— I already wrote a little about USC professor Elyn Saks’ amazing talk at TEDGlobal, and now I’m here to recommend her 2007 book, The Center Cannot Hold, in which she tells her own story of schizophrenia and mental illness in more detail than 18 minutes will allow. It’s a difficult read at times, but it’s also utterly fascinating. And I loved the insight above more than I can tell you. *Resolves to focus on the fortunate miss.*
Fortune writer, Adam Lashinsky has a new book on Apple coming up in a week or so, and reviews are beginning to appear. I’m looking forward to reading the book (I am already convinced it’ll be a million times better than Walter Isaacson’s disappointingly overblown biography of Steve Jobs), and I enjoyed Bob Sutton’s take on what struck him. Notably, Lashinsky’s close analysis of the organizational structure within the famed technology company, including its ability to keep teams small and focused. Sutton writes:
The tendency to make teams ever bigger is an awful disease, not so much because it costs more money, but because, as Harvard’s J.Richard Hackman has shown, it slows teams and undermines their performance as members end-up spending more time dealing with coordination issues and coalitional battles and less time doing the work at hand. Apple gets the importance of small teams at all levels (e.g., Adam reports that a 2 person team “wrote the code for converting Apple’s Safari browser for the iPad, a massive undertaking”). They also have an unusually small board of directors — seven members — for a company of that size.
Sutton then continues to explain why this is particularly significant:
This extension of the elegance philosophy beyond their products has huge advantages as the “signal to noise” ratio appears to be quite impressive at all levels and in all functions — people tend to get good information, the information they need (and no more), and aren’t confused or distracted by other things. At senior levels, this means they get the information they need and it means that, although there is discussion and debate at times, when a decision is made, there is less of the usual arguing or undermining. And if there are failures in implementing, you will be forgiven if senior executives believe you acted intelligently enough and hard enough, but you will be shown the door very quickly if they believe you were dumb or lazy.
Good review and a good-looking book. (If you’re pushed for time, do read Lashinsky’s earlier Fortune piece on a similar theme, How Apple Works: Inside The World’s Biggest Startup—another beautifully written and eye-opening look into reality in Cupertino.)