Book Review: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

 Silos Politics Turf Wars

This excellent book by Patrick Lencioni has an intriguing subtitle: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors. It’s a quick read (or a short listen, as I did via Audible, thanks to Michael Hyatt’s recommendation to try that service), but page-for-page or minute-for-minute I believe it’s one of the top business books available today.Scratch that. Who says bigger business books are better? The real value of a book is how it changes your outlook and, at least to some extent, what practical difference it makes in what you do. Based on that, I think Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is one of the top business books of any size or at any price.The first 85 percent or so of this book is the fable of Jude Cousins, a self-employed management consultant who eventually develops a practice that helps companies beat the silo problem. Spurred by the insight of his wife’s trip to the emergency room to deliver his twin daughters (where no one had the time to be “turfy” and everyone across various departments had a common goal of helping the trio of patients) and by a client whose company was silo-free after having survived a “near death” experience, Lencioni’s protagonist was able to apply key lessons to his other clients.Lencioni’s background is as a screenwriter, and his fable is quite engaging. It helps to bring to life the principles he has uncovered. In the last 40 minutes or so of the audiobook, Lencioni outlines his theory of how to create organizational alignment. Silo-free organizations have a compelling context for working together, created by four components:

  • A Thematic Goal: A single, qualitative focus or “rallying cry” that is shared by the entire leadership team and ultimately, by the entire organization-and that applies for only a specified period of time. This time can range from a few months to a year, based on the nature of an organization and the challenges it faces. You can only have one thematic goal. Something has to be most important.
  • Defining Objectives: The temporary, qualitative components that serve to clarify exactly what ismeant by the Thematic Goal; shared by all members of the team (and usually varying in number fromfour to six). What must be done to reach the Thematic Goal? Again, these are time-limited for the duration of the Thematic Goal.
  • Standard Operating Objectives: Other key objectives that an executive team must focus on andmonitor. These objectives do not go away from period to period and often include topics such as:revenue, expenses, customer satisfaction, quality etc. These aren’t “the rallying cry” because they are insufficiently motivational: they lack context, and they aren’t unique to a given period. But if you don’t acknowledge and monitor these indispensable essentials for long-term success,  you’re in trouble. I personally found this part of Lencioni’s model extremely helpful, because it helps to balance the short-term strategic priorities with the things you need to do to keep the organization running. Operational doesn’t mean unimportant.
  • Metrics: It is only after looking at the first three elements that you have enough context for meaningful measurement. Employees will be more motivated to “hit the numbers” if they understand how those numbers relate to the Thematic Goal, Defining Objectives and Standard Operating Objectives.

Lencioni has several helpful handouts available on his Web site as PDFs. His other books look interesting, too. Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is not officially part of the SMUG curriculum, but it is related. Sometimes social media tools are seen as ways to break down organizational silos. For instance, an intranet blog could theoretically be a great way to share knowledge across the company.  But if employees in different departments see each other as competitors instead of as  teammates, they’ll be likely to hoard information instead of sharing it. Social media tools are  just tools. Without a shared purpose, the collaboration made possible by social media won’t happen.What do you think? Have you experienced silos in a large organization? Do Lencioni’s lessons ring true from your perspective?

Book Review: Made to Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, is the best book I haven’t read.

It would be the best book on communication I have read; if I had read it. I listened to the Audible audiobook version instead.

From the urban legends about the business traveler being drugged and one of his kidneys harvested and razor blades in Halloween apples, to JFK’s moon mission challenge, to successful campaigns against teen smoking, movie theater popcorn and Texas litterbugs, Made to Stick is rich with examples that illustrate, as their subtitle say, “why some ideas survive and others die.”

The author brothers identify the main problem people have in communication as “The Curse of Knowledge.” Typically when we are making a presentation, for example, we are speaking about something we have studied extensively and consequently know well. The Curse of Knowledge is that we can’t remember what it was like to not understand. We forget the listener or reader.

Made to Stick: The Essence of SUCCESS

The antidote to The Curse of Knowledge involves shaping your ideas and your presentation of them according to a checklist that (almost) spells SUCCESS. Sticky ideas, the Heaths say, tend to have many of these traits:

Simplicity – Be relentless in boiling down to the core of the idea. As the authors quote a defense lawyer, “If you make 10 points in your closing arguments, the jury won’t remember any of them.” Make one main point. Extra material isn’t just superfluous; it’s harmful. Maybe Conrad Black’s legal team should have taken this advice.

Unexpectedness – Surprises, like Jared Fogle losing more than 200 pounds by eating at Subway, or one serving of theater popcorn having more saturated fats than a full day of unhealthy diet, get attention and get people talking.
Concreteness – don’t use vague phrases like “maximizing shareholder value” because these aren’t guides to action. The more concrete you are, the sure you can be everyone is understanding. And concrete details, especially in storytelling, contribute to credibility.

Credibility – sometimes this comes from authority, and sometimes from anti-authority, like a lifelong smoker telling her story of getting emphysema in her 20s. Some of the most powerful credibility comes from the audience, as they experience and interact with the idea.

Emotion – Involving people at an emotional rather than an intellectual or rational level increases memorability. That’s why international relief charities ask you to adopt a particular child instead of giving to a big pool.

Storytelling – Instead of reams of statistics, boil the essence of the idea into a story. Or better yet, be on the lookout for a story that makes the point. That’s what happened when a Subway manager noticed Jared’s weight loss.
I hope this review encourages you to check out Made to Stick for yourself. As the authors’ web site says:

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of idea success stories (and failures)—the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher’s simulation that actually prevented prejudice . Provocative, eye-opening, and funny, Made to Stick shows us the principles of successful ideas at work—and how we can apply these rules to making our own messages “stick.”

Check out the Made to Stick blog, too. It has an interesting post relating to medical school teaching that demonstrates how presentations can be tailored to be more sticky.

Wikinomics Book Review

wikinomics book review
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, provides an excellent overview of the technologies and trends that are so disruptive in the Web 2.0 world. While traveling today to the Frost & Sullivan Sales & Marketing East Executive MindXChange, I had the opportunity to listen to the first couple of chapters of the unabridged audiobook version of Wikinomics.

I had previously listened to the whole book on one weekend when I had lots of yard work to do. The upside of audiobooks is you can listen to them while you’re doing something else. The downside is it’s hard to take notes when you’re holding a power washer, so it takes a second listen to get maximum benefit. But at least you know where the highlights are.

Let me share a few.

The Wikinomics authors, who also maintain a companion blog and wiki, see four great trends shaping the 21st century landscape:

Openness – As exemplified by Rob McEwen, the CEO of the gold mining company Goldcorp, who made his company’s geologic data available to the world to get bright people from outside his company to help find more gold deposits on company property. By providing the data and $575,000 in prize money, he enlisted more than 1,000 virtual prospectors, who helped find targets that yielded 8 million ounces of gold, turning his company from a $100 million business to $9 billion concern.

Peer production, or Peering – Getting masses of individuals to collaborate openly, as exemplified by Wikipedia. The Apache server and the Linux operating system are among the other varied examples of peer production the authors cite.

Frankly, Tapscott and Williams are too deferential to laments from Bill Gates and others that peer production eliminates the profit-making opportunity for businesses and other purveyors of intellectual property. The answer to that (and the authors should have been stronger about this) is: SO WHAT? (Please forgive my shouting.) There may be economic disruptions and dislocations if open-source software like Linux or Apache displaces proprietary software like Windows, but people like Gates with entrenched interests forget that the ability to make money isn’t a divinely ordained right or the ultimate societal good. What matters to users of software or services is the cost of a product or service and its value.

Businesses exist for their customers, not vice versa. If someone (or an organized group of volunteers, as in Wikipedia) provides a service for free that was previously expensive, that’s a good thing. People can then spend their money to buy other services, so they get the formerly expensive product plus something else, as the societal bonus of Wikinomics.

When the Berlin Wall fell, political leaders and journalists talked about the “Peace Dividend“: if we as a society didn’t have to spend as much money on defense, we could spend it on other good things.

The same is true today. For example, craigslist is a great service for its users, enabling them to place free classified ads (in many communities) for everything from rentals to job postings to personals to items for sale, such as theatre tickets. It’s terribly disruptive for newspapers, which formerly milked the cash cow of classified advertising.

Does it hurt newspapers? Certainly. Is that a problem? If you own or work for a newspaper. Will western civilization crumble because of it? Hardly. Instead of paying several thousand dollars for a job posting classified ad in the newspaper, companies can post to for a few hundred dollars, or craigslist for free. The companies can then invest the savings in other areas important to their growth.

That’s the “Wikinomics Dividend.”

The other two trends the authors examine are Sharing and Acting Globally. But instead of discussing them in a post that’s already too long, let me suggest that you get the book yourself.

The key value of Wikinomics is in providing broad trend overviews. The examples used, from Flickr to YouTube to MySpace aren’t the main point. Future competitors may one day render these irrelevant, too.

If you’re looking for the latest new thing, Wikinomics isn’t the place to find it; it is, after all, an old-media tree-killing production. But Wikinomics does give the theoretical framework upon which to build your understanding of changes in today’s economy.