David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell

This well researched masterpiece by Malcolm Gladwell challenges the common belief that David, as the underdog, is at a disadvantage compared to Goliath. Gladwell's argues the opposite in masterful story telling style. David, with his position as underdog, enjoys advantages not afforded Goliath. In fact, if David's strengths were examined in detail, Goliath actually stood no chance at all.

  1. Goliath-style benefits such as strength and size makes it vulnerable in some situations. Goliaths have to play by the rules. Underdogs have nothing to lose. This translates into a huge advantage in life and business.
  2. An example is a parent basketball coach who had never played basketball before coaching his all-girls team into repeated championships. He looked at his group of middle school girls, many of whom cannot shoot a basket and coached them to play the full court press.  It is an extremely tiring strategy but one does not require good shooters, just persistent blockers.  Rival teams complained that they did not play the way the industry intends the game to be played, that they "cheated."  But the fact is the team abided by all the rules.  It just did not win in the usual way by being good shooters.  The team won championships because they did not play the standard game and took their rivals by surprise.  
  3. Big fish in small pond is better off for your kids' development.  The confidence gained from being top of the peer group is important to success.  This has implications such as the fact that affirmative action ends up hurting more than helping because it sends people into a school that is above their ability. 
  4. Force without legitimacy leads to defiance.
  5. For when I am weak then I am strong. A higher percentage of entrepreneurs than average are dyslexic.  This is because of desirable difficulty.  Living with dyslexia usually puts people at a disadvantage.  Except those who manage to overcome this disadvantage come out with unusual skills that put them on the top.
Got 2h or so?  Totally worth a quick read and loved every minute.

5 Ways to Fascinate your Audience

I listened to the book Fascinate along with 13+ of my Product Management peers at Atlassian.   We
wanted to see how this book can improve our work as product managers and here are the lessons I learned.  I recommend listening to the book at 1.5x speed, since author Sally Hogshead narrates the book slowly. In the book, she breaks down "fascination" into 7 triggers.  Brands and individuals can use these 7 triggers to capture their target's attention.  
  1. Fascination is Love, and it is irrational.
  2. Marketing is about what you inspire about others to say about you, not your message directly.
  3. The 6 criteria for a fascinating msg 
    1. Promotes strong emotional response
    2. Creates advocates
    3. The message becomes cultural shorthand
    4. Insights conversation.. builds social currency
    5. Forces competitors to realign around it
    6. Triggers social revolutions 
  4. Triggers are emotional and creates emotional meaning for your audience.  That's why every fascinating message touches on a few of these triggers.  The seven triggers are:
    1. Trust.. you can rely on it
    2. Lust.. sex sells
    3. Mystique.. we want to solve puzzles
    4. Power.. we want it
    5. Alarm.. we want to avoid negative consequences
    6. Prestige.. earns us status and respect
    7. Vices.. tempts us
  5. Trust is the hardest trigger to establish. It takes years and can be lost in a few missteps. But it is powerful because it is the fall-back in a complicated world. Established brands tend to use trust and prestige as their main trigger, with some lust and vices sprinkled in for variety.  New start-up brands will be more successful with lust, vice, and mystique as their dominant triggers.
Learn how to Fasciate today.

5 Tips from Blue Ocean Strategy

I woke up this morning thinking about work, and wanted to summarize a great book that I read while in business school.  The book is Blue Ocean Strategy.  It's a short but powerful competitive framework by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

1. Most businesses compete in "Red Oceans," a bloodbath of me-too products targeted at a limited segment.

2. To carve an "in" and to eventually dominate, Blue Ocean Strategy is called for.

3. Less is More.  Blue Ocean strategy targets a sub-segment, an under-served segment. Find Blue Oceans by examining every feature of an existing product and how well it serves this sub-segment.  Then consciously drop the features that do not matter and refine the ones that do.  Dropping features is as important if not more-so than refining or adding features.  Think about the iPhone UX and how it targets beginner technology users.

4. If this smells vaguely of "niche market strategy," you are correct.  But just because it is a niche market does not make it a small market.  By way of a niche market you can then establish your business as a tastemaker. Consider Cirque du Soleil, an adult targeted circus entertainment chain.  By dropping the expensive animals in the act, and adding artistry and choreography to their act, they have penetrated the adult circus entertainment business.

5. Make a strategy canvas to figure out the right features to drop, keep and create.  See below for an example of Southwest Airlines' strategy canvas:

Try it for your business, you may uncover some interesting directions that gives you fresh blue oceans.


Influencer was written back in 2007 but a friend lent me her copy and I have to say, it's the best read so far this year for me.  As a Product Manager, my work is all about influence.  The powerful concepts in this book coupled with rich stories will be very influential to my work, no pun intended.

1. Search for and establish Vital Behaviors. When it comes to influence, it's about establishing behaviors at the end, not just talking about goals.  Don't confuse means (behavior) and end (goals).  After you decided on your goal, you need to identify the vital behavior and the recovery behavior that will march towards the goal.  Recovery behavior is the behavior you desire if you "fall off the wagon" of the vial behavior.  Then focus on establishing those behaviors.  Talk is cheap, adherence to behavior is measurable and a sure sign that you are marching towards your goal.  To establish the vital behaviors,study positive deviants, those people or groups who have succeded despite the odds.  Study them to identify vital behaviors. An example is Dr. Silbert's Delancy Street project in SF.  In her project to reform repeat crinimals she focuses on two vital behaviors:  1) take responsibility for someone else' success and 2) call out misbehaviors.  These two behaviors directly challenges the rules of the "street" which are 1) only look out for oneself, and 2) never rat out your friend.

2. When it comes to persuasion, you need to help others answer 2 questions:  1) Is it worth it?  2) Can i do it?  If you want to change behavior, change one or both of these expectations.

3. The great persuader is personal experience.  If you cannot place your target directly into that experience, create a surrogate for the actual experience.  Create a vicarious experience.   For example, in one study they were helping targets overcome snake phobia.  By having the targets observe another person handle a snake, they were able to open up to that idea and eventually work up to handling the snake themselves.  That's why story telling is so powerful for changing minds. Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because it transport the listener from a role of a critic to that of a participant.

4. Enlist social support through opinion leaders.  Opinion leaders are people who are: 1) viewed as knowledgeable about the issue at hand, 2) have other people's best interest in mind 
and are therefore viewed as trustworthy.  

5. Always use extrinsic rewards as your third motivator.  You must do you work with personal and social motivators first.  And if you've done your work with both personal and social motives, symbolic awards take on enormous value.  Instead of awarding pricey awards, provide smaller awards targeted at desired behaviors (not outcomes).  Remember, symbolic gold stars that cost 20 cents can hold enormous value.

Because this book is so full of goodness, here are a few bonus lessons:

6. Below is the chart that helps you quickly visualize the different dimensions of influence.  You must provide motivation and ensure ability across personal, social and structural dimensions to exert maximum influence.

7. Find Strength in Numbers - leverage the power of many. Build social capital, you cannot succeed on your own. "Each one teach one."i

8. For personal development, seek immediate feedback.  Four hours of guided instruction in context is better than months without feedback or with delayed feedback.

9.  "Turn a me problem into a we problem."

There is simply too much goodness to do the book justice here.  Have a read.

Daring Greatly

Darling Greatly is a book by Brene Brown about having the courage to be vulnerable. Brown is a vulnerability researcher and was invited to speak at TED. Her book talks about the fences we put up to protect our egos that get in the way of truly and honestly engaging with people. While it has broad application in and out of the work place, I suggest reading it when you're in a more "touchy-feely" mood.
  1. Shame is prevalent. Often people are unable to truly engage because of shamefulness as a result of societal pressures and norms. Consider societal messages that instill a sense of shame in all of us: ideals about masculinity and femininity, appearing successful and independent at all times, demonstrating strength and invulnerability, etc. We are surrounded by success stories that lead us believe that "ordinary" people are losers. But a belief in self worthiness can be cultivated. 
  2. These are the 3 major protection mechanism we use to avoid shame: Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing.
  3. Foreboding joy: Have you ever met a "joy squelcher," someone in a great situation who nonetheless complains about everything? When congratulated, this person provides a self deprecating comment instead? You may have just observed a person who is actively avoiding joy in order to avoid experiencing the emotional downhill that inevitably follows a high.
  4. Perfectionism: Perfectionists tend to tag accomplishment to self worth. What I do is never good enough, and thus "I" am not good enough.
  5. Numbing: Social media, reality television, and other external influences can distract ourselves from connecting with our worthiness. We fall into the cycle of watching other people's lives to fill our own void. 
Daring Greatly purports that we must embrace vulnerability and open ourselves to one another in order to fully experience life.


“The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.”
- Jean de La Brùyere

The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup is a book by entrepreneur and investor Eric Ries. A must read for product managers and leaders in companies large and small!
  1. Successful entrepreneurship is about designing an organization to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  Your most vital function is learning.
  2. You can only innovate at the speed of the experimentation system.
  3. Success is learning how to solve the customer's problem. You should constantly be identifying assumptions, then test them using a minimum viable product, then correct course and repeat with your next assumption.  Use the Build, Measure, Learn cycle.  Set learning milestones, and diligently tracking your learning.  Practice Innovation Accounting by rolling up your learning plan into innovations that have been validated.  Use methods such as Kanban to track your progress.  For Kanban, have a table with the following columns: "Backlog" "In Progress" "Built" "Validated" and cap the number of items per column at, say 3, projects.  Each project moves through the column stages but you must move them all the way through the validate stage before you can start new projects.  This keeps your team honest about validating assumptions.
  4. A startup's runway is the number of pivots it still has left, not the number of months.
  5. Four questions to ask about your product idea to make sure you can sell it once it is built.  Your new customers will come from the actions of past customers, so be sure you are solving a customer need.
    1. Do customers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
    2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
    3. Would they buy it from you?
    4. Can you build a solution for that problem? 
  6. Bonus lesson, since this post is about learning: There are three types of growth and your company may be using a combination of these growth engines:
    1. Sticky (track attrition rate or churn rate, your new customer must be > churn rate)
    2. Viral (makes sure your viral coefficient is >1)
    3. Paid (your cost per conversion must be < profit per conversion)

Happy, the movie by Roko Belic

Happy is an uplifting documentary that takes the viewer on a  world journey in search of happiness.  What makes people happy?  How does our culture and environment affect happiness?  How do we get happier?
  1. Belonging is key to happiness. That's why contributing and working in a team setting is so rewarding. Co-housing also creates an environment that fosters belonging.  And Okinawa, the Japnese community with the most 100+ year olds per capita, has a tight-knit community based living that encourages interaction.  They grow and share vegetables with each other and have a weekly marching band that comes by, which encourages people to get on the curb and interact with their neighbors.
  2. Being a part of something greater than oneself generates happiness. That's why religion and spirituality is a source of comfort for billions.  
  3. Gratitude generates happiness.  Practice being thankful everyday.  Being thankful for what you have gives you more happiness than getting what you wish for.
  4. Meditation increases happiness.  Compassion Meditation is the most effective form at altering the brain to become more like a meditation master's brain.
This posts only has four lessons because less is more!

Work Happy

Work Happy, by Jill Geisler, is an excellent book with exercises to help you become a better manager.  Since I need hands-on practice to remember books I read, I particularly like the tool kits and checklists that helps me retain the material.  The book is divided into 3 sections: All About You, All About your Staff, and All About the Workplace.  Here are the five gems that I gleaned from the book.
  1. The Twelve core management competencies are:
    • Maintaining and raising quality
    • Developing and improving systems
    • Coaching employee performance
    • Communicating across the organization
    • Collaborating across the organization
    • Resolving conflicts
    • Building employee motivation
    • Leading with Emotional Interlligence
    • Building teams and team performance
    • Managing change
    • Managing your time and priorities
    • Working with ethics and integrity
  2. Top 5 daily challenges for managers
    • Managers disappoint people everyday.. Don't sidestep this challenge or write off complainers, Do build trust.
    • Manager push people out of their comfort zone..  Don't bulldoze or bully... Do custom calibrate pressure.
    • Managers are routinely caught in the middle.. Don't play coworkers against each other.. Do advocate for your staff.
    • Managers can't always tell people what they want to know.. Don't hoard info.. Do commit to sharing info generously.
    • Managers make mistakes.. Don't assume you must always be smarter.  Do recognize that the way you respond to your employees' mistakes shapes how they respond to yours.
  3. The power grid of leadership
    • Legitimate power.. Your stripes
    • Expert power.. Your smarts
    • Coercive power.. Your stick
    • Reward power.. Your sweets
    • Referent power.. Your Substance.. It's R-E-S-P-E-C-T on steroids 
  4. Do not treat everyone the same.  Remember there are different works styles and preferences.
    • Introvert vs extrovert
    • Detail vs big picture learners... This preference affects how this person responds to different communication, brainstorming formats, change management and new ideas.
    • Thinkers vs feelers.. Hard liners vs soft touches.. This preference affects this person's view of praise, criticism, and social interactions. 
    • Planners vs plungers.. This preference affects the way this person views deadlines, work vs. play, and team tension.
  5. Motivation stems from Competence, Autonomy, Purpose and Growth.  What's your motivation story?  How much satisfaction do you derive from: 

    • Being right
    • Being a pace setter
    • Being an expert
    • Change of pace assignments
    • Getting additional training for new skills
    • Working independently
    • Feeling I have creative freedom
    • Doing something that helps pitchers
    • Working as a member of a high performing team
    • Feeling my ideas are appreciated and implemented
    • Knowing exactly where I stand with my boss
    • Being groomed for bigger things
    • Getting public recognition from boss
    • Getting private recognition rather than public from boss
    • Economic incentives
    • Professional awards
    • Being asked to coach or teach others
    • Working with highly disciplined workers
    • Being held in high regard
    • Friendships and harmony in the workplace
    • Leading the work group
    • Being asked to coach or mentors
    • Liking the workplace, 
    • Having input a out tools and tech
    • Being in the loop

The First 90 Days

The first 90 days, by Michael Watkins, is a very useful read for anyone making a transition into a new organization.  I'm listening to it for the second time since I'll be making a transition very soon. While the book focuses on leaders starting in a new role, it is useful for an employee at any level seeking to understand the way things work in a new organization.
  1. There are four types of situations according to a STARS model:  Startup, Turaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment and Sustaining Success.  Each require a different approach.
  2. Startup: Decisive Decision making needed (hunter mentality rather than farmer mentality).  Use the shoot, then aim approach.  The energy is excited chaos, and your role is to make calls on what not to do.  Climb quickly up the technical learning curve, political learning curve is less critical here. Take the offensive approach on the product and market.
  3. Turnaround: Decisive Decision making needed (also hunter mentality).  Shoot, then aim approach.  Morale may be low here, but people are aware that change is needed. This means you can make changes by using the plan-then-implement approach (rather than the collective learning approach).  Take the defensive approach on the product and market.  Pare down to critical elements of the product and secure that as a base first, then go after more marketshare.
  4. Realignment: Collaborative decision making is needed (farmer mentality).  You have more time to assess the situation here, so aim carefully before firing.  The Political learning curve is critical here, so set aside time to climb up this curve. People are not aware that change is needed, so to make change, you need to use the collective learning approach.  Help people become aware that change is needed, and collaborate to create a plan for change that everyone is bought into.  You may take an offensive or defensive approach on the product and market depending on the situation. 
  5. Sustaining Success: Collaborative decision making is needed (farmer mentality).  You have more time to assess the situation here so it is an aim and fire approach.  Spend time to climb the political learning curve so you can assert the right influence to get things done.  Measuring success is tricky here, since it's more incremental successes rather than "splash" success.  Set expectations with management accordingly.  Take a defensive approach to the product and market, make sure you secure existing marketshare and keep the organizing moving forwards, not backwards.
This book goes into more detail than above on general issues to consider during the transition. Here are some more highlights:
  • Mentally promote yourself before starting on the role.  Think through how your relationships with others in the org changes because of the change. This is especially important for an internal transition, as alliances and friendships may shift as a result of this transition.
  • Related to above, think through the functional scope of your new role.  If you are transitioning from specific-area manager to general management, you may not be able to rely on domain expertise for your future position.  Consider this, and consider how your strengths and weaknesses help or impair your future path.
  • Take 100% ownership of your relationship with the boss.  Set the meetings, bring the agenda, build the bridge.
  • Understand whether the organization values team vs individual accomplishments, and which is considered a win.
Here is a slideshare deck also that further summarizes the book's concepts.  This is a great read if you are going through or about to go through a transition.  Don't miss it!

The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

The Willpower Instinct is a book about the ins and outs of human willpower, and how we can best leverage this resource.  It is an extremely powerful and fun read, and highly recommended for anyone who has ever tried to make a change in their lives.  I find myself nodding and smiling along with the anecdotes, and I've learned powerful lessons to gain control in my next willpower exercise.
  1. Willpower is a Finite Resource.   Willpower, the ability to overcome our animal instincts and act in favor of long term interests, is managed by our pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex, as with the rest of our body, can get tired with over-use, needs breaks and requires nourishment.  That is why every time you feel tired or hungry, you are more likely to give in to temptation.  Manage this finite resource carefully and make a note of low-willpower and high-willpower moments.  Choose high-willpower moments to make important decisions, and be aware of the pitfalls of low willpower moments. Plan accordingly and defer decisions during low willpower moments.  For example, my everyday willpower challenge is to avoid junk food.  When I get home hungry after work I have a low willpower moment so I tend to go for the junk food.  To mitigate this, I keep the junk food hidden and the healthy food prepared ahead of time, so the decision to avoid junk is easier during my low willpower moment.  After I eat and rest, I regain my willpower.  At which time I am motivated again to cook healthy food for the next day.
  2. Beware of the License to Sin.  Have you ever completed your exercise goal for the day, then gave yourself license to indulge in sweets afterwards as a "reward," thereby negating calories burnt during exercise?  This is the effect of License to Sin.  When goals are being associated with "being good," it is tempting to indulge in a reward afterwards.  To work against this effect, de-associate goals with "being good."  Goals are strictly goals being met or not being met.  Instead of thinking "I have been good, therefore I should be rewarded."  Think instead "I have met my goal.  I feel good that I have met my goal."  The meeting of the goal should be a reward, or the goal is set inappropriately.  In the case of exercise, indulge in the positive surge of energy and endorphins gained from exercise.  Enjoy the intrinsic reward of the goal rather than use it as a license to sin.
  3. Beware of the Social License to Sin.  Rule-breaking and loss of self-control are contagious.  An environment where bikes are parked in the "no bike" zone and litter is strewn on the street will encourage people to follow suit.  In fact, it will also encourage people break other rules.  The good news is, self-control is also contagious.  Taking inspiration from self-control masters such as athletes and spiritual leaders are a good way to boost self-control.  Building relationships with people who exhibit your desired self-control habits will also "rub-off" on you.
  4. Wanting is not Happiness, unless it is.  Dopamine is released every time the body experiences desire.  But desire is not happiness. In fact, desire is associated with frustration.  Do you remember a time you were excited about the promise of a reward, but when the reward comes, there is a slight feeling of loss and perhaps depression?  Maybe it's Christmas Day after opening the presents.  Be clear about whether it’s the "promise of reward" you are seeking or the reward itself.  In some cases, the strongest vices, such as shopping, may be a desire for the "promise of reward" instead.   If that's the case, window-shopping may serve as the reward itself and the credit cards can stay home.  Separating the "desire" from the "reward" can help with goal setting and goal adherence.
  5. Beware of the "What the Hell" effect.  Failure to adhere to a goal one time can trigger self-blame and shame that leads to a declaration of "what the hell" and lead to further failure.  Self-blame and shame also triggers your body to seek a dopamine hit so it can feel good right now, which encourages indulgence.  Prevent yourself from going over the cliff by exercising self-compassion.  Contrary to common perception, studies show that those who forgave themselves for missing the mark on occasion, will quickly get back on track.  Those who wallowed in self-blame will spiral into a cycle of bad feelings and failure.