Build - Critical summary review - Tony Fadell
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Management & Leadership

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0063046067

Publisher:  Harper Business

Critical summary review

Believing that ‘’Everybody trying to do something meaningful needs and deserves to have a mentor and coach,’’ Tony Fadell, the former president of the iPod division at Apple and CEO of Nest Labs, wrote ‘’Build’’ - ‘’advice encyclopedia’’ for fresh grads, CEO’s, executives, interns, and anyone who wants to make it in the business world. However, this book offers much more than practical advice on how to thrive because it contains memorable personal stories, such as one about creating a Nest thermostat, iPhone, and many more. So, get ready to find out how Tony Fadell made it and how you can do the same, too.

Do, fail, learn

The great paradox of traditional schooling is that it doesn’t prepare you for what comes after you finish it. As Fadell notes, it teaches people to think incorrectly about failure. ‘’You’re taught a subject, you take a test, and if you fail, that’s it. You’re done.’’ However, once you are out of school, there are no books, tests, or grades, and the only way you can learn is by doing something and failing - many times. In Fadell’s words, ‘’Early adulthood is about watching your dreams go up in flames and learning as much as you can from the ashes.‘’

Before you embark on a journey of learning and failing, you should think about the career you want to pursue. The important thing to know when choosing potential careers is that you shouldn’t think about the amount of money you want to make or the title you want to achieve, but what you want to learn. ‘’The best way to find a job you’ll love and a career that will eventually make you successful is to follow what you’re naturally interested in, then take risks when choosing where to work,’’ Fadell writes. When he was 21 years old, Fadell quit the company he had founded and worked day and night to build to work as a diagnostics software engineer at General Magic. Why? Because this company was his chance to learn everything he wanted to know and work with geniuses who made the Apple, the Lisa, and the Macintosh. As he writes, ‘’It was my first real job and my first real chance to change the world like Andy and Bill had.’’ 

When you are at the beginning of your career, the critical thing you need to have is a goal. As you move toward that goal, you will stumble and fall, and this should not misdirect you but only teach you how to move closer to the things you want to achieve. 

Although they had incredible technology and the potential to make the most world-changing device in history, General Magic failed, leaving Fadell without any regrets about his decision to join them. The valuable lesson he got while working there is that he needed to learn a ‘’whole world of thinking’’ related to sales and marketing, psychographics and branding, and managing before setting himself out to write code.

General Magic wasn’t magical for several reasons

Fadell and the rest in General Magic worked around 100 hours a week for four years building General Magic’s product. The launch was delayed several times not due to a shortage of money but sky-high expectations - the team always wanted to upgrade the product more, and with that, the number of issues only continued growing. They were focused on making amazing technology, something ‘’wholly, ridiculously, almost unbelievably new.’’ Finally, in 1994, General Magic launched Sony Magic Link. It was a device absolutely ahead of its time - a small computer everyone could carry in their pockets - it had animated emojis and a little printer for faxes. All the years of hard work and lack of sleep paid off. Or did they? 

It turned out that Sony Magic Link wasn’t that magical in the eyes of customers - they simply did not find it good enough to buy it. The problem with General Magic was that it wasn’t concerned much about the company structure, management, or customers. They only wanted to make stuff the leaders thought would be cool. Yet, cool technology is not enough - neither are great teams or funding. The product you are making needs to solve a problem customers have today - not the one they will have in the distant future. ‘’We were trying to build an iPhone years before it was a glimmer in Steve Jobs’s eye,’’ Fadell says. The point is, ‘’If you’re not solving a real problem, you can’t start a revolution.’’ Take Uber as an example. The founders started with a problem regularly customers experienced - how to get to their destination without having to wait for a cab for ages or paying expensive private drivers - and then applied technology to solve it.

Naturally, you won’t realize straight out of college what product can solve huge problems in people’s everyday lives. You should know where you want to go, who you want to work with, and what you want to learn. Then, as you progress on your journey, you will eventually come to the point you’ll start to understand what you want to build and how. 

Being a good manager

The General’s Magic attitude about managers was pretty clear - they didn’t need them. The employees thought everyone could manage themselves. Therefore, everyone who tried to be a manager was ignored, and, as we already mentioned, the lack of management was one of the reasons the company failed. So, when he joined Philips after General Magic, Fadell knew he had to learn how to create structure within a team - therefore, he decided to become a manager. ‘’No problem, I thought. I’m an engineer who’s going to tell other engineers how to do their jobs, right?’’ Well, not quite right. 

According to Fadell, one of the most challenging parts of management is resisting the urge to do the work yourself. Being a good manager means tempering the fear that ‘’becoming more hands-off will cause the product to suffer or the project to fail.’’ It also means trusting your team and giving them space to shine and be creative. Of course, this doesn’t mean the product doesn't concern you - your goal should be ensuring your people are producing the best possible one. As Fadell sums up, ‘’The outcome is your business. How the team reaches that outcome is the team’s business.’’

The manager’s job is to help people in the team succeed, and one way to do it is by regularly organizing structured meetings both with the whole team as well as with individuals to find out about product development and get insights into what they are doing and how. As a manager, you should discover what motivates people in your team - what makes them feel happy and valued at work. Essentially, being a manager is like being a mentor or a parent. Not because you should treat your team as a group of children but because you are responsible for helping them work through failure and reach success. 

Last but not least, being a good manager means knowing how to manage your own fears and anxieties. This may lead you to psychology books, therapy, or yoga. Fadell, for instance, tried all of them for the same reasons - to learn how to separate personal issues and company problems, identify when his actions caused frustrations within a team, and discover that some things were entirely out of his control.

Great ideas are painkillers, not vitamins

Every time Fadell and his wife drove up to their Lake Tahoe ski cabin on Friday nights, they did not take off their snow jackets until the next day. It was freakishly cold at the house since they kept the temperature just above freezing during the weekdays to avoid wasting money and energy. Of course, walking into the cold house and sleeping in a cold bed kept Fadell nuts. If only there was a way to warm it up remotely before they would get there.

Do you know what the difference between vitamins and painkillers is? Although they are beneficial for you, vitamins are not essential. You can skip them for a day or even more and never notice the difference. With painkillers, however, the situation is different - the pain won’t allow you to forget to take them. Much like painkillers, great ideas eliminate something that constantly bothers you. Remember why Sony Magic Link failed to be successful? It was more of a vitamin than a painkiller. It simply did not solve a problem the majority of people had in their daily lives, which is, according to Fadell, a precondition for a product that sells.

Great ideas will follow you around - like an idea about building a thermostat that could be controlled from a remote place followed Fadell to every cold vacation house he went to. Eventually, he let the idea catch him and got to work. He researched the technology, the opportunities, the business, the competition, the people, the financing, and the history. It is not enough to have an answer to the question of why people need some product. To build a successful business, you also need to ‘’figure out if this idea is actually strong enough to carry a company,’’ Fadell notes.

As you may assume, turning your ideas into reality is a complex, often long-lasting process. But keep in mind that anything worth doing takes time - to understand, prepare and get it right. Therefore, do not be tricked by the ‘’fail fast’’ mentality many startups in Silicon Valley have, which means that instead of planning carefully for what you want to make, you build first and figure it out later.

Being a CEO

Before meeting the CEO of the Aston Martin factory, Fadell encountered a guy wearing bright yellow raingear and galoshes in the parking lot in front of the factory. He had been inspecting each car that came off the line. He looked at the engines, the upholstery, the dashboards, the exhaust pipes - everything. That man was Andy Palmer, the CEO Fadell was supposed to meet. According to Fadell, he had one of the crucial features of a CEO to look up to - he expected excellence from every part of the company and cared about everything. ‘’​​He didn’t care how much it cost to reach perfection, how many times a car had to get retooled, reworked. The important thing was to deliver exactly what the customer expected,’’ Fadell writes.

When you are a CEO, your job is to push the company to grow and evolve. Perfection should be your goal, and therefore, you should expect everyone to put in their best work - and not only that - you should personally make sure they do that. For instance, when Fadell was working at Nest, he was reading the most key customer support articles to check if they were crisp and easy to understand since those were the first thing a customer with issues would see. He writes, ‘’Most people are happy with 90% good. Most leaders will take pity on their teams and just let it slide. But going from 90 to 95% is halfway to perfect. Getting the last part of the journey right is the only way to reach your destination.’’ For this, you need to push your team - not only to get a perfect product, but also to show them how great they can be. After a while, they will work better - to make you happy and also because of the pride they feel after completing the outstanding job.

Finally, being a CEO means making decisions that are not always popular, and saying no when needed. And, the most thrilling and empowering thing about being a CEO is that there are no constraints to your ideas - you are the one who decides whether the company will pursue them, and that is why you start a company and become a CEO. 

Final Notes

Like an iPod, iPhone, and Nest Thermostat, ‘’Build’’ is another great product by Tony Fadell - the one that is, much like a painkiller, an essential to anyone who wants to ease the pain of not knowing how to choose their occupation, manage teams, recognize and work on great ideas, and much more. Just choose Fadell as a mentor and you will see - not only will he help you make it in your career but life in general.

12min Tip

‘’If you’re going to throw your time, energy, and youth at a company, try to join one that’s not just making a better mousetrap,’’ Fadell writes. ‘’Find a business that’s starting a revolution.’’

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Who wrote the book?

Anthony Michael Fadell (born March 22, 1969) is an American engineer, designer, entrepreneur, and investor. He was se... (Read more)

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