Monday, June 20, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: First, Break All The Rules by Gallup Press (Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman)


(from Amazon):

Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its revolutionary study of more than 80,000 managers in First, Break All the Rules, revealing what the world’s greatest managers do differently. With vital performance and career lessons and ideas for how to apply them, it is a must-read for managers at every level.

Included with this re-release of First, Break All the Rules: updated meta-analytic research and access to the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which reveals people’s top themes of talent, and to Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey, the most effective measure of employee engagement and its impact on business outcomes.

What separates the greatest managers from all the rest?

They actually have vastly different styles and backgrounds. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They don’t hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They don’t believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They don’t try to help people overcome their weaknesses. And, yes, they even play favorites.

In this longtime management bestseller, Gallup presents the remarkable findings of its massive in-depth study of great managers. Some were in leadership positions. Others were front-line supervisors. Some were in Fortune 500 companies; others were key players in small, entrepreneurial firms. Whatever their circumstances, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were those who excelled at turning each individual employee’s talent into high performance.

Gallup has found that the front-line manager is the key to attracting and retaining talented employees. This book explains how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience, set expectations, build on each person’s unique strengths rather than trying to fix his or her weaknesses, and get the best performance out of their teams.

And perhaps most important, Gallup’s research produced the 12 simple statements that distinguish the strongest departments of a company from all the rest. First, Break All the Rules is the first book to present this essential measuring stick and to prove the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction and the rate of turnover.

First, Break All the Rules presents vital performance and career lessons for managers at every level — and best of all, shows you how to apply them to your own situation.


First, Break All the Rules is an extremely valuable resource for managers.

The Gallup Organization interviewed 80,000 managers from 400 different companies.  The results of their study are compiled into this quick read for managers which includes:

12 questions that management can use to measure the strength of the workplace:
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person? 
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development? 
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count? 
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important? 
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work? 
  10. Do I have a best friend at work? 
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress? 
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow? well as the Four Keys of Management (each of which is covered in-depth in its own chapter):
  1. select for talent
  2. define the right outcomes
  3. focus on strengths
  4. find the right fit
This book was eye-opening for me when it comes to the word "talent," which seems to be a buzz word these days. More and more companies are saying they don't care about education or experience because they hire for talent.  But what does that really mean?

Gallup breaks down the different types of talent: striving, thinking and relating, and includes an Appendix with lists and descriptions of the most common talents under each of these areas.  The writers help managers understand the importance of identifying which talents are necessary for their roles and how selecting for those specific talents leads to the success of the employee as well as the company.

First, Break All the Rules is a must-read for managers.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Essentialism by Greg McKeown


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):


Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?

Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?

Are you often busy but not productive?

Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?

If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply a more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn who to do less, but better, in every area of their lives, Essentialism is a movement whose time has come.


Last year I read and reviewed First Things First by Steven R. Covey. Although I felt Covey's concepts were great, I struggled to get through the book.  Essentialism is similar in theory, but presented in a way that is so much more delightful to read and easy to absorb.

For me, reading Essentialism was life-changing. McKeown's concept is simple: Less but better.

For those of us who are high achievers, we tend to take on more and more.  It's what makes us stand out.  It's what results in us getting promoted.  But it's also what leads us to get buried.  We take on so much that we can't get anything done.  We're pulled in a million different directions so any progress we do make seems minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

McKeown explains how this affects us psychologically.  He encourages us to identify our own priorities -- "our biggest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize."  And he helps us think through the obstacles that come up and how to start saying no to the things that don't help us accomplish our own goals.

"If it isn't a clear yes, then it's a clear no."  

Above all, McKeown helps us understand that the practice of essentialism is a constant effort. It takes discipline every day to set priorities and focus on the things that are most important without getting sidetracked by other people's agendas.

"The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves."

I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Power of Habit comes a fascinating book that explores the science of productivity, and why managing how you think is more important than what you think—with an appendix of real-world lessons to apply to your life.

At the core of Smarter Faster Better are eight key productivity concepts—from motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making—that explain why some people and companies get so much done. Drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics—as well as the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots, and Broadway songwriters—this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently.

They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.

A young woman drops out of a PhD program and starts playing poker. By training herself to envision contradictory futures, she learns to anticipate her opponents’ missteps—and becomes one of the most successful players in the world.

A group of data scientists at Google embark on a four-year study of how the best teams function, and find that how a group interacts is more important than who is in the group—a principle, it turns out, that also helps explain why Saturday Night Live became a hit.

A Marine Corps general, faced with low morale among recruits, reimagines boot camp—and discovers that instilling a “bias toward action” can turn even the most directionless teenagers into self-motivating achievers.

The filmmakers behind Disney’s Frozen are nearly out of time and on the brink of catastrophe—until they shake up their team in just the right way, spurring a creative breakthrough that leads to one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

What do these people have in common?

They know that productivity relies on making certain choices. The way we frame our daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; the way we interact with data: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charles Duhigg explained why we do what we do. In Smarter Faster Better, he applies the same relentless curiosity, deep reporting, and rich storytelling to explain how we can improve at the things we do. It’s a groundbreaking exploration of the science of productivity, one that can help anyone learn to succeed with less stress and struggle, and to get more done without sacrificing what we care about most—to become smarter, faster, and better at everything we do.

Praise for Smarter Faster Better

“A pleasure to read . . . Duhigg’s skill as a storyteller makes his book so engaging to read.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Not only will Smarter Faster Better make you more efficient if you heed its tips, it will also save you the effort of reading many productivity books dedicated to the ideas inside.”—Bloomberg Businessweek

“Duhigg pairs relatable anecdotes with the research behind why some people and businesses are not as efficient as others.”—Chicago Tribune

“The book covers a lot of ground through meticulous reporting and deft analysis, presenting a wide range of case studies . . . with insights that apply to the rest of us.”—The Wall Street Journal


I read and reviewed The Power of Habit last year.  I thoroughly enjoyed that book.  It made me want to read anything and everything by Charles Duhigg.

Smarter Faster Better is similar to The Power of Habit in that it is also jam-packed with fascinating stories and information. Both are books you could probably read over and over again and get something out of them every time.  Smarter Faster Better, though, is different in that it's not centered around one thing (i.e. "habits"). Instead it's about a LOT of different things -- the names of the eight chapter give you an idea of the overview: Motivation, Teams, Focus, Goal Setting, Managing Others, Decision Making, Innovation and Absorbing Data.  All of these topics are related to being "smarter, faster and better" in the workplace.

Some of the more powerful messages for me were:
  • The importance of psychological safety discussed in chapter 2: "Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels."
  • The five different types of corporate culture described in the chapter 5: "Hands down, a commitment culture outperformed every other type of management style in almost every meaningful way."
  • The paralyzing effect of information blindness which is "our mind's tendency to stop absorbing data when there's too much to take in." Our brains get overloaded when faced with too much data (or too many choices) and it functions best when we break things down to two or three options.
I highly recommend this book to anyone in a position of management or leadership.

Monday, June 6, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

In this poignant, hilarious, and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder reveals how saying YES changed her life—and how it can change yours too.

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder. Her iconic characters—Meredith Grey, Cristina Yang, Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating—live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes, the mega talent who owns Thursday night television (#TGIT), is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she hugged walls at splashy parties and suffered panic attacks before media interviews so severe she remembered nothing afterward?

Before her Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes was an expert at declining invitations others would leap to accept. With three children at home and three hit television shows on TV, it was easy to say that she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. Afraid of cocktail party faux pas like chucking a chicken bone across a room; petrified of live television appearances where Shonda Rhimes could trip and fall and bleed out right there in front of a live studio audience; terrified of the difficult conversations that came so easily to her characters on-screen. In the before, Shonda’s introvert life revolved around burying herself in work, snuggling her children, and comforting herself with food.

And then, on Thanksgiving 2013, Shonda’s sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything.

The comment sat like a grenade, until it detonated. Then Shonda, the youngest of six children from a supremely competitive family, knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood creating imaginary friends to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her (like Cristina Yang, whose ultimate goal wasn’t marriage, and Cyrus Beene, who is a Republican and gay). And it chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and giving the Dartmouth Commencement speech; when she learned to say yes to her health, yes to play and she stepped out of the shadows and into the sun; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

This wildly candid and compulsively readable book reveals how the mega talented Shonda Rhimes, an unexpected introvert, achieved badassery worthy of a Shondaland character. And how you can, too.


I had no idea who Shonda Rhimes was before I read this book.  Maybe I live under a rock.  I just don't watch much television.  I'm aware of Grey’s Anatomy. I've heard of Scandal. How to Get Away with Murder...hmmm...nope.  I don't know anything about that one.  And I've never seen a single episode of any of these shows, but that doesn't matter at all. If you're more familiar with these shows than I am, it might help to have some frame of reference when she talks about them in the book, but it doesn't really matter since that's not really what the book is about.

"Year of Yes" may sound like the complete opposite of "Essentialism" -- i.e. "say yes to everything," but that's not it.  Rhimes doesn't tell us to say yes to everything.  Her "Year of Yes" was about learning how to face her fears and say yes to the right things, the things that challenged her and helped her grow -- personally and professionally.  "Year of Yes" is also about learning how to say no when appropriate.

My favorite quote in the whole book was when Rhimes was talking about how her child's school required the parents to bring in cupcakes...and not just store-bought cupcakes, but they had to be homemade.  Rhimes is a single working mother of three and this simply set her over the edge.

Here's the quote:

"I will take off my earrings and ask someone to hold my purse for the verbal beatdown we will need to engage in if you try to tell me that I must define my motherhood in the same terms as yours." 

This may be the kind of quote where you "had to be there," but this particular chapter was very encouraging for working moms. If you're a working mom, you've more than likely experienced some form of judgement (maybe even ridicule) from "the other side."  In a humorous way Rhimes asks us all to put our judgement aside and start supporting one another.  AND DON'T FORCE ANYONE TO MAKE HOMEMADE CUPCAKES!

Year of Yes is lighthearted and inspirational for all women.  Rhimes talks about motherhood, dating/marriage, family, health (i.e. diet, health and body image) and writing (which can be translated to whatever your passion might be).  I highly recommend it.  And if you're a fan of any of her shows, you would probably enjoy it even more than I did.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a na├»ve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today

“It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed


Warning: When Breath Becomes Air is incredibly sad, but it is also incredibly inspirational.

Paul Kalanithi wrote this book while he was dying.  He was just 36 years old and in the final stages of residency for neurosurgery when he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  What are the odds?  And how does one face terminal illness like this at such a young age?

Paul's writing is insightful.  His topics range from compassion (in the doctor/patient relationship) to marriage to education (he was an avid reader) to faith and the meaning of life. His story is heartbreaking, but his message is moving and unforgettable.

"I can't go on. I'll go on."

This book is an absolute must-read!  Don't put it off.  Pick up a copy today.  You won't regret it.