April Recap: What I Read, Listened to, and Talked About Last Month

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I’ve written a lot about habits, personal improvement, and professional development; things like reading more, listening to podcasts, engaging mentors, and becoming an inspiring speaker. In light of the interest and feedback I have received on these topics, including hearing from many of you about goals you are making to read more books every month or to hone your public speaking skills, I am starting a monthly series where I recap the things I read, listened to, and talked or presented on every month to inspire new ideas.

What I Read

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for People Like Your Family by Bob Chapman

Do you treat everyone you work with as if they were someone’s child? Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, asks this question as he shares his journey from assuming the CEO role at Barry-Wehmiller in his twenties after his father passed away. He chronicles his company’s near-financial ruin, a counter-intuitive strategy of acquiring failing American manufacturers, and how Barry-Wehmiller turns around companies using its Total Human Leadership culture. There are a number of counter-cultural stories in the book, one of my favorites being how Barry-Wehmiller handled the 2009 recession. Rather than layoff workers, they created a savings plan that included a temporary but significant reduction in Bob’s salary, a pause on executive bonuses, and a system of taking a few weeks each of unpaid leave to reduce labor expense. Some people pitched in and took more unpaid leave if there were colleagues who they knew needed the money. By doing these things, Barry-Wehmiller avoided letting anyone go from its workforce and strengthen its commitment to its people. If you are looking for a book about culture, people empowerment, and servant leadership, this is a great one.

Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schultze

I first learned of Horst Schulze, founder of luxury hotel brands Ritz Carlton and Capella, from a colleague who heard him speak years ago. After growing up in Germany and learning apprenticing in the luxury hotel industry, he came to America and revolutionized the luxury hotel service industry with the concept of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”. His book shares his approach for instilling pride, empowerment, and service excellence in people working in service industries. The most pivotal moment? Reaching someone on their first day. As adults, we have less tolerance to change our behavior, save for major life changes. A new job is considered a major life change. Schulze leads a week-long orientation for every new hotel, speaking with all of the employees on the first day, followed by breakouts on the subsequent days, to help them define what excellence will mean for them. This is mirrored for every new hire by the local General Manager. As Schulze says in his book, “Employees respond enthusiastically to motives and objectives. They simply endure orders and directions.” For example, every employee - from housekeeping to the hostess to the concierge - has the latitude to spend up to $2000 at their own discretion to make a customer happy. Reading it made me so excited by his philosophy that I finished the book in one day, went back through to mark it up with my notes, and am now working on ways to apply his ideas. Given my years of travel, I have had the pleasure to staying at a few Ritz Carlton hotels around the world and can attest to the service - there is really nothing else like it. For example, in Naples one of the valets offered me Gatorade after a morning run, asking which flavor I preferred. Every morning thereafter he had a cold bottle of Gatorade for me waiting. Or, after a several year hiatus, I returned to another Ritz Carlton I had stayed at a number of times years ago. The valets remembered who I was, greeted me by name, and were as thoughtful as ever during my stay. Shulze’s approach to embedding excellence into a culture wins every time.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

I was talking to my friend, Elizabeth Piontek, the other day and half-joking, half-serious complaining about the intravenous blood draws we were putting my toddler through for his allergy tests. I asked her to invent a way to test blood through a finger stick. She proceeded to tell me about the Theranos scandal - the company that was formed to create a way to test blood through a simple finger stick. I’d read about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos years ago when the company was in its heyday of deals with Walgreens and Safeway but had forgotten about it until now. Bad Blood documents the work of investigative journalist John Carreyrou as he gathers examples of fraud from former employees, physicians, and others impacted by Theranos. It is a fascinating example of poor leadership that is willing to sacrifice everything at the expense of maintaining a facade of success - even the health and lives of its patients.

Human Contact is Now a Luxury Good

I’ve talked a lot about limiting screen time for productivity purposes and to live in the moment (links here and here). We rarely watch television at home, and I keep my mobile phone and social media use to a minimum given the plethora of other, more interesting things to do. As a personal choice, we have also not allowed our son access to screens or to play with battery-operated toys, preferring that he gains experience with real people and old-fashioned toys and books when he is young. In my opinion, he has the rest of his life to interact with technology, and for now, he can just focus on running around and being a kid. Reading this article opened my eyes to how screens are now automating our relationships with other people or animals, creating low-cost ways to care for the elderly, enjoy the company of a virtual pet, or play with digitized toy blocks on a screen for free rather than purchasing real blocks to stack and knock over. Human (and physical good) interaction is increasingly become an expensive, luxury good because it costs more to provide or produce than digitized goods. Interesting ideas to consider.

What I Listened To

The Dropout

I had a Theranos / Elizabeth Holmes theme this month, doubling up on Bad Blood and The Dropout podcast. The podcast episodes were short and packed with information about the people involved with Theranos from the beginning. From stories about Elizabeth’s childhood to commentary from key Theranos employees, I found myself shaking my head in shock every few minutes as they presented a new detail. The lengths at which the organization attempted to mask its fraud is astonishing, and listening to the story gave me an interesting perspective on how a company and an idea can veer quickly off course. As a side note, I noticed that the podcast followed the storyline of Bad Blood, so if you have a preference of reading the book or listening to the podcast, you could do one and skip the other.

Blackout

I started listening to Blackout, a fictional podcast about a small New England town and its people as they live through a months-long blackout with radio as their only source of technology. Starring Academy Award-winner Rami Malek, the podcast is a bit of a throwback to the old “radio play” genre, and creates a situation across the United States where everyone is operating without technology due to the blackout. If you like suspenseful stories, studies of human nature, and are curious about what life would be like if technology disappeared in an instant, check this out. New episodes are released every Tuesday.

How to Build a World-Class Network in Record Time

One of his most popular podcast episodes, this is a recording of Tim Ferris’ presentation on networking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. Here, he shares his approach to creating one meaningful human connection at SXSW, highlights ways to engage others in conversation when you are new to a group or conference, provides a method to pitch to someone in a way they will listen, and covers a litany of oft-used networking habits to immediately remove from your repitoire. Many of his tips are tactics that I already use at work, and I found that his recommendations for tweaking these to work at a conference or for networking/pitching to new people helpful.

What I Talked About

Thriving in a Matrix Organization

I had the pleasure of speaking with our National Analyst Team this month about thriving in a matrix organization. I started my career as an Analyst and experienced how complicated it can be to navigate a matrix full of competing priorities and people, especially early in ones career. Some of the most challenging elements of working in a matrix are balancing a can-do attitude and work ethic with unrealistic and competing demands, spending too much time in the details “doing” the work and not having opportunities to lead and present, missing out on a broad set of feedback from the many different perspectives of the people you are working with every day. I shared some of my experience and tips for thriving in a matrix organization, including methods to balance competing priorities and reset expectations, demonstrate the ability to lead and present rather than simply “do” the work, and find trusted mentors for feedback.

Posted on May 13, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.