Our Vision of What Our Parents Achieved Influences Our Life Goals: The Psychic Contract

Understanding Others’ Motivations is a Key to Building Better Relationships

Psychic Contract Theory: Children are Programmed to Want to Do as Well as or Better Than Their Parents Understanding others’ deep-held motivations involves recognizing what drives them, why and how they want to work, work styles they may adopt in various circumstances, and what levers you have to motivate them.

Take for example Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a motivation hypothesis used widely for several decades now. Represented as a pyramid, this hypothesis proposes that people are motivated to fulfill basic subconscious desires such as food and shelter before trying to fulfill higher-level needs such as affection and prestige. Even though academics have extensively debated its specifics, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has provided a handy framework to value the multifaceted composition of human motivation and to understand how to engage others.

The Relationship between Your Own Vision of Success and Your Parental Influence

'The Anatomy of a Great Executive' by John Wareham (ISBN 0887305059) One less-known framework for understanding the provenance of people’s life goals—their deep-seated aspirations for want to achieve in life—is the “Psychic Contract” hypothesis, a concept that dominates The Anatomy of a Great Executive (1991) by John Wareham, a leadership psychologist from New Zealand.

According to Wareham, a psychic contract is a set of “deals” we subconsciously strike with our parents early in life. Our life-goals are defined primarily by our own vision of what our parents achieved—and what they failed to achieve:

As we grow we absorb the values of our parents, and are conditioned to improve (albeit marginally) upon their achievements. We strike a psychic contract with them whereby “success” in life is defined by the attainment of a similar social positioning, which we later embark upon attaining, sometimes very consciously, but often entirely unconsciously.

Throughout our lives, we unintentionally adhere to our psychic contracts, despite the limitations they place on us. We use our psychic contracts to not only define and approach our life goals but also think about how we measure success.

We consciously measure success in terms of milestones and standards instilled by our parents.

As a rule of thumb, about three quarters or more of people in westernized culture seek first to equal, then marginally to improve upon the lifestyle or status level perceived to exist in the childhood home.

Psychic Contract Theory: Children are Programmed to Want to Do as Well as or Better Than Their Parents

Our Vision of What Our Parents Achieved Influences Our Life Goals: The Psychic Contract In The Anatomy of a Great Executive, Wareham goes into depth explaining how we can know our own psychic contracts and how we can reset our goals to give ourselves permission to succeed. Here are some other prominent learning points:

  • Our psychic contract is based on our birth order, our parents’ birth order, and roles we play relative to our parents in our families.
  • The so-called “prime parental injunction” sits at the heart of our conscious. We go through our lives trying to become the people our parents wanted us to be. Even people who spend their lives trying to become exactly the opposite of what their parents wished are still influenced by this injunction.
  • Every person has a pre-programmed financial comfort level. Most of us strive to reach this level; but once there, we slow down—not because we are lazy, but because we have fulfilled our inner desires and don’t need more. Wareham cites the example of commission-based sales people who, after earning adequate commission to reach their financial comfort level, tend to be less aggressive in selling cars to customers for the rest of the month.

Idea for Impact: “Psychic Contract” is a handy and thought provoking—if unsubstantiated—hypothesis to understand how your and other people’s deep-seated life goals are established. It can give you one more data point in trying to figure people out.

You Too Can (and Must) Become Effective

Peter Drucker on Teaching Yourself to Become Effective

Peter Drucker (1909–2005) is widely regarded as the most outstanding thinker on the subject of management theory and practice. He was amazingly prolific—he produced 39 volumes on management and leadership and worked right until his death a week before his 96th birthday.

Drucker’s The Practice of Management (1954) played a pivotal role in the recognition of management as a professional discipline. In this influential book (see my summary here,) Drucker explained what management is and how managers do their jobs.

'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker (ISBN 0060833459) In his bestselling The Effective Executive (1967,) Drucker defined effectiveness as getting the right things done and efficiency as making resources productive. His pivotal message was that effectiveness must be learned because effectiveness is every manager’s job. That’s what are managers get paid for—“the executive is paid for being effective.” Moreover, “Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform, and not to please their superiors.”

Five Practices of the Effective Executive

Drucker devotes five chapters of The Effective Executive to five practices that have to be acquired to be effective. Introducing these effectiveness practices, Drucker writes, “Whenever I have found a person who—no matter how great in intelligence, industry, imagination, or knowledge—fails to observe these practices, I have also found an executive deficient in effectiveness.”

  • Effectiveness Habit #1—Know Where Time Goes: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” In addition, “Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.” Using the three-step time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting practice, effective executives know where there time goes. They exert themselves to make certain that they invest their time in line with their values and priorities.
  • Effectiveness Habit #2—Focus on Contribution: Whatever your span of responsibilities—supervisory, managerial or leadership—you are accountable to your ‘external’ stakeholders. These stakeholders measure your performance solely by your ability to identify opportunities and get things done through the resources you have. Drucker writes, “Effective executives focus on outward contributions. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, ‘What results are expected of me?'” Effective executives have a clear understanding of their contribution and their results.
  • Effectiveness Habit #3: Make Strengths Productive: “Effective executives build on strengths—theirs and others. They do not build on weaknesses. They do not start out with the things they cannot do.” Effective executives understand and build on the strengths of themselves, their team, and their organization to make everyone productive and to eliminate weaknesses. The only weaknesses that have a bearing—and must be remedied—are the ones that hinder effective executives from exercising their strengths.
  • Effectiveness Habit #4: Live Priorities: “Effective executives concentrate on superior performance where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to stay within priorities.” Setting priorities is easier; the hard part is sticking to the decision and living the priorities. To get things done, focus on one task at a time or two at the most; three is usually impractical.
  • Effectiveness Habit #5: Systemize Decision-Making: “Effective executives make effective decisions. They know that this is a system—the right steps in the right sequence. They know that to make decisions fast is to make the wrong decisions.” For Drucker, decision-making was a matter of wisdom and sound judgment—making a choice between alternatives but seldom between mere right and mere wrong. “The sooner operating managers learn to make decisions as genuine judgments on risk and uncertainty, the sooner we will overcome one of the basic weaknesses of large organizations—the absence of any training and testing for the decision-making top positions.”

Idea for Impact: Teach yourself to become effective. Commit these five tasks to memory and practice them. Read The Effective Executive—it will have a profound effect on your performance.

Book Summary of ‘The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload’

'The Organized Mind' by Daniel Levitin (ISBN 0147516315) In the best-selling The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin argues that the problem with the proliferation of information isn’t as much about the storage of the information as it is about organizing and retrieving that information. The human brain is incredible at storing data; the challenge is summoning up the right stuff at the right time, while not being distracted by the rest.

To be efficacious, we not only need to limit the information we consume (by simplifying, limiting our sources, quitting social media, taking digital Sabbaths, etc.) but also need to develop systems to take the strain off our befuddled brains. To do this, Levitin says, we must organize our personal environments to better channel our brains’ unique approach to doing things.

According to The Organized Mind, the trick to efficiently organize and manage information is to “shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.” Levitin uses the latest brain science to propose “organization principles”—methods and disciplines to regain a sense of mastery over the way we can organize our time, home, and office.

Organization Principle #1: Conquer information overload

The information age is drowning us with an exceptional deluge of data. Simultaneously, we’re expected to make more decisions quickly than ever before. To survive information overload, Levitin suggests:

  • Be much more discerning at what you allow in. Not all input is worthy of being let in. Exercise control and discipline regarding your input choices. Don’t keep what you can’t use.
  • Develop and put into practice an organization system that works for you: to-do lists, 3×5 cards, etc. Whatever that system is, it needs to offload, classify, and be easy to retrieve. A mislabeled item or misplaced location is worse than an unlabeled item.
  • Organize in all areas and facets of your life. “Too much stuff” is fatiguing, no matter which part of your life has the “too much stuff” problem.

Organization Principle #2: Quit multi-tasking and become fanatical about focused work

Quit Multi-tasking Levitin’s pet hate is multitasking, which he describes as “the ultimate empty-caloried brain candy.” Our brains are not designed for multitasking; he writes, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

  • Allow no distractions when you are in “focused work mode.”
  • Limit the interruption caused by email, text messages, visitors, and callers.

Organization Principle #3: Rest more, work less

In our chronically sleep-deprived society, sleep deficit is a performance killer. The general effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance are well-known: scientists have documented that when we are sleep-deprived our immune system suffers, our thinking and judgments are impaired, and our fuse becomes very short.

Studies have found that productivity goes up when the number of hours per week of work goes down, strongly suggesting that adequate leisure and refueling time pays off for employers and for workers. Overwork—and its companion, sleep deprivation—have been shown to lead to mistakes and errors that take longer to fix than the overtime hours worked. A sixty-hour work week, although 50% longer than a forty-hour work week, reduces productivity by 25%, so it takes two hours of overtime to accomplish one hour of work. A ten-minute nap can be equivalent to an extra hour and a half of sleep at night.

  • A calm, well-rested mind is a fruitful mind. Don’t overlook sleep, rest, and vacation as stress busters.

Organization Principle #4: Organize your physical environment into categories so it helps your mind

Organize Your Physical Environment One principle that Levitin emphasizes repeatedly is “offloading the information from your brain and into the environment” so you can “use the environment itself to remind you of what needs to be done.” One appealing example he offers is, “If you’re afraid you’ll forget to buy milk on the way home, put an empty milk carton on the seat next to you in the car or in the backpack you carry to work on the subway (a note would do, of course, but the carton is more unusual and so more apt to grab your attention).”

  • Levitin also emphasizes the importance of putting things away in their designated places, because there’s a special part of our brain dedicated to remembering the spatial location of things.
  • Neuroscientists have proved that the human brain is good at creating and thinking in categories. “The fact that our brains are inherently good at creating categories is a powerful lever for organizing our lives.” Further, “productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization.”

Organization Principle #5: Spend only as much time on decisions, tasks, and actions as they are worth.

Significantly, Levitin suggests the practice of satisficing—a decision-making approach that aims for acceptable or “good enough” results, rather than the optimal solutions:

Satisficing [is] a term coined by the Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon, one of the founders of the fields of organization theory and information processing. Simon wanted a word to describe not getting the very best option but one that was good enough. For things that don’t matter critically, we make a choice that satisfies us and is deemed sufficient. You don’t really know if your dry cleaner is the best—you only know that they’re good enough. And that’s what helps you get by. You don’t have time to sample all the dry cleaners within a twenty-four-block radius of your home. … Satisficing is one of the foundations of productive human behavior; it prevails when we don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter, or more accurately, when we don’t waste time trying to find improvements that are not going to make a significant difference in our happiness or satisfaction. … Recent research in social psychology has shown that happy people are not people who have more; rather, they are people who are happy with what they already have. Happy people engage in satisficing all of the time, even if they don’t know it.

Organization Principle #6: A Zen mind is an organized mind

Conquer Information Overload Beyond the productivity hacks and the tweaks, Levitin suggests a spiritual composure in favor of mental organization. He advocates practicing Zen-like mindfulness not only to relieve the anxiety that comes with worries over undone tasks and unease over future uncertainties, but also to allot more of your limited attention to the present moment.

  • Instead of seeking to cope with information overload and travel at warp speed, focus on the things you can do to put yourself on the right path to better wellbeing—one thought, one bite, one task, one project, and one breath at a time.

Recommendation: Read Daniel Levitin’s ‘The Organized Mind’

In today’s “age of information overload” you may find yourself continuously distracted and swamped with demands for multitasking. Daniel Levitin’s fascinating The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload explains how to organize your mind, systematize your home and office, and gain control over your life.

Even if The Organized Mind is somewhat meandering and ill-organized (which is ironic for a book getting organized,) Levitin discusses noteworthy capabilities and limitations of the human brain and how to effectively deal with them.

Idea for Impact: Develop a comprehensive plan to audit, simplify, and structure how information flows through your life. Develop personal habits and organizational systems to lead your mind effortlessly to good decision-making. As Levitin suggests, “The task of organizational systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort.”

How Starbucks Brewed Success / Book Summary of Founder Howard Schultz’s “Pour Your Heart Into It”

I recently finished reading Pour Your Heart Into It, the personal story of how Starbucks founder, Chairman, and ex-CEO Howard Schultz built a major consumer brand and a stellar business model anchored in passion and values. He proclaims, “Success should not be measured in dollars … It’s about how you conduct the journey, and how big your heart is at the end of it.”

An Iconic Leader Built a Coffee Empire with Unyielding Attention to Customer Experience

'Pour Your Heart Into It' by Howard Schultz (ISBN 0786883561) Howard Schultz’s Pour Your Heart Into It (1997) begins with his formative years as a poor German-Jewish boy in Brooklyn and ends with Starbucks’ post-IPO journey to becoming a well-respected and recognized global consumer brand.

In 2000, three years after Pour Your Heart Into It was published, Schultz assigned Jim Donald as CEO and became Starbucks’ meddling chairman. In 2008, following quarter-after-quarter of disappointing sales figures during the Great Recession and a “watering down of the Starbucks experience,” Schultz returned as CEO in 2008 and led the company to commendable growth and profitability. His turnaround memoir (my summary here,) Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul (2012,) discusses how he restored the essence of the Starbucks experience during his second stint as CEO.

Earlier this month, Schultz entrusted a deputy with CEO responsibility, but remains chairman. In the same way as in 2000, he hasn’t left the company and focuses on developing Starbucks’ premium Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room stores.

Starbucks Created an Industry through High-profile Cafés That Promise a Lifestyle Experience

'Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul' by Howard Schultz, Joanne Gordon (ISBN 1609613821) In fact, Schultz did not start ‘Starbucks.’ When working as a plastics salesperson in 1981, he happened into Starbucks—then, a chain of six high-quality coffee retail stores based in Seattle. He immediately fell in love with his experience at their Pike Place Market store. Schultz recalls, “A heady aroma of coffee reached out and drew me in. I stepped inside and saw what looked like a temple for the worship of coffee. It was my Mecca. I had arrived.”

In 1982, he joined Starbucks as head of marketing and retailing. On a business trip to Italy, he witnessed the allure of Milan’s café culture. He was specifically fascinated by the passionate connection that the Italians had not only with their coffee, but also with their coffee bars—an integral part of their country’s social life.

After returning to Seattle, he could not persuade the original Starbucks’ proprietors to open similar “coffee bar experiences.” Schultz then quit Starbucks and opened his own Il Giornale chain of coffee bars. Three years later, when Schultz was all of 34, Il Giornale purchased Starbucks and adopted its name.

Starbucks founder, Chairman, and CEO Howard Schultz

From Rags to Riches: Starbucks Became A “Company with a Conscience” While it Brewed Worldwide Success

The rags-to-riches account of Howard Schultz is one great American entrepreneur success story. Schultz grew up poor in Brooklyn’s subsidized housing projects. At age seven, Schultz was deeply upset when his father suffered after breaking an ankle. With no health insurance or other benefits, the senior Schultz (a blue-collar “beaten man”) worked very hard at dead-end jobs to atone for medical expenses and offset his lost pay. That incident left a profound impression on Howard. “As a kid I never had any idea that I would one day head a company. But I knew in my heart that if I was ever in a position where I could make a difference, I wouldn’t leave people behind,” he avows.

CEO Howard Schultz: From Rags to Riches Starbucks Brews Success Subsequently, Howard Schultz wanted to create an enterprise that treated staff with respect and nurtured them. He writes, “If you treat your employees as interchangeable cogs in a wheel, they will view you with the same affection.” Starbucks offered health benefits and stock options to all staff (called “partners”)—including part-timers—to demonstrate “that a company can lead with its heart and nurture its soul and still make money.”

The essence of Pour Your Heart Into It is that the Starbucks marvel is not only about economic growth and brand success, but also about its socially conscious corporate ethos: “We never set out to build a brand. Our goal was to build a great company, one that stood for something, one that valued the authenticity of its product and the passion of its people.”

A Well-respected Global Brand and A Grande-sized Ego

Schultz’s gracious and inspiring account in Pour Your Heart Into It, however, is speckled with lofty assertions and self-congratulatory superlatives. For instance, when recounting his epiphany of discovering the allure of Milan’s café culture, Schultz states, “it was so immediate and physical that I was shaking.” He labels a prospective joint venture with Pepsi an “earth-jolting paradigm shift.”

Schultz takes credit for turning coffee into a “national obsession” in North America and declares that his founding purpose was to give North Americans the opportunity to savor the “romance and mystery” of Italian espresso bars. When featured on the cover of Fortune magazine for an article titled “Howard Schultz’s Starbucks Grinds Coffee Into Gold,” Schultz writes that he felt “proud but, frankly, a little embarrassed at all the attention. It’s always been hard for me to celebrate success.”

Like I wrote in my summary for Onward, Schultz’s account of his 2008 return as CEO, his flamboyant tone is demonstrative of a fiercely passionate entrepreneur and a brilliant corporate cheerleader. Under his leadership, Starbucks has used its narrative of being a noble torchbearer of altruistic capitalism to brew global success. Schultz writes,

Starbucks was attempting to accomplish something more ambitious than just grow a profitable enterprise. We had a mission, to educate consumers everywhere about fine coffee. We had a vision, to create an atmosphere in our stores that drew people in and gave them a sense of wonder and romance in the midst of their harried lives. We had an idealistic dream, that our company could be far more than the paradigm defined by corporate America in the past.

CEO Howard Schultz and Starbucks's Race Together Campaign Over the last few years, Schultz has been increasingly politically active and has used the platform of his office at Starbucks to share views on matters that are peripheral to Starbucks’ business and operations. In 2015, for instance, Starbucks got into hot water after launching a bold “Race Together” campaign in the aftermath of the Ferguson racial unrests. With his characteristic flair, Schultz encouraged baristas to discuss race with customers at Starbucks stores “under the belief that it’s a critical first step toward confronting—and solving—race-related issues as a nation” according to this USA Today article. Alas, Schultz’s idea backfired and Starbucks called off the initiative.

More recently, after President Trump’s executive order excluding refugees from specific countries, Starbucks announced its intention to lead a global effort and hire 10,000 refugees globally by 2022. Trump supporters promptly boycotted Starbucks.

Schultz is speculated to be considering running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Lessons on Employee Engagement from Howard Schultz's 'Pour Your Heart Into It'

Recommendation: Read Howard Schultz’s “Pour Your Heart Into It”

Howard Schultz’s description of how Starbucks transformed an entrenched commodity into a value-laden brand and a differentiated experience makes Pour Your Heart Into It an absorbing story of entrepreneurial success. Schultz portrays himself as a passionate, dedicated, and visionary entrepreneur. But then again, he appears impulsive as a manager and brash as a capitalist—often in little doubt that his own preferences for the Starbucks experience will reflect of those of its customers.

The significant take away lessons from Pour Your Heart Into It are,

  • Develop a close relationship with your customers through the quality of your product and your customer service.
  • Continually reinvent your product and your business, even when you are experiencing success.
  • When you start a business, work hard to instill values and beliefs. Set the standards and build the culture.
  • Any consumer business is only as good as its customer-facing employees. When an organization’s employees sincerely believe in its product, service, and business, they will care about the customer, perform at higher levels, and eventually increase the company’s value of the organization.

Coffee snobs—especially Starbucksaholics—will love Schultz’s impassioned portrayal of “the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores. That tone is set by our baristas, who custom-make each espresso drink and explain the origins of different coffees.”

Coca-Cola Executive Donald Keough’s “Ten Commandments for Business Failure” [Book Summary]

Coca-Cola executive Donald KeoughDuring a remarkable business career of 60+ years, Coca-Cola executive Donald Keough (1926–2015) developed an inspiring lecture on leadership failures. At the prompting of Warren Buffett, a former neighbor and friend, Keough published his lecture as Ten Commandments for Business Failure.

Keough worked for the Coca-Cola Company for 43 years and rose through the ranks to become its President and COO. Following retirement in 1993, he served on the boards of Coca-Cola, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and many other organizations.

At Coca-Cola, Keough steered the company’s global product expansion and directed its iconic brand image and enviable distribution network. He became the business world’s most celebrated non-CEO leader.

Keough gained reputation as the public face of Coca-Cola’s 1985 New Coke misadventure—he delivered an on-TV mea culpa (see YouTube video) and announced the volte-face reinstatement of “Coca-Cola Classic.”

Donald Keough’s Straightforward Analysis and Leadership Lessons

'Ten Commandments for Business Failure' by Donald Keough (ISBN 1591844134) Keough’s Ten Commandments for Business Failure is a predictable, yet insightful—even if circuitous—exploration of ten (and a bonus) leadership mistakes.

  1. Quit Taking Risks: “Failures, for all the valuable lessons that they teach us in hindsight about management blunders, are simply risks that just didn’t work out. Such miscalculations, costly though they might be at the time, are part of the price of staying in business. As Peter Drucker pointed out nearly fifty years ago, it is management’s major task to prudently risk a company’s present assets in order to ensure its future existence.”
  2. Be Inflexible: “Flexibility is a continual, deeply thoughtful process of examining situations and, when warranted, quickly adapting to changing circumstances. It is, in essence, the key to Darwin’s whole notion of the survival of the fittest. … Most recalcitrant business leaders would certainly never actually characterize themselves as inflexible. More than likely they would pay lip service to a philosophy of change, expressing the usual platitudes about how they embrace change and welcome it.”
  3. Isolate Yourself (i.e., Be Out of Touch): “One of the traits of many of the legendary builders of business was that they had an uncanny ability to know and relate to their employees at every level … if you isolate yourself, you will not only not know what you don’t know about your business, but you will remain supremely and serenely confident that what you do know is right. Isolation, carried to its most extreme form, tends to breed a sense of almost divine right.”
  4. Assume Infallibility: “The infallible we-know-best attitude of management has caused many companies to ignore reality and miss opportunities … If you want to increase your chances of failure, deny the possibility that you are not always 100 percent perfect in your judgment. Ignore the fact that sometimes others do know a thing or two. … So, if you want to fail, pose as an infallible leader.”
  5. Play the Game Close to the Foul Line: “Business finally boils down to matters of trust consumers trust that the product will do what it promises it is supposed to-investors trust that management is competent-employees trust management to live up to its obligations. In recent years we seem to have quite a few smart, energetic people who have evidenced a rather fuzzy view of the right thing.”
  6. Don’t Take Time to Think: “Time to think is not a luxury. It is a necessity. As Goethe noted: “Action is easy; thought is hard.” Yet action frequently-in fact, more often than not-takes on a life of its own. We pay homage to reason, but we are held hostage to emotion. We are, after all, feeling creatures, and in the excitement of a particular endeavor once the ball is rolling, it’s difficult to stop.”
  7. Put All Your Faith in Experts and Outside Consultants: “The narrow perspective of what appears to be genius is often the inverse of wisdom.”
  8. Coca-Cola Company's COO Donald Keough with Investor Warren BuffettLove Your Bureaucracy: “As [Warren] Buffett said, “It’s unbelievable how much bureaucracy can build up in businesses, particularly those in which you can pass almost all of your costs to the consumer.” … On the hazards of bureaucracy: at their worst, they cannot only impede success, they can also precipitate disaster. … The more cooks there are in the kitchen, the greater the chance that bureaucratic decision making will either be deadlocked or the decision will become an exercise in group wishing. … Ultimately, a bureaucracy can become so dysfunctional that there is literally no one who can rain on the parade. The team can never make anything approaching an objective decision.”
  9. Send Mixed Messages: “Sending mixed or confused messages to your employees or your customers will jeopardize your competitive position, and result in failure.”
  10. Be Afraid of the Future: “The most serious problem with great pessimism is that it is absolutely paralyzing. People are so afraid of dire consequences that they throw their hands up in despair and do nothing. Fear of the future guarantees that the future will be a failure. … To aspire to any kind of leadership in business you simply have to be a rational optimist. One optimist in a sea of pessimists can make all the difference.”
  11. Lose Your Passion for Work-for Life: “A major component of happiness in the business world is finding something you love doing, whatever it might be, and then finding a way to do it. To have success you have to have a high level of unadulterated desire to get up and go to work. … The easiest way to develop an inner passion in a business setting is to focus all your mind and heart on four aspects of your world: your customers, your brands, your people, and, finally, your dreams.”

Words of Wisdom from a Distinguished Corporate Executive

Donald Keough was the public face of Coca-Cola's 1985 New Coke misadventureAmong the myriad offerings of “rules for success” volumes, books such as The Ten Commandments are distinctive for their memorable business stories and examples. Keough’s candid analyses include narratives as captivating as the historical origin of Coke, the commercial history of the xerographic machine, the Coke-Pepsi rivalry, Coca-Cola Company’s ownership of Columbia Pictures, and the New Coke debacle. When asked in an interview if New Coke was worth the risk, Keough famously replied,

I wouldn’t want to do it again. But it was an enormous learning experience, and oddly enough, it turned out to be positive for the Coca-Cola Company. Our sales increased when we brought the original formula back. The reaction from our customers was overwhelming. Once we realized that we had made a mistake, I went on television and simply said that we don’t own this brand, you do. You’ve made it clear that you want the original formula back, and you’re getting it back.

Henry Ford and Model TIn the chapter on flexible and adaptive leadership, Keough blames Henry Ford’s stubbornness for the flagging market share of the Model T vehicle. During the mid-1920s, the industrial triumph of his mass production system and the commercial success of the Model T blinded Henry Ford to a budding customer penchant for cosmetic customization and convenience features. Electric starters, for example, were starting to be perceived as essentials and not as luxuries. Keough argues,

Henry Ford reportedly said, regarding the Model T, “They can have it in any color they want, as long as it’s black.” For a long time that was just fine. But then people began to get tired of the black tin lizzies. Yet even as America was roaring into the 1920s with bigger, faster, fancier, brightly painted automobiles, Henry Ford kept insisting that the Model T, essentially unchanged since 1908, was still what America wanted and needed and he was not going to change his mind. Inevitably, upstarts like Chevrolet and Dodge began to erode Ford’s market and seriously challenge the company’s dominant leadership. At last, more rational minds prevailed and Ford admitted the need to produce a better vehicle. After shutting down his main plant for six months, he successfully launched the Model A in 1928. But Henry Ford’s inflexibility had brought the company to the brink of disaster and cost it a competitive edge that it has never regained.

Recommendation: As a fast read, Donald Keough’s The Ten Commandments for Business Failure is worthwhile for its many nuggets of business history. Even though many of his cautionary lessons are not entirely unexpected, some are insightful. The “play the game close to the foul line” warning about values and ethics is especially thought-provoking. Keough writes, “The fact is, if you play on the edge the organization will step over the line from time to time. It is inevitable. Warren Buffett says: ‘Play to the center of the court’.”

Learn from the Great Minds of the Past

Biographies let you to learn about the trials and tribulations in the lives of eminent people, the opportunities and the crises they faced, and the choices they made.

By providing a glimpse into their minds, biographies stimulate self-discovery by allowing you to find new ideas, methods, and mental models on your own through the stories of others.

Reading about the life experiences of someone from a different spatial, temporal, and thematic circumstance than your own can also help you see the world in new ways. This new perspective then allows you to appreciate their actions and accomplishments within the context, conventions, and limitations of their settings.

Idea for Impact: If you wish to succeed in your life, there is no better source of inspiration than in the lives of those who have changed our lives and our world for the better.

Charlie Munger on Reading Biographies and “Making Friends with the Eminent Dead”

'Poor Charlie's Almanack' by Charlie Munger (ISBN 1578645018) Charlie Munger (b. 1924,) Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice-Chairman and a distinguished beacon of rationality, wisdom, and multi-disciplinary thinking, is a voracious reader and occupies himself with books on history, science, biography, and psychology.

From Poor Charlie’s Almanack, a compilation of Munger’s ideas and “latticework of mental models”,

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time–none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.

I am a biography nut myself. And I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them. I think you learn economics better if you make Adam Smith your friend. That sounds funny, making friends among the eminent dead, but if you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better in life and work better in education. It’s way better than just being given the basic concepts.

Seneca on Learning from the Great Minds of the Past

'On the Shortness of Life' by Senaca (ISBN 0143036327) From the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s 2,000-year-old discourse On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know (trans. C.D.N. Costa,)

…if it is our wish, by greatness of mind, to pass beyond the narrow limits of human weakness, there is a great stretch of time through which we may roam. We may argue with Socrates, we may doubt with Carneades, find peace with Epicurus, overcome human nature with the Stoics, exceed it with the Cynics. … We may fairly say that they alone are engaged in the true duties of life who shall wish to have Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus, as their most intimate friends every day. No one of these will be ‘not at home,’ no one of these will fail to have his visitor leave more happy and more devoted to himself than when he came, no one of these will allow anyone to leave him with empty hands; all mortals can meet with them by night or by day.

…No one of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how to die; no one of these will wear out your years, but each will add his own years to yours; conversations with no one of these will bring you peril, the friendship of none will endanger your life, the courting of none will tax your purse. From them you will take whatever you wish; it will be no fault of theirs if you do not draw the utmost that you can desire. What happiness, what a fair old age awaits him who has offered himself as a client to these! He will have friends from whom he may seek counsel on matters great and small, whom he may consult every day about himself, from whom he may hear truth without insult, praise without flattery, and after whose likeness he may fashion himself.

Seneca on Gaining Wisdom from the Distinguished

'Moral letters to Lucilius' by Seneca (ISBN 1536965537) On a related note, here is a passage from Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius (Latin orig. Epistulae morales ad Lucilium):

For this reason, give over hoping that you can skim, by means of epitomes, the wisdom of distinguished men. Look into their wisdom as a whole; study it as a whole. They are working out a plan and weaving together, line upon line, a masterpiece, from which nothing can be taken away without injury to the whole. Examine the separate parts, if you like, provided you examine them as parts of the man himself. She is not a beautiful woman whose ankle or arm is praised, but she whose general appearance makes you forget to admire her single attributes.

Book Summary of “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!” by Nicholas Carlson

Over the holidays, I finished reading journalist Nicholas Carlson’s Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! This interesting book offers an account of Yahoo’s steady slide towards irrelevance and Marissa Mayer’s early tenure as CEO.

“Complex Monstrosity Built Without a Plan”

'Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!' by Nicholas Carlson (ISBN 1455556610) Carlson devotes the first third of the book to explaining Yahoo’s beleaguered history and how years of mismanagement and strategy negligence got Yahoo into the mess that Mayer inherited as CEO in 2012.

The second third is about Mayer and her brilliant career as employee number twenty at Google. In 2010, her career allegedly stalled because Mayer got sidelined after conflicts with other luminaries within Google. Relying broadly on anonymous sources, Carlson portrays Mayer’s intense nature and her personality contradictions: in public settings, Mayer is brainy, glamorous, confident, articulate, and approachable. However, in one-on-one settings, Mayer is a self-promoting, dismissive, calculating, tardy, inquisitorial individual who avoids eye contact. “There was nothing especially abhorrent or uncommon about Mayer’s behavior as an executive,” Carlson writes. “She was headstrong, confident, dismissive, self-promoting and clueless about how she sometimes hurt other people’s feelings. So were many of the most successful executives in the technology industry.”

The last third is devoted to Mayer’s initial efforts to turn Yahoo around. Within the first year at the helm as CEO, Mayer motivated Yahoo’s beleaguered workforce, launched the redesign of some of Yahoo’s major sites, and made acquisitions to make Yahoo relevant in the mobile, media, and social realms. Carlson also describes Mayer’s bad hiring decisions, habitual tardiness, tendency to micromanage, tone-deaf style of communication, and dogged devotion to establishing the universally-despised practice of tracking goals and stack-ranking employees.

Yahoo: The Fabled Legacy Internet Company on the Slide to Irrelevance

Yahoo: The Fabled Legacy Internet Company on the Slide to Irrelevance

Anybody who follows the internet content industry understands that the principal question regarding the then-37-year-old Mayer’s recruitment as CEO was never whether she could save Yahoo. Rather, the question was whether Yahoo can be saved at all.

Yahoo has been a mess for a long time. For early consumers of the internet, Yahoo’s portal was the internet—from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, Yahoo was the number-one gateway for early users of the internet who wanted to search, email, or consume news and other information. Then, Yahoo floundered as the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Microsoft redefined the consumer internet and content consumption. Yahoo’s successive managements struggled to identify Yahoo’s raison d’etre and failed to set it apart from the up-and-coming websites. Yahoo’s management also fumbled on opportunities to harness the popularity of Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Sports, and Yahoo Finance to get advertising revenues growing again.

Mayer’s Arrival Was Too Late for Yahoo

Marissa Mayer could not succeed in reviving YahooMayer came to Yahoo with extraordinary credentials, drive, technical savvy, celebrity, and charisma. Her tenure was centered on answering the single question, “What is Yahoo? What should become of Yahoo?”

The odds of Mayer succeeding to revive Yahoo as an independent internet content company were very bleak right from the beginning, because Mayer took on an increasingly irrelevant business with very little actual or potential operating value—either as an internet content company or as a media company. Carlson appropriately concludes,

Ultimately, Yahoo suffers from the fact that the reason it ever succeeded in the first place was because it solved a global problem that lasted for only a moment. The early Internet was hard to use, and Yahoo made it easier. Yahoo was the Internet. Then the Internet was flooded with capital and infinite solutions for infinite problems, and the need for Yahoo faded. The company hasn’t found its purpose since—the thing it can do that no one else can.

Since the publication of the book in December 2014, Mayer has dedicated her leadership to selling Yahoo’s core internet businesses and its patent portfolio. Yahoo is expected to then convert itself into a shell company for its investments in Alibaba (15.5% economic interest) and Yahoo Japan (35.5%.)

Recommendation: As a fast read, Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! is great. Beyond Nicholas Carlson’s gossipy narrative and his pejorative depiction of Mayer’s management style, readers of this page-turner will be interested in Yahoo leadership’s strategic and tactical missteps. Particularly fascinating are how Yahoo missed opportunities to buy Google and Facebook when they were mere startups, the rebuffing of an acquisition bid from Microsoft, a lack of strategic focus, the leadership skirmishes with activist investors, the revolving door at the CEO’s office, and an Asian-asset drama.

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.

How to Boost Your Willpower / Book Summary of “Willpower” by Baumeister & Tierney

'Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength' by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (ISBN 0143122231) In previous articles, I have discussed a key differentiating trait I’ve observed in successful people: they get things done not by pursuing motivation but through discipline, self-control, determination, and willpower. They actively seek a way to work at whatever must be done even when they do not really feel like doing it.

In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (2011,) New York Times science writer John Tierney and Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister discuss the virtues of self-control, and the concepts of ego depletion and decision fatigue. This informative tome is grounded in thirty years of academic research into willfulness and self-discipline.

Willpower starts with the assertion that intelligence and willpower are your two best predictors of achieving success in life. You may not be able to meaningfully increase your intelligence, but you can surely enhance your capacity for self-control. Parenthetically, when people were inquired about their failings in life, a lack of self-control was consistently at the top of the list.

The book’s central theorem is the much-debated “strength model of self-control.” This “muscle metaphor” states that willpower is like a muscle that tires out—or runs out of energy—as you use it, but can be fortified through practice.

How to Boost Your Willpower

Here are some prominent insights and tips from Willpower:

  • You have a limited amount of willpower, which, in the short term, depletes as you use it and must be replenished. Each instance of applying willpower (e.g. repressing your thoughts and actions, working intensely, stressing at work, making decisions, and dealing with difficult people) drains the same psychological reservoir of self-control. Expending willpower in one sphere of life leaves you less able to exercise self-control in another.
  • Just as muscles can get overworked and become tired and feeble until they can recuperate, the exercise of self-control causes fatigue.
  • Willpower is fuelled by blood glucose. Therefore, acts of self-control drain the glucose. When glucose is low, self-control failures are more likely. Restoring glucose to a sufficient level usually improves self-control. Willpower can be restored by boosting blood sugar. Foods like white bread, potatoes, white rice, and sugared snacks cause boom-and-bust cycles of willpower since these foods are quickly converted into glucose. Vegetables, nuts, raw fruits, and cheese are converted more slowly, and therefore provide ‘fuel’ more progressively.
  • Being in a tidy room seems to increase self-control and being in a messy room seems to curb self-control.
  • Your daily supply of willpower is limited. If you exhaust most of your willpower during the day at work, you will have less self-control, tolerance, and imperturbability when you come home to family. Many marriages go bad when stress at work is at its worst: people use up all their willpower on the job; their home lives suffer because they gave much to their work.
  • When your willpower is low, you’ll find it more arduous to make tougher decisions. Moreover, during decision-making, you’ll be more reluctant to eliminate some of the options you could choose from.
  • In the long term, practicing willpower strengthens it, just as a muscle develops stamina and power when consistently exercised. Even small, inconsequential acts of self-control—avoiding slouching, for example—can strengthen your capacity for self-discipline in the long term.
  • Ego Depletion and Decision Fatigue When you resist one temptation but cannot resist another, your egos have been fatigued by the exercise of willpower. Conversely, you can resist temptations across the board when your ego has been strengthened by exercise.
  • Stress instigates many negative emotions because stress depletes willpower, which consequently diminishes your ability to control and overcome those negative emotions.
  • The best use of willpower is in setting priorities and getting things done. Given you have a limited amount of willpower on a given day, you’re best served by budgeting your willpower and spending it where and when you need it the most.
  • Clear, attainable goals combined with rewards strengthen willpower. Monitoring goals and committing yourself publicly to your goals can help you counteract weakness of will.
  • Live as much of your life as possible on an autopilot. Eliminate distractions, temptations, and unnecessary choices. Simplify. Develop routines and cultivate habits that you can eventually do robotically.
  • Organize your life to decrease the need for willpower. Conserve willpower for demanding circumstances.

Recommendation: Read Willpower. This New York Times best seller is filled with guidance about how best to deploy willpower to overcome temptation and how to build up your willpower ‘strength’ with small—but regular and methodical—exercises. Even if somewhat academic for a self-help book, this worthwhile volume is filled with resourceful research, practical advice, and enthralling stories of people who’ve achieved personal transformation owing to the strength of their will.

A Grateful Heart is a Happy Heart / Book Summary of “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan

At one dismal New Year’s Eve party, veteran author and journalist Janice Kaplan heard a woman gripe and grumble. While reflecting on this experience, Kaplan realized that she herself had much to be grateful for, but frequently wasn’t. She resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”

That self-declaration was the genesis of an inspiring yearlong experiment in living gratefully and concluding that being thankful really does offer a conduit to happiness.

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan (ISBN 1101984147) Kaplan recounts her transformation “from grumpy to grateful” in her book The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (2015.)

Throughout the 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 become my own social scientist. I wanted to see what happened when I developed an attitude of gratitude.”

Here are a few highlights from The Gratitude Diaries:

  • Kaplan started her yearlong gratitude experiment by appraising her marriage and recognized all over again what a good man her husband was. “When you expect everything, it’s hard to be grateful for anything. So I decided that now was the time to put aside impossible expectations and start appreciating [my] husband.” After she expressed appreciation to her startled husband, “the warm feelings between us [grew] stronger than ever…. Gratitude was making us both a lot happier.”
  • Discussing the importance of not overlooking one’s blessings, Kaplan writes, “We get used to something—whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car—and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place.”
  • One month, Kaplan instituted a “no-complaining zone.” Writing about the need to emphasize life’s positives over its negatives, Kaplan mentions, “If you can change something that’s making you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone, or inevitable, what greater gift can you give yourself than gratitude for whatever life did bring?”
  • Kaplan discusses the story of her heartfelt and earnest reconciliation with her sister. This meaningful experience was the beginning a “new friendship” and had both women “appreciating the good in the moment rather than fussing about the past.”
  • Kaplan concludes, “gratitude lodged deeper and deeper into my heart and soul…. Gratitude affected how I looked at every event that happened. Being positive and looking for the good had become second nature—and that made me much happier.” And, “by living gratefully, I’d had the happiest twelve months I could remember.”

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan

Recommended: Speed Read. Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries confirms that gratitude truly is an attitude—how you feel has less to do with events that occur in your life and more to do with your attitudes. Kaplan’s experiment substantiates that keeping a gratitude journal boosts your sense of wellbeing. With interviews on gratefulness with psychologists, friends, and other thankful people, The Gratitude Diaries encourages you to pause, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for what you have in life in order to make life more pleasant, gratifying, and peaceful.