Monthly Archives: November 2013

Are management books a waste of time?

Are management books a waste of time?

If you are like me, you probably have shelves full of management books that have never been opened. Given the paucity of time for quiet reading and thinking, could management books be writen off as useless, irrelevant, containing too much theory and little practice?

'Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul' by Howard Schultz, Joanne Gordon (ISBN B00AZ8DKWM) Don’t be dismissive yet. Consider the advantage. Management books offer the promise of learning from the written word. Good managers and leaders habitually pride themselves on learning from experience, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fact that reading a management book, understanding the perspectives and examples provided, and separating the wheat from the chaff is an learning experience in itself.

Is it possible that these management books sound the same? Admittedly, a lot of books do have some really good ideas, but they are covered with acres of irrelevant fluff, protracted case studies, repetitive lines of reasoning, anecdotal stories, credentials of the authors, or promotion of the author’s services.

So, if you don’t like reading, are too busy to read books, too important to read management books, or you can’t read, simply delegate the reading of these management books. Ideally, most books can be condensed into a page or two of significant points. Find someone who loves to read and ask them to give you a summary of the key points and suggest some actions that interest you. Even if this is not practically as good as reading the books yourself, it’s better than passing up all the knowledge and wisdom available to be gleaned from management books.

My Current Reading List of Management Books

Posted in Education and Career

A Checklist for Checklists: Developing, Drafting, Validating the Checklist

Checklist and Standard Operating Procedures

A checklist is not cast in stone. Modify it, enhance it, adapt it as needed. But, use it. If it is incorrect, change it. A checklist is critical when we are learning.

Develop a checklist and then put it to the test. Apply it, see the outcomes, and gauge the results. Does it avert errors? Does it create a better outcomes? Does it keep you on track? Does it help? Does it save time in performing the process and team-learning? Test the benefits, modify, and test again.

Phase 1: Developing the Checklist

  • Is each item:
    • a critical safety step and in great danger of being missed?
    • not adequately checked by other mechanisms?
    • actionable, with a specific response required for each item?
    • designed to be read aloud as a verbal check?
    • one that can be affected by the use of a checklist?
  • Have you considered,
    • adding items that will improve communication among team members?
    • involving all members of the team in the checklist creation process?

Phase 2: Drafting the Checklist

  • Does the checklist:
    • Utilize natural breaks in workflow (pause points)?
    • Use simple sentence structure and basic language?
    • Have a title that reflects its objectives?
    • Have a simple, uncluttered, and logical format?
    • Fit on one page?
    • Minimize the use of color?
  • Is the font:
    • Sans serif?
    • Upper and lower case text?
    • Large enough to be read easily?
    • Dark on a light background?
  • Are there fewer than 10 items per pause point?
  • Is the date of creation (or revision) clearly marked? Have you:

Phase 3: Validating the Checklist

  • Have you trialed the checklist with front line users (either in a real or simulated situation)?
  • Have you modified the checklist in response to repeated trials?
  • Does the checklist:
    • Fit the flow of work?
    • Detect errors at a time when they can still be corrected?
  • Can the checklist be completed in a reasonably brief period?
  • Have you made plans for future review and revision of the checklist?

Recommended Reading

'The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right' by Atul Gawande (ISBN 0312430000) ‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right’ by surgeon Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawande is authority on reducing inaccuracy, improving safety, and increasing efficiency in modern surgery and other lines of healthcare practices. As the world becomes increasingly complex, so do the problems that people and businesses face. Preventable failures are widespread, but Atul Gawande contends that personal- and professional-failures can be prevented. Using examples from the fields of surgery, healthcare, aviation, and other spheres of business, ‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right’ convinces that Training, organizational change, quality control can be dramatically improved through the adaptation of checklists, standard operating practices, and work instructions.

Also recommended: Beyond the Checklist by Suzanne Gordon, Patrick Mendenhall, Bonnie Blair O’Connor. The subtitle is ‘What Else Health Care Can Learn from Aviation Teamwork and Safety (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work).’

Posted in Life Hacks and Productivity Management and Leadership

Management Guru Tom Peters on Benchmarking

Management Guru Tom Peters

To grow, companies need to escape of the vicious cycle of competitive benchmarking, replication, imitation that’s so much in vogue today. A company cannot simply be remarkable by following some other remarkable business.

Here is a classic video of Management Guru Tom Peters discussing the pointless exercise of benchmarking:

I hate Benchmarking! Benchmarking is Stupid! Why is it stupid? Because we pick the current industry leader and then we launch a five year program, the goal of which is to be as good as whoever was best five years ago, five years from now. Which to me is not an Olympian aspiration.

Clearly, there is no tangible benefit from attempting to imitate another business that has excelled at something. If a business pursues the leading benchmark, the company will forever be a follower. In addition, the uniqueness of the product or service or process will no longer be as unique once many achieve it.

Successful leaders don’t seek to learn from the “best in class” in their field. They seek to learn from companies outside their field as a way to innovate.

Posted in Business and Strategy

Dan Loeb’s Recommended Books on Investing

Dan Loeb's Recommended Books on Investing

Daniel Seth Loeb is the founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, a New York-based hedge fund.

Posted in Investing and Finance

Save Ann Arbor’s Historic State Theater

Save Ann Arbor's Historic State Theater

The future of Ann Arbor’s historic State Theater as a place to see great cinema in Ann Arbor is in jeopardy. The State Theater is renowned for playing new independent films and midnight showings of older classics.

The State Theater LLC, the ownership group that owns the State Theater and the rest of the building, has proposed to ask the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission to review plans to transition the second floor into office space. Their proposal is to be voted on by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission at their next meeting on December 12 at 7pm. The ground first floor of the building already consists of an Urban Outfitters store.

Ann Arbor’s characteristic art-loving community fears that this is part of an ever-increasing need for downtown living and office space. Ann Arbor has a wide-reaching reputation as a great city for movies, performing arts, and cultural events. That cultural profile will be diminished by the loss of the State Theater and its two screens.

The management of the historic non-profit Michigan Theater, which already manages the programming of the State Theater, has proposed to lead a community effort to save and preserve the State Theater for present and future moviegoers. The Michigan Theater’s proposal involves purchasing the second floor of the building and enhancing the interiors of the State Theater cinemas to satisfy present day audiences while remaining committed to preserving the theater’s historic use and architectural significance.

Ann Arbor's Historic State Theater Art Deco Cinema Style Theater

Facts about Ann Arbor’s State Theater

  • The State Theater is an historic and important Art Deco Cinema Style theater designed by the renowned architect C. Howard Crane (who also designed Detroit’s Fox Theatre).
  • The State Theater opened in 1942 and has shown movies continuously for 71 years.
  • The current use of the State Theater for both commercial retail and movies is viable and maintains the historic use and architectural significance of the building.
  • The Michigan Theater has programmed and marketed the films at the State since 1997.
  • The State Theater attracts over 50,000 movie goers annually, which is above average among Art House theaters world-wide. If renovated in a way sensitive to its historic origins and upgraded to meet modern movie image, sound and audience comfort standards, that attendance would double.

Impact on Movie and Live Event Programming in Ann Arbor

State Theater, Ann Arbor One of the key reasons that the Michigan Theater has been able to bring high quality films to the Ann Arbor community is the flexibility that comes with the presence of four screens. If the current proposal by the State Theater owners is approved, the Michigan Theater’s ability to provide access to those films will be substantially diminished. With film programming cut in half, this is especially significant. Ann Arbor’s movie-loving community stands to lose a large number of films that require a commitment of six or more weeks. With the loss of the two screens at State Theater, Michigan Theater will be left with its own two screens for programming—this would force fewer days available for concerts, plays, author events, business meetings and other community events currently hosted by Michigan Theater.

Impact on the Ann Arbor Downtown Neighborhood

If the State Theater is converted to office space, foot traffic in the State Street area district will diminish and surrounding retail businesses will suffer.

The proposal submitted by the State Theater makes no reference to the Marquee which, in and of itself, is historically and architecturally significant and is an icon in the Ann Arbor community. If the proposal is approved, there is n o guarantee that the Marquee will be maintained, used in an appropriate manner, or lit into the late evening.

Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture

What Makes a Good Leader Great?

What Makes a Good Leader Great

Great leaders have something that, when you see it, you know what it is, but it is hard to describe exactly what it is. These are the “intangibles” in leadership.

Recommended Books: On the subject of characteristics and behaviors that result a superior leadership performance, I recommend ‘Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter’ by Liz Wiseman and ‘How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life’ by John C. Maxwell.

Posted in Management and Leadership

Leadership Principles at Birchbox, the Beauty Products Sample-box Company

Birchbox, the Beauty Products Sample-box Companies

Birchbox was founded in 2010 Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp who became friends at Harvard Business School. Mollie Chen, who was Hayley Barna’s roommate right after college in New York, joined them on the leadership team after a stint at Conde Nast as beauty editor.

Birchbox’s invention was a refresh of the popular “discovery method” for beauty, grooming, and lifestyle products. With monthly fees of $10 for women and $20 for men, some 400,000 Birchbox subscribers receive a small gift box filled with five pleasantly surprising items each month. The men receive a lifestyle or clothing article like a tie or belt for the $10 they pay more than the women do, because sample-sized products are not as prevalent among men’s brands.

When Birchbox subscribers love the samples they receive in their monthly packages, they can buy full-sized items on the Birchbox website. The company claims that a quarter of its revenue comes from its full-price e-commerce store and that half of all subscribers have converted to purchasing full-sized items on the site. A recent success story: celebrity makeup artist Jeanine Lobell’s company Stila sent out a sample eye shadow palette to 7% of Birchbox’s subscribers. 11.2% of Birchbox subscribers who received the eye shadow palette purchased a full-size version of the product. This, Birchbox claims, is ten times as effective a marketing tool as any other in the beauty industry.

Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox Birchbox’s sample-box subscription model and business plan make sense. Beauty brands are paying Birchbox to distribute product samples they would anyway, but thanks to Birchbox, they are putting them in the hands of many youthful, tweet-happy, socially-networking customers with money to spend who have explicitly asked to—and pay to—receive samples.

Birchbox has become the most popular sample-box companies on the market today and has been able to strike deals in other marketing channels. For instance, JetBlue recently tied up with Birchbox to present Birchbox cosmetics to its premium-class passengers flying from New York to California.

Four Leadership Principles at Birchbox

In an interview with Adam Bryant of the Corner Office segment on New York Times, Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox, discussed the company’s culture and leadership principles.

  1. Our people are doers—no job at Birchbox is defined by the role you signed up for because there are downstream and upstream effects.”
  2. We talk about our business as a win-win-win—when people make decisions, it has to be a win for the brand, for customers and for us.”
  3. We also talk about grounded inspiration, where you use data and experience as a springboard for decision, but not as a rule of law.”
  4. And the last one is “one team,” which is about the importance of working toward a common goal from different angles and the impossibility of silos.”
Posted in Management and Leadership

Difference between a Hotel and a Motel

Difference between a Hotel and a Motel

The commonly acknowledged distinction between the definition of a hotel and that of a motel is based upon the means of access to the rooms.

Most hotels have interior hallways to the rooms. A guest is expected to leave his car in the hotel’s parking lot, enter through the hotel’s lobby, perhaps take an elevator, and walk down a hallway to access his room.

In contrast, motels consist of exterior corridors. Motel rooms open directly into a parking lot or a balcony overlooking the parking lot. A guest could park his car directly in front of his room and enter his room. Motels do not have hallways or internal corridors within the property.

The term ‘motel’ originated as a portmanteau for ‘motorist hotel.’ In the 1920s, with the development of the freeway system in the United States, many motorists needed to park their vehicles and stay for the night during their long-distance road journeys. Located along (or close to) these freeways, the motels provided accommodations to motorists who needed rest before proceeding. In this context, a hotel is a residential property inside a city of destination where travelers stay for the duration of their travel.

Another common understanding is that motels are low-priced hotels.

Posted in Travels and Journeys

Advice on Careers for Recent Graduates

Advice on Careers for Recent Graduates During the initial phase of your career, focus not on the career but jobs.

At the outset, focus not on developing a career plan but on making meaningful job transitions. A career is something you build up through a series of job assignments.

Initially, it is best to have a broad base of skills from which you can develop. Further, you will be expected to work on shorter term results, not think about long-term initiatives. At this juncture in your careers, your jobs should primarily be about executing ideas that have already been laid out. Working on ideas early in your career gives you a strong set of disciplines to execute later when you are yourself coming up with long-term initiatives. Another intangible benefit of working in the trenches is that it can help you understand the low-level details and hence be more practical in your strategic choices later in your career.

Posted in Education and Career

Charlie Munger on Energy Independence, Future Oil Prices, and Energy Policy

Here’s Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway on energy independence, future oil prices, and energy policy. Charlie was a panelist at a roundtable discussion on “U.S. — China Bilateral Investment: Managing Challenges, Optimizing Choices” at the 21st Annual Conference of the “Committee of 100.”

Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Oil is absolutely certain to become incredibly short in supply and very high priced. The imported oil is not your enemy, it’s your friend. Every barrel that you use up that comes from somebody else is a barrel of your precious oil which you’re going to need to feed your people and maintain your civilization. And what responsible people do with a Confucian ethos is suffer now to benefit themselves and their families and their countrymen later. The way to do that is to go very slow in producing domestic oil and not mind at all if we pay prices that look ruinous for foreign oil.

It’s going to get way worse later.

The oil in the ground that you’re not producing is a national treasure … It’s not at all clear that there’s any substitute [for hydrocarbons]. When the hydrocarbons are gone, I don’t think the chemists are going to be able to just mix up a vat and create more hydrocarbons. It’s conceivable that they could, I suppose, but it’s not the way to bet. We should spend no attention to these silly economists and these silly politicians that tell us to become energy independent.

Let me pose a question for you. It’s 1930. Oil in the United States is in glut. We have cartels to get the price up to $0.50 a barrel. Everywhere we drill we find more oil in our own country; everywhere we drill in Arabia we find even more.

What would the correct policy of the United States have been in that time? Well, the correct policy would have been to issue $150 billion of very long-term bonds and cart 150 billion barrels of Middle Eastern oil into the United States and throw it into our salt caverns and leave it there untouched until the current age.

It’s easy to see that in retrospect, but who do you see who ever points this out? Zero. We have a brain-block on this issue. We should behave now to do on purpose what we did on accident then.

The roundtable discussions were moderated by Dominic Ng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, East West Bank. Other than Charlie Munger, the speakers included Victor K. Fung, Chairman, Li & Fung Group and Jim Sinegal, Co-Founder and Director, Costco Wholesale Corporation.

On a related note, in an interview with Charlie Rose, ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson thinks energy independence may actually put America at risk:

I don’t think that’s in our best interest to be independent. We need to be connected to multiple sources.

Clearly, the world is — has a lot of places in the world today where stability is an issue. And that can — that can influence the price. It’s probably not going to dramatically alter people’s access to energy, but it can alter the price at which they have to pay for that energy because a piece of the supply comes off the market, the capacity gets very tight, and the price goes up.

Posted in Global Business Investing and Finance