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Think Big, Act Bigger

Book Review of: Think Big, Act Bigger

The Reward of Being Relentless

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Review of Think Big, Act Bigger, by Jeffrey Hayzlett (Softcover, 2015)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


This is really a great book for the corporate ladder climber, business owner, or top executive. I think the advice applies to life generally. Mostly, it's the author's way of thinking that provides the value in this book. And thinking without acting is rather pointless, thus the title as it is.

I want to note that Mr. Hayzlett, though quite articulate, could be misunderstood. Don't take his statements out of context, but try to understand the way he thinks. Mr. Hayzlett has a great deal of bravado and seeming overconfidence. But he also expresses humility. This man is not afraid to own up to his mistakes and blindspots. Some of his stories of his screw-ups had me laughing aloud.

In that spirit, I will point out another one he made in this book. He says he knows what is meant by thinking outside the box, but what follows after that statement clearly shows he does not. The proverbial box is not what he portrays it to be or what most people seem to think it is.

The box metaphor comes from a puzzle that tests critical thinking skills. You draw three rows of three dots. Then, using four straight lines, connect all nine dots. Most people will try to draw a box. To solve the puzzle, the lines have to form something other than a box. Thus, "thinking outside the box." It means thinking in a way not constrained by preconceptions. BTW, the solution is a triangle with a line extending from one vertix through the middle of the opposite side.

Often in a business book, seminar, or workshop, people are looking for specific tactics or techniques. That's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far. Yes, you need technical skills, but if their use is constrained by small thinking you're not going to see big results. You get those big results by thinking bigger. The pressure to not think bigger is immense. On top of that, thinking bigger entails risks. So most of us will think smaller, minding our place and being happy with the incremental improvements that come from doing the wrong things better than we used to do them.

In my own case, I've been thinking much bigger in recent years than I used to. But still not thinking on the scale someone like Mr. Hayzlett does. His book has encouraged me to, uh, think outside the box more when considering my strategies. Having gone through some severe trials, I'm maybe too risk averse to swing for home runs. There is still, however ample room for more bigness below that risk level. I see that now.

Something I like about how he deals with employees (or contractors, as the case may be) is he hires them to handle specific areas of responsibility and he expects them to handle those and gives them the power to do so. He doesn't want them coming to him with questions they should already know the answer to ("Why do I need you if you have to ask me that?"). This seems a bit harsh at first glance. But the key is he's not micromanaging, disabling, or intimidating people. He wants them to take ownership. He has other things to do.

The lesson here had immediate application for me with a contractor who made the best possible decision with the information she had available. I didn't like the decision at first, and shot off an e-mail before thinking about what I would have done in her shoes. My e-mail basically took the decision power away from her, which was a huge mistake on my part. I followed up by saying I was wrong, apologizing for jumping the gun, and walking through the scenario to demonstrate I honestly felt her decision was the best possible one to make. That's another aspect of thinking big. You have to be big enough to admit when you're wrong (just as Mr. Hayzlett did in this book several times, often to my amusement).

I also like his oft-repeated thought, "Nobody is going to die." In looking back in my career, I'm now amazed at how many petty things got blown way out of proportion. Managers might expend $50 in meeting cost to gripe to an employee about a $4 problem, making it sound like a life or death matter. I put up with this sort of stupidity when I was in my 20s. By the time I was in my 30s, I would just walk off and leave the idiot boss fuming. Let him have the heart attack, I don't need one.

But sometimes, I found myself starting down this same path with subordinates. Just remember Mr. Hayzlett's admonition, "Nobody is going to die." Unless, of course, it doesn't apply. For example, a worker is performing an unsafe act; maybe someone is going to die. In most cases, however, remembering this admonition can keep you from making a proverbial mountain out of the proverbial molehill. I think what Mr. Hayzlett is saying is to keep your response at a level that matches the severity of the issue. In most cases, the issue isn't worth making a huge fuss over. Explain the problem anad move on.

A pattern in business books is some celebrity CEO writes his or her memoir or a vanity "Look how great I am" book with some nuggets of advice. That problem has soured me on these types of books generally, so it's hard to get me to read a business book these days. Something about this one appealed to me, and I'm glad I read it. This is definitely not a work of vanity. As I began reading, I was reminded of another outstanding man, Boake Sells. Mr. Sells was the CEO of Revco and brought it out of bankruptcy. He took time out of his busy life to provide some badly needed mentoring to me, and he was a straight-talking person who just wanted to help another person. I am eternally grateful.

Mr. Hayzlett has that same, "Let me be your mentor" vibe. What he said has great value for the reader who pays attention and thinks about the text. But it goes beyond what he said to how he says it. My experience in the corporate world was that many people try to bluff and fluff their way through life with acronyms and "management speak" that, to me, simply camouflages a person's ineptness and (usually well-deserved) lack of confidence. Then you have plain-speaking people who have a good track record and well-deserved high degree of confidence. Mr. Hayzlett, unlike many business writers, is the latter.

This book follows the standard construction formula of ten chapters followed by a conclusion. I had an advance reading copy (provided for reviewers), and it runs about 160 pages.


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