Book Review: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Andrew S. Grove is the former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel. Having led Intel into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Andrew shared his insights on management that are still relevant to this day.

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Although this book is more applicable to managers, it is not limited to people who hold management positions. From the outset of this book, Andrew mentioned that this book is also relevant for “know-how managers” – people who are sources of knowledge, skills, and understanding to people around them in any organization.  These know-how managers regularly affect and influence the work of others even without strict organizational authority.

I transitioned to the data engineer position from my previous solutions engineering role roughly 3 months ago. Even though I’ve never held a management position, I regularly help, train, and/or affect the work of engineers, engineering leads, commercial teams, and product managers. I see myself as a know-how manager and with this mindset, it gives me a new perspective on how I should approach my work which I’ll discuss below.

I’ll also encourage anyone who reports to a manager to read on further since I find it insightful to understand what a good manager should focus on. A good manager will have a huge positive impact on your career growth whereas a bad manager will negatively affect your desire to stay at your current company. The earlier you can identify signs of working for a bad manager, the more prepared you can be on your plan (ex. presenting new ideas to your manager, transferring departments, preparing for a new opportunity) going forward.

Helping others is a responsibility

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This quote above is my biggest takeaway. I love to help others and to see those people perform well. Due to that as well as some bad internal processes, I had to work long hours until recently for my own workload as well as the time I allocate to help and train others. I do it not because I have to but because I want to see these people along with the company succeed.

However, this book has given me a different perspective. Since I consider myself as a know-how manager, my output should be based on not only the output of my individual work but the output of all the people under my influence. Helping others is no longer just an act of goodwill, but a responsibility instead. Like my individual work, the time I spend on helping others need to be taken into account as my workload by both my manager and me. This means that I need to be more rigorous when helping others and the time I spend to help others will need to be properly allocated and prioritized against my own individual work.

Time management

How you handle your own time is the single most important aspect of being a role model and leader.

Andrew introduced the concept of managerial leverage, which is the output generated by a specific type of work activity.

It is crucial for managers to spend their time on high leverage activities since time is a finite resource. With that said, choosing the right activity to spend time on only allows you to exert the highest impact. The key is not to maximize your impact but to maximize positive impact. Therefore attention and focus need to be applied to the high leverage activities that you identified to ensure your impact is a positive one.

One example that many people can relate to is getting their performance reviews. Performance review usually happens annually and is the time when you get performance feedback along with any additional compensation or promotion that is deemed warranted by your manager. Performance review when done right will motivate employees to strive to perform at their best. And when done poorly (ex. ambiguous feedback, unclear leveling requirements, no feedback on how to improve) can demotivate employees for the rest of the year and in many cases cause employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. This is why Andrew was very rigorous on carrying out performance reviews and would also give training sessions on doing performance reviews since he was well aware that this is a particularly high leverage activity that can impact Intel’s ability to attract and keep great talent.

Normalize irregular activities

To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle the interruptions that plague you.

One of the most costly time sinks is context switching. During context switching, you will need some time to change your mindset and continue from where the task was last left off. Working in a fast paced environment with multiple tasks I need to attend to, I incur context switching constantly. As many as 10 people can message me any given day for me to help resolve an issue. No matter how efficient you work, these interruptions do take a toll eventually. Getting unexpected interruptions throughout the day can drastically reduce your efficiency at any given task. And before you know it the day will be over and you wouldn’t be able to dedicate much time and focus on the core tasks that you planned for the day.

One thing that really helped me was to ask people that need your help to schedule regular meetings with you instead. This will achieve multiple objectives. First, people usually come more prepared with their questions when they come to meetings since they know it’s time-boxed. Second, it gives them an opportunity to group related questions together for you to resolve at the same time. And lastly, it gives people that need your help an idea of when their issues can be resolved. This is one example of normalizing irregular activities that have really benefitted me. If you have any other examples please share with me as well. 🙂

Summary

I’ll say this is a must-read for managers of different levels. Being a good manager is not easy and this book shows how managers can improve the lives of people under their influence which will, in turn, improve the performance of the team. Often times managers simply do not know what they need to focus on and giving this book a read is definitely a great first step.

 

I’m currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Book Review: Rework by Jason Fried

If given a choice between investing in someone who has read ‘Rework’ or has an MBA, I’m investing in ‘Rework’ every time. – Mark Cuban

Rework by Jason Fried is one of the books which Mark Cuban credits his success to. Due to that (along with the great looking book cover) I was very excited to start reading it. I’ll say this is by far the most enjoyable read I’ve ever had, especially considering it’s business related. Every chapter is an insight which is usually covered within 1 – 2 pages. There was really no dull moment throughout the entirety of the book. Nothing is dragged on and just enough context is given to illustrate each insight.

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Build half a product, not a half-assed product

When building a product, don’t focus on trying to give your customers everything all at once. You simply won’t be able to focus on everything and do them well with the limited time, resources, ability, and focus that you have. Prioritize the most important features first and build it well.

Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.

Most things get better when they are shorter or simpler. Great producers cut good scenes to make great movies and great speakers cut out good content to give great speeches. Jason Fried and his team cut this book from 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Give this book a read and you will understand how less is more.

Do it yourself first

Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first.

For any tests, if you see “never” or “always” as part of an answer on a multiple choice question, you can usually rule out that answer right away. The same thing applies in this case as there are usually exceptions to the rule. However, what is important is the message behind this quote. If possible, spend the time to understand a given role before you delegate or hire someone to do it. It’s even better if you can spend a day working in that role. This way you will have a good understanding of the role and the challenges that come with it. This can make you a better manager as you will know what to evaluate people on as well as give yourself a more holistic view of your organization.

Own your bad news

When something bad happens, own it and apologize. Don’t try to hide bad news from your customers if they haven’t discovered it yet. In today’s day and age, bad news can only be hidden for so long. There will always be a narrative whether it comes from the press, your competitors, or from you. So own your bad news and apologize, you’ll be better off if you’re the one telling the story.

And just like giving a speech, what draws people’s attention is usually not the mistake, but the reaction to the mistake. People can always tell when an apology is sincere or not, so be honestly concerned about the impact of your bad news and apologize like you will to a real person.

We have probably all heard or seen a variation of “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” as an apology. I’ll admit that I’ve used a variation of it myself to clients over emails. Besides sounding generic and templated, this specific example is bad for a number of reasons. First, when you apologize take ownership of it, so rather than use “we” use “I” instead. Second, if the client depends on your services then your impact is more than just an inconvenience. And lastly, “this may have caused” implies that there might not be anything wrong at all. Either there is something wrong or there isn’t. And if you find the need to write an apology, that is a good indication that there is something wrong. So own the responsibility and apologize in the right way.

Inspiration is perishable

Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Inspiration doesn’t last forever. So if you are inspired and feel like doing something, do it now. Even if you are inspired to take on a time-consuming project, do the things you can do right now to put that project in action.

This is something that I can really relate to this past year. I was inspired by my ex-girlfriend to start reading more regularly. On the very same day, I researched a list of books that I wanted to read and by the following day, I have put in my order for 8 books. This has since led me to read almost every day for 6 months straight and counting.

One of the very first books I read is Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk which inspired me to start my own blog. I immediately looked into the different options for setting up a personal blog and within a week I’ve set up my own blog on WordPress. I’ve been blogging once every two weeks ever since. If I hadn’t acted on my plans when I was inspired immediately, chances are I’ll not be motivated enough to carry out my plans and will not have learned so much by reading so many great books.

Summary

Rework by Jason Fried is a great read that is applicable to everyone. The insights I share are by no means the most important, just the ones that are more applicable to me. Definitely give it a read if you get the chance, it will be a quick read where you can get ideas or be inspired.

 

I’m currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Book Review: The Outsiders by William N. Thorndike, Jr.

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike, Jr. details the commonalities among the 8 CEOs (also referred to in this book as the outsiders) who significantly outperformed their peers. William stated the commonalities right off the bat and used the remaining chapters to go over each outsider’s experience much more in-depth.

You can tell that a lot of work went into this book. Many interviews were conducted and a lot of financial data were analyzed and presented.

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Capital Allocation

Capital allocation: the process of deciding how to deploy the firm’s resources to earn the best possible return for shareholders

CEOs have 2 key responsibilities: running their operations effectively and deploying the cash generated by those operations

CEOs generally have 5 choices for deploying capital:

  1. Investing in existing operations
  2. Acquiring other businesses
  3. Issuing dividends
  4. Paying down debt
  5. Repurchasing stock

And 3 options for raising it:

  1. Tapping internal cash flow
  2. Issuing debt
  3. Raising equity

The outsiders are focused primarily on making capital allocation decisions and usually delegate running the company operations to a trusted partner. When making capital allocation decisions, these CEOs are very aware of the various tax implications. And contrary to their peers, they did not avoid repurchasing stocks and also did not pay any meaningful dividends.

There is no right option for deploying capital. The key message here is to evaluate all the available options and its implications for your organization.

Develop and Trust Your Analytical Skills

One of the key differences between the outsiders and their peers is that the outsiders trust and act on their own analytical skills. They do not fall prey to the Wall Street’s conventional wisdom and their decisions aren’t impacted by the public opinion. The outsiders have their own method of determining whether a business including their own is under or overvalued. Once they determine a business is underpriced, they are able to act swiftly and acquire the business or its shares if it’s the best capital allocation option.

William examined the stock repurchases events made by the outsiders and these events all happened when the share price was undervalued. On the other hand, when the shares were expensive, they often used it to buy other companies or to raise inexpensive capital to fund future growth.

Decentralized Organization

There is a fundamental humility to decentralization, an admission that headquarters does not have all the answers and that much of the real value is created by local managers in the field.

Besides allocating financial resources, CEOs also need to allocate human resources. The outsiders all emphasized decentralization except when it comes to capital allocation decisions. They hire the best people and give them the responsibilities and authority to do their job. The goals set for the local managers are clear and if they meet their goals they often won’t hear from the headquarters.

Turnovers are costly. So when you hire great people, let them do what they do best. Giving them the responsibility and opportunity to learn and grow will be one of the best ways to retain your talent.

Investor Temperament

In both insurance and investing, Warren Buffett believes the key to longterm success is “temperament”, a willingness to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when they are fearful”.

What set the outsiders apart from their peers is their temperament. There are numerous CEOs who have the analytical skills who make poor capital allocation decisions. Like in life, it’s one thing to know what the right thing to do is, it’s another thing to do it. Going against the public opinion isn’t easy and this is what the outsiders have done throughout their careers.

Often times, the popular decision is the wrong decision. Be able to evaluate the options yourself and understand that your job is not to please the public but to bring value to your company and its shareholders.

Summary

The book is very organized and does not stray away from the key messages. However, I also find that too many examples are used to convey the same key messages. It’s not a book I’ll recommend but if you are interested in the insights I discussed and the numbers behind it then this is a book you might enjoy reading.

 
I’m currently reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

Book Review: Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham

Jay Abraham is the Founder and CEO of Abraham Group, Inc, a marketing consulting firm that provides strategies to businesses. He has helped many businesses including IBM, Microsoft, and Citibank and is a well-respected voice in the marketing field. Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got details the strategies one can use to grow its business and provides advice on how to reach your personal goal.

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Fall in love with your customers

A common theme that reoccurs is to value your customers. There are numerous marketing resources that talk about the value of being customer-oriented. However, Jay Abraham takes it to another level.

One of the biggest mistakes, probably the biggest mistake, people make in any business is they fall in love with the wrong thing. They fall in love with their product, service or company. You should believe passionately in your product, service, or company. But you should fall in love with your clients. By client, I mean several groups. Not only the people and businesses who pay you for your goods or services. But also your employees, bosses, team members, and vendors. … Fall in love with your clients means taking responsibility for their well being.

Being customer-oriented is not enough. You have to fall in love with your customers and treat them as your valued friend. Having this change in mindset is crucial and will change the way you market and interact with your customers.

A successful business starts with the desire to provide a solution to another’s problem. Put your clients’ need ahead of your own. And rather than asking “What do I have to say to get people to buy?”, ask “What do I have to give?”. See your product as a way to improve your customers’ lives. Once you treat your customers as your valued friend, you will think about ways to improve their lives, which as a result will give you ideas on how to increase your business’ value to your customers.

Growth Strategies

Identify the businesses that are selling to your target market that aren’t competing with you. These businesses tend to be selling something that will complement your product or service. Contact these companies and discuss ways where you can leverage each others’ customer base.

Breakthroughs are unconventionally fresh, superior, more exciting ways of doing something.

Keep an eye on the possible breakthroughs that can be applied to your business. Breakthrough ideas can often be taken from other industries so keep continual access to successful, creative breakthrough developments and achievements. This can come from online resources such as Inc. and Forbes or from networking and brainstorming sessions with success-driven people outside your industry.

USP: The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.
Determine and communicate your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) through all your marketing channels. Consider the obstacles, which can be financial, emotional, or measurability, that might prevent your prospects from dealing with your business. Some obstacles to consider are listed below:

 

  • Financial: what is the potential financial loss if the transaction doesn’t work out?
  • Emotional: how bad would the customer feel or look if his/her purchase fails to perform?
  • Measurability: can the impact your product or service has on the customer’s life, business, or career be measured and evaluated?

The examples above are only meant to get you thinking. The point is to have a holistic view of the different aspects that can prevent a prospect from dealing with your business. Once you have identified these obstacles you can make risk reversal become an important part of your USP (ex. providing guarantees).

You don’t have the right to determine what the market wants, but you have the duty to find out.

There are always ways you can improve your marketing strategy, so make sure you are constantly A/B testing every marketing component, including price.

Jay Abraham said that the single most important strategy you can use to maximize the value of all your strategies is to communicate on a regular basis with everyone who contributes or ever will contribute, in any way to your business success. This goes hand in hand with his belief that you should treat your customers as your valued friend. You should keep in touch and look after your friends and you should do the same for your customers as well. Don’t be bashful, ask for referrals and provide your customers info on how to locate the referrals for you. Customers from referrals usually end up being your best and most loyal customers.

Besides focusing on your active customers also look into your inactive customers and identify the reasons they stop doing business with you. Often times inactive customers just forgot about your business and can be brought back when reached out.

Summary

Jay Abraham talked about goal setting and how a clear destination and precise road map for getting where you want to be is needed to maximize your potential income or success. However, as mentioned, this book is not a personal development book and the emphasis is on the growth strategies one can adopt to improve one’s business. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a business. It can provide you value no matter how successful your business is and will be a book I’ll revisit when I start my own company.

I’m currently reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss and I look forward to sharing with you the insights I learned from this book as well. For more frequent updates on my learnings, you can follow me on Twitter.