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Book Review: Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove (2/5)

20 Dec

I hadn’t had a Goodreads account very long when my boss mentioned this book as one ‘everyone should read.’ I’m not sure under what context he read it, but it was instantly added to my TBR where it lingered for 3.5 years. I now have a little break from my book clubs and I’m determined to read books from my shelves and from the library to cut down my TBR. It’s going slowly, but it’s happening.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Only the Paranoid Survive: How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every business by Andrew S. Grove

Summary from Goodreads:

Under Andy Grove’s leadership, Intel has become the world’s largest chip maker and one of the most admired companies in the world. In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove reveals his strategy of focusing on a new way of measuring the nightmare moment every leader dreads–when massive change occurs and a company must, virtually overnight, adapt or fall by the wayside.
Grove calls such a moment a Strategic Inflection Point, which can be set off by almost anything: mega-competition, a change in regulations, or a seemingly modest change in technology. When a Strategic Inflection Point hits, the ordinary rules of business go out the window. Yet, managed right, a Strategic Inflection Point can be an opportunity to win in the marketplace and emerge stronger than ever.
Grove underscores his message by examining his own record of success and failure, including how he navigated the events of the Pentium flaw, which threatened Intel’s reputation in 1994, and how he has dealt with the explosions in growth of the Internet.

Because of my old boss’s praise, I was expecting a lot out of this book. I’m wondering now if it was a letdown because I had an older edition that did not include a chapter on how to apply the lessons to your personal career. Hm. The book felt very dated to me and to be fair, Grove wrote it in 1996 with different editions coming out periodically. The stories felt old and the ‘scary times’ he describes are from a time when I wasn’t paying attention to the news let alone the microprocessor industry. It didn’t strike a chord with me. The most distracting thing was how Grove frequently talked about the internet like it wouldn’t revolutionize computing. The dated feel was hard to shake. Another thing I didn’t like was how even though Grove tried to relate to other industries, those examples were very short of details and it all came back to Intel. The book would have been better marketed as a book about running Intel because it didn’t seem to translate well to other industries. Instead of helping to identify a strategic inflection point (Grove’s name for a time when change is needed), he tells you how it felt to him at Intel. This is a little too soft to be helpful.

Grove comes off as the hero of his story but I believe he is a hero at Intel. If he wasn’t, I don’t think he’d get a book about him published. He doesn’t name others in his story so he’s the only person we can see the transformation through and, as he’s written the book on it (literally), he is great at finding the inflection points he talks about.

I’m a bit confused about where the title came from. Grove never mentioned being very paranoid or why being paranoid is a good thing specifically in the book, though it’s implied a paranoid person would be better at identifying strategic inflection points because he or she would be paying attention to the signs that they’re coming. I think Grove should have been a bit more straightforward about this.

I feel like I’m a paranoid person sometimes. I did like that Grove gave me a few things worth being paranoid over, though I’m not sure how helpful they will be unless I’m a CEO. I think this book could be good for small business owners, too. Anyway. I thought ‘listening to Cassandra’s’ was a fun lesson but I’m worried I’m more likely to be a Cassandra than be in a position to listen to one. I guess it’s letting me know to speak up?

Andrew Grove Image via The Seattle Times

Andrew Grove
Image via The Seattle Times

The best and worst part of the book (at least my edition) was the final chapter on the internet. With about 20 years of ‘seeing what will happen,’ the advice and predictions were laughable. Grove’s inclusion of this topic made the book seem dated more than it should have. It was funny to read the things that were wrong and insightful to see what a doomsday approach many were taking know what’s happened from this side of time. I wonder what we’re blowing out of proportion now that others will laugh about in 20 years.


The overarching theme I got from this book was to always be on your toes and not to be afraid of making big changes. The change Grove took Intel through changed their core business and was risky. Grove realized, though, that the risk of not moving was greater. Look at the number of companies that we’ve lost who didn’t adapt including, the greatest loss to me, Borders. Barnes & Noble developed the Nook and ebooks where Borders failed to adapt. Kodak fell in a similar way. Sticking to your guns can be the most dangerous in a technologically advanced world.

Writer’s Takeaway: Books don’t always age well. Technology will change and things that seemed futuristic in the 50s seem outdated or ridiculous now. Reading dystopias such as Huxley’s Brave New World now can seem silly. At the same time, it’s easy to read old books and think ‘that would be solved with smart phones.’ It’s hard to write a book that won’t feel dated, but I think the less technology involved, the better. One of my WIPs is a contemporary book and while texting and phones play a big part in the plot, I try to limit references to them to keep the content slightly more timeless.

Enjoyable book but not very applicable to the average businessperson in the 21st century. Two out of Five Stars


Until next time, write on.

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