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How to Stimulate Group Creativity / Book Summary of Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”

Stimulate Group Creativity Using Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats'

In his bestselling book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono describes a powerful problem-solving approach that enriches mental flexibility by encouraging individuals and groups to attack an issue from six independent but complementary perspectives.

Edward de Bono is a leading authority in creative thinking. He is widely regarded as the father of lateral thinking. De Bono has written over 70 books on thinking and creativity.

Using the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ for Structured Brainstorming

Edward de Bono, leading authority in creative thinking and lateral thinking De Bono created the ‘six thinking hats’ method after identifying six distinct lines of human thought in problem solving. De Bono calls each approach a “hat” and assigns them different colors.

At the heart of the ‘six thinking hats’ method are six different colored hats that participants put on—literally or metaphorically—to represent the type of thinking they should concentrate on while wearing each.

  1. White is neutral, objective, and fact-based. A white hat is concerned with objective data: “What information do we have? What information do we need? What information are we missing? How can get the information we need? What objective questions should be asked?”
  2. Red denotes passion, anger, intuition, and emotions. A red hat considers the emotional side of problem solving, which is often neglected or masked in meetings: “What are our gut reactions to the matter at hand?”
  3. Black is somber, serious, and cautious. A black hat is vigilant, plays devil’s advocate, and encourages derogatory and judgmental behavior: “what are the weaknesses of these ideas? What are the risks? What could go wrong?”
  4. Yellow represents positive thinking, hope, and optimism to counteract the black hat’s power. A yellow hat plays “the angel’s advocate” and is cheerful and confident: “What are the best-case scenarios? What are the best aspects of this? What are the advantages? Who can benefit from this?”
  5. Green signifies abundance, growth, richness, and fertility. A green hat is the hat of creativity; it rejects established rules and norms, and invents new approaches: “What are some new ideas on this subject? What is interesting about this idea? What are the variances in these ideas?”
  6. Blue represents the sky and therefore provides the overarching perspective. A blue hat performs “meta thinking” and is concerned with the organization of the thinking process and the use of other hats. The blue hat synthesizes and reconciles different viewpoints. At the start of a brainstorming session, the blue hat sets the stage for where the discussion may go. The blue hat guides and sustains the discussion, often restating its purposes: “What are we thinking about? What is the goal? What should we do next? What have we achieved so far? What should we do to achieve more?” At the conclusion of the brainstorming session, the blue hat appraises the discussion, and proposes a plan of action.

Use De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Model for Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

'Six Thinking Hats' by Edward de Bono (ISBN 0316178314) An individual working alone may use the approach to consider broader, distinct lines of thought. By changing hats, the individual can switch viewpoints and ensure that he/she is not stuck in specific thinking patterns.

However, the approach is best suited to group discussions (when chaired by a skilled facilitator) in which conflicting ideas may never otherwise be fully synthesized into plans of action. By persuading each participant to think constructively alongside other participants, the ‘six thinking hats’ method taps into group members’diverse perspectives and uses their collective knowledge without destructive conflict.

Using these hats nurtures creativity by letting participants step beyond their typical roles and contribute to developing, organizing, and progressing ideas. Participants can also identify how their cognitive state at any one time shapes how they approach problems.

Recommendation: Read. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats presents a very effective technique for stimulating group creativity. The method can remove mental blocks, organize ideas and information, foster cross-fertilization, and help conduct thinking sessions more productively than do other brainstorming methods.

Complement with Dan Ciampa’s Taking Advice for an excellent framework on the kind of advice network you need on strategic, operational, political, and personal elements of your work and life. Read my summary in this article.

Creativity by Synthesis (Combining Ideas): A Case Study on the Darwin & Mendel Theorems in Biology

One of the fascinating aspects of invention is tracking the continuity of ideas across an arc of time and tracing the progression of ideas over time. My previous article examined how blending antecedent ideas to form new ones led to the invention of the Gutenberg’s press, the rotary steam engine, and the Wright Brothers‘ first powered flight. In this article, we will explore a related mental model for creativity.

A fundamental component of creative thinking is combining whole ideas (or just certain elements of ideas) to create a new concept. When we synthesize—i.e. fuse ideas to forge new ones—we mirror the footsteps of some of humankind’s most imaginative breakthroughs.

James Maxwell‘s work on electromagnetic radiation developed from the synthesis of seemingly unrelated concepts such as electricity, magnetism, light, and motion. His theory of electromagnetism was one of the most significant discoveries of the nineteenth century. Albert Einstein described Maxwell’s work on electromagnetism as “the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.”

Even more profoundly, Darwin and Mendel’s work exemplifies the most groundbreaking synthesis of ideas. Combined more than four decades after their deaths, their ideas shaped the foundation of life sciences, as we know it. Allow me to elaborate.

Theory of the Descent of Man - Darwin's Theories of Evolution

Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Charles Darwin The word “evolution” was first used in English as early as 1647. Long before that, pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander (611–546 B.C.E) speculated that humans must have evolved from an animal and that this evolution must have sprung from the sea. By the end of the 18th century, naturalists conjectured that different life forms develop progressively from more primitive forms. They also hypothesized that all life forms were interrelated. Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802,) Charles Darwin’s grandfather and a natural philosopher and physiologist, as well as the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) argued along those lines. However, most of their thoughts on evolution and the relatedness of all life forms were purely speculative.

'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin (ISBN 0451529065) Darwin’s most notable scientific contribution was his vast body of evidence supporting the aforementioned hypotheses. Even more significantly, Darwin identified natural selection as the mechanism that determines evolutionary change. In his seminal treatise, “Origin of Species” (1859,) Darwin distilled the theory of evolution through two foundational concepts:

  1. In any ecosystem, individuals of the same species are likely to differ in their measurable characteristics. Such variations tend to be inherited.
  2. Living beings—plants and animals—reproduce more quickly than nature can impart the resources for their survival. Individuals of a species must therefore compete in order to live and reproduce in a competitive ecosystem.

Charles Darwin’s work on evolution was really a synthesis of concepts from comparative anatomy, paleontology, geology, geography, and animal breeding.

Advancing his theories further, in “The Descent of Man” (1871,) Darwin described humans as an outcome of evolution. Humans have the same general anatomical and physiological principles as animals and are in fact an advanced animal form whose superior traits are a consequence of evolutionary progression. Darwin hypothesized that humans share a common ancestry with animals, more specifically evolving from primates.

The Big Gap in Darwin’s Theory: Lack of an Explanation for Heredity

'The Descent Of Man' by Charles Darwin (ISBN 1463645961) In the introduction to The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, “It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Darwin’s theories about the evolution of humankind created an instant uproar among advocates of Christian theology and its concept of a wise, benevolent, and omnipotent Creator as laid out in the Book of Genesis. Since then, few scientific theories have been as hotly debated among nonscientists as evolution and its opponent, creationism (and recently, intelligent design.)

After The Descent of Man, it was more than a decade before Darwin’s work came to be scientifically established. Darwin’s work remained deficient—if natural selection was to have lasting effects, these advances had to be conserved and passed on from one generation to the next. He agreed with scientists who argued that his evolutionary theory failed to explain how variations are transmitted from parents to their offspring.

Mendelian Inheritance in Andalusian Fowls - Cross-breeding Experiments by Gregor Mendel

Cross-breeding Experiments by Gregor Mendel: Evidence of Heredity

Gregor Mendel Between 1856 and 1863, independent of Charles Darwin (1809–1882,) Moravian monk Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) conducted extensive pea plant breeding experiments in his monastery’s garden. He systematically studied what farmers had known for centuries: that crossbreeding animals and plants creates “hybrid” offspring with desirable traits. Based on his pea plant experiments, Mendel laid the foundational rules of genetic inheritance and heredity.

Synthesis of Darwin and Mendel’s Work as the Foundation of Life Sciences

It was not until the 1930s, long after both Darwin and Mendel’s deaths, that biologists started to study Mendel’s work on heredity in conjunction with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Scientists were then able to understand how variation of characteristics is passed on to new generations and how evolution is a process of descent with modification. Mendel’s laws provided justification of inheritance, thereby completing Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Subsequently, Darwin’s theory became the basic mechanism of evolution—evolutionary genetics was established as biology’s central theorem and the bedrock concept of all life sciences. From that point on, Darwin became one of the most influential persons in human history.

Scientists continue to fine-tune humankind’s understanding of evolutionary biology as new evidence and fresh insights pour in from biochemistry, genetics, archaeology, neuroscience, and various other disciplines.

Creativity by Blending Ideas to Form New Ones: A Case Study of Gutenberg and the Printing Press

Ideas Evolve over Time by Blending with Other Ideas

Ideas Evolve over Time by Blending with Other Ideas

One of the fascinating aspects of invention is tracking the continuity of ideas across an arc of time. Through education, exposure, and experimentation, people’s creative thoughts can stretch both temporally and across various disciplines of knowledge.

When people develop a new idea, they often share it with others, who may then use this idea to expand their own understanding of concepts, invent even fresher ideas, and spread them. Ideas thus evolve over time.

Building on Antecedent Inventions

Considering the collaborative nature of idea formation, every new idea is arguably a conceptual sum of its predecessors. The power of blending ideas to form new ones is shown in that most seminal inventions are based on antecedents—inventions that came before them. For instance,

  • James Watt’s “invention” of the steam engine (or, more precisely, his invention of the separate-condenser steam engine) was in fact an attempt to modify Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine. Newcomen’s work was itself based on Thomas Savery’s invention of a steam-powered pump to extract water from mine-shifts. Later, James Watt adapted his separate-condenser to produce continuous rotary motion and expanded its use far beyond pumping water. Continuous rotary motion sparked the transition from hand-production methods to machine-power and became the driving force of the Industrial Revolution.
  • The Wright brothers’ first heavier-than-air powered flight was the culmination of their experience with bicycles. This first flight demonstrated their ability to improve prior inventions by applying previously-reached solutions to controlled flight issues. [See my previous article on how the Wright brothers argued and developed their ideas.] Within fifty years of the Wright brothers’ first successful airplane, humankind’s concept of distance had changed dramatically: aircrafts could fly across continents in hours—sometimes faster than sound. Just a short time later, aircrafts were traveling into space.
  • British Mathematician Andrew Wiles’ much-celebrated proof of Pierre de Fermat’s Last Theorem was based on the work of some of the greatest mathematical minds who, over three centuries, had also puzzled over Fermat’s Last Theorem. Contemporaries Gerhard Frey, Jean-Pierre Serre, and Ken Ribet also influenced Wiles’ work. Until Wiles’ success in the mid-nineties, the theorem remained inaccessible to proof for 358 years. In the 1840s, German mathematician Richard Dedekind attempted to solve the theorem and in so doing, laid the foundations of algebraic number theory.

Idea for Impact: Creativity is accessible through the often-subconscious process of blending what you already know to form new ideas.

Gutenberg's Invention of Mechanized Printing: Blend of coin punch and mechanized wine press

Case Study: Gutenberg’s Invention of Mechanized Printing

In the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanized movable-type printing. His invention revolutionized the dissemination of knowledge throughout the Western World and played a pivotal role in the development of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution.

The earliest forms of printing evolved from letter and coin punches, which were in vogue even in the Neolithic era. Woodblock printing was fashionable in East Asia since the second century. At least two centuries prior to Gutenberg’s invention, manual block printing with movable type had existed. However, this technique was hardly known in Europe, where all manuscripts were laboriously copied out by hand or stamped out with woodblocks before Gutenberg’s invention.

Johannes Gutenberg: Inventor of mechanized movable-type printing Gutenberg blended the flexibility of a coin punch with the power of a mechanized wine press to invent mechanized printing. For each character to be printed, Gutenberg used his skills as a goldsmith to cast individual pieces of metal type. These pieces could be quickly assembled into blocks depending on the composition of characters on a page.

Gutenberg’s mechanized press was an adaptation of the wine press, a historical contraption used to crush grapes and extract their juice for winemaking. Gutenberg’s press consisted of a fixed lower bed and movable upper platen containing composed type blocks. The platen was inked, covered with a sheet of paper, and pressed by a small bar on a worm screw. Pressing the upper and lower surfaces together formed a vise and left a sharp impression of inked characters on the paper.

The hand-operated Gutenberg press was further mechanized in the 19th century. Engineers introduced James Watt’s invention of the double-acting rotary steam engine to create steam-powered rotary presses, altogether creating industrialized bulk printing.

This is Yoga for the Brain: Multidisciplinary Learning

In Praise of Multidisciplinary Frameworks for Better Thinking You need a broad-based understanding to succeed in today’s increasingly complex world.

Modern scientific and technological advances are increasingly born at the frontiers of more than one science disciplines.

It’s impossible to know everything. However, if you work to understand the basics of the biggest, most important paradigms in the fields of science, humanities, and social sciences, you can progressively expand your decision-making process.

A multidisciplinary methodology entails drawing suitably from multiple disciplines to examine problems outside of their normal boundaries and reach solutions based on an understanding of complex situations.

Multidisciplinarity Leads to Better Internalization of Knowledge

Multidisciplinarity allows you can transform a perspective in one discipline to expand your thought-frameworks in other disciplines. The renowned venture capitalist Paul Graham, author of the bestselling Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age, said this best when he once wrote,

Studying things from unrelated subjects (multidisciplinary learning) is a lot like yoga for brain. You don’t actually get anywhere when you do yoga. You stand in one place and bend yourself in various shapes. But it makes you more flexible, so when you go out and do walk around, you can walk better.

“Cross-Training for the Mind” à la Charlie Munger

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) The great investor Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a big proponent of multidisciplinary thinking. This distinguished beacon of rationality and wisdom coined the term “latticework of mental models” to enable the “cross-training for the mind.” Rather than silo your mind just in the narrow areas you tend to concentrate on at college and work, Munger advocates developing a broad, functional set of interdisciplinary knowledge about the world, which can serve you in all parts of life. According to the anthology Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Munger said at a 1998 talk at the Harvard Law School,

If A is a narrow professional, B consists of the big, extra-useful concepts from other disciplines, then, clearly, the professional possessing A plus B will usually be better off than the poor possessor of A alone. How could it be otherwise? And thus, the only rational excuse for not acquiring B is that it is not practical to do so, given the man’s need to A and the other urgent demands in his life. I will later try to demonstrate that this excuse for unidisciplinarity, at least for our most gifted people, is usually unsound.

Many of the world’s leading companies in science and technology are employing multidisciplinary people for managerial positions. These people understand a range of science principles and methods and can synthesize the works of domain-specific experts to invent creative solutions to problems.

Idea for Impact: Pursue Multidisciplinary Thinking

People who think very broadly and comprehend many different models from many different disciplines make better decisions.

Pursue multidisciplinary thinking. Open your mind to new ideas and new experiences. Make new friends, travel afar, read more, and discover new stories.

Interact with people who work in different disciplines and dabble with the arts and the media. Let the new sights, sounds, smells, languages, tastes, sensations, stories, and perspectives spark your creativity.

Inspirational Quotations #696

Irrigators guide the water. Fletchers shape the arrow shaft. Carpenters shape the wood. The wise control themselves.
The Dhammapada

The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.
Meryl Streep

Those who are formed to win general admiration are seldom calculated to bestow individual happiness.
Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington

It is much easier to ride a horse in the direction it’s going.
Abraham Lincoln

We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about ‘unthinkable things’ because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless.
J. William Fulbright

The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.
E. E. Cummings

The things we fear most in organizations — fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances — are the primary sources of creativity.
Margaret J. Wheatley

People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes travel the around the world looking for it. … Once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.
Elizabeth Gilbert

Let no man ever look for what is pleasant, or what is unpleasant. Not to see what is pleasant is pain, and it is pain to see what is unpleasant.
The Dhammapada

An insult is either sustained or destroyed, not by the disposition of those who insult, but by the disposition of those who bear it.
John Chrysostom

Job-Hunting While Still Employed [Two-Minute Mentor #10]

Job-Hunting While Still Employed Searching for a new job without revealing that you aren’t very pleased at your current job or getting fired can be a challenge. Here are four ways to job-hunt with caution.

  • Examine your motivations before job-hunting. Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with previous employers. Try to ask for honest feedback about how you’re perceived by your managers and what’s holding you back from a promotion. You’ll find it easier to tackle career progression frustrations in a familiar environment at your current employer rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes and produce results quickly.
  • Respect your employer’s time and resources. Don’t job-search on company time—your current job responsibilities are your priority. Looking for another position typically involves having to be away from your office for interviews; use your vacation days—not sick days—for job-searching and interviewing. Be careful about using your work computer to look up jobs, contact recruiters, or update your social-media presence.
  • Be tactful about whom you tell that you’re looking for another job. Even if you trust your coworkers, you can’t limit what they may share with others. Some of your coworkers may be ethically obligated to keep your boss and your company informed about any prospective changes in staffing or anything that might affect the organization’s goals. Be cautious about how you promote yourself on LinkedIn and job-search websites.
  • If you are offered a new job, be straight with everyone. Inform your boss immediately. Give as much notice as required, plan to tie up loose ends, and offer to help transition your responsibilities to a successor. Don’t be unreasonable in leveraging your new job offer to negotiate a counteroffer from your employer. Do your best to leave on the right note. Be consistent in what you tell different people about why you’re leaving. Do not burn bridges in the job-transition process.

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking


Thought-provoking questions: potential game changers that are not asked nearly enough

Asking Questions to Encourage Creativity “To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted,” wrote George F. Kneller (1909–1999), the American academic and pioneer in the field of philosophy of education, in Art and Science of Creativity (1965.) Many people don’t know how to probe their thought processes with questions that encourage creativity.

Consider a brainstorming meeting where a new idea was received with comments and judgments like, “this won’t work,” “we’ve never done it this way,” “the customer won’t like it,” or, “if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?” Immediately, a dysfunctional pattern ensues. Defensiveness sets in and the meeting’s participants will resist making any more suggestions and will fail to explore those ideas that were previously made. (One of the key principles of “divergent thinking” for idea-generation is to defer judgment. Neuroscience has suggested that the human prefrontal cortex—the self-monitoring element of the brain—is less active when we’re most creative.)

Creative thinkers ask open-ended, accommodating, and exploratory lead-in questions such as,

  • “I wonder if/why/whether … “
  • “Perhaps we could … “
  • “That would work if/when … “
  • “In what ways can we … .” This favorite of mine was introduced by Edward de Bono, the lateral thinking pioneer and creator of the “Six Thinking Hats” method for group creativity. De Bono called this lead-in question the ‘IWW.’

Instead of declaring “we could never do this,” ask “IWW (in what ways) may people start to do this?” In practical terms, this rephrasing may seem a small thing, but it embodies a leap in unhindered, open-minded thinking. The former seems a categorical rejection; but the latter invites an exploration of possibilities and signals the beginning of the search for solutions to constraints.

Idea for Impact: The ability to pose meaningful—and often deceptively simple questions is the hallmark of creativity

Good Questions Encourage Creative Thinking Often, what leads a creative person to get fresh insight is the quality of questions he/she asks. Questions such as “I wonder if …” and “In what ways can we … ” ignite dialogues in your mind that can lead to creative insights and new discoveries.

The prospect for creative thinking expands when you can reframe restraining statements into creative questions. Consider the following examples:

  • Restraining statement: “We can’t possibly do that.”
    Creative question: “If it were possible, how would you do it?”
  • Restraining statement: “It’ll take too long.”
    Creative question: “If it’s time-consuming, how can I make it short?”
  • Restraining statement: “I can’t talk to her.”
    Creative question: “If you could talk to her, what would you say?”
  • Restraining statement: “I’m too busy to do this.”
    Creative question: “In what ways can we free up some time for you?”

During brainstorming, asking questions in a way that opens participants’ minds to newer possibilities can have a transformative shift in the creative atmosphere. When participants suspend their judgments, everyone in the brainstorming session will feel comfortable enough to explore creative solutions to constraints.

Books I Read in 2016 & Recommend

Personal Finance: Thomas Stanley and William Danko’s The Millionaire Next Door summarizes anthropological research from the ’90s on the attributes of unassuming wealthy Americans. The authors discuss the fancy trappings of affluence and the high cost of maintaining social status. They explain that prosperous individuals prioritize financial independence over a high social status. Key takeaway: It’s easy to get rich by living below your means, efficiently allocating funds in ways that build wealth, and ignoring conspicuous consumption. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

'Taking Advice' by Dan Ciampa (ISBN 1591396689) Decision-Making / Problem-Solving: Dan Ciampa’s Taking Advice offers an excellent framework on the kind of advice network you need on strategic, operational, political, and personal elements of your work and your life. Taking Advice offers important insights into a seemingly obvious dimension of success, but one that’s often neglected, poorly understood, or taken for granted. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

Creativity / Decision-Making / Teamwork: Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats describes a powerful problem-solving approach that enriches mental flexibility by encouraging individuals and groups to attack an issue from six independent but complementary perspectives. Key takeaway: The ‘Six Thinking Hats’ method can remove mental blocks, organize ideas and information, foster cross-fertilization, and help conduct thinking sessions more productively than do other brainstorming methods. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

Presentation / Communication: Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint argues that presentations reduce the analytical timbre of communication. In other words, presentation slides lack the resolution to effectively convey context, “weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.” Tufte contends that, by forcibly condensing our ideas into bullet point-statements, phrases, and slides, we break up narrative flow and flatten the information we’re trying to convey. Key takeaway: Well-structured and succinct memos can convey ideas comprehensively, clearly, and meaningfully. {Read my synopsis in this article. Also, learn about Amazon’s ‘Mock Press Release’ discipline and Procter & Gamble’s ‘One-Page Memo’ practice to communicate ideas.}

Happiness / Relationships: Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries. For one year, Kaplan maintained a gratitude journal and wrote down three things that she was thankful for each day. She also decided to “find one area to focus on each month—whether husband, family, friends, or work—and … see what happened when I developed an attitude of gratitude.” Key takeaway: A grateful heart is a happy heart. Stop whatever you’re doing, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for everything you have in life. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

'Man's Search for Meaning' by Victor Frankl (ISBN 1846042844) Psychology: Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. When subject to brutal treatment at Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Frankl changed his initial reaction from ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’ to ‘What is life asking of me?’ Such profound shifts in thinking, Frankl argues, could help you find meaning in life, regardless of what is happening on the outside. Key takeaway: The one power you have at all times is the freedom to choose your response to any given set of circumstances. Uncover a sense of purpose in life and you can survive nearly anything. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

Psychology: John Tierney and Roy Baumeister’s Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. The book’s central theorem is the much-debated “muscle metaphor” of self-control, which states that willpower is like a muscle that tires out—or runs out of energy—as you use it, but can be replenished and purposely fortified through practice. Key takeaway: Budget your willpower and spend it where and when you need it the most. Eliminate distractions, temptations, and unnecessary choices. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835) Biography / Leadership: Sam Walton’s Made in America is the Walmart founder’s very educational, insightful, and stimulating autobiography. It’s teeming with Walton’s relentless search for better ideas learning from competitors, managing costs and prices to gain competitive advantage, asking incessant questions of day-to-day operations, listening to employees at all levels of Walmart, and inventing creative ways to foster an idea-driven culture. Takeaways: ten rules of management success, learning from failure, cost and price as a competitive advantage, and Walton’s ‘Ten-Foot Rule’ to become more likeable.

Biography / Leadership: Deborrah Himsel’s Beauty Queen: Inside the Reign of Avon’s Andrea Jung offers an insightful tale of the spectacular rise to the top and the tumultuous fall from grace of the former Avon CEO. Jung initially led six consecutive years of double-digit growth and then presided over a series of operational missteps that led to her resignation. “Her story is a cautionary tale, one that suggests the critical importance of being aware of your weaknesses and how they can sabotage you.” Key takeaway: Spectacular success, especially those attributable to external circumstances, can often conceal on organization’s or an individual’s flaws. When the tide turns, the deficiencies are exposed for all to see. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

'The HP Way' by David Packard (ISBN 0060845791) Biography / Leadership: David Packard’s The HP Way recalls how Bill Hewlett and David Packard built a company based on a framework of principles and the simplicity of management methods. In addition to their technical innovations, Bill and David established many progressive management practices that prevail even today. Starting in the initial days, the HP culture that Bill and David engendered was unlike the hierarchical and egalitarian management practices that existed at other corporations of their day. Key takeaway: The essence of the “HP Way” was a strong and clear set of values, and a culture of openness and respect for the individual. {Read my synopsis in this article. Also learn about management by walking around and Bill Hewlett’s ‘Hat-Wearing Process’ for decision-making.}

Leadership: Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas’s Geeks and Geezers. The authors posit that all potential leaders must pass through a “leadership crucible” that provides an intense, transformative experience. Only after they “organize the meaning” and draw significant lessons from their “crucible experiences” can they become leaders. Key takeaway: Find your “leadership voice” by reflecting on transformative experiences in your life and examining what you’ve learned from them. {Read my synopsis in this article.}

Look at my articles on how to process a pile of books that you can’t seem to finish, and on how self-help books bring hope that change is possible.

Also, see a list of books I read in 2015 and 2014 and recommend.

Entrepreneurial Lessons from Soichiro Honda [They Beat the Odds #2]

Soichiro Honda - Founder of Honda Motor Company Successful people don’t expect or wait around for the perfect conditions; instead they stay focused on their hopes and dreams. They persist in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances. They don’t achieve greatness because of their optimal surroundings; they achieve it in spite of all of the challenges they face.

Grit and entrepreneurial mindset are lessons from the life of Soichiro Honda (1906–91,) the iconic founder of the Honda Motor Company.

Early Influences Can Open up the Future

Soichiro was born in 1906, just as Japan’s pre-war agricultural economy was shifting towards manufacturing. He inherited from his blacksmith-father an inborn manual dexterity and curiosity about machineries. Even in childhood, Soichiro developed a keen interest in the new engines, pumps, airplanes, and machines that were creating Japan’s nascent industrial base. A Ford Model T motor car that had visited his village when he was a toddler enthused him to no end; in later life he often recalled running behind the car in excitement and never forgot the smell of oil that had dripped from the engine.

Like his lifelong hero, American inventor Thomas Edison, Soichiro had barely any formal education and even less interest in conventional wisdom. He developed a carefree, disobedient personality: once, when a teacher berated him for not finishing a school assignment, Honda angrily retorted that the school’s diploma had less value than a ticket to the movies.

Honda A-Type Auxiliary Bicycle Engine

Obsessive Attention to Detail

With no interest in book learning, Soichiro plunged into hands-on work with cars and engines. He abandoned school at age 15 to seek work as an automotive mechanic in Tokyo. His first job was scarcely promising: for a year, he cared for an infant baby of his boss’s family. With the baby in tow, he often meandered the garage, observed the mechanics at work, and gave suggestions. Soichiro also tinkered with engines in between diaper changes and bottle feedings. He developed a passion for rebuilding engines, and just six years later, opened his own repair shop in his native Hamamatsu. At the same time, he began building and driving racecars. He also developed a fondness for reckless behavior especially with racing cars and sporadically overindulged in sake.

By 1937, Soichiro had more than 100 patents to his name and perfected a technique for making piston rings for Toyota. He started his own company called Tokai Seiki, but was forced to switch to building engines for the Imperial Navy’s boats and planes to support the growing Japanese military.

During World War II, the Allies bombed and leveled his factory; Honda adroitly built his own alcohol-distilling stills and ran a brewery.

It’s Important to Do What You Love

Soichiro Honda Riding the Honda Dream C70 In 1948, Soichiro returned to his true love: building engines. He started Honda Motor Company in a wooden shack. He focused on engineering and production. He found the administrative aspects of running the company boring and delegated them to his partner, Honda Motor Company’s co-founder Takeo Fujisawa.

Honda’s first motorized bicycle, Bata-Bata, became a huge hit in impoverished Japan. The ever-popular Dream motorcycle followed it. By 1959, Honda had become the world’s leading maker of motorcycles.

Soichiro spent long hours in the shop with engineers and focused on superior handling, fuel efficiency, and reliability. In 1957, Honda introduced its first car, the N360. Honda’s big hit came with the revolutionary CVCC engine that burned a leaner mix of gasoline. The Japanese government unsuccessfully tried to restrain his startup and coerced Honda into merging his company with one of Japan’s stronger, bigger automakers.

In 1972, Honda introduced Civic, a compact car with a clean-burning engine that fit the miles-per-gallon mood of the time. The Civic took the U.S. by storm and created as much resentment in Tokyo as it did in Detroit. When the Big Three lobbied to get limitations on imports, Honda started building cars in the U.S. Within a few years, Honda’s Civic and Accord models became the cars of choice for millions of middle-class Americans.

Honda Motor Company Founders Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa

Entrepreneurs Are Non-Conformists

'Japan's Emergence as a Global Power' by James I. Matray (ISBN 0313299722) The nonconformist Soichiro eschewed conventional Japanese managerial traditions by promoting “the Honda Way,” which relied on personal initiative coupled with a close relationship between workers and management. Soichiro’s obsessive attention to detail prompted him to personally test new car and motorcycle models.

Even after retirement from the company presidency in 1973, Soichiro took the title of “supreme adviser.” He made an 18-month driving tour of Japan, visited Honda’s 700 production factories and car dealerships, and reported his findings to the corporate headquarters.

Soichiro Honda died of liver failure in 1991. In building a company that epitomizes Japan’s Emergence as a Global Power as a leader in automobile production, Soichiro was a radical freethinker in a nation that valued conformity. He is renowned for his defiant spirit as an entrepreneur and fabulous creativity as an engineer.

Idea for Impact: Stop waiting for the perfect conditions and get to work. Maintain optimism during difficult times; take action that moves you closer to your goals, day after day after day.

Reference: Soichiro Honda and His Philosophy of Entrepreneurship, Koshi Oizumi’s 2003 Ph.D. dissertation at California State University

How to Conquer Cynicism at Your Workplace

How to Conquer Cynicism at Your Workplace

Enthusiasm rubs off on others

A few weeks ago, I met a friend at Chick-fil-A. When it was my turn to order, I told the woman taking our orders that I am vegetarian and couldn’t eat much of the offerings on her menu. The woman asked me, “How about a milkshake? I make the best strawberry milkshake!” I could not misjudge her sincerity and pride. It’s not often that one is asked anything like that at any service-business, let alone at a fast food chain restaurant.

In a world of work that’s so rampant with cynicism, there’s nothing more refreshing than encountering employees who are engaged, cheerful, and take pride in what they do.

In the same vein, in The HP Way (see my summary & review), author David Packard and co-founder recalls an engaged worker at Hewlett-Packard:

I recall the time, many years ago, when I was walking around a machine shop, accompanied by the shop’s manager. We stopped briefly to watch a machinist making a polished plastic mold die. He had spent a long time polishing it and was taking a final cut at it. Without thinking, I reached down and wiped it with my finger. The machinist said, “Get your finger off my die!” The manager quickly asked him, “Do you know who this is?” To which the machinist replied, “I don’t care!” He was right and I told him so. He had an important job and was proud of his work.

Conquer Cynicism and Negativity in a Workplace

How to conquer cynicism and negativity in a workplace

Cynicism is an upshot of distrust in the workplace. Cynics have misgivings about their managers’ and leaders’ motives. Cynics are further aggravated by the comparatively lofty salaries commanded by corporate leaders. The once-presumed social contract between employers and employees has dissolved, and cynics believe that given the chance, their employers will exploit their contributions.

The damage of cynicism is evident in lower levels of commitment, distrust, blame, criticism, politicking, divisiveness, pessimism, negativity, and sarcasm. Moreover, cynicism worsens with employees’ age and tenure.

Here’s how to conquer cynicism:

  • Firstly, don’t be cynical yourself. If you display even a hint of pessimism, you’re likely to feed into your team’s cynicism, especially if you’re a manager.
  • Try to love—at least show some passion—what you do and whom you work with. Passion for your work brings a remarkable sense of meaning and attracts opportunities for growth.
  • Recognize that people bring their entire selves to their jobs; they don’t turn off their hearts and souls when they come to work. Today’s demanding and competitive workplace requires of employees not only stamina to work exceptionally hard but also their hearts-and-minds’ commitment to bring creativity and insight to their efforts.
  • Care for people and understand what drives them. Money is not as powerful a motivator for most people than when they truly don’t have enough of it. Beyond a threshold, people are more motivated at work by the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to a cause, and get recognition for their achievements.
  • Encourage two-way flow of information, identify and change stress-provoking work patterns, clarify their roles, convey clear and concise objectives, coach and give regular feedback.

Idea for Impact: Employees who are engaged are more productive. Determine what makes your employees most engaged in their work. Ask what parts of their jobs they like the best and what you could do to decrease their job pressures. Engage them by tapping into their natural talents and strengths.