Dec 272010

Book Short: Beyond 10,000 Hours

Book Short: Beyond 10,000 Hours

In Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (post, buy), we are taught, among other things, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, as well as a dash of luck and timing, as opposed to huge amounts of innate and unique talent.  In Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, this theory comes to life, with a very clear differentiating point – it’s not just logging the 10,000 hours, it’s HOW the hours are spent.

Colvin’s main point is that the hours need to be spent in what he calls “deliberate practice.”  The elements of deliberate practice are best explained with his example of Jerry Rice, although you can apply these to any discipline:

  • He spent very little time playing football (e.g., most of his practice was building specific skills, not playing the game)
  • He designed his practice to work on specific needs
  • While supported by others, he did much of the work on his own (e.g., it can be repeated a lot, and there are built-in feedback loops)
  • It wasn’t fun
  • He defied the conventional limits of age

If you’re the kind of person who cares deeply about your own performance, let alone the performance of people around you, it doesn’t take long to be completely riveted by Colvin’s points.  They ring true, and his examples are great and cross a lot of disciplines (though not a ton about business in particular).  I wasn’t 50% done with the book before I had made my list of three key things that I need to Deliberately Practice.

There are some other great aspects to the book as well — including a section on Making Organizations Innovative, from creating a culture of innovation to allowing people the freedom to think, to a section on where passion and drive come from, but hopefully this post conveys the gist of it all.  Want to be a better CEO?  Or a better anything?  This is a good place to start the process.

Thanks to Greg Sands for sending me this excellent book.  I’m going to work it into my rotation for Return Path anniversary presents.

Jul 092010

Book Short: Multiplying Your Team’s Productivity

Book Short:  Multiplying Your Team’s Productivity

No matter how frustrated a kids’ soccer coach gets, he never, ever runs onto the field in the middle of a game to step in and play.  It’s not just against the rules, it isn’t his or her role.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown (book, Kindle) takes this concept and drives it home.  The book was a great read, one of the better business books I’ve read in a long time.  I read a preview of it via an article in a recent Harvard Business Review (walled garden alert – you can only get the first page of the article without buying it), then my colleague George Bilbrey got the book and suggested I read it.  George also has a good post up on his blog about it.

One of the things I love about the book is that unlike a lot of business books, it applies to big companies and small companies with equal relevance.  The book echoes a lot of other contemporary literature on leadership (Collins, Charan, Welch) but pulls it into a more accessible framework based on a more direct form of impact:  not long-term shareholder value, but staff productivity and intelligence.  The book’s thesis is that the best managers get more than 2x out of their people than the average – some of that comes from having people more motivated and stretching, but some comes from literally making people more intelligent by challenging them, investing in them, and leaving them room to grow and learn.

The thesis has similar roots to many successful sales philosophies – that asking value-based questions is more effective than presenting features and benefits (that’s probably a good subject for a whole other post sometime).  The method of selling we use at Return Path which I’ve written about before, SPIN Selling, based on the book by Neil Rackham, gets into that in good detail.  One colorful quote in the book around this came from someone who met two famous 19th century British Prime Ministers and noted that when he came back from a meeting with Gladstone, he was convinced that Gladstone was the smartest person in the world, but when he came back from a meeting with Disraeli, he was convinced that he (not Disraeli) was the smartest person in the world.

Anyway, the book creates archetypal good and bad leaders, called Multipliers and Diminishers, and discusses five traits of both:

  • Talent Magnet vs. Empire Builder (find people’s native genius and amplify it)
  • Liberator vs. Tyrant (create space, demand the best work, delineate your “hard opinions” from your “soft opinions”)
  • Challenger vs. Know-It-All (lay down challenges, ask hard questions)
  • Debate Maker vs. Decision Maker (ask for data, ask each person, limit your own participation in debates)
  • Investor vs. Micromanager (delegate, teach and coach, practice public accountability)

This was a great read.  Any manager who is trying to get more done with less (and who isn’t these days) can benefit from figuring out how to multiply the performance of his or her team by more than 2x.