Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love

Author: David Sturt

Publisher: McGraw-Hill © 2014 Citation

Reviewed by Thanh Bui
This book offers insights on how difference makers think and what they do. It contains countless of real life examples and success stories that we can all relate to. I many cases, making a huge difference may come from  very simple concepts and most of the time it doesn’t cost a fortune.


How Difference Makers Think


-Reframe your role: the role of difference makers is available to everyone.

-Work with what you’ve got: Good is not the enemy of Great, it’s the foundation of Great. There are a lot of Good things that we already have. Learn how to turn those “Good”  into “Great”.


What Difference Makers Do


Ask the right questions: Ask if there’s something new the world would love.


Think how air rushes to fill the void when you open a vacuum-sealed jar. Asking the Right Question creates a sort of empty space in the brain for new ideas. That, in turn, allows all kinds of possibilities, refinements, and improvements to start rushing in. Once we set our intention on making a difference for others, we’re ready to start looking for new ideas and possibilities.


See for yourself


Difference makers look with their own eyes from a variety of perspectives to see new possibilities. Each new perspective adds critical information, new ideas, and fuel for the difference-making journey.


Eiji Nakatsu was a Japanese engineer for the bullet trains that run between Osaka and Hakata, Japan. The initial design of the bullet train produced  a very loud sonic boom when the train enters and exits the tunnel. Eiji Nakatsu noticed that the sonic boom was caused by a sudden change in air resistance similar to the way the kingfisher bird flies in and out of water to catch fish, he then studied the kingfisher’s beak profile and came up with a new design for the bullet train that mimics the bird’s beak. Problem solved.


Subaru of Indiana has gone from 15 tons of waste per day in 2002 to zero landfill by 2006. By observing workers and asking questions, they came up with all kinds of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle their materials. The 49 pounds of waste generated per car has been reduced to just 0.07 pound—and even that doesn’t get sent to the landfill. It goes to a partner, Covanta Energy, where it gets burned to generate the steam that spins the giant turbines that help power downtown Indianapolis.


Talk with your outer circle


In 2004, Jessica was a staff member at Stanford Business School and Matt was a computer programmer. Just friends at the time, both of them had visions of making a difference with a cool business idea. They wanted to do something similar to the Grameen Bank, an institution that provides small loans to poor people without collateral.


Jessica and Matt did not start out as experts in foreign aid, microloans, or international finance, but through conversations, one after another after another, they became the people who could make the difference they dreamed of making.


Beta-tested in 2005,  Jessica and Matt’s hunch evolved into a nonprofit that, by 2013, has loaned almost $300 million to more than 700,000 entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries worldwide.




  1. MORE ORIGINAL IDEAS. The more fresh ideas we have to work with, the more those ideas interact with one another, knock the rough edges off, connect, disconnect, and reveal possibilities. Even the act of dealing with competing or opposing ideas will help us gain a more rounded perspective overall.
  1. PROXY FOR THE RECIPIENT. The people we have conversations with are stand-ins for the future recipients of our improvements. If we tune in and listen, others can give us keen insights into the heads and hearts of the people we hope to delight.
  1. NAYSAYING POINTS OF VIEW. Not everyone is going to understand or like our difference-making ideas. That’s valuable feedback that we shouldn’t ignore or be offended by. Indifferent, apathetic, even cynical people have a useful knack for bringing fantasy down to earth and calling out challenges, weak spots, and myopia.
  1. SPECIALIZED KNOW-HOW. Every person we share our improvement journey with will have his or her unique abilities. People with specialized know-how are fairly easy to pull in when they have the opportunity to help make a difference.
  1. EXHILARATING CONFIRMATION. When things are sparking, ideas are connecting, and answers are flowing, there is a parting of the clouds, a sudden clarity of thought, a synchronicity where things suddenly fall into place and make sense. It’s euphoric. And it’s a sign that we are on to something really cool.
  1. A DIFFERENCE-MAKING COMMUNITY. Conversations with inner-circle coworkers and friends, plus conversations with outer-circle experts and allies, can grow into a network of support—a collective intelligence of people whose joint desire to create something great will help make our improvements a reality.
  1. CONFIDENT CLARITY. Great work conversations establish our trajectory. They sift out the junk, refine our thinking, and clarify our purpose. The true potential of the difference we want to make comes into view.


Improve the mix


Anyone can practice working loose: sketching, diagramming, modeling, shaping, fine-tuning, and tweaking for the better. With practice, we get better at adding and removing ideas until everything just fits.


Deliver the difference: Create great work that inspires others


– Become sensitive to what people love.

– Improve your own difference-making ability.

– Become a catalyst for great work.

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