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Smart Work: The Ultimate Handbook for

Remote and Hybrid Teams




Review by Henry Hely Hutchinson


There is a massive appetite for advice on managing others when they are working from home – or partly from home – and also on how to be an effective team-member if a lot of one’s work is at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I recently came across the book Smart Work – The Ultimate Handbook for Remote and Hybrid Teams by Jo Owen (published by Bloomsbury Business) and I found it very helpful, with practical tips about navigating the new world of work.


First of all, the book suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the greatest shift in management and leadership practice for over 200 years.


Whilst this might be something of an exaggeration, the book points out that we cannot uninvent what has happened (any more than we can uninvent, for example, the internet) and thus working-from-home and hybrid working patterns are here to stay.


The book is quite reassuring insofar as it puts into words what many people are experiencing at the moment, i.e. it points out that remote working depends on strong and supportive relationships, which ironically are hard to build when working remotely.


It explains that leaders can no longer micromanage their teams and that any firm which tries to rely on keyboard loggers, location trackers and always-on video is really stuck in the nineteenth century “command and control” world which just won’t work for most firms these days.


Despite the many advantages of remote working, Jo Owen believes that it is still vital that we should meet in person sometimes.  The book is full of practical tips about optimising working relationships with regular check-ins and also with some good advice about looking after oneself when working from home, for example by setting clear time boundaries between work and home; creating clear routines; and taking exercise.


Smart Work feels like it is more aimed at those who need to manage others in a remote or hybrid workplace (and less at team-members working in a remote or hybrid environment) but anyone affected by the working patterns occasioned for office-workers by Covid-19 will find it a useful read. It is a practical and sensible book with a good index at the end for reference purposes.


There are some useful insights and humorous analogies which will ring true to those who have found themselves talking to colleagues with their cameras off (e.g. “Imagine what would happen if, during an in-person meeting a colleague never made eye contact with anyone, slouched, spent the meeting texting… and finally put a bag over her head so that no one could see her face”).  Meanwhile, the book does distill a great deal of research into some easily-readable paragraphs.  


Occasionally I would have liked to see some footnotes or a reference list, e.g. when quite broad statements are made such as “All the research shows that trust is very hard to build online”.  But overall, this is a book which will be very useful to professionals, managers - and management trainers like me!  Strongly recommended.  


Henry Hely Hutchinson

After many years of working all over the world while based in the UK, in 2016 Henry achieved his dream of setting up a training business in his native Ireland.
He now delivers management and selling skills courses for bankers, lawyers and professionals worldwide. Henry has a First Class degree in Modern Languages from Trinity College, Dublin and an MBA from Henley Management College.  He started his career at the Commerzbank in Frankfurt where he worked in the foreign department in Trade Finance.  Most of his career was spent selling and managing people for Euromoney Institutional Investor PLC, based in London but travelling worldwide, and he still works very closely with Euromoney Learning.  
Henry’s training assignments have spanned 20 years and well over 30 countries, and his core areas of specialism include Management Development, Advanced Selling Skills, Communication Skills and consultancy for the banking and legal sector on strategic matters relating to Human Resource Development.






Review by Ron Immink


I first came across David Goggins when I read “Living with a Navy Seal”. A book about an ordinary person extending his capabilities by taking on Navy Seals principles. Goggins wrote his own book, “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds”. A book so tough, it hurts.


Why be mediocre

There is an intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognised human capabilities. That is why I am fascinated by the Navy Seals. We can learn an awful lot from their leadership mantras, their attitude and their mindset. Read “The Navy Seal art of war”. 


We settle for less than our best

We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or racecourse. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole.


You are soft

The most important conversations you will ever have are the ones you will have with yourself. That is the key message. You are soft. You choose to see yourself as a victim of circumstance. You will die without ever realising your true potential. Doing things, even small things, that make you uncomfortable will help make you strong. In the military, they have a statistic. Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. But the one, the one is a warrior”. Most of us are part of the ninety. I would argue that entrepreneurs are probably part of the nine. 


You are at 40%

You are probably living at about 40% of your true capability. It is time to toughen up. For example, you don’t stop when you are tired. You stop when you are done. You are getting hard instead of giving up. You give pain a shape. Pain means you are still alive. Even the best pep talk or self-help hack is nothing but a temporary fix. It won’t rewire your brain. It won’t amplify your voice or uplift your life. You need to tell yourself the truth. If you look in the mirror and if you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fat! The figures about your business don’t lie either. You are making a sustainable living, or you are not.


The truth

Nobody likes to hear the hard truth. Individually and as a culture, we avoid what we need to hear most. There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realise you’re doing it to become better.


It is a mind game

The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. You need to control that part of your brain. Everything in life is a mind game! Whenever we get swept under by life’s dramas, large and small, we forget that no matter how bad the pain gets, no matter how harrowing the torture, all bad things end. When you indulge in negative self-talk, the gifts of a sympathetic response will remain out of reach. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds.


Work harder

There are no hacks. Shortcuts don’t equal permanent results. Physical training is the perfect crucible to learn how to manage your thought process because when you’re working out, your focus is more likely to be single-pointed, and your response to stress and pain is immediate and measurable. The reason it’s important to push hardest when you want to quit the most because it helps you disregard your mind. Set ambitious goals before each workout, and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. When the pain hits and tries to stop you short of your goal, dunk your fist in, pull out a cookie, and let it fuel you!


Push through the pain

But how do you push yourself when pain is all you feel with every step? When agony is the feedback loop that permeates each cell in your body, begging you to stop? What’s universal is the impulse to succumb. The reason Goggin embraces his own obsessions and demand and desire more of himself is because he has learned that it’s only when you push beyond pain and suffering, past his perceived limitations, that he is capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally—in endurance races but also in life as a whole. He believes the same is true for you.


You have 60% more to give

The human body is like a stock car. We may look different on the outside, but under the hood, we all have huge reservoirs of potential and a governor impeding us from reaching our maximum velocity. Our governor is buried deep in our minds, intertwined with our very identity. It knows what and whom we love and hate; it’s read our whole life story and forms the way we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen. It’s the software that delivers personalised feedback—in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40% of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60% more to give! There is a lot of science behind this. Read “Endure” 


The 40% rule

Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60%, then 80% and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40% Rule, and the reason it’s so powerful is that if you follow it, you will unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence in sports and in life, and your rewards will run far deeper than mere material success. The 40% rule can be applied to everything we do. Because in life, almost nothing will turn out exactly as we hope. It takes 20 years to gain 20 years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40% is too callous your mind, day after day. This means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your job!


Control your mind

The first step is to remember that your initial blast of pain and fatigue is your governor talking. Once you do that, you are in control of the dialogue in your mind, and you can remind yourself that you are not as drained as you think. Of course, it’s easy to be open-minded when you leave yoga class and are taking a stroll by the beach, but when you’re suffering, keeping an open mind is hard work. We don’t all have the same floor or ceiling, but we each have a lot more in us than we know, and when it comes to endurance sports like ultrarunning, everyone can achieve feats they once thought impossible. 


Remove your governor

We must remove our governor. Your job is to push past your normal stopping point. Whether you are running on a treadmill or doing a set of push-ups, get to the point where you are so tired and in pain that your mind is begging you to stop. Then push just 5 to 10 per cent further. This gradual ramp-up will help prevent injury and allow your body and mind to slowly adapt to your new workload. It also resets your baseline; The bottom line is that life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself.


There is no shortcut

Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.


Look at your life

For David Goggins, a 40-hour workweek is a 40% effort. It means streamlining your nutrition, spending quality time with your wife and kids. It means scheduling your life like you’re on a 24-hour mission every single day. Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless things. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth, you’d deactivate your Facebook account STAT, and cut your cable.


Eviscerate the hollow hours

It’s up to you to find ways to eviscerate the hollow hours. How much time do you spend at the dinner table talking about nothing after the meal is done? How many calls and texts do you send for no reason at all? Look at your whole life, list your obligations and tasks. Put a time stamp on them. That means listing your prioritised tasks every hour of the day. You can even narrow it down to 15-minute windows and don’t forget to include backstops in your day-to-day schedule. When you audit your life, skip the time-wasting nonsense, and use backstops, you’ll find time to do everything you need and want to do. But remember that you also need rest, so schedule that in. Listen to your body, sneak in those 10- to 20-minute power naps when necessary, and take one full rest day per week.


Sustain greatness

If you truly want to become uncommon amongst the uncommon, it will require sustaining greatness for an extended period of time. It requires staying in constant pursuit and putting out unending effort. This means not only getting into Wharton Business School but being ranked #1 in your class. It means not just graduating BUD/S, but becoming Enlisted Honour Man in Army Ranger School then going out and finishing Badwater. Continue to put obstacles in front of yourself, because that’s where you’ll find the friction that will. It was a lonely journey from there to here. 


It does not sound like a lot of fun

The author finishes the book by admitting he missed out on so much. He did not have a lot of fun. Happiness wasn’t his cocktail of choice. Rage is a powerful thing. For years he raged at the world, channelled all his pain from his past and used it as fuel to propel him into the stratosphere.


Be a better version of yourself

The book reminds me of “The Art of Resilience: Strategies for an Unbreakable Mind and Body” and “Extreme Ownership”  and his perspective is the extreme version. It is not very Ayurveda (my current operating system of choice), but there are lessons in there. And they are straightforward. “No pain, no gain” and “Healthy mind, healthy body”. In fact, it is the other way around. Focus on a healthy body first, and a healthy mind will follow. And get beyond the 40%. There is much more possible than you think. You need to break the habit of being yourself.  Be the better, stronger, more mindful, gentler version.









Kate T Lawler


Review by Carmel Comiskey

Anyone preparing to interview for a new role should consult this book at an early stage of the process. I wish I had it years ago!


Right from the start you know you are in safe hands and it’s obvious that Kate’s advice is coming from a wealth of experience. Her approach is to encourage the reader to take a simple and straightforward approach to the task at hand. Getting yourself psychologically and practically prepared to show up as the best candidate at your interview. The book is full of really practical pieces of advice right from the start with gems of wisdom, from her deep and wide experience as a career coach.


You’ll build up confidence in your ability by using a ‘Success Record’ at the very outset. I particularly like Kate’s use of ‘Simple Facts’ which lead you to get right to the heart of where your focus should be and the Key Learnings/Biggest Learnings are set out throughout to sharpen that focus. Her take on the STAR model is very interesting and as usual it’s all about getting quickly to the point where you show you add value.


Kate takes you through the fundamentals of preparation at a deep level so you can’t help but show up as the best candidate. The section on Competencies provides insight into what the interviewer is looking for, and poses questions to help you build up a really solid response to any competency queries that might be posed. Kate looks at five specific leadership competencies to start this process and outlines how all others will follow the same format.


After that it’s all about putting it into practice and bringing your ‘Bank of Experiences’  into play at interview. There are solid pieces of advice on how to ‘show up’ and key areas to be mindful of at interview. I was intrigued by the advice to ‘Let them feel the cold’ and Kate doesn’t let you down. Again such practical advice to help you bring your experience to life so the interviewers are almost in the room with you where it happened.


Kate is by your side throughout, guiding you towards success. This is an energetic read with pithy advice to get you prepared and through the interview process to your next great role.


You can purchase Your Experience & Expertise Matter HERE.






Review by Ron Immink

“Limitless” came highly recommended. A book that is full of tools to help you tackle digital deluge, digital distraction, digital dementia and ultimately digital deduction. A book to help you to use the unique resource you have at your disposal. Your brain. 

Your brain

It processes dramatically faster than any existing computer, and it has virtually infinite storage capacity. Right now, you have somewhere around 86 billion neurons (also called brain cells) firing and acting together in concert as you read these words and assimilate the information on these pages. Because our brains are subject to the influence of our genes and environment, we each possess a brain that is entirely unique to us. They’re like snowflakes; no two are alike. 

Your gut

You are not limited to just one brain. You have a second, your gut. The gut is lined with more than a hundred million nerve cells. What’s more, these nerve cells operate through startlingly similar pathways as the brain. The connection between the brain and the gut is still being explored, but it seems that they function in very similar ways and that they function in tandem. 

70,000 thoughts per day

If the tremendous power of our minds are available to us, why are we struggling? If your brain is indeed so magnificent, why are overload, distraction, forgetfulness, and feelings of inadequacy affecting us so much? Your brain generates up to 70,000 thoughts per day. It might as well be positive, productive and useful.

Internal programming

The book describes how to tackle limiting beliefs and your internal programming. You are whom you believe you are. You are your internal language. You can change that language. Change your internal belief, and anything is possible. Superheroes don’t become true superheroes by giving in to limiting beliefs. A mindset that comes from silencing your inner critic presents you with a world of possibility. When you’re surging with positive emotions, you’re seeing and seizing on opportunities you might never have noticed before. And with a high sense of motivation and the right methods, you’re well on the road to becoming virtually limitless.  Read “Breaking the habit of being yourself“


The book wonders why the education system does not teach you how to learn. (don’t let school interfere with your education).

Focus and boredom

About the importance of boredom and focus (asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task). 


About the importance of reading. A way to install new software into your brain? It promotes neuroplasticity. When you read any book, you have the opportunity to stretch the range of your mind, and it will never be the same. Parts of the brain that have evolved for other functions—such as vision, language, and associative learning—connect in a specific neural circuit for reading, which is very challenging. A sentence is a shorthand for a lot of information that must be inferred by the brain. In other words, reading gives you an incomparable level of mental exercise, and the brain is always a “muscle” that gets stronger the more you challenge it.

Reading kicks your brain into gear. When you read, you’re using your brain for many functions at once—which is a vigorous and rewarding workout. 
Reading improves your memory. Because you’re giving your brain such a great workout when you read, your brain functions at a higher level. 
Reading improves your focus. One of the things we do when we sit down with a book or even spend some dedicated time with a newspaper is train our focus on this one thing. 
Reading improves your vocabulary. 
Reading improves your imagination. 
Reading improves understanding. 
All of this builds both your empathy for others and your understanding of how the world works beyond yourself.

Action and practice

About the importance of action. Knowledge × Action = Power. About training and deep practice. Fake it until you achieve mastery. Create the right habits. You are also your habits. The habits you repeat (or don’t repeat) every day largely determine your health, wealth, and happiness. Knowing how to change your habits means knowing how to confidently own and manage your days, focus on the behaviours that have the highest impact, and reverse-engineer the life you want. Read “Atomic habits“


About checking your motivation. You can fake motivation too. The reality is that you do motivation. Ultimately, motivation is a set of habits and routines, guided by your values and your identity, that you carry out every day. Taking small steps

Kill your ants

About the importance of a good diet, exercise and sleep. About killing your ants. (automatic negative thoughts), killing distraction, creating flow. Read “Deep work“.

Become a superhero

The book gives techniques for learning, listening, memorisation, recall, speed reading and thinking. Follow the steps in the book, do the steps in the book, and you will become the superhero you could and should be.










Farsighted: How We Make The Decisions That Matter The Most - Steven Johnson

Review by Ron Immink




We don’t spend much time considering how we make decisions. Particularly about our own future (or that of your company). It appears that 95% of our decisions are made for us by our subconscious and our programming from our youth.

Move away from instinct

Particular hard choices demand that we train the mind to override the snap judgments of System 1 thinking, that we keep our mind open to new possibilities, starting with the possibility that our instinctive response to a situation is quite likely the wrong one.


For all the biases and intuitive leaps of System 1, one of the hallmarks of human intelligence is the long-term decision-making of System 2: our ability to make short-term sacrifices in the service of more distant goals, the planning and forward-thinking of Homo prospectus. To make the right decision, you have to figure out how to structure the decision properly, which is itself an important skill. However; “One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination,” the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling once observed, “is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” 

Don’t trust experts

Why would our brains devote so many resources to something as innocuous and seemingly unproductive as daydreaming? They were three times more likely to be thinking about future events than about past events. We are not very good at it. Particularly experts. Most were no better than the figurative dart-throwing chimp. Interesting finding; the more media exposure you had, the less valuable your predictions were likely to be. 

Thinking style

The critical factor is thinking style. Curiosity is crucial. People attuned to a wide range of potential sources, willing to admit uncertainty, not devoted to an overarching theory—turned out to be significantly better at predicting future events than the more single-minded experts. For the long view, you need to draw on multiple sources for clues; dabblers and hobbyists outperform unified thinkers. Successful forecasters as a group were much more likely to be open to experience. 

It is difficult

Most organisations seem to be using the same decision process as a hormone-crazed teenager. We now understand that farsighted decisions are challenging for many different reasons. 

They involve multiple interacting variables
They demand thinking that covers a full spectrum of different experiences and scales
They force us to predict the future with varying levels of certainty. 
They often feature conflicting objectives or potentially useful options that are not visible at first glance. 
And they are vulnerable to the distortions introduced by individual “System 1” thinking, and by the failings of groupthink. 



Decisions are made up of two distinct phases, sometimes called divergence and consensus phases. In a divergence phase, the key objective is to get as many perspectives and variables on the table as possible through exploratory exercises designed to reveal new possibilities. In the consensus phase, the open-ended exploration of new possibilities reverses course, and the group begins to narrow down its options, seeking agreement on the correct path. 


There are a number of primary factors that contribute to the challenge of farsighted decision-making:

Complex decisions require full-spectrum analysis.
Complex decisions force us to predict the future. Most decisions, big or small, are fundamentally predictions about the future. 
Complex decisions involve varying levels of uncertainty. 
Complex decisions often involve conflicting objectives. 
Complex decisions harbour undiscovered options. 
Complex decisions are prone to System 1 failings. 
Complex decisions are vulnerable to failures of collective intelligence. 


Three steps

Deliberative decisions involve three steps, designed specifically to overcome the unique challenges of a hard choice:

We build an accurate, full-spectrum map of all the variables and the potential paths available to us; 
We make predictions about where all those different paths might lead us, given the variables at play; 
We reach a decision on a path by weighing the various outcomes against our overarching objectives. 



The author uses a number of examples to illustrate how difficult difficult decisions are, the defence of Long Island by George Washington, weather forecasting and capturing Bin Laden. Here are the lessons:


Mapping is not the same as deciding. Mapping is the point in the decision process where divergence and diversity are key. The challenge of mapping is getting outside our intuitive sense of the situation in front of us. Part of the art of mapping a complex decision is creating a full-spectrum portrait of all the variables that might influence your choice. But part of that mapping process is also coming up with new choices. 
There is wisdom in building an accurate mental map of the system you are trying to navigate, but there is also a crucial kind of wisdom in identifying the blank spots on the map, the places where you don’t have clarity, either because you don’t have the right set of stakeholders.



Our minds naturally gravitate to narrowband interpretations, compressing the full spectrum down into one dominant slice. Cognitive scientists sometimes call this anchoring. 



Well-functioning groups need to take advantage of cognitively peripheral people. The most important element is the diversity of perspectives you assemble. The very act of diversifying the group clearly improves its decision-making abilities. 
The connection between diversity and improvements in the collective IQ of a group has been demonstrated by hundreds of experiments over the past few decades. 
Diverse groups make smarter decisions.



Introducing expert roles turns out to be a particularly effective technique in addressing the challenges of full-spectrum thinking because in many cases, the different bands or layers of the full-spectrum perspective correspond to different fields of expertise. 
You can enhance the diversity of an existing group—without bringing in outsiders—simply by designating “expert roles” to each of the participants based on the knowledge they happen to bring to the discussion. 



Sometimes the easiest way to be wrong is to be certain you are right. There is the fatal disease of overconfidence that plagues so many complex decisions. 



Recognizing and separating these different forms of uncertainty is an essential step in building an accurate map of a hard choice. Because some element of the situation is fundamentally unknowable. Such as:
measurement error
systematic error
natural variation
inherent randomness
model uncertainty
subjective judgment
linguistic uncertainty
numerical vagueness
nonnumerical vagueness,
indeterminacy in theoretical terms



Search for contradictory evidence—evidence that might undermine the interpretation around which the group was slowly coalescing—turned out, in the end, to generate evidence that made that interpretation even stronger. Either way, the exercise forces you to see the situation with more clarity, to detect the whorls of the fingerprint with greater accuracy. 
Challenging assumptions, seeking out contradictory evidence, ranking certainty levels—all these strategies serve the divergent stage of the decision process well, helping to expand the map, propose new explanations, and introduce new variables. 
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously adheres to a “70% rule” in making decisions that involve uncertainty: instead of waiting for total confidence in a choice—a confidence that may never arrive, given the nature of bounded rationality—Bezos pulls the trigger on decisions once he has reduced his uncertainty level to 30%. 
The military has a long history of deploying what conventionally are called red teams: a kind of systematic version of devil’s advocacy where a group inside the organisation is assigned the role of emulating an enemy’s behaviour are. You can think of a red team as a kind of hybrid of war games and scenario plans.
The difference with strategies like premortems and red teams lies in the formal nature of the process: giving people a specific task and identity to role-play. It’s not enough to ask someone, “Can you think of any way this plan might fail?” Premortems and red teams force you to take on a new perspective or consider an alternate narrative, that might not easily come to mind in a few minutes of casual devil’s advocacy. 


Reduce options

If you do find yourself stuck with a single path decision, Chip and Dan Heath suggest an intriguing—and somewhat counter intuitive—thought experiment to get outside that limited perspective: deliberately reduce your options. If your organisation seems to have settled into the comfortable assumption that Path A is the only route available to them, then imagine a world where Path A is roadblocked. 



Simulations make us better decision-makers because simulations make us better at predicting future events, even when the system we are trying to model contains thousands or millions of variables. 
There does seem to be genuine merit in using games to trigger new ideas and explore the possibility space of a particularly challenging decision. 



You can apply moral algebra. Linear value modelling is employed widely in making astute planning decisions 



Interestingly, one of the key tools we have had in training our minds to make this momentous choice has been storytelling—science fiction, to be precise, which turns out to play a role in some of our mass decisions equivalent to the role scenario planning plays in our group decisions. For at least a century, science fiction has served to anticipate the future.
But almost every decision can be productively rehearsed with another, even more, ancient form of escapism: storytelling. Scenario planning is a narrative art, first and foremost. The three-part structure turns out to be a common refrain in scenario planning: you build one model where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird. Scenario planning is genuinely not intended to be consulted for an accurate forecast of future events. Instead, it primes you to resist the “fallacy of extrapolation.” It is, at heart, a kind of informed storytelling, and of course, storytelling is something we instinctively do anytime we are contemplating a big decision. 
It is not an accident that so many of these tools and strategies that help us wrestle with complex decisions revolve around storytelling. Our appetite for fictional narrative is not just the result of cultural invention, but instead has deep roots in the evolutionary history of the human brain. 
Stories exercise and rehearse that faculty for juggling different frames of truth, in part because they themselves occupy a complicated position on the map of truth and falsehood, and in part because stories often involve us observing other (fictional) beings going through their own juggling act. 
Stories serve a function, not unlike the ensemble forecasts of modern meteorology. 
By telling one another stories, we free ourselves from the bottleneck of an individual life. Stories mean we “are no longer limited by the slow and unreliable flow of actual experience. Instead, we can immerse ourselves in the comparatively rapid flow of vicarious, orchestrated, imagined, or fictional experience. 



Psychologists and cognitive scientists refer to this ability to imagine the subjective life of other people as having a “theory of mind.” That empathy, that knack for peering into another person’s mind and imagining how some theoretical event might feel, is almost by definition one of the most important virtues in making complex decisions. This is the reason why reading novels turns out to enhance our decision-making skills. Many studies have confirmed that a lifelong habit of reading literary fiction correlates strongly with an enhanced theory of mind skills. But no form rivals the novel’s ability to project us into the interior landscape of other minds. 


The future of decision making

Perhaps it is time that we took some of the lessons we have learned from small-group decision-making and applied them to the realm of mass decisions. That is not as unlikely as it sounds. After all, the rise of the Internet has enabled us to reinvent the way we communicate multiple times in my lifetime alone: from email to blogs to Facebook status updates. Why shouldn’t we take this opportunity to reinvent our decision-making tools as well? 

Decision-making classes

How do you move more from system I thinking to system II thinking, or at least improve the quality of system II thinking? Decision making as a profession, maybe even something that should be taught at schools. The course itself would be a case study in the power of diverse perspectives. But beyond the multidisciplinary sweep, students would learn a series of techniques that they could then apply to their own lives and careers: how to build a full-spectrum map of a complex decision; how to design a scenario plan and a premortem; how to build a values model and Bad Events Table. They’d learn to seek out undiscovered options and to avoid the tendency to fall back into narrowband assessments.

The other case for bringing decision-making into the classroom is that it provides a valuable bridge between the sciences and the humanities. We have a few challenges ahead. 






Unlearn - Barry O'Reilly

Review by Ron Immin




At the next Climate-KIC masterclass, “Fearless entrepreneurship” in Trinity College Dublin, Barry O’Reilly will be speaking about “Unlearning”. It dovetails lovely with the theme, which is less planning and more doing. In our view, it always begins and ends with numbers and a 100-day plan.



But without the right mindset, that is not going to work. What got you here, won’t get you there. Highly effective leaders are constantly searching for inspiration and for new ideas. But before any real breakthroughs can happen, we need to step away from the old models, mindsets, and behaviours that are limiting our potential and current performance.



The way to think differently is to act differently. You must unlearn what you have learned. The main reason for the Romans becoming masters of the world was that having fought successively against all peoples, they always gave up their own practices as soon as they found better ones. Exceptional leaders have discovered it’s not how smart they are, how much they know, how long they have been in an industry, or what they have learned. It’s the ability to recognise when to unlearn and when to let go of past success and their outdated thinking and behaviours, and innovate


Training and development does not work

Most training and development efforts in businesses today routinely fail to hit the mark. Harvard Business Review article points out that American businesses spend a tremendous amount of money on employee training and education. In 2015, this number was estimated to be approximately $160 billion in the United States and $356 billion globally.


Be vulnerable

This first step in the cycle of unlearning requires courage, self-awareness, and humility to accept that your own beliefs, mindsets, or behaviours are limiting your potential and current performance and that you must consciously move away from them. Unlearning is an act of vulnerability—of leaving behind the certainty of what you know and opening yourself up to uncertainty.



Status-quo leadership is no longer an option (applying the same models and methods everywhere you go). Leaders believe they simply need to tell people to think differently, and they will act differently. This is a fallacy that must be unlearned. You have to learn by doing. With time, focus, and permission to be bold. The single most important action of any leader is to model the behaviours you wish to see others exhibit in the organisation.



The best leaders don’t have all the answers; they ask better questions. The best leaders try stuff. Black box thinking! Best leaders think big, start small (small investment + small risk + small build), and create a safe environment to fail. No PowerPoint or promises with only words to back it up. Only results of actions with feedback. Relearning is a process of experimentation to try new behaviours and take in new data, new information, and new perspectives.



The best leaders know where they want to go. By identifying the aspiration or outcome you wish to achieve, paired with the deliberate practice to get there and starting with small steps (starting is the keyword here), you can start to move toward your desired state and achieve extraordinary results.


Creating atomic habits 

Leadership is about storytelling. Tell stories of what success might look like if they solved the challenge they decided to tackle. Ask people to visualise or tell themselves the story of what it would look like six months, a year, or three years after they solved that challenge. Visualising and telling stories of success in the future is a great way to unlearn your thinking and create a bold vision and definition of that success. The powerful part of telling stories is that we start to describe the behaviours that we, our people and our customers would be exhibiting if we have indeed unlearned.



You put numbers on everything

For instance, if you wish to leave work feeling accomplished, quantify it. How often would it be happening? Hopefully, not just once. How about four out of five days a week, or even better, 80% of the time? Using rates and ratios makes our measure of success more actionable and accountable over time.


Lead by example

Always remember, the best way to create new behaviours—for yourself and for your organisation—is to demonstrate them yourself and show people you are committed to improving how you work, how your systems work, and how everyone could work.


Starting small, even smaller than you think

The key reason for starting small is to make people feel successful as quickly as possible and to enable them to see the result of their new behaviour as they progress toward their larger aspiration or outcome. The path to success is to break down the aspiration into small, specific behaviours using a method called “Tiny Habits”. Behaviour happens when three things come together: motivation, ability, and a prompt. Doing something small can have a systemic-level impact and network effect, making something magical happen in the organisation.



As you experience breakthroughs and free ourselves of your existing mental models and methods, you learn to let go of the past to achieve extraordinary results. Your breakthroughs provide the opportunity to reflect on the lessons we have learned from relearning and provide the springboard for tackling bigger and more audacious challenges ahead of us.



Professional athletes have long known the power of using feedback and reflection to improve their performance and achieve breakthroughs. After breakthrough, the cycle starts all over again as leaders deliberately practice unlearning, building muscle memory to push forward with new initiatives, new innovations, new ideas, and new systems of operating.


Task orientation

In the majority of organisations, being busy is systemic, and often for perverse reasons. You breakthrough by stepping back and reflecting on exactly what it is you are doing and the results your effort is yielding. “Did you do the tasks?” and then move on to the next one, and the next. It’s much harder to take the time to find out if the task you did actually impacted the outcomes that you were trying to achieve. Outcomes matter more than outputs.


Measure your outcomes over output

Strive to gather feedback in real-time to discover rapidly how your efforts have been received, thus optimising your adaptions and next actions in minutes, hours, and days rather than weeks, months, and years as might be the case with traditional approaches.


Declare a hypothesis for improvement that will address the challenge you’re facing
Define outcome-based measures of success before starting experiments, and then hold yourself accountable for them.
Recognise that the only true failure is the failure to learn, so learn fast.


Deliberate practice

The key is deliberate practice, which demands explicit focus, reflection, and taking on more challenging tasks to keep improving and progressing toward extraordinary results. That is why the people who push ahead are the ones who are constantly trying to find their knowledge thresholds, their skills thresholds, and taking one step beyond that.



Da Vinci didn’t have a to-do list; he had a to-discover list. The reason the biggest, most successful companies in the world are all technology companies is because they’ve built platforms that allow them to discover exactly how their customers interact with them and to more deeply understand their customers’ behaviours. Today’s most innovative and successful companies run thousands of experiments each year.
In 2011, Amazon had the ability to deploy software every 11.6 seconds, which means the company could discover something new every 11.6 seconds.
Recognise this?

CEOs, executives, and managers who hold onto legacy thinking and outmoded methods such as command and control—telling people what to do and exactly how to do it— are not only micromanaging through control systems designed by themselves and for themselves, they are also limiting the potential of the entire organisation. They forget what it is to problem-solve for themselves, and they embrace disempowerment to the point that having to think for themselves sparks fear. This learned helplessness halts extraordinary breakthroughs. When no decisions are made at the edges of the organisation—where the information is richest, the context most current, and the employees closest to customers, the organisation grinds to a halt.


Peter principle

The majority of managers have risen to their current positions based on their competency to know what to do when to do it, and always having the answer or solution at hand rather than helping others discover the answers and solutions. The end result of this very common situation is the Peter Principle, where managers rise to their highest level of incompetence and battle to stay there for fear of being found out.



A worker’s role is not to think, just do. Yes, this leadership conditioning and behaviour still prevails in the majority of twenty-first-century organisations—and is still taught, modelled, and learned. Leadership is about making other people successful by helping them discover the answers for themselves and guiding them along the way. Real leadership is leaving a team, an initiative, or a business—whatever situation you decide to tackle—in a better state than when you started, with new skills, capabilities, and knowledge to cope with the road ahead, even after you’re long gone. Leaving a legacy.


The myth of military command and control

Great leadership consists of clearly defining purpose, intent, and the outcomes to be achieved, and then creating systems that allow people to figure out for themselves (by way of experimentation) the best ways to achieve those desired outcomes. The army relinquished command and control by its leaders in the nineteenth century, after the Napoleonic wars. They replaced it with mission intent. Leaders describe their intent—communicating the purpose of the orders, along with the key outcome to be achieved—and then trust their people closest to the situation, who have the richest information, to make decisions aligned with achieving that outcome. That is why I think you can learn so much from the military.


Fearless leadership

That is why we have Erwin van Beek, ex-special forces, do a 4-hour leadership session at “Fearless entrepreneurship”. Leaders should have the confidence that their team is capable of making good decisions for themselves. Clarity is the responsibility of leadership. Clear mission intent. With a number.


Go to the fringes

High-performance individuals and companies create systems that allow the people closest to the richest sources of information to have the authority to make decisions because they have the most context of the situation and the competence of skills required for how best to take action. Read “Employees first, customers second“.



Stop making decisions yourself and let other people make decisions. It’s not about the leader solving the problem. It’s about coaching the employee to improve their capability and competency of doing the work, so they can better solve problems. The question for leaders is how they can move decision making to the appropriate individual and have the confidence necessary to delegate authority.


Engage with customers

For the majority of companies, engaging customers, and obtaining their feedback comprises the last step in the product journey. After we have spent significant time and money. We must unlearn the way we engage, collaborate, and create with our customers, and relearn how to interact, leverage, and connect with them to discover new innovations and breakthroughs together. Today’s most effective leaders wholeheartedly embrace the idea of removing the friction in how they communicate with customers, so they are able to solicit and receive a steady, raw feed of unsanitised information and data that is true, accurate, and as close to real-time as possible.


Unfiltered feedback

You need to incorporate the feedback of all your customers—both internal and external—to understand how the business is working, how the products and services you’re delivering are working, and how both can be improved. Most leaders’ default conditioning is to build or maintain layers of supervisors and managers, which creates communication handover points. These handover points always lead to slow decision making, poor collaboration, and loss of context as what’s actually happening in the organisation gets lost in the message. The best way to get actionable information is to ask your customers, putting yourself in their shoes to understand what’s really happening. Read ‘The moment of clarity“.


Go outside

The days of the CEO being a scary person, locked behind the door on the twenty-first floor, who had all the answers, are rapidly coming to a close. The answers to your questions aren’t in your office; they’re outside in the world, where people are using your products and services. If you really want to understand what’s going on, you’ve got to go to the source, and you’ve got to be willing to listen.



When you truly innovate, build the future, and courageously face down uncertainty, what happens is that complex, unpredictable, and unintended consequences occur. When you build hierarchies of knowledge or silos, and information doesn’t travel across the company, organisational learning does not occur. To prevent this, you have to train, reflect on results, and have conversations that remind people what happens when things go bad. To help its employees remember, each year NASA conducts what it calls a Day of Remembrance


Become Antifragile

Netflix conducts game days where, unbeknownst to the teams, parts of the company’s live production systems are randomly shut down, and their products and services start breaking. Intentionally disabling computers in Netflix’s production environment became such a habit within the company that they built a piece of software called Chaos Monkey to randomly and automatically trigger system failures to test how their systems and teams responded to outages.



Leaders in most organisations today are massively incentivised to do what they’ve always done and squeeze a little bit more out of the existing system, versus taking a risk and unlearning what has delivered past success. Existing incentive structures are one of the biggest inhibitors for driving innovation in any organisation. It’s time to unlearn individual pay-for-performance incentives and relearn to create the conditions for authentic motivation, courageous behaviours, and exploring risky initiatives in a controlled manner to get the breakthroughs to achieve extraordinary results.



If people don’t understand or are not clear on the intent of the company, they can never move toward it. “Powerful”  explains that the litmus test was being able to stop any of the company’s employees, at any level of the company, in a break room or elevator and ask them this question: “What are the five most important things the company’s working on for the next six months?” If they couldn’t reel them off one, two, three, four, five, ideally using the same words used in communications to the staff, then the Netflix leadership was failing to do its job, not the individual.



People want to have a sense of contributing to the greater good—of their organisations, their communities, and the world at large. In cases where employees have clarity of purpose in their work, alignment on how their efforts contribute to achieving it and appreciation for their efforts are enough to prompt the desired behaviours, and no incentives are needed.


For Jeff Bezos, at Amazon, it’s always Day One

When employees move past Day One, they become complacent and fearful, relying more on the comfort of the status quo instead of constantly seeking new frontiers and courageously leaning into the discomfort of the unknown. The former is the pathway to organisational decline and death. The latter is the pathway to greatness.


Action is everything

As Jeff Bezos says, “There is no Day Two—every day is Day One”. Unlearning does not lead with words; it leads with action. People do not change their mental models of the world by speaking about it; they need to experience the change to believe, feel, and see evidence of it. If you always prioritise incredible personal growth, impact, and paradigm-shifting experiences, success will gravitate toward you as if you were a magnet. So, choose not to be mediocre. Choose a life of greatness sat work, at home, in your community, and in the world.





Loonshots - Safi Bahcall

Review by Ron Immink




“Loonshots” is a very different book about innovation and organisational design. Closer to Taleb and “Antifragile”  than “Creative construction“. Also reminds me of “The day after tomorrow“. Solid, fluid and superfluid as key concepts to manage your innovation portfolio.

Managing superfluid

Particularly superfluid is difficult. Those are the loonshots you need, but loonshots by their nature are completely and utterly unpredictable. However, the most important breakthroughs come from loonshots, widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy. Without loonshots companies (and empires) will eventually die.

Phase transition

Loonshots shares the lessons and learning of how to manage innovation from a loonshot perspective. It as with startups and biology, you need lots of weird ideas, and there is no way of predicting which ones will succeed. It is all to do with phase transition. Organisations work in the same way and when you start to understand why teams suddenly turn, you can start to control those transitions. The same way as temperature controls the boiling and freezing of water. Solid, fluid, superfluid.


Think of the water molecules in the tub as a platoon of cadets running randomly around a practice field. When the temperature drops below freezing, it’s as if a drill sergeant blew a whistle and the cadets suddenly snapped into formation. The rigid order of the solid repels the hammer. The chaotic disorder of the liquid lets it slip through. Systems snap when the tide turns in a microscopic tug-of-war. Binding forces try to lock water molecules into rigid formation. Entropy, the tendency of systems to become more disordered, encourages those molecules to roam. As temperature decreases, binding forces get stronger and entropy forces get weaker. When the strengths of those two forces cross, the system snaps. Water freezes.

Competing forces

All phase transitions are the result of two competing forces, like the tug-of-war between binding and entropy in water. When people organise into a team, a company, or any kind of group with a mission they also create two competing forces, two forms of incentives. We can think of the two competing incentives, loosely, as stake and rank. When groups are small, for example, everyone’s stake in the outcome of the group project is high. The perks of rank, job titles or the increase in salary from being promoted, are small compared to those high stakes. As teams and companies grow larger, the stakes in outcome decrease while the perks of rank increase. When the two cross, the system snaps. Incentives begin encouraging behaviour no one wants.


The bad news is that phase transitions are inevitable. All liquids freeze. No group can do both at the same time, because no system can be in two phases at the same time. One molecule can’t transform solid ice into liquid water by yelling at its neighbours to loosen up a little. When the density exceeds a critical threshold, the system will flip from the smooth-flow to the jammed-flow state.

Control parameters

Identifying control parameters is the key to changing when systems will snap: when solids will melt, when traffic will jam, or when teams will begin rejecting loonshots. As the temperature of water falls, molecules vibrate more slowly until they reach a critical temperature, at which point their binding energy exceeds their entropy, and they crystallise into the rigid order of ice. That’s the liquid-to-solid phase transition.

Live on the edge

To nurturing loonshots, you need to live on the edge of a phase transition: the unique conditions under which two phases can coexist. Engineering serendipity, create the opportunity and space to explore the bizarre and creating a dynamic equilibrium between loose and structure. The magic is in the network, a shared purpose and the loose connections.

The rules

Do not undertake a program unless the goal is manifestly important and its achievement nearly impossible
If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.
Shelter radical ideas

There is a need for separating and sheltering radical ideas—the need for a department of loonshots run by loons, free to explore the bizarre. Where failure is accepted and expected. The breakthroughs that change the course of science, business, and history, fail many times before they succeed. Sometimes they survive through the force of exceptional skill and personality. Sometimes they survive through sheer chance. In other words, the breakthroughs that change our world are born from the marriage of genius and serendipity.

Create a loonshot structure

There is a pervasive myth of the genius-entrepreneur who builds a long-lasting empire on the back of his ideas and inventions. Rather than champion any individual loonshot, the secret is to create an outstanding structure for nurturing many loonshots. Rather than focus on being a visionary innovator, be a careful gardener. Getting the touch and balance right requires a gentle helping hand to overcome internal barriers, the hand of a gardener rather than the staff of a Moses. The tips (not that dissimilar to “Zone to win“):

Separate the phases

The goal of phase separation is to create a loonshot nursery. The nursery protects those embryonic projects. It allows caregivers to design a sheltered environment where those projects can grow, flourish, and shed their warts. Tailor the tools to the phase

Love your artists and soldiers equally

Surviving those journeys requires passionate, intensely committed people—with very different skills and values. Artists and soldiers. Manage the transfer, not the technology. Manage the balance between loonshots and franchises—between scientists exploring the bizarre and soldiers assembling munitions; between the blue-sky research of Bell Labs and the daily grind of telephone operations. Rather than dive deep into one or the other, focus on the transfer between the two. Intervene when the balance breaks down. Keeping the forces in balance is so difficult because loonshots and franchises follow such different paths.

Beware the False Fail

False Fail—a result mistakenly attributed to the loonshot but actually a flaw in the test. We will see the False Fail over and over, both in science and in business. There are many reasons projects can die: funding dwindles, a competitor wins, the market changes, a key person leaves. But the False Fail is common to loonshots. Skill in investigating failure not only separates good scientists from great scientists but also good businessmen from great businessmen.

Create project champions
Fragile projects need strong hands. Great project champions are much more than promoters. They are bilingual specialists, fluent in both artist-speak and soldier-speak, who can bring the two sides together.

Listen to the Suck with Curiosity

Listening to the Suck with Curiosity (LSC), overcome the urge to defend and dismiss when attacked LSC means not only listening for the Suck and acknowledging receipt but also probing beneath the surface, with genuine curiosity, why something isn’t working, why people are not buying. It’s hard to hear that no one likes your baby. It’s even harder to keep asking why.

Ferocious attention to detail

Ferocious attention to scientific detail, or artistic vision or engineering design, is one tool, tailored to the phase, that motivates excellence among scientists, artists, or any type of creative.

Beware of the Moses trap

When ideas advance only at the pleasure of a holy leader—rather than the balanced exchange of ideas and feedback between soldiers in the field and creatives at the bench selecting loonshots on merit—that is exactly when teams and companies get trapped.

The types of loonshots

There are two types: P and S.

 - With P-type loonshots, people say, “There’s no way that could ever work” or “There’s no way that will ever catch on.” And then it does.
 - With S-type loonshots, people say, “There’s no way that could ever make money.” And then it does.
 - Deaths from P-type loonshots tend to be quick and dramatic. A flashy new technology appears (streaming video), it quickly displaces what came before (rentals), champions emerge (Netflix, Amazon), and the old guard crumbles (Blockbuster).
 - Deaths from S-type loonshots tend to be more gradual and less obvious. It took three decades for Walmart to dominate retail and variety stores to fade away. S-type loonshots are so difficult to spot and understand, even in hindsight, because they are so often masked by the complex behaviours of buyers, sellers, and markets.


The book covers mindset, and there the book reminds me of “The algorithmic leader“.The difference between a system mindset and outcome mindset. Teams with an outcome mindset, analyse why a project or strategy failed. Teams with a system mindset, probe the decision-making process behind a failure. How did we arrive at that decision? System mindset means carefully examining the quality of decisions, not just the quality of outcomes. Which is why probing wins, critically, is as important, if not more so, as probing losses. Failing to analyse wins can reinforce a bad process or strategy. Always ask how the decision-making process can be improved

Examples of randomness

The book is full of examples and what it illustrates is the sheer randomness, the messiness, the serendipity of breakthrough ideas and companies. Bell lab, Genentech, Pixar, Star Wars, James Bond, IKEA but it also points out one organisation that has been at the forefront of many breakthroughs, which is DARPA. Since 1958, this one two-hundred-person research group, deep inside a massive organisation, has spun out the internet, GPS, carbon nanotubes, synthetic biology, pilotless aircraft (drones), mechanical elephants, the Siri assistant in iPhones, and more. Never underestimate the importance of government on innovation and technology development.

Lessons from DARPA

The DARPA’s principles are elevated autonomy and visibility; a focus on the best external rather than internal

 - DARPA is run like a loose collection of small startups, with no career ladder. Their employee badges are printed with an expiration date.
 - DARPA’s structure has eliminated the benefit of spending any time on politics, of trying to sound smart in meetings and put down your colleagues by highlighting the warts in their nutty loonshots so that you can curry favour and win promotions.
 - DARPA managers are broadly known in their community. They are granted authority to choose their projects, negotiate contracts, manage timelines, and assign goals. The combination of visibility and autonomy creates a powerful motivating force: peer pressure.
 - In DARPA recognition from peers is a form of intangible or soft equity. It can’t be measured through stock price or cash flows. But it can be just as strong a motivator, or even stronger, as both a carrot and a stick.


Your company

You won’t apply the same way to every company (most companies are not faced with problems that might be solved by a giant nuclear suppository). But every organisation can find opportunities to increase autonomy, visibility, and soft equity. Some additional tips:

Beware of the skill fit

Match employees and projects and ensure optimal skill-fit. Poor project–skill fit can also result from an overmatch: skills so far above project needs that the employee has maxed out what he or she can contribute. Employees who are not stretched by their assigned projects have little to gain from spending more time on them. How much might politics decrease and creativity improve if rewards for teams and individuals were closely and skillfully matched to genuine measures of achievement?

Watch the incentives

“Powerful” has an interesting perspective on incentives.  Competitors in the battle for talent and loonshots may be using outmoded incentive systems. Bring in a specialist in the subtleties of the art—a chief incentives officer. Companies with outstanding chief incentives officers—experts who understand the complex psychology of cognitive biases, are skilled in using both tangible and intangible equity, and can spot perverse incentives—are likely to do a better job than their competitors in attracting, retaining, and motivating great people. In other words, they will create a strategic advantage.

Management span

Wider spans (15 or more direct reports per manager) encourage looser controls, greater independence, and more trial-and-error experiments. Which also leads to more failed experiments. Narrower spans (five or fewer per manager) allow tighter controls, more redundancy checks, and precise metrics. When we assemble planes we want tight controls and narrow spans. When we invent futuristic technologies for those planes, we want more experiments and wider spans.
A wide management span helps nurture loonshots: it encourages constructive feedback from peers. Peers, rather than authority.

Disruptive innovation

The author makes a good point about loonshot versus disruptive. A loonshot refers to an idea or project that most scientific or business leaders think won’t work, or if it does, it won’t matter (it won’t make money). It challenges conventional wisdom. Whether a change is “disruptive” or not, on the other hand, refers to the effects of an invention on a market. Early-stage projects in rapidly evolving markets behave like a leaf in a tornado. You wouldn’t put a lot of faith in guessing where that leaf might end up. It’s easy to point to technologies that disrupted a market in hindsight, once the leaf has landed.

Embrace the crazies

Look for the innovation outliers (read “Quirky” and the “Rebel talent“. Perhaps everything that you are sure is true about your products or your business model is right, and the people telling you about some crazy idea that challenges your beliefs are wrong. But what if they aren’t? Wouldn’t you rather discover that in your own lab or pilot study, rather than read about it in a press release from one of your competitors? How much risk are you willing to take by dismissing their idea?


You want to design your teams, companies, and nations to nurture loonshots, in a way that maintains the delicate balance with your existing business, so that you avoid ending up like the Chinese and Roman Empire or most of the companies in your sector in the near future. See loonshots as insurance for day after tomorrow.




The Algorithmic Leader - Mike Walsh 

Review by Ron Immink



How do you make decisions? I am taking a bet that you spend very little time thinking about thinking or how and why you make the decisions you make. Let alone how you can use AI to do that even better and consistent.



Once you have read “Principles“, you should be looking at your business in a different way. Before “Principles” there was “Making money is killing your business“. Your business as an engine or combination of (decision making) processes. That is why I started to read “The Algorithmic leader”. Managing and optimising your decision making as a leader, using and applying machine learning.



Algorithms are not some computational incantation that somehow bring machines to life. They are more like a recipe for baking a cake: a step-by-step process (mixing ingredients) to solve a problem The very concept of an algorithm predates the modern computer by several thousand years; it can be traced back to some of the greatest minds of the ancient world who also used algorithms to think through difficult challenges.

Deep learning
With the advent of deep learning, computers can train themselves on datasets that contain millions of inputs and outputs, evolving as they do so. Being smart when machines are smarter than you require you to become something new. You can safely assume that if something can be automated, it will be—if not by you, then almost certainly by one of your competitors.
And unlike a human being, an algorithm will come to the same conclusions every single time, whether it is Monday morning or Friday afternoon, cold or hot, or after the algorithm has handled thousands of similar cases.
Live management
Soon algorithms will shape almost every aspect of our lives. They will determine our right to enter a country (US Customs now requires you to share your social media handles on request), buy train tickets (as happens with the social credit system in China), or shop at Amazon (Amazon can fire you as a customer if you start returning too many high-value items). Our refrigerators will keep track of what we eat, our toilets will report on our physical health, or our shoes will vibrate to alert us to walk in the direction of something we might find personally interesting.
35,000 decisions a day
It has been estimated that an adult might make around 35,000 decisions every single day. Your kids are unlikely to be in that position, given that an increasing number of their choices are being automated for them. Once you have experienced a world where your decisions are handled for you by smart algorithms, there is no going back. Those born after 2007, is the first not only to have had access to smartphones from birth but also to have been completely immersed in algorithmic platforms.
The next big shift in interface design is the move toward more natural interactions. Our bodies are becoming interfaces. Whether it be smart speakers or sensors, smart tattoos or augmented reality glasses, we are learning to sense and respond to data in a more intuitive way. The more natural the interface, the more likely we are to start forgetting about the algorithmic machinery hard at work in the background. Instead of automation creating more standardised experiences, your future customers will expect you to leverage machine learning to create more natural, personalised, human-level interactions. Human-level interfaces that understand our natural speech, recognise our faces, respond to our emotional states, and even track our gestures will be useful. They will allow us to effortlessly communicate our intentions and accomplish our objectives without resorting to command interfaces and workflows. Algorithms and data make “anticipatory design” possible. 
When algorithms become deeply embedded in our daily lives, they have the potential to greatly influence how we behave. If we reach that point, we will no longer be able to easily discern how much of our memory, experiences, tastes, or even our own identity is native to us and how much is merely the technological extensions of ourselves.
Optimal design of your business
So the question to ask is; if an AI were to design an organisation optimised for machine learning, how would that company operate? If you could start your business again with a clean sheet of paper and the ability to leverage AI, algorithms, and automation, what would you do differently? You need to become an algorithmic leader. The job of an algorithmic leader is not to work. Their real job is to design work. Here are the tips from the book to become one:
  • Put data at the heart of the business
  • Build a central data lake
  • Map the way you make decisions and solve problems
  • Adapt your decision making, management style, and creative output to the complexities of the machine age
  • Map your connections and relationships
  • Connect people, partners, and platforms
  • Avoid digital incrementalism.
  • Apply first principles thinking
  • Move beyond true and false
  • Break problems down into a series of smaller, more manageable problems (decomposition)
  • Separate the strategy (how to approach a problem) from the execution (crunching the data)
  • Apply probabilistic thinking or think like a gambler
  • Augment your intelligence
  • Track the results of your cognitive systems
  • Compare your decisions against people who are making decisions in a wide variety of areas
  • Keep meetings brief
  • Conduct decision audits
  • Principles rather than processes are what matter
  • Focus on the exceptions
Imagine what services might be made possible? The best way to imagine a future shaped by AI is not to focus on machines and their current capabilities but to think about the potential interactions between algorithms, human behaviour, and identity. Imagine a future without your company in it. If firms only exist to either reduce or eliminate transaction costs, what if technology like blockchain could do this more effectively? Would the firm as a concept still need to exist in its current form? In the future, some firms may operate without people or locations. They will be “decentralised autonomous organisations” based entirely on smart contracts that react to data and other algorithms. Imagine what life might be like in ten years. Build a picture of what life might be like in thirty years. He then asks himself what technologies, business models, and infrastructure might, therefore, need to be in place in fifteen years, ten years, five years, and next year.
The book is full of examples
Publicis, a multinational marketing company, has already started using algorithms to organise and assign its 80,000 employees, including account managers, coders, graphic designers, and copywriters. Whenever there is a new project or client pitch, the algorithm recommends the right combination of talent for the best possible result.
IBM has also applied for a patent for a system that monitors its workforce with sensors that can track pupil dilation and facial expressions and then use data on an employee’s sleep quality and meeting schedule to deploy drones to deliver a jolt of caffeinated liquid, so its employees’ workday is undisturbed by a coffee break.
Rolls Royce builds a virtual copy of every engine they make, combining data insights from throughout the business with design and manufacturing data, resulting in a perfect digital twin of their underlying physical asset. The Rolls-Royce Trent engine is an early example of a digital twin. A digital twin is a digital model of a physical object or process that allows you to optimise its performance. You could build a digital twin of a manufacturing line or a factory, a self-driving car, or even just a small component in a larger system, for example.
Google spent two years studying 180 of its teams. It called the study Project Aristotle. The researchers discovered that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills or “group norms”: equality, generosity, curiosity about teammates’ ideas, empathy, and emotional intelligence.
For Bezos, there are two categories of decisions. Type 1 decisions are the mission-critical, high-impact choices that influence higher-level strategy and can determine your future; Type 2 decisions are the lower-stakes choices that can be reversed if need be. You are better off acting on or even automating Type 2 decisions as quickly as possible. Amazon’s senior leaders typically leave all Type 2 decisions to the teams and individuals below them so they themselves can focus on Type 1 decisions.
Rakuten created its own algorithmic brain trust. Every quarter, all the senior leaders gather to discuss data.
When you arrive for an appointment at Forward, you are scanned by a full-body scanner that checks multiple physical attributes and downloads the diagnostic data collected by your wearable devices about your physical activity levels and heart rate.
A bank started to track who was talking to whom in the company, and what the social network looked like. Then, using just those metrics, they tried to predict subjective and quantitative ratings of performance for different employees as well as self-reported job satisfaction levels. The data from even these simple employee interactions proved to be an incredibly accurate predictor of performance.
IBM has also applied for a patent for a system that monitors its workforce with sensors that can track pupil dilation and facial expressions and then use data on an employee’s sleep quality and meeting schedule to deploy drones to deliver a jolt of caffeinated liquid, so its employees’ workday is undisturbed by a coffee break.
About decision making
Good decisions should be difficult. Their difficulty reflects the challenging nature of the topics and issues they relate to; they require strong cognitive skills if you are to arrive at a good solution. If your decision doesn’t seem difficult to make, you are probably not asking the right questions.
About decentralised control
The British Empire, expanded globally over a hundred-year period until it managed over 20 per cent of the land on the planet without any direct control from the centre. Buccaneers, tradesmen, and merchant seamen were given lots of delegated decision making in a highly self-organised fashion. When messages went from being transported by ships, with a send and receive time of six months, to a mere six minutes, everything fell apart. Because, as Parsa explained with a wry grin, the centre suddenly started to micromanage.
About the law
Under the General Data Protection Regulation, which came into effect in 2018, the European Union requires companies to be able to explain a decision made by one of its algorithms. Which means there will be lawsuits that require you to reveal the human decisions behind the design of your AI systems, what ethical and social concerns you took into account, and how well you monitored the results of those systems for traces of bias or discrimination. Document your decisions carefully and make sure you understand, or at the very least trust, the algorithmic processes at the heart of your business. If an AI causes a deadly mistake, who is ultimately culpable: the programmer who designed the algorithm, the data scientist who chose the training data, the safety engineer who failed to intervene, or you, the business leader who approved the optimisation target?
About work
In the future, you will be either working for the algorithm or if you are lucky, on the algorithm. What happens when more and more people are employed as part of a transient workforce governed by algorithms? For example, courier nomads may have the latest holographic phones, bone-conduction headphones, and low-latency, augmented reality eyewear, but make no mistake, they will be the physical manifestation of a new algorithmic underclass. Even within organisations, you will find growing inequality and a widening gap between top executives and an outer fringe of transient workers.
The algorithmic leaders
  • Focus on their future customers, not their existing ones
  • Design their operating model for multipliers, not margins
  • Analyse problems from first principles, not by analogy
  • Seek to be less wrong with time, rather than always being right
  • Humanise and complexify, rather than standardise and simplify
  • Are guided by user empowerment, rather than mere regulatory compliance
  • Ask whether they have the right approach, rather than whether they are getting results
  • Manage by principles, rather than processes
  • Believe that they should automate and elevate, rather than automate and decimate
  • Transform for purpose, not just profit



The book is a harder version of “The new leadership literacies“. Just add algorithmic to the skill set. Combine it with some meditation and mindfulness to make sure you stay on the right side of manipulation.