I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.
What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.
In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.
The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.
I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.
When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.
Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.
Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.
The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.
I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.
I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.
Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.
In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.
Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.
In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.
If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.
When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.
And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.
Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.
Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.
When Ori Brafman was asked to help the army figure out how to invite some innovation into its thinking, he thought about the plague. Bubonic plague. Black Death. That period in European history when lots of people died.
Why? Because lots of priests administered lots of last rites and caught the plague and subsequently died. A new group of people took over the Church — a group of people who unlocked the vaults and allowed people to read books on science and history and other subjects that the previous regime had banned.
With that, the Enlightenment came about, giving us art, science, math — Michelangelo and da Vinci and the printing press and all that came after it.
All because a single flea-bitten rat got onto a ship and then got off of it, spreading disease and wiping out a large population.
It's not entirely random, though. Rats sneak onto boats all the time. They sneak off boats all the time, too. Boats carry food that rats eat and rats carry fleas that sometimes bite people and some of those fleas carried plague. The ship allowed for serendipitous chaos — not always a good thing, but, especially for organizations stuck in their ways, certainly not always a bad thing.
Most organizations have a structure and/or hierarchy that won't allow for departmental intermingling or for people of vastly different ranks to share input. So, the authors write, smart leaders will set up places for "controlled chaos" to happen.
They make note of a hospital where all the nurses were complaining about there being no hot water on one of the floors — something that was news to the higher-ups when the organization implemented meetings of people of various departments and ranks regularly. The hospital was undergoing some repair work, but rescheduling everything to address that problem first would have cost lots of money. Fortunately, a janitor was in on one of the meetings, and he asked if the valve was open. Everyone just assumed it was and wouldn't have known where to look anyway. It turns out it wasn't, and through an organizational structure that allowed for some serendipitous chaos to occur, the problem was solved quickly and cheaply.
The other concept Brafman and Pollack discuss at length is "white space": making room in your brain to innovate. They hold up as an example Albert Einstein, who was the only member of his graduating class not to get a job in physics after college. Instead, he would have long discussions with friends of various backgrounds about art, music, government and whatever else came to mind. He worked at a patent office. Without having to concentrate on physics all day, he was able to develop his theory of relativity.
It turns out that downtime — the time for "white space" — has some basis in science. MRIs show that when someone is focused on a task, one part of their brain is active. When the person moves off that task, however, the "focused" part of the brain goes inactive, but the rest of the brain goes active, processing and synthesizing the information from the task.
If you're stuck creatively or on a project, or if you run an organization that seems to be stuck in its ways and not moving forward, this book is for you. It might not give you the breakthrough you need, but it'll tell you how to get to that breakthrough.
Six years ago, when I reviewed her previous book The Zen of Social Media Marketing, I wrote about how smart Shama Hyder is. So, when her team asked if I'd review her new book, momentum, I said absolutely.
momentum landed at my doorstep at a tumultuous time in my life, and I'm embarrassed to say I sat on it for a few months until I could find the focus.
I'm glad I found that focus, though. The book is absolutely worth a read if you're starting a business, in business, or need to rethink your social marketing strategy.
It's most important if you're not integrating your online and real-world marketing strategies.
Hyder details five principles: Agility, customer focus, integration, curation and cross-pollination. She also includes a bunch of tools and takeaways, and I'm not going to spoil those, or you won't need to read the book, which means you won't need to buy the book, which means she would have sent me a book to read for free and then I gave away the good stuff. Instead, I'll clue you in to my notes.
I will say, first, that the book is astoundingly simple to follow. Hyder includes real-world examples, and runs a narrative of a fictionalized sports drink company throughout the book, so you'll be able to see what the strategies she outlines look like in action, rather than having to figure out how the strategies apply to you.
I have two different note-taking strategies for books. One is to use a single notebook, which has the drawback that if I'm taking notes on multiple things concurrently, they get mixed. The other is to use Post-It Notes upside-down (so that the sticky bit is at the bottom), so that when the note is full I stick it to the last page I took a note on and the notes are right-side up. That has the drawback of a bunch of little pieces of paper, but more continuity.
I used the latter method for momentum. Here are some of the highlights from my notes. Bold items are my favorites.
• Targeting very specific individuals is now very easy.
• Marketing used to be an outward push; now it's an inward pull.
• It's easier than ever to analyze effectiveness and change strategy mid-campaign
• There's a ton of data now; use it to be agile. Track and adapt.
• "Agility in marketing leads directly to marketing momentum" (p. 20) — when the lights went out in the Super Bowl in 2013, Oreo took to Twitter for an unplanned campaign
• Nothing is sacred
• Identify your goals, make them clear and understand who is in charge of them
• Be specific about your targets
• Create overall strategies, then drill down to individual campaigns, and be willing to change those individual campaigns
• Be patient, track, change and automate
• All your online activities should be integrated
• People use social media to show themselves off, not to connect; that makes it easy to figure out how your target customers present themselves and you can then make that happen with your product
• Sometimes going viral is luck, but by making a campaign personal, you can get there predictably
• Use existing data to answer specific questions about your customers
• Create a customer persona with a detailed background — it will help you understand the customer better
• Survey, analyze, listen and test
• Conversations are better than monologues
• Connect with influencers among your customer groups
• Your customers should have a consistent brand experience whether they find you on Instagram, Twitter, a radio ad or a billboard
• Stop separating your digital and traditional marketing groups
• Find ways to integrate your digital and traditional marketing, such as posting radio and TV ads on YouTube and asking someone to like a Facebook page on your company's business cards
• "Information is not a substitute for knowledge." (p. 99)
• Outside content is important — don't only push your own content.
• Partner with your partners — if a store that sells your product is having a sale on other items, promote that sale and maybe people will pick up your product, too.
• Close the loop: Introduce your partners to each other
• Return on investment (ROI) is no longer about money coming in, it's about relationships being built
I hope you go pick up a copy of momentum, wherever you are in your business. Take the advice personally, and take it seriously. It's meant for everybody.
Disclosure: Book provided for the purpose of review.
He has some reasonable ideas amidst the stuff that you know will keep him out of serious running. On the one hand, he wants good education for everyone, a flat tax and a has a Libertarian stance on recreational drugs. On the other hand, the party platform has stuff like phasing out jobs for humans, creating rights for cyborgs and stressing secular values.
If his novel, The Transhumanist Wager, however, is more of the platform manifesto it seems to be, he'd be a bit on the dangerous side for the world.
The novel itself paints a picture of a futuristic, science-based capitalist near-Utopia that really is not all that far off. People will live forever in good health thanks to medical procedures that renew our systems and a change in telomerase rates (that's something SENS is actually working on in real life — I've written about them here before) and the introduction of mechanical implants.
The nation that develops this technology, Transhumania, exists because some of the world's great scientists, under the direction of American movement leader Jethro Knights, are forced out of their own countries for their views on transhumanism, the idea that humans can evolve into something greater.
The anti-transhuman movement is driven in large part by religious groups in the U.S., and in particular by Reverend Belinas, a megachurch leader with deep political connections. He advises the president and many members of Congress, as well as some of the country's wealthiest individuals.
The world's top powers get together and decide to put an ultimatum on Transhumania, but Knights goes before their leaders and demands their surrender. The powers eventually kidnap Knights, but he escapes thanks to some of Transhumania's inventions and a chip implanted in his neck. When the top nations attack Transhumania, it turns out the defense systems are so complex there are barely any injuries on Transhumania's side; meanwhile, redirected rockets are responsible for the allies hitting each other's ships, killing thousands.
At this point, Transhumania puts its military might to work, letting all the countries know which symbolically powerful landmarks will be wiped out so that people can be cleared away. Knights' forces then destroy religious and political landmarks, from the Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall to Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the White House.
Once the centers of superstition and power are wiped out, the reasoning goes, science can take over.
After this attack, Knights launches into a speech that feels as long and overwrought as John Galt's 98-page monster in Atlas Shrugged (it's not nearly that long, but sometimes it feels like it). Join us and live forever, Knights says, or we're just going to leave you behind. You're to be well-educated and productive, or we might as well just kill you and have you stop using our resources. There are too many people; decide which side you'd like to be on.
The book ends with some medical science at work; medical science that we're headed toward in real life. Morgan Spurlock saw some of it in Season 2, Episode 2 of "Inside Man" (see him talking about it a little bit here).
There's certainly some validity to transhumanism. We're not ready for it in our current generation, I don't think; it requires allowing everyone to rise on their own merit, turning ego only to improving oneself without allowing for competition. The kind of empathy transhumanism allows is evolutionary, not individual — we're not out to save all lives, just the lives that will help advance humans.
But read the book. Get educated. For as alarming as the anti-religion, anti-nation bits are, there's a new perspective that a growing population is finding worthwhile.
I decided to get back to some fiction early in the year. My reading had been slowing down, and I'd been a little overwhelmed by life in general. Fiction always provides a nice respite, which in turn lets me relax in other aspects of my life, and now I'm all relaxed and ready as spring hits here in coastal Georgia.
Some recent reads:
Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. Madison Spencer, who beat Satan at his own game in Damned, returns to the world of the living for her annual Halloween candy collection (candy bars are currency in Hell), but through some trickery on Satan's part, gets stuck for the year (if you're not back in Hell by midnight, see ya next year).
She had previously communicated to her Hollywood do-gooder parents that the way to Heaven was through general rudeness: cussing and flatulating cheerfully. She was kidding, of course, and now she faces an Earth full of joyfully disgusting humans, all doomed to Hell for their behavior, thanks to her. And she's back to fix it.
Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club and a pile of other books I love, and while this isn't among my favorites of his, it's definitely good for a few hours of escapism.
Not a Star by Nick Hornby. What happens when you're a middle class English mum and you come home to a DVD slipped through your mail slot, and the guy on the cover looks a lot like your son? What happens when you discover it is your son? What happens when the film on the DVD is pornographic?
Hornby is another one of my favorites (High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, others), and this novella from the Open Door series is great for a rainy day with a cup of coffee.
Bad Monkeys by Mike Ruff. I'm not sure how I've never heard of Ruff before (I mean, there's a quote on the book's cover from Christopher Moore), but this book is a twisted, paranoid look at the world. I don't even want to give much away, but if you think you're being watched, you probably are — but not by the government or your ex.
I used to love mystery novels as a child. I tore through Hardy Boys books, through Agatha Christie novels, and basically whatever I could get my hands on.
I spent much of this year reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Complete, as in Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and serials about the detective over a course of 60 years — he wrote about Holmes, mostly from the point of view of the narrator, Watson, a young doctor back from military service in Afghanistan, from 1867 to 1927.
Here are a few lessons, good and bad.
1. Be observant. Holmes gets most of his information from just paying attention to little details — the scuff on a sleeve, the mud on a boot, the ash from a cigar, the shape of a toe on a footprint. We'd all do well to be that observant, though maybe without bragging about it.
2. Do what you love. Holmes rarely takes money, other than expenses, for handling a private case, and typically lets police take credit for crimes solved. He does the work for the love of a challenge.
3. Be better to your friends. Holmes abuses the hell out of Watson. He once let the doctor think he was dead for several years. Other times, he tricked him into playing a part in solving the crime, putting the work above his friend. I can only guess Watson sticks by Holmes because Doyle needs him, and this is fiction, after all.
4. Be better to your readers. One thing I remember loving about mysteries as a child is the whodunit aspect — I got to play along and see if I could solve it. But Holmes often has some crucial piece of information the reader only finds out at the reveal. We never really get to play along; we just get to wait and see how it ends.
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Some light reading for a recent Thursday afternoon
Well, I don't usually respond to memes, but I like me some books, so thanks, Mitch, for the tag and getting me back to thinking about books. I think the last time I responded to a meme, it was also about books. And like that time, I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you're looking for blogging ideas, by all means...
Here we go, then.
Would you rather only read trilogies or only read standalones?
I think trilogies are lazy, either on the part of the author, or the part of the reader. I enjoy series, and I enjoy recurring characters — I'm nearly through the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes books, and I enjoy Agatha Christie's Poirot books and Anne Rice's vampire series, but a trilogy would come out to roughly 1,000 pages, usually, and I think that's a fine length for a single book.
Putting out three books of 300-ish pages instead of a single 1,000-page book says to me you're either too scared to put that much work into a single product, or you think readers can't handle that much product, or you're an intermediary making extra money off someone's else's creative output. Or you're a reader who can't stand to think about picking up a big book (in the photo above, that brown hardcover in the center comes in at 1,125 pages, and the other books are there primarily for reference).
Would you rather only read male or female authors?
No, but I tend to read more male authors, for a couple of reasons. One is that we tend, as a species, to gravitate toward people who are more like us. As a male, I would naturally gravitate toward other males, particularly in my nonfiction reading. Also, since a lot of nonfiction I'm reading is on Freemasonry and you have to be male to be a Freemason, it stands to reason most books I'm reading on the subject are authored by men.
Would you rather shop at Barnes and Noble or Amazon?
I would rather browse at Barnes & Noble and buy at Amazon; I really like the "other people bought" feature of online shopping, and Amazon does it well. I'd rather browse and shop at an independent bookshop, preferably used, but hey, when the meme hands you a dichotomy...
Would you rather books were made into TV shows or movies?
I don't care. It takes the average person more like 8 or 10 hours to read a book than the 2 or 3 hours a movie can take up, or the 23 hours or so a moderately successful TV show can cover over 2-3 seasons. So, whatever. This is about books, and I like books.
Would you rather read only five pages per day or five books per week?
I'd rather read five pages a day, think about them, discuss them and incorporate the information into my life. If I read five books a week consistently, I'd be even more of a hermit than I already am.
Would you rather be a professional author or reviewer?
They're the same thing. I've been a reviewer. You have to write stuff, and you get paid to do so. That makes you a professional author. That said, given the opportunity, I'd rather be the reviewed than the reviewer. I've come to recognize that as a reviewer, you hold the power to make someone feel really bad about themselves for putting hundreds of hours of creativity and hard work into something. It's a power that's easily abused.
Would you rather be a librarian or a bookseller?
A bookseller, maybe. I'd rather not be either, truth be told, but some people have to go to a library. People self-select to walk into a shop, and as an independent bookseller, interesting people tend to go out of their way to walk into your shop.
Would you rather read only your favorite genre, or every other genre but your favorite?
I can't handle the false dichotomy here. If you ever limited what I could read, I'd probably stop reading altogether. Part of the glory of it is the freedom to read whatever I want.
Would you rather only read ebooks or physical books?
I read both, and also listen to audiobooks. When I first read an ebook, I was surprised to have enjoyed the ebook format, but noted that I also really like the way the weight shifts from heavy in the right hand to heavy in the left hand as you move through a physical book. At this point, though, I tend to have at least one of each format going, and often more.
I go to bed late — after 3 a.m. many nights — and the light from my iPad is much less shocking to my already-sleeping wife than if I walked in and turned on my bedside lamp. I also have the benefit of being able to read a really thick book on the iPad without having to worry about dropping a 1,000-page hardcover on my face as I doze.
I'm also a big fan of audiobooks. Now that my runs are crossing the hour threshold three times a week, it's easy to work through an audiobook every couple of weeks during a time I definitely wouldn't be able to read.
I've been reading all the Sherlock Holmes books this year. A couple of pages a night, just about every night before bed. The books are easy to read, entertaining, a good transition from the day. It will take me the bulk of the year to finish. I'm sure there will be a post when I'm done.
That's not all I'm reading, of course. But rather than spending hundreds of dollars a year on books that sometimes sit on the shelf for years, I've become a fan of discovering interesting free stuff. Here are some great places to find free books.
Project Gutenberg is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of moveable type. They're approaching 50,000 ebooks available in several formats, and they have some audiobooks as well — some of which are auto-generated from the texts.
LibriVox, as the name suggests, is free audiobooks, read by volunteers. All the books are public domain. Some of the readings are dramatic, some are funny, and some are collective. I listened to James Joyce's Ulysses, and each chapter was read by a different volunteer. LibriVox has a mobile app, too, and offers its titles for download. I was in the car for five hours on Saturday, and listened to a bunch of Gulliver's Travels, which I'd never read.
Open Culture is something else entirely. The have fewer titles, and often they'll link out to other sources. But you can spend hours perusing ebooks, textbooks, language lessons, audiobooks and a variety of classes and films.
Did you know there's a single source to search public libraries? If you're looking for a specific title but don't have access to a good library catalog, WorldCat will find a copy near you. And if you're looking for the takeaways from great books, Maria Popova does an amazing job with Brain Pickings.
Now you just have to figure out what's next on your list!
One notable moment in the podcast is when Maron opens the book to a poem dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, and finds nothing but a titled on an otherwise blank page. He finds it very pessimistic, but Tamblyn doesn't agree. She says she's not willing to impose anything on Lohan (though to be fair, putting her name on the page sure does impose something, it's just a bit more open to interpretation, I think).
While Maron looks at that blank page as pessimistic — empty, devoid — I feel very optimistic about it. There's still a chance to write a whole story there — and not only that, but a new story, leaving a past behind.