Tag Archives: books

Five Takeaways from Creativity, Inc.

“What is the best book you’ve read?”

burgerI get that question a lot. I never have a good answer. It’s like asking “what’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?”. There are so many ways to think about that question – the most memorable (one in Alaska), the best food (ok – maybe that same one in Alaska), the one I needed most (one after an exhausting five set tennis match, many, many years ago). And then, there are variations – the best barbecue you’ve ever had (I’ve eaten great barbecue from each of two of my brothers, one of whom was state champion more than once a few years back), the best Mexican food, the best… You get the idea. In other words, there is no “best meal ever” answer.

And, maybe except for The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and my favorite Nero Wolfe novel (The Doorbell Rang), there is no answer for the “best book you’ve ever read” question either.

The best book is the one that gave me what I needed, at the time I needed it and, at times, it almost does not matter how good a book it actually is if it gives me what I need at the moment.levarburtonlaforge

{I think back to when The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck was recommended to me a few decades ago, at a critical time in my life. The book seemed to have been written for me. That’s one that pops into my mind pretty regularly}.

So, with these thoughts… I have a book to recommend highly. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may think it is just a story about the success of Pixar. Yes, it is that… but it is so much more.

pixarThe book is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (President of PIXAR Animation and Disney Animation), with Amy Wallace (New York: Random House. 2014). I read it, and prepared a synopsis for this book, at the request of and for a private client. (I think I will either present it at a later First Friday Book Synopsis, or simply record my synopsis and put it up on our companion 15minutebusinessbooks site).

This may be as good a book as I have read about:

steveJobs

How to work with powerful personalities (think Steve Jobs), how to manage the balance of “task-master” and “freedom” with creative people; how important it is to embrace and learn from failures and mistakes in the pursuit of the end success…

The list of valuable insights in this book is really long.

Here are some key thoughts gleaned from the book:

  • Build a team; give them freedom – but, freedom in service of a common goal…
  • Maybe the biggest problem: the unending resistance to change
  • Find the problems; see the problems, find the problems…
  • Braintrust – constant questioning… (with “straight talk”)
  • Honesty is ok, but candor is better, and essential! (candor = a lack of reserve)
  • The team comes first – first the team, then the ideas! (not the other way around — (To me, the answer should be obvious: Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas).
  • Truly, truly, genuinely expect that the unexpected will arrive
  • Randomness will happen!
  • “Be wrong as fast as you can…”Ed Catmull
  • Be careful where you let your “Steve Jobs” go, and where you let him (her) speak up…
  • Failure is not only inevitable, but also valuable; good
  • Conflict is good; necessary
  • The successful ones have to mentor the new ones!
  • Use “inclusive” furniture
  • “The stick propping the door open was too small” – every detail matters!

If you manage people, especially if you manage creative people, this would be a valuable book for you to read.

Here are my 5 lessons and takeaways from the book:

  1. Learn as widely — (as many skills) — as you can
  2. Learn to observe (take field trips to see…everything)
  3. Learn to practice candor – it is essential!
  4. Really, truly, give everyone a voice
  5. Keep making everything, every part of everything, better!

Seriously, this may be just the book you need at this moment in your business life.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Learning to Learn—and then Continually Learning

I think I better understand why it is important—imperative—to have a true learning society.

I’ve just read the first chapters of the book Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald. It is one of those “academic, to-the-point” writings. And it is excellent.

First, read these excerpts from the book:

Not only Creating a Learning Societyis the pace of learning (innovation) the most important determinant of increases in standards of living, the pace itself is almost surely partially, if not largely, endogenous.
Development entails learning how to learn.
In reality, more firms operate well below their production possibilities curve.
There are large gaps between “best practices” and “average practices.”
Most firms are forever “catching up.”
America seems to have learned how to learn.
How do we move economies to the frontier, and how do we move the frontier out.
There is always a knowledge gap.

(Note: endogenous means having an internal cause or origin; growing or originating from within an organism).

Here’s what I think the book is saying:

  1. There is a current “best” in any and every field. Call this the “frontier.”
  2. The vast majority are not operating at that current best.
    “Most firms operate well below their production possibilities curve.”
  3. This gap between best and less-than-best is true for individuals, companies (and specific departments within companies), and entire countries.
  4. The person/firm/country that is behind the “best” will inevitably fall further behind the best.
  5. The “out-in-front” are “moving the frontiers out,” while all others are simply trying to get closer to the frontier that the leader has already reached.
  6. Even those at the frontier, the best, are not the best in every single portion of their operation.
  7. Thus, the need is to learn to learn, to keep learning, and as you learn, keep moving toward the frontier or arriving at the new frontier (which will not remain the frontier for all that long).

The book has much to say about how governments can help empower such learning, or can in fact clamp down and make it harder to practice such learning processes.

In other words, learning to learn, and continuing to learn, is now the survival skill of the age – for individuals, for companies, and for entire countries and societies.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Why We’re Hard-Wired to Be Disgruntled

My wife made me read an article in the Dallas Morning News Points section a couple of weeks ago. She doesn’t make me do this often—but when she does, I’m usually glad about it.

Here’s the article. It is worth reading: Andrés Martinez: Cheer up, life has never been better.

Main point: things really have never been better. As bad as it seems, don’t kid yourself—things are pretty wonderful!

He reminds us:

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? That’s right: Let’s stop whining already—at least for this holiday season. We’re so spoiled we can’t really relate to how bad previous generations had it.

But, it’s the ending of the article that really grabbed me. Read this, carefully:

So why, if life is better all around, do we whine and complain endlessly as if we live in the worst of times? The answer is: Our success allows us to constantly update our expectations. When my flight is three hours late and the Wi-Fi is busted, I couldn’t care less what it took to cross the country in previous centuries. We are all prima donnas that way. Even in China, young middle-class consumers whine as well, instead of counting their blessings that they didn’t suffer through Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I’ll concede, very grudgingly, that all this whining can be a good thing. As Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (to be released in February), writes, we’re hard-wired to be disgruntled. It’s the only way we achieve progress. Evolution requires us to demand more and better.

This explains why we keep following Moore’s Law, shrinking the size and upgrading the capabilities of everything around us, technologically, and otherwise.

What will you/we “demand to be better, and then make, better” in 2015? That’s the personal, and the business question for all of us to ponder for our holiday break.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Have You Developed a Well-Educated Mind?

Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance.

Isaac Watts, Improvement of the Mind
Quoted in The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

Every now and then, we should remind ourselves of the basics.

Though there are a lot of reasons for reading—to escape, to journey, to be entertained, to be amused—one reason to read is to fill gaps in our knowledge. We read to learn stuff we do not yet know.

The Well-Educated MindI recently discovered a book that reminded me of this: The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. There are books to just read through nice and fast, and there are books to read slowly. I am enjoying reading this book slowly.

The author reminds us of the foundational three-stage process, first proposed by Aristotle. (So much of what we know comes from Aristotle). She reminds us that there are three “stages” in the education process:

  • Stage 1 – the grammar stage – You simply absorb information; you do not evaluate it.
  • Stage 2 – the logic stage – You analyze information, deciding “whether information is correct or incorrect, and make connections between cause and effect, historical events, scientific phenomena, words, and their meanings.”
  • Stage 3 – the rhetoric stage – You learn to express your “own opinions about the facts you have accumulated and evaluated. So the final years of education focus on elegant, articulate expression of opinion in speech and writing – the study of rhetoric.”

So, she writes:

“Learn facts; analyze them; express your opinion about them.”

If you think about the brilliant simplicity of this process, you see how we get into trouble. If you start analyzing and expressing your opinion before you fully know the information, you are skipping a rather major step.

This book provides a terrific reminder about what a well-educated mind is like.

And, back to the Isaac Watts quote, every time I read something and say to myself “I did not know that,” (which is plenty often!), the more I feel like I am acquainting myself with my own ignorance.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

As You Eat More Chikin and Eat More Kale, READ MORE BOOKS!

News item:

A Vermont T-shirt maker has been granted a trademark for the phrase ‘Eat More Kale,’ a decision the state’s governor on Friday hailed as a victory for ‘the little guy’ over a ‘corporate bully.’

 Bo Muller-Moore, who lives in Montpelier, had been ordered to cease using the phrase on T-shirts and other merchandise by the fried chicken chain Chick-fil-A, on the grounds it violated its trademarked slogan, ‘Eat Mor Chikin’.

From ‘Eat More Kale’ Guy Beats Chick-fil-A In Trademark Battle

It turns out the kale guys won the battle—they can use the phrase Eat More Kale. Good for them.

I’m not going to weigh in on what’s best for you. I do suppose a case could be made that you should

Eat Mor Chikin
and
Eat More Kale

I definitely think we should all Eat More Blue Bell Ice Cream (OK – probably not much more).

But I think I can say this with confidence: You would probably do yourself a favor if you commit to

READ MORE BOOKS!

Different studies and surveys pretty much reveal that people, on average, don’t read very many books. One survey I once read said that the average male college graduate, after graduation, reads only about one full book a year.

Oh, the book lovers read a lot of books. If there were three people in a room, a never-read-a-book-person, me, and Bob Morris, our average would be very high. I read quite a few books a year. But Bob reads many, many, many more books. So, in a room of three, with Bob in it, the average would be off the charts.

But there aren’t that many people like Bob out there.

(And, by the way, we’ve now learned, thanks to big data connected to all versions of e-books, that a lot of people only read a few pages/chapters into the books they buy. We sort of suspected this—now we know this).

So…here’s your challenge. We’re getting close enough to next year, 2015, to start thinking about what we could accomplish next year. Here’s my challenge:

READ MORE BOOKS!

READ MORE BOOKS!

Recreate your book reading for 2014. How many books will you have read this year? Now, for next year, add to that number. READ MORE BOOKS next year than you read this year.

Chick-fil-A does not tell us how many chikins to eat; they just encourage us to eat more chikin. The kale folks don’t tell us how much kale to eat; they just encourage us to eat more kale.

So, I won’t tell you how many books to read. I just encourage you to READ MORE BOOKS.

READ MORE BOOKS!

That is all.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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