often put it aside for up to a week and think deeply about the lessons and key stories that could be used for my book project. I then go back and put these important sections on notecards.
David Foster Wallace recommends a similar form of active reading (for more, see Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing):
Not just reading a lot, but paying attention to the way the sentences are put together, the clauses are joined, the way the sentences go to make up a paragraph. Exercises as boneheaded as you take a book you really like, you read a page of it three, four times, put it down, and then try to imitate it word for word so that you can feel your own muscles trying to achieve some of the effects that the page of text you like did. If you're like me, it will be in your failure to be able to duplicate it that you'll actually learn what's going on. It sounds really, really stupid, but in fact, you can read a page of text, right? And “Oh that was pretty good…” but you don't get any sense of the infinity of choices that were made in that text until you start trying to reproduce them.
Stay Focused
Decide that for the time you will be reading, you will focus on the book and nothing else. No quick Twitter checks. No emails. No cell phone. No TV. No staring into midair. Understanding and absorbing a book requires deep focus, especially if the subject matter is dense or complex. Remember, we are aiming for active reading. Active reading requires focus and the ability to engage with the author. (Focus is hard work. If you're lost, start here.)
Referring to the time before the internet, Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows: “In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
If you're struggling to stay focused on a particularly difficult or lengthy book, decide to read a mere 25 pages of it a day. It takes only a few minutes to nibble away at a challenging text. Completing a long book in this manner might take months, but at least you will have read it without getting overwhelmed or bored.
Mark Up the BookMost of us were taught as children to treat books as something sacred – no folding the page corners, and no writing in the margins, ever. However, if you want to remember what you read, forget about keeping books pristine. I've spent a lot of time helping my kids unlearn the rule that books are not to be written in.
In fact, go crazy with marginalia. The more you write, the more active your mind will be while reading.
Jot down connections and tangential thoughts, underline key passages, and make a habit of building a dialogue with the author. Some people recommend making your own index of key pages or using abbreviations (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings writes “BL” next to any beautiful language, for example).
The first time you write in a book can be unnerving, but in the long term, it leads to a rich understanding and a sense of connection with the author.
Billy Collins has written a beautiful poem on the joys of marginalia: “We have all seized the white perimeter as our own / and reached for a pen if only to show / we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; / we pressed a thought into the wayside / planted an impression along the verge. /… ‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.'”
Stop and Build a Vivid Mental Picture
Building vivid mental pictures is one of the most effective techniques for remembering anything, not least what we read. When you come across an important passage or concept, pause and visualize it. Make the picture as salient and distinctive as possible.
Make Mental Links
Books do not exist in a vacuum. Every concept or fact can be linked to countless others. Making an effort to form our own links is a fruitful way to better remember what we read.
Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows:
The bond between book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one, a means of intellectual and artistic cross-fertilization. The words of the writer act as a catalyst in the mind of the reader, inspiriting new insights, associations, and perceptions, sometimes even epiphanies. And the very existence of the attentive, critical reader provides the spur for the writer's work. It gives the author confidence to explore new forms of expression, to blaze difficult and demanding paths of thought, to venture into uncharted and sometimes hazardous territory.
Keep Mental Models in Mind
Mental models enable us to better understand and synthesize books. Some of the key ways we can use them include:
  • Confirmation bias: Which parts of this book am I ignoring? Does this book confirm my opinions? (Okay, but does it actually affirm your beliefs or are you just seeing what you want to see? If you cannot think of a single point in the book that you disagreed with, confirmation bias is perchance distorting your reasoning.)
  • Bayesian updating: What opinions should I change in light of this book? How can I update my worldview using the information in it? Keep in mind the words of John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
  • Pareto principle: Which parts of this book are most important and contain the most information? If I had to cut 99% of the words in this book, what would I leave? Many authors have to reach a certain word or page count, resulting in pages (or even entire chapters) containing fluff and padding. Even the best non-fiction books are often longer than is imperative to convey their ideas. (Note that the Pareto principle is less applicable for fiction books.)
  • Leverage: How can I use lessons from this book to gain a disproportionate advantage? Can I leverage this new knowledge in a tangible way?
  • Incentives: What motivates the characters or the author? What are they seeking? What is their purpose? Here’s how Kurt Vonnegut described the importance of incentives in books: “When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away – even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”
  • Availability bias: Are the books I have recently read affecting how I perceive this one? How are my neoteric experiences shaping my reading? Am I assigning undue importance to parts of this book because they are salient and memorable?
  • Stereotyping tendency: Am I unconsciously fitting the author, characters, or book in general into a particular category? Or is the author stereotyping their characters? Remember, there is no such thing as a good stereotype.
  • Social proofHow is social proof — the number of copies sold, bestseller status, the opinions of others — affecting my perception of this book? Is the author using social proof to manipulate readers? It is not unusual for authors to buy their way onto bestseller lists, providing social proof which then leads to substantial sales. As a result, mediocre books can end up becoming popular. It’s a classic case of the emperor having no clothes, which smart readers know to look out for.
  • Narrative instinctIs the author distorting real events to form a coherent narrative? This is common in biographies, memoirs, and historical texts. In The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality, Hayden White explains our tendency to meld history into a narrative: “So natural is the impulse to narrate, so inevitable is the form of narrative for any report of the way things really happened, that narrativity could appear problematical only in a culture in which it was absent… narrative is a metacode, a human universal… Narrative becomes a problem only when we wish to give to real events the form of story… This value attached to narrativity in the representation of real events arises out of a desire to have real events display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary. The notion that sequences of real events possess the formal attributes of the stories we tell about imaginary events could only have its origin in wishes, daydreams, reveries. Does the world really present itself to perception in the form of well-made stories, with central subjects, proper beginnings, middles, and ends, and a coherence that permits us to see “the end” in every beginning? Or does it present itself more in the forms that the annals and chronicle suggest, either as mere sequence without beginning or end or as sequences of beginnings that only terminate and never conclude? And does the world, even the social world, ever really come to us as already narrativized, already “speaking itself” from beyond the horizon of our capacity to make scientific sense of it? Or is the fiction of such a world, a world capable of speaking itself and of displaying itself as a form of a story, necessary for the establishment of that moral authority without which the notion of a specifically social reality would be unthinkable?”
  • Survivorship bias: Is this (non-fiction) book a representation of reality or is the author failing to account for base rates? Survivorship bias is abundant in business, self-help, and biographical books. A particular case of a successful individual or business might be held as the rule, rather than the exception.
  • Utility: If a book offers advice, does it have practical applications? At what point do diminishing returns set in?
Put It Down If You Get Bored
As a general rule, people who love reading never, ever finish a crappy book.
As Schopenhauer once wrote, “one can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind.” Life is much too short to finish a bad book.
Nancy Pearl advocates the Rule of 50. This entails reading the first 50 pages of a book and then deciding if it is worth finishing. The Rule of 50 has an interesting feature: once you are over the age of 50, subtract your age from 100 and read that many pages. Pearl writes:
And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you are really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it's not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know… When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book…When you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.
Nassim Taleb also emphasizes the importance of never finishing a substandard book:
The minute I was bored with a book or a subject, I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether – when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement… The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of the pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research.

“The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book.”

— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

After Reading

Most people think that consuming information is the same as learning information. This idea is flawed.
The basic process of learning consists of reflection and feedback. We learn ideas gained through experiences – ours or others – that remain unchallenged unless we make the time to reflect on them. If you read something and you don't make time to think about what you've read, your conclusions will be shaky.
The Feynman TechniqueThe Feynman technique is named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. You can think of it as an algorithm for guaranteed learning. There are four simple steps: choose a concept; teach it to a toddler; identify gaps and go back to the source material; and review and simplify.
Think About What You Can Apply
So, you've finished the book. Now what? How can you use what you have learned? Don't just go away with a vague sense of “oh yeah, I should totally do what that author says.” Take the time to make a plan and decide how to implement key lessons from the book.
Reading alone is not enough. We have to contextualize the knowledge. When does it work? When doesn't it work? Where can I apply it? What are the key variables? The list goes on. If you can take something you've read and apply it immediately, it will reinforce the learning and add context and meaning.
Teach What You Have LearnedTeaching others is a powerful way to embed information in your mind. This is part of the Feynman technique.
Upon completing a book, grab the nearest (willing) person and tell them about what you have learned. You'll have to remove or explain the jargon, describe why this information has meaning, and walk them through the author's logic. It sounds simple. After you try it the first time, you'll realize it's not easy.
If there is no one around who is interested, try talking to yourself. That's what I do … but maybe I'm crazy.
And if that doesn't work, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or post about it on Reddit or anywhere else where people are likely to be interested.
One of the benefits of our virtual reading group is that people are forced to actually think about what they are learning. We ask weekly questions on the assigned reading, and responses are diverse and thoughtful. The jargon goes away and people remove blind spots. It's incredible to watch. The result is that after reading a book with us, people say “I've retained so much more than I would have if I did it on my own.”
It was Schopenhauer who said, “When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process.” To escape this, you need to reflect on your views and see how they stand up to feedback.
Catalogue Your Notes
There are endless ways of organizing your notes – by book, by author, by topic, by the time of reading. It doesn't matter which system you use as long as you will be able to find the notes in the future.
Having a catalogue of everything you learn from reading creates a priceless resource which can be consulted whenever you need an idea, want inspiration, or want to confirm a thought. Over the years, you will build up a bank of wisdom to refer to in times of crisis, uncertainty, or need. It is hard to convey quite how valuable this can prove to be.
As General Mattis wrote: “Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn't give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
The options for cataloguing your notes include:
  • A box of index cards, ideally organized by topic, author, or time of reading. Index cards can be moved around.
  • A commonplace book (again, ideally organized by topic, author, or time of reading).
  • A digital system, such as Evernote, OneNote, or plain old Microsoft Word. Digital systems have the added benefit of being searchable, which can save a lot of time if you refer to your notes on a regular basis.
Schedule time to read and review these notes.
Reread (If Necessary)
Great books should be read more than once. While rereading them can seem like a waste of time because there are so many other books to read, this is a misunderstanding of the learning process. The best time to start rereading a great book is right after finishing. The goal is not to read as many books as possible; I've tried that and it doesn't work. The goal is to gain as much wisdom as you can.
Rereading good books is of tremendous importance if we want to form lasting memories of the contents. Repetition is crucial for building memories. As Seneca wrote: “You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”
There's no better way to finish this article than with the wise words of Henry Thoreau:
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage. They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them. Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.

Get the Actionable Feedback You Need to Get Promoted

  • Be proactive. Ensure you get the feedback you need by asking for it and scheduling a time to receive it. Most people will say yes when asked if they’d be willing to provide feedback, but despite their best intentions, very few follow up. Set a specific time and place to initiate the conversation. For example, carve out time during a monthly meeting. This frees your manager from the burden of having to remember to follow up and allows them focus on what’s most important: their comments. And by initiating the conversation at the appointed time, you’re giving them a cue that you’re serious about getting their input and improving yourself.
  • Ask questions that require specific answers. During the conversation, ask for feedback that elicits specific information to avoid generic assurances. Instead of saying “Do you have feedback for me?” try something like, “What did you notice at our meeting yesterday when I was framing the topic? What’s one thing I did well? What’s one thing I should do more of or change?” Avoid questions that can easily yield a yes-or-no response. Give your boss lots of room to choose how they answer and something concrete to respond to. You can end with a question such as “Is there anything else?” By ending with this type of question rather than starting with a general inquiry, you have already warmed up the feedback provider and may receive more-valuable insights.
  • Guide your manager to an actionable response. Have you ever asked for and received feedback, only to feel frustrated when you don’t know how to implement it? For instance, your manager might tell you, “The one thing I liked the most in our last meeting was that you framed the topic strategically.” It’s helpful to know that you were viewed as strategic, but as we saw in Tamara’s example above, it’s harder to understand what you need to replicate to be viewed as strategic again by that feedback alone. Probe for specific behaviors to better understand what your manager means: “What did I say or do that made my framing strategic?” Now they might say, “You started by making a comparison between the competitive landscape and the customer’s problem. Then you tied those takeaways to the corporate strategic pillars. I notice that made the SVP sit forward in her seat. Then you revealed a specific challenge we face. The combination of all these elements made you appear strategic.” Now you know the steps to replicate next time. Getting down to the behavioral level also enables you to adjust actions that aren’t working, so you can avoid cementing bad habits.
  • Dig into compliments. Your biggest learning from feedback is likely to come from an unexpected area: your strengths. Instead of what you did poorly and need to improve, useful feedback is likely to be based on what you already do well. How can you make your strength a superpower? For example, a leadership class participant once told me that he found me to be a passionate speaker. I asked, “What do I do or say that conveys passion, and what’s the impact on you?” to which he replied, “You speak with your hands a lot and have large gestures. You also vary the tone of your voice quite a bit. The combination keeps me awake and inspires me to pay closer attention.” Buoyed by his compliment, I was inspired to further study hand gestures, and started using them more deliberately to land key points when speaking.
  • Listen to criticism — and be gracious. If your manager does provide you with critical feedback, thank them. If the feedback was confusing, paraphrase what you heard and verify that you understood it correctly. Ask short clarifying questions if necessary: “Would you please tell me more about point X?” “At which meeting did you notice this?” “How often have you seen me do this?” “Do you have an example?” Never explain away the feedback. Whether or not you agree with it, this is their perception of how you came across. You don’t have to act on all the feedback you receive (in some cases, you might want to look into their feedback further before changing your behavior entirely), but if you want to keep receiving feedback, you have to act in a way that makes others want to give feedback to you.

Tamara joined her company as a group manager. Her deep technical skills, competence in managing people, and ability to deliver results helped her get rapidly promoted to vice president. Tamara was well-regarded by the executive team at her company, many of whom continued to encourage her professional advancement. In her organization, several of her peers had been promoted to the next level within three years. After her third year as VP, Tamara asked her manager what it would take for her to get promoted again. Her manager said, “You need to be more strategic.” When Tamara pushed for more specifics, he said, “I’ll point it out next time I notice it.”
After a couple of months with no feedback, Tamara asked her manager for direct feedback as she walked with him after a meeting where she had presented. Her manager said, “You were not speaking at the right altitude.” Frustrated with the lack of actionable feedback, Tamara came to our next coaching session feeling stuck about how to get more-specific feedback from her manager.
Tamara is not alone. When you go up the executive ranks, one of the commodities in scarce supply is actionable feedback from those you report to. An occasional fat bonus or raise fills in the blanks for positive feedback, while being assigned to “special” projects — projects that go nowhere — might signal it’s time to move on. What you need to grow as a leader is the ability to correct course on the fly. You need consistent, actionable feedback.
Useful feedback is hard to come by because managers aren’t clear what feedback is actionable or think that, as an executive, you have the seniority to translate their high-level edict into behavioral changes. In other instances, they may simply be too preoccupied with other priorities or projects that are on fire, rather than something you’re working on.
How do you make sure you get feedback that you can use to become a better leader? Here are five ways to solicit concrete, actionable steps that can result in being promoted faster:
After taking these steps, Tamara was finally able to get concrete feedback from her manager. By better understanding her manager’s perception, she was able to operate at a more strategic level. She began developing her skills further, and pointed out these changes to her boss — and she was promoted in the next performance review cycle.
To help you move up the promotion ladder, shed light on your blind spots and shine up your strengths. Take charge of the feedback process, and free up the feedback provider to do only one job: provide you with the input you need to become an outstanding executive.








  美国“人本主义心理学之父”马斯洛(Abraham H.Maslow 1908-1970年),提出人生需求层次理论,认为人生有五种自下而上的需求,即满足衣、食、住、行、性和健康的生理需求,保护自己免遭来自社会和自然威胁的安全需求,关爱他人也需要他人关爱的社会需求,尊重自己与尊重他人的尊重需求,实现自我价值的理想需求。能够实现自我价值需求的人,是马斯洛心目中的健康人格和理想人格。