Book Review: The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive UsThe Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
by Christopher Chabris

I do not not trust my eyes or my memory as confidently as I did in the past. It is not because of age but wisdom. I’ve read several books on analytic thinking, scientific discoveries on how our memories are formed and reconstructed, and common observation failures as outlined in this book. The more I read, the more I realize that I must, as The New York Times review observed, be humble about my observation abilities.

This book reflects the foolishness of exalting the importance of eyewitness testimony above other empirical data in investigations and court cases. The eyes do not always have it and we can sometimes see but not see. I would not believe it but having failed to see the gorilla as I dutifully counted the basketball passes on the video described in this book, I am convinced. The book also explains why failing to register everything we see is not a failure or weakness but a neurological necessity to keep us from sensory overload.

The description of various observational experiments and examples from business and law enforcement reinforced the validity of the book’s arguments. However, the authors did not leave readers to bemoan their condition or completely distrust their senses but provide techniques to help readers observe and understand common blind spots and how to compensate for them in their thinking and with interactions with others.

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Book Review: The Effective Executive

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things DoneThe Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
by Peter F. Drucker

Originally written in 1967 by the father of business management, this book will help any business person journey towards greater responsibility and success. Having defined what an “Effective Executive” is, Drucker emphasizes that effectiveness is a learned skill. By examining what one can contribute to the success of the enterprise, and thus one’s personal success,

Drucker stresses the importance of managing one’s time, priorities, and playing to your strengths. A key part of business success is effective decision-making and Drucker breaks down the decision-making process and how to make effective decisions.

Much of Drucker’s wisdom is identifying personal and business processes that are dysfunctional and fixing, changing, or abandoning them. The book is filled with key questions that a business person must ask themselves to shed light on the path to choose and what to avoid. It is the most concise book of organizational management and professional development I have read and the principles are timeless. It is the one book I consistently recommend to young people entering the business world.

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Book Review: The Hand Behind The Mouse

The Hand Behind the MouseThe Hand Behind the Mouse
by Leslie Iwerks

It was Iwerks who, as Walt’s lead animator, created Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Disney’s empire was growing due to the great success of Iwerk’s animated classics like the Silly Symphonies and the popular Mickey Mouse cartoons.

As with many business and creative ventures, success strained the close friendship and Iwerks left Walt Disney to open his own studio. Although Iwerks was a great talent, the promotion abilities of Walt Disney were equally responsible for the success of their animated creations. Iwerks was not able to create characters or films to compete effectively with Disney. Eventually he closed his studio and, after doing some freelancing work for a few years, returned to Disney. To enhance your reading experience, watch the cartoons mentioned in the book on YouTube as the book gives some insights into the cartoons that you might not notice otherwise.

After returning to Disney, Iwerks incredible imagination and inventive brilliance shone. He developed the xerographic technologies used to create Disney animated classics and the live action techniques used in classic films such as Mary Poppins. Disney also brought Iwerks into his greatest venture, creating attractions for Disneyland park.

This was one of those books that I almost gave up eating and hygiene habits in order to finish. The brilliance of this behind the scenes legend is one of the little known stories of the successful Disney empire. His quirky sense of humor comes out in his animated features, especially those produced in his own studio. The drama of the working relationship and friendship between Disney and Iwerks reveals the humanity of these icons of animation. It provides insight into directing genius and creativity towards a successful career.

Disney fans will love the book but I think creatives of all types: computer programmers, artists, inventors, and writers will benefit from the lesson of uniting hard work, teamwork, alliances, and financial support with creativity and talent to unleash your imagination to the world.

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Nick Saban on the Scoreboard That Matters

Nick Saban on the Scoreboard That Matters

bama-picIn the post-win news conference after Alabama beat USC in the 2016 season opener, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban shared insights on the team preparation and attitude that are important for personal and professional success.

  1. Focus on your internal scoreboard, not the external scoreboard (wins, praise, hype, rewards…).
  2. Continually improve your skills and performance, especially when you’ve had success.
  3. Challenge your experienced personnel to improve their performance and mentor the younger players.
  4. Train your inexperienced team members early and give them practical experience so they will be ready to step into their expected role at an unexpected time.
  5. Develop a disciplined proven system of excellence that focuses on what you can control, infuse it into the culture, then trust the process to prepare you and your team for any challenge.

“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played. And, again, you know, if you look at your internal scoreboard rather than the external scoreboard and you say, “What do we need to do to improve? What do we need to do to get better?” Well, you just get satisfied with the result that we got. So you don’t take coaching, you don’t try to improve, you don’t think that there are things that we can improve on, then we’ve got some really tough games with some really good teams. If we don’t get better, we’re going to struggle. And we play some of those teams in very tough places to play.

So my focus with our team right now is what can we do better? How can we get better? How can every guy improve? How can we get more guys to play better? And, look, I’m happy that we won. And I’m proud of our team for beating a good team. And I don’t want you to think that I’m not. …we have a lot of young guys playing out there now. If you notice, when those second teams went in, there was a whole bunch of freshmen out there. Well, those guys are going to have to grow up, all right. Because they’re going to be the depth of this team. And, if we lose players, they’re going to have to play. So we’re going to need those guys to improve dramatically.

And I think every guy needs to look at what they can do to get better and make their unit better and their team better. Look, you’ve got to trust in the plan, you’ve got to trust in your teammates, and you’ve got to trust in yourself that you can do your job on a consistent basis. And our consistency wasn’t always great, you know, tonight, especially on offense. So it’s definitely something we need to get better at.”

Is Email the Scapegoat for Dysfunctional Practices?

Like the cycles of seasons, a parade of articles calling for the death of email regularly march through the business press. Praise of organizations that banned email in favor of direct messages, a return to phone calls and desk visits, or automated systems that shut down email during “non-work hours” are offered as saviors for our email plagued society.

Like most knowledge workers, I’ve had my struggles with email but when I hear the cacophony of voices with pitchforks and torches are calling for the death of email, it is apparent that the technology is not the problem, it is how people manage it.

What’s Really the Problem

Who is to blame for your “always on” feeling? Were you instructed to check email on your smartphone at all hours? Do you feel that others will not think you professional if you do not answer an email at 11 pm or on the beach with your family? Certainly, some organizations may explicitly require you to be always checking but I hope they compensate you accordingly or, if they have no sense of boundaries, you find a healthier environment. Otherwise, honestly ask yourself who put this expectation in place: your organization or your insecurity?

Do you feel a disconnect from other employees? Then occasionally use the phone or make a desk visit. Go with coworkers to lunch or walk together during a break. As I’ll note below, realize that what seems better to you could be disruptive to your colleague.

Are there better tools than email? Email is not the universal solution to all business communication challenges. Project communication is probably handled better in a project workspace where document circulation and communication is centralized. Some communications are better handled through phone, visit, or texting. Because email has been abused or forced into communication situations that are inappropriate doesn’t mean that all email should be banned.

It may be that you work in a dysfunctional organization that places unrealistic demands on employees and uses email as the tool to propagate the problems. But that is not the fault of the technology and, if email didn’t exist, certainly another means would encourage ineffective interactions.

In Praise of Email

I come not to bury email but to praise it. For all of its problems, it is the perfect solution for asynchronous communication,

Focused Work: Productivity experts understand that some of the best work is performed when a person is able to focus on a task for a specified period of time and get into a flow state. However, interruptions disrupt that flow and degrade productivity as one returns back to the task. Those who advocate calling, desk visits, and instant messaging as the primary medium fail to realize that the priority of the caller should not dictate the priority of the recipient. If I have designated 30-40 minutes for focused work, I can cut off my email and silence my phone but if you walk into my office with some matter that is not urgent because you hate email, you will disrupt my work that I have deemed important. When you email me (or leave a voicemail), I can give it proper attention at the end of that focused work session.

Task Triage: Even when a person is not in focused work, email allows a productive person to triage what needs attention now and what should be delayed in favor of another task. Calling or texting just adds another channel that I must track for task management outside of my inbox whereas the email inbox becomes a good centralized location for current actionable items. As a GTD’er, I do consolidate inboxes but my email grouping system allows for efficient task organization of work that comes in my most commonly used channel.

Thoughtful Support: With email, I can see your subject and review the matter and thoughtfully respond. I will probably give a better answer when I can think about it than when I am on the phone with you and must answer immediately with whatever is on the top of my mind minus any distractions going on during your call. Of course, a scheduled call with a proposed subject helps with this issue.

Recommendations

The Franklin Covey organization explains the solution well in its 5 Choices program; Rule your technology, don’t let it rule you. Great advice for email, social media, and other technology. Here are some of my recommendations for handling email effectively:

  • Unless directed otherwise, answer email when appropriate for you. Some people send an email at 7 pm because they just remembered something that they need to share and expect that others will read and respond the next morning. You are probably not expected to respond unless it is an emergency and, if it is an emergency, wouldn’t someone call you?
  • Learn to write effective emails. Take more time up front to learn to communicate succinctly and effectively. It will help in more areas of life than just email.
  • Use rules to automatically direct newsletters and similar email to a folder for batch processing during down time.
  • Customize notification rules to only provide screen and sound alerts when you get emails from key individuals.
  • Delete or archive old emails and get them out of your active inbox. If not, how do you know what is important and actionable and what no longer needs attention?
  • Don’t create complex folder structures for saved emails. I have a couple for key projects, one for temporary projects that I don’t want to keep in the inbox, and one called “Archive” that everything else worth saving goes into. The search function gets everything I need.
  • Use categories to sort emails in the Inbox by generic reusable names (Defined Task 1, Defined Task 2…, Document Review, Waiting For…) and only keep the last email in a conversation thread. When you finish tasks and drag them into an archive folder so you can reuse the category.

Additional Reading

Book Review: Decision Points

Decision PointsDecision Points
by George W. Bush

I imagine fans of President Bush will love this book and those who demonized him will ignore it or blindly attack it. When we consider that any leader, whether in business or government, has great characteristics, significant weaknesses, blind spots, and well-focused vision we can become more understanding of their role in organizations and history. President Bush was not a perfect man and the decisions of his presidency, like all of his successors, has led to good and bad consequences for the present. Personality politics will judge your person a saint and the opposition person a demon. Ultimately, future historians will better judge the impact of the leaders of our day.

Politics aside, and whether you agree with his decisions or not, the book provides good insights behind President Bush’s decisions and his decision-making process. Such analysis is helpful for leaders in complex organizations. He provides deeper analysis of the issues around major decisions of his presidency than the dismissive reports of the often hostile media. I appreciated his admission of weaknesses and faults in some decisions. On a higher level, provides some good general principles about complex decision-making and taking responsibility for the consequences.

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Book Review: Curation Nation

Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are CreatorsCuration Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators
by Steven Rosenbaum

I love the pursuit of knowledge and yet recognize the challenge of making sense of the avalanche of data that overcomes us each day burying us in the relevant and irrelevant. Some technological tools help us sort and aggregate data but ultimately the greatest value comes through wise curation of data.

Like reviewers who help us appreciate, discover, or avoid books, restaurants, and movies, adept curators help us make wise choices with limited time and resources to focus on information with high-value return. Curators who are focused on their own financial gain or shilling for a particular point-of-view will face a narrow audience or complete rejection. Good curators provide what we need, introduce us to obscure information, reveal developing issues or technology before it is mainstream, and make sense of the flood of information.

This is an excellent book on rise of data curation on the Internet and addresses content sharing issues and debates. The book also explores the challenges of how curation can or should look and where it is going. This is especially important for those developing an Internet channel.

“The future of search is verbs” – Bill Gates (Curation Nation, p. 220). People search because they want to act! Curation provides information to help them act.

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