Simply Brilliant

It’s been a while since I’ve read Simply Brilliant by William C. Taylor, so read this short review at your own peril. 

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. Stop trying to be the best; strive to be the only
  2. Don’t let what you know limit what you can imagine
  3. It’s just as important to be kind as to be clever
  4. The allies you enlist matter more than the power you exert

The first part is about doing something original, about doing things that other organisations can’t or won’t do.

  • “Every great company has redefined the business that it’s in”
  • “[be an] alluring alternative to a predictable (albeit efficient) status quo”
  • “… create a one-of-a-kind presence and deliver a one-of-a-kind performance that is not just a little better than what other companies do”
  • Taylor calls this a lighthouse identity (unique point of view, intensity, salience, build on rock)
  • “… if everyone is heading in one direction, you should head in the other”
  • “… choose to inspire rather than to manipulate” (with a reference to Start with Why)
  • John Doerr believes in missionaries (who are on a mission) over mercenaries
  • “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”
  • “The world will not force you to be extraordinary. You must demand it of yourselves”

The second part is about knowledge and that having less experience can be a positive. This makes me think of older people who have already experienced so much, as that it makes them less open to new experiences (or 28 year olds who sometimes feel like they’ve seen it all already).

  • “[show] a willingness to improvise under difficult conditions without compromising the timeline or the goal”
  • “[If] you’re making folks uncomfortable, you’re doing something right”
  • “Expertise is powerful – until it gets in the way of innovation”
  • He explains that the paradox of expertise means that the more you know of an industry/technology/market, the harder it becomes to ‘think outside the box’ and leapfrog it
  • “Be firmly competent – thorough, smart, business-minded, accountable. And boundlessly provocative – challenging, surprising, restless, imaginative” (again an example of keeping two thoughts/ideas in your head at the same time)
  • Be confident in the things you know and at the same time explore new things. I see this also as a way to overcome the Innovators Dilemma
  • Commit yourself to continue learning and growing/exploring
  • “If you want to stay young, you have to work to keep trying new things”

The third part is about being kind, about caring more than anyone else. This makes me thing of Give and Take and how being a giver, can help you get back more (revenue, happiness, etc) in the end (without being a sucker).

  • Recognise that clever thinking and strategising will only get you so far. It’s about connecting with humans both inside the company and outside
  • “We can do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa
  • See the customer as another human being and see what small act of kindness you can do
  • “Civility is not the enemy of productivity”
  • One example he uses is of the mounties in Canada who give positive tickets, what a great idea!
  • “Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?”
  • Think about emotions, about mystery, sensuality, intimacy and how these things can add to your brand and story
  • “You can’t quantify it on a spreadsheet, but there is a tough-minded case for leading with love”
  • “People have to be internally motivated to change”
  • “Be provocative enough to change what people do”
  • “If you want to create something exciting and compelling, a performance that keeps evolving, the human spirit is the only thing that delivers”

The fourth part is about allies versus exerting power. About connecting with others and learning through those connections.

  • “ROC, return on connectedness, and ROL, return on luck”
  • “Sustained innovation comes when everyone has an opportunity to demonstrate a ‘slice of genius'”
  • Be humble as a leader and admit when you don’t know things, be open to learning from others
  • Make everyone win when the company does so. This could mean ownership form employees, profit sharing with customers, etc.
  • “Nobody wins unless everybody wins”
  • “Companies generate more ideas and create more value when more people get a piece of the action and a seat at the table”

The books ends with a few questions for entrepreneurs, here they are:

  1. Can you develop a definition of success that allows you to stand apart from the competition and inspires others to stand with you?
  2. Can you explain, clearly and compellingly, why what you do matters and how you expect to win?
  3. Are you prepared to rethink the conventions of success in your field and the logic of your success as a leader?
  4. Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting?
  5. Do you pay as much attention to psychology and emotion as you do to technology and efficiency?
  6. Do the values that you define how your organisation works reflect the values proposition around which it competes?
  7. Are you as humble as you are hungry?
  8. Are you prepared to share the rewards of success with all those who had a hand in achieving it?