How strongly do I recommend Only the Paranoid Survive?
7 / 10
Only the Paranoid Survive is about strategic inflection points, those 10X changes that flip industries on their head.
What I like about this book is that Grove talks about the bad times, whereas most management books talk about the good times. This approach is similar to Ben Horowitz’s idea of Peacetime CEO / Wartime CEO.
This book is also a mini history lesson of the computer industry itself, documenting the rise of memory and microprocessor companies and technologies.
Overall it’s a good book, but if you only pick one Andy Grove book to read then you’re better off with High Output Management.
Top Ideas in This Book
Strategic inflection points are not moments in time, but rather periods in time reflecting massive industry change.
The rise of ecommerce represented a strategic inflection point for retailers. The emergence of inexpensive memory production by Japanese tech companies was a strategic inflection point for Intel.
Strategic inflection points are obvious in hindsight. Although you won’t be able to pin down exactly when it happened, you’ll know that something big obviously happened.
The first inklings of change come from sales people and middle managers. Sales people hear it from customers and other sales people. Middle managers hear it from their individual contributors. Both sales and middle managers are positioned to understand strategy and execution, providing them with the requisite knowledge to identify a strategic inflection point.
Successful companies want to remain successful, but ideally without change to their operations or the operating environment.
10X changes feel threatening to successful companies and many hunker-down, clinging to past success in the face of enormous change. These resistors are positioned to die.
When building a product or solution, avoid the temptation to one-up your competitors based on a feature checklist. You may be spending valuable time and money building something that customers don’t actually want.
Boards recognize that even CEOs are human and fall prey to sunk cost fallacies and past success. Changing CEOs is usually an act of recognizing these human flaws and finding someone who can perform the job with more objectivity.
If you want to gut check who is your real competition, ask yourself who you’d save your only bullet for. Try to think outside the box of which companies are normally considered your competition.
Employees need the psychological safety to present bad news and unpopular opinions, especially up the chain to executives. Grove warns that executives need to proceed cautiously because even just one incident of responding negatively or in a threatening manner can cause lasting and possibly irreversible damage to the flow of information.
Most management books are about supporting the company, and while I appreciate those, I also appreciate Grove’s acknowledgement that you need to protect and advance your own career as well. Ideally you can do both and with a great employer that’s definitely possible.
Like Warren Buffett, Grove talks about reading a tremendous amount and consuming as much information as he can in order to make the most informed decisions possible.