If I Could Only Choose One Book…

A friend recently challenged me to produce a list of the best books, by topic.  “If you could only choose one book on strategy,” he said, “what book would be pick?”

Challenge accepted!  Here is my starting list:

Interested in….

My one book would be …

Strategy Warfighting (Marine Manual of Maneuver Warfare)
Thinking holistically The Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge)
Exponential technologies Bold (Peter Diamandis and Stephen Kotler)
Focus on critical few The 80/20 Principle (Richard Koch)
How smart kids really think Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
Math and patterns Gödel, Escher, Bach (Douglas Hofstadter)
Heroic story The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Spiritual warfare Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Thomas Brooks)
Practical wisdom Proverbs / The Bible
Leading organizations The Effective Executive (Peter Drucker)
How to read a book How to Read a Book (Mortimer Adler)
The condition of man Shakespeare’s plays (William Shakespeare)
Evolution Evolution 2.0 (Perry Marshall)
Influencing groups of people Tribes (Seth Godin)
Unleashing your creative power The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
Spiritual disciplines Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster)


What would you list?

Thinking Wisely about Augmented and Virtual Reality

Leaders think about the possible future to anticipate opportunities and consider how to mitigate risks.

The fundamental premise of Augmented Reality (AR) is that you’ll wear special glasses or contact lens which overlay digital information on the real world.  Look at an object and information about that will appear.  Look at a person and through facial recognition and pattern matching you’ll get more information about her – maybe her latest tweets, the fact that she has a birthday next week, or her company affiliation information pulled from Linked-In.  Skip monitors and screens because they’ll be projected virtually for you, on top of what you’re seeing in the “real” world.  You’re always connected.

AR is distinct from a full immersion virtual reality (VR) experience, which will also become mainstream.  VR aims at complete control of what your senses take in.  AR layers information or capabilities on top of your usual visual/auditory input with the intent to enhance the experience.

The converging technology of computing power, wireless connectivity, sensors, and specialty materials facilitates accelerated introduction of AR and VR. Savvy technologists predict 2016-2017 will be the consumer breakthrough years for affordable products that people want to use.

AR and VR will be part of significant commercial and educational applications.  Imagine getting ads and discounts presented to you while you stroll near a store.  Like some clothing?  You can see what you look like wearing it.  All the features of a heads-up display for fighter jet pilots will be an everyday feature of driving your car, including a GPS overlay of your route when you’re not sure about directions.  Children learning about different parts of the world will have the option of a virtual experience.  You’re not limited to reading about the Taj Mahal; you can stroll around it in a guided tour.  Virtual meetings will not be limited to audio and maybe some screensharing; everyone can see everyone else, including detail facial expressions, as if they’re sitting in the same room.

There are powerful economic incentives driving AR and VR.  Capabilities will increase quickly, and these things will be utterly normal (indeed, expected) within a few years.

AR and VR are the next trendline of smartphone and tablet behaviors – positive and negative.

Let’s think together about how AR and VR help, and then potential risks we as leaders should consider.

How AR and VR Help

Enhance learning opportunities.  Ever used an audio guide at a museum?  Imagine 100x that capability.  Anything you want to learn about can be a rich experience, not limited to traditional text or audio.

Process more information.  We’ll need better algorithms for filtering and personalization, but AR in principle could help us process much more information associated with our daily experiences.

Rich meeting interactions in virtual spaces.  Even today’s best videoconferencing capabilities still fall short of “being there in person.”  AR and VR could make this much closer.  Pen pals could become VR pals as the technology is mainstreamed.

Creates new business and market opportunities.  Once the technology is good enough, we’ll see new business ventures and marketing opportunities that we haven’t quite imagined yet.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, once these technologies become mainstreamed there will be a new market for being disconnected and only in the “real” world.


Potential Risks for AR and VR

Addictions.  Think about how fixated people become with their smartphones – now extrapolate that forward to a wearable device that’s always on, always connected.  It’s difficult enough now for families to have meal-time without devices, or limit the “screentime” of children and teens.  How many people will prefer to retreat into a pleasant VR rather than deal with the difficulties in the real world? How can we train youth and adults to use these capabilities wisely?

Increased loneliness and disconnect.  We’ve noticed a curious phenomenon as the Internet, social media, and smartphones & tablets became ubiquitous: an increase in the number of people who report being desperately lonely.  People need genuine connections and being truly with others – these technologies purport to deliver but actually could interfere with person-to-person life.  Part of maturity is learning how to be truly with people, as difficult as it is in the real world.

Who controls what you see/experience?  What are their motivations and worldview?  Google manipulates search results; Facebook controls what shows up in your timeline.  As people become more dependent on AR for information how will they know what to trust?  What is the privacy factor in the analysis of what you’re looking at, or where you were?

Biased learning.  Even the sincerest efforts at historical description and depiction in still or moving pictures have biases and errors.  People watch a drama based on a real incident or person, and come away convinced what they’ve seen is the truth.  How can we make sure people understand the limits of AR and VR?  Any story-sharing medium only takes you to the brink of reality.

Noise and overwhelm.  We’re awash in information now, and bombarded with advertisements in every channel.  Mainstreamed AR adds much more than it simplifies, at least in the near-term.

Over-emphasis on visual and auditory.  At least in the earliest imaginable phases of AR and VR the primary senses are sight and hearing; there will be very little with touch, taste, or smell.  I watched several videos about India and China before traveling there, but they didn’t prepare me for the vast range of smells and the tastes of the regional foods.


Let’s be clear: AR and VR are coming.  You won’t be able to avoid them entirely.  There will be business, social, and entertainment options – all three have powerful economic drivers.  There are many positives to look forward to.  There are enough cautionary risks that we need to choose how to use them wisely, and train others to do so as well.

What’s on Your Constructive List of Fears?

People say some curious things:

“FEAR stands for ‘False Expectations Appearing Real.’”

“Pain is the feeling of fear and weakness leaving your body.”

It strikes me that we have a lot of self-talk and dialogue about fear, but only takes us the brink of experience.  It’s helpful to imagine yourself working past fear in a situation.  It’s helpful to pre-decide how you will act in a situation, or what you will say.  These are good, but insufficient.

You still have to get into the experience, and work through it, and come out the other side.

Sometimes that experience looks like a swamp of muck and mire.  Sometimes it looks like a river of lava.  It never looks like a grassy oasis in the middle of the shimmering heat of desert sands.

We love to tell the stories of other people who went through the experience and came out the other side.  We love to share our own stories on successful fire walks in the past.  We still don’t love doing it again.

Some years back my friend Ed was dying from inoperable brain cancer.  He told me that all the tough experiences in his life were good preparation for his final adventure.  He wanted his kids and his grandkids to see him die well.  At the end of this short monologue, he suddenly grabbed my hand, surprising me with his strong grip as he whispered, “Pray for me.”

All leaders face fears and suffer trials.  There is a grander purpose at work.  Remember this truth.

There is another way to think about fears:  We can compare one fear against another and let that help us do the right thing, the bold thing, the honorable and good and amazing thing.  Here are some fears I wrote in my journal at a particularly low point:


Fear of insignificance

Fear of no legacy that survives me

Fear of failing to provide for my family

Fear of God’s righteous judgment against sin

Fear of nearing death and regretting that I didn’t ________

Fear of dying with unpublished manuscripts

Fear of having my beautiful wife and children hate me or fear me

Fear of being thought a fool, unworthy of being heard

Fear of being alone, joyless, purposeless

Fear of anger being my continuous impulse

Fear of all my secrets being found out, of shame

Fear of being a Cassandra, and no one will take my advice

Fear of fitting in so perfectly I’m invisible

Fear of standing out so far that no understands me or wants to know me

Fear of losing my physical strength and abilities to see, hear, walk, talk, write


No particular order to these.   But I must say, I like having these fears because when they are strong enough, I’m compelled to take actions, risks, produce and deliver, engage with others, love and battle for joy in living.

Maybe you should write a list like this?

One more story about my friend Ed – as his cancer progressed he began to lose his ability to speak, and he became limited to a few words and phrases.  He would say “Thank you.”  “Please.”  “I love you.”  Some doctors have observed that we retain the most used phrases in our vocabulary the longest.  Let’s commit to saying these phrases so often and so well that they become our only and last words.


Especially When You Don’t Feel Like It


Leaders, there are a seemingly unending series of demands on your time and emotional energy.

I empathize.  I really do.

I know you would prefer I coddle you but that’s not in your best interest.  “Oh, poor baby” is not what you need.  “It must be impossibly hard for you” fuels your weakness – or worse, your unhelpful pride – rather than builds you up.

First, man up.  (Ladies, you know what I mean.)  Face things as see them for what they are.  Neither amplify them nor diminish them.

Second, focus on a specific opportunity to make a difference.  What’s the next milestone on the vector towards your goal?  Put 100% of your energy out and get there.

Always, always, always put the right investment into your recovery and development.

Get out there and act, even when you don’t feel like it.  Especially when you don’t feel like it.

Related to this, check out the email message below that’s part of a long series of emails I send to Bible teachers who have asked for help at teachtochangelives.com.  Part of the reason I’m convinced of the need for leaders to step and lead is because these things are true in all fields of endeavor.

I received an excellent question from Neil:

“What do you do when you lack the desire to really study
the bible. I mean a teacher must and I know my bible fairly
well but sometimes I don’t feel motivated at all. Thanks,

Isn’t it wonderful when we have passion for the Word,
looking forward to getting into the Scriptures?

Now you might think I don’t have any trouble with passion
for the Bible.  But you would be wrong.

I tell people the truth: I’m interested in getting into
the Bible about two mornings out of seven.  I lack the
desire the other five mornings a week.  How do I know that
I lack the desire?  Just about every other distraction –
right down to defragmenting my computer hard drive — is
more interesting in that moment than opening the Bible.

I tell you this to encourage you.  Satan gets a lot of
mileage trying to persuade people that they are the ones
who [whatever].  It’s not the truth.

But I do read and study in my Bible daily.  Even the days
I don’t feel like it.  *Especially* the days I don’t feel
like it.

Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians about self-
discipline so that he would be ready to serve others:

“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do
not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body
and make it my slave so that after I have preached to
others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
(1 Cor 9:26-28, NIV)

Bible teachers need to be self-disciplined to study the
Word because it’s training and preparation for helping
others learn, and for whatever service our Lord calls you

Years ago I studied martial arts.  I can still remember
the fury of my sensei when I showed up for practice and
told him I didn’t feel like practice.  “Feeling is not
important.  Doing is only thing.”  And then he pushed me
harder that day than ever before.

No one asks the soldiers in boot camp if they feel like
doing more pushups.  It’s irrelevant.

The safe thing to assume is that you won’t feel like
studying the Word, and go ahead anyway.

Neil, I’m not going to mollycoddle you and tell you it
will be ok, and suggest you pray that Jesus gives you more
desire tomorrow or the day after that.  If you know what to
do, do it.

Welcome to spiritual maturity!

But there are two things I assure you:

1. If you just get started, it will get easier and more
enjoyable.  Whenever I start to exercise (or even think
about exercising), the committee of whiners in my head
starts complaining.  (Some people say that they have an
inner voice; I have a whole committee up there, and half of
them are whiners.) Just keep going, and the whining quits.

2. Acting on what you know, apart from how you feel, will
strengthen your character — this yields fruit in the
crisis moment.  You’re increasing your capacity to do what
is right, no matter what.

It will help enormously to have specific study goals and
objectives.  At a minimum, get a reading plan
and decide to follow it. If you miss a day, forget it and
start right up wherever the plan is (don’t fall into the
trap of trying to get caught up).

So, Neil, thanks for your transparency, and get back to
studying.  Lives are at stake here, beginning with your own!

Teach to change lives,




By the way, I get more feedback on this message than any other in the 120 email series.  I suspect I’ve hit a nerve.

Mark Horstman (from the outstanding manager-tools.com company) crystallizes the truth this way: “How you feel is your fault.”  You can decide to do what needs to be done regardless of your feelings.

Always Work from the Basics


People and human organizations are inherently complex. The simple principles of leadership are few in number and don’t expire:

  • Self-leadership precedes all other leadership.
  • Lead by example or not at all.
  • You’ll go farther with a team.
  • Communication is essential to constructive progress.
  • Truth is foundational to successful relationships.
  • People crave meaning and purpose.
  • Trust, the lubricant of teamwork, must be stewarded.
  • Concentrated, focused energy yields results.
  • You always have a choice.

These principles are the backbone of the craft of leadership. Context and tactics will change over time, but you can always work from these basics.

You have a choice.  I recommend you choose to work in harmony with these principles.


Book Review: The Cognitive Enterprise



The Cognitive Enterprise (Bob Lewis and Scott Lee) is a critically useful book at a critical juncture in business opportunities.  I recommend it for your reading list.

I’ve been learning from Bob Lewis’ IT columns for years – fell in love with his approach when he helped me understand the differences between processes and practices.  I bought this book as soon as it was available and read through it twice.

You’ll probably need a couple of readings to extract the ideas from this densely-written book.  Many of the ideas they work through would individually be a short book by lesser thinkers.  A few key ideas:

  • The PROCESS, Technology, people model of businesses today needs to be transformed into Customers, Communities, Capabilities.
  • Business need to operate like organisms, rather than mindless ecosystems.  They must be coherent entities with a purpose, a unifying understanding by all employees about how that purpose is turned into profits, and a “central nervous system” built on IT which is itself cognitive.
  • The accelerating pace of change is not the problem.  The problem is how fast this shrinks the useful lifetime of business investments (e.g., infrastructure, business processes, supplier relationships).
  • The defining attribute of the next generation is their comfort with technology.  They’re the embedded technology generation.
  • Cognitive enterprises will find ways to scale a craft-based practice approach that puts humans at the center supported by sophisticated IT capabilities which amplify the organization’s understanding of customers.


The authors have important chapters on finance and metrics.  They demonstrate how managing a business strictly for quarterly financial snapshots is destroying the connection with employees and customers. I can only hope COOs and division managers study their devastating critique of the uselessness of many metrics, or the way decent metrics drive the wrong behavior.  Their use of humor in these chapters was helpful in making their points. The authors offer a constructive alternative view of analytics and human judgment.  (I was delighted to see a clear-minded recommendation of the OODA loop in chapter 5!)

IT leaders, in particular, will find constructive ideas about how to manage work (replace accountability with responsibility), alternatives to the goofy cost-cutting popular in IT functions today, how to work with shadow IT in your organization, the real reasons to leverage cloud capabilities, and a good forecast of cognitive computing.  The book is dedicated to CIOs and IT leaders: “So to all you CIOs and IT leaders: You’re blamed when things go wrong and you’re blamed when things go right. We want you to know that we, at least, appreciate your efforts.”

I only have one minor complaint about the book – the layout would benefit from more whitespace.  The text is densely arranged on the page with narrow margins.  This is a minor irritation compared to the wealth of insights and ideas you can absorb from the fine thinking and writing in The Cognitive Enterprise.