“21 Yaks and a Speedo” by Lewis Pugh

Synopsis

21 Yaks and a Speedo by ocean advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh is a collection of short stories, called Yaks, about how to achieve what might first seem impossible. Each story illustrates a lesson that Lewis and his team have learned from one of his many swimming expeditions.

21 Yaks and a Speedo is a light and enjoyable read. I would recommend it to Open Water swimmers and anyone looking for the inspiration to excel.

Lessons

On testing our assumptions…

Lewis says one of the most valuable lessons he learned was to always ask what assumptions he’s making [about an expedition] and to test whether those assumptions are valid. He explains that you never know how a situation is going to change, and you can never have a perfect plan, so be prepared to adapt.

On limiting beliefs…

I was fortunate enough to see Lewis speak at the Graduate School of Business in October. He made two important points that evening. First, when we have limiting beliefs we take on a defeatist attitude. Second, when we have limiting beliefs, we don’t ask for help. In the book, Lewis tells an unusual story (Yak 12) about the boat rudder breaking in the Maldives to explain this lesson. He says we must be open to all possibilities.

Quotes

“There’s nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”

“I love swimming. I love the action of swimming. I love the feeling of diving into cold water, and getting invigorated and refreshed.” As a swimmer I loved this statement. I would add that the feeling of being relaxed in water, moving almost effortlessly when you’re fit is second to none.

“There will always be hundreds of reasons to quit, especially towards the end, when things get very tough. Think of just ONE reason to keep on going – it will make all the difference!”

“Never plan for victory and defeat in your mind at the same time.”

Something Interesting

The English Channel swim starts in Dover.

Roald Amundsen was the first person ever to reach the South Pole.

Lewis was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world.

Lewis did a 50-school country-wide speaking tour of South Africa to spread his message of conserving the world’s oceans, and to practice public speaking. He calls his first speech a “disaster.” He has since gone on to become an international motivational speaker. Below is his first TED talk, one that really inspired me.

Links

Lewis’ website

Lewis on Twitter

Lewis on Facebook

“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins

Synopsis

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Professor Richard Dawkins that extends on Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution. The first edition was published in 1976.

Dawkins uses the term “selfish gene” to argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This selfishness, he explains, will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour for the survival and evolution of the species (although in some circumstances a gene can achieve its goals by fostering a form of altruism at the level of individual animals).

Lessons

The main takeaway for me was perhaps to see how Dawkins develops an intellectually-constructed, concise argument for his gene-centred view of evolution.

Quotes

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

“In the beginning was simplicity.”

“Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complex that it must include a model of itself.”

“We are all survival machines for the same kind of replicator—molecules called DNA— but there are many different ways of making a living in the world, and the replicators have built a vast range of machines to exploit them. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.”

Something interesting

Muscles evolved in animals to achieve rapid movement. The force of a muscle is generated in the form of tension.

Fireflies attract mates by flashing lights at them, and each species has its own particular dot-dash flashing pattern. Side note: I recently saw flashing fireflies on top of Signal Hill. It’s an incredible sight in nature.

A typical pride of lions consists of seven adult females and two adults males. Young male lions born into a pride are driven out in their adolescence.

Mother pigs sometimes eat their own children.

In frogs neither sex has a penis.

Links

Richard Dawkins Foundation

Richard on Twitter

“Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story” by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Synopsis

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story is the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born American actor, businessman, politician, activist, and former bodybuilder. He is best known as former seven-time Mr. Olympia, the Governor of California between 2003 and 2011, and action star, most notably for his roles in the Conan and Terminator movie franchises. Until 2011, he was married to Maria Shriver.

Lessons

On discipline and practice…

Arnold had several role-models including his father, a policeman, who instilled a work-horse mentality in him. From a young age he had a strict schedule often performing manual labour tasks for his family or being made to practice sport by himself. He understood, it seems, that if you want to achieve something, there are no shortcuts; you have to go out and earn it. In the the book he often refers to relentless practice as reps, reps, reps and says no matter what you do in life, it’s either reps or mileage.

On setting specific goals…

From early on, Arnold would write down his goals on index cards. He says, “I always wrote down my goals, like I’d learned to do in the weight-lifting club back in Graz. I had them very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around.”

On creating hobbies…

After Arnold retired from bodybuilding, he had many interests. He says everything became his hobby and he was passionate about all of it. He adds that this created the excitement in his life.

Sarge’s advice on public service…

In a speech Sarge, Arnold’s father-in-law, gave at Yale he said:

“In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighbourhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating. You’ll get far more from being a peacemaker than a warrior.”

Quotes

“I had to explain that actually I was not especially exhilarated when I won, because to me, winning was a given. It was part of the job. I had an obligation to win.”

“Outrageousness means nothing if you don’t have the substance to back it up – you can’t get away with it if you’re a loser.”

“I believed that the only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off.”

Something Interesting

At ten years old Arnold says he was absolutely convinced he was special and meant for bigger things. He believed America was where he would become the best at something, although at the time he did not know what that would be.

Mr. Olympia, founded by Joe Gold, was the first bodybuilding competition to offer prize money. In 1965 the winner took home $1000. Arnold trained at Gold’s Gym when he moved to America, known then as the “Mecca of bodybuilding.”

Arnold practices Transcendental Meditation.

In 1992 Arnold bought the first Hummer manufactured for civilian use.

Last Action Hero was the first ever paid advertisement in outer space.

Sacramento is the capital of California. (Something I didn’t know!)

Links

Arnold’s website

Arnold on Instagram

Arnold on Facebook

Arnold on Twitter

“Open” by Andre Agassi

Synopsis

Open is the autobiography of Andre Agassi, a tennis prodigy and eight-time Grand Slam and Olympic champion. Agassi, now retired, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Steffi Graf, and their two children. He runs the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children.

Lessons

On controlling what you can…

Agassi had his own racket stringer, a Czech craftsman named Roman who travelled with him to the Slams. He says: “Given all that lies beyond my control, I obsess about the few things I can control, and racket tension is one such thing.”

On perfection…

One of the first pieces of advice that Brad, Agassi’s coach between 1994 and 2002, gave him was that he didn’t have to be perfect all the time. Brad says, “You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there … There’s about five times a year when you need to be, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player.”

Agassi helps a friend out…

In 1996 Agassi used a portion of his Nike sponsorship money to help pay for Frankie’s kids college education. Frankie is a life-long friend and owner of Campagnola, Agassi’s favourite restaurant in New York. Agassi says the act educated him and made him feel more alive and himself than anything else in 1996. He says, “This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.”

Mandela on caring…

Agassi met Nelson Mandela in Cape Town in 1997. After a private dinner Mandela spoke about caring for one another, ourselves, being careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements, and careful in managing our lives.

Quotes

“Tennis is about degrees of aggression. You want to be aggressive enough to control the point, not so aggressive that you sacrifice control and expose yourself to unnecessary risk”

“Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.”

“Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent.”

“Finally, Mandela talks about the road he’s travelled. He talk about the difficulty of all human journeys – and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer.”

“If you’re going down, OK, go down, but go down with guns blazing. Always, always, always, go down with both guns blaaazing.”

Something Interesting

The dimensions of a tennis court are 36 feet by 78 feet.

In his early teens, Agassi took classes on mental toughness, positive thinking and visualization at the Bollettieri Academy.

Pete Sampras and Agassi first met on a tennis court in juniors when they were nine and ten years old respectively.

Links

Andre Agassi Wikipedia

Andre on Twitter

Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy 

“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell

Synopsis

David and Goliath is a book about why underdogs succeed more than they should, and how we misunderstand the true meaning of advantage and disadvantage.

Lessons

On preparation…

Gladwell says Goliath “prepared accordingly [for battle],” expecting to face a seasoned warrior like himself. He wore elaborate armour including a metal helmet, and had three separate weapons. Goliath, however, overlooked that David was a different type of opponent – a slinger, for which he was not adequately prepared.

Gladwell says, “We have, I think, a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is. We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t and think of other things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.”

Quotes

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.”

“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”

“So much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd [David], who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”

Something interesting

The battle between David and Goliath took place in the Valley of Elah.

Ichthyology is the branch of biology devoted to the study of fish.

Famous dyslexics include Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and John Chambers, CEO of technology giant Cisco.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham was the most racially divided city in America. It was known as the “Johannesburg of the South.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s mother is West Indian.

“How The Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins

Synopsis

How the Mighty Fall is a short book that questions why great companies fall and offers business leaders lessons for detecting and reversing collapse. With data collected from prior research studies consisting of more than six thousand years of combined corporate history, Collins explains what we learn by studying the contrast between success and failure.

Lessons

On feeling entitled to success…

“Every institution is vulnerable, no matter how great. No matter how much you’ve achieved, no matter how far you’ve gone, no matter how much power you’ve garnered, you are vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and most eventually do.”

 On learning…

Collins says “The best leaders we’ve studied never presume that they’ve reached the ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them success. For one thing, they retain a somewhat irrational fear that perhaps their success stems in large part from luck or fortuitous circumstance.”

He goes on to say, “Like inquisitive scientists, the best corporate leaders we’ve researched remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions – why, why, why? – and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of people they meet.” I like the analogy of an “inquisitive scientist.”

On things taking time…

Collins says that great leaders understand building [an organisation] requires “a series of intelligent, well-executed actions that add up one on top of another.

 Quotes

“We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices.”

“Don’t try come up with the right answers; focus on coming up with good questions.”

Something interesting

The first line of the novel Anna Karenina is “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Packard’s Law: if a great company consistently grows revenues faster than it ability to get enough of the right people to implement the growth, it will not simply stagnate; it will fall.

Winston Churchill attended Harrow, a private boys school in England.

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

Synopsis

Leaders Eat Last is a book about the true price of leadership. Sinek sets out to change the paradigm of leadership, insisting that organisational success is based on leadership excellence.

Lessons

On environment…

Sinek says organisations must create an environment that gets the best out of its people. He says, “The way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering trust and empathy. By creating a Circle of Safety.” Sinek says unlike the forces outside [the organisation], the ones inside are variable and are well within our control.

He says when “we feel safe among our own people, in our own tribes or organisation, we relax and are more open to trust and cooperation” Using examples from the military, he explains that in this sort of environment, we risk our lives without award or undue attention so that others might survive. Why? “Because they would have done it for me.”

The Spartans…

Sinek tells the story of the Spartans, a warrior society in ancient Greece. He says the strength of the army came from their circle of safety – their ability to pull together.

“Like the Spartans, we will have to learn that our strength will come not from the sharpness of our spears but from the willingness to offer others the protection of our shields.”

On authority…

Sinek says it is the leader’s responsibility to give direction and protection to every member of the team so that they feel confident to perform their duties. “The goal of the leader is to give no orders.” Instead, he or she must distribute authority amongst the team so that through trust and cooperation the individual can take action to solve problems.

Measuring leadership…

Sinek says great companies and great leaders are ones who are able to succeed beyond any one leader or timeframe. He suggests that we judge a leader “not on what they do when they are holding the torch but on what happens after they pass it on.”

Quotes

“We cannot motivate others, per se. Our motivation is determined by the chemical incentives [dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins] inside every one of us. Any motivation we have is a function of our desire to repeat behaviours that make us feel good or avoid stress or pain. The only thing we can do is create environments in which the right chemicals are released for the right reasons. And if we get the environment right, if we create organisational cultures that work to the natural inclination of the human animal, the result will be an entire group of self-motivated people.”

“The problem now is that we have produced an abundance of nearly everything we need or want. And we don’t do well with abundance. It can short-circuit our systems and actually do damage to us and to our organisation. Abundance can be destructive not because it is bad for us, per se. Abundance can be destructive because it abstracts the value of things. The more we have, the less we seem to value what we’ve got. And if the abstraction of stuff makes us value it less, imagine what it does to our relationships.”

“Perhaps the most valuable thing we can do if we are to truly serve our constituents is to know them personally. It would be impossible to know all of them, but to know the name and details of the life of someone… makes a huge difference.

“In a weak culture, we veer away from doing to “the right thing” in favour of doing “the thing that’s right for me.””

Something interesting

Our eyebrows were designed [through evolution] to help channel sweat away from our eyes when we were running toward prey – or running away to avoid becoming prey.

When you give a donation to charity: water they send you a photograph and GPS coordinates of the well your money paid for.

Roberto Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola, was the first American executive to become a billionaire on the basis of stock holdings in a company he didn’t found or take public.

“Jack” by Jack Welsh with John Byrne

Synopsis

Jack is the autobiography of one of America’s most revered and prominent business leaders, Jack Welch. The book largely focuses on his working life at General Electric (GE), starting in 1960 when he was hired as a young engineer in a chemical development operation, and follows his rise within the company. Jack became CEO in 1981, imposing his unique management style and implementing grand initiatives that would eventually take GE global.

Lessons

On thinking…

Welsh graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in Chemical engineering. He says chemical engineering taught him that there is “no finite answer to many questions”, and instead, what is more important is your thought process. He says this is particularly true for business where there are “rarely black-or-white answers.”

On hiring…

Welsh stresses the importance of hiring the right people. He says many of his early mistakes reflected his own prejudices; for example, hiring based on appearance or school (university). He goes on to state that resumes aren’t a good indicator of inner hunger, the willingness to commit, the candidate’s intensity, or passion.

On brainstorming…

Welsh regularly spent time with teams fleshing out ideas or deals. He says, “If an idea couldn’t survive a no-holds-barred discussion, the marketplace would kill it.” Perhaps this quote sums it up best:

“For me, “wallowing” has always been a key part of how we ran GE. Get a group of people around a table, regardless of their rank, to wrestle  with a particularly tough issue. Stew on it from every angle – flush out everyone’s thinking – but don’t come to an immediate conclusion.”

On self-confidence…

“Arrogance is a killer, and wearing ambition on one’s sleeve can have the same effect. There is a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. Legitimate self-confidence is a winner. The true test of self-confidence is the courage to be open – to welcome change and ideas regardless of their source. Self-confident people aren’t afraid to have their views challenged. They relish the intellectual combat that enriches ideas. They determine the ultimate openness of an organisation and its ability to learn. How do you find them? By seeking out people who are comfortable in their own skin – people who like who they are and are never afraid to show it.”

On choosing Jeff Immelt as his successor, Welsh said, “ [he] had the perfect blend of intelligence and edge and epitomized the trait that’s so important to me – he was really comfortable in his own skin.”

Quotes

“Finding great people happens in all kinds of ways”, and I’ve always believed “Everyone you meet is another interview.”

“Losing an A [employee] is a sin. Love ‘em, hug ‘em, kiss ‘em, don’t lose them! We conduct post-mortems on every A we lose and hold management accountable for those losses.”

Something interesting

In 1999, Welsh asked the top 500 GE leaders to get Internet mentors, “preferably under the age of 30.”

Welsh offered Jerry Seinfeld $100 million in GE stock to stay on for a ninth season (“Seinfeld” was a hit sitcom on NBC, owned by GE). Jerry Seinfeld declined the offer.

The International Olympic Committee gave NBC the broadcast rights to televise the Summer Olympics in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

Getting to Six Sigma quality level means that you have fewer than 3.4 defects per million operations in a manufacturing or service process.