Shahzad Bhatti Welcome to my ramblings and rants!

September 17, 2012

Tips from Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership

Filed under: Business — admin @ 2:17 pm

I recently read Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership. Here are a few tips I enjoyed from the book:


Earning the Right to Lead Through Character

This book shows that in order to gain credibility, you need to be authentic, trustworthy, and have character traits such as courage, integrity, and commitment:

  • Being Authentic
  • Look at Life: Seeing Who You Are
  • Owning Your Past: The Sting of Failure – Adversity demands more of us than normal times do.
  • One Day at a time – An Unexpectedly Bad Day
  • Share the Shame – You can share a couple of your past disappointments with your team mates to connect with them on a personal level
  • Face Time – Meet face to face to build personal relationships
  • The Perception Gap – Get feedback on how others see you
  • The Courage to Listen
  • Honest Feedback – great leaders don’t avoid conflict and give honest feedback but at the same time be authentic and professional.

Being Trustworthy

The book shows that great leaders build a track record of honesty, fairness, and integrity that creates a leadership “equity” within their constituency. Trustworthiness takes precedence over heavyweight attributes like creativity and intelligence.

  • Safely Successful – physical, emotional and professional safety is primarl need.
  • Be honest – match your actions with your words and match those words with the truth we see in the world (no spin).
  • Be vulnerable – showing your weakness or raw emotion
  • Be fair
  • A better place for all – The book recommends building trusted interpersonal relationships that have commitments to work and loyality. On the other hand fear inspires defensive behavior, which leaders can eliminate fear by being transparent, crystal clear, and integrity.
  • A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Truth – One reason people within enterprises fear telling the truth to each other and to their bosses is that they know the organization cannot properly distinguish between the message and the messenger.
  • Bad News Doesn’t Swim Upstream
  • A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Innovation – Trust is the basis of safety. Create trust, and you’ll create a safe place to take risks and in turn build culture of innovation. The organizations should not punish “good failure”
  • A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Performance – you should never punish a good person for delivering bad news—or even, on occasion, bad work.
  • Take Your Pain Quickly and Acutely—and Move On

Being Compelling – Commitment to Winning

The book shows that great leaders evoke the emotion and energy of being involved in a crusade. No one will sacrifice for a project if the leader hasn’t made a full and clear—and public—commitment. Great leaders don’t want to be merely an employee instead they want to be part of a team, working together to create something important.

  • Choice and Obligation – The best, most talented followers are really volunteers, and because of those very attributes they are often in considerable demand elsewhere.
  • Attracting the Best and Brightest – Great leaders engage and listen to people.
  • Keeping Your Best on Board
  • Cheerleader
  • Tell Me the Truth – the best people actually find reality, even if it is bad news, compelling.
  • Keep Me Challenged – Talented people want and need challenging work.
  • No Hard Feelings – leaders must be able to stand in their followers’ shoes and see themselves from that viewpoint.

Competence: Leading on the Field with Skill

  • Leading People Talent to Teams – Hiring great people is arguably the highest-leverage activity that leaders undertake.
  • Seating Chart – talent is useless if the person is not a good match with that role and responsibility and a specific place in the structure of the organization.
  • People First – hire the very best people; only then should you focus on building the right plan for the organization.
  • Engagement – engage people by setting realistic goals with them and fairly rewarding them for meeting or exceeding those expectations.
  • Enrollment
  • Expectations
  • Energy – functional, emotional and career energy.
  • Empowerment – delegate power to other people
  • Retreat to Attack
  • How Has the Nature of Your Enterprise Changed? – As a leader, if you have not prepared your people for that change or you resist that change, you have failed in your responsibilities.
  • Where Is Your Authority or Positional Power Best Used in Leading People? – By carefully setting performance expectations with your key team members, you move the whole game up a notch.
  • What Is Your Plan to Deal with Your Weakest Link? – being aware of poorly performing subordinate and acting on it instead of avoiding it.
  • Will You Distinguish the Bad Performer from a Bad Plan? – think like a venture capitalist, with your project leaders as the entrepreneurs and the project itself a new venture. Have a post-mortem and inquire why project failed.

Leading Strategy – ideas to plans

Leaders need to distinct between leading people, strategy and execution.

  • Process to Plans – plan shows what needs to be done, where as trategy is bigger than plan and includes how things are done and fallback options.
  • The Process: Inclusive and Collaborative – The process must include the best people and the best ideas, from both within and outside the company, and must foster collaborative thinking and constructive, rigorous discussion.
  • Winnowing Out a Plan – solicit ideas from others when you don’t know the domain
  • The Plan: Realistic and Compelling – The book shows that leaders need to be engaged throughout the process to make sure the process moves along with appropriate energy and that the team remains realistic in terms of time, resources, and goals.
  • Stickiness – commitment in the face of adversity

Leading Execution – actions to results

Execution is about results. Leaders need to distinct between leading people, strategy and execution. Execution provides feedback that can be measured against plans.

  • Solve the Hard Problems First – don’t distract yourself with second-tier tasks
  • At the Edges – In order to build high-reliability organizations (e.g. SWAT), you need zero tolerance team execution, which require:
    • reliable communications
    • continuous training
    • standardize and synchronize
    • mission-goal clarity and loyality
    • empower the front line
    • redundancy
  • Leadership Leverage in Execution – The book suggests leading the process and setting the standards for the right goals. This includes leading the design process to create the appropriate metrics, ensuring a winner’s commitment and making sure that attitude permeates the culture.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Focus, Commit, and Deliver – don’t overcommit and follow the rule of “first things first.”
  • It Isn’t Real If You Don’t Measure It – Measuring what matters is an extremely high-leverage opportunity. Use management by objectives (MBO), “as measured by” (AMB) or a key performance indicator (KPI) processes for measureing factors that correlate very highly with winning.
  • Let the Dashboard Drive – Measuring what matters to naturally direct attention, focus, and commitment to the right activities
  • It’s Just Like Pinball: If You Win, You Get to Play Again
    • Winner’s mindset
    • Failing elgantly – No lame excuses
  • Sloppiness – HRO never allow sloppiness because they know it equals death. The book shows that leaders may
    feel like part of being a nice guy, succumbing to that temptation promotes a culture of mediocrity.

  • Performance Feedback – look for data coming back from the field.

Consequence: Creating a Culture, Leaving a Legacy of Values

Trust is the most fragile of assets; at a certain point, different in every situation.

Legacy = Culture + Reputation

A Leader’s Communication

  • Open, Honest Dialogue – The book shows that the ability of leaders to communicate effectively is highest leverage activity in their set of responsibilities and should include:
    • What are we doing? (Vision and mission.)
    • Why are we doing it? (Purpose and goals.)
    • What’s the plan to win?
    • (What’s the strategy here?)
    • How are we doing? (Results and status—health of the business.)
    • What is my part in the game? (What do you expect from me?)
    • What’s in it for me? (Why is this a compelling place for me to be?)
    • How am I doing? (Give me feedback, acknowledgment, appreciation.)

Talking Trust

In order to build trust, leaders not only need to focus on contents but also emotional content of that message and the
connection—the leader’s empathy with the audience.

Checklists and Guideposts

Here are some key points from the book:

  • communication is a core responsibility of leading
  • most of the important things in organizations are the result of the right conversation
  • starving followers from basic information will result in high cost

Here are five C’s for What question leader needs to communicate:

  • A compelling cause
  • Credibility & Competence
  • Character
  • Commitment
  • Contribution

Here are five E’s for Why question leader needs to communicate:

  • Engagement
  • Enrollment
  • Energy
  • Empowerment
  • Endorsement

Here are six C’s for When question leader needs to communicate:

  • Context
  • Confidence
  • Challenge
  • Collaboration
  • Culture
  • Coaching

Here are seven C’s for How question leader needs to communicate:

  • Clarity
  • Consistency
  • Carefulness
  • Courage
  • Conviction
  • Compassion
  • Completion

The Solitary Touch

The book shows that there is really no such thing as a “casual” conversation.

Your 24 × 7 Job

The book shows leader has three basic tasks:

  • Align the interests, energy, and commitment of the team.
  • Reduce fear, confusion, and anxiety.
  • Instill confidence and trust, while rallying support and contributions.

A Leader’s Decision Making Values-Based Choices

The book shows that leader does not need to make most of the decisions, but need to help followers make make better decisions.

Decision Structure

  • What Exactly Are We Deciding?
  • What Flavor Is This Decision? – decisions can be classified as either simple or complex. You need sufficient data to make the decision, otherwise you have to use intuition. Decisions can also be characterized as easy or difficult.
  • When Does This Decision Need to Be Made?

    Total Cycle Time = Time to Decide + Time to Commit + Time to Execute

  • Who Should Make This Decision? – who is best equipped—by skill, experience, proximity
  • Don’t Wait; Decide
  • Chasing Decisions – communicate with followers and empower them to make decisions

A Leader’s Impact The Transfer of Influence from Leader to Follower

Finally, the book shows how to build lasting legacy and reputation:

  • Leader Taking the High Ground
  • Whisper Campaign – use public forums to acknowledge accomplishments, sacrifices and courage. Also, appreciate them in private.
  • All You Leave Behind – using exit interviews to get feedback
  • Collective Memory
  • What to Do
  • Pay attention to change
  • Get More Curious, and Smarter, About Human
  • Nature – leaders tend to gravitate toward the objective and away from the subjective.
  • Give feedback
  • Celebrate success
  • Respect Life Outside of Work
  • Your Greatest Legacy

May 22, 2012

Review of ‘Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst’

Filed under: Business — admin @ 4:27 pm

I recently finished Bob Sutton’s book Good Boss, Bad Boss, who is well known for his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t . As most of us, I have many bosses and also manage other people so I have found this book quite useful. Good bosses not only help productivity and work environment but they also reduce stress, diseases or family troubles.

Bob shows that good boses apply Lasorda’s law and use less management, however they don’t ignore their people and help them out. Also, good bosses have mentality of running marathon rather than sprint and they instill grit in followers, where they push them to try a bit harder and be more creative. Bob suggests using small wins and manageable tasks to drive focus and sense of accompllishment in followers. Bob warns against bosses with attitude of toxic tandems, who are self absorbed. Good bosses also back their followers and balance performance and humanity by helping people to do great work and experience pride and dignity.

Here are highlights from Bob’s book:

Take Control

The media generally portrays leaders as heros, but research shows that most bosses have little impact on overall performance of a company. Good bosses use this illusion to their advantage to bring confidence in their followers and increasing odds of their success.

Don’t Dither

Good bosses use crisp language and decide unequivocally, however they are not afraid to change their decisions. They follow the rule of strong opinions that are weakly held.

Get/Give Credit

Bosses get credit no matter what but good bosses also give credit to others. I have worked in environments, where bosses took all the glory and passed shit to their followers. However, everyone wins if boss give credits as much as possible.

Blame yourself

Good bosses also take the heat for team, which builds loyalty of their followers.

Strive to be Wise

Good bosses create balance of over confidence and healthy dose of self doubt. They ask questions and listen instead of talking too much. Wise bosses assume best from their people and show them compassion and love.

Forgive and Remember

Wise bosses forgive and remember the mistakes so that they can learn from them instead of blaming followers or forgetting them altogether.

Safety & Creativity

Wise bosses create safe environment to share ideas and be more creative. They fight for what they believe in but gracefully accept defeat.


Wise bosses ask good questions, listen and ask for help. They show empathy, compassion and gratitude to their followers. They know their flaws and work with other people to compensate for their weaknesses.

Stars & Rotten Apple

Some organizations glorify solo stars, which undermines team collaboration. Good bosses recruit energizers and eliminate bad apples or energy suckers, who undermine constructive actions.

Keep teams together

Good bosses keep teams together. I have found that a new team takes a couple of months to gel, and having worked in project-based teams (which was awful) I take this advice to the heart.

Link Talk & Action

Good bosses say same simple things and build harmony between their actions and words. They empathizes with their customers by eating their own dog food. They try to reduce complexity and use simple principles, strategies, and metrics.

Don’t shirk Dirty Work

Good bosses confront problems directly, which may include personnel problems such as firing low performer or bad apple. They create realistic expectations for followers and make tough decisions, however they make those decisions with understanding, control and compassion.

Squelch your inner Bosshole

Let’s face it, there are plenty bosses who act like assholes. Unfortunately, most of them are unaware of their attitude and habits. Bossholes create negative work environment and cause health problems for their followers. I have worked in companies, where this was cultural issue and the role models of bossholes was passed from top-down. Nevertheless, this is often the cause of employees leaving companies or having heart attacks. Bob suggests a couple of solutions such as tape method to help manage anger.


As we spend most part of day at work, it helps if the work environment and the boss is empathetic. Bob provides a lot of advice to bosses so that they can build better work environment for their followers.

April 26, 2012

How to survive in today’s work environments and businesses

Filed under: Business — admin @ 10:39 pm

In modern work environments and businesses, it is crucial to expedite learning cycle and create a knowledge workplace. In order to shorten the learning cycle, you can apply the scientific approach, which comprises of three stages, i.e., making a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis and validating test results. Generally, the test results leads to another hypothesis, and another cycle of experiment, validation and then publishing results. At the end of each cycle, you learn something knew, thus the shorter your cycle the faster you learn. Following are few variations of this approach used in manufacturing, research and development:


John Boyd revolutionized military aviation strategy by designing lightweight fighter planes that were based on a shorter loop of

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

John showed that light-weight planes that provided quick feedback to pilots proved better in dogfights. It showed that speed of loop beats quality of iteration.

Theory of Constraint

The theyory of constraint creates flow of an activity and finds all constraints from end to end and then tries to remove biggest constraint. It then repeats the process and identifies next biggest constraint and solves that constraint.

Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is based on Toyota production system that emphasizes waste elimination and creating value for customers. Lean production system stresses reducing activity time from start to finish and continuous improvement or Kaizen.

Lean Software Development

Lean software development applies lessons of Toyota production systems to software development by eliminating waste, reducing in-progress work (inventory), and amplifying learning. It speeds up learning process by short cycle of iterative development.

Lean Startup

The startups generally start with visions or hypothesis that are unproven. Lean startups borrow ideas from Toyota production systems by creating rapid prototypes that test market assumptions and uses customer feedback evolve the product. Just like the scientific approach, it uses a cycle of product-idea or hypothesis, product-development or preparing an experiment, releasing the product, where startups collects data about value to users. The test results help startups adjust the product and another round of tests are followed. The Lean Startups emphasized validated learning that you gain from running actual experiment than just guess work.

Spiral Methodology

Spiral methodology is a software development process that uses iterative development and encourages prototyping and experimenting. Each iteration starts with objectives, constraints, and alternatives, which are then evaluated, developed and then validated.

Scrum Methodology

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software methodology for project management. It uses short sprints for software development, where each sprint starts with planning meeting that defines the user stories or features to be delivered, followed by development and release. At the end of sprint, the team holds Sprint review meeting and retrospective to identify impediments so that team can improve the process. The whole process is repeated with another round of short sprints.

Other Agile Methodologies

There are a number of other agile methodologies that also founded on short iterations and incremental development such as Agile Unified Process, Crystal Clear, XP, Feature driven development. These methodologies encourage transparent, collaborative and open work environments, which provide foundation for adoptive and knowledge workplaces.

Test-Driven Development

Test-driven development is a software development process uses a short cycle of development, where developer writes a failing test case for desired functionality, then implements functionality to pass the test and finally refactors the new code. It eliminates the waste by focusing on business functionality that is required and helps build design incrementally. Each cycle of TDD is very short and provides rapid feedback to developer if the code is working.

Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

Modern IDEs are built to shorten development cycle by providing rapid feedback to developer such as syntax warnings, errors and integration to testing, debugging, static analysis, deploying and other tools. The productivity of developer increases when the cycle from edit, build to test, debug or deploy is short.

One-on-One vs Annual Reviews

Unfortunately Annual Reviews are still annual rituals in most companies that provide feedback once a year. Instead weekly one-on-one provide shorter feedback and is more effective.

Opinions vs Data

All of us have plenty of opinions which are nothing more than guesses. Modern development methodologies such as Lean software development or Lean startup encourages data-driven approach by executing short experiments and learning from the experiments.


We live in rapidly changing knowledge economy. We need to learn how to be nimble and to create a culture that speeds up learning process by performing short experiments. Instead of working in vacuum, we need to validate our assumptions and guesses with actual experiments and take data-driven approach to test our hypothesis. This approach is more bottom-up approach but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a vision. It just means, we are continuously learning, improving and adopting as our environment changes.

April 25, 2011

Review of Guy Kawasaki’s book – “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”

Filed under: Business — admin @ 12:23 pm

I recently read Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. This book shows how to engage with other people and build better relationships similar to Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends & Influence People. Though, this book covers these topics in more professional context and it includes advice from several other business and management books. As, Guy is also a very savvy social media user, this book covers several tips on using modern networking tools to build personal relationships with others.


Guy describes enchantments as a way of delighting people with a product, service or organization, which is similar to the concept of Customer Delight popular in business literature. Guy suggests to start with a good product or service and fill people with the delight. This also reminded me Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

Likable and Trustworthy

Once you have a good product, you build the enchantments by being likable and trustworthy. The likability chapter covers several pointers such as smile, dress appropriately, firm handshake, accept others, yes attitude, and work in open environment. Guy encourages finding shared interests with other party and creating win-win situation when negotiating. On being trustworthy, Guy suggests giving people benefit of doubt, disclosing interests and positioning yourself. Some of these techniques seemed similar to what I have read from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and from agile development gurus.


Guy gives a great set of tips on preparation before launching a product and suggests the product should be:

  • great
  • deep
  • intelligent
  • complete
  • empower
  • elegant

Product Launch

On launching a new product, Guy suggests telling personal stories, showing courage, planting many seeds and aspiring people by promising a better world. This chapter reminded me of how Steve Jobs promotes Apple products by promising better future, giving great demo, and simplifying the interface.

Overcoming Resistance

On overcoming resistance, Guy suggests creating perception of ubiquity and scarcity and finding a way to agree, which enhances your chances of being likable. I found the chapter on overcoming resistance a bit weak and encourage readers to look at Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard and Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.

Enchanting Influencers

Guy offers a great practical guidance on enchanting influencers such as working on grassroots, creating intrinsic motivation, paying it forward, and reciprocity. I liked his advice of saying “I know you’d do same for me” instead of saying “You’re welcome” in response to thank-you”.


In order to create a grassroots support of your products or services, Guy recommends creating a product worthy of ecosystem and then lists several tools, which encourage exchange of ideas and collaboration such as user-groups, blogs, conferences, reward system, open architecture. Another key factor for ecosystem is having a diversified team, which different roles such as advocate, skeptic, visionary, adult, evangelist and rain maker.

Push Technology

This is one of best chapters in the book and shows how to use modern push technologies such as Presentations, Email, and Twitter. Guy recommends engaging many people fast and often. He also recommends giving them credit and providing a value for them. On presentations, Guy recommends customizing intro based on audience, selling dreams, dramatizing and rehearsing it. He suggests keeping the presentation short with 10-20-30 rule, where presentation has no more than 10 slides, takes 20 minutes and uses no less than 30-size font. For email, Guy suggests keeping it short (under six sentences) and asking for a specific action.

Pull Technology

On pull technologies, Guy suggests creating a website/blog with good content, refreshing contents frequently and having an about page. On Facebook, Guy suggests having a good landing page and being helpful. On Linked-in, Guy suggests having a great profile and reaching out to others actively.

Enchanting Employees

Guy also provides useful set of pointers on being a good employer such as engaging employees by providing MAP (Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose) and empowering employees to do the right things. He recommends instead of judging actions of others against their intentions, be harsh on yourself and judge your results against their intentions. He also suggests celebrating success and includes tips from Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst such as protecting people from intrusions. Guy cites Michael Lopp’s advice from Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager such as setting ambitious goals, enabling, appreciating and providing feedback to the employees.

Enchanting Boss

On enchanting boss, Guy recommends:

  • make your boss look good
  • drop everything when boss asks for something
  • under-promise and over-deliver
  • prototype work by completing part of assignment and asking for feedback
  • show and broadcast progress while giving credit to colleagues who helped
  • form friendship
  • ask for mastership
  • deliver bad news early

Resist Enchanters

Finally on resisting enchanters, Guy suggests looking far in future, knowing your limits, having a skeptic attitude and not falling for example of one.


In this book, Guy Kawasaki provided a good collection of practical advice on building better interpersonal relationships and using tools from social media effectively. It shows that in order to build long lasting relationships, you have to be sincere and always be willing to help others. I found Guy’s pointers on push and pull technologies most helpful as he has created cult of followers on Twitter and Facebook and provided a number of tips from his personal experience.

August 10, 2010

NoSql databases bring “Stored Procedures” back in fashion

Filed under: Business — admin @ 5:26 pm

One of best tip I learned from my post-graduate research in Parallel & Distributed area was to bring the computation closer to the data. However, most applications in the real world are designed as three or more tiers that separate databases from the application server, where the business logic resides. Though, stored procedures have long been used in client server architecture, dataware services, reporting, and other forms to run the business logic closer to the database, but they are generally shunned due to the maintenance issues. I find it interesting that NoSQL databases are bringing back the stored procedures in the form of map/reduce queries. NoSQL databases come in various forms such as key-value stores, document stores, column stores, and graph stores. They are primarily influenced by the Brewer’s CAP Theorem and use BASE (basically available, soft state, eventually consistent) transactions as opposed to ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability) transactions. NoSQL databases are designed for horizontal scalability and are able to support large data by partitioning it. NoSQL offer rich queries based on map/reduce, which are generally written in javascript or other scripting languages. These queries provide powerful mechanism to define the business logic for filtering or aggregating results, which are then executed inside the database or closer to the data. Thus, NoSQL databases are able to provide much better performance as a side effect if the application logic is transferred to the host where the data resides. Everything old is new again and stored procedures are back in the fashion.


June 3, 2010

A few lessons from Seth Godin’s book – Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Filed under: Business — admin @ 10:25 pm

I just finished reading Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?. Seth shows how the white-collar jobs, which supposed to save the middle class are being eliminated either by machines or outsourcing with cheap labors. He shows that you can either continue to live your life as a faceless cog or choose to become Linchpin. Here are some of the lessons I learned from this book:

Industrial Revolution is Over

The race to make average stuff for average people in huge quantities is almost over.

This book shows the industrial revolution is changing and in order to survive in the new era of economy, you have to become linchpin or indispensable. In last three hundred years, the industrialization began by standardizing the tasks so that it can be performed by easily replaceable labor or so called cogs. It relied on two layers: management and labor, where management breaks production of goods into tiny tasks, which are performed by the labor. The management wins when it can get the most work for the least pay. The system taught workers to follow the instructions and you don’t have to think. Though, that system worked but has been falling apart in the face of competition, outsourcing and globalization. The attendance-based compensation (ABC) is over. Th old American dream that taught to keep your head down, follow instructions, work hard and you will be rewarded is dead. The mass production treats everything such as labor and material as interchangeable. However, in global market, the competition is fierce and cheap strategy doesn’t scale very well.
Instead of easily replaced laborers or cogs, you can choose to become Linchpin by differentiating yourself from the rest and focusing on humanity, connection and art. The web has made it easier to be productive and create or invent. The new American dream is to be remarkable, generous, create art and connect with people.

Education System is a Sham

In capitalist market, the companies make money by hiring obedient and competent workers as cheaply as you can and using productivity advantage to earn more profit. Andrew Carnegie saw that limited amount of education to get them to cooperate. The school system throughout the world encourages mediocre obedience and is driven by fear as when we learn things in fear. Seth shows public school system is designed to prepare us for factories, where we are just replaceable cogs and care little about our jobs or customers. The same factory model created consumer culture that uses consumption as a shortcut to happniess. Instead, school should teach solving interesting problems and leading.

Becoming a Linchpin

In order to become a linchpin or indispensable, you must embrace an artist and genius within you. Seth recommends avoiding asympototic goals such as bowling, where there is a ceiling of how good you can be. Also, for an artist, the economy is not just zero sum game, instead he/she can increase the pie. Seth cites Richard Florida’s survey of top ten reason for employees to do best work as follows:

  • challenge and responsibility
  • flexibility
  • stable work environment
  • money
  • professional development
  • peer recognition
  • stimulatng colleagues and bosses
  • exciting job content
  • organization culture
  • location and community

All of above reasons except money are internal that we can control. Seth encourages readers to find the work that suits your passion. He uses Emotional labor term, originally coined by Arlie Hochschild to connect with the work. Though, you may get a little compensation in return of emotional labor, but you get inward reward. Instead of day’s work for day’s job or the poverty mentality that treats life as zero sum game, you give gift and build bonds. Seth shows that the easier work is to quantify, the less it’s worth and more humanity you bring to your work, the better results you will receive. Seth cites Krulak’s law for building strong relations with your customers, i.e.,

The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.

Resistance to Change

Seth gives plenty of examples and demonstrates that real artists ship, however shipping is hard due to trashing/tweaking and coordination. According to Seth, the biggest resistance to the change is our lizard brain. He explains how we all have two brains: primeval brain or lizard brain and gray matter or recently developed brain. The lizard brain has animal instincts such as hungry, scared, angry and horny, whereas newer brain allows big thoughts, generosity, speech, and art. Lizard brain seek compfort and obedience, and avoids risks, public speaking and generosity.

Good is enemy of perfect

Seth encourages readers to become excellent and not perfect as art is never defect-free. He cites Bre Pettis, who says that there are three states of being: not knowing, action and completion. He says accept that everything is draft as it helps to get it done.


Exchanging gifts is an ancient tradition. Seth shows that artists who give gifts win as becoming a linchpin is not an act of selfishness. Seth also shows how usury was prohibited in Bible as interest-free loan was kind of gift. This changed when Martin Luther lifted the sanction to get support for the Protestant Reformation. Seth writes:

For the last five hundred years, the best way to succeed has been to treat everyone as a stranger you could do business with.

Seth cites Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a network increases with the square of the number of nodes on the network. The new social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogsphere, and Internet is changing the circle of the gift system and he shows that there are three cicles of gifts, the first circle represents true gifts to family and friends. The second circle is for commerce, they pay for souvenir edition and the third circle is your tribe, followers, fans or friendlies.

There is no map

Seeing the future is hard because we are attached to the world and want stability and fear change. Seth gives plenty of examples of record industry and newspaper industry who have been too attached with their legacy model and failed to adjust in the new economy. In order to become linchpin, you need to draw a map and lead instead of being passive. You need to find a job that matches your passion.

Culture of connections

How to Make a Personal Connection with Customers
The industrialization removed human connection between different parties. The social media and Internet is changing that, now companies can connect directly with their customers and receive their input. Often, when companies negotiate with other companies, the key point of distinction is the perceived connection between the prospect and the organization. The salesman who relies only on the script would fail, instead you have to rely on honest signals and genuine gifts to make connections.

Seven attributes of Linchpin

Linchpins are geniuses, artists and givers of gifts, who extert emotional labor and make their own map. Here are seven abilities of the linchin:

  • Providing a unique interface between members of the organization
  • Delivering unique creativity
  • Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  • Leading customers
  • Inspiring staff
  • Providing deep domain knowledge
  • Possessing a unique talent


We have been in declining economy for a while and many of the white collar and blue collar jobs lost in last few years won’t come back. I found a lot of Seth’s advice similar to agile movement in software development and My Job Went to India. I also wrote about Taylorism in my blog IT Sweatshops, where I deplored Taylorism based command and control structure in a lot of companies even the one that claim to adopt agile methodologies. Seth even says that you don’t need a resume as it hides the fact that you are linchpin. Instead have a project that an employer can see or blog that people can follow. I find this book offers very practical and timely advice for future market. In the job market, You need to differentiate yourself and have a trail of breadcrumbs of your previous work. Being an average is over, instead you have to be a linchpin and live without a map.

April 24, 2010

Favorite fifteen tips from “Rework” book by Jason Fried and DHH

Filed under: Business — admin @ 2:04 pm

I have been a long admirer of Jason Fried of 37Signals and read his first book Getting Real. Jason along with DHH have put forth many of the ideas from that book along with other ideas from their blog Signal vs. Noise into a new book Rework. I just finished reading it and though it reiterates many ideas from the earlier book “Getting Real” and their blogs, it’s worth re-reading those ideas as many of business companies today still runs on old fallacies. The book consists of thirteen sections and over eighty ideas, here are my favorite ideas from the book:

Failure is not a rite of passage

I have heared the advice from startup folks about “Fail early and fail often.” On the contrary, this book shows people who learn from mistakes will make new mistakes, instead success shows what actually works. Another related avice in the book is “Reason to quit”, which shows when you can quit and choose something else. When I read Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, it also showed that most startups don’t stick to their original ideas and move to other ideas based on early feedback.

Planning is Guessing

This is related to another advice from the book “Your estimates suck” as Planning and Estimation is hard especially in software business. I have written about Software Estimation in my earlier blogs, however most places still equate estimates with commitments. Jason and DHH reminds us again that estimates are just guesses that were made based on the best information available at the time.


This is another unorthodox advice that is contradictory to how most software projects are run. Most companies measure workers’ dedication on how many hours he/she put even when they are not actually producing. This is also common when managers treat estimates as commitments and refuse to admit reality when things change. We are all familiar with iron triangle of schedule/cost/functionality or sometime referred to as cost/quality/schedule or cost/resourcs/schedule. Often business folks are unwilling to change schedule and functionality, which often requires working late hours. This is also related to Heroism, which I have blogged before and go to sleep, as workholism can result in sleep deprivation, which reduces creativity and productivity.

Scratch your own itch

Most successful businesses started with hobbies or personal interests or problems and there are tons of examples of this. This advice is also related to eat your own dog food, though not mentioned in this book.

Start making something

Jason and DHH reminds us another great point that ideas are cheap and the real question is how well you execute them.

Draw a line in the sand

One of the key characteristics of Ruby on Rails software that DHH produced is having strong opinions that limits variations. Similarly, 37Signals is known for their simple design and limited features. You can differentiate yourself from others by standing for something.

Outside money is Plan Z

Both DHH and Jason often talked about downside of getting money from venture capitalists and I agree that these days you can start most software startups with minimal money and raising money can be very distracting. Another related tip that “building a flip is building to flop”, which is often what startup founders hope to get out.

Start at the epicenter

This book advices you to focus on your core product. Though, this book briefly mentiosn this topic but there is a great presentation of Video of Geoffrey Moore at Business of Software 2009 that talks about similar topic. This advice is also reated to other tips from the book such as “don’t copy”, “decommoditize your product”, “focus on you instead of they”, i.e., focus on your core strengths and not your competitors.

Focus on what won’t change

This is great advice for building business that will last. I remember when I started working at Amazon, we were told the core values of Amazon that included having a large selection, cheap prices, customer service and everything we built started from outside-in focus, i.e., it started with customers.

Get it out here

This is similar to common advice from the startup and agile community, i.e. release early and release often.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity

More and more research is showing that our brain can’t focus on onething at a time, and constant interruption and multi-tasking hampers your productivity. This is also somewhat related to office space is setup as many agile practices encourage more open space with pair programming and I have found that it prevents concentration. I found that private office pattern offered from Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development provides less interruption.

Meetings are toxic

This is another hallmark idea of 37Signals and the book contains a number of tips on making your productive such as fixed time, fewer people, clear agenda, beginning with a specific problem and ending with action items and making someone responsible for them.

Good enough is fine

37Signals is known for their simple design and fewer features. This is related other advice in the book such as “embrace the constraints”, “throw less at the problem”, “underdo your competitor”, “say no” and “be a curator”. When you have limited resources, you can become more creative. Also, you are better off building half a product, not a half assed product.

Make tiny decisions

The authors encourage to make tiny decisions as big decisions are hard to make and hard to change. This advice is related to other tips such as “decisions are progress”, which encourages you to always make progress and “quick wins”, which encourages you to build momentum by accomplishing small tasks.

Build an audience

The authors encourage to build audience that come back to you by writing blogs, tweets and speaking. This is also reated to “sell your by-products”, “emulate chefs”, “emulate drug dealers” and “out-teach your competitors”.


Though, I skipped many gems of advice on hiring, culture and marketing but I suggest you read the book to build long lasting and successful business.

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