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Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

When I started reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott, I expected it to open my eyes to new techniques in general, and new ways of thinking about providing information to others in particular. It is a book that has been talked about for some time as a good leadership manual. I’m afraid that, for me, it was disappointing.

When I started the book, I recognised the author had realised, since its first publication, that the language she had chosen was easy to misinterpret. I’ve made that mistake many times, too. The problem she had identified was that “Radical Candor” can be interpreted by those who have not read the book as meaning “to be direct to the point of rudeness”. Of course, that is not her intention. Thinking back to some of the people who have recommended the book to me, I now wonder if they were recommending it as a justification of their style rather than as a work that had adapted it.

Radical Candor is a strong, conceptually robust, idea. The purpose of the book is you demonstrate to people how to be both clear, direct and effective. The basic idea is relatively easy to grasp for anyone with experience working with groups of people. Scott uses examples from Google, Amazon, Apple and other organisations, some from direct experience and some reported. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the examples are used, in my opinion, to excess. The point is made, and then made again and again. After the first few chapters, I found that extraordinarily wearing and I drifted into skimming through the remainder of the book. I’m sure I missed some gems and insights, but began to sense that they were the proverbial needle in a haystack.

When you come across a cracking book, one that draws you in and encourages you to turn the page, it is often full of stories. In those books, the stories lead you on and take you from illustrating one idea to giving it further colour and depth. In Radical Candor, my sense was that the stories merely reiterated the same point.

All that said, it is worth reading this book to get an understanding of the model Scott has developed and how it can be useful in thinking about our interactions. This underlying model is a very useful reminder. Scott asks us to think about two dimensions, caring for others, which can be low or high, and challenging directly, which can also be viewed on the same low to high scale. When both are high, you find Radical Candor. When care is high, but direct challenge is low, you find ruinous empathy; when challenge is high and care is low, there is obnoxious aggression; and finally, when both are low, there is manipulative insincerity. When we have an understanding of how to get the best from people, there’s something we should always try to improve.

On this point, I think much of the value of the book can be found in this video where the author describes (in a few minutes) the most important messages the book has to bring.

These are important ideas. Communication is such a key part of life, and it needs our attention and effort to improve. For some, this book will be a key part of that.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and the author of “Dare to Lead: How to Overcome Fear and Take Control of Your Life.” Brown’s new book challenges conventional wisdom about leadership and provides readers with a new way to think about the role of fear in our lives. Brown argues that the fear of failure is one of the most common inhibitors to our success. She offers practical advice on how to overcome this fear and lead with confidence.

Leadership is a critical skill for any individual, organisation, or society. There are many different types of leadership, but the most important quality for any leader is courage. Courage is the willingness to face fear and uncertainty, and to act in spite of them. It is also the ability to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s hard.

In order to build trust, Brené asserts, and I agree, that we need to be vulnerable. We need to be willing to share our thoughts and feelings with others, even if they make us feel uncomfortable. This can be difficult, but it’s important if we want to create strong relationships.

I particularly liked her thoughts about living with our values. The recognition that we will be, from time to time, at odds with our values is a realism, and striving to align more often with our values is a skill we should hone. From my own point of view, I think that this is one of the characteristics of masters of their art. Experts may stumble over their values occasionally, but masters rarely do. The consistency stands people out, so if you are striving for mastery then this is an area on which a strong focus will help.

When Brown discusses feedback in the context of living with one’s values, there are some powerful lessons to learn. Not least of which is her recognition that “choosing politeness over respect is NOT respectful”. We all recognise that people have feelings, and we should also recognise that we are not responsible for those feelings. The important aspect she recognises is that we need to create the environment for people to feel whatever they feel without judgement or punishment/reward for them. On the receiving end of feedback, Brown asks “How do we stay aligned with our values when we are receiving feedback – regardless of the skill of the person delivering it?” I think this is a really important question that requires thought and practice long before we actually receive important feedback from someone whose skill is low, but whose content is critical.

Towards the end of the book, Brown discusses some elements of applying vulnerability, of living with our values, and leading. In this context, she makes a really important point, that “in the absence of data, we will always make up stories”. Two questions stood out for me, “Do I have enough information to freak out about this situation?” and “If I do have enough data, will freaking out help” – probably not, but it’s always worth checking.

My final conclusion was to let people know if I don’t have enough data, and the stories that my own mind is then making up. “The story I am telling myself is … what have I misunderstood?”

This is an important book, a book that will leave you with questions as well as answers. It is a book that demands thought and provides the substance to let those thoughts develop. If you are in business, then this is a book that I recommend you read, and I suspect you’ll enjoy the experience when you do and become a better leader – of others, and of yourself as a result.

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

“The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek is a book which is built upon a simple yet compelling premise. That premise is that, for example, a game of football is a finite game. They have a start, they have an end, they have a winner, and they have a loser (usually). Other aspects of life do not come in such a bounded construct. Business is one such “infinite game”. Too often business is played as a finite game when there is a determination to hit a particular target by a particular date, or to beat the growth rate of your nearest competitor. Playing an infinite game will open opportunities that affect the way that we both do and think about business for the future. That, then, is the concept behind the infinite game.

At the start of the book, Sinek writes a short introduction to describe why he wrote this book. I like the fact that as he is best known for his seminal work, “Start with Why?”, and that is what he does here.

Over the course of 11 chapters, Sinek discusses several issues around the nature of an infinite game, which I was looking forward to reading once I understood the premise – it felt important and new.  Ultimately though, I was disappointed by this book. In many places, I found it somewhat turgid. The reader has to wade through story after story, which either do little to illustrate the point being made or repeat the same message several times. Even when, as in most cases, the point was a relatively simple one.

There’s something else at play too, in that Sinek is highlighting the successes of those that he defines as playing “the infinite game”. What’s not provided, at least in my opinion, is adequate proof that their success arises because they are playing an infinite game. As a statistician, I’m only too aware that correlation is not a proof of causation, often there is no causal relationship. It’s not good enough to show the correlation, there has to be more, and there was not. I also fear that much of what he is providing, by way of example, is subject to survivorship bias.

There is a reality that the businesses he uses were successful, and that they are playing “an infinite game” by his definition. That much is not in doubt. Are they the ones that played an infinite game and survived and thrived? One is left to wonder, to speculate, on how many others who also played an infinite game did not survive and did not thrive? They are not there in this story for us to compare.

All that said, there are some interesting points worthy of note. For some time, I’ve been concerned about the consequences of basing business goals solely on the ideas of maximizing shareholder value rather than on the basis of broader contribution. Sinek, not surprisingly perhaps given his history of thinking on leadership, concludes something broadly similar. I was also uncertain of the nature of chapter 9. It suggests the need for a “worthy rival” – a common enemy to focus your efforts to resolve. He’s not suggesting competing with them, but using them to push yourself to improve. Having shared purpose in a business is very effective at creating powerful results, that’s not in doubt. A worthy rival can help align and bring teams and individuals together. Yet his opening premise is that the infinite game is not about winning or losing, but about staying in the game. My sense of how he wrote about a worthy rival was at least at a tangent to that, but perhaps I miss his point.

Many other reviews also comment on the repetitive nature of this book, of using the same examples multiple times. It feels as though this was a book that Sinek was commissioned to write rather than one that he enjoyed writing. I think that’s a great shame and a missed opportunity. Even so, there is great value in considering the nature of the businesses that we run and our Mastery of our way of working in them. When we do that, we will build a business that can endure for much longer and much more robustly than if we keep playing against others in a “finite game”. I think that point and that point alone is worth taking from this work.

Book Review – The Power of Onlyness

Book Review – The Power of Onlyness

In this fantastic book, Nilofer Merchant discusses how ordinary people can make a real difference. I was lucky enough to see Nilofer speak at the Meaning conference in Brighton in the autumn of 2019. Book now really cemented the message that she gave from the stage. The book is describing how we have reached a time in history, possibly never before possible, where our ideas and thoughts can be brought to bear to impact the whole world.

Making a dent.

In the first part of the book, we learn to really understand the power of our meaning. It is here that I realised that the ideas (to make a “dent” in the world) could be world-changing. They can also be much more local, at the level of the impact your business has on its market.

In part two of the book, we moved on to the power of meaningful relationships. To me, this was the most important part of what we were to learn from a business point of view. The stories bring so much to life that shows how important sharing your vision and recruiting others. The right people will lift your vision. They will make your “dent” as big as you would want it to be.

A business imperative.

When working with other businesses I look to see who their partners and suppliers are. I’m assessing how collaborative their relationships are. Why? I’ve seen (over many years) that the most reliable and consistent businesses have strong collaborative relationships with the people that support their work. In chapter 5 of the book, we learn about common purpose.

For me, this was one of the most important lessons of the book. Highlighting the differences between commonality (“we’re all exactly the same “), conformity (“we give up a part of ourselves to others”) and common purpose (“a shared view of what the end goal should be”) We learn that this is not necessarily an aligned view of exactly how we will achieve it. Common purpose is the glue. As a result, the group does not suppress ideas at the expense of greater unity. Instead, it allows those ideas to grow and develop in a variety of ways within the group.


The question of trust always comes to the fore. In particular the question of whether it is acceptable to make money when solving a problem in some areas (eg. Social care). Of course, in the context of providing sustainability, there has to be a fair financial outcome.

This part of the book clarified that scale creates greater momentum and eases sustainability. It was also interesting to see the recommendation that in order to create trust transparency is important. If we share the economic model that we are using for the business, the basis behind the charges that we are living in, then people can make a decision, with good information, about whether they feel that their contribution is worthwhile for them. It is a form of social contract where somebody understands, clearly, the basis of the exchange that they’re making and the benefits that they are getting. In my opinion, when we are Building Better Business we should be building greater trust too. To do that quickly transparency is vital.


In part three of the book, we learn about the actions that are needed to make a real difference in. Starting with the need to galvanise many to take action Nilofer identifies the champion’s role. That role is to be a trusted disseminator of accurate information. She clarifies that charisma and influence are less important than authenticity.

The final chapter of the book discusses unlocking the power that arises from creating a “dent “. But one key aspect of that is the collaborative one. That if a reward is aimed at individuals then individuals will tend to work in isolation. They may do that with common purpose but they still tend to work alone. The mindset of measuring each individual in order to determine the rewards that they receive constrains them to act alone. When we reward the team then they support each other and can deliver extraordinary results.

I have studied collaboration for many years – the extent of what is achievable is more closely correlated with the number of strong relationships within the group than with the total number of people involved. With two people there is only one possible relationship with three people there are three relationships with four there are six possible relationships. This exponential growth in impact is how singular ideas can change the world.

Nilofer’s book will open your eyes to what is possible, and you don’t need to apply her ideas to some enormous project. When we want to be Building Better Business it is really important to understand the power of our own meaning as the business owner. Great businesses have a clear purpose and a distinct vision. The principles in this book are a key part of what will lead to your success.

About the Author
Nilofer Merchant spent 25 years working in technology. She has served on corporate boards for Nasdaq-traded and private companies, as well as on public governance boards and lived on three continents. She forecasts the future of work and see the day coming (soon) when connected people can do what once only large organizations could.

It’s the small things that change the world. This is one…

It’s the small things that change the world. This is one…

In my life, I’ve seen a few things that changed the way people work and live forever. The triggering events cause shifts in behaviour that are fast, but not instantaneous. We do not go back to the exact world we left behind.

Some of those things had a narrow scope, Aberfan changed the way mining spoil was dumped and had impacts on our landscapes. Some have a global scope. 9/11 changed forever the world’s view of terrorism, and we all accept far more invasive security checks as a result. Assassinations crystalise change, those of Archduke Ferdinand, Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy had worldwide implications. Politics too: Perestroika, Solidarność, and the fall of the Berlin wall changed much. Now it is a disease, a virus, spread by people all over the globe that is affecting everything from our basic freedoms, to the price of oil and the value of pensions.

Coronavirus has already had a significant and immediate impact on the world as a whole. I believe that it too is a moment that we will look back on and say ‘This was when things began to change’. There are obvious immediate effects, of illness, and, sadly, deaths. There will be longer-lasting impacts too, and its these that seeps into the psyche, and change people.

Choosing to self-isolate or taking 14 days away from the office in case that cough and temperature is the virus make real sense. That time also exposes people with office jobs to the possibilities of working differently. They will find the things that work better and the things that don’t. They will start to think about how their future could be better. Managers and leaders will learn that control and oversight in most situations isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Influence and open transparent communication are more important than ever. Trust is a currency that must be spent wisely. In a world with limited resources, an office that requires hundreds, or even thousands, of people to travel for fractions of the day, increasingly looks archaic. That it then lies empty for hours, whilst outside homeless people freeze speaks more to our failings than our success. 

Offices may have been a good post-industrial solution to creating value, but do they fit a 21st Century service-based economy? We may well find that 9-5 working in communal offices were all just a habit and one that we should break. If this virus disrupts for more than a few weeks, organisations will start to address the original issue in novel ways. Novelty becomes normality very quickly.

Can we tell you what these changes will be? No, novelty is novel after all. Can we tell you with certainty that there will be long-lasting change? I think we can, If I listen I can already hear the tectonic plates of corporate England creaking as they start to move.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash