Friday Book Review! Trap Tales by David M.R. Covey & Stephan M. Mardyks

51qWN3zM3TL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Through the fictional narrative of a man struggling through financial problems, marital problems, dissatisfaction with work and career, and raising two children, consultants and leadership trainers David M.R. Covey and Stephan M. Mardyks highlight in their book, Trap Tales, what they’ve identified as the seven obstacles to success, which they describe as “traps.” These traps, they write, are seductive, deceptive and sticky — in other words, they lure you in, give you momentary gratification that turns into long-term pain, and like quicksand, refuse to let you go. As a result, the authors write, “A trap holds you back from progressing toward your goals.”

For example, the Focus Trap is a universal problem in the 24/7, anytime-anywhere digital age. The authors lay out the clear reasons for the Focus Trap:

  • No filtering of the constant flow of incoming information and entertainment and, thus, no focus on what truly deserves your energy, time and attention.
  • Nonstop connectivity, clogging people’s lives with distractions and “thin things — time wasters — leaving the thick things of true substance on the back burner or forgotten entirely.”
  • Demand for instant gratification, failing to realize that the best things in life take time.

The conventional approach to the Focus Trap is to learn how to juggle better. The authors disagree, arguing that a more productive approach is to realize that we cannot do it all, to filter out the unimportant from the important and to learn…(click here to continue reading)


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Friday Book Review: Agile PR by Marian Salzman

C08TpwXXcAADpN6Although a familiar term today, “metrosexual” was not heard of until a PR agency used it in an advertising campaign for its client, the Italian beer company Peroni. That agency was Havas PR North America, headed by Marian Salzman, author of a new book called Agile PR: Expert Messaging in a Hyper-Connected, Always-On World. As Salzman explains, when Havas “hijacked” the term coined by English writer Mark Simpson and introduced it into popular culture, Havas was engaging in what she calls “news-fluence.” News-fluence is the art of newscrafting in order to create influence. Newscrafting is what PR agencies have always done: crafting great stories that help their clients to create news. A key component of newscrafting is trendspotting, a term that’s self-explanatory.

Salzman doesn’t waste time. Newscrafting, news-fluence and trendspotting are introduced in the first two pages of this highly readable and comprehensive overview of public relations in the age of social media and the “prosumer” — Salzman’s term for today’s proactive consumers. Readers receive the first list of imperatives — which she summarizes as “grab attention, expect trouble, master the media, know your story and spot trends” — on the third page.

The pace of the book reflects the pace of the world as Salzman describes it in this eloquent overview: “Back before everywhere-all-the-time technology was the norm… communication strategy could be planned in advance. The campaign blueprint plotted out a timeline with a series of milestones to be activated and checked off… The whole thing could be set up and executed more or less as planned, give or take a few adjustments to accommodate occasional unexpected events.”

“But that world is gone,” she continues. “Technology has made…” (click here to continue reading this review)

Friday Book Review! Upside by Kenneth Gronbach & M.J. Moye

Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead

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Early in his book Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead, demographer Kenneth Gronbach tells a story from his advertising days — he is now an independent consultant — in which his firm lost one of its biggest and most profitable accounts ever: America Honda Motorcycles.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Japanese motorcycles had enjoyed booming U.S. sales, and there seemed no end in sight. Yet, suddenly and for no discernible reason, Gronbach writes, the bottom fell out of the Japanese motorcycle market. “We ran the television, radio, billboard and newspaper ads for about 180 dealers from the tip of Maine to Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.,” he writes, “and then waited for the usual tidal wave of customers. It never arrived.” By 1992, the era of the Japanese motorcycle was over.

What happened? It was not until 1996 that Gronbach understood the reason for the Japanese motorcycle market’s mysterious disappearing act: It was all about generations.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, baby boomers — those born between 1945 and 1964 — were in the key 16- to 24-year-old motorcycle-buying age. By the mid-80s, boomers had aged out of the market and were replaced by 16- to 24-year-old Generation Xers. And here was the problem, Gronbach writes, a problem that strikes to the core of the theme of Upside: There were much fewer Gen Xers than boomers.

Gronbach explains: “The diminutive Generation X that followed the Boomers simply did not have the critical mass of 16- to 24-year-old men to satisfy the needs of the market left behind by the Boomers.”

Business is a question of supply and demand, and for Gronbach, many businesses are not paying attention to one of the fundamental components of supply: the number of people buying. In the first part of the book, Gronbach lays out the numbers, dedicating a chapter each to the six generations in the U.S. market today, from the G.I. Generation, born between 1905 and 1924, to Generation Z, born (or will be born) between 2005 and 2024.

Gronbach offers some interesting perspectives on the generations. For example…(click here to continue reading this review)

Friday Book Review! Stretch by Scott Sonenshein

y648In 1985, the American beer market was dominated by three companies, Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Stroh’s. The third may elicit the response, “Oh yeah, whatever happened to them?”

What happened, according to Rice University professor Scott Sonenshein, is that Stroh’s was a “chaser.” As Sonenshein explains in a new book, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, a chaser is a person or company that is constantly chasing more and more resources. In the case of Stroh’s, chasing meant growing ever larger through serial acquisitions, until the company finally crumbled under its own weight.

The opposite of chasing is “stretching”: those who know how to do more with less. During the same period that Stroh’s was on its growth binge, a small company named Yuengling, which had a fraction of the resources that Stroh’s had, was using its limited resources to carefully and incrementally increase its capacity and its market reach. Eventually, the former beer giant Stroh’s would be liquidated, while Yuengling would become America’s largest domestically owned beer company.

According to Sonenshein, stretchers have a completely different mindset and different behaviors than chasers. Instead of constantly undervaluing or squandering their resources, stretchers recognize the value of what they have and act accordingly. For example, Sonenshein tells the story of a store manager stuck with a shipment of poorly made dresses that were not selling. Instead of putting them in the trash, the manager, Ethan Peters, cut off the straps and sold them as “beach cover-ups.” Click here to continue reading this review. 

Friday Book Review! The Signals Are Talking by Amy Webb

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There is “no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” “The personal computer will fall flat on its face.” With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to smirk at these quotes from 1977. However, the person responsible for both quotes was not some anti-technology Luddite. Kenneth Olsen was the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC, and one of the first people to conceive and build a computer meant to be used by just one person.

Olsen turned that insight into a company that by the 1980s would reach $14 billion in sales and employ 120,000 people. However, as Amy Webb, of the Future Today Institute, documents in her brilliant book The Signals Are Talking, “Olsen was shackled by his immediate frame of reference … Outside his view of the present, there was a revolution underfoot.” This revolution included, according to Webb,

  • The establishment of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a network of computers linking programmers in several universities, and the development of Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which made it possible to remote-access the network.
  • The appearance of personal computer models built by Atari and Commodore and a small computer built in a garage by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
  • Programming advances that led to games created by programmers for computers; computer-generated graphics; a digital bulletin-board system to post messages.

These quiet but eventually significant events are examples of what Webb calls “signals” that foretell the future but often go unnoticed because they are on the fringe. From Olsen’s “mainstream” perch at the head of a multibillion dollar company, he never saw these signals on the fringe that would cause his company to disappear by the end of the 1990s…(click here to continue reading)

Friday Book Review! If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat! by Leonard Sherman

Speed Review: If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!For many businesses, writes Columbia University professor Leonard Sherman, competition is a dogfight between rival firms viciously battling each other for market share. In his evocatively titled book, If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!, Sherman argues that the most successful strategy is not to engage in the dogfight but to do something completely different — to become the metaphorical “cat” of his title.

Sherman, who has been a partner, managing partner and senior partner at blue-chip consultancies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, J.D. Power and Associates and Accenture, offers a specific prescription for becoming a cat. This prescription is based on three strategic imperatives that, he writes, drive sustained profitable growth.

The first strategic imperative is continuous innovation, which is not an imperative for its own sake but is required in order to deliver the second strategic imperative: meaningful differentiation that is recognized and valued by customers. Meaningful differentiation, in turn, is enabled by the third strategic imperative: business alignment. Business alignment, writes Sherman, is “where all corporate capabilities, resources, incentives, and business culture and processes are aligned to support a company’s strategic intent.”

The Australians Are Coming!

Welcome to the U.S. wine market in the year 2000. Not only is the market crowded, but breaking into the U.S. is even tougher because most Americans prefer beer to wine. Yet, somehow, a new wine from a small vineyard in southeastern Australia would become the top-selling imported wine in the U.S. within five years after introduction. The secret? Casella Family Brands, which made and sold the upstart wine, decided to act like a cat. (click here to continue reading)

Friday Book Review! Time, Talent, Energy by Michael C. Mankins & Eric Garton

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“Too many companies are living in yesterday’s world. They are seeking competitive advantage through traditional methods, and they aren’t finding it. And they are missing their main opportunity for boosting performance and outstripping competitors. Let us explain what we mean.”

With these opening words of their new book, Time, Talent, Energy, Bain consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton launch a combination manifesto and manual urging companies to stop focusing on acquiring and managing the principal scarce resource of the past — capital — and instead focus on acquiring and managing the scarce resources that truly make a competitive difference today: the time, talent and energy of your best people.

Confronting the Productivity Killer

Unlike capital, which is easier to locate and access than ever before, the authors’ research shows that the time, talent and energy of leaders and employees are becoming more and more scarce. To be successful, the authors write, companies must ensure that their employees are the most productive they can be — that is, that they use their time productively and that they pour their talent and their energy into their work.


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Most productivity books are focused on the individual. However, Mankins and Garton have a different message: “It’s not your employees’ fault that they are not as productive as they could or should be; it’s your organization’s fault.”

Most organizations are undermining their employees’ productivity with roadblocks and obstacles. The authors call these organizational obstacles “organizational drag.” “Organizational drag slows things down, decreasing output and raising costs,” they explain. “Organizational drag saps energy and drains the human spirit. Organizational drag interferes with the most capable executive’s and employee’s efforts, encouraging a ‘What’s the use?’ attitude… It’s time for companies to confront this productivity killer head on.”

The authors’ analysis of the time budgets of 17 large corporations indicates that time is still a scarce resource that is being squandered. Some of the culprits are well known, including a tidal wave of e-communications and meeting time that, according to the study, has skyrocketed. In addition, real collaboration is limited: most meetings, the authors write, are within departments, not between functions or business units.

Unfortunately, there are few controls and few consequences for time-wasting processes…(click here to continue reading)

Friday Book Review: Getting to “Yes, And” by Bob Kulhan & Chuck Crisafulli

pid_25618In the early morning of May 2, 2011, a team of Navy SEALS invaded a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. As author Bob Kulhan writes in his book, Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv, “the mission had been meticulously planned: the SEALS trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place.” Unfortunately, during the raid, one of the team’s helicopters crashed. In addition, “the SEALS discovered that the intelligence they’d based their plans on was not entirely accurate,” he writes. “There were a number of unknown variables (how many people they would encounter, the types of people, the weapons, the doors and hallways, etc.). So they had to improvise.”

The Osama Bin Laden raid may seem a surprising choice as the first case study to appear in a book written by a veteran stage performer and alumni of the famed improvisational troupe Second City. The story underscores, however, Kulhan’s point that the techniques of improvisation are valuable and important in any domain.

Much More Than Laughs

The building blocks of improvisation, Kulhan writes, are reacting, adapting and communicating — building blocks that are equally valuable in dealing with uncertainty or the unexpected. “Improvisation,” he explains, “is a key element of busy emergency rooms; it takes place on NBA basketball courts; it’s a part of the skill set for every policeman cruising the streets — all contexts in which comedy is certainly not intended to be part of the picture.”

As for business, Kulhan writes, “the same skills that make for exceptional comedic improvisation — intense listening, focus, energy, engagement, teamwork, authenticity, adaptability — are skills that any businessperson can use to make positive changes in the workplace.” Improvisation, Kulhan argues persuasively, is clearly not just “making stuff up” to be funny.

Getting to “Yes And” explores how to apply improvisational skills to the business arena. In detailed and grounded chapters, Kulhan shows how improvisation can be applied to personal development, communication, team building, leadership and changing a corporate culture.

The first step, however, is to understand…(click here to continue reading)

Friday Book Review! Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole

Image result for hopping over the rabbit holeGrowing up on Long Island, young Anthony Scaramucci had only one dream: to own his own company. In his book, Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole: How Entrepreneurs Turn Failure into Success, Scaramucci, a hedge fund manager and conservative TV personality, recalls his success in building up his Long Island Newsday paper route through hard work and creativity. He would, for example, get free newspapers from his managers and deliver them to houses that did not subscribe, then follow up with a visit the following day, asking the “nice ladies at the door” if they enjoyed the free paper and would like to subscribe. They often did.


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As Scaramucci explains, he enjoyed receiving the money from the paper route, but his pleasure in building up his route was about much more than money. “I felt proud,” he writes. “Proud of my accomplishment. Proud that I was doing something that served people. Proud that I made people happy.” Yes, he liked the money, he continues, “but more than anything, I loved the sense of pride I felt in building something. Of hustling day-in and day-out to earn my keep. Of being my own boss.”

An Entrepreneurial Blueprint

In Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole, Scaramucci combines colorful and well-described biographical details with how-to advice drawn from the stories that end each chapter. The result is a solid overview of attitudes and approaches that can help entrepreneurs succeed.

The chapter called “An Entrepreneurial Blueprint,” for example, ends with four valuable pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t spend money on the wrong things. Scaramucci describes visiting the offices of a new investment company at the request of a mutual friend. The founder of the company, a highly respected bond trader, leads Scaramucci on a 40-minute tour of the sumptuous offices, with long discussions about the furniture and art collection. When Scaramucci returns to his own offices, he warns his friend that the bond trader will be out of business in one year.

Click here to continue reading to find out the other 3 pieces of advice.

 

Friday Book Review! Thank You For Being Late

9780374273538In the latest book from influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, readers are taken through a typical globe-spanning Friedman-esque journey of ideas, insights and, of course, people — many people of a wide variety of nationalities and perspectives, but all supporting in some way Friedman’s central theme: The world is speeding up — and that’s okay, as long as we all keep moving ourselves.


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Friedman compares thriving in today’s world to riding a bicycle: a bike is steady, upright and comfortable when you are moving; stop moving and you topple over. The way to keep moving is to embrace collaboration, pluralism, trust of others — and to not be afraid of change. “So many people today seem to be looking for someone to put on the brakes, to take a hammer to the forces of change — or just give them a simple answer to make their anxiety go away,” he writes. “It is time to redouble our efforts to close that anxiety gap with imagination and innovation and not scare tactics and simplistic solutions.”

Not that there isn’t good reason for trepidation. As Friedman notes, the most dangerous period on New York City streets occurred when cars started appearing but horse-and-buggies had not yet disappeared. We are currently in a similar transition period, with the world accelerating at such a rate that humans are having trouble adapting to the changes.

The Machine and The Supernova

In Thank You for Being Late, Friedman explores in detail the three accelerations driving “the machine” today — the machine being Friedman’s term for the “world’s biggest gears and pulleys [that] are shaping events.”

The first acceleration is in the domain of technology. When visiting the laboratories of the multinationals driving technology forward, Friedman writes, he feels a bit like James Bond visiting Q’s laboratory to discover the latest high-tech spy gadgets.

Except that the mechanical gadgets of Fleming’s hero have been replaced by what most people refer to as “the cloud” and what Friedman calls “the supernova.” Beginning in 2007, according to Friedman, the supernova started launching Moore’s law on the exponential increase in processing power into the stratosphere. Friedman uses the example of an information-technology multinational company based in the surprisingly named town of Batman, Turkey to exemplify how the supernova empowers innovators to reach everywhere from anywhere.

The second…(click here to continue reading this review)