The Book Corner - Review

The Book Corner

Featured in this issue:

The Monk and The Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur

By Randy Komisar with Kent Lineback
Harvard Business School Press, 2000

Reviewed by Donald Atwater, PhD

At the beginning of each academic year, we have the opportunity to revisit books that remind us of the past and can help guide us in the future. One of the books I revisited was The Monk and the Riddle. I strongly recommend it if you are hoping to start a new business. This book provides a series of practical reminders that should be on your radar as you move ahead. For example, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were often judged by the size of their “burn rates” [how much venture capital funding was spent in a month, the bigger the amount the more prestigious the dot.com] and their skills in winning funding based on the “feel of their ideas and vision.” Randy Komisar reminds us that successful entrepreneurs do not need to sacrifice their lives to make a living.

While the monk’s riddle (How do you drop an egg three feet without breaking it?) is quite simple, the monk’s advice to simply let the answer come to you can be a real challenge. A young entrepreneur must come to grips with the fact that it usually takes three CEOs to take a startup to a market player and that he or she cannot be all three. A hidden insight in the book is “time does not merely fly away.”

Because Randy Komisar taught economics, was rejected for a job as a corporate lawyer at IBM, was a CEO at LucasArts Entertainment, a CFO at Go Corporation, and worked with companies like TiVo and WebTV, he was able to advise “Lenny” and “Allison” that the “journey” can often be the reward. Lenny and Allison are two entrepreneurs that Komisar shepherds through the idea to business and launch cycle. As the “Virtual CEO,” he brings his experience and life perspectives—such as the riddle and the monk—to them. Are you trying to solve the monk’s riddle, or are you waiting for the answer to come to you?

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How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation

By Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
Jossey-Bass, Reprint edition 2002

Reviewed by Julie A. Chesley, PhD

Whether it is informal office chatter, formal direction to employees, or our personal self–narrative, the words we use shape our world. If we want to make changes in some aspect of our work life, we need to make changes in the language we use. Kegan and Lahey offer seven different languages we can incorporate to facilitate interpersonal development as well as overcome resistance to change in the workplace. Each of the languages is explained and accompanied by examples and self-assessment exercises.

The first four languages focus specifically on personal growth. For example, the authors reveal the great potential conveyed in our complaints, as they represent a commitment we genuinely hold that is not being satisfied. They then suggest ways we can change from the “language of complaint to the language of commitment.” The next three languages focus on social interactions and implications for leaders. The authors highlight and provide examples of changing from the “language of prizes and praising to the language of ongoing regard.”

This book is best read when you have time to go through the self-assessment exercises and work with a partner who is also interested in development. The assignments are provocative and illustrate each of the languages. As you work your way through the book, the authors illustrate not only why lasting change is so elusive, but best of all, also provide a compelling way to enable and maintain change.

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Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology

By James R. Chiles
HarperBusiness, 2002

Reviewed by Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD

The sheer scale and complexity of technology in the modern world is truly staggering. Most of us take it for granted as we drive or even fly to work, use our computers, phones, and handheld devices, or even do something as simple as turning on a light. All of these activities may seem simple, but they are each built upon extraordinarily complex systems.

The business world relies on increasing complexities with little understanding of the failure frequency of multi-factor systems and the very human strategies required to avoid such failure. This intriguing and very readable book analyzes a number of disasters and near misses, showing how they can be avoided in the future. The list of cases is extensive and includes the Concorde, steamboat explosions, nuclear power plant failures and much, much more.

Chiles reconstructs not only the systems’ collapse, but also the operators’ responses. In doing so, he reveals surprising connections between these technological events both past and present. Importantly, he also examines near misses and the quick thinking, expert actions and processes that were in place to avoid disaster.

This book provides us with successful strategies for using and controlling the tools we have created. Executives, engineers, systems designers and supervisors would benefit from incorporating into their business practices the lessons presented in the book’s many cases. This is a riveting foray into the machine frontier—but it should not be read while driving or flying!

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The Feiner Points of Leadership: The 50 Basic Laws That Will Make People Want to Perform Better for You

By Michael Feiner
Warner Business Books, 2004

Reviewed by Marjorie C. Walsleben, PhD

Do you want to stop faking authenticity, giving in to knee-jerk reactions, and keeping score of “What You Have Achieved” (WYHA)—which stays behind when you leave the office—versus “What You Have Become” (WYHB)—which travels with you wherever you go? Read The Feiner Points of Leadership!

Leadership is highly readable and so grounded in reality you find yourself nodding in affirmation at Feiner’s anecdotes, which persuade you it is possible to help your people excel. “Your people” may mean your partners, your team—or your children! Feiner’s 50 basic laws illustrate ways to take people along with you by enabling, teaching, and coaching, rather than by pushing or preaching to them.

As the former chief people officer at Pepsi-Cola, Feiner recounts with humor and compassion some of his own false steps as a leader and shares his lights at the end of the tunnel. Your staff (and your children) will appreciate his “elevator speech,” defined as a summation brief enough to recount in the time it takes an elevator to move from one floor to another. Such a speech is predicated on the assertion that “80 percent of the value of our opinions can be expressed in the first 20 percent of the statement.”

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