The Hard Thing About Hard Things

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, Ben Horowitz, outlines what it takes to be a solid leader:

  • Know what the organization needs and get the team to execute
  • Be honest and communicate the plan when there are problems
  • Train and care for your people
  • Realize in leadership; there are pressures and responsibilities
  • If firings are needed, be fast and fair
  • If there’s an executive who needs to go, the CEO should take responsibility for the hiring mistake and ensure continuity
  • Hire for strengths, mitigate weaknesses
  • Create an environment of engagement
  • Remove politics

The Infinite Game

I finished The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.  Sinek shares that the business world is not a finite game, so business leaders need to have an infinite mindset.  Like in sports, in a finite game, there’s a start and finish, agreed-upon rules, and in the end, a winner.   This isn’t true for businesses.

Businesses should not be judged only on sales, profit, and share price.  Instead of focusing on just those factors, leaders should be building something that will endure for generations.  An example shared in the book is Microsoft’s original mission to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This infinite game mindset changed under Steve Ballmer.  With Balmer at the helm, Microsoft was focused on beating Apple and its market share.  Remember Microsoft’s Zune?  No?  Exactly.

An excellent example of playing the infinite game is Victorinox.  Governments banned knives in carry-on luggage after 9/11.  Before 9/11, knives were 95% of the company’s sales.  Victorinox’s response was to go into new markets like travel gear and watches.  Today, knives are 35% of Victorinox’s revenue.

As the author explains, there are five parts of the infinite mindset:

  1. Advance a Just Cause:  Focus on the long-term, not the quarter.  Treat employees with respect. 
  2. Build Trusting Teams:  Think people first, profit second. 
  3. Study your Worthy Rivals:  As in sports, Worthy Rivals force us to improve. 
  4. Prepare for Existential Flexibility:  Be flexible on the approach to achieve the goal.
  5. Demonstrate the Courage to Lead:  Show commitment to the cause.  High-performing firms have a Visionary and an Implementer.

Do Nothing

I recently finished Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee. In it, she shares:

  • A strive for efficiency can make us unhappy if we believe we need to keep up with others who portray success
  • While current-day productivity hacks are popular, medieval peasants worked less and had more vacation than today’s average worker
  • The cult of efficiency makes us feel guilty about enjoying leisure time. As shared in my post, Think Like a Rocket Scientist, downtime opens our minds to new ideas
  • Email and text are simple and efficient. Yet, they lack the connection that happens in a live conversation. In Do Nothing, the author shares a research study where a storyteller talks live with a listener. The listener’s brain waves end up emulating those of the reader
  • Comparison to others or using social media to determine the bar for happiness is a bad idea

In summary, take time for downtime and create your own definition of success and happiness.

Think Like a Rocket Scientist

I just finished, Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol.  He shares the main ingredient for being an original thinker and why being bored is OK.

The best way to be an original thinker is not to conform.  To be an imaginative thinker, practice divergent thinking.  To be divergent, throw out rational thought.  Take an approach where no idea is a bad idea.  Then, with your list of innovative ideas, turn back on critical thinking and select your best ideas.

Along with being original, setting aside time for just daydreaming is good.  This is in line with another book I recently finished Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee. An example, cited by Varol, is J.K. Rowling in 1990 spending four hours stranded at a train station.  She used that time to let her mind wander and came up with Harry Potter, a $1B+ idea.