Monday, December 29, 2008

You Can't Order Change - Peter S. Cohan

Subtitled: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. It was destiny that I ended up with this book. Or perhaps serendipity. Either way, the publisher did me a favor in sending it along.

The content in this book is excellent. I would describe the style as a case study and Cohan's writing as analytical. While his writing style did not resonate with me, the information is first rate! I filled the pages with post-it notes and have already passed it along to my favorite COO.

Cohan does an excellent job of drawing for us a picture of Boeing as McNerny inherited it. Then he goes back to look at what McNerney did at GE and 3M to show how his decisions about Boeing were influenced by his roles in other highly visible positions in those companies.

The book is driven by a highly structured format that lends itself to logical thinkers. Cohan has a great deal of statistics, lists, summaries and conclusions that help to link ideas to more concrete and measurable data. Keeping in mind that Cohan is a consultant primarily and not a writer, I adjusted my expectations as I worked my way through the book.

I do recommend this book for anyone interested in issues of leadership. Cohan does a wonderful job in showing us a portrait of Jim McNerney as a change agent in a difficult situation. This is a timely message for all companies struggling in these difficult times. Leadership does make all the difference!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Dream Manager - Matthew Kelly

This is quite a remarkable book that was recommended to me by someone I was working with recently in Charleston, SC. Lonnie Plaster and I have known each other for several years and I admire and respect him as a real estate manager, but have not really gotten to know him well. A chance conversation over dinner brought about this book recommendation.

Initially, my interest was from a management perspective - how do you help the people with whom you are working to realize their dreams? The concept is not new to me. The person I regularly refer to as my business coach, Dennis Bruce, uses this concept with his agents as well. He did a workshop for my staff in Home Service Connections on my last day in that position. He introduced the idea of first identifying dreams and then visualizing them. He didn't call it dream management which is the term coined by Matthew Kelly in this book, but that's what it is.

I suppose because I am so focused on how Dennis helps me with my business goals, that I didn't consider that what I am working toward every day is more than just business related. He's really been a "Dream Manager" in the sense that this book is focused on - how our work relates to the dreams we have for ourselves. The author points out that there are several things that are universal to working people everywhere: to do meaningful work; to advance and make progress; and to be appreciated. That is what drives us more than any paycheck. But when an employer takes an active interest in helping their employees to identify their dreams (both short term and long term,) they are creating a culture where they are committed to doing as much for their people as they expect their people to do for the organization. In actively helping employees to identify and achieve their goals, the company benefits in decreased turnover and a more productive, engaged and loyal workforce.

Perhaps real estate sales managers recognize this more clearly because they are motivating, leading and inspiring independent contractors - which is vastly different than managing employees. When a regular paycheck is not the automatic result of simply showing up, it requires a great deal more skill to keep people focused and motivated. It makes sense that keeping them focused on their own dreams is the best way to keep them highly motivated. But that's just as true for employees, and yet few employers I know seem to have even the vaguest idea of this fact.

The book was an epiphany for me on two fronts: First was the realization that I am fortunate to have a Dream Manager who volunteered for the job and has stuck with it despite my unbelievable and baffling resistance to much of his advice; and secondly that I have settled for far too long in working for an organization with little interest in what they can do for me. I don't know why I have so stubbornly persisted in the face of such long term and evident indifference, but recognizing it for what it is has given me permission not to settle for it anymore. I don't have to settle for it.

I think this is an awesome book and whether it was luck or it was fate, it has given me an entirely new outlook in how to pursue my own dreams. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tribes - Seth Godin

Subtitled: We Need You to Lead Us. What an awesome book! I confess I'm a big fan of Seth Godin's books and his blog, so it's not so surprising that I think his latest effort is right on target.

Where to start? Well, I teach classes on social media technologies to real estate agents. Getting them to shift their paradigm when it comes to marketing is difficult for those who came to the industry when "marketing" meant "advertising." Marketing is now a lot more interactive than passive, and it's more about pull than push. We need to engage people - to interact with them on an authentic and genuine level. This is particularly true in the professional services industry where consumers are not buying a product, they are buying expertise wrapped up in a person.

The focus for many tends to be on the technology tools, but Godin points out it's not about technology (those tools will continue to change), it's about relationships. It's always been about relationships, but today's technologies allow us to reach more people outside our own "in person" local networks. And we can reach them quickly, effectively and at no cost. The tools are revolutionary but the concept of tribes is as old as cavemen. We have a need to be connected to other people. Using modern technology we can be connected to many tribes in "real time" - on a daily basis through sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and email. Those tribes might include our extended family, our professional associates, our political party or religious group, the company we work for, people who share our interest in certain hobbies or collecting, or a charity or civic organization.

The strength of a tribe is not so much in it's size; it's about creating a movement. There are two essential elements to a movement - leadership and communication. Godin argues the point that we are all potential leaders. We have the skills, technology has given us the means, and now we need to find our passion. He is a very passionate man himself, and he feels strongly that when we have something to contribute to the world, doing so is not just an opportunity, but an obligation. He sites many examples of how one single seemingly ordinary person has changed the world for the better.

I dog-eared and marked so many pages I'm afraid to loan the book out to anyone else, although Godin has specifically asked me to do that on the very last page of his book. This book is extremely important in understanding a new world order - how we will all sort ourselves out, and what it will take to communicate and connect with our fellow man. This is more than just a question of effective marketing, although that was certainly my specific interest in reading the book in the first place. It's about how to stay connected in a world that is moving faster, changing faster, and bombarding us with more information and communication than we can easily comprehend. The future will be about finding our place in our own tribes. I highly recommend the book as a way to jump start your participation.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Juicing the Orange - Pat Fallon and Fred Senn

Subtitled: How To Turn Creativity Into A Powerful Business Advantage. This is an interesting and engaging book that opens with a very clear and simple premise in Chapter One: "Imagination is the last legal means of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition." The final chapter closes with the additional observation: "Increasingly, it's the only means."

In the intervening chapters, we are taken on an odyssey of creativity that spans various industries across the globe and outlines the challenges of many companies seeking to make a comeback, launch a new product or re-define themselves for a new era. I found it fascinating and inspiring. Some of the things that the creative teams at Fallon Worldwide came up with just leave me awestruck. Like, "How did they ever think of that?" They were way ahead of everyone else in many ways, including the use of the Internet for engagement marketing. Their short films for BMW's launch of the Z3 were a first-of-its-kind made for the Internet mini-movie that garnered millions of hits and an award at the Cannes Film Festival. It also resulted in orders for the car that were more than double BMW's target. That was back in April 2001.

They helped to reinvigorate the tourist industry in the Bahama Islands by literally engaging all the people on those islands as part of the web based initiative to educate the world about the many experiences awaiting them there (2003.) And in Colorado, the entire concept of the launch of United Airline's low far subsidiary - TED - relied on a type of guerrilla marketing that had never been done before. Fallon created an unseen fictional character that ran around the city doing benevolent deeds for weeks leading right up to the roll out. That garnered a great deal of local and national press coverage, and when TED finally launched, tickets sold at an unprecedented rate that dramatically increased United's market share (2003.)

I could go on and on, but it's best to just read the book. A very nice extra is a "See the Work" section of the Juicing the Orange website where some of the work they did on video can be seen. That includes the award winning SuperBowl commercial for EDS, "Herding Cats." (2000)

The final chapter is probably one of my favorites because it talks about how they founded the company. They decided on a list of core values that is the foundation of Fallon Worldwide and over the last 25 years, they've stayed true to that even when it meant taking short term losses for the sake of staying true to their company's culture. It's a promise the founders made to themselves and their employees. That to me is very impressive and quite rare to find in corporate America today.

They also introduced a concept and term I like very much under a section called "Identify and Encourage the Culture Players."

It didn't take long to learn that if we truly valued our culture, then it wasn't enough to hire brains and talent. We had to cherish the people who best embodied our ideals. We call them culture players. If you took the person described by Ed Keller and Jon Barry in The Influentials - the person who knows in his heart he can make a difference - and crossed him with Malcolm Gladwell's "connectors" in The Tipping Point, you'd have a culture player.

I really like that concept and agree wholeheartedly that culture players are important in an organization to "manage the energy of the place." I also like the section immediately following that one entitled "Fire the Assholes." No explanation needed there.

The last three important points the authors make come with short explanations attached to each:
  1. Creativity will be an increasingly essential business tool.
  2. You can't buy creativity, but you can unlock it.
  3. Creativity is not an easy path to walk but the rewards are worth it.

I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Buy-ology - Martin Lindstrom

Subtitled: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. This is groundbreaking research in a new field called neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom gave an interview to National Public Radio on the subject and how retailers are learning to tap into these findings in order to influence our buying habits.

The premise of neuromarketing is that what goes on in our subconscious influences what we buy. Figuring out how to measure subconscious response in relation to product design, marketing and advertising gives businesses a tool more effective than any they have now. Lindstrom quotes the behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University: "Most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes, rather than deliberate thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain is emotional, not cognitive."

In order to find out how different areas of the brain respond to certain stimuli such ads, logos, commercials, sounds and even smells, two different types of equipment were used: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and steady-state typography (SST). Both are non-invasive devices and left no damaging after affects on participants. The research was conducted on 2,000 volunteers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan and China over a period of several years.

Lindstrom's research produced some surprising results and confirmed certain other beliefs about what influences consumer buying behavior. The brain scans were matched against paper-and-pen questionnaire responses and often times how the brain responded did not match the opinions of the volunteer's "logical" mind. In one interesting research study with smokers, it was discovered that the warning label on cigarettes is not only a failure as a deterrent, but actually triggers a response in the reward center of the brain that controls the desire to smoke.

The book is a very engaging and easy read. It's full of interesting case studies, stories and anecdotal asides told with a great deal of humor. There is no question that this type of research will some day soon replace the more traditional consumer surveys and focus groups. These studies are more accurate in predicting future results based on an accurate assessment of the subconscious mind that influences buying behavior. Lindstrom predicts that as companies grow more interested in this type of consumer research, the technology will become more widely available and the research less expensive to conduct.

For the present, there are plenty of valuable take-aways from the book that can be effectively implemented by any business. The insights are practical and make sense when explained against the backdrop of the research results. For consumers, there are valuable lessons about what factors drive our choices that we are not consciously aware of. Being armed against the techniques and tactics being deployed every place from fast food restaurants to the shopping mall will slow many of us down as we bring our logical mind along to the party. I highly recommend the book and believe it is the first of many we will see in this emerging field of neuromarketing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Talent is Overrated - Geoff Colvin

Subtitled: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. The book is well researched and presents compelling data for the case against the concept of innate talent. Toward the end of the book Colvin addresses the possibility that there are genes for things like intrinsic motivation; but at its most basic level, his theory suggests that high achievers reach astonishing heights in whatever they do because they work very hard at it in a highly specific way.

Colvin looks at many disciplines including music, athletics, chess and business, and takes on case studies involving Mozart, Tiger Wood and Jerry Rice, The Polgar Sisters, and Jack Welch among many others. In each instance research debunks the myth that talent accounts for accomplishment, and that achievement is somehow effortless if "talent" is what you are born with. Instead, these studies show how "deliberate practice" - and a lot of it - makes the difference in developing extraordinary skills.

Careful research they conducted also illustrates how the amount of actual time spent in such deliberate practice creates a cumulative effect, for which there appears to be no real short cut. It takes an artist about 10 years of intensive training and practice to turn out something that is considered really good. It doesn't matter whether you start your training at the age of 3 or the age of 20, there is still a requisite amount of highly specific practice you must do to get beyond good to reach great.

The book does point out that as we get older we end up behind the curve in our efforts if we didn't begin early enough. Younger people are coming up who've put in the time and practice and we aren't going to "catch up" to them in the number of hours they've invested versus what we are now investing.

In the latter part of the book, Colvin talks about these principles in relationship to companies. He really looks quite closely at companies like GE and how they consistently turn out so many high performers in business. He concludes that some of it is the culture and how that culture lends itself to developing individual performance. In a chapter entitled "Where Does Passion Come From?" there is a section headed "How Organizations Blow It." Here is the first paragraph:

It must be noted that, on this subject, as with the other findings on great performance, most organizations seem to be managed brilliantly for preventing people from performing at high levels. Since intrinsic drives are strongest, people will work most passionately and effectively on projects they choose for themselves. How many companies allow that? A few do, as noted in the previous chapter, and those companies have produced outstanding results. Yet most other companies steadfastly refuse to learn from them. Executives may protest that they have a business to manage and can't let employees run around working on who-knows-what. Fine; but those executives mustn't complain when their company's ideas are no better than the competition's. Nor should they claim to be mystified when employees lack passion and engagement.

Amen to that. I found a brilliant solution to this dilemma myself: I simply quit my job, pursued my vision and passion, and now I sell what I have to offer back to the company that I left. It actually works out pretty well - although my own perception is that I give twice as much as I get. But I wouldn't settle for less than pursuing what I believe to be strategically important to the future of the real estate industry and the people in it. It's disappointing that there are people who regularly settle for less. In fact, quite a lot of them.

I loved this book and highly recommend it! There is no time like the present, and no better time than NOW to be the person we can still become. It's really a matter of working harder as well as smarter on the skills we need in order to be high performers in a world where "experience" gets outdated very quickly. It's worth taking the time to read this book. Being great at what we do is not out of our reach.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Our Iceberg is Melting - John P. Kotter, et. al

Subtitled: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions. This is a fable, much along the lines in form of "Who Moved My Cheese?" by authors Ken Blanchard and Spenser Johnson (Johnson is a contributing author here as well.)

This book was referenced in Kotter's A Sense of Urgency (previously reviewed here) and I can see why. It took me one hour to read it on an airplane. It rolls out the same concepts Kotter has introduced in previous works but in a much more digestible form.

The utility of this format is evident - it brings home the concept of change, even to those who would not consider themselves "readers." It provides a common vocabulary for vague concepts like "vision" and I think anyone can recognize the main characters as people they know. Or perhaps I am the only one, but I certainly recognized familiar figures in this tale.

As a general rule, people are not inclined to change what they do or how they live unless forced to. This book shows what happens when a penguin colony's very existence is threatened by what "might happen." Not a 100% I-can-prove-it inevitability but an observation rolled out into theory by a "junior" penguin with no status or credibility in the colony.

This too, is typical. Change is often initiated from some place other than the top of the organization chart, and this book illustrates how a wise leader pulls together a diverse group of 4 individuals to form a team. And it shows how a focused team rolls the vision out to everyone else and garners their support for the objective.

Can any organization accomplish the things outlined here? Absolutely. It helps to have strong leadership and an informed organization to lead. But no one's iceberg has to melt in order for change to take place in advance of a catastrophe.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Sense of Urgency - John P. Kotter

This book is so timely and relevant given the current global financial meltdown that is affecting businesses in every industry. The world changes very quickly now and being complacent is not something any company can sustain and remain viable. Awareness has been heightened in the last several months as many long standing business icons have gone out of business or been acquired. This is probably only the beginning of the fight for survival many companies will face in the coming year.

John P. Kotter has written many books on change and leadership including Leading Change, The Heart of Change and Our Iceberg is Melting. In this book, he discusses the importance of creating a feeling of urgency that propels everyone within an organization to engage in tackling issues NOW. He outlines what brings many companies to a place of complacency, how a false sense of urgency can be damaging, and what strategies and tactics can be employed to get people to recognize that urgency is critical to managing change.

This is as much a "how to" book as an analysis of organizational change and how leaders need to respond in keeping their organizations competitive over the long term. Kotter covers important issues like modeling the type of behavior we expect from those we lead. He points to how important it is to purge low return activities on a daily basis and to delegate effectively. Meetings should end with a clear action plan and accountability in place so everyone understands what is expected in moving initiatives forward. He covers the importance of communication - what needs to be communicated and how. It is very much a "nuts and bolts" kind of book, and the summaries and charts he provides are excellent in capturing these ideas as clearly and simply as possible.

I found the book to be an engaging read and a quick one. This is not a heavyweight academic tome. It's about motivating the reader to quit reading the book and get going already on creating a daily sense of urgency. I think this book is in the "must read" category. There is not an organization of any kind anywhere, that does not face a constant battle against complacency. And truly, it can kill a company if allowed to go on to the point where competitive advantage disappears entirely. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Subtitled: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. This book is challenging, but in a good way. It sets what we know and assumptions we hold dear on their ear, and Dr. Taleb shows us in an engaging and entertaining way how even the most revered "experts" can be dead wrong. The challenge is applying these theories of randomness to our perceptions and decision making processes once we return this book to the bookshelf.

I thought it was eye-opening and astonishing, and already I look at things differently based on ideas he has such as "silent evidence." Once you can grasp concepts like "absence of proof is not the same thing as proof of absence" you can see how our decision making process is heavily skewed toward that which we know and can confirm, and we ignore and don't factor in that which we don't know or which is unknowable. I think this is probably one of the most intellectually challenging and important books I've read since college, and it took me a long time to read it.

These concepts are far from academic. In fact he rails against the academic community and their focus on elegant mathematics, predictive modeling and theories. Having been a stock trader in his previous career, he considers himself a "practitioner." And what matters is applying theories of randomness to our decision making process so we end up with the result we want - not being suckers. He calls himself irreverent and I think that's an accurate description. It also makes the book engaging and entertaining to read despite the complex and complicated subject matter.

Much of what has happened with the current global financial meltdown Taleb foreshadows in the book. Right down the collapse of Fannie Mae which is covered in a footnote on page 225: "The giant firm, J.P. Morgan put the entire world at risk by introducing in the nineties Risk Metrics, a phony method aiming at managing people's risks, causing generalized use of the ludic fallacy . . . Likewise, the government-sponsored institution Fanny Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events 'unlikely.'" And with that, we have a real world, up-to-the minute example of what a Black Swan really is. The book was written in 2006 and published in 2007.

I could go on and on in giving examples of the accuracy of Dr. Taleb's thinking as evidenced by headlines in today's newspapers. That's not the point however. He's giving us new words to explain new concepts and works to help us understand empirical skepticism and its effect on the world around us. I highly recommend this book. It is well worth the investment of time and effort to read it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How We Lead Matters - Marilyn Carlson Nelson

Subtitled: Reflections on a Life of Leadership, I pre-ordered this book based on a recommendation that appeared in one of Harvey Mackay's weekly columns. It did not disappointment. A beautiful little gem of a book, I read it in a single evening. It is inspiring in it's simplicity, warmth and authenticity.

The format works well. On the left page is a quote or poem that has some special meaning to the author, and on the facing page is a short story about her life that illustrates an important lesson that has informed her life and leadership.

Reading this book is like eating a box of fine chocolates - each story a unique and delectable experience that lingers in the mind. I found it engaging, enjoyable and very inspiring. So inspiring I ordered 8 copies to give as gifts.

I highly recommend How We Lead Matters and would suggest that as leaders, what we read matters as well.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Groundswell - Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Subtitled: "winning in a world transformed by social technologies" it was published in April of 2008 by Harvard Business Press. It is a transformative book that truly enlightens those of us struggling to apply the "buzz" of blogging and social networking to existing business practices.

Early in the book the authors make a very essential point about the nature of these hot new technologies: the technology is secondary. It's the relationships between people and how they come together, shift, and create a "groundswell" that gives this movement it's power. Hence the title of the book. Li and Bernoff make an excellent case for why it's important to tap into this phenomenon. But rather than trying to control, direct or guide what is happening on blogs, forums and websites, it's a matter of figuring out what role to play that benefits both the consumers and the company. It's about engaging the people who do business with you and allowing them to help you grow your business.

Their case studies are fascinating and informative. Using the data gathered through their years of research at Forrester Research, they have compiled both convincing empirical data and engaging anecdotal examples to make their points. They also created a chart that helps to clarify the different types of online consumers and how they behave in specific circumstances. They've divided adults online into the following profiles according to their behavior: Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives. There are different levels of engagement among these groups that affect how they interact with any website online.

The book is amazing in it's ability to break down this complex and somewhat mysterious new world into concepts that are easily grasped. But understanding consumer behavior and being able to apply that knowledge in designing a consumer experience clients will be drawn to are two different things. I believe nearly everyone can grasp the concepts, but I believe it will be an enormous hurdle for many businesses to let go of top-down, push-out, advertising-based initiatives in favor of something that is developed, owned and managed essentially by consumers.

It's a "must read" in my opinion. I think the world is already at a point where consumers wield a great deal of influence because of blogs, forums and the ability to self publish. Companies in the 21st century ignore that kind of power and influence at their own peril.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The House of Mondavi - Julia Flynn Siler

Subtitled: "The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty." I just loved this book! I had read several reviews about it that all raved about what a great book it is and I bought it for "airplane reading" on a cross country flight to Seattle. I was hooked from the beginning. It is absolutely the page turner the critics claim that it is.

I don't know where to begin. It is engaging, well researched, authentic, objective and multi-faceted in representing the varying viewpoints of all the players in this big drama. It is a case study of family, business, passion, loyalty, conflict and creating something of enduring value. The Mondavi family did in fact affect the growth and appreciation of wine in America. The history of their family history in the Napa Valley is fascinating and very personal.

I enjoyed every minute of this book and the impressions of it linger with me still. I think I've mentioned it to everyone I've spoken to in the last week. It is both a triumph and a tragedy, and it has particular significance to anyone who has ever worked for a family owned business. The complex relationships of not just the family members, but those who love and are loyal to those family members, is something unique. It had particular meaning to me.

I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Speed of Trust - Stephen M. R. Covey

Subtitled: The One Thing That Changes Everything. It's an incredible book. Well written, well researched, practical in its guidance and full of personal stories and anecdotes, it's an engaging read. And the ideas and concepts he outlines here I find myself recalling on almost a daily basis now.

This is another book recommended to me by my redoubtable business coach. I am fortunate to have a mentor who is a reader in the same intense way that I am, and we both enjoy a network of friends who are great readers as well. So book recommendations come to each of us and we digest them and recommend them outward again into the mainstream of our friends and business associates.

This was timely as I was struggling with how to deal with clients who are simply not paying the invoices I have sent them. I just couldn't conceive of how an agreement is made between two people (professionals), services rendered as promised, and then the person who is now enjoying the fruits of my labors simply decides they won't pay the bill. Or they will pay it when it's convenient for them. As a marketing consultant, I run my own small business that depends on services being rendered and bills being paid on time so that my bills are paid on time. And I am continually amazed at how others can simply breach such a basic trust and think it will have no impact.

Covey (who is the son of Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) shows clearly how trust does impact everything - in relationships, in the family, on the job and in the community. When there is a lack of trust it's like imposing a tax that takes away from the bottom line of a business. And when trust exists, it's like a dividend. He argues that trust affects speed and cost in any business and that translates directly to dollars and cents. Many examples are provided to illustrate his points throughout the book.

There were several concepts that made a particular impression on me. The first was a term coined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great called "The Stockdale Paradox" which refers to famed prisoner of war Jim Stockdale. He quotes Stockdale as saying, "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be." I'm working within the real estate industry where that paradox is well applied to the many companies and agents that are faced with a challenging and changing market.

Another concept that resonated with me was "Windows & Mirrors." Again he pulls from Jim Collins in his chapter on Accountability. When things go wrong we have a tendency to look out the window - out there somewhere - to find the source of the problem. We need to always start by looking in the mirror, at ourselves, to discover the source and cause and to take what is our own responsibility for the situation. While I found that easy to do when I managed a staff, I find it a challenge to consistently apply it in all facets of my life - most certainly in my personal relationships.

The book takes on so many complex subjects and breaks them down into simpler elements and concepts that he supports with labels, diagrams, visual images and action steps. It's a primer for learning to incorporate trust into every aspect of our daily lives - in things both great and small.

I am a person who extends trust quite naturally and easily to others. This is an asset. And yet I find myself astonished time and again when the trust I extend is violated. The final section of the book is about extending "Smart Trust." Which is something I am coming to terms with and working on both professionally and personally. This book as been an important part of realizing this is something I need to be working on, and it has offered valuable and practical advice that has made a difference already. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting - Lynn Grabhorn

Subtitled: The Astonishing Power of Feelings. I got a lot out of this book. It was recommended to me by my business coach - someone I seem to fight less and resist less these days. Now I ask him what book I should be reading and he tells me which one. I approach what he has to say with an open mind. Ah, yes, the mind! It would be easy to connect this book to the well know proverb: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs, Ch. 23, v.7)

What an idea that our thoughts and our hearts are somehow connected and rule everything that happens in our lives! I have an active life-of-the-mind, but Lynn Grabhorn argues it's really about what we feel. That positive energy, positive thoughts, deciding what we want in life rather than living based on "Don't Wants" is the key to success and happiness. And I do believe her. She uses the word "feeeeelings" throughout the book to emphasize her point that it's not all about analysis and strategy. She contends that what we feel every day feeds "The Law of Attraction." If you send out negative energy, that is what you attract back to yourself. Many times it's the very thing we don't want. But it's subconscious - we don't recognize our own negative thoughts, feelings and ultimately our behaviors. We have to work at feeling positive, because sending that energy into the world is what attracts back to us the very things we want the most.

It's a simple but powerful concept. Don't think it's easy. When you start to consciously "grade" your thoughts and feelings based on whether they are positive or negative, you realize we all subconsciously feed our negative monster without realizing that's what we are doing. Try going through the day aware of all your negative feelings - dirty dishes in the sink, terrible traffic, the slow checker at the grocery store, the cost to fill up our gas tank. We have lots of negative feelings over small stuff. Think about the big stuff: difficult boss, office politics, paying the bills, launching a business, poor relationships, planning the rest of our lives. How much is subconsciously infused with the negative? The "I don't want . . ."

I found the book very motivating and enlightening. I ordered 3 copies, one for each of my children. They may or may not read it, but understanding that what you put out there is what comes back is one of the essential lessons of life. And I am living more consciously aware of my positive and negative feelings and behaviors.

I highly recommend the book whether you are person who can deal with the metaphysical or not. Whatever you call it, the universal law that underlies this book is both valid and real.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Platinum Rule - Tony Alessandra,Michael J. O'Connor

Subtitled: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities - And How They Can Lead You to Success. Only the book is so much more than that. But you don't know that until you read it. You don't even believe that until you read it. My highly tolerant and very patient mentor has told me about this book for years. But it took a dramatic turn in our working relationship to actually motivate me to buy the book and read it. And now I feel like such a fool for not having read it sooner.

As the title suggests, this is a twist on "The Golden Rule" which we all remember from elementary school as being: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Only that's a bit misguided. Because how I want it done unto me might not be at all how you want done unto you. Hence the "Platinum Rule" is about doing unto others as they would choose to have it done. That is a deceptively simple idea. Because how do I know what it is that you want?

We have to learn first about our own styles of communication and motivation before we can understand what drives other people and how we must adapt our communication style to deliver what they require. In the very last chapter of the book, the authors point out: "By choosing how we act, we can encourage others to respond more positively. This works not only for adults in the workplace but for people of all ages in all of life's other arena's: home, school, sports, shopping, you name it! . . . Being the best person you can be by treating people the way they want to be treated pays off enormously." Deceptively simple, but you won't believe this until you read the book.

This was very life changing for me. Mainly because I had to look at, and then own, the personality type that I am: a Socializer. Or more precisely within the subcategories, a Directing Socializer ("The Enthusiast") on the borderline with a Thinking Socializer ("The Impresser.") After I got over being defensive about this assessment and climbed out of my pit of denial, I could start to understand the fundamental truths of what the book was saying. This is not to say that I agree with all of their broad generalizations about the four personality types, only that I agree they exist, and that learning to adapt to other people's communication styles and ways of thinking is extremely beneficial to everyone involved. This is sensitivity training at it's very best and it's very practical. This is very much a "how to" kind of book: First the what, then the why and finally the how.

My coach and mentor is a Thinker. He works so hard to make me understand, accept and implement what he knows to be true. And I resist. But I never understood until now that he is grounded in logic and I am grounded in feeling. He's brought me a long way, but I have to meet him halfway. And I couldn't do that when I didn't understand how we were approaching the same subject from different perspectives. He has worked to adapt to my communication style, but I never realized that there were different styles that needed to be adapted to!

Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a client who is also a friend. It was not a business related conversation, but in the middle of emphatically stating my opinion, Nancy said: "But it's not about you Catherine. It's just not all about you." And I was stunned, but totally got the message. It was a bulls eye. The center of my universe might be me, but no one else will be joining me there. And my coach has probably said that a hundred different ways in as many situations and I never heard the message. I understood he was speaking English, but I wasn't getting it. I got it now.

This book is invaluable. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. It can open up a whole new world of understanding in why we speak but are not heard, and why we "listen" but do not hear. We need to focus on the needs of other people - not just our own. This book shows us how to recognize what it is that other people need and to adapt our own behaviors to provide that level of communication so that they "win" and so do we. It is indeed life changing. Don't wait as long as I did to read it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz

Subtitled: Why More is Less. How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction. I heard Barry Schwartz speak at Brand ManageCamp '07 in Chicago this past September and was so impressed with his presentation I immediately ordered the book. It's taken me awhile to get to it, but it was worth it. There are so many wonderful concepts put forth here, backed up by excellent research and anecdotal illustrations. It's a very engaging book and his writing style makes it very easy to read. There are some similar threads and research in this book that also appear in Stumbling on Happiness (Mar. 08) and The Wisdom of Crowds (Dec. 07).

One of the most memorable and important of his theses is dividing people into those who are maximizers and those who are satisficers. They are fairly self explanatory labels but the book does an excellent job of giving examples of the types of behaviors exhibited by both. Maximizers tend to experience anxiety in the process of making choices: they are constantly assessing the "best" of the choices, sometimes paralyzed by considering the options both real and imagined, and often less satisfied with what they choose because of constantly considering all the options that weren't chosen. Satisficers on the other hand decide what is "good enough" and make their choices based on that standard and then move on. It's not that satisficers have lower or lesser standards, only that they can make a choice that meets the standard they have set and move forward without second guessing or regretting all the choices that were rejected.

When you grasp these concepts, suddenly you can see these behaviors everywhere. I spent a long weekend in Boston with two long-time friends from high school. I was explaining the book and this particular concept to both Stu and Wayne, who immediately assessed where they were on this spectrum. And it is a spectrum of behavior. Stu is on the maximizer end, I am on the satisficer end and Wayne was somewhere on the spectrum closer to satisficer than maximizer. But as we went through our 4 days together deciding what to do, where to go, what to eat, we were suddenly hyper aware of how we made choices and how that affected our level of satisfaction with the outcome. Being self aware of how we make decisions is key to understanding why we feel the way we do about the results.

Schwartz takes the position that we are overwhelmed with decisions both large and small on a daily basis. The number of choices we are faced with every day is vastly greater than what our parents or grandparents had to face: cellphone plans, 401(k) plans, paper or plastic, smoking or non-smoking, credit or debit, fixed rate or adjustable rate, the warranty plan or not, upgrade to first class, and hey would you like to super size that? We tend to assume that more choice and more autonomy makes us happier. But the research and statistics say otherwise. In countries around the world, the increase in material wealth and standard of living has not made people happier. In fact, the rate of depression and suicide has risen sharply in recent decades in countries like the United States.

Some of this is due to a difference in objective well being and subjective well being. Objectively, it's easy to measure that we have more of everything - food, medical care, better housing, education, transportation, technology. But subjectively, those things don't make us feel better. All the time saving devices in the world from dishwashers to computers have not made us feel that our quality of life is better, or that we are somehow happier than our grandparents were.

The book is quite fascinating and I got a lot out of it. The final chapter is suggestions on how to tackle this overwhelming amount of choice and sort out what is worth expending time and energy in deciding, and what is not. Maximizers tend to apply the same of amount of time and energy into choosing just the right coffee maker that they do in buying a car. Somethings are not worth the investment of that kind of time, energy and anxiety. We need to adopt different behaviors for the times in which we live and that's really what this book is all about. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Way of the Peaceful Warrior - Dan Millman

Subtitled A Book that Changes Lives, it was originally published in the late 80's and took a long time to build a following - mostly by word of mouth. Well, life changing or not, it certainly provides a different perspective which is essential to making life changes. This book is one of those wonders that appeared when I ordered a very different book through One of my favorite features of Amazon is not only have they tracked every book I've purchased on their site since 1997, but they provide those highly targeted recommendations based on what I am clicking on. So that is how I came to order this book. Or maybe it was Karma.

It goes hand in hand with some of the other books I've read this past year involving the theme of personal journey. One of the themes that resonated with me in The Daily Six (Sep. 07) was the idea that we should focus our efforts on being someone rather than something - that we are not the sum of our job title, our skill set or our assets. This book goes one step further, saying we should stop focusing so much on being someone, and concentrate on being at one with everything around us. And I very much like that message.

I've come to realize that we are what we think about. Hardly a new idea, but my mind whirls constantly with the number, variety and complexity of thoughts that I don't seem to be able to control. Meditation would seem to be the answer to that, but it goes beyond even the simple practice of meditation to understand how disconnected we are from the physical world around us. One of my favorite lines in this book, toward the very end, is when Dan says, "I lost my mind and came to my senses." That very much resonates with me. I live a very cerebral sort of existence with much of my life centered around my thoughts. It needs to be balanced with an awareness and appreciation of all that exists that has nothing at all to do with thoughts.

The book is a great read and very engaging because it's sort of an autobiography that reads like a novel and it weaves in themes that make you ponder. Well, it made me ponder anyway. The central character in the book is the author's spiritual mentor whom he calls Socrates. In this character, I recognized many traits of my own mentor. I could see he is like Socrates in many ways, while at the same time he is like the student Dan. He's farther along in his journey than I am, but we both still have a ways to go.

The quest for enlightenment and transcendence is centuries old. Each new generation seems to produce new writers, thinkers and spiritualists engaged in their own personal search that mirrors the particular time and place in which they find themselves living. This tale is both ancient and modern. Has it changed my life? Well, not yet. But it's definitely had a major impact that is potentially life changing. I really loved the book.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki

This is such a great book and so very timely! Originally published in 2004 and this edition in paperback having come out in 2005, the information is as timely in 2008 as it was when written. Of great interest to me is the amount of space at the very end of the book that is given to the stock market and the political process.

The main thesis of the book is that the collective opinion of any crowd, when averaged out, is more accurate and far wiser than the most intelligent individuals within that group. Time and again research supports this assertion statistically, and there are studies and examples throughout the book that illustrate how collective decision making has both triumphed and failed.

Central to the collective wisdom of any group is diversity. No matter how small the group, no matter what the task, diversity is key. Even the least knowledgeable and inexperienced individuals in a crowd bring much needed perspective and balance to the whole. James Surowiecki, the book's author and a New Yorker business columnist, points out that this concept is counter intuitive to what we believe about intelligence and the decision making process. This is why often it is not employed in situations where it could prove to be most helpful. Corporations are a great example of how decision making tends to be placed in the hands of an elite few, and the people on the front lines and those closer to the product or service are not involved in decision making. This leads to a poorer quality of decision than might otherwise have been reached had all opinions been taken into consideration and then averaged out.

This is an enjoyable and engaging book. Even the chapters with material that was quite foreign to me - like betting and point spreads - I was able to grasp and understand. It's also one of the best tutorials I've ever read on how the stock market functions, particularly how bubbles form and then bust. I highly recommend the book and can't think of any organization or group that would not benefit from understanding the wisdom of crowds.