Monday, December 31, 2007

Stumbling on Happiness - Daniel Gilbert

This is a great book! It's a fascinating read that is also laugh-out-loud funny. I had to read it when I could steal the time away to do it, which meant taking the book to the hair salon, the nail salon, the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and Jiffy Lube. You know - all the places you are forced to sit still. And I would sit there and find myself laughing out loud surrounded by other people. Now that's a good book!

The book is well researched and full of empirical data supporting the theories put forth by Gilbert, a Harvard University psychologist. It's not an easy read because it makes you stop, think, re-read what you just read to see if you are really understanding it, before you can go on. It took me awhile to finish this book, but I loved every minute of it.

It's full of interesting concepts that make you want to share the book with lots of other people you know. In fact, when I told Dan Heath, one of the co-authors of the book Made to Stick (reviewed here in May '07), that I was reading this book and thought it was just fantastic, he emailed me back that it was one of his favorite books of 2007! Need I say more?

Well yes, I'll say a little more. Everything Gilbert talks about in this book made absolute sense to me. I can't say that I will suddenly be able to experience my life differently after understanding some of the common mistakes of perception and belief that I am now aware of. But I think I will be more conscious of how I perceive things and what factors affect my judgment and my ability to accurately project future outcomes and how I will feel about them.

Page 242 had a very enlightening section that I have shared with a number of people. This is how how he introduces the topic: "The belief-transmission game explains why we believe some things about happiness that simply aren't true. The joy of money is one example. The joy of children is another that for most of us hits a bit closer to home." Yes, and how!

The book is a fascinating, informative and enjoyable read. I agree with Dan Heath's assessment. This was one of my favorite books of 2007 as well!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

I was just in Borders with my son buying him some books he had to have tonight, when I saw The Alchemist on a shelf near the front of the store. I read that book for the first time last month. I thought it was wonderful, but for some reason it never occurred to me to write about it here. I suppose it was because I was in a strange place, both literally and figuratively speaking, when I read it.

I had agreed to house-sit and pet-sit for a friend while he was away for a week or so around Labor Day. The first night I was at his place, which is a beautiful rural property that's rather isolated, my mother passed away in Georgia. For the next week, I was alone with the dog and the cat and a lot of books. And it was a very peaceful and introspective time for me. I read some novels as a treat to myself, and then I started reading what was lying about the house. The Alchemist was sitting on a stack of books. I was lucky to be in the home of a reader and there were books everywhere. So I picked it up on my way to the hot tub one evening. It's a slim volume and an easy read, so a couple of nights in the hot tub, with a fair number of Coronas, in the middle of a pastoral setting under a setting September sun was ample time to read it cover to cover.

If I had to pinpoint one thing that resonated with me the most, it was about listening to one's own heart. That sounds a bit pat, but it doesn't in the context of the book - which is a parable. The book also talks about "living your own Personal Legend" which for me immediately conjured up images of Don Quixote. I remembered vividly working on the show "Man of LaMancha" the summer after my freshman year in college and for days I kept hearing all the songs from that show running through my head.

The book deserves to be the bestseller that it is. It speaks in simple terms of simple truths that most of us seem unable to comprehend - much less live. And life is a quest. For some of us, it's a quest filled with drama (complete with a Greek chorus, sets and costumes.) There are those of us who knew from the beginning we would not lead "lives of quiet desperation" that Thoreau recognized among "the mass of men." But if not the life lived as the masses do, then what?

It's a thought provoking book. And like other books of its kind, it will truly impact only those with open minds who seek to understand and learn. That's not everyone.

As it has been with other books that I've read that made a deep impression, I will remember the place and circumstance of my reading this book as much as the book itself. I keep listening to my heart and wondering if I can believe what it tells me. Right now I think maybe it's in the wrong location. And in real estate, it's all about location, location, location . . .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Daily Six - John Chappelear

Subtitled: Six Simple Steps to Find the Perfect Balance of Prosperity and Purpose. This is small but powerful book - 130 pages. I picked it up on impulse at the Olsson's bookstore at Reagan National Airport back in August when I was flying down to stay with my mother. As it turned out, my mother was moved to Hospice the day after I arrived and this book was one of two that I read while sitting in her room for a week as she slowly slipped away. My mother was a great one for saying that everything happens for a reason: good or bad, whether you can figure it now or perhaps only later, there's a reason.

Written by an entrepreneur who made and lost both a fortune and his family, the text rings genuine and authentic. This is his journey to rebuilding his life and doing a better job the second time around. This book is in fact as transforming as it claims to be. Or I suppose it can be transforming if one is open to the message about re-focusing life pursuits in a way that is both spiritually as well as financially rewarding. The two things that struck me the most from this book were the concepts that happiness can be found through gratitude, and that our life goal should be the pursuit of being someone and not something. My mother understood both of those principles without ever reading this book and it's how she lived her life.

The second book I read while sitting there at Hospice was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I had actually gotten the book for my mother based on's recommendation, which kept popping up when I selected books for her that I had already read and loved. My mother liked the book so much that my sister-in-law Carol read it, then insisted that my brother Tom read it, after which Tom said my sister and I ought to read it, so Wendy got it first and I got it last.

While not a business book per se, The Glass Castle is a story so well told that I can't imagine who could walk away from it untouched in some way. I don't believe I could do adequate justice to try and describe this memoir, but the lesson I think it had for me and my family is that it's possible to overcome the most adverse of circumstances and make the choice to embrace what is good about your family and your life, and let the rest go. As a family, we have done that to a great degree. But not to the degree in which Jeannette Walls has. What happens to us in life, and how we feel about it and how it affects us, is really about choice. My mother understood that happiness is not something you earn, or deserve, nor is it a gift that's given or something someone else makes you feel. It's a choice. And she chose it over all of the other options even when things were terrible. Jeannette has chosen it as well and this book is a wonderful telling of an amazing life's journey.

I highly recommend that the two books be read in tandem as I think it makes the message of each more powerful.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Satisfaction - Chris Denove and James D. Power IV

Subtitled: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Consumer. It is co-authored by one of the principals of the legendary J.D. Power and Associates, who pioneered the customer satisfaction survey 35 years ago. It is a must read. Now you might think sometimes, as I do, that it is ridiculous that books are written about concepts that are so obvious. Like Duh! Who does not understand this?

Well, it would appear that the majority of people do not understand many basic business concepts. Before I launch into my review of this book, I must share with you the little ironies that seem to rule my daily life. I was nearly finished this book, and decided to walk up the street from my house to a little Italian Deli. The weather was warm, but I thought it would be a great evening to sit outside, have a light dinner and a little wine while I read my book. It was very early on a Friday evening. I've been to the SfiZi Deli twice before and had unremarkable but acceptable service. That places me, in the JD Powers vernacular, in the deadly "Satisfied" category where generally a customer is so apathetic we don't discuss the company at all. To either side of that designation is "Advocate" and "Assassin." The idea being that all businesses should strive to cultivate a legion of Advocates.

My meal was good, I got a second glass of wine, and as the regulars started to arrive, I sat outside completely ignored. Now keep in mind, from a restaurant's perspective single diners are not desired. We take up a table and we don't generate the kind of tab a party of four is going to rack up. If you read Danny Meyer's book "Setting the Table" he talks about this. After being snubbed as a lone diner in restaurants in Europe, Danny made it a point that single diners are taken great care of in his own 10 restaurants in New York. His attitude is that it's an honor that a person chose his restaurants out of all the options they had to select from, and so they should be treated as if they have bestowed an honor on his establishment. Good attitude to take. Danny goes on to say that some of their most loyal and regular diners over the years have been people dining alone. Well Fairfax City is not New York City, let me just tell you that right away.

So here I am outside, with an empty wine glass and an empty water glass, prepared to order another wine and dessert. Only no one bothered to come out to ask. I see the manager meeting and greeting his regulars by name as they arrive for what is probably a regular night out for dinner. I'm sitting there reading a book on customer satisfaction until I am so annoyed I put the book down and just stare through the window willing someone to notice me. But they don't. So I finally pick up my empty glasses, flounce inside the restaurant, and ask if I could please pay my check. The waitress apologizes that she has not been out and says, "I hope we don't lose you over this." At which point, I silently sign the credit card receipt and leave - never to return. This is the birth of an Assassin and it happens in a very short amount of time.

But that's not the end of the story. I arrive home, aggravated to the extreme, and decide to check my email. In my Inbox, there is a third follow up from Yahoo Local Listings on why they haven't managed to change an incorrect address on a business listing 6 weeks after I requested it. A very nice customer service representative name Rohan is now apologizing for the third time over why this hasn't been done. I thank Rohan for his follow-up and then proceed to explain why this is simply not acceptable. Especially when I am paying for this listing. Changing an address can't possibly take a company the size of Yahoo 6 weeks to accomplish - this is not rocket science - it's just not. Meanwhile it's out on the Internet as an active listing with a completely wrong address. This is another example of how Assassins are born. All in the same day, all while I am reading this truly extraordinary book.

This is a long winded introduction to why books like this HAVE to be written. Because companies all over the world, every day, big ones and small ones, do not understand the basic principles of customer service and how that drives their bottom line profit. J. D. Power and Associates are uniquely positioned to paint a very accurate picture of customer satisfaction's impact on company profits after three decades of surveying customers and companies in a wide variety of industries. Their Customer Satisfaction Awards are like the Oscars of the business world.

They have wonderful case studies and profiles, and they display the metrics quite clearly to show correlations between survey results and profits by company, branch and even individual sales person. The book is such an enjoyable read. It's well written and incredibly interesting. They discuss empowerment of front line employees and how it's imperative that the people interacting with clients understand the company's philosophy about customer service rather than relying on rigid policy to dictate that employee's response. Nordstrom is held up as the classic example of employee empowerment. My daughter works in an upscale retail clothing store and we have these discussions about store policy versus the cost of customer satisfaction on a weekly basis. What is the cost of a refund or discount versus losing a regular customer and creating an Assassin? Upper management needs to make those decisions so that the front line employees on the floor can act with confidence to execute that philosophy on a case by case basis without fear of reprisal. But I can tell you right now - it's not happening. In fact, it's not happening more often than it is happening.

One of my favorite profiles is about Craig Newmark, the founder of the phenomenally successful Craigslist. He stepped down and replaced himself as CEO to work in the Quality Control Department of his own company checking apartment listings on their site in New York. Why would he do that? He's not even the manager, he's just an employee. He did it because that's where he felt he was needed the most in order to maintain the integrity of what he had started in the first place. It totally spoke to me. This is from the book: According to Newmark, "I call it 'nerd value,' which is to do something where you'll earn a comfortable living for yourself and beyond that, it's most gratifying to change the world a little bit."

And here is the most amazing thing of all - Craigslist continues to show incredible growth and profitability. Not because the founder set out to become rich, but because he set out to "change the world a little bit." He is focused on the consumer and the consumer's experience through his website. And as long as he stays focused and committed to that, he's likely to maintain and grow his legion of Advocates. This is not a complicated idea, it just runs counter to what many people believe are accepted practices in running a successful business.

I highly recommend this book. It applies to everyone. Whether you sell cars or lemonade at the street corner, you have to create Advocates to grow your business. And that means understanding how customers value not only the quality of your product or new technical innovations, but their emotional connection to your company and power of every single interaction they have with your company's employees. That is where our focus needs to be, and it doesn't take millions of dollars to change a company's attitude. It just takes a few key people understand why it must be done, and the ability of those people to execute on the decision.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

the dip - Seth Godin

Subtitled: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (and When to Stick) One of the many things I love about is how they recommend books to me based on what I've purchased, or perused, in the past. That's one good reason I buy my books there. So this book recommendation actually came to me as an email one evening. Sounds pretty unremarkable up to this point, except it was a few days after I quit my job of five years in a company that I had been affiliated with for most of the last 20 years. I saw it as a "sign." And now that I've read the book, I'm even more convinced that some cosmic force out there was sending me a well timed message about the virtues - yes I said virtues - of quitting.

Culturally, quitters are not held in high esteem. It comes back to the old Vince Lombardi axiom about "Winners never quit, and quitters never win." It's a valid point, but he left out an important bit of information. A footnote about making certain you are pursuing something worthwhile. The Heath brothers (Made to Stick) would call this a "knowledge gap." Coach Lombardi presumed that we universally understand that not all things we pursue are created equally - that not everything we do is worthy of our time, talent and passion. He was talking about not quitting at those things we decide are worth winning. That's what this book is about.

Seth Godin is an accomplished writer and he hits his target again with a much needed work on why quitters do in fact win. It's important to evaluate what the long term benefits are of what we do, versus the short term pain of working through a "dip." Dips actually create value by eliminating competitors who don't stay the course to make it to the upside. Work through a dip, and you are on your way to being "the best in the world."

Cul-de-Sacs (French for "dead end") are another matter entirely. Staying the course is not going to bring us out on any upside. We get stuck in a place where we cannot move forward. As Godin points out, coping and muddling through, rationalizing a decision to stay in a cul-de-sac leads to mediocrity. That so struck a chord with me. He writes: "The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers."

I have always had a reputation for being persistent, and creative, and for working hard at what I do. There was never a shortage of passion or belief in the value of what I did every day, or in the company that I worked for. But at some point, I realized that it was a dead end. Godin points out, "Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can't see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn't any." And that's when it's time to quit that pursuit, and pour your energy into one worth pursuing. Coach Lombardi was talking about working through a dip, not floundering in a cul-de-sac, or going off a cliff.

This is a great little book. A very quick read and just the right investment of a Saturday afternoon that probably should have been spent pruning shrubs. The shrubs will be there tomorrow. I highly recommend this book. Godin has added his trademark uniqueness to the very last pages with his personal "best in the world" list, and a page that allows you to pass this book along to someone else who can pass it along to someone else, with everyone jotting their name on the list of those who have read it and passed it along. I love his Purple Cow thinking which is one of the reasons that Seth Godin is one of the best authors in the world!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Starbucks Experience - Joseph Michelli

Subtitled: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary. What a great read! I'm not even sure where to start. I was hooked from the first page to the last, and there are post-it flags in every chapter. Starbucks is a phenomenon. On that I think we can all agree. But they may well have created core business practices that could be a blueprint for companies in many other industries as well.

For those who love numbers, the numbers are impressive. The value of Starbucks has grown 5,000% since 1992. They have over 100,000 employees worldwide in over 37 countries, and their employees report an 82% job satisfaction rate. Starbucks opens five new stores a day, 365 days a year. Their employees who work 20 hours a week or more are entitled to health insurance.

None of that should be a surprise really. What is surprising is how this company set out to create a win-win-win for everyone whose world they touch. Corporately, they are committed to the well being and care of their employees (called "partners"), their partners are trained to focus on delivering the best possible experience (along with the coffee) to their customers. Starbucks gives to each local community in which they do business through their own charitable foundation and from the many volunteer hours their partners put into community based projects. They are committed to Fair Trade Certified coffee. They have a C.A.F.E. program that encourages the growers they do business with to work on sustaining their farming long term through good agricultural practices and taking care of their own people right down to the coffee pickers. They have a senior vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility. How many companies have that on their org chart?

The book is just completely engaging. Probably more so if you actually go to Starbucks, which I do. I don't have one particular Starbucks I frequent on a regular basis, although part of their business model is that they are part of many people's daily routine and provide a "third place." In other words, people go to work, they go home, and they go to Starbucks. I'm not quite that committed to the product, but I consider it a treat to myself to spend that kind of money on a cup of coffee, and I'm generally never disappointed - not in the product or the experience that is delivered along with it. More and more, it's a great "experience" that people are looking for in their transactions with companies they've chosen to do business with. Starbucks has come up with a method to train their employees to deliver a consistently outstanding product along with a highly personalized and genuine experience to their customers. This is certainly not beyond the reach of other businesses - no matter what the industry.

I truly believe the principles they have developed in making Starbucks such a phenomenal success can be applied to any business. Perhaps not in exactly the same way, but the principles are fairly basic. At the very least, after reading the book you will notice a whole lot more the next time you go into a Starbucks. I'm in Georgia at the moment and for the last two mornings have gone to Starbucks for coffee at a store that opened only a month ago. Watching the baristas and partners take my order, handle the drive-thru window, and interact with the other customers in the store has taken on a great deal of interest to me. It is a bit different from my experience with stores in Northern Virginia, but all my experiences have been consistently good ones no matter what Starbucks I've stopped in. And that is the true magic behind the business they have created - consistent quality with a personal touch. This book is well worth the time invested and should be required reading for all CEOs and corporate management. I would love to work for an organization like this one, and I'm sure I'm only one of thousands who feel the same way.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Setting the Table - Danny Meyer

Subtitled The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. I first knew about Danny Meyer from Bo Burlingham's book Small Giants (reviewed here in March 2006.) He was profiled as one of those entrepreneurs who had made the decision to control the growth of his business in order to maintain the true integrity, culture and value of the company he started. Shortly after that, Meyer was profiled in FastCompany Magazine just as his book was hitting the shelves in 2006.

Unfortunately for me, I have never set foot in any of the ten restaurants that Meyer has established in New York City, but feel as if I know him and his restaurants intimately after reading this book. The book is just such an enjoyable read, truly one of the most interesting and engaging business books ever! I could happily read it all over again - it's just that good. It's part autobiography, part coming of age story, with a great deal of story telling and shared wisdom from his mentors thrown in for good measure. His writing style is so very warm and personal, that it's easy to see how he has created restaurants that have exactly that same feel. And of course, that's the whole point of the book. Businesses can use the basic principles of hospitality throughout their organizations, internally and externally, to create an environment where employees thrive and consumers want to maintain their relationship.

I've got post flags stuck all over this book! One of my favorite concepts, and one I will carry with me always, is what he calls "The 51 Percent Solution." It's basically the idea that you can teach someone almost any skill necessary to do their job, you can't teach them to care about doing their job well. You have to hire for that. So his equation is that you hire based on 49 percent skill set, and 51 percent emotional intelligence. He put it like this: "It's not hard to teach anyone the proper way to set a beautiful table. What is impossible to teach is how to care deeply about setting the table beautifully." Not a hard concept to grasp: you hire for character - which is the one thing you can't teach someone. But how many of us try to grasp character traits from a resume or an interview? Is it even possible to do that? I believe absolutely that he has got this right, but it is a way of looking at employee hiring and management that is outside the mainstream.

There are so many wonderful analogies he uses, and the stories he tells are so absorbing I sometimes felt like I was reading a novel. His chapter on leadership, entitled "Constant, Gentle Pressure" is just excellent. He tells how one of his unlikely mentors, Pat Cetta who was himself an veteran restaurateur in NYC, gave him the example of a salt shaker in the center of an otherwise empty table. He explained that every day his employees and guests were going to move that salt shaker off the center of the table, and it was up to him as the leader to keep moving it back to the center. His center. That it was his job to let his people know what excellence looks like to him and what the core value of the business is. And so through a system of what he has termed constant, gentle pressure, Meyer learned to maintain the high standards of his business by continually leading his managers and employees back to the core values of the company. I thought that was a brilliant explanation of a basic leadership fundamental.

The whole book is like that. I have quoted parts of it in two different newsletter editions I put out earlier this year. If you are looking for something to take to the beach that isn't total fluff but is still thoroughly enjoyable, this book would be the one. I could happily start reading it all over again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Got You Here, Won't Get You There - Marshall Goldsmith

This book proposes to help us "Discover the 20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break." And I discovered I have quite a few of the 20. I listened to this as an audiobook, and then wanted to quote something out of it for a newsletter I was writing, so I ended up buying the actual book as well. I discovered that listening to books can be an excellent way of absorbing new ideas and an enjoyable way to add dimension to my daily walks with my dog. But it's hard to go back and "look things up." As a person who marks interesting passages with post-it flags, the audiobook experience has presented some challenges for me as a "reader." I was so excited about finding Execution on this little iPod like device that I had to show it to my 19-year-old daughter, who rolled her eyes in exasperation and pointed out that I could just buy an iPod and download whatever books I wanted to. (Educating old people exhausts and frustrates her.) Okay, so DUH! I got an iPod and started downloading books! It's technology stupid.

This book is so enjoyable and very practical. We all have habits that need improvement, and he points out in this book that not everyone has issues so severe they need to be fixed by an executive coach of his caliber. Nevertheless, there are things we can all improve, and making some minor adjustments in habits, attitude and perspective can net very big returns in the workplace and at home. He gives real life stories and case studies from his many years of experience coaching and training corporate executives. He also uses his own issues to illustrate how even an executive coach can fall prey to bad habits. There were things that made me laugh out loud. Like his discussion about office suck-ups. He gives a very funny example of how the family dog is the ultimate suck-up and we train them to be that way. It's the same for the suck-ups at the office.

The one idea that made the biggest impression on me was the idea of an informal accountability coach. Goldsmith has a longtime friend who calls him every night, no matter where he is in the world, and asks him a list of questions that he put together for himself. These questions are designed to help him stay accountable to his own goals: did he exercise, did he eat high fat foods, did he write that day, did he say something nice to his wife and to his kids? He goes over the list of his own questions and explains that his friend Jim only asks the questions. No commentary or criticism is allowed by the questioner. He said this book would never have been written without Jim calling daily to ask, "Did you write today?" I really loved this idea and told my mother that she could be my accountability coach. I talk to her every evening anyway and I think this will help her feel like she is playing a greater role in helping me be successful. Which is in fact the case. But I had to tell her that she cannot criticize or comment no matter what the answer is to the question: How many glasses of wine did you have tonight?" I'm working on making sure the answer is always "one."

This book is one that I will listen to more than once. Mainly because now that it's on my iPod, I just have to select it and it's there. And beyond getting the concepts the first time around, I think it's important to continually reinforce those concepts. How we get along with those around us impacts our ability to be successful - in our careers and in every other relationship we have. This book was an excellent investment of my time and I would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

I didn't actually read this book, I listened to it. I found this neat little device at the bookstore, sort of like an iPod only smaller, that had the whole book on it. I believe this was a stroke of good fortune for me because the book is full of fairly weighty material. Listening to it as read by the authors - Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and their collaborator Charles Burck - made it much easier to digest I think. I started listening to it after Christmas while walking my dog in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning. Walking in the dark listening to this book was actually a wonderful experience. I enjoyed every minute of it.

The reviews on for this book tackle the concepts in wonderful depth and I have no desire to repeat what has already been written there. If you want several great summaries about the book, I suggest that site as an excellent resource.

Here's what I came away with: dysfunction in organizations is not unique. This is something my new boss at the time kept telling me. Dave assured me that it was not any worse than many other privately owned large organizations he was familiar with. But I can tell you that when it's your own organization, it just feels like it has to be worse than average.

Larry Bossidy was formerly from General Electric and Allied Signal, and came out of retirement to take the helm of Honeywell when their merger with GE failed to gel. He has a career's worth of stories to tell. I really enjoy books that give lots of case studies, stories and examples to illustrate their points and theories. That is definitely a strength in this book. To listen to the authors is tell it themselves adds a great deal as well - they own their words and convey the message in a very compelling way. They clearly articulated the why, how and who of strategy execution - both well done and poorly done.

One of the reviewers on Amazon said this was a book that needed to be read more than once to really absorb it all, and I agree. I'm no longer with a large company and ponder whether I would ever choose to work for one again. It's very frustrating to be in a position where I can see what needs to be done, but know that it's not within my purview to affect change in a positive way. And that's certainly something they cover very well in the book - having the right people in the right positions and aligning all aspects of a company's strategy so that each supports the overall goals of the company. Execution is indeed a discipline and managers and corporate leadership need to excel in this regard. This book is an excellent primer on the subject.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Field Notes on the Compassionate Life - Marc Ian Barasch

Subtitled: A Search for the Soul of Kindness. I don't know too many people who would automatically think that "compassion" and "business" go hand in hand. (Take a breath and visualize Starbucks.) It would be convenient to think we could truly compartmentalize our lives into neat boxes and sort out feelings and beliefs according which feelings are appropriate for which box. Like it's okay to be compassionate in dealing with children, the elderly and the ill. And it's equally okay to be ruthless, hard edged and self-serving in business. How many would argue with that? It's just not so simple.

There were echoes in this book of many principles set out in two other books I previously reviewed here (November 2005): Leadership and Self Deception and The Bonds That Free Us, both by the Arbinger Institute. Who we are doesn't change from one location and situation to another. Our behavior might change, and the choices we make might depend heavily on the context in which we make them, but we take who we are everywhere we go and what we give out affects what we get back - at home, at the office and in the community.

I could spend a great deal of time talking about this particular book because I found it so profoundly affecting for me. I will put it into some kind of context for you. I read the book in the cold winter month of December '06 just after Christmas. I was walking my dog for an hour every morning in the pitch dark listening to the audiobook Execution:The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck and read by the authors. (More on that later.) The book was highly recommended by my brand new boss, and it was indeed a good read that touched very much on the types of challenges (and dysfunction) all large companies face - including ours. So I would listen to Larry & Ram talk about corporate alignment first thing every morning for a over a week, go to the office to deal with the very things they were addressing, and then I would come home in the evenings and read Field Notes for about an hour before going to bed. My whole day was full of changing perspectives and valuable insights.

Shortly after finishing Execution and while I was still finishing Field Notes, I went to spend a week with my mother in Georgia for New Years. She is battling lung cancer and had fallen and fractured her arm making her almost immobile. I read the book on my flight there and finished it the first morning I was with her, reading while she napped in her chair. I spent most of that first afternoon reading parts of it aloud to her. It's that kind of book - one that you want to share with other people. It is full of wisdom and hard truths about the choices we make based on how we see the world. Compassion is not something that comes easily to most people - including me. I consider myself kind, I believe that I am, but true compassion and those who practice the deepest type of giving and forgiveness are well out of my league.

The one concept from this book that I will always carry with me is this: "Hate is like drinking poison, and expecting it to kill the other guy. But it doesn't kill them, it kills us." It is one of the most profound concepts I have ever come across. And I know that it's true. Not just hate either, but all that is negative, hurtful, base and unkind. It doesn't have to be hate to be poisonous. Pay attention to the newscasts, the reality TV shows, the celebrity gossip, how people in the office talk about one another, how people in general treat one another. Increasingly, we are surrounded by so much that is negative and hurtful. And when we choose to embrace that focus on negativity - personally, professionally or culturally- we are planting the seeds of our own self destruction.

Shortly after returning from Georgia, I heard the Christina Aguilera song on the radio Hurt. The very first time I heard that song, it made me think of my father - deceased now for two years. And when I went out to to search for it, I found that the music video for Hurt was indeed about a father and daughter. My sister says it's sad that this song reminds me of him, but I don't think it's sad at all. I don't feel sad. It reminds me that hard lessons are better learned late, than never learned at all. We don't hurt other people without hurting ourselves in the process. Which is why compassion matters in all aspects of our life, which includes our business life as well.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Little Red Book of Selling - Jeffrey Gitomer

Subtitled 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness: How to make sales FOREVER, it delivers what the title promises. For many people, this book is certainly not new at all having been published in 2004, but it was a gift to me the last week I worked for my previous employer, and so I sat down and read it again. Jeffrey Gitomer knows how to communicate. His book is the closest thing to an interactive experience I think that it's possible to have in a printed work. The content is simple and to the point. He didn't invent the successful sales process. He communicates it well and ties the book back to his website by offering additional information for each chapter. In addition to being a successful author, his syndicated weekly column is published widely throughout the U.S. and he is a much-in-demand speaker and trainer. But his writing style is very forthright, engaging and pretty much in-your-face. He doesn't mince words, and while the cartoons and format give the content some punch, humor and interest, you find that it's the ideas and principles are solid as rock.

Gitomer gives credit to all those who came before him and their classic works that are still relevant today - Earl Nightengale, Edward de Bono, Dale Carnegie. He has endeavored here to synthesize volumes of valuable information into a handbook that he fully expects to be read regularly and often. There is no question that he is a product of his own research and practice, he lives his own philosophies quite successfully.

The book is a modern classic and should be the handbook he intended it to be for anyone who is in sales. It's not a difficult read and well worth the time invested.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Made to Stick - Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Not to be overly dramatic with this, but I think Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is the new age Bible of effective communication. I'm not sure I need to say anything more than that (but of course I will.) This book came out in January of 2007 and immediately became a bestseller. In the February 2007 issue of FastCompany Magazine, the Heath brothers debuted their monthly column, which is every bit as good as the groundbreaking work they did in their book.

Communication is the foundation of all else. If you can't get this right, whatever else you do well will be lost. In an age when we are constantly bombarded with information, communication has become paramount. Here's the thing: most people don't know there is a difference between information and communication. People will give you information (my loathing of PowerPoint is well documented), and they will talk at you and present you with facts and figures, and a dynamic presentation to go with it. But what good is any of that, if not a single idea can be recalled afterward. And if it can't be recalled, can it be acted upon? Uh . . . most likely not.

This book is such an engaging read, but very practical as well. It's really a "how-to" book on communication, and the building blocks of their fundamental theories culminate in a final chapter that will in fact "stick" with you long afterward. For me, it affected not only how I communicate ideas to others - verbally, visually, and in writing - but I evaluate almost everything I see, read or hear according to how "sticky" the message or idea really is. The truth is, we are just inundated with excessive use of language every day that is nearly meaningless when you get down to what we actually remember or use. It makes sense that when we master the skill of communication, we insure a much higher level of success in all else we undertake. I just loved this book!