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Book: Leading Outside the Lines

| book, management, organization, reading, work

zebraI want to get really good at being a fast zebra. The metaphor comes from Leading Outside the Lines, Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan’s book on working with the informal organizational structure. According to Mark Wallace (former US ambassador to the United Nations), fast zebras are people who can absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly. The authors explain, “On the African savannah, it is the fast zebra that survives a visit to the watering hole, drinking quickly and moving on, while the slower herd members fall prey to predators lurking in the shadows. The fast zebra is, in essence, a person who knows how to draw on both the formal and informal organizations with equal facility.”

It seems like a business cliche – who wouldn’t want to absorb information and adapt to challenges quickly? – but Katzenbach and Khan go into more detail. “They help the formal organization get unstuck when surprises come its way, or when it’s time to head in a new direction. They have the ability to understand how the organization works, and the street smarts to figure out how to get around stubborn obstacles. They draw on values and personal relationships to help people make choices that align with overall strategy and get around misguided policy. They draw on networks to form teams that collaborate on problems not owned by any formal structure. They tap into different sources of pride to motivate the behaviors ignored by formal reward systems.”

Like the loneliness facing early adopters, fast zebras can feel isolated. Identifying and connecting fast zebras can help them move faster and make more of a difference.

I can think of many fast zebras in IBM. People like Robi Brunner, John Handy Bosma, and Jean-Francois Chenier work across organizational lines to make things happen. Lotus Connections and other collaboration tools make a big difference in our ability to connect and self-organize around things that need to be done. They also provide informal channels for motivation, which is important because this kind of boundary-spanning work often doesn’t result in formal recognition (at least in the beginning).

The book describes characteristics of organizations that successfully integrate formal and informal structures, and it has practical advice for people at all levels. It also has plenty of stories from organizational role models. My takeaway? Harnessing the informal organization and helping people discover intrinsic motivation for their work can make significant differences in an organization’s ability to react, so it’s worth learning more about that. Recommended reading.

Leading Outside the Lines
Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan
Published by John Wiley and Sons, 2010


Posted: - Modified: | reading, sketches, tips


Text: Speed-reading

People ask me how I can read so quickly. Here are some things that might help you read and learn faster.

1. Don’t slow yourself down. Do you read aloud? Do you imagine yourself reading aloud? Speech is so much slower than sight. See. In fact, don’t trace the words with your eyes. Jump around. Look at the important words. Skim. Take advantage of peripheral vision.

2. Take advantage of structure. Read tables of content, conclusions. A book is a nonlinear device. How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren): this book is awesome.

3. Read. A lot. You’ll get lots of practice. You’ll be surprised by how much books repeat themselves or other books. And you’ll find yourself reading for those rare gems, the aha! moments that make reading all the rest worth it. Then people will ask you: How can you read so quickly?

Book recommendations for new grads

Posted: - Modified: | career, kaizen, learning, reading

Kim Liu wanted to know which books I’d recommend for people who are starting out in the business world. Here are a few books that continue to help me think:

Love is the Killer App: If you look beyond the occasionally cutesy language, this book has great tips on working with knowledge, network, and compassion. My favourite tips: Read a ton of books, actively think about how to connect other people with ideas, other people, and resources, and exercise your network.

Front Cover The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Also unconventional, but interesting. Key points: There is no plan. Think strengths, not weaknesses. It’s not about you. Persistence trumps talent. Make excellent mistakes. Leave an imprint.
Front Cover Work Like You’re Showing Off: The Joy, Jazz, and Kick of Being Better Tomorrow than You Were Today. Because it’s fun, and you can do amazing things.
Front Cover First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Even if you’re at the bottom of your organizational chart, think like a manager and look for ways to adapt your environment so that you can do your best. Manage yourself by building on your strengths, motivating yourself, developing yourself and people around you, and so on.
Front Cover Work Life Balancing: How to Be Wildly Successful in Both… Really!, because it’s important to know it’s possible, and to structure your life so that you grow happily.
Front Cover Your money or your life, because financial savvy will help you make the rest of your life better and less stressful.

You might also find Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? interesting.

There are lots of other networking, presentation, technology adoption, storytelling, business, entrepreneurship, and productivity books (among others!) that I often recommend to people.

Hmm. I expected to be able to recommend more (or fewer but clearer ones!), but there haven’t been that many things that jump out at me as books that anyone starting out in a career must read. Even the list above isn’t a must-read list.

What do I think other new hires really, really need to know?

  • How to learn
  • How to share
  • How to practice relentless improvement
  • How to find their passion and move into the sweet spot
  • How to ask for help and find mentors
  • How to create and negotiate opportunities
  • How to help other people do amazing things
  • How to sort out life so that it supports what you want to do instead of stressing you out

What would you recommend people read or learn?

From the book bag

Posted: - Modified: | book, entrepreneurship, finance, reading, sketches

I love reading. Love love love love.


Here are a few more books:

image Fight For Your Money: How to Stop Getting Ripped Off and Save a Fortune
David Bach, 2009

Decent reference, useful form letters. Nothing too surprising in terms of advice. I like this more than his other books, which tend to hammer in the Latte Factor a bit much. Good to give to people who are just starting out in Canada.

The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By
Scott A. Shane, 2008

Surprising data-driven insights into entrepreneurship. Depressing in some places (such as when he’s looking at the statistics for women and entrepreneurship), and encouraging in others (such as when it comes to capitalizing new businesses). Something to read in a library.

How are these Friday book reviews working out for you? How can I make them better?

Book: Beyond Booked Solid

Posted: - Modified: | book, career, delegation, management, reading
Beyond Booked Solid: Your Business, Your Life, Your Way Its All Inside
Michael Port, 2008

(This link is an Amazon affiliate link, but if you’re near a public library, take advantage of it. I borrowed this book from the Toronto Public Library. =) )

Michael Port’s follow-up to Booked Solid focuses on how to grow your business beyond yourself, and is an excellent read for people interested in taking the next step.

I’m curious about the A3 Reports he describes on pp. 61-62. The A3 Report summarizes a business situation on a single sheet of 11.7”x16.5” paper. It would be interesting to use this structure to think through personal situations as well. =) (I guess I’m weird that way.)

  • Title of report, name, and related information
  • Theme/objective
  • Current situation analysis
  • Root cause analysis
  • Alternatives
  • Recommendations
  • Future state picture
  • Implementation plan

On page 94, he also provides some tips on making things happen, and then he fleshes them out over the next pages.

  • Collaborate.
  • Adopt practices for exploring a variety of perspectives.
  • Coordinate meticulously.
  • Listen generously.
  • Build relationships intentionally.
  • Have clear intentions.
  • Develop habits of commitment making and fulfilling.
  • Tightly couple learning with action.
  • Call on your talents.
  • Bring your passion to the project.
  • Embrace uncertainty.
  • Have a compelling story for your project.

On page 146, he offers tips and outsourcing work to other firms. He firmly believes that you shouldn't outsource in a way that creates a single point of failure for your business. If you work with firms and document your systems well, you can get back up and running after unexpected difficulties.

On page 173, he makes a particularly good point relevant for public speakers. He says, “Before I give a speech, I need to be careful not to try to create a particular energy. Instead I tap into the audience's energy. We all need to tap into the energy of the people we're working with. There's only so long you can be an energetic cheerleader for a project if the people around you need to be manipulated into corresponding energetic responses. I'm sure you've all thought how your energy level rises around people who are excited about the work they're doing or, for that matter, how your energy lifts with someone who has a zest for life.”

Another good take away can be found on page 177, where he advises, “Schedule fun once a day — after your normal working schedule.” This not only helps you include your productivity by encouraging you to be more efficient, it also helps you manage your energy.

Worth reading, particularly if you’re interested in scaling up.

Book: On Becoming a Leader

Posted: - Modified: | book, career, leadership, reading

Norman Lear would add to this that the goal isn't worth arriving at unless you enjoy the journey. “You have to look at success, incrementally,” he said. “It takes too long to get to any major success…. If one can look at life as being successful on a moment-by-moment basis, one might find that most of it is successful. And take the bow inside for it. When we wait for the big bow, it's a lousy bargain. They don't come but once in too a long time. ” (p.51)

No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders.

So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely — all your skills, gifts, and energies — in order to make your vision manifest. (p.111-112)

On Becoming A Leader: Revised Edition
Warren Bennis

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

Many people worked long hours and sacrifice other parts of their lives in order to achieve career success. They want the executive title, the high salaries, the decision-making power, and the recognition. I don't think that kind of career lifestyle is a great fit for me. Instead of sacrificing so much for a big potential payoff, I'd rather focus on living well at each step, and feeling successful in each moment. The core of my work is figuring out who I am, what talents I can bring, and what difference I can make.

What could help you express yourself more fully?

Book: Rules for Revolutionaries

Posted: - Modified: | book, reading
Rules For Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services
Guy Kawasaki, 2000

The most relevant chapter for me was that about eating like a bird and pooping like an elephant. Consume lots of information from diverse sources, and share it liberally. Here’s what Guy has to say about sharing:

Here are the four things you need to do to spread (and receive) information in the most efficient ways:

  • Get over the paranoia. First things first: stop worrying about the negative effects of spreading information to other parts of your company as well as colleagues and competitors. Sure, be judicious about what you share, but err on the side of sharing too much.
  • Make it simple, correct, and frequent. Spent efficiency by making the information in preparing simple and correct; and do the spreading often. The better and more frequent the information you provide, the better and more frequent information you get back.
  • Use the Web! B. I. (Before Internet), spreading information had large costs: printing, travel, entertaining, and long-distance telephone charges. Circa 1998, the Web has reduced those costs and made information available around the world.
  • Get all levels involved. Information spreading, like pressing flesh, needs to be democratized and institutionalized. Enable all parts of the company to share in their special knowledge whether the function is research or copyright law.

p131, Guy Kawasaki, Rules for Revolutionaries

Worth a read, maybe in the library.