Archive for November 18th, 2010

Today, I finished Book Two of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: “The Sea of Monsters“, written by Rick Riordan, (2006©).  This is the second of five (so far) in the Greek mythology books my son has been reading and he’s asked me to read.
The series is intended for youth, I’d estimate 7 to 15 year olds.  Having said this, I’m finding them very pleasurable reading.  They are very fast reads.  You can gain a great amount of knowledge about mythology, story telling, western civilization, and vocabulary by reading “children’s” books.
This second book is about saving a friend, meeting a relative and Cyclopes.  Unfortunately, saying much more would be telling and spoil the fun of reading the book – so I won’t.  I will say if you have a son (or daughter) who you would like to spend time with – reading a fast paced, child-focused, action-adventure, hero-good guy story to – this series (and this book) are excellent choices.  Tantalizing…

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On Monday, 15 November 2010, I finished reading “The First 90 Days“, (2003©) by Michael Watkins.  The book is intended to offer ideas on how a person entering a management job can increase their chances to be successful in their new position by suggesting guidelines/strategies for the first ninety days in the job.  The premise is that if you start well, you’ll have a much easier time in the medium term (after the first 90 days) and the success will carry you through to your next job – when you’ll presumably have to re-read the book to refresh yourself on its tips.
My initial reaction to the book was extremely positive.  It does NOT offer a lot of new ideas, but it does present a lot of ideas in an organized manner.  The tone is a bit stuffy and formal (academic) and the short chapter intro “case studies” are simplistic (if not trite).  The book is really also geared to larger companies and more senior middle-management positions, although it tries to imply it is useful at all levels in all types of businesses.  I guess, maybe it is useful but I don’t think anybody above second level supervisor would get much out of it – except maybe as an instruction tool for helping junior supervisors to think about being mid-level managers.
For me, the meat of the book is in the introduction.  The first interesting idea is the concept of a breakeven point:  basically, a new person has about three-and-a-half-months to begin adding value or they will be seen as “unsuccessful”.  It takes an additional three months before you reach the breakeven point.  Presumably, the longer it takes you to reach the “add value” point, the longer it will take you to reach the “break even” point.  The author never really explains this or even if it true from his experience.  This 90 day period is interesting to me because, in my own personal experience, IT projects which cannot be projected as completed within 90 days of starting are generally failures – or at least, weak and limping-along “successes”.  I have always attributed this to a failure of attention span by project members.  It seems as if there may be a deeper, psychological factor.  The 90 day and 6 month dates come from the author’s experience and from polls of senior executives.
A second interesting statement is the “average” rising star stays in their position about two-and-one-half-years.  “Regular” managers tend to be in a given position 4 to 5 years.  This means you have 90 days to begin adding value, about 24 months to add value, and then 90 days to find and transfer to your new job.  Of course this assumes you can “find” the new job in the window for stardom.  It strikes me as strange that most industries have an annual business cycle, but they seem to be able to recognize a great manager in less than one half of an annual cycle.  Presumably, stars are able to master their current job in less than two cycles.  I would find this extremely improbable.  This should lead to the question of what is it that actually makes / gets rising stars promoted so much faster than average managers.  The author acknowledges there are stars, but doesn’t make any effort to explain their exceptionalism.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t go into the things I found the most interesting in the introduction.  The book does go into the what to do and what to think about a lot, though – and this is its strength.  If you are looking for this type of guidance, and most new supervisors and managers ARE, this book will be very useful.  If you are looking for a how-to-do something, again, I think it falls down a bit.  In fairness to the author, the book would have to be several times thicker if it tried to do how-to as well as what-to, because then he would also need to add why-to.  And the volume becomes an encyclopedia…
All in all, I still highly recommend this book.  It offers a lot and what’s offered is reasonably well organized.

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