Stuff I read: December 2015

As usual, a little bit late typing everything up but here’s what I read in December. All books are on the reading page.

December 2015

  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time NOTES: The title scared me a little bit, I thought I’d be reading yet another business book with a bunch of shallow cliches but this book has a bunch of really great viewpoints and thinking. For right or wrong, I started using some of the ideas almost immediately, both at home and at work. Quotes:
    • To start, listen to yourself, quote: “Being to hear yourself avoiding the topic, changing the subject, holding back, telling little lies (and big ones), being imprecise in your language, being uninteresting even to yourself. And at least once today, when something inside of you says, ‘This is an opportunity to be fierce,’ stop for a moment, take a deep breath, then come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Say something that is true for you… example: ‘What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me see if I can get closer to what I really want to say.’
    • Great chapter on “interrogating reality”. Questions that you can ask to make sure that reality is continually being analyzed: “What are my goals when I convene with people? What kinds of things do I usually discuss? Are there other topics that would be more interesting? How often do I find myself – just to be polite, saying things I don’t mean? How many meetings have I sat in where I knew the real issues were not being discussed? What about the conversations in my marriage? What issues are we avoiding? If I were guaranteed honest response to any three questions, whom would I question and what would I ask? What has been the economical, emotional and intellectual cost to the company of not identifying and tackling the real issues? What has been the cost to my marriage?” Lots more on page 20. Great list.
    • Quote: “… when someone takes you up on your invitation to challenge your strongly held opinion, resist the temptation to defend your idea immediately…. Instead of trying to strengthen your own case, inquire into someone’s position. ‘Tell us more, help us understand your thinking.'” I think I’ve read / seen this idea somewhere else recently, ie: before immediately defending your turf (or someone else defending their turf, take a bit of time to listen to the other side before replying.
    • Another great concept / phrase to remember, “Mineral Rights”. Quotes: “If you’re drilling for water, it’s better to drill one hundred foot well than one hundred one foot wells.” Similar concept but different angle, the US military slang uses “ground truth” to describe the reality of a tactical situation – as opposed to intelligence reports and mission plans. The appendix has some steps you can go through when thinking about / talking about mineral rights: 1) Identify the most pressing issue. 2) Clarify the issue. 3) Determine the current impact. 4) Determine the future implications. 5) Examine your personal contribution to the issue. 6) Describe the ideal outcome. 7) Commit to action. Other quotes:
      • Regularly interrogate reality in your workplace and personal life. What has changed? Does the plan still make sense? If not, what is required of you? of others?
      • Since everyone owns a piece of truth about reality, consider whose realities should be explored before important decisions are made?
      • Avoid blame by modifying your language. Replace the word “but” with “and”.
      • Ensure that your personal and corporate immune systems are healthy by conducting an integrity scan and correcting any outages.
    • On being you, have a personal stump speech that answers the following questions: Where am I going? Why am I going there? Who is going with me? How will I get there?
    • On being engaged / mentally invested in a question / conversation, quote: “Think for a moment about the kind of attention you bring to your conversations. While someone is talking, where are your thoughts? When you are face to face, do you look at the individual in front of you or do your eyes roam the room in some sort of perpetual surveilliance? While you’re talking with someone on the telephone, do you scan your email? And can you tell when someone else is scanning his?
    • On 1:1’s and having your direct report set the agenda by asking them to bring up the most important thing that needs to be talked about. Quote: “When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, ‘What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?‘ I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that’s a signal you need to bring it up. I am not going to preempt your agenda with my own. If I need to talk with you about something else, I’ll tag it on to the end or plan another conversation with you.”
    • How to have a mineral rights conversation: What is the most important thing we should be talking about? Describe the issue, what’s going on relative to …? How is this currently impacting you? Who or what else is being impacted? If nothing changes, what are the implications? How have you helped create this issue or situation? What is the ideal outcome? When this is resolved, what difference will that make? What’s the most potent step you can take to resolve this issue? What exactly are you committed to do and when? As part of this conversation, questions only. No leading questions, no declarative statements. Get all of the information out.
    • Decision Tree for helping direct reports figure out how to work on something: Leaf Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.
      Branch Decisions: Make the decisions. Act on it. Report the action you took daily, weekly or monthly. Trunk Decisions: Make the decision. Report your decisions before you take action.
      Root Decisions: Make the decision jointly, with input from other people. These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the project or company.
    • On tackling the toughest challenges: Ongoing problems in an organization often stem from root issues. Moles are a nuisance and they proliferate because they eat the grubs in the ground. Go for the root cause. “Make it your job as a leader to give up mole whacking and take up grub hunting.”
    • On talking about / presenting bigger issues to a group, an outline: 1) The issue is… 2) It is significant because… 3) My ideal outcome in … 4) Relevant background information includes… 5) What I have done up to this point 6) The help I want from the group is.. (page 129-130 and page 133 has some good facilitator guidelines)
    • Principle 6 / page 187: An emotional wake is what you remember after I’m gone. What you feel. The aftermath, aftertaste, or afterglow.
    • Principle / chapter 7: be more comfortable with silence, it’s ok to pause and let people reflect or even just to be quiet.
    • Last, in the Appendix and already used this week, the Confrontation Model, which givees you tools for confronting tough issues with courage, compassion and skill. Page 254.
  • Sidetracked: Volume 5: NOTES: Like Bike Magazine except for all outdoors, picked up a subscription on a whim a couple weeks ago, lots of amazing photography and outdoor inspiration.
  • Homage to Catalonia NOTES: Had a work trip to Barcelona to visit with the New Relic team there. Bought a couple books about Spain and Barcelona, this was highly recommended on an thread. Can’t say that I felt a learned a ton about either through the book but apparently it’s supposed to be one of George Orwell’s best books, 3 stars out of 5 from me.

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