First, Break All The Rules

Book Review: First, Break All The Rules by Gallup

My career as a people manager started several years ago at Amazon. Folks way smarter than I am developed Amazon’s best practices and processes how to lead people. After reading the “First, Break All The Rules” book, I can certainly say that they were inspired by it in many cases.

In the ocean of management literature, this book challenges the “conventional wisdom”. Or how authors define it – widely accepted management practices and beliefs that prioritize uniformity and correcting weaknesses over individual strengths. Authored by Gallup, the book is the culmination of decades of research, summarizing the essence of what makes great managers and what great managers do differently.

One of the book’s most interesting insights for me was its detailed exploration of the twelve questions that gauge the emotional engagement of employees. These questions serve as a practical toolkit for managers, offering an understanding of what drives satisfaction and performance in the workplace. The answers on these 12 questions help a manager to see an employee’s perspective on four key areas: “What do I get?”, “What do I give?”, “Do I belong here?” and “How can we all grow here?”.

The book also provides clear definitions of what is talent vs skill vs knowledge. Talents are defined as naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Skills are the steps of an activity; these are capabilities that can be learned or acquired through training. Knowledge encompasses the facts and lessons learned, including both factual knowledge (know-what) and experiential knowledge (know-how). This framework helps differentiate the innate abilities (talents) from what can be taught or developed (skills and knowledge), emphasizing the importance of leveraging natural talents in the workplace.

Many ideas and methodologies about employees emotions I found in the book are used in some way of form in modern workplaces. And this is good. I believe that is more effective to identify the few emotions you want your employees to feel and then hold managers accountable for creating these emotions.

Awarding “First, Break All The Rules” a 5 out of 5, I recommend it as an essential read for those who want to dive deep into people managers main job – how to convert talent into performance.

How Generative AI Is Changing The Future Of Work

Report Review: How Generative AI Is Changing The Future Of Work

OliverWyman Forum consultants released 100-page report for Senior and C-level management about how GenAI transforms the modern workforce, society and consumers’ habits. And it is a very exciting reading!

The authors interviewed 15,000 respondents in 16 countries during October-November 2023 and presented the report at Davos 2024 conference. The report provides both high-level picture of GenAI impacts but also go into details into regional, industry and generational differences for the current state of GenAI adoption and potential future.

Apart from the obvious things, like the speed of adoption (17 years it took for Internet to acquire the same amount of users that ChatGPT did in 10 months) and overall optimism of people about AI (96% of respondents of say generative AI can benefit their jobs), there are very interesting insights that were interesting for me to read.

Mass adoption ≠ mass productivity

The dramatic uptake in generative AI has been useful for many but hasn’t yet resulted in significant productivity gains across the board. Why?

Authors suggest that we may face what is called the productivity paradox (also the Solow computer paradox). It is the peculiar observation made in business process analysis that, as more investment is made in information technology, worker productivity may go down instead of up. This observation has been firmly supported with empirical evidence from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

Workforce pyramid disruption

While it is clear by now that entry-level jobs will be affected the most with GenAI adoption, there will be an another effect as well. As generative AI replaces some front-line roles, it will disrupt the pipeline of manager roles, akin to the “collapse of the middle” in the job pyramid. To simplify, the role of a front-line manager/supervisor may become obsolete as this role could be replaced with former “junior” employees.

Disconnect between employees and employers priorities

There is a clear difference between what employees and employers see what is important to learn today. My opinion on this discrepancy is following – AI adoption will happen as part of companies strategy, so employees will learn it how to use AI anyway. It will be just part of roles descriptions. But analytical and creative thinking is way harder to master than prompt engineering.

The Shorter MBA

Book Review: The Shorter MBA by Niel Thomas

I decided to read this book to understand a usual scope of a MBA course. Probably, when the first edition of this book was published, it was relevant but not anymore. Most of the information in the book is outdated. Approaches of people management and self development have changed, marketing strategy has evolved. The world is simply different now.

The book has a good structure but the content does not go into details and examples provided by the author are not applicable in a modern business environment. The strongest part of the book, from my perspective, is financial analysis. Maybe, the book could be more useful for a person who is just starting their career and requires basic knowledge about business operations. For everybody else, it will be a lot of repetitive things that a business manager sees in their day to day professional life.

So, this is the first book that I do not recommend for reading. Overall, 3 out of 5.

Reading List 2024

The time has come to have a look back on reading during 2023 and create a new list for the upcoming year.

In 2023, I read 14 books with 5 837 pages in total. There was around 10% YoY growth in the number of pages in comparison with 2022.

For 2024 I selected 12 books so far and tried to cover following themes:

  • People Management and Performance Management
  • Preparations for GMAT exam and MBA course
  • Networking and relationship building

Leadership and new skills

  1. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  2. High-Performance Coaching for Managers: A Step-by-Step Approach to Increase Employees’ Performance and Productivity
  3. GMAT™ Official Guide
  4. The Shorter MBA
  5. Principles: Life and Work
  6. Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues
  7. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
  8. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
  9. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
  10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World


  1. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
  2. Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium

Guest lecture at Chalmers University

As a great wrap up of the year, myself and Sebastian Lennskog have delivered a guest lecture at Chalmers University, Gothenburg. We spoke about AWS Global Infrastructure and Sustainability to master’s degree students at the university facilities.

This was the second time I was honored to be invited as a guest speaker and I hope to continue this collaboration with Chalmers in 2024.



With this short post, I want to celebrate a completion of the first step towards my MBA degree. I have passed IELTS Academic exam with overall band score 8.0 out of 9.0.

As per official IELTS score system:

This means you’re a “Very Good User”. The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.

I have used the official IELTS 18 exam guide and the practice tests included with it. Overall, the exam for me was more about learning the expectations of the exam itself rather than about knowledge of the English language.

The next step is the GMAT exam.

Never Eat Alone

Never Eat Alone

Social atomism is a theory that refers to “the tendency for society to be made up of a collection of self-interested and largely self-sufficient individuals, operating as separate atoms.” I witness and have an empirical experience of this theory in practice – people become more isolated from each other, fulfilling emotions of belonging to a “tribe” has moved online and companies have hybrid or fully virtual employment contracts today.

As I reflected in one of the posts, loneliness is one of the backlashes of increasing atomization of the society. One of the consequences of an exposure to prolonged periods loneliness is a degradation of social skills. Our “social muscles”, ability to read others and create social connections degrade as our physical muscles, if we do not use them. And we need our “social muscles” to advance our careers.

Last month, the Nature magazine has published an article where authors analyzed data on competition outcomes from 6363 ballet students affiliated with 1603 schools in the United States and came to a conclusion: “In both scientific and artistic careers, where performance is subjectively appreciated, career success is strongly influenced by social prestige and visibility. This suggests that artists’ career success is highly dependent on their social networks and prestige.” The best parameter to predict ballet students success was not physical performance or artistic talent but the size and complexity of their social networks.

The same is true for any other profession. You have to be good at networking to progress further. Hence, you have to train your social skills. And in our virtual, post-COVID work environments it becomes more and more difficult to do. I see a solution to this challenge in setting networking goals and push yourself to socialize and approach people.

I have my personal goal to meet at least one new person every week who I never met before and have a meaningful conversation with them. It could be just an introductory call, a coffee or an afterwork. So, I have a rule – “Never Eat Alone”. If I am at the office, I try to find somebody to have a lunch with. If I cannot find anybody, I will try to approach somebody in a queue in a restaurant or join a group of people in a canteen. By doing this, I met different kinds of people and faced multiple reactions from them – very often a pleasantly surprised ones and very rarely negative ones. Because I know, that is equally difficult for others build new social connections as it is for me but they equally want to do it as myself.

It is very uncomfortable to approach strangers, but as with any skill, the more you do it, the easier it become. The benefit is – this is a great practice of social skills which are invaluable. Give it a try and don’t eat alone next time.

Immunity to Change

Book Review: Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey

There is no doubt that change is difficult. Both for organizations and individuals it requires conscious efforts, dedication, commitment and time. And even when you have all that, a success is not a guarantee. Why it is like that? Not enough resources thrown in by management? Not good enough educational materials? Or there is something more that prevents changes to be adopted smoothly?

To answer on this question the authors of Immunity to Change book first explain a model of a mental complexity. The book explains the mental complexity not as a summary of skills and knowledge but as a “object-subject” relationship between individuals and their believes system. The more complex an individual mind is, the more freely it can operate with the one’s believes, ideas and frames. A more complex mind acts as an object towards believes, ideas and frames and able to transform them or create new ones. A less complex mind is a subject of believes, ideas and frames and can act only in the limited context dictated by accepted believes and ideas.

It was quite fascinating for me to learn about this model and how it can be applied to myself and others to calibrate and discover where are we according the model. In the next chapters, the book addresses the question “Why change is difficult?”. The authors show that we are “immune to change” because it protects our certain values and assumptions that are “threatened” by a change we are trying to adopt. The outcome of our “immune system” actions is our behaviors contradicting to a committed goal, i.e. a change. We end up acting (or not acting) in a way that prevents implementation of the change.

Most part of the book provides a coaching framework that can be used by individuals and organizations to overcome the “immunity to change”. The book gives multiple examples of actual coaching situations and how the authors employed the proposed coaching framework to achieve progress. In the last part, the authors give a detailed instructions how to use the framework, track progress and organize a coaching process.

The obvious question for me is how to use the coaching framework and what problems to concentrate on. After reading this book, this is my next step – use the framework for myself and uncover my own “adaptive challenges”.

Overall, this is a great book, 5 out of 5.


Book Review: Loneliness. Human Nature And The Need For Social Connection

On June 25th 2010, Softbank’s Chairman & CEO Masayoshi Son has presented SoftBank’s Next 30-Year Vision. He tried to build the corporate vision working backwards from the answer on the question: “What would be the saddest thing in a human life?”. And the answer was: “Loneliness”.

Over the next 30 years and beyond that, technologies will change, new businesses will rise and fall, astonishing achievements in AI will surprise us. But the fundamental human desire to love, to be loved and to be needed are not going to change. As long as our species inhabit the Earth, the need for companionship and social connection will be around.

I recommend you to read Softbank’s vision here, as it truly thinks big. I don’t know any other company who even tried to outline something similar to it. 13 years passed after the publication and many things predicted by Masayoshi-san became a reality.

I have started to think about a concept of loneliness after I watched this video from Kurzgesagt. Our societies around the globe are on the path towards more isolation and lack of social connections. Coming back to Japan again, there is an appointed Minister of Loneliness from 2021. And Japan today is the projection of Europe 20-30 years from now.

Why loneliness is a very sad thing for humans and how does it affect us? The book Loneliness gives a detailed answer on this question. The first part explains how loneliness impacts physical and mental health, it shares details from different researches to demonstrate impact of loneliness on executive control, ability to self-regulate and etc.

The second and third parts of the book shows how social cooperation works in the nature and Homo Sapiens societies and why it is extremely beneficial for both society and individual to be cooperative and collaborative. It proves one more time that we are truly social animals.

The book has a lot of explanations of various experiments and research in social studies and behavioral psychology. I highly recommend the book to anybody how interested in learning more how to deal with loneliness. Overall, 5 out of 5 book.