Author Archives: randy

The Training Formula:  START WITH WHY, then WHAT, then HOW – (with appreciation to Simon Sinek, Start with Why)

Recently, I was talking to an HR Director of a large organization about their training needs.  She made this observation:  “we don’t need to hear some training that people hear once, and then promptly forget.” 

Yep…  That is a problem!  Basically, anything we hear once will not register deeply enough to make a difference.

There is a Rule of Seventeen, that states that when someone hears a “new” message, it takes 17 exposures for it to finally and fully sink in.  17!  (Check this post: The Rule of Seventeen” – If you Want to Get Your Message Across & Accepted, Repeat, and Repeat and…..).

So, I agree with the premise that once is not enough to hear a training message; or, really, any kind of message.  (Have any of you seen more than one Coca-Cola commercial, or Sonic, or Apple, or…? You get the point!).

But there is another element to add to this mix.  And that is “what is training?”

Here is the dictionary definition:
Training:  the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behavior.

In other words, training is providing information, and then providing instruction and practice and correction, so that behaviors change for the better, all in pursuit of better outcomes.

If we divide the training task into three major aspects:
we can see the issue.

it all starts with Why

it all starts with Why

One of the more influential books of recent years is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. It is a book about how organizations and companies need to help all of their people know the WHY behind their products or services.  (It is a very good book, by the way). In the book, Mr. Sinek argues that organizations need to START with the WHY behind their offerings.  Only after  the WHY is grasped, and agreed upon, can the WHAT and the HOW be tackled.

I think this concept translates well into the training arena.  In fact, I think it is essential to grasp, and follow.

Take diversity and inclusion issues.  Before one is trained to be more inclusive, wouldn’t a good dose of “WHY” help set the stage?  I am personally convinced that knowing the history of exclusion should precede attempts to build greater inclusion.  In other words:
“This is WHY people were excluded.  Now that we understand this WHY, let’s see WHAT we can do today that remedies this.  HOW can we implement what we intend to happen; HOW can we actually practice inclusion?”

So, the training formula is:

First, WHY
Then, WHAT
And then, HOW.

I admit my bias here, but I think that training could be helped with a substantive dose of WHY at the front end.  And a very good way to deliver the WHY piece is with a good book synopsis.

Say you want to train people on better leadership skills, with an emphasis on empathy.  Where should you start? What should come first?

I presented my synopsis of this book early in 2019

I presented my synopsis of this book early in 2019

If you ask me this question, I would argue that people should know the content of a good book that makes the case. for leadership with empathy.  A current great choice would be Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.  Note the subtitle:  Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. It kind of oozes elements of empathy.  That would establish the WHY.  Then you go to some of the WHAT behaviors of leaders, and finally do some practicing on HOW to demonstrate empathy.

Why a book synopsis?  It would be great if every member of the team read the book for themselves, and fully grasped it.  But, they won’t all do it, will they?  A good book synopsis helps them all get on the same page quickly.

There are other good ways to Start with WHY.  But, however you choose to do it, when you plan your next training program, may I encourage you to remember to START WITH WHY! Then, AFTER your folks grasp the WHY, should you move to the WHAT  and the HOW.

You might want to read these posts:

Start with Why by Simon Sinek – Here are My Four Lessons and Takeaways

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

You can purchase my synopses, with audio recordings plus my multi-page, comprehensive handouts for Start With Why, Dare to Lead, and many other books, at the “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page.  (You can search by title).  Click here for your newest additions.

My synopsis of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy by Derek W. Black is Today, Thursday, September 16, 12:30 pm, over Zoom – Come Join Us – (And, here is the synopsis handout)

Schoolhouse Burning, cover

Click on image to download the full synopsis handout

If you have an open lunch time window Today, Thursday, September 16, 12:30 pm (CST), I am presenting my synopsis of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy by Derek W. Black, Thursday, August 19, 2021 at 12:30 (CST) for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare, on Zoom.

This is an important book; substantive.  You will learn!

I encourage you to download my synopsis handout, print it out, and follow along.



Come join us on Zoom.

Urban Engagement Book Club
Thursday, September 16, 2021 – 12:30 pm (CST)
Synopsis of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy by Derek W. Black. 

Synopsis presented by Randy Mayeux
We conclude shortly after 1:30.
(This event is free).


And, here is the Zoom link to join our gathering. 

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 871 8581 2415
Passcode: 539416

{Note: click here to see the line-up of books for our gatherings throughout the year.}


Here is the more complete Zoom info.

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: UEBC, third Thursdays, 2021
Time: September 16, 12:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 871 8581 2415
Passcode: 539416

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Some big themes in today’s business books – Psychologicial Safety; Brainstorming, with Freedom to Fail; Inventiveness

I present synopses of at least 24 business books a year.  One begins to see recurring themes across many books.

Here are some current thoughts about what may be most important concepts, based on these recurring themes that perpetually crop up.

Let me first put it in paragraph form:

To succeed in business, you need to know this:  what worked yesterday, and what is working today, will likely not be what works tomorrow.  Therefore, you need new ideas – lots of new ideas –  all.the.time!  You need to be coming up with these new ideas; you need to be trying out some of these new ideas; you need to fully implement the best new ideas.  And, by the time you implement your next new idea, you need to be coming up with the next, next new idea.  To pull this off, you need creative and inventive people, who brainstorm frequently.  And, they need to feel free to speak their ideas out loud, without fear of ridicule or judgment or rejection.  Creating the atmosphere to speak their mind freely requires a genuine commitment to psychological safety.
In other words, be very inventive, by doing a lot of brainstorming, within an environment of psychological safety.

Now, with a little elaboration.Creativity-Inc.-Cover

#1 – Learn to cultivate and practice creativity, inventiveness, innovation.

You need to cultivate an inventive, creative, innovative workplace. People need to always be asking: “What could be done better; what could work better?  What could make this better?”

Ed Catmull, former CEO of Pixar, has a quote that has cropped up in a number of books:
“All our movies suck at first,” Catmull says

And here is how he put it in his own excellent book Creativity, Inc.:
Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”

So, come up with a lot of ideas!  The many ideas lead you to come up with a few good ideas; and then you put the best of the good ideas into practice; with constant improvement (because, they suck at first), and perpetual inventiveness.

A short reading list.  Read:
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
(And, to be honest, this short list could be much longer…as could all such lists for all areas of business endeavor).

where-good-ideas-come-from1#2 – Learn to brainstorm very well.

If having a lot of good ideas matters – and it does – then you need ways to come up with more ideas; many, many more.  IDEO, the famous West Coast design firm, has rules for  brainstorming. like:  nobody ever badmouths an idea during a brainstorming session. All ideas get added to the list.  Put the good ideas on a white board or flip chart, so all can see.  Number the ideas, to make it easy to identify the idea you want to talk about.  (“Let’s look at #14 on the list”).

It’s the long list of ideas that leads to the very short list of best ideas that should be tackled.

Reading suggestions:
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson.
The Art of Innovation (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm) by Tom Kelley.

#3 – Therefore, provide an environment of true psychological safety.

For people to share their ideas, they have to be, and feel, safe to share their ideas.  They need…psychological safety.


This may be the biggest of the big themes these days.  Psychological safety seems to crop up in book after book.

The woman who pioneered the work on this is Amy Edmondson, and she has written an entire book on it:  The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth.

I first read about the concept of psychological safety in Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg.  And, in my most recent synopsis that I presented, Remote Work Revolution, Tsedal Neeley wrote:

Psychological safety, the condition that allows coworkers to take risks and admit mistakes without fear of reprisal or shame, is key to productive teamwork. …If psychological safety is not present, people’s fear of expressing dissent or uncertainty to colleagues—especially superiors—cripples team success. …Leaders and their teams must actively foster an atmosphere that makes everyone feel safe speaking up and asking questions.

A short reading list:
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy Edmondson
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown

Of course, there are other themes that crop up also, from execution, to strategy and tactics. to always be on the lookout for the next big problem (the next “black swan”),  to…

But my sense is that if you get good at these three, you could be moving ahead of the game.


You can purchase our synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopses for each of the suggested books in this post are available.

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Remote Work Revolution• The prominent technology company Cisco launched one of the first systematic remote work programs in Silicon Valley in 1993.
• I have been deeply involved in the issues of remote work and global organizations for nearly two decades. (this book had in fact been well under way).
• Remote Work Revolution provides evidence-based answers to those pressing concerns as well as practical guidance for how you can, together with team members, internalize and apply the best practices that matter the most.
• In the first few weeks of 2020, a microscopic agent turned the world’s workforce into remote workers seemingly overnight. …Digital tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and Slack went from useful supplements to the primary enablers for daily interactions with coworkers. These rapid changes were unprecedented.
• McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the global labor workforce will reach 3.5 billion people by 2030. Remote work is increasingly here to stay. The future is in remote work.
• We will not remain a 100 percent remote world. Instead, we will see virtual, distributed, and global work become significant parts of work arrangements that expand our repertoire, skills, and performance, promising to make us and our organizations that much better.
Tsedal Neeley, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere


VUCA – (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity)

These are just some of the terms we read constantly about work realities these days.

There is such enormous upset and uncertainty.

But, as both John Kotter pointed out in Change, and now Tsedal Neeley points out in Remote Work Revolution, COVID only accelerated what was already happening. And among the workplace practices that have been accelerated is the remote work revolution.

I presented my synopsis of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere
by Tsedal Neeley at the September First Friday Book Synopsis. It is a good book! And, it is a book about two things:

#1 — what constitutes good/effective work period. And then,
#2 — how does all this translate into the remote work arena.

The author had begin working on issues of remote word long before COVID realities hit. But, COVID added an urgency to her research and findings.

As I always do, I begin my synopses presentations asking What is the point? Here it is for this book: Remote work requires the same goals and practices as any collaborative work effort; including leadership practices and team best practices. However, specific steps have to be added in a remote context.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three answers for this book:

#1 – This book describes the basics and practices of teamwork and collaborative efforts in any setting and all settings.
#2 – This book chronicles the growth and spread of remote work, beginning in the 1990s as technological tools first made such work possible.
#3 – This book provides specific steps to follow to put best in-person practices to work in remote settings for those working together.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book; the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages. Here are a number of the best of the best I included in my synopsis:

• When people return to their daily demands, they easily fall back into old routines, and become frustrated and wonder why their teams don’t fully cohere.
• Periodic relaunches are important in good times but crucial in times of uncertainty. …Periodic relaunches are the only structured mechanisms to give teams the ability to quickly pivot in a systematic way.
• Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s okay to spend a lot of time arguing about which route to take to San Francisco when everyone wants to end up there, but a lot of time gets wasted in such arguments if one person wants to go to San Francisco and another secretly wants to go to San Diego” (1997). …Everyone must first be in agreement about the goal of traveling to San Francisco.
• A launch is an ideal opportunity for each member to explicitly articulate their individual roles and how they can contribute to the team goals. …Team members should understand everyone else’s role as well as their own.
• Psychological safety, the condition that allows coworkers to take risks and admit mistakes without fear of reprisal or shame, is key to productive teamwork. …If psychological safety is not present, people’s fear of expressing dissent or uncertainty to colleagues—especially superiors—cripples team success. …Leaders and their teams must actively foster an atmosphere that makes everyone feel safe speaking up and asking questions.
• Leaders may set the conditions for psychological safety by admitting their own mistakes and by expressly asking individuals to contribute thoughts and opinions.
• Team norms must directly address how to mitigate feelings of isolation that may arise because of the physical distance among members.
• Collocated workers usually establish trust through credible, repeated interactions over time and shared contexts, yet this is difficult in remote teams where there are typically fewer in-person interactions and social cues. How can you trust someone if you can’t read gestures, body language, and facial expressions in periodic face-to-face meetings?
That’s why the question in remote work should not be: Do I trust my colleagues? The question should be: How much do I need to trust them?
Trust is the glue that binds a team together, drives performance, and enables collaboration and coordination, but you can’t force trust.
In teams, trust includes an expectation that people will act for the good of the group.
Cognitive trust is grounded in the belief that your coworkers are reliable and dependable.
For example, when you learn that a colleague has gained significant experience from a previous job or has graduated from an institution you respect, you begin to form cognitive trust.
By comparison, emotional trust is grounded in coworkers’ care and concern for one another. Relationships based on emotional trust are akin to friendships and involve the heart.
• You can develop direct knowledge by taking the time to ask questions about teammates’ own lives and work: “How is your home office set up going?” or “What do you usually do for lunch break?” The more context that virtual team members have about how one another works, the easier it is to trust them in their roles.
• The way to enhance trust between people is for all parties to self-disclose, which increases a general sense of closeness and likability.
• …looking the part, or finding ways to make a virtual conversation feel as in-person as possible: this means dressing to the occasion—whether more formal or more casual—and finding the appropriate lighting so that your face is as clear and communicative as possible.
• Teamwork, therefore, offers opportunities for each person to expand their knowledge, acquire new skills, and be exposed to new perspectives. pg. 51
• The hallmark of remote work success is the ability to self-direct and capitalize on the gift of managing your own work processes. In fact, a through line across decades of studies into remote work identifies autonomy as pivotal to job satisfaction and performance. By autonomy, I mean the ability to self-govern. …It signals trust and reliability (which in turn boosts self-confidence), it allows ownership over projects (which in turn boosts personal investment in the project’s success), and it allows the tailoring of your workday according to individual schedules (which in turn makes for more efficiency). The remote workers reported significantly more autonomy, more cross-discipline collaborative projects, and more career advancement prospects, and significantly less time spent on what’s called “strain-based” work-family conflict than their peers who worked at the office.
• The answer to professional isolation, then, is developing cognitive and emotional connection with one another—regardless of the team’s physical format.
• If we leave out the high-touch jobs such as hair salons or tattoo parlors, many jobs thrive in a remote format—especially those that require deep problem-solving and undistracted concentration. 
• Ernest Hemingway famously remarks: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
• Complaints of cognitive overload, headaches, and even the slurring of words are often accompanied with complaints about going from one videoconference to the next. – For example, if we have consecutive in-person meetings, we always add transition time between meetings.
• For example, in the same way that people had a hard time dealing with silence in a real-time conversation, they also had a hard time when people didn’t respond to email fast enough.
• Our instincts about good communication might suggest that being redundant is to be avoided for the sake of efficiency. But it turns out that social tools that increase and reinforce redundancy are not only useful but often essential for virtual teams.
• I have adopted a definition of leadership from my colleagues Frances Frei and Anne Morriss: Leadership is empowering other people as a result of your presence—and making sure that impact continues in your absence.
• Virtual leadership requires frequent communication with team members. Hearing from the boss helps make the present and future more predictable. An increase in communication from the team leader that is clear and direct can accentuate the positive effects of remote work and compensate for the negative.
• Understanding how global issues impact local sensitivities is key. No matter how local your domain, you must remain in touch with current global issues and learn to develop new capacities in response to globally induced crises that may affect the organization.
• Globality and locality have to function together. …volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) factors create the conditions for the worldwide ripple effects of this interconnectedness and characterize a world where crisis is to be expected.
• We don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be on organizations, industries, and societies, although we do know that the world has profoundly changed. …Taken together, the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that make up the world in which today’s business leaders must function is a powder keg for periodic crisis.

And, here are some of the key points from the book that I emphasized in my synopsis:

• Assumptions:
• Team members are humans; not robots. Thus, they are impacted by human realities.
• People do not work alone (all the time) – they work together.
• this “working together” is ever-more diverse; as it needs to be. And, now, this together-work is ever-more “remote-together” work.
• Lots and lots of communication is …absolutely necessary
• Effective norms for communication have three primary functions: Outlining interaction and connection plans for all team members regardless of role or location; Fostering psychological safety or the group’s level of comfort in expressing individual concerns to one another about tasks and errors; Keeping each remote team member connected so that no one feels professionally isolated.
• Nearly everybody is on more than one team — Remote team members often belong to multiple teams simultaneously.

• Two big issues covered in this book:
• How people work together.
• And, then, how the practices, and needs of working together, translate into remote work.

• Pluses:
• money saved (real estate, especially) ; convenience; far shorter commute times

• Drawbacks:
• You are not alone if you feel isolated, out of sync, and out of sight.
• far less bonding – The more time we spend without regular in-person contact with coworkers, the more persistent and urgent questions about bonding, trusting, and alignment become.
For leaders, how to keep employees motivated and consistently productive while monitoring progress from a distance is a source of concern.
• you can’t sense all the messages that one receives with in-person communication; especially body language…

• How people work together:
• Notice that each of these four domains begins with the same word: shared. — Shared goals that make plain and clear the aims that the team is pursuing. Shared understanding about each member’s roles, functions, and constraints. Shared understanding of available resources ranging from budgets to information. Shared norms that map out how teammates will collaborate effectively.

• Practices:
• Launch sessions; and regular, scheduled relaunch sessions
• A launch session (and periodic relaunches or reappraisals), which puts in place a clear group plan to meet the demands at hand, is crucial in remote work.
• While the “prework” determines what shape the team will take—its function, composition, design, etc.—and thus happens even before the team itself exists, the launch takes place at the moment the team comes together.
• A team launch session is the opportunity to identify clear and specific team goals before taking any other steps forward. …The launch session must be a dialogue.
• The 60–30–10 rule
• J. Richard Hackman concluded that 60 percent of team success depends on prework, or the way in which the team is designed; 30 percent depends on the initial launch; and only 10 percent depends on what happens when the actual day-to-day teamwork is under way.
• Because everyone’s voice needs to be heard…slow down/lessen the native speakers; bring forth the non-native speakers. – Actually, beware of any group that dominates; and any group that is left out or left behind.
• Hackman established that team performance can be assessed by a specific set of standards. One of his enduring contributions includes three criteria for establishing successful outcomes for teams that are applicable across the board, regardless of industry or context: 1) delivering results, or achieving expected goals; 2) facilitating individual growth, or a sense of personal development and well-being; and 3) building team cohesion, or ensuring that the team is operating as one unit.
• The most effective teams share one deceptively simple norm for communication: at meetings, each person talks and listens equally and makes an effort to address everyone (not just the team leader).
• Make It Psychologically Safe for Conflicts and Mistakes
• Collocated teams tend to argue more about work than distributed teams do. All smiles and nods in a virtual meeting does not mean that everyone actually agrees with one another.
• Thank You actions; recognitions; are now needed more than ever…
• As Reimert puts it, she is in the “thank you” business. …she saw how the simple act of managers recognizing and thanking employees (and other peer-to-peer expressions of appreciation) served as an empowering force to boost engagement.
• Build trust — Social scientists define trust as the extent to which we are confident in, and willing to act on, the words, actions, and decisions of another. In other words, we trust people if what they say, do, and decide instills confidence.
• start with “Passable Trust” and “Swift Trust”
• Passable trust is the minimum threshold of trust required to communicate with and to work with others. Swift trust characterizes the high-level of trust that must be “swiftly” established by members in a team formed for a specific project or assignment who expect to be working together for a limited period of time. When swift trust is the norm, members decide to trust one another until proven otherwise. — Passable trust is more dependent on cognitive trust, whereas swift trust is more dependent on both emotional and cognitive trust.
• Here’s a key – shift people around on their “next team”… this provides a broader foundation of experience…
• Have plenty of “teaching” on/for your remote teams:
• The key element to keep in mind about all these teaching behaviors is their mutuality—team members from different backgrounds help, learn from, and ultimately understand one another in the process of becoming part of one united team rather than a disparate set of individuals.
• Leaders (of remote teams) must be present…a lot!
• Beware of the Country of Origin Effect
• Simply put, the country-of-origin effect comes into play when consumers stereotype a product or a service according to preconceptions about the product’s country of origin rather than its intrinsic value.

• The VUCA challenge – a constant reality for remote teams
• Volatility describes a state of constant change that is dynamic, sudden, and rapid.
• Uncertainty refers to the unpredictability of these sudden and rapid changes, making it difficult to anticipate events and prepare accordingly.
• Complexity involves situations that have many dimensions and moving parts whose sheer volume creates conditions that are difficult if not impossible to control.
• Ambiguity refers to situations in which one faces “unknown unknowns” and causal relationships are unclear.

• Well, duh…
• The great pandemic has made remote work necessary, and everywhere present.
• For example, a team launch session might establish a zero-tolerance policy for insulting language.
• To state the obvious, one of the challenges with remote work is the fact that we do not meet in person, face-to-face. (Aim to remedy this) by duplicating as much as possible what we achieve in face-to-face communication. Two key concepts of social presence are intimacy and immediacy.
• Nonwork communication on social tools lubricates work communication, and both leaders and employees should engage in social chatter on company-wide social tools.
• Be aware of and attentive to the “Us vs. Them” realities.
• Perhaps most important, we discovered that team leaders were often unaware of the underlying issues that activated faultlines and caused dysfunctions in their team. They could sense that something was wrong, but often didn’t know what and why.

And, I always end my synopses with my lessons and takeaways. Here are my seven lessons and takeaways for this book:

#1 – Make sure you, and other team members, have the resources – work space; tools; and other resources – that they need to be productive.
#2 – Build in interpersonal time on purpose, in most group interactions remotely held. The “accidental” interpersonal time at in-person work is not possible with remote work; so be proactive about this.
• To facilitate the exchange of direct and reflected knowledge among virtual team members, leaders must proactively create a group culture for virtual interactions not explicitly related to work tasks.
#3 – Trust each worker to be self-motivated (intrinsic motivation – autonomy and mastery; Daniel Pink, Drive).
#4 – You’ve got to build in time for reflection and renewal. In other words, stop the insane practice of scheduling one remote meeting right after another meeting right after another meeting. (Zoom fatigue is physical, emotional, and very real).
#5 – Practice redundant communication. Redundantly!
#6 – Constantly clarify communication effectiveness, on both the sending and receiving end.
#7 – AND… get ready for the next black swan event…

Should you add this book to your reading stack? Yes. For two reasons, both of which I mentioned above. You will better understand good and effective work. And, you will also understand how to make sure you are translating good and effective work into the remote arena/into remote work.


This is interesting:  one thing I look for is for a theme to crop up in multiple books. (I present synopsis of at least 24 business books each year).  This book, and many other recent books, emphasized the importance of “psychological safety.”  Since working is so much constant interaction between living human beings, they have to feel safe to speak up in each other’s presence; they need psychological safety.  The key book on this is The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson.  Ms. Edmondson is the pioneer researcher on this subject.  You might want to check out her book.  Here is my blog post about her book: The Fearless Organization (Psychological Safety) by Amy Edmondson – Here are my five lessons and takeaways.


You can purchase our synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopses for Remote Work Revolution will be available soon.  (My synopsis of The Fearless Organization is also available).

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships by James Tamm and Ronald Luyet – Here are my five lessons and takeaways

Radical Collaboration• {Which writer’s rooms are best? – “Ones that are collaborative and you feel heard. Nothing worse than a room that is mean spirited and judgmental. Like many of them.
Bryan Behar, Sit-Com writer and showrunner}.
• Today nobody succeeds alone. If you don’t have the skills to build relationships, you’d better win the lotto, because you’ll never thrive in any organization, and you probably won’t even survive in most businesses.
• Radical Collaboration teaches methods to significantly improve your own collaborative skills, so that if and when you choose to build a collaborative relationship, you will know how to.
• While honesty is always an important issue in relationships, what we were really trying to create is greater transparency, which relates more to Openness and psychological safety.
• Everyone claims to be collaborative and lists collaboration high in most lists of organizational values. In practice, however, behaviors are often dominated by hidden or unconscious adversarial attitudes.
• Because teams, businesses, and organizations live or die based upon effective collaboration, learning these skills will result in a dramatic and measurable impact on your bottom line.
• Epigraph:
RADICAL adj. – of or from the root: fundamental, favoring basic change, as in the social structure.
COLLABORATION n. – to work or act jointly, to labor together.
James Tamm and Ronald Luyet, Radical Collaboration


Let’s start here.  Do you want to be a collaborator?  A good collaborator?

If you don’t, then rather obviously, you can skip reading this.  But if you don’t, in our modern world of constant collaboration, you will be left behind.  Far behind.

It is a collaborator’s world these days.  And if you are not collaborating, you are missing the boat.  And, if you are collaborating poorly, you will not be very valuable to your organization, or to your fellow collaborators.

And even if you are good at collaborating, and you like collaborating, you can still get better at it.  And you can help your fellow collaborators get better at it.

At the September First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of the very excellent book Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships by James W. Tamm and Ronald J. Luyet.  This book has been out quite a while, first published in 2004.  But this edition was clearly brought up to date in its 2019 publication.

This is a book worth your attention.

Notice the subtitle:  Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships.  The authors are convinced that defensiveness is the great enemy of good collaboration; and they may be right.  Read to the end of this post to find their insights about defensiveness, and their suggestions about combating defensiveness.

As I always do in my synopses, I ask What is the point?  Here is my answer for this book:       • You need to be good at collaborating with others. Here’s how. — Your company needs to be a place where good collaboration is happening.  Here’s how.

And I ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three answers for this book
#1 – This is a book about interpersonal relationship challenges – at work, in families, and in all arenas of life.
#2 – This book believes that everyone is defensive about something from deep within, from long ago, with ripple effects for the rest of their lives, in all the arenas of their lives.  Becoming aware is a survival and success strategy.
#3 – This book is a book filled with exercises to learn to know yourself, to work better with others, to negotiate effectively.  These exercises are revealing; and useful.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” my highlighted Passages.  Here are quite a few of the best of the best: 

• Organizations today are advocating more flexibility in people’s roles, acceptance of change at a faster pace, more shared decision making and creative problem solving, and more trust from teams who must constantly redefine their tasks. 
• Many companies had developed all their employees for years by encouraging them to excel at becoming “star” individual contributors. Now, with a change of policy like a flick of a switch, they were supposed to think, feel, and act like a team, where their greatest contribution now might be to support someone else’s success. 
• Remember, successful collaborative relationships work from the inside out. Collaboration starts inside you first, then moves out into individual relationships, teams, and organizations.   
• As adults in stressful or conflicted situations, our emotional memory process may associate current events with childhood experiences that occurred before we were equipped to deal with them in a balanced manner.   
• “Fight, flight, freeze, or appease” responses were important in human evolution. 
• The danger is that people may approach any issue, problem, or person in an adversarial way.  …We tend to search immediately for logical weaknesses and flaws in our “opponent’s” point of view. Our goal is not to listen carefully and fully understand but rather to refute the other’s arguments even before hearing all of them. 
• The main reason people get into relationship trouble is that they get defensive.  Defensiveness not only impacts their own problem-solving skills, it also invites everyone else to get defensive, rigid, and ineffectual as well. When the room is filled with defensive, rigid-thinking, ineffective problem solvers, the result is disaster!
• Defensiveness is always based on a fear. Always, always, always! If someone is acting like a defensive jerk, it can be helpful to know that he or she undoubtedly feels threatened or afraid. 
• People tend to create new stories to justify old behaviors.
• When their hot buttons get pushed, people typically get dumber rather than smarter. By our informal calculations, there’s about a twenty-point drop in IQ. Unfortunately this is often accompanied by an equal but opposite conviction that we’ve become more perceptive rather than dumber. 
• Picture an angry young man with a sarcastic, sneering look on his face yelling to his girlfriend as he walks away, “Of course I love you!” His credibility is zero.  …A lot of research demonstrates that credibility is dramatically reduced when tone of voice, body language, and content are out of alignment. 
• When you ask a question, be aware that you’re sending the speaker in the direction that you want to go rather than where the speaker would naturally go. 
• Man doesn’t simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.—Viktor Frankl  — …To some extent, your life is a reflection of the sum of your choices. If you want a different life, consider making different choices. 
• Parties have dealt with inclusion issues, been clear about their intentions, and agreed upon process issues. Then they agreed on the problem statement, which is a list of issues to be resolved by the parties. They explored and understood all the interests of all parties. They have developed contingency plans that they can implement on their own if the parties can’t reach agreement. They have also worked jointly to generate a large number of possible solutions to solve the problem.
• Now the job is to carefully review all the possible solutions and measure them against the interests of the parties and their contingency plans.
• Any solution will have to be better than the contingency plans of both parties or they shouldn’t enter into it.  
• Realize that all emotions are acceptable, but not all actions are acceptable. …Give up blame and postpone judgment.

And, then, in my synopses, I share the most important insights from the book.  Here are a number that I shared for this book.  There is a lot here.  You might want to read these fairly slowly.   

  • Remember –
  • you have things to accomplish
  • together
  • therefore, you have to work well together – to collaborate – to accomplish the things you need to accomplish…
  • good collaboration leads to better results in all of your endeavors.
  • Assumptions
  • you, and everyone, has “baggage”
  • there will be conflict…
  • (and, there will be some…mean-spirited…jerks)
  • but, the future, and success, belongs to those who learn to collaborate well – to radically collaborate
  • It all started with chickens…The three zones:
  • Zone 1 – The Red Zone – highly conflicted, adversarial culture.
  • Zone 2 – The Pink Zone — conflict-avoidant passive-aggressive.
  • Zone 3 – The Green Zone — a more collaborative culture; an authentic, nondefensive presence. — The more individuals stay in the Green Zone, tell the truth, are accountable for the consequences of their choices, strive to increase self-awareness, and communicate their good intentions, the greater the chances for successful collaboration.
  • (Slight oversimplification: Red Zone; dominance; Pink Zone, survival, slightly ahead of others; Green Zone, more success for all). 
  • Since human beings have to be the ones to collaborate, we have to be attentive to human concerns, human struggles, human traits…
  • {R.M., I’m tempted to just say: develop emotional intelligence/learn about soft skills, develop soft skills mastery, and then collaborate using those soft skills}
  • this book basically says: become a better human, and then collaborate; because, as a better human, you will be able to collaborate.
  • The human reality:
  • insecurity; fear; defensiveness
  • conflict; too much conflict — Deborah Tannen, in her book The Argument Culture, presents a powerful case that many cultures approach problem solving as if they were going to war. According to Tannen, the primary tool in most relationships reflecting this adversarial attitude is “the argument.” Criticizing used as a weapon replaces critical thinking.
  • The Five Essential Skills:
  • Essential Skill #1: Collaborative Intention: a personal commitment to mutual success in their relationships.
  • Essential Skill #2: Openness: Individuals commit to both telling the truth and listening to the truth.
  • Essential Skill #3: Self-Accountability: Individuals take responsibility for the circumstances of their lives, the choices they make either through action or failing to act, and the intended or unforeseen consequences of their actions. They would rather find a solution than find someone to blame.
  • Essential Skill #4: Self-Awareness and Awareness of Others: Individuals commit to knowing themselves deeply and are willing to explore difficult interpersonal issues.
  • Essential Skill #5: Negotiating and Problem-Solving: Individuals negotiate conflicts in a way that supports strong relationships and use problem-solving methods that promote a cooperative atmosphere.
  • Pay careful attention to:
  • your own self-talk
  • your reactions now being shaped by your own thinking, and baggage, to that other person, in that other situation/circumstance
  • morale – morale is healthy, and increasing, among the Green Zone groups and companies
  • Defensiveness, the big problem; the #1 block to teamwork. — Defensiveness, ultimately, is not about protecting ourselves from other people. People get defensive because they don’t want to experience uncomfortable feelings within themselves.

• Ten Signs of Defensiveness
#1 — A spurt of energy in your body
#2 — Sudden confusion
#3 — Flooding your audience with information to prove a point
#4 — Withdrawing into silence
#5 – Magnifying or minimizing everything
#6 — Developing “all or nothing” thinking
#7 — Feeling like you’re a victim or you’re misunderstood
#8 — Blaming or shaming others
#9 — Obsessive thinking
#10 — Wanting the last word

• Six steps to combat defensiveness:
#1 — Take responsibility for yourself (acknowledge that you’re getting defensive)
#2 — Slow down—activate your senses outward (reactivate your whole brain)
#3 — Feel your emotions and discover your underlying fear—activate your senses inward (name your emotions and fears)
#4 — Confront your negative self-talk (change your inner dialogue to be supportive)
#5 — Apply your unique Action Steps (counteract your specific signs of defensiveness)
#6 — Appreciate, celebrate, and start over (appreciate your progress)

  • Aim for this:
  • turn conflict into collaboration — Maintaining an authentic nondefensive presence is the single most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness when working to turn conflict into collaboration.  
  • Being able to create an atmosphere that reduces other people’s overreactions as well as your own is a great asset in building collaboration.
  • “psychological safety.” — Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, who defines it as “a shared belief held by members of the team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” and “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.” Edmondson says, “It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” In other words, it describes a team that’s operating with a Green Zone culture.
  • About your communication. When you are congruent, it all goes together (words; tone; body language). When you are not congruent, then:
  • Not congruentContent (the words) accounts for only 7 percent. Tone of voice accounts for 38 percent. Body language accounts for 55 percent.
  • Congruent: when the content, tone of voice, and body language are all consistent in communicating the same message, then the content will rule and the message is much more believable.
  • So…people believe your words IF THEY MATCH your tone and body language. If your words do not match, they are not believed.

Listen! — The other side of creating an open, truthful environment is being able to listen sincerely to others. This, in turn, is what helps create a feeling of safety for others to be more open.

  • A listener has two main jobs. The first is to create a safe environment for the speaker to be open about something. …People generally share only to the extent that they feel safe. …The second job of the listener is to understand what’s being communicated in such a way that the speaker feels understood.
  • Listeners, however, can encourage greater depth and intimacy with a tell-me-more attitude than by a cross-examination as though the speaker were in a witness chair.
  • Try the Three Perspectives Exercise:
  • You have looked at this dispute from three different perspectives. The first perspective was your own point of view. The second was from the point of view of the other party to the dispute. The third point of view was that of a neutral, objective observer.

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You have to work at – you have to put in the practice and the work – to get good at collaboration.
#2 – You have to do the work of knowing yourself in order to be ready to be able to do the hard work of good collaboration.
#3 – You are defensive. You will react defensively. This comes from your own fears, and your own insecurities – form earlier in your life.  Examine the origins of your defensiveness.  And get to work to not let your defensiveness dominate, or harm, your efforts at collaboration.
#4 – You have to aim for mutual success.  Only that will lead to the kind of collaboration we need in this era.
#5 – The kind of work you need to do to get good at this requires practice; doing the exercises; and patience.  And…resolve; and intention.

My suggestion:  read this post a couple of times.  Then, maybe, order my full synopsis.  (See below).

And, then, read the book carefully.  Chances are you are needing to do a lot of collaborating these days.  And, chances are, you could get better at it.  This book will help.  Read it.  Then…get better at collaborating.

After all, your fellow collaborators need you to be the best collaborator you can possibly be!

Note from Randy:collaborative-habit

Pretend you asked me this question:  “Randy, what are the two books I should read on collaboration?”  First, read The Collaborative Habit by the great choreographer Twyla Tharp.  Then read this book.  Read them both, examine your own collaborative practices, and get to work.  These two books can help make you a very good collaborator!


You can purchase our synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopses for Radical Collaboration will be available soon.

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

The Future is Coming, and We Are Not Ready – a reading list: here are some books that might help us get ready

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a Changin’


Years ago, a historian friend of mine told me that he lived in the last century, and that I (Randy) lived in the next century.

I suspect that that is not true.  I am probably as stuck in my ways as just about everybody else.  Personally, I’m not sure that I like to change at all

But, I do believe this:  change is coming.  And it is better, it is a smarter strategy, to embrace change rather than fight change.

Because…the times, they are a changin’!

And, if we are behind, even a little, we might miss the next opportunity.  The path is a short one from being behind to being obsolete.

I read books professionally.  I present synopses of books.  And the list of books to help you get ready for the coming future is a long one.  Here is a list of “the best” books I have read for getting ready for the future.  The list may seem a little long.  But tackle them one book at a time, and, if they don’t help you win the future, maybe they will at least help you survive the future.

Yes, I am sure that I am missing some very good books.  So, feel free to add your own recommendations to this list as you share it around.

future-shock-by-alvin-toffler-1970-1-728And, yes, I have actually read all of these books I have listed here.

Two books to start with.  Both of these are older books, and will help provide a framework for thinking about the coming future.

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman.

And, then, these books which I have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  I sort of have them listed in my suggested order of importance and value; kind of read these, in this order, thinking – at least, for the first few books listed.  But, you really could just jump in anywhere.Second Machine Age

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.  W. W. Norton & Company; (2014).

Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction by Thomas M. Siebel. RosettaBooks (July 9, 2019).

The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything by Bob Johansen. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.  (2017)

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford. Basic Books, 2015.

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016.

Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times by John P. Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, Gaurav Gupta.

Kai-Fu Lee + AI SuperpowersAI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 25, 2018).

Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI  by Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson. Harvard Business Review Press (March 20, 2018).

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. W. W. Norton & Co. 2017.

The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case. Simon & Schuster (April 5, 2016).

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (Author), Sheryl Sandberg (Foreword). Viking (2016).

(XLR8) Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World by John P. Kotter.  Harvard Business Review Press (2014).Industries of the Future

The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Simon & Schuster. (2016).

Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan. Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster (September 8, 2020)

Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol.  PublicAffairs (April 14, 2020).

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Portfolio (October 15, 2019).

And, here two other books to recommend in this list:

This book, to help people deal with the emotions of dealing with change:
Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges and Susan Bridges. Da Capo Lifelong Books; Third Edition, Revised and Updated for the New Work Environment edition (2009).

UpstreamAnd this book, to help people get ready for the next big problem, which, alas, will come: 
Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath. Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster (March 3, 2020)

You can purchase our synopses presentations from the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  On that page, you can search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopses for most of the books I have listed in this post are available. (Except for Future Shock and Technopoly.  I read those long before we began our First Friday Book Synosopis events).

Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.