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 . . .