Book Review - It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work - Humble Charisma

Book Review - It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work - Humble Charisma

March 19, 2020 | Posted by Velentium Book Club

About twice a quarter, Velentium offers its staff the opportunity to read & discuss a business-related book together. It’s a chance for us to take a break from chopping firewood and sharpen our proverbial axes by studying how to become more efficient or proficient at our work.

Matt Leaverton & Jason Smith contributed to this post.


Of Velentium’s 3 core values, Humble Charisma is the one most likely to provoke confusion when people hear it the first time. Our shorthand explanation is “we strive to be the sort of people others enjoy being around” -- neither charismatic but arrogant, nor humble but bland -- the sort of colleague you wouldn’t mind get stuck at an airport with for a couple extra hours due to a flight delay on a business trip. However, that only begins to describe the idea.

Fried and Hansson’s book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work includes many pieces of advice that help explain Humble Charisma. In this, our final post of this Velentium Book Club blog series, we’ll take a look at some concepts that we think may help us keep this paradox of a core value in balance.


Choose the Right Token. Fried and Hansson introduce an idea from Jean-Louis Gassee, a former executive of Apple France, called the “two tokens concept.” Gassee said that when someone comes to you with a problem, there are two tokens available. One is the “it’s the end of the world” token, and the other is the “it’s no big deal” token. Whichever one you pick, the person raising the problem keeps the other. So if someone presents a grievance or points to an issue, and you respond with any variant of “it’s no big deal,” the other person often reacts as if it’s the end of the world. That’s because when you tell me “there’s a problem,” and I say “it’s no big deal,” I may think I’m allaying your concerns, but you may well feel that I did not pay close enough attention to the issue you raised or, worse, that I don’t think you are credible enough to take your point seriously. Now you must double down to get my attention and prove your credibility. Conversely, if I listen carefully to the problem and identify at least some aspect of it that I can honestly call “completely unacceptable” -- thereby taking the “end of the world” token -- it leaves you willing to reciprocate the respect I’ve shown you by graciously allowing me to take the time I need to make things right. Part of Humble Charisma is demonstrating -- first with words, and then with deeds -- that we understand that other people have real pain or are seeing real opportunities for improvement, and that we should act on their insights.

Know When It’s Enough. These days, so many companies seem captivated by “disrupting industries” and chasing “game-changing solutions.” There’s humility in respecting limits. On a corporate level, Velentium exists to change lives for a better world -- which looks big and bold at first glance, but on consideration, describes the eventual impact of working in big and small ways to accomplish the attainable goal of changing lives. And at the product level, our CTO Randy Armstrong is a passionate advocate for “the elegant solution,” which takes an “Essentialist mindset” to achieve. “Don’t change the world,” Fried and Hansson say, and don’t ever declare that something should be accomplished “No matter what it takes.” That’s lazy and arrogant. Instead, ask “What will it take to do this right?” What’s truly required here? Know when it’s enough. Do enough. And then go home satisfied with a job well done.

Keep Trust Batteries Charged. This is a concept Fried and Hansson adopted from Tobias Lutke, CEO of Shopify, to describe the nature of personal interactions. Lutke suggests that we imagine the charge level of a “trust battery” to represent the summary of all interactions between people. When you first join a new company or new team, meet a new colleague or are assigned a new manager, each person’s “trust battery” has a baseline charge of 50%. Every interaction we have after that either charges or discharges our trust battery, based on factors like whether we did what we said we would do, and whether we communicated honestly and proactively. When a person or team’s trust batteries are in a high-energy state, getting things done is easy. We encounter little interpersonal resistance. But where trust batteries are low, interpersonal conflict becomes almost inevitable. “Everything is wrong, everything is judged harshly. A 10% charge = a 90% chance an interaction will go south.” The thing about charisma is that it inspires trust. And the thing about humility is that it continuously works to justify that trust.

Hopefully, these brief examples from It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work help illustrate what we at Velentium mean by Humble Charisma. We enjoyed reading, discussing, and identifying possible applications of lessons from Fried and Hansson’s book, and recommend it to anyone who wants to influence their team or organization away from crazy and toward calm.


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