Sunday, July 30, 2006

A General Theory of Love - Lewis, Amini, Lannon

It's rather odd to think that a book of this title could be considered a business read. That was my own thought when I found it on Amazon while searching for Orbiting the Giant Hairball. What caught my eye was the high percentage of people who had purchased this book while looking at other business books. Very odd. And I love very odd things.

As the title suggests, the book takes a close look at where love comes from. Where does it come from? The authors, M.D.s and professors of psychiatry, trace the evolution of the human brain from its reptilian beginnings, to the formation of a limbric brain shared by mammals, to the addition of the neocortical brain that humans alone possess. The physiology of the brain is discussed extensively and the book examines research that has taken place only within the last 20 years. We are told that this is but the very beginning of this type of scientific research into the brain. The discovery, largely by accident, that certain drugs affect brain chemistry, that in turn affect behavior, has ushered in what the authors call the "post-Prozac generation." Neuro-transmitters and neural pathways in the brain have a lot to do with not only what we think, but certainly how we feel.

The first part of the book is heavily technical, but it's important to understand the physiological aspects of brain function before moving onto how that function produces emotion. The authors cover the gamut from attachment theory in infants to the affect of managed healthcare on mental health issues. Part of the book focuses on the critical impact of how we nuture infants, and they draw on many animal studies to support their theories. Recently, I was sent an email about a baby hippo that had formed a relationship with an old turtle following the tsunami in 2004 that left the hippo motherless. Those photos of the hippo and the turtle illustrate the attachment theory described in this book. At every turn and in every chapter, I found that I could understand and believe what these psychiatrists had to say about how the human mind and the human heart function in making us the people we are.

The true test of these theories was over the dinner table with my children. Reading the book was an exercise in self examination. It made me think about how I was raised myself, and also about the kind of mother I have been. My daughter of 20 was the most interested in the book and jumped right into a discussion about the theories I described and their relevance to my life and to hers. We agreed there seemed to be a lot to what these authors have to say about how we experience the world and how that affects who we love and how we love.

I highly recommend the book. Much of this research is new and science has contributed so much to our understanding of the human mind that it is a giant leap forward from the long held tenants of Freudian psychiatry. They tackle broad and far reaching issues that affect Americans culturally: the escalating suicide rate among adolescents; a rise in the number of young violent criminals; the high percentage of people being treated for depression and anxiety; and the impact of outsourcing child rearing on our future generations. Whether you agree with everything they posit or not, it's worth the time to consider their arguments.

If nothing else, I learned something important about myself. To me that is the most rewarding part of reading a good book - to feel that I came away with something I didn't have before. This book is definitely thought provoking and its subject is universal to all that harbor a human heart.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands - Kevin Roberts

This is a terrific book that has the added benefit of being visually appealing in addition to providing valuable and engaging content. The author is Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of the agency Saatchi & Saatchi. The book was mentioned in an article that appeared in the May 1, 2006, issue of BusinessWeek entitled "Detergent Can Be So Much More." I was convinced after reading the article that Roberts was on to something when he talked about trying to understand the relationship that people have with the products and services they use. They set out to see first hand how people used Proctor & Gamble products in their home. Unlike other types of research that rely on focus groups or surveys, their focus was on how their customers actually shop for and then use certain types of products like dish washing detergent. This is particularly important when introducing products into foreign markets where culturally they may perceive or use products differently. This is a whole new way of looking at marketing: understanding the consumer experience and peoples relationship to the brands they love.

Hence the term "Lovemark" evolved to mean those products/services/companies that inspire "loyalty beyond reason." Saatchi & Saatchi has even set up a very innovative website at that captures those feelings by providing a forum where people from all over the world can nominate, vote and talk about their own "lovemarks." In looking at some of the many brands that had been nominated already, I discovered I had lovemarks of my own: Subaru, Panera, BusinessWeek, FastCompany and the Violet Crumble candy bar. It's a very cool thing to see what other people have written about and to articulate what you LOVE about certain things you would never want to be without. Blue Ocean Strategy was nominated along with the book's website, and when I clicked through to their site one of the rolling quotes that came up was "Blue ocean companies have fans rather than customers." And I thought that was also an excellent summation of what Roberts is saying in "Lovemarks."

So marketing in the 21st century really has to be about consumer experiences and their relationship to the things they spend their money on. Roberts covers how all of our five senses play into how we feel about certain products, and how those sensory perceptions need to be incorporated into marketing. The book is rich in pictures, quotes and examples of some of their past marketing campaigns, including those done for public service and non-profits.

One of my favorite quotes was about the importance of stories. How companies need to tell their stories to differentiate themselves and to create an important connection to their customers/fans. Not long after reading this book, I opened my monthly mortgage statement to see that Wells Fargo Mortgage had set up a special website for a essay contest they were having. The gist of the contest is that they give you the opportunity to win money toward the purchase of your next home in exchange for telling them your story. I thought the timing of that was very ironic, but indicative of how companies are buying into Roberts perspective on how marketing needs to tap into how people relate to the companies they do business with in a very personal way.

Equally interesting was the appearance of Kevin Roberts again in the June 2006 issue of FastCompany magazine. In the "Open Debate" column on the very last page Roberts and Brian Collins go head-to-head in a discussion about how companies need to engage their customers through marketing. I think the book is a great read and full of terrific information that companies need to understand in order to reach out to their customers and potential customers. A quote from the book that really spoke to me was this: “Be Passionate. Consumers can smell a fake a mile off. If you’re not in Love with your own business, they won’t be either.” Truer words were never written.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gone Fishin' (so to speak . . .)

Well I haven't made a worthy post the entire month of April. This is because I went on vacation the first part of April for the first time in several years, packing up the kids and departing for a week at a quiet condo by the water in North Carolina, and in doing so gave myself permission to read books simply for pleasure. This is sort of like walking into a penny candy store with a dollar to spend. (This is an experience I actually had in my lifetime, but a long, long time ago.)

So this is what I read in the month of April that has absolutely nothing to do with feeding my business acumen, but a lot to do with feeding my soul. I felt that I needed to make an accounting of myself.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Fabulous book, I just loved it!

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. A gripping narrative, I loved it.

The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick. A real page turner. I read it in a single day. Great book.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Fascinating book. I believed every word of it.

An Unfinished Marriage by Joan Anderson. Picked it up second hand, no explanation as to why, but I loved the book. It's a sequel to her first book entitled A Year by the Sea which I have not read. I think it's very thought provoking no matter what your marital status.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. You have to be in the right frame of mind for Hunter, and I was. Definitely puts life in a very different perspective.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. The kids and I listened to the unabridged audio book on the way down and on the way back from NC. Very exciting plot and full of fascinating information. I can see why it was a bestseller.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I love this writer and have read all of her other books, but started this one years ago and put it down. The beginning is depressing, but it's worth pushing through. The story draws you in and the amount of detail about the Congo is amazing. That type of detail regarding nature is what I loved about Prodigal Summer.

Three Sisters in Black: The Bizarre Case of the Bathtub Tragedy by Norman Zierold. This book was published in 1968, the year I started first grade at Christiansburg Primary School. Part of the story takes place in Christiansburg, VA, and one of the sisters and one of their victims, a nephew, is buried there. It was an urban legend that I grew up with and I was glad to find this out of print first edition. It's just as fascinating now as I remember it being back when I read it at age 10. Truth is very much stranger than fiction and this is a great true story.

Done. I hope I have properly acquitted myself for being so lax in posting book reviews to this blog. I will buckle down now and get back to business (in a manner of speaking) by starting at the top of a tall stack of business books that have been accumulating while I ran amok literarily in the month of April. I recommit myself to the mission of the blog in earnest now . . .

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Small Giants - Bo Burlingham

Subtitled: "Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big." I loved this book. It is so passionate and it resonates so deeply to the core of what drives the successful small business. The writing is excellent, which is no surprise since Burlingham is editor-at-large for Inc. magazine and has been associated with that publication from the beginning. In fact the idea for the book came from an article he wrote for the magazine.

He profiles fourteen privately owned small businesses in a variety of industries and traces their beginnings from inception through growing pains, transitions, successions and awakenings to where they are today. Having been a part of several small companies over the last twenty-three years, this book spoke to me in a way that perhaps it wouldn't to a reader who has not had that experience. Throughout it all, Burlingham does not hide his unabashed admiration for what these small giants have accomplished. His enthusiasm and passion for his subjects is what makes the book such a joy to read.

I recently came across a quote from Albert Einstein that I thought was very interesting. He said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a servant. We have created a society that worships the servant and has overlooked the gift." These entrepreneurs have that intuitive gift and used it to build companies that are remarkable. It's very motivating to read a book that chooses to emphasize an aspect of business development that can't be easily pinned down with charts, graphs, tables, ratios and percentages. This is the very human aspect of what it takes to make a vision and a dream a reality - a successful one.

So I've put it on my CEO's desk with a note that I loved the book and hope he will find the time to read it. Much of what Burlingham admires about the entrepreneurs in his book, I also admire about the CEO of our company as well. It's definitely on my "Must Read" list of recommended books.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Rise of the Creative Class - Richard Florida

Subtitled ". . . and how it's transforming work, leisure, community, & everyday life." The book was published in 2002 and is probably even more relevant today than it was when it came out. The author is currently a professor at George Mason University's School of Public Policy, in addition to consulting, writing, speaking and being quoted in several recent issues of BusinessWeek on topics from planned communities to home schooling. His website is a testament to what it means to be an active member of the Creative Class that he has identified and should not be missed at It's kept up-to-date with the articles he's published (including a rebuttal to Thomas Freidman's book The World is Flat in the October 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly) and reviews of his newest book Flight of the Creative Class.

Everyone needs to read this book. It's just that important. I could sit here and recap all the amazing things this man has to say about our past, our present and our future, but suffice it to say that every word of it makes absolute sense to me. What makes the book truly compelling is the combination of thorough research (for the number crunchers among us), an engaging writing style, and his evident passion for his subject. I ran out of post-it flags before I got to the end of the book.

I hesitate to try and encapsulate the main thesis of the book because it simply wouldn't do it justice. Florida explains how the next iteration of our economy will be based on all things related to creativity and innovation. Unlike major economic developments of the past that relied on natural resources, industrial development, transportation and manufacturing, going forward the mainstay of the American economy will be based on innovation and ideas. These things can only be produced by people - the Creative Class. Cities and regions that develop communities that attract these types of people will become the new centers of industry in this country. He persuasively shows through extensive research how the 3 T's - Technology, Talent and Tolerance - will predict which areas will become the next Silicon Valley. The Creative Class will flock to these areas and companies who need them will follow.

Florida's writing is not all tables and charts (although no one could find fault with his empirical data), some of it is based on his experience as a professor and researcher at Carnegie Mellon and his many years as a resident of Pittsburgh, a struggling post-industrial city. He has conducted many focus groups, been invited to consult with regional economic development councils all over the country, and analyzed successful communities outside our borders such as Dublin, Ireland.

The message of this book is an important one. I simply can't put in a few paragraphs how essential these concepts are to understanding what is happening now and what will be happening for the next several decades. I've already purchased Flight of the Creative Class and will be interested to see where he takes these concepts next.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Every Book Its Reader - Nicholas A. Basbanes

Subtitled: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World, I have not actually read this book. I read a review of the book in the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Sometimes they tuck these little gems at the very back amid the advertising, which is where I found this one. Kathleen Burke, a senior editor at Smithsonian, reviewed the book and made it sound interesting enough that it's gone on my "Must Read" list.

Basbanes writes "Books not only define lives, civilizations, and collective identities, they also have the power to shape events and nudge the course of history, and they do it in countless ways." The review lists some of the figures whose reading the author examines, among them John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill. It makes me wonder how historians of the next century will look back on the movers and shakers of this one and what influenced them. Instead of books, will it be podcasts, summits, conferences, blogs and websites that are noted for their power to influence? It's interesting to consider the importance in this day and age of books, and their impact on the development of great minds in this 21st century. I suppose it's one of those things that can only be known in hindsight.

It's actually made me feel the presence even more of David McCullough's John Adams on the shelf in my bedroom where it has collected dust for two years waiting to be read. It's in good company with many other fine books awaiting their day. Meanwhile the pile of books that promise to illuminate the future of business grows taller next to my chair in the living room, with new ones being added faster than the old ones are being read. Given that my time upon this planet is finite, I certainly hope that I've chosen well.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tough Times for Leaders of the Pack - BusinessWeek

Under "Stock Talk" in the Up Front section of the January 30, 2006 edition of BusinessWeek , there appears an item entitled "Tough Times for Leaders of the Pack." Consultants at Marakon Associates did some research on shareholder return among market leaders and came to what is obviously a newsworthy conclusion.

"In analyzing 3,260 public companies, Marakon's Brian Burwell and Jeremy Sicklick discovered that between 1999 and 2004, the median total shareholder return was 1.8% for market leaders vs. 9.5% for non-leaders. What gives?" Here are two people who did not read Richard Miniter's book The Myth of Market Share. The conclusions they draw as reported in this small item are rather insubstanial, with the exception of pointing out that many mergers and acquisitions did not produce the gains expected over the last five years. Burwell sums it up with this observation, "Serving large numbers of customers is less of an advantage today than it was 10 years ago." A concept that might be true but is highly unlikely to be embraced by any business.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Art of Friendship - Roger & Sally Horchow

This is a very enjoyable and engaging read that left me highly motivated to do a better job at being a more attentive friend. It was a Christmas gift from a friend who is also an agent with the same company that I work for. He is great about doing all of the thoughtful things that keep friendships alive, and not coincidentally, he is one of the company's top agents as well. Although this book is not about building relationships in the business sense, there's no question there is a great deal of skill overlap in how we maintain relationships in both our personal and professional lives.

Roger Horchow is the pioneering catalogue retailer from Dallas and Sally is his daughter. The forward to the book is written by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point. Gladwell actually profiles Roger Horchow in chapter two of the Tipping Point entitled "The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen." Some people are natural connectors and it's obvious that Roger is one of them. He genuinely enjoys people and he enjoys bringing people he knows together. I must admit I enjoy doing that also, but engage in that practice primarily in the business world.

My kids' reaction to the book when I opened it Christmas morning was very funny: "Why did he give you a book on friendship? Does he think you don't have any?" And from another one: "Why did he give you a self-help book on friendship? Does he think you're no good at it?" This is Generation Y speaking. Chip was floored at their response - but then he has no teenagers.

In the preface to the book I'm currently reading, The Rise of the Creative Class, author Richard Florida observes the following: "Our family structures are morphing. The kinds of communities we need to support us are changing, as we replace a small number of strong-tie relationships with a much greater number of weak-tie relationships." This is very true in a world where people are far more mobile than they used to be. I live three states away from my immediate family and don't see them very often. Growing up, I spent summers at my Granny's house in a small Virginia town where her home was a social center for her many friends who came by for card parties, dinner parties, barbeques or just a chat on the porch. She had known most of these people for most of her life. I have few friends that fit that description, and most people in my current world have a similar network of more transient relationships - ones dependent on where they are working, living or the activities they are engaged in at the moment.

At the end of the day, no matter how successful we are in business, if we don't make the time or acquire the skills to have a strong network of friends - where's the reward? Titles, money and acquisitions are a poor substitute for genuine and caring relationships. This book is bound to inspire anyone who reads it to make more of an effort to nurture their friendships.

** Note: Author Sally Horchow informs me that this was an exlusive first edition I received and it has sold out. The second printing will be available in October and can be pre-ordered from

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Myth of Market Share - Richard Miniter

Subtitled "Why Market Share is the Fool's Gold of Business" it is full of sound research and some interesting case studies. Published in 2002, it obviously didn't make it to any bestseller lists, but it's a very worthwhile read. At 172 pages the investment of time is worth the return.

Miniter gives some background on the genesis of the theory that market share and profit are closely tied together and how this came to be a commonly accepted fact. He makes a sound case for focusing on being a profit leader rather than a market leader and backs that up with facts, figures and examples.

My post-it flags marked some well phrased thoughts that sum up his position beautifully:

"Profit leaders think about customers, not competitors, and think about next quarter's opportunities, not justifying last quarter's market share." (Pg. 12)

"Market share is not an advantage, by itself. It is the result of a sustainable competitive advantage, not the cause." (Pg. 15)

"What the profit leader knows can be distilled into two statements: A market-share strategy leads companies to set their sites on the past, not the future; and market share is about the competition, not customers." (Pg. 159)

He does make exceptions for the importance of market share in two arenas: network markets (think fax machines, phones, email where many people have to have it in order for it to have value); and double sided markets (Visa needs both cardholders and participating merchants). But those exceptions are very narrow and specific within the context of his theories.

There is an excellent chapter on mergers that echoes a lot of what Jack Welch says about mergers & acquisitions in his new book Winning. In fact there are quotes from Welch and references to GE throughout this book. Some of the most interesting material for me was case studies of two companies I was not familiar with: F. Hoffman-LaRoche and Europe's Ryanair. (He also examines Dell's strategy, but some of that material is dated having been written over 3 years ago.) The strategy Hoffman-LaRoche used to turn around their business is very relevant to issues we are dealing with as well. They chose to focus on "customer delight" and revamped how they interacted with their client base. There is some very good information on how they raised outstanding customer satisfaction to the core of their strategy, and how they decided to handle inquiries coming into their company to acheive that.

All in all, a very good book but not likely to change the minds of those who believe market share is the goal. Miniter quotes Donald Potter of Windermere Associates on that subject twice: "It is like trying to change someone's religion."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Light Their Fire - Drake, Gulman & Roberts

Subtitled "Using Internal Marketing to Ignite Employee Performance and WOW Your Customers" the three authors have also set up a website by the same name at

The book is excellent and a very informative and engaging read. It took me awhile to get through it because I would find with each section my mind would wander over what we are doing (or not doing) in our own company. I would zone out on a particular topic and then realize I had stopped reading to ponder. The book is very practical and written for those of us who know that internal marketing is critical to the success of our company, but who are not marketing professionals. It's written in plain language for regular people.

It starts out with basic information about internal brands, analyzing the situation, setting goals & objectives, knowing your audiences and targeting your message. The book builds to greater detail and offers examples of timelines, vehicles of communication, and even has an appendix with samples of things like surveys and even a speech. It has great examples and anecdotes of what companies have successfully accomplished in their internal marketing campaigns, including Hampton Inn, Holiday Inns and Southwest Airlines.

It was interesting how much time they gave to employee training and orientation programs as part of internal marketing; the importance of the Human Resources Department in these efforts; and how Department to Department (D2D) cooperation is critical to successfully implementing an internal marketing and branding campaign. They also spent time in outlining how employee recognition and rewards drives these efforts over the long term. I liked the fact that they gave great examples of what other companies have done. They would be easy for any company to emulate.

Lots of quotable quotes in here - post-it flags are everywhere! Toward the end of the book I came across a good summary of one of the book's theses: "Internal marketing is a marriage with your employees. It's a way of building honest relationships that will carry you through good times and rocky ones. Just like in marriage, you can't afford to wait until the whole arrangement crumbles to pay attention to the partnership. You have to take preventative steps." It echoes what I've read recently about the new breed of Generation Y employees: employment has gotten to be more like a marriage where each party expects to have their needs met. It's no longer a one sided relationship where the employer wields the power because they control the paycheck. More jobs than employees means that employees have more choices.

On my refrigerator is a calendar with our number one competitor's logo on it. It was left in my door by one of their real estate agents for the second year in a row. Last year, I just took the pages out and put them in the plastic frame with my company's logo on it - one that was given to me by my own real estate agent in 2004. This year I put the competitor's calendar up there to remind me every single morning when I reach for the milk, that battles are won and lost based on what can seem like mere details. After 11 years with my company, knowing thousands of agents, hundreds of them on a first name basis, despite considering some of them personal friends - at the end of the day it was a competitor who provided me with my 2006 calendar. It makes me wonder what is on the refrigerator of our 2,000 employees - and why as a company we don't make certain that it's our own company logo that employees see every day in their own homes. That is just one tiny example of thinking in terms of internal marketing, branding and communicating with a company's most important asset - its people.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Radical Careering - Sally Hogshead

Subtitled 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life the book delivers on the promise of the title. What a way to start the first day of a new year! This is my recommended "must read" for this year. The book is tiny - not much bigger than an actual drink coaster - but not one word or thought is fluff or filler. It's beautifully crafted - the thoughts, titles, layouts, graphics - the whole package. It's written in plain-speak and it hit the mark for me.

The book was recommended to me by Thom Brockett in a chance encounter last week in the cafe. (Or is there such a thing as chance encounters?) His enthusiasm for the book sold me on it (he had previously recommended Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, which I loved) and I got the book right away.

In looking at the "Radical 100 Research" results that Sally outlines in the very opening of the book, there was no question I fit the profile of the "Careerist" that emerged from the interviews of Gen X'ers between 25 and 45. Yes, I knew from the start she was talking about me, as well as talking directly to me. The deeper I got into the book, the more I was amazed at how she could speak to things I think about constantly, yet discuss with no one. It's that incredible realization that I am not the only one out there struggling with these issues! She states up front that one of the motivations for writing this book was not finding a book that spoke to the issues she herself was facing. I'd say she hit a bulls eye in both articulating and addressing the larger questions of our day - at least for those of us who fit the description under Radical Truth 64.

I used up my post-it flags (the only way I can bring myself to mark a book) with yellow for quotes I wanted to remember, purple for the websites I will go back and visit, and pink for those stand out thoughts I will put up on my mirror so I remember them every day. This book is truly the tool it claims to be. I can take from it what makes sense and is useful to me, and those things will probably vary from one reader to the next.

My urge is to quote all of the awesome things I marked, but I won't. You need to read this for yourself. But two of the Radical Truths marked for posting on the mirror: 53 - "Don't Focus on Your Job to the Detriment of Your Career"; and 59 - "Build, Don't Maintain." Here's the thing - "leaders are builders." Yep, that's a radical truth all right.

The book is an investment. Run out and get it. Put this on your New Year's Resolution List - "Read Radical Careering." It's one of those things you need to do for yourself. And then you need to recommend it to someone else . . .