Aug 172016

You Are Whom You Hire









Who touts itself as the book to solve one’s “#1 problem.” It is a book on the importance of hiring correctly and how to go about the undertaking. It relies on three focus areas to achieve its goals. Those are Scorecard, Source and Select.

A Method, which is the authors’ methodology, is for hiring an “A Player.”

The book begins impressively with substantial quotations before delving into its process and formula. Naturally, as is par for the course nowadays, there is an ulterior motive at play and in the introduction the authors fit in an advert for their business, which does consulting for recruitment and human resource management. One’s confidence, however, is soon restored when the authors cite the largest statistical study on the topic of candidates who became successful employees, which comes courtesy of the University Of Chicago, as the basis for their theory and book. The authors, and their researchers, interviewed CEOs, billionaires and successful people to find out what makes one good at hiring. One notes that the list excludes actual HR folk from its list, which hints at the senior levels with which it concerns itself. With that said, the authors make no distinction about the importance of a very tight process in hiring regardless of level and neither should they.

Each hiring mistake costs the company 15 times the amount of a salary in hard costs and productivity, we are told.

On page 6 the book’s entreaty is for hiring persons to break existing bad habits and cease what it calls ‘voodoo’ hiring methods. There are ten of them and number three is the funniest.

  1. The Art Critic (instinct)
  2. The Sponge (multiple uncoordinated interviewers)
  3. The Prosecutor (aggressive questioning)
  4. The Suitor (selling to and impressing the candidate)
  5. The Trickster (gimmicks in lieu of interviewing)
  6. The Animal Lover (dotting on pet questions)
  7. The Chatterbox (idle chit chatter)
  8. The Psychological And Personality Tester (self-explanatory)
  9. The Aptitude Tester (should not be used in isolation) and
  10. The Fortune-Teller (asking hypothetical questions about the future)

The book occasionally is funny and especially so in the earlier chapters.

Reading the book my mind occasionally arched back to HP and all the disastrous CEOs they keep hiring from outside. Do large companies really hire so badly? The stakes are so much higher when hiring CEOs, right?

One criticism attributable to the book is one that is the by-product of hiring to exact rules – hopefully people me are smart enough to hire to variety – despite the book’s insistence that the end all, be all of the universe is “A Players” and not B or C players. The last two are never defined or even seriously contrasted from one another however. When one process exists and all hiring is done in similar or alike fashion blandness will set in – even if the book rationally insists that there should be a written scorecard based on outcomes for the job. This cannot be a good idea when you need to the team to be complementary and offer a variety of perspectives and experiences. One company that hires – or thinks it does – with a diversity of thoughts is Salesforce. Something not addressed either is the importance of an enabling structure and environment for employees to succeed. This book is not concerned with what happens after the hiring has happened. A Player has happened and all is A-OK. It is all about the superstars. Page 12 does give the definition of an A Player (they mean the grammatically correct ‘A-Player’).

A candidate who has at least 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.

The book goes further and asks ‘who cares if there is a 90% chance of achieving one’s/the company’s goals when anybody could accomplish them? Er, I do. I do. I, and many other people, would be happy with such results. Who cares, in that case, if we have A-Players or Z-Players?

Getting into more details the example on page 13 is silly. One does not need a system to not hire someone who gives an answer like the one used and yes everyone asks questions at interviews. According to the example, a candidate sent an email to all colleagues saying the boss was incompetent.

Pages 30 to 32 list twenty plus qualities of A-Players. These include Efficiency, Honesty (which the book already had ironically nixed), Ability To Hire A Players, Calm Under Pressure, Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Persistence and so forth.

As mentioned, a written Scorecard that features outcomes and written objectives and not descriptions of who to hire is necessary. Moreover, Who insists that linking business plans to people’s jobs are also part of the parcel.

Page 65 of the book changes focus and considers how to source candidates. These the book lists as Referrals from outside the company, referrals from inside the company, deputizing friends of the firm, hiring recruiters, hiring researchers and having a sourcing system, which lends discipline to your own search effort.

Paying attention to interviewing, the authors put forward four interviewing techniques. These are:

Screening Interview – on the phone which asks about career goals, fortes, weaknesses and opinions of the last five bosses on a scale of 1 to 10.

Topgrading Interview – a chronological walkthrough of a candidate’s career that asks five questions for each job the candidate has had in the past fifteen years, which are what were you hired to do, which accomplishments make you proud, who was your boss and who were your colleagues and what will they say when I call them and finally why did you leave your job? Additionally, the authors discuss the three P’s. These are clarifying questions about how was the performance compared to the Previous Year, how was the performance compared to the Plan and how was the performance compared to the Peers?

Focused Interview – where one focuses on a topic and gathers more information on it. One drills down on a specific outcome, asks about accomplishments in that area and asks about insights learnt based on mistakes and failures in the area.

Reference Interview – Not ever skipping reference checks, of which seven need to be done, the hiring manager asks references for context of relationship with the candidate, the candidate’s biggest strengths, areas of improvement, rating on a scale of 1 to 10 and where the candidate struggled.

Noteworthy are several points this book makes. The candidates should not be allowed to parrot you and interviewers should disqualify ‘website’ speak. There are no strengths in disguise. Only actual weakness are allowed when asked. The interviewer has to be clear that he or she will speak to former bosses. It is not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’

Page 116 offers red flags too. Not wanting candour candidates should not speak ill of former bosses, and the candidates should not seem more interested in compensation than in the job itself. Other red flags are when a candidate is self-absorbed and is unsupportive of change. In my opinion, it is corporate-speak to claim all change is good. Nothing in and of itself is ‘good.’ Look at this book’s claim that hiring some with or without certain qualities, which is a change, is bad. See?

Undeterred page 118 displays some ego by insisting that ever starting an interview answer with ‘no’ or ‘but’ or ‘however’ is unacceptable. All of the interviewer’s ideas must be met with a ‘yes.’ Otherwise, say the authors, the candidate has an “overactive ego.” That is, “yes that is a great idea” is the only favoured answer. This implies that the interviewer has the overactive ago in my opinion.

All in all, Who is fastidiousness and displays rigour. Having said that, as a hiring manager the biggest problem is finding candidates who are 50% let alone 90%. The sourcing tips of the book sure will get a workout and so does its insistence that compromise is a dirty word here. One cannot help becoming much more involved, intense and process-oriented again having read the book.

The book is a methodology, but one is again reminded that it is also a sales collateral. As with the beginning of the book, the conclusion reminds the reader that the authors and principles are available to be hired to run their recruitment seminars, be a “keynote speaker” and consult.

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Jun 262016

Essential Features Of A Real Team

Leading Teams Hackman









Early in the book author J. Richard Hackman, who is a scholarly expert on teams and managing them and a Harvard professor, writes about his own membership experience with teams and how he will never be on a specific one again himself.

The book is written on the basis of scientific research, including situational observations, and whilst including anecdotes and stories is backed by methodical study.

At the book’s end the author marvels that not even the best team leader can make a team effective. So why write this book? It is to say that the leader creates the conditions and the probability of success tilts to the favourable.


Conditions And Not Cause And Effect


The book begins by banishing several myths whose persistence has rendered them accepted wisdom.

  • Teams whose members work harmoniously perform better than those which experience conflict
  • A primary “cause” of team dynamics is the behavioural attributes of its leader – note the emphasis on ‘cause’ as causality is refuted soon enough in the book.
  • Larger teams perform better than smaller ones due to more resources
  • The performance of teams whose membership is constant deteriorates overtime as members lose attentiveness and forgive oversights and errors.

Each of these conventional wisdoms is wrong. Does the author have your attention?

Leading Teams Setting The Stage For Great Performances begins by distinguishing between two management philosophies:

  • Minimizing risk by reducing or eliminating self-management and scripting
  • Opening up to risk in order to exploit the benefits of self-management to do more for the customers and the creativity therein

The first option comes with opportunity costs such as underutility of team members’ intelligence, initiative and other obvious losses.

The second options may lead to excess creativity and the relegation of the customer as a priority

This book asserts that effective leadership does both: “threading carefully between the poles of creativity and control.”

In that instance impressive teams with impressive leaders:

  • Serve customers well
  • Are capable performing units that get better
  • Are comprised of individuals who learn and are fulfilled

The criteria for team effectiveness, however, changes depending on the situation and with it also changes the relative weight one assigns to these factors


Conditions And Not Cause And Effect


The book lists the 5 conditions a leader puts together in order to increase the chances for the above three instances:

  1. A real team is not in name only
  2. A compelling direction
  3. An enabling structure that facilitates work and does not hinder
  4. A supportive organizational culture and context
  5. Available and ample expert coaching

The book is insistent regarding environment and contextual causes and shuns the standard cause and effect correlation; however, a leader enabling the above conditions and triggering the right moves itself is a cause and effect, right?

In the chapter on A Real Team the author almost throws a thought grenade insisting that thinking has to be regarded to teams and away from individuals (be they leaders, best salespersons, etc.). Reorienting to group level thinking is unconventional, but makes sense within the context of the book’s message. A well setup team functions well and there is less emphasis on individuals. The message is reminiscent of the lesson offered in the recently reviewed book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Set the scene, fix the environment and even below par individuals perform better in above par groups.

In the same chapter the four features of real teams are itemized:

  • A team task exists
  • Clear boundaries exist
  • Clearly specified authority for members to perform is defined (Which suggests inclusion of executable work, monitoring and managing the work process, designing units and arranging for organizational support and of course setting direction and objectives) and
  • Membership stability over period of time is a given

Under providing team (page 63) with a Compelling Direction the author discusses a compelling script, invitation by the leader, a consultation to start to get the direction right and then the abandonment of concepts like “empower” and “consensus.” There are shades of Daniel Pink here.

Page 72 lists the Functions And Benefits Of Good Direction in a table.


Page 73 elucidates Setting Direction about Means versus Ends in a table

Table 3-2

It is counterintuitive but a nuclear power plant for instance requires the type of work that is in the upper right-hand quadrant.

Overall though a direction has to be challenging and achievable.

Bottom-line key to success: lead others compellingly and paint a picture of the end-state.


Conditions And Not Cause And Effect


Under Enabling Structure, which the authors arguably places the most emphasis, the obvious ask is for the leader to create a good basis so the team does not have to create one on its own.

The three structural features for effective teamwork are on page 98 and involve dividing up tasks and coordinating subtasks, but also changing task masters in order to give all a taste of the entirety of the concept.

In terms of how much autonomy to grant there is an interesting example on page 101. The writer takes the example of a worker whose work takes place during the midnight shift. These workers have the most autonomy in how to complete their task and take on the most responsibility. Yet, and by nature, risk is introduced.

Part of offering the team an enabling structure is getting the number of members right. Here research demonstrates the number to be 4.6. In terms of mix, another myth shattered is that homogenous team are at a disadvantage. Research suggests that there is little evidence they perform better and moreover are not liable to learn as much as heterogeneous ones., for example, is one company whose hiring practice emphasizes a mix of different people and skillsets.

If a member does not play well with others, the options are to isolate the person (wasteful) or to go ahead and put them in the middle of the team (dangerous) or the best alternative is to harvest the skills of this contributor and actively help the person integrate and working around the issues.

In Chapter five the author pays attention to motivation. Intrinsic and extrinsic ones and rewards are addictive and not mutually exclusive. So getting paid a salary or a bonus, for example, add to pleasure if one already has joy.

On a personal note, being a manager several years ago I proposed that a component of my sales team’s bonus/variable come from a shared team achievement number. The idea was to promote teamwork and make everyone on the team stakeholders in the others’ success. The idea was accepted and implemented beginning with the subsequent quarter’s payout. The corporation standardized again back out of my proposal a year later, but while in place seeing the team enjoy the fruits of each other’s labours and working together was something beautiful.

What does Leading Teams suggest are the three aspects of team effectiveness:

  1. Effort
  2. Performance Strategies
  3. Level of knowledge and skill applied

Different coachings should be aligned to the above. This coaching reduces free riding and is motivational, educational and consultative.

Coaching intervention is typically at the beginning, midpoint and endpoints (review time), but the author reinforces the notion that good behaviour should be reinforced at any time.

What coaching is not is to focus on interpersonal relationships. Again going against the grain, the author does not believe harmonious relationships are that important. In fact, the opposite is true, read this twice, good performance leads to good relationships.

However, before good coaching can take place the aforementioned direction, structure and context need to be in place. By the way, good coaching is of significantly more help to well-designed teams than poorly designed ones. It is the same old story, isn’t it? The rich get richer and the poor poorer.

As already mentioned the book makes a forceful effort to refute causation and effect. That is why there is a discussion and endorsement of the concept of equifinality. That is, there are many different ways a person, team or organization can behave and still reach the same outcome. Reading this reminded this writer of the Led Zeppelin line, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run…”but I digress. It is interesting though that the concept means a leader has the opportunity to expand his leadership repertoire. As long as conditions are set correctly and tasks are related to the goal good things may happen.

As much as there are multiple ways to go about leadership, there are definitely several way to not go about things:

  • Misleading or lying: destroyed credibility and moral issues
  • Ape someone else’s style: embarrassing and ineffectual
  • Resisting data: sticking with one’s preferences in the face of facts and data

Best is to have one’s own style, tend to facts and vary behaviour to match


Table 7-1

Leading Teams is a book built on science and empirical study. This quote on page 227 speaks personally and in several ways to something I have observed and marvelled at working at corporate teams. Leadership requires courage, may engender resistance and will rock the organizational boat. Doing what is expected and managing by polling is not leadership.


Conditions And Not Cause And Effect


Page 140: “Rather than make posters or hold motivational meetings, managers would be better advised to find ways to more directly link team behaviour with team outcomes.” The best way that is done is by improving the design of the work’s team. How? Challenging work, autonomy to accomplish and feedback and coaching.

What this book is either missing or lacking by design is the many other factors involved in leading teams. There are the problems, unexpected surprises, personality and authority clashes and motivational systems. Those are left to other books and studies.

Set the conditions, tinker and adjust as you observe and gather data that a correction is required.



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Jan 012016


switch book









Switch is a book about change. Its authors – brothers Chip and Dan Heath – claim the content is applicable to change in all situations, individual, organizational or societal. It does as it claims, but the emphasis is less on societal as perhaps the theories have been less applied on a grand scale, and despite its full title of Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard it does make the process seem simple with plenty of stories, anecdotes, ‘clinics’ and most importantly applicable information.
The Heaths believe that successful change has a pattern. Crucially, they assert that change comes as a function of the state created and the environment in which people, companies, departments, et cetra are placed. This is wholly different from the more traditional ‘change’ books, which emphasize creating and articulating a crisis or urgency.
Firstly, however, the authors remind us that there is the matter of the heart versus the mind or one side of the brain (the rational side) versus the other (the emotional side) and the latter is often stronger. It is a variation on the selfish id versus the conscientious superego. About now most would agree that the emotional side is the unsavoury one, but the book is steadfast that the notion is inaccurate. In fact, the emotional side – which the authors adopt from another book as ‘the elephant’ – is the one that gets change done. It is also the side of ‘drive.’ One needs both the elephant and the rational ‘rider.’ Having only one of the two is like possessing passion without direction or having understanding without motivation.

The outline for a ‘switch’ the authors offer becomes:
1- Direct The Rider
a. Find The Bright Spots
b. Script The Critical Moves
c. Point To The Destination

2- Motivate The Elephant
a. Find The Feeling
b. Shrink The Change
c. Grow Your People

3- Shape The Path
a. Tweak The Environment That Requires Change
b. Build The Habits That Support It
c. Rally The Herd

Direct the Rider – what seems like resistance is a lack of clarity. Clarity dissolves resistance. Be specific. Borrow words and use analogies. One has to Find The Bright Spots and stay away from ‘archaeology.’ In other words, the focus has to change from problems shift to solutions. This is noteworthy because conventional wisdom has it that to change or improve an understanding of the root causes for failure or inadequacy are necessities. Next is to Script The Critical Moves by showing how to change. Point To The Destination suggests a vision is needed to inspire. Change requires a script and not just high level direction. Ambiguity is the enemy. The change agent needs to be specific.
Motivate the Elephant – what is seen as laziness on the part of the people is actually sheer exhaustion. As such, the rider cannot always get his way. Change agents need to Find The Feeling for everyone, which means people’s elephant side responds to emotional convincing. As James Bond has said, “Made you feel it, did he?” The onus, furthermore, remains on the person seeking to change. That person must Shrink The Change and Grow The People. These are equally important and should be simultaneous. The onus is not on everyone whom is being asked to change. Everyone has heard the clichéd ‘raise the bar’ phrase. On page 129 the authors again show a taste for being different. They assert that ‘raising the bar’ is exactly the wrong instinct. Instead, it is more sage to lower the bar i.e. shrink the change or if not grow one’s people instead. One example provided is of a demonstration of different kinds of gloves piled onto a table to make a point tangible and visual.
Shape The Path – what looks like a person problem is actually a situation problem. Instead of solely focusing on the person’s Rider and Elephant it is important to Tweak The Environment and Rally The Herd. In the latter case because humans respond to peer pressure or, as the authors put it, peer perception. Speaking of Shaping The path the authors suggest it is very simple and very effective to create check lists. Yes the humble check list! Humans have a limited capacity for change as the mental muscles tire. The key is for everyone to realize that this is not synonymous with laziness. It is exhaustion getting in the way.

One reason the book is a likely success is that it is easy to consume and features stories, anecdotes and studies. Here are several points, which the book elaborates on:
• Do not dot on TBUs – things that are True But Useless. See above regarding avoiding archaeology.
• On page 82 the authors show more disloyalty to conventional thoughts. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals are found lacking by the authors. The book insists SMART lacks emotional resonance. As such, SMART is suitable for steady state situations and not for change goals. The key is behaviour level execution: marrying goals with short-term moves because it is impossible to script medium-term moves.
• As mentioned above a prerequisite for change is often said to be creating a crisis or a ‘burning platform. ’ Switch reports that this type of situation is good only for quick actions and not for lasting organizational change. This is due to its inherent negativity. What works better instead is a happy emotion as they innately broaden hope and creativity.
• The accepted script for taking action is Analyse>>Think>>Change. The authors believe it should be See>>Feel>>Change. Notice again the emphasis on the visual and emotional side of things.
• Somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Pink’s impressive Drive the authors sink their teeth into, what they believe, is the two models for decision making. The first is about consequences. It assumes a rational being. The second is identity (which could be cultivated). This is when people ask themselves ‘who am I?’ or ‘What would someone like I do?’ Humans, per the book, use the latter decision-making process to determine whether they would be a Republican or a Democrat to cite one example the book uses.
• The authors insist that it is crucial to at all times maintain a growth mind-set for it implies success. Success is not guaranteed by genetics. A static mind-set will lose regardless. The growth mind-set is melodramatically presented through an example on page 173 where mid-20th Century IBM CEO Thomas Watson – after whom the Watson computer is named – would summon an executive who had lost the company ten million in then dollars and instead of firing the man would keep him on because the man had just been given a very expensive education!
• Leaders who shape the path and lead change should be coaches and not score keepers. Moreover, specific behavioural prescriptions are what is needed and not merely grand vision devices and statements.

Switch is a fine book and reads easily. Its references to and quotations of various books and scholarly studies are appreciated. The authors place the onus on the environment and the methodology as opposed to the oft wrongly maligned individuals. There is not much could criticize here. As with any business book hindsight is 20/20 and whether the theories the authors leverage are ever invalidated is a concern. A couple of examples the authors use come across as suspect, but frankly they do not disprove the overall notions and are a small part of the book as a whole. As noted, the authors are insistent that a ‘good’ environment is a cure for many things. The authors note that twenty percent of American soldiers in Vietnam were drug addicts, while half had tried a drug or the other. In a survey, 1% of soldiers claimed they were drug users when in the better environment of the United States. Could the authors and we really take what the soldiers said as gospel? In other words, was it actually a more wholesome environment that drastically diminished drug usage or were the soldiers giving the answer they were expected to give? Speaking of gospel, the book non-chalantly throws in the following good habits: jogging, praying, brushing our teeth… and soon comes a particular beef of mine. One culture seeing its own morality and values as better or superior to another. While the prevention of AIDS in Africa is definitely a laudable goal and those engaged in the fight are praiseworthy the authors and a US organization also pass judgment on Tanzanian older men having sex with younger women and try to end the practise on which they report. Shaping or exporting cultural norms, history shows, are arrogant and often lead to disastrous consequences. The authors would do well to remove the implied inherent hubris.
Switch is a good read on the subject of change instillation and, for better or worse, mostly different from more conventional transformation management books.

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Dec 112015


kim jong il production book









Having recently read a book on culture in South Korea and enjoyed the information it was a fitting time to read a book on intrigue, spy craft and, yes, culture in North Korea or, as it is officially known, the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea. This book also has a major connection to the US dominated South Korea or Republic Of Korea.

A Kim Jong-Il Production’s subject-matter and its particular story are completely novel to me, but one both learns much about both Koreas and finds himself engrossed in a fantastic tale.

The book centres on two icons of Korean cinema, Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-OK, a couple who were kidnapped and taken north to feed the lunacy of Kim Jong-Il and his perverted fake communist country. At the time of the events, Jong-Il’s father Kim Il-Sung was the ruler of North Korea, but the son was in effect second-in-command and seizes the South Korean pioneers and this story.

As many know, North Koreans have abducted Japanese nationals off Japan’s soil and illicitly repatriated them to the former country across the water. What is less known is how the ‘hermit kingdom’ had done the same to other nationals including their kin in the south. Two victims of the north’s thuggery are the subjects of A Kim Jong-Il Production. The book’s title refers to the dictator’s love for film, the occupation of the kidnapees and the country as a whole. The former dictator was a lover of movies. According to the book, he likely had the world’s biggest private film collection, had a staff of 250 take care of them, had North Korean embassies duplicate films for him and decided North Korea shall enjoy its own silver screen exports for monetary and propaganda purposes. Japan’s success with a film like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon was one instigator.

The book’s actors and its accounts have come under suspicion – this being North Korea fool proof independent verification is impossible – and the author recognizing this goes to some length to verify and check the story independently. Unbelievably Choi and Shin were even permitted travel to London, England, West Berlin and elsewhere following their kidnapping and claim they did not gain the opportunity to make their escapes. Having said that, much of his source material comes from first-hand communication with Madame Choi and the book The Kingdom Of Kim Jong-Il by the actors. Author Paul Fischer is not an expert on Korea, but is a good writer. Moreover, Choi’s memory is so good – evidently.

As the cliché has it life in North Korea is stranger and more esoteric than fiction. In fact, the tales are so strange that one does not know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of the human condition. Indeed, the book could be read as a novel of intrigue and espionage, but is a tale of two talented individuals caught in the world of sham communism-turned-nationalism-gone-berserk.

The author has disdain for the North Korean rules and rulers and, as he exposes their crimes, one wonders whether he should not have kept a more dispassionate stance. He calls Jong-Il “Yura,” which is his Russian birth name more often than warranted as if out of spite and for long after is necessary for instance. In another, movie-related circumstance the author reports that up to one-third of North Korea’s population either directly worked as an informant for the government or acted in the service of the same, but with ‘progress’ groups of up to thirty citizens would come together to watch films on illegal VCRS and DVDs away from the prying eyes of the government. Notwithstanding Kim’s debauchery, lust for the girls of the Pleasure Brigade, owning his own train, which ran partly on exclusive tracks his numerous idiosyncrasies are something else. Having said that, despite being a psychopath Kim Jong-Il the author, via his interlocutors, reports the man to be aware of the sham his kingdom was and to not have been personally deluded by the grand show around him.

The few photographs included in the film are interesting – especially one of Choi being greeted by the water upon arrival by Kim himself. A bibliography is present. Other than that the book is chockful of fascinating tales from the other side of the world.


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Nov 112015


Korean cool book








As an important economist, Ha-Joon Chang the author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth Of Free Trade And The Secret History Of Capitalism, has argued partly utilizing his South Korean knowledge, a centrally designed and formulated economy is one which best serves growing or aspiring economies. Euny Hong’s The Birth Of Korean Cool is a concrete example of the successes of an actively interventionist government and the merits of concerted central planning. Euny Hong has likely not read Chang, but her book could easily be the entertainment corollary to Chang’s research.
That South Korean culture has made much progress in recent years is not news. Gangnam Style and PSY (which inspired the cover of the book), Rain, SNSD, Oldboy, My Sassy Girl and drama like Winter Sonata are famous the world over. Still, could South Korea become the number one exporter of pop culture, replacing the USA, as the Korean-American author reports from her country of birth?
Before continuing here are a couple of idiosyncrasies and oddities. The book begins with a statement that certain identifying characteristics, dates, places and other details of events have deliberately been changed. This is strange for a non-fiction book. Additionally, and for a book covering pop culture, there are not any photographs. One finds multiple grammatical and conventional mistakes peppered throughout the book. Page 7 reads, “government who has….” Page 11 notes that, “had forbidden my sisters and me…” Page 9 remembers that “when my family moved to Korea, in 1985,..” Moreover, Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea or North Korea might take umbrage with the constant reference to South Korea as “Korea.” The famous Korean penchant for cosmetic surgery also gets an airing. When describing the double eyelid surgery, in which the author has also partaken, one could not avoid feeling denial is at work. She claims her compatriots undergo this surgery not for Westerners or to look like them, but do so for themselves. Forgive my scepticism. At the very least, one could be undergoing the surgery for oneself too when one wants to look closer to a Westerner. Then there is the instance when she claims that K-pop is buttoned down… which K-pop has she been listening to and watching?

The Birth of Korean Cool is a fun and interesting page-turner that discusses South Korea’s determination to export its culture and the level of government involvement and public-private collaboration that is occurring. The book has much to say regarding the agility and sophistication it takes and the levels of horizontal and vertical integration in the ‘cultural’ industries of South Korea.
South Korea is aiming for “soft power” plan and has multiple five-year plans to successfully enact it. The effort has been going on for some five decades, but it received added prominence when the government determined to push Korean culture abroad even harder following the famous 1997 Asian crisis after which even the country’s mega-conglomerates (Chaebols) re-adjusted. Hong points out that unlike most countries South Korea has no military complex to rely on for growth or industrialization. Based on a 1953 treaty with the United States the country is barred from such activity. On page 98 under the title ‘The World’s Coolest…’ the author discusses the nerve centre of Hallyu or culture. According to the author a ministry in charge sounds dystopian – not really – but there indeed is a Ministry of Culture whose divisions coordinate and push cultural ‘technology’ like holograms, artificial rainbows, Korean designs, fireworks for use at concerts and more all with a buttoned down bureaucrat in charge. Nonetheless, or rather because of it, this sector of the South Korean economy is now a major revenue generator. The book attempts to explain its rapid growth from levels near zero.

Yes, there is a film five-year plan and a musical five-year plan and so forth. The book seems to confuse pop culture with technology such as microchips however. The book’s emphasis is on ‘hallyu’ or Korean popular culture, but it has no problems seamlessly transitioning from one sector to the other. The author theorizes that hallyu started with electronics. This is interesting, but again there is not much proof that LG, Samsung, Hyundai and other are drivers. However, if Hong means indirectly by earning the country revenue and making the investment and policies possible then she has a much better case.
The book leads the reader to a discussion of Confucianism and the concepts of national shame and Han, which could be described as a persistent and lingering fury and resentment. These notions drive the Koreans and are complicit in their quest. There is also reference to the stringent Korean education system with its intense requirements including rote memorization and after-school academics’ (Hakwon) custom. On page 47 the author recounts an amazing concentration exercise involving paper and chopsticks she has observed. Sign me up for a demonstration!
Han is especially targeted at Japan, which colonized Korea in the first half of the last century and whose cultural and technological exports are directly targeted by the South Koreans. Much of the endeavour and protectionism is directed at Japan and the West. With Japan earning its own section in the book the author discusses the other Asian cultural and economic giant. There are many valid and relevant points, but the reader has the nagging feeling that Hong suffers from confirmation bias. J-pop and the Japanese film industry are not quite as dead as the author contends. AKB48 is huge, Japanese films are popular the world over, Baby Metal is coming on strong, so on and so forth. In the same context, there is little discussion about how K-pop is largely South Korea’s take on Western music, dance and imagery. Korean food is correctly cited as popular in USA. It is claimed that is so largely due to one David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku chain. Aside from the wild exaggeration, omitted is the fact that the chain’s name is Japanese or how the chain doesn’t actually serve Korean cuisine. Moreover, when contrasting South Korea from Japan, the author notes the population of Japan to be 100 million strong. The number is actually 127 million. This maybe more than a mere error because Hong is distinguishing the two countries.
How are the five-year plans and interventionist government plans being executed? South Korea has deployed government economists to plan its invasion by country of export, offer detailed analyses and plan sector-by-sector advancement. The author contends that South Korea is well-positioned because, having until recently been a Third-World country, it understands what is needed and whom it is targeting.
Still there is much to criticize or, at least, take in with a punch of salt here. Page 248 has a surreal claim that there is ”no doubt” that the Korean effort is destined to go well. The USA helped South Korea and look what happened, remembers Hong. South Korea’ analogous approach to third-world countries will have a similar effect. The determination and prowess of the competition from France, Germany, Japan, China and persistence of US efforts to grow or maintain their influences and cultures have no bearing it seems. Could the Koreans really seriously penetrate the West given the language barrier? There is no denying that US’ (and Canada, Australia, UK, etc.) domination of popular culture has been partly due to the English language’s global dominance.
It is also predicted that hallyu will bring USA and South Korea together – such is its potency – although this like many other statements seems more perfunctory than rooted in data.

The South Korean Government has an investment fund of $1 billion allocated to this specific effort. Indeed, there are industrial divisions focusing on museums, pop music, opera, ballet and films too. As part of South Korea’s interventionist stance we learn of the grants the government allocates to its film industry. Of note, a full 50% of cinema receipts were directed to K-film. That is, foreign films’ success was subsidizing the domestic completion. One does wonder how global liberalizations – international rules such as GATT – ended up conspiring to remove and wind down such measures. Regardless, Korean films progressed both domestically and internationally due to a deliberate “National strategy” to make South Koreans films popular.

Lest, the point has not sunk in about how seriously the country is taking its goal Hong reports that one-third of that country’s venture capital is spent on the entertainment industry. Left unsaid, but important, is how private capital has a short-term view of things and it takes government mobilization to think long-term – as the Japanese did for decades. Tellingly, the author fails to mention that Japan’s progress in the twentieth century has made quite an impression on its eastern neighbour. Much of what South Korea is attempting is modelled after and inspired by the Japanese experience.

Here are a few interesting facts and figures found in the book:

• South Korea is the fifteenth largest economy in the world.
• Hallyu refers to Korean culture. Hansik refers to Korean food.
• Korean food features five tastes and kimchi is especially good with Korean rice which is that country’s staple and like many other things influenced by Confucianism of elements.
• The popular Korean alcohol soju could either be drunk or used to clean tables as it cuts through grease.
• Kim Jong-Nam, the older brother of current North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un and a one-time heir apparent to that country’s throne, once tried to enter Japan on a Dominican Republic passport ostensibly to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was deported.
• Finally, until two decades ago teachers used to routinely beat the students at school.

As hinted, the book comes occasionally across as a personal observation-cum-memoir, which translates into a fun read. Likely even the author wouldn’t call her own book a historical or scholarly study. A few tangents and seemingly unrelated history give The Birth Of Korean Cool context.
Aside from meandering, there is a fair bit of self-depreciation, nostalgia and humour in the biographical and other content’s context. When noting the discipline and hard work that constitutes the Korean regimen the author remembers her parents would wake her up to “watch the fucking sunrise.” The author confesses that she would rather undergo waterboarding than watch a highly celebrated South Korean ‘80s movie for example.
As the final phase and completion of South Korea’s transformation Hong mention that her birth country is developing a sense of irony. You must have wealth first before you could mock it!

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Nov 032015


negotiation genius book








I had read the book Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In years ago. Was Negotiation Genius similar or a variation on the earlier book’s content? It seemed like a reasonable question as, aside from matching subject matters, both books were co-written by Harvard|Business|School professors and even contained a discussion on the concept of BATNA. Incidentally, the stylized institute name on the book’s cover matches the logo and marketing of the school. Ironically, while a genius implies one is born with the ability and creativity, this book teaches the reader how to negotiate in the corporate world.

As it turns out Negotiation Genius stands on its own and does so exceedingly well. It could well be described as an authoritative one-stop content shop for everything on the topic within the corporate arena.

The Introduction is quick to present an intriguing situation and promise to put it through the prism of workshops, MBA courses and real life scenarios. The Introduction poses several questions as it presents different scenarios, but withholds answers. Instead, it equates “gut instinct” with “shooting from the hip” as it lays down a marker for the rest of the book to advocate a scientific and methodical approach to negotiating. Having said that, in my opinion, the two concepts are distinct and, in fact, the former is a function of experience.

Negotiation Genius is divided into three parts: Negotiator’s Toolkit, Psychology Of Negotiation and Negotiating In The Real World. It promises real scenarios and empirical research.

The book proper starts with the notion that claiming value is a must and that it should begin prior to the commencement of the negotiation. Assess your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement), Calculate Your Reservation Value (or your ‘walk away’ point), assess the other party’s BATNA and RV too. Then evaluate the respective ZOPAs (Zone Of Possible Agreements), which are the areas where both parties could agree to and an understanding could be reached. It lies between the buyers and sellers’ RVs. Page 27 addresses a question that is often discussed. Who should make the first offer? Should it be you or should you allow the other party to proceed first? The authors suggest it should be you if you are in-the-know regarding the other party’s RV and can make an educated, yet aggressive, anchor offer. A lack of substantial information says that it is best to allow the other party to make the best offer. Either way, the book cites a fascinating study culled from the world of real-estate. Not for the last time the book suggests ignoring the other party’s aggressive opening salvo. A similar guidance is offered later in the book for those facing ultimate. Here the authors advise giving very low anchors of the other side no credence. On the other hand do speak about your own anchor and justify it well. Complement it by a softening proposition that you and the other party have to “bridge the gap.” The authors take care to maintain that relationships are to be preserved and one must remain cognizant of the other party’s sensitivities. Pages 42 and 43 address effective haggling strategies including the aforementioned ZOPA and RV concepts and more. Regrettably, the example of United Nations’ Richard Holbrooke is uninspiring. It is not often that one could find a $30 million donation from someone like Ted Turner to resolve an impasse.

Chapter two tackles the oft neglected, but considerably important subject of creating value. This is contrasted with the more famous notion of ‘adding value.’ To create value one must expand both the topic and the scope. Moreover, to create value one must identify all issues together and make package offers that include alternatives. One of the book’s main concepts, that of logrolling, is here. One should consider giving up something one values, if the other party values it more… except, it should not be given away. It should be sold away. The differences in priorities create value in logrolling. In short, the more issues one discusses simultaneously, the more currency one has. Page 65 offers several examples of issues one could introduce. These include financing, delivery date, arbitration clauses, warrantee, exclusivity options and more. However, when on page 69 the authors detail the Value Creation concept it does feel slightly off. For should one party’s value not be realized the X + Y formula would obviously not materialize either. The book then falls back on the concept of “expected value.” Page 72 speaks to how to prepare for negotiations. Strategies include:

  1. Identify Your Multiple Interests
  2. Create A Scoring System
  3. Calculate A package reservation Value
  4. Identify The Other Party’s Multiple Interests

In the Investigative Negotiation chapter the authors report on an actual case where “Chris” flies to Europe to break the logjam in negotiations and promptly does so by asking the question ‘why.’ Having promptly solved the problem and successfully concluded the negotiations ‘Chris’ is triumphantly back in the United States. The weakness of this instance outdoes the earlier UN example. After all what sort of a negotiating team did this company have in Europe when they had not even thought to ask ‘why’ the other party was behaving in a certain way.

The core and most concrete content of the book may be until this point. Having said that, there is plenty more on offer. One principle to keep in mind is that a negotiation should never end with a “no,” but rather either with a “yes” or “why not?” This is more consequence of value creation. Above all, logrolling depends on how much information one could get. To get information:

  1. Build Trust And Share Information
  2. Ask Questions – Especially If You Are Surprised Or Sceptical
  3. Give Away Some Information
  4. Negotiate Multiple Issues Simultaneously
  5. Make Multiple Offers Simultaneously

Part II of the book discussed 4 types of bias (mere rationality is not enough): there are biases of the mind and biases of the heart.

Part III and Chapter 7 discuss and define Strategies Of Influence:

  1. Highlight Their Potential Losses rather Than Potential Gains
  2. Disaggregate Their Gains And Aggregate Their Losses
  3. Employ The “Door In The Face” Technique, which suggests one could ‘settle’ when the first offer is refused. Compliance increases after an initial rejection.
  4. Employ The “Foot In The Door” Technique. Once the other party is committed then that there is skin in the game and a stake is established.
  5. Leverage The Power Of Justification and use “because” to explain your request
  6. Leverage The Power Of Social Proof
  7. Make Token Unilateral Concessions and finally
  8. Use Reference Points To Make Your Offers And Demands Seem Reasonable. People like the feel they are getting a good deal and should feel they are presented with a “steal.”

The book tackles the psychology of negotiating at length. The strategies here are valuable and perhaps occasionally obvious, but this section is still important. Page 164 has several good ones, which, as said, may be obvious but critical to be understood (think ‘bracketing’ for example.). While several pertinent bullet points are listed on page 179 the book backs itself up by quoting Fortune magazine, which is ironic. For one, the authors had just finished stating that corporate offices are often wrong. For another, there is no indication the corporate media is any more accurate than corporations themselves. It is hoped that the authors have mastered their own logic and have no need to avail themselves of corporate journalistic opinions. A couple of other oddities are the authors’ analyses of the Nader/Gore/Bush situation when they assume the first two held many similar views. The Book empirically advises against lying in negotiating situations and prescribes against believing that experience is a good guide. Ironically, the authors do note that 72 ‘inexperienced’ MBA students also didn’t get it – likely, and this is my contention, due to a lack of practical experience.

Finally, the comprehensive Negotiating Genius offers ample footnotes, an index and a handy Glossary for quick reference. One does note that the authors mean to say ‘subconscious’ when they instead write ‘unconscious.’ That slight snag aside, Negotiation Genius does live up to its lofty title and could be seen as either a comprehensive tome or a conscious reference source.



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Aug 032015



little red book









To be upfront Little Red Book Of Selling and its author Jeffrey Gitomer came this way with my prejudices built-in. Gitomer had previously endorsed a shallow book called Never Cold Call Again by an author whom moreover many have accused of spamming and shady business practices. Was it guilt by association or was Gitomer’s work in the same league as the aforementioned book?

The claims and standards assigned to the little red book are not trivial. “It’s about how to make sales forever..” Is it hyperbole? Could the book deliver? The author, speaker and sales trainer is obviously a bombastic and forward person with exuberance to spare. Perhaps, and as such, aside from the book’s informal and colloquial style grammar shall be damned. Page twenty one, for example, notes that “the one’s who can’t seem…” Elsewhere, at whom is this book aimed at? On page 28, and on the subject of fear, Gitomer reminds one that external means outside and that internal is inside.
Stylistically, the man and the book are `loud and proud,’ which anecdotally may fit with his having lived and sold in New York City for five years. The book itself has an inventive layout and stands out. The loudness comes through with its red colour. It contains `redbits,’ cartoons and bold fonts to go with its irreverent and conversational tone. The author also drives traffic to his website when answers are not in the book. It is easy to understand the need for self-promotion, but constantly referring readers to the website for content is not offering value to the reader. The author also mention another site, namely, and also references other books.
Is the book an actual sales technique book or more of a motivational tome like the stuff Zig Ziglar used to put out? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the author also is implying strictly sales technique methodologies like SPIN, Sandler or QBS are not wholly thorough or that a combination of sales technique and softer touches are a more rounded approach.

In one respect, Gitomer is like Wal-Mart. He really likes fractions. The book’s message is one of 12.5 Principles Of Sales Greatness. These are:
Kick your own ass.
Prepare to win or lose to someone who is.
Personal branding is sales: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
It’s all about value, it’s all about relationship. It’s not all about price.
It’s not work, it’s network.
If you can’t get in front of the real decision maker, you suck.
Engage me and you can make me convince myself.
If you can make them laugh, you can make them buy!
Use creativity to differentiate and dominate.
Reduce their risk, and you’ll convert selling to buying.
When you say it about yourself, it’s bragging. When someone else says it about you, it’s proof.
Antennas Up
Resign your position as general manager of the universe.

Moreover there are 8.5 attributes of success.

The book emphasises fear as the biggest problem. One is his own biggest enemy unless one takes risks. On page forty the book wonders what causes a slump. You do! While this is possible and often so one has to think many other factors contribute and could also be `causes’ … this is another example where one cannot believe in the medicine if the disease has been misdiagnosed. Also on the same page the author implores the reader to make a plan for success, which prompts one to ask “how?” The question is of what is the plan comprised? In the same mould, this reader was not a fan of the “winner versus whiner” anecdotes. Factually speaking, whining is a human defence mechanism. Life is not so black and white. People fall on different spots on a spectrum. Finally, and on the same theme, it is not in good taste to also have charity activities fall under the personal branding umbrella for promotion, material wealth and ego as espoused on page 58.
The book turns more sales-specific around page 72 where Gitomer gets into the discussion of price versus value. The author talks at length about giving value. Give first and give freely. He also mentions something that has been on my mind for years, namely after-sale service. This is a much more important point than the amount of space it is given. Gitomer adds that one is not a commodity, put yourself in front of people, be friendly and network. On the subject of price page 77 offers this quotation to ask customers: “price or profit Mr. Jones. Which would you rather have? Price lasts for a moment Mr. Jones, profit lasts for a life-time.” Adds Gitomer, all executives want more profit and this would be a good acid test of whether one is speaking to the correct person. For early sales stages Gitomer advises one not to sell product and service. Instead, sell the appointment and a profit-driven answer instead of yourself or your product. On the subject of questions Gitomer wants salespeople to ask “power questions,” which sound like SPIN’s Implication and Need Payoff questions, and not closed questions which he calls “dumb questions.” Ask questions, but smart questions that lead to value and to price. Smart questions tell customers you are smart.

Elsewhere Gitomer dedicates space to positive thinking. He claims that thinking you can is 50% of outcome – yes exactly that. He again reiterates that one has to make connections everywhere even in the bathroom (p. 181). He reminds salespeople to have humour and to laugh at oneself. The writer does not forget to address risk reduction: first find out what the risk is and address what is often not explicit. This book exceptionally does not have jacket, or other, testimonials, but it claims strong support for them. There is a noteworthy quote on page 183 (agree or disagree) which is especially interesting. The quotation emphasizes that selling is not about techniques. “Selling is about focus and creative verbal exchange.” Gitomer also encourages you to work at it, although to be precise one wonders why the concepts have to be mutually exclusive in the first place. As an added remark and as something that comes across as a little bit of fatherly advice Gitomer ends his book with the sage advice for us to mind our own business with non-sales issues and instead focus on selling. Remain positive and, for those who want to know which book he recommends (in addition to Never Cold Call Again!), Gitomer suggests we think like (and read) the book The Little Engine That Could: think you can!


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Jan 252015


Thomas Freese









Book number two by Thomas Freese, the author of Secrets of Question Based Selling: How the Most Powerful Tool in Business Can Double Your Sales Results, is not a sales methodology program. Rather, it is a collection of 100 lessons covering sales. Per the title, the idea is that doing so many things just a little better than the competition is a winning proposition – as opposed to being a whole lot better than the completion in one or two things.
The book is rather old now. Take a look at the older book’s picture inside – yes, Thomas is not averse to advertising his other book or services herein – to see what I mean, but the QBS material was good and so is the follow-up. Indeed, this one covers that one and recaps some of it to the benefit of the reader. There is the obvious insistence on asking diagnostic questions. This requires deliberate preparation by the salesperson. Freese is known for his implication questions (a la SPIN Selling) and against pitches. It emphasizes that selling through an internal champion is important. Since they do not have sales training coaching them with positioning statements is as important (a la Sandler). Freese is for creating curiosity and against FAB (Feature, Advantage, Benefit selling). To achieve conversations with higher levels of the customer he suggests saying: over the past months we have talked with a number of your employees but I am concerned we are not addressing the real issue or the big picture. My favourite lesson, however, is about working hard being the best technique..
As a process Freese talks up PAS (in order: Problem, Alternative, Solution) and not SAP, which he believes the competition and traditional selling utilizes. P or Problem is addressed by establishing credibility via those short diagnostic questions. One wonders how he explains that over at SAP if he gets a gig there! He notes that buyers do not have needs, which is why one must transition from presentation to discovery.
Establish needs by asking a few questions to build value against instead – the uncovered needs fuel prospect interest.
Elsewhere on page 131 a lesson advises that if you sell yourself as one smart person whatever you are selling will sell itself. On page 136 there is some counterintuitive advise to not necessarily follow up with prospects, but rather to jot a note on a fax (yes, dated) or other correspondence and ask them to follow up.
On page 155 Freese talks about becoming comfortable at the customers’ by taking the jacket off. This one is noteworthy not only for its advice, but also both because it is the opposite of traditional sales advice and also because it shows that the author is a little bit of a rebel. Who knew? Once at a customer’s office he was prohibited from taking his jacket off. What does he do? In defiance, he stealthily takes his shoes off, which is funny. For the record, my rule of thumb has been to always dress one level more formally than the customer.

Amidst the 100 counsels there are a few obvious ones or information one has seen elsewhere. First, given the format it is reminiscent of compilations like The 25 Sales Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople.
One, for example, is to always offer customers several price options in order to uncover the customer’s budget and also be able to sell more and more often. So here are a few final notes about the book: Thomas Freese has actually been in sales and gets it. The book is slightly dated as times move fast. Either way, the book is easy to read. The writer makes the reader comfortable by telling us he has carried the bag, admitting there are so many sales courses and classes salespersons have probably sat through and that many may have been boring. Of course, he sells himself ad nauseam, which is not so bad, in this case, because one gets anecdotes and recaps from his earlier book.
Finally, who does Tom think is the best salesperson ever? Why, Mrs. Bill Gates of course.

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Aug 032014


linchpin book









The Sub-title for the book is “Are You Indispensable?” Those are mighty words in a modern economy that has been sold to us as a normalized state of flux where being mobile and flexible are sold as a given virtue.

In Linchpin, prolific author, marketer, pundit and thinker Seth Godin, exhorts and espouses the imperative to become a namesake person by leading, gifting, giving, standing out and generally not be “a cog in the giant industrial machine.” Godin asserts that linchpins who lead us and connect us in this manner, counterintuitively, will have secured their present and future as today’s economy is ruthlessly punishing the fearful. There is no map on how to go about this, but a Linchpin rejects the compliance lessons he has learnt at school and at work and instead of being silenced and cowed charts his own path of “genius” via the aforementioned qualities, by creating value, chucking the rule book, making a difference and creating order. The assumption here is that one wants to be a linchpin and cares enough in the first place.

Before continuing, however, it should be pointed out that while the above promise does indeed come across as praiseworthy there are plenty of reasons to go in doubting both this book and its author. After all, motivational speakers and modern age ‘gurus’ are a dime-a-dozen. Moreover, while many people have positively commented on the author’s Purple Cow, and other works, his The Dip seemed personally unimportant and incomplete to me. Even worse, my skepticism is reinforced when recalling that this is the same author who sifted through online directories to come up with a printed directory called E-Mail Addresses of the Rich & Famous in 1994, with which he annoyed a few rich and famous people by printing their e-mail addresses, but then would release a book called Permission Marketing in 1999.

With that declaration in place what about Linchpin? The core concept is sane and the assertion noble. The author’s reminder that the traditional workplace, media and school perpetuate myths and render one compliant in exchange for stability is not odd, but that world is gone. Furthermore, Godin’s ridicule of mainstream nonsense mongers like Thomas Friedman is one of his many progressive arguments and another cause for applause.

In the book, which as said comes across as a motivational speech-cum-rally, there is a whole lot of pandering and a whole lot more of encouraging. Linchpin, the author explains, is a matter of attitude and not learning. It is about people who put in emotional labour. One has a choice and one has to resist the resistance, push back the “lizard brain” and chart a path by creating value.

This new Linchpin way is the new bargain replacing the old money/job/stability-for-compliance and conformity order. The new proletariat owns the means of production (computers, say), which is a shocking statement that is far from true and even refers to Friedman’s “world is flat” drivel. The only difference between a mediocre rule follower and a linchpin is that the latter has never bought into the self-limiting line of thought or, my addition, has freed himself from it. Page 43 of the book has a diagram in which Godin depicts being his favoured Linchpin as a confluence of charm, talent and perseverance. A tall order, sure, but recall that we are all geniuses in something at least (patronizing?) or could be so by changing our attitudes. The race to the top is achieved by leaning in, persevering, throwing out the rule book, not giving up, creating art and giving it freely. Somewhat paradoxically, on its surface, a linchpin says no 1- never (always finds a way to say “yes”) or 2- all the time (being a visionary means uttering “no” is with good intentions given how saying “yes” obstructs the art and the achievement). Godin, congruently, comes out against the concept of time for money/work for pay. He deems selling oneself to the highest bidder cheap and asks the reader to opt for creating art instead. The concept, as espoused on page 87, really does seem to target the core of the capitalist system. As cheekily, and on page 79, Godin advises against creating resumes and concealing one’s true self in order to get a job. After all if one has to conceal his identity to obtain a job, then he needs to bury it in order to keep the job.

In the second half of the Linchpin Godin drops the actual reprise of the word “linchpin” and goes about supporting his premise by lateral assertions. Here one learns that linchpins are all bout passion and art. Moreover, it is not art if it is not offered for free and freely. The more one gives away the more one receives. “The easier it is to quantify, the less its worth.”

How does one know that the lizard brain is at work resisting the said concepts? Here are examples: one does not ship product/art/results on time. “Late is the first step to never.” Making excuses, suffering anxiety on what to wear, procrastination demonstrates a lack of desire to learn new skills, start committees instead of acting, join committees instead of leading, not asking questions or asking too many, be boring or waiting for tomorrow. The whole discussion on shipping and not resisting the “lizard brain” is expanded upon with a touch on neurology and evolution. Godin insists that we abandon fear and that the more one hides the more likely it is to fail. Find the wind of resistance and move towards it and face it down. A successful artists completes the idea – although even false had had ideas.

Having said all of the above, Godin either seems to misunderstand the nature of some people or being American plays the brainwashed game. He claims it is a pity that a chance encounter with an ex-US soldier showed how said former soldier/current sales guy is simply following his boss’s orders instead of being an artist and going above and beyond. Clearly, soldiers are more courageous and talented than that! In fact, all jarheads are trained to comply and outsource thinking and reasoning. Obeying standard rules and not questioning is the way of the soldier. Given such an error one wonders what Godin was thinking.

Where he makes more sense – but not necessarily being correct or truthful to readers – is when addressing a hiring company’s perspective. Obviously, as he advocates spearheading the genius inside to becoming a linchpin Godin knows many wonder what if the ‘machine’ out there is resisting the paradigm change. It often is the case that corporations suck employees’ strengths dry increasingly destroying employees, society and the nation with their folly. It is all fine and good for one to secure one’s future, but not by necessarily with the present employer. What about the lack of acceptance and progressive corporations/businesses/societies to go with the rise in quantity and quality of linchpins? Firstly, Godin believes stepping out of line is not harmful to one’s career. In fact, he insists that since the demise of the ‘factory order’ it is quite the opposite. He adds that a company now wants employees to be a linchpin. Turn to page 36 and Godin is telling employers to hire, nurture and pay linchpins to transform into likewise companies and enjoy employees who work harder, longer, better and deliver more. Companies, he insists, should not be afraid to make employees linchpins and not be afraid of them either. The book sets it off as linchpins versus workplace drones – clearly a simplification (but Godin disagrees).

In his quest to set parameters for a race to the top Seth Godin has little room for shades of grey. On page 55 he grants a major exception for organizations which are centralized, monopolistic, safe and cost sensitive. The author, however, emphasizes that such companies are paying a price and will not garner customer loyalty. However, as it seems to be the case with most modern books of this sub-genre, the author eschews footnotes or scientific and controlled studies to prove his point. Moreover, the material is often redundant and repetitive. It is a long read that could be entertaining or interesting, but also hammers the point again and again.

Finally, here are a few words more about the incidentals in the book. The book’s cover artwork looks lifted off the Hydro Utility Workers’ Union collateral. The book is essentially a 220-page conversational and rousing speech to break the rules and to prove his point, and in keeping with the spoken nature, the author pays little heed to grammar. Fragmented or backward sentences are the norm. “once one person in your class or your town had a car, others needed one” is one of hundreds of examples. Beginning sentences with ‘and’ like “and it worked but this isn’t enough” are also common. Worse, sentences like “the typical household spent a tiny fraction of what we do on everything in our budget” are confusing.

As mentioned, Godin has been prolific and he manages to subtly name drop his other books in order to give us examples of his prescriptions. He nonchalantly mentions several of his better-selling works.

The Seven Abilities of The Linchpin:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization.
  2. Delivering unique creativity.
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity.
  4. Leading customers.
  5. Inspiring staff.
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge.
  7. Possessing a unique talent.
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May 192013


the long tail






This book makes an important albeit, perhaps, obvious point. It is something that most people younger than a certain age instinctively understand.

The long tail in the age of Internet is a model where abundance and endless variety is available and can be found and filtered. Costs being near zero this long tail of goods – although the book clearly focuses on music and film – is a revenue stream equal to or superior to the head, which in mainstream parlance is the hits or what is available in a typical retail outlet. The book was initially instigated when author Chris Anderson, who at the time edited Wired magazine, was meeting with someone at a company called Ecast and was surprised to find how deep the sales `tail’ extended. That is, how much obscure titles sold in aggregate. Also, the title of the book stems from the type of curve representing powerlaws an example of which is linguist George Zipf’s observations on frequency of words’ usage (and many other things). Note: clearly an obscure product would not sell as much as a well-publicized or mainstream one, but in total the sum of available non-mainstream `long tail’ products would match or surpass their better-known cousins. Now imagine a business (on the net) that can supply an infinite choice to its customers not constrained by what page 94 calls the “tyranny of the shelf.”

Incidentally, and as an aside, pages 90 and 91 taught me that there are no atoms in bits – something I had believed was unimaginable. The author makes mention of how one can reduce atoms to zero as well as getting rid of atoms. I didn’t know what to make of it and had to ponder the physical reality of it.

Here are the secrets to the Long Tail business:

1- Make Everything Available
2- Help Me Find It

Don’t panic. In the model described costs are near zero. Traditional economics are placed on its head. As the author reminds us economics is the science of scarcity, but while many things like money and time remain scarce the shelf space or incremental cost of the net are approaching a cost of zero.

The principles are focused on CD (music) and DVD (film) likely because it is still the dawn of Internet and the available data is limited. Still, at the book’s end there is a perfunctory attempt to go beyond the aforementioned markets. Having said that, still half the non-music and film examples are Internet-related. What is more, likely partly due to the data and the industry and partly due to the author’s location the data, if not the conclusions, is US-centric. It is still universally applicable but Yahoo, Rhapsody, Netflix are all USA-based. These are several of the main companies the author cites as case studies.

Anderson thinks that this model not only supports his central thesis, but also proclaims the end of the era of central command and control. Not so fast, he should check who owns most of these Internet bits and bytes assets. The answer is the same moguls and conglomerates that own everything else. More importantly, the medium is now the centre. Never mind. He makes a point about fragmented and decentralized micro niches being the end of hits and the mainstream.

The concept discussed is really a simple and observable one that the author takes to in detail. Occasionally it is inarticulate and occasionally it is self-servingly elongated. Ultimately, it is not improbable to see how it could have been an article (in Wired magazine?) or a Blog post (which it once was) given its data, theme and conclusion.

Finally, I bet former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is misquoted from the company’s first shareholder’s meeting where he did not say, “we were able to capture very large and historically undeserved businesses…” or perhaps he was not!

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