The Journey Of Not Knowing
I was introduced to this book by calling its author out of the blue one day. As some of you know, I’ve been working my way through the world of Hyperloop for the last few months, trying to determine why a commercial track isn’t being built yet – and calling Julie was a step in that journey. She was at the gym. We scheduled a call for the next week.
In the mean time, I googled her and ran across this book, published in October of 2016, and decided to check it out. A couple pages in I was hooked by her story of early days at Amazon.
The book opens with a wonderful tale about surprising challenges and unusual opportunities Julie encountered leading the successful team that established Amazon’s first warehouse locations all over the world in 1999.
She goes on to talk about the responsibilities of an executive. They are very similar to those of an entrepreneur.
When faced with “free time” and unscheduled productive capacity, do you sort emails or do you dive into the unexplored questions knocking on your business’s proverbial door? Do you ignore these questions or do you answer them carefully and honestly?
She calls these questions (or the answers to them, as the case may be) “Bigger Bets”
What you choose to do with your Bigger Bets determines whether you report back with the usual results and successes or create new wins by operating with from an updated toolset.
She goes on to talk about Hooks. The section on “Hooks” alone is as helpful and insightful as the entire book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Julie’s description of the tendencies that catch people and keep them from making progress is complete with pithy useful stories and examples. This was much more useful than the drawn out context-building that author of “What Got You Here”, Marshall Goldsmith, deployed.
Her stories are the bread and butter of this book. They serve as the plain demonstration and instructions for implementation of the unusual skill set Julie has. She breaks down both stories afterward with a brief tactical overview of how different models she uses contributed to each plot point in the story.
For the “Arrow” story, I’d actually recommend reading the summary/wrap up first, then the story, and then the summary/wrap up again. I did this accidentally and it was really helpful for context along the way.The take home structure at the end of the book is simple:
The take-home structure at the end of the book is simple:
There are 4 steps you go through as you try to do something new.
1: Bigger Bets – you aim for the new unknown thing (client, goal, life experience) because it looks great at first
2: Risks – you find out the unknown thing could have unknown wins or consequences. There will be new challenges. You need to meet these challenges in new ways.
3: Hooks – you are tempted to do things the old way, miss the opportunity of your Bigger Bet.
4: Drivers – ways around your hooks to get new things done. Life experiences, advice from others, apologizing, considering other people’s difficulties, essentially idea extraction.
The result is that you come away from the book with a concise set of new and useful models for leading effectively in a fast paced, ever changing environment – complete with a working understanding of what those models look like implemented in situations both monotonous and monumental.
This framework fits the process of doing new things.
As a matter of fact, last week I did a new thing, and I realized afterward that I used this process to a tee:
Bigger bet: someone suggested we expand the number of signatures on the letter of support.
Risks: we have to change the recipients of the letter to reflect the desires of new signees, and trade short term wins for some for long term wins for everybody.
Hooks: the temptation to try to please all parties, not make necessary changes, stop following up out of guilt or worry that I was bothering people.
Drivers: life lessons from previous experiences that helped me be persistent, calls to advisors, gathering all interests for advice to play “inside baseball” and figure out what would be a long term win for as many parties as possible while mitigating some reputational risks – then actually make the call to win together. Bigger than all of those was my desire to see a first commercial Hyperloop track built as fast as possible here in the US because I believe progress, infrastructure resilience, and investment in our city-wide systems is very very worthwhile.
From the day to day politics of office life, all the way to the company-making moments that others trust you to follow through on in your career, this book equips you with surprising tools that may help you make effective decisions when there are no right answers.
The book ends with Julie breaking down her own Drivers – her history growing up in Colorado Springs, which I can relate to mightily, as well as some of her perspective growing up and seeing women around her navigating the professional world in the 50s and 60s. I very much appreciated that the women characters in her stories were just as complex as important to the critical calls being made in each company as they should be. It was refreshing to read a business book with that context, given that many men in the business world are still struggling mightily in 2017 to treat women like people.
She describes her own desire to “count.” She closes the book with a footnote about how that desire to count fueled many of her ventures in life and gives some final thoughts on how Amazon’s culture gave her work a fun, fascinating, yet exhausting style that enabled some extraordinary wins on extraordinary timelines.
She drew on the experiences of her own working life, and on the stories she’s seen play out as she consults and coaches other companies to make theses same changes, and I think anyone who reads this book will benefit hugely from hearing about those experiences.
My Amazon Review
One can’t finish reading a story written by one of the initial builders of Amazon without leaving an Amazon review…so…
About the story itself
Julie writes from her experience building extraordinary accomplishments in unusually constrained contexts. Building a worldwide online distribution center in under a year is not just a feat of software and hardware engineering, logistics, procurement, and real estate savvy – it also called for a nuanced, complex, and empathetic view of every person she worked with along the way.
Julie’s book shares the model she uses to maintain that awareness of the people around her in the work place and then provides a tool kit to make the most of that awareness. With this framework, you’ll make quick work of the darker temptations of workplace politics in yourself that tend to come up when deadlines approach, inspire yourself to find and work toward your core drivers, and work collaboratively on successful projects in the face of unprecedented circumstances.
About my experience with the book
I’ve read my fair share of business books that I came across at an inapplicable time in my life. Then I’ve read business books that just aren’t that practically useful, even if they are interesting to read. After reading both, I feel like The Journey of Not Knowing is like “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith but in much more practical, useful terms.
I came across both books at the perfect time, but Julie’s framework turned out to be immediately applicable. I was thrown headfirst into working with people with more life experience and higher rank than me and found the opportunity to organize many different interests toward building one concrete deliverable at an extraordinarily fast pace. This book was written for experiences like that – and you’ll be glad you read it when the next one comes your way.