Tag: Review

Leadership is an Art

Inspiring others, stoking a fire of passion in others, is an art that cannot be understated. To inspire others to follow you, embrace your dream as their own, and work towards making that dream come true, is a phenomenal though poorly understood concept that paradoxically remains of the utmost significance in the professional world, yet fails to be taught. How does an entrepreneur teach others to be the best of themselves? How does a leader cultivate ambition while retaining top talent? How does a CEO gain the loyalty of his/her workers and not encourage stagnancy?

Such are but a few of the many questions that Max Depree’s Leadership is an Art explores with versatile accuracy. Acknowledging the multitude of prevailing beliefs that currently characterize the ‘right way’ to lead, Depree concisely but comprehensively answers many of the questions that plague modern leadership. He teaches many lessons, and so I have chosen to list a few of my favorite just below:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘Thank you.’ In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.

In developing any capitalistic enterprise, the leader must understand expectation and articulate what is considered success and what is failure. In achieving such, the leader must do whatever they can to produce what he or she said would be produced, be that a product or service. Yet, even when acting as a “servant,” the leader must understand they are always doing so for a price, thus acting as a “debtor.”

“Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.”

The harsh reality of running a business is that there is sacrifice. There is burden. There is pain. However, even in the face of difficulty, a leader cannot bend to the stress. To bend to the stress, to take your stress and displace it onto others, namely other employees, is to discourage those you’re supposed to encourage. In order to secure the best possible productivity from your workers, you must set a stellar example they can model. While it is hard to not internalize stress, leaders must strive to remain relaxed. Otherwise, said internalized stress will manifest in other ways, hurtful ways.

“Participative management is not democratic. Having a say differs from having a vote.”

An important though subjective distinction, it is significant to let your employees know they have a voice in the organization and where it’s going. However, an effective leader must also realize that, ultimately, the final decision is up to him or her. Moreover, employees themselves must realize this. They must understand that while their input is appreciated, it is not necessarily, or by any means really, the end all be all. Depree delves into detail on this vague idea and provides insightful advice on how to approach and implement this philosophy.

The truth is that leadership is a dynamic skill, changing with the tides and altering with the current state of the company. What leadership requires a year ago may be different today. What leadership requires at one company may differ considerably from what leadership requires at a different company. Leadership is malleable, flexible, but strong. It is an art top business executives must learn and must always continue to learn; and Depree helps do just that.

The 100$ Start-Up

So often people question why they are doing what they are doing. As people, how can we spend 40+ hours doing something we don’t enjoy? Life is too short, and Chris Guillebeau explains in The 100$ Start-Up how to monetize your passion. However, the difference with this self-help/how-to book is in the specifics. Whereas most books of this genre often speak in generalities and hypotheticals, Guillebeau dives in with both feet, having identified, researched, and interviewed 1500 different individuals. He delves into the finances, the time spent, and whether or not the risk was worth the reward.

Spoiler alert: it was. Chris himself lives a similar lifestyle. Only in his early thirties, Guillebeau has traveled to over 170 countries and has never received a “regular” paycheck. Although a nomadic young man may not seem like the quintessential entrepreneur I would want to take advice from, I must say that while reading through his book, I found myself not just hearing what was being said, but truly listening and understanding. Certainly Chris’ own story is inspiring, but what really makes the book is when it goes onto speak of others who have achieved monetizing their passion. Take for example the Canadian snowboarder.

Tired of earning a meager income as an instructor, he decided something needed to be done to better his annual salary. After brainstorming different possible opportunities, he realized that there was a market for a DVD set of instructional videos. After creating, taping, and producing his own original films, this former snowboard instructor became the CEO of his very own 300,000$ dollar/year business. Although not exactly conventional, Chris’ bold defiance of traditional business models are intriguing, and in many cases, compelling.

He claims that “you don’t need outside investment (of any kind), an MBA, or a 65-page business plan that no one will ever read. You just need a product or service, a group of people willing to buy it, and a means of getting paid.” That being said, I am not advocating throwing the rules out of the window. I am saying his narrative is engaging, impressive and most of all, inspiring.

Getting paid to do what we love all too often seems impossible. Yet, maybe it isn’t. Maybe all we really need is a relevant, marketable idea, a little bit of confidence, and a push in the right direction. After reading The 100$ Start-Up, doing what you love doesn’t just seem possible. It seems plausible.

100$ Start-up, Chris Guillebeau


The Zigzag Principle

In the startup industry, there is a widespread ‘get it done’ mentality, through which entrepreneurs are urged to push forward to their goal at all costs. Rich Christiansen challenges this mentality in The ZIgzag Principle, in which he postulates that forging a straight path toward a goal does not produce lasting results. Instead, Christiansen advocates for taking time to raise money, acquire resources, scale, and learn to fail. By following a select set of ‘zigzag’ principles, he asserts that a business will become profitable and surpass its initial startup stage.

The Zigzag principleThe zigzag principle stemmed from a skiing session that Christiansen had one winter with his son. The two were beginners, and accidentally ended up on the most difficult slope. Instead of attempting to ski straight down the hill, which was very dangerous at their level, Christiansen decided he and his son should zigzag down the hill until they reached the bottom. This allowed them to get safely off of the slope without injury. Christiansen says the same mentality should be applied to life and business – while shooting straight toward a goal may get you to that goal faster, there is more chance of sustaining lasting repercussions along the way.

The zigzag principle starts at the very beginning of forming a business. Christiansen challenges his readers to look at their internal motivation, rather than focus on mission statements. He believes that the motivation behind beginning a company will help determine if the company is sustainable to its founder, and therefore if the mission statement should even be written.

The first ‘zig’ principle focuses on making money. The book guides its reader through a process to determine how to make a business profitable. Far too many startups do not focus on profitability at the beginning, which increases their chance of failing. The second ‘zag’ principle is all about additional resources. Once a new business becomes profitable, it can focus on adding more people and capital to expand. The third and final ‘zag’ principle involves scaling in a big way. Christiansen guides readers through deciding how large they want to make their business, and through determining how they will get there.

The rest of the book helps its readers navigate how to deal with a creative team and how to track progress. Christiansen also includes demonstrative success stories from himself and other companies.

This book is a must-read resource for all people looking to start a new business. Christiansen’s zigzag principle is a revolutionary approach to starting a business that can guarantee lasting success.

The Power of Habit

THe Power of HabitA large portion of success depends on habit. What we do on a day to day basis and how we do it can determine how much we get done. Adopting beneficial habits can boost productivity but, unfortunately, bad habits run rampant as well, and these are hard to change.

Charles Duhigg, a reporter for the New York Times, takes a business approach to the concept of habit in his book The Power of Habit, which explores the psychology behind forming habits, and how to break the bad ones. His insight is based on years of reading scientific research and interviewing scientists. He chronicles his findings in an interesting way, which makes this book an authority on habits for everyday readers.

Duhigg wrote the book with the idea that people can change what about themselves they understand. He believed that recognizing the science behind forming habits would be able to help not only individuals, but also entire companies. Changing personal habits can influence group changes and lead even companies that struggle the most down a successful road.

His focus in the book is three-pronged – the psychological formation of habits, how habits are used in and by companies, and how habits have sparked social movement. He refers to habit formation as ‘The Habit Loop.’ Habits, he reports, are formed based on repetition until they become routine. One trigger from the environment can lead to a constant behavior that is connected to a reward. This is true for all habits; even ones detrimental to our health or productivity are associated with rewards. Additionally, our habits take up almost half of our daily operating.

Duhigg spends the first section of the book emphasizing how prevalent habits are in our daily lives and how every habit, no matter how small it may seem, can drastically affect our performance. In the second section of the book, he approaches habit formation from a company standpoint. More specifically, he writes about a feedback system to help instill habits in others. This system involves making a reward at the end of an action known and desirable, to making the action itself routine. Entire corporations have been altered by this feedback system. Creating habits based on company values instills a company culture based on value of the company and respect for its work.

The third and final section of the book, and arguably the most important, describes why habits change, and therefore how a change can be made. Duhigg writes that recognizing and addressing a specific habit’s cue is all a person, or a company, needs to change that habit entirely. He uses this part of the book to investigate how entire social movements were influenced by habit. Leaders of such movements initiate habits that are followed by others, which is how a small routine can become a societal change. Habits instilled by leaders become a part of an individual’s identity, and it is there that they thrive and endure.

This book is an important read for anyone looking to become more productive, or to boost the productivity of their team. Duhigg has written an invaluable resource that, if heeded, will surely lead to success.


Learning from Pixar: Creativity Inc.

Known for creating some of the best, highest rated animated movies in the world, Pixar Animated Studios is an example of management and leadership done right and on an immense scale. Some Pixar - Creativity Incinsight into how this was possible in just under 30 years is undoubtedly helpful and Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull (co founder and brains behind Pixar), provides just that.

Ed Catmull co founded Pixar with the help of Steve Jobs back when Catmull was working at Lucasfilms. After Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm’s digital division, Catmull became the Chief Technology Officer for what would become Pixar. Just years later, Toy Story was released in 1995 helping solidify Pixar as a studio that not only makes beautiful, innovative animated films but ties them well with captivating, timeless stories. But how was all of this achieved?

In Creativity Inc., we learn of the close relationship between Steve Jobs and Pixar as well as the impact he had with recruiting the right people. Catmull, of course, being one of those people. His contributions to digital animation technology have been a driving force behind the movies adults and children enjoy today. But Catmull’s academic and industry achievements alone do not explain Pixar’s impressive success – 15 movies under their belt with all but one receiving critical acclaim. So we have to look at how their management makes things work as well as they do.

Here are some important lessons we can glean from Creativity Inc., on the leadership over at Pixar (now owned by Disney following a $7 billion deal in 2006):

  1. Delegating tasks and ideas to be worked on: At Pixar, good ideas are given to great teams that can either find flaws in those ideas and improve on them or come up with something even better.
  2. While agreement is essential to getting things done or make changes happen, a lot more has to go into actually implementing what everyone agrees on.
  3. The leadership should strive to make a company into a place where employees can take risks and not a place where the main goal is to prevent risks. Along with that, it costs a lot more to prevent errors than to fix them.
  4. While we talk about “leadership” and “management” things should not be so cut and dry. Communication should not be structured in this way and everyone should feel comfortable with talking to anyone further up the existing structure.

The importance of these philosophies behind Pixar’s success is that they were developed in order to sustained this creative culture that has propelled Pixar. This culture, however, was not something that Pixar’s leadership tacked on later on – it was built and developed from within as the company rose to greater heights. A good take away from that is that established companies looking to mimic this sustainable creative culture should work with what they already have and develop it in a similar fashion.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Between 1942 and 1945, Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, labored throughout four different Nazi concentration camps while his family and Des Hague Book Review - Man's Search for Meaningpregnant wife did the same elsewhere. Despite his grueling existence throughout those years, with his entirely family perishing, Frankl lays out in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) (German: …trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager), how he had managed to survive the Nazi death camps by developing and applying his theories on finding meaning in all forms of existence.

Man’s Search for Meaning is based on Frankl’s own experience as an inmate in Nazi concentration camps as well as the experiences of survivors that he later went on to treat in his practice once the Nazi’s had been defeated in the Second World War. Man’s Search for Meaning is considered, by the Library of Congress, as one of the top ten most influential books in the United States. Frankl’s ideas and experiences gave rise to what is now called Logotherapy, which differentiates itself from the methods of other famous Austrian psychiatrists, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, by its doctrine of will to meaning.

According to his theory, a prisoner’s longevity or ability to survive the suffering inflicted on them was affected by how the prisoner imagined their future. Frankl’s conclusion is that the meaning of life can be found within every moment we live, even when faced with suffering or imminent death. In Frankl’s own experience, he describes how he and other prisoners were marching one bitterly cold morning back to camp (Auschwitz), with guards abusing them on the way, and the image of his wife was something that would keep him moving.

The title of this book in German is interesting and a translation of it is: ..Nevertheless say ‘yes’ to life: A psychologist experiences the concentration camps. The meaning that I have taken from this book, which is something that has stuck with me throughout the years, is that one thing we need to focus on is simply doing good things. Doing things that have meaning for ourselves, more so than for others. Now, when you do something that has meaning to you, that you thoroughly enjoy, you are likely to find success.

As I state in part six of my Speaker Series, Leading Through Adversity,  don’t chase success. Do things that have meaning to you, do good things, and success will chase you. This is something I quickly realized after reading Man’s Search for Meaning, which makes me wish I had read it decades earlier.

Des Hague Discusses His "Why's" in the 7th Installment of "Leading Through adversity from Des Hague on Vimeo.