Book Notes

Posts by Daryl L. L. Houston

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Posted on April 5, 2018

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is ostensibly a book about how to build a business but it is in fact a collection of war stories and opinions by venture capitalist and erstwhile CEO Ben Horowitz. I think it is probably a fairly helpful read to somebody in crisis in a CEO-like role who needs to hear that the work is difficult and that even CEOs regarded as successful have a really hard time of it. I personally found lots of the book sort of narrow-minded and wrong-headed and sometimes downright offensive. It comes off as a bit of a long-form humble-brag, which is annoying. I wouldn’t personally want to work for this guy or to emulate him. And as someone in a leadership…

Deep Work

Posted on April 2, 2018

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a great read if you’re looking for motivation, tips, and reassurance that might help you transcend what he characterizes as “shallow” work to do higher impact “deep” work. He defines these work types as follows: Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate. Shallow work is composed of tasks like answering emails and performing social media activities (e.g. for authors who feel like they ought to keep…

The Effortless Experience

Posted on February 2, 2018

The Effortless Experience, by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi, is a really good read for pretty much anybody who runs a customer service organization, and parts of it are worthwhile for anybody who leads people working in a customer service organization. The authors strive to make a pretty solid case for a Customer Effort Score framework that their research has led them to develop; I don’t intend to push too hard for the introduction their framework in my organization, but I still felt like a lot of what the authors share makes good sense and can contribute to providing better customer service. Several times, I found myself kind of smacking my head and thinking “we should be doing a better job of…

The Effective Executive

Posted on January 19, 2018

Years ago, I started to read an abridged version of James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a huge work of comparative religion and mythology that jumps from continent to continent from one sentence to the next as it outlines myths and magics of the world. It’s a dazzling book that’s really hard to absorb because of how much information it throws at you. Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive made me think of Frazer’s book, though Drucker’s is a fair bit more modest in scope. Often in the book, he states a premise and then catalogues a few case studies in brief, and his catalogues, located as distant in time as they are, and as discursive as they sometimes are, kind of made me glaze…

Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard

Posted on January 8, 2018

Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard is a solid read.   Kotter’s Leading Change is pretty structured and high level and kind of hard to think about using on a day-to-day basis. By contrast, Switch actually starts at more of a micro level and encourages you to think of small things you might change to lead to a bigger change. I cover most of the book’s main points below, but the book provides a lot more texture and a lot of inspiring case studies, and I highly recommend it as a resource for practical approaches to navigating change; it has already impacted how I approach parts of my work. The book outlines a basic framework around the metaphor of…

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Posted on January 8, 2018

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencioni, offers what it bills as a fable dramatizing a team’s shift from dysfunction to function. It’s a little annoyingly patronizing in how it lays out the fable, and it’s also annoying how much it relies upon stereotypes (e.g. the spectrum-ish CTO or the sort of diva marketing personality), but it’s also fairly useful and easy to follow, and it’s a small time investment. The five dysfunctions are (indented bullets are quotes from the book): Absence of trust (the bottom of the pyramid) Fear of conflict (building on absence of trust) Lack of commitment Avoidance of accountability Inattention to results In a nutshell, if you lack trust on your team, you likely also have a…

Leading Change

Posted on January 8, 2018

Leading Change, by John Kotter, feels very corporate and a little dated. It seems to be aimed at bigger changes than what I’ve had occasion to help steer — big merges or reorganizations, for example. So a lot of it felt like it wasn’t super useful to me all the way through, but there’s plenty to learn from it. I’ve heard and read a bit lately about the distinction between management and leadership, and this book reinforces that distinction. Management is more tactical and leadership more transformative and strategic. I think this is a useful distinction. A relevant quote: Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include…