The 10 Best Books I Read In 2017

For some reason I've stopped posting my summer reading lists on this blog. So instead I thought I'd start posting a top 10 list at the end of the year. As I typically like to do I read a lot of business books, history books and biographies. I also read a couple good fiction books but none that make the top 10. Here's the 10 best from 2017, in order:

  1. America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System by Steven Brill. This is a phenomenal chronicle of how the Affordable Care Act came into law. An in-depth summary of the issues in American healthcare and the troubling challenges that come with passing an important piece of legislation in today's environment.  
  2. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. This is written by the same guy that wrote the Power of Habit, also a great book. This is sort of a business/self-help book but one of the few with actionable, useful insights to transform busy work into productive work. Probably a bit too long due to all the examples, but this one was worth the time.
  3. Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis. This should be required reading for those of us focused on growing early-stage companies. Very focused on consumer businesses but the book is filled with really refreshing "out of the box" thinking that is so important in a high growth company.
  4. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Probably the best-written book on this list, this tells the depressing story of the formation of the opiate epidemic in America. This should be mandatory reading for any politician interesting in fixing this crisis. There is so much context in here that needs to be understood before anyone can think about effective solutions.
  5. Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright. No, I'm not a Buddhist but I've been fascinated by pieces of it for a few years now and I wanted to dig into it a little deeper. This is also a wonderfully written book that gives a great summary and strong defense of the religion's truths. 
  6. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Written by two former Navy SEALs that saw enormous amounts of brutal conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the book takes the lessons of being successful in war to being successful in business. And these two guys are just incredible human beings. They make a strong case for getting up at 4:30am each morning. Yes, "business is war" is definitely an old euphemism but this book is on point. And it is true that much of what we do in business translates to the battlefield. Jocko also has a podcast that continues the story that's worth adding to your list. 
  7. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. da Vinci didn't just paint the two most famous paintings in history he also obsessively studied anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. This is another book that was somewhat too long but understanding more about this man was enormously inspiring.
  8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. I had read so much about this book prior to reading this book that I really didn't need to read it. But the concept is great. The strong evidence of the fact that grit is the most important trait for one to have is fascinating and inspiring. A good one for parents.
  9. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. I've read this at least three times and it's always worth it. Timeline insights from the management guru.
  10. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meachem. I saw Meachem speak earlier in the year and took a look at what he's written. For some reason, I continue to find early American history to be incredibly interesting. This is really a big history book about the formation of the United States. Extremely well written, an in-depth history book. A good one for the beach.

I hope you like some of these recommendations. Happy New Year!

Some Summer Reading - 2015

As this amazing summer comes to an end, I thought I'd capture some quick thoughts on some of the books I read over the past few months. I tried to read more history books than business books this year and I found a couple pretty good ones. The list is in no particular order and you can find last summer's post here.

wright kindle

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.

A phenomenal book about two of America's most accomplished entrepreneurs. It was incredibly eye-opening to read how hard it was for them to build their product and, once they had a successful prototype, how hard it was to actually sell it. It's not clear which part was more difficult. Like most radical innovations, the masses thought their ideas were crazy. Their first planes were sold to clients in Europe because they couldn't find any buyers in the U.S. that were interested in the product. I'm a big fan of McCullough and this is one of his best.

four hour work work

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris.

I'm surprised it took me so long to get around to reading this one. This book is full of productivity tips and a really compelling perspective on how to get more from your energy. From only checking your email to once a day to outsourcing most of your personal life, a lot of the tactics he uses aren't for everyone. But his perspective is great and there are a few good tips in here that will work for everyone.

king of cap

King of Capital by John E. Morris.

This is the biography of Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of the Blackstone Group -- the massive private equity group. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The private equity business has always fascinated me and this is a deep dive into how it works and how the best of the best were able to sell it as an asset class. Buying a public company by borrowing money where the only collateral on the loan is the company that's being bought is mind-boggling to me. And this is great deep dive into the personalities of the founders and early employees that gives great insight on how they got these deals done. A great read for deal makers.

money

Money Master the Game by Tony Robbins.

A colleague recommended this book to me and, given all that has been written about personal finance, I was shocked that I found this book so informative. Lots of solid and practical advice. Robbins spends a ton of time on mutual fund management fees and makes the case that everyone needs to immediately check the management fees that they're paying on their retirement accounts. He points out that they're a total waste of money because less than 1% of managed mutual funds will beat the S&P over a 10 year period. You must move your retirement to an index fund with lower management fees. Over time, these fees will have a compounding negative impact on our portfolio and can cost you literally millions of dollars. Most of us know a lot of the stuff in here but definitely worth reading if you need to brush up on personal finance.

johnstown real

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough. This book details the tragedy that occurred after a dam that was holding water in a lake at the top of a small mountain broke and poured water into the small valley town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The water that poured into the small valley was the equivalent of the amount of water that flows down Niagra Falls for 36 minutes. An incredible tragedy. The writing is great but the story drags a bit and I wish he gave a bit more perspective on the larger impact of the flood.

dead wake

Dead Wake by Erik Larson.

Dead Wake is the story of the Lusitiania, the sister ship to the Titanic that was sunk by a torpedo fired by a German submarine as it traveled from New York to England. Many believe that this was the key event that brought the United States into World War I. This was hands down the best book I read this summer. It gives incredible detail on some of the individuals involved, including American, German and English political leadership and the captains of both the Lusitania and the submarine that fired the torpedo. It also gives great historical context on what was happening around the world at the time. Like most great non-fiction, this one feels like you're reading fiction for most of the time. Highly recommended.

ready aim kindle

Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson. This is a book written by a self-made billionaire that details some of the basic lessons needed to build or grow a business. His message is basically that sales and marketing are the only things that matter at the beginning and gives tips on how to get started. There isn't a ton in here that's terribly new but for entrepreneurs or business-people that aren't used to engaging in sales and marketing activities it might be worth skimming.

Pitching Innovation: Short & Simple

I've never been a big fan of the psychology of sales. I've always felt that if you're challenging a buyer, providing insights, selling efficiently and helping them understand a problem, the psychological side will sort itself out. But the fact is there's absolutely a psychological impact that comes with your approach (hopefully a positive one).

I thought about all of this a few weeks ago while sitting on a plane reading Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. Early on in the book he talks about the evolution of the human brain. There are three fundamental layers of the brain that have been built on top of one another as the human species has evolved. We started with the 'crocodile brain' and then added the mid-brain and then added the neocortex part of the brain.

The first and most fundamental part of our brain is the crocodile brain. This is basically the thing that keeps us alive. We use it to recognize danger and threats. It's an extremely simple part of our brain. It can't think critically and it can't reason. Its only purpose is to protect us.

When you walk into a room to pitch something this is the part of the brain that your buyer is using. The buyer's crocodile brain is on high alert. The buyer is asking themselves questions like: Is this person going to hurt me? Is this person trying to fool me?  Is buying this product going to get me fired? Should I trust this person?

In that first interaction, these are the things that the buyer cares about. That's their focus.

The problem for you as a seller is that when you're pitching, you're not using your crocodile brain. You're using your neocortex brain -- the most sophisticated part of your brain. You're thinking critically. You're giving insights. You're talking about details. You're probably showing detailed charts and graphs. You're probing, engaging and being thoughtful.

But the crocodile part of the brain doesn't understand the neocortex part of the brain. So you're completely missing the mark. You're speaking different languages. You might as well be speaking German to someone that only speaks English. Being smart, in this case, is actually hurting you.

As I said, I don't like diving into the psychology of sales, but there are some good lessons in here.

This insight is a great reminder that when you're meeting someone for the first time, talk to their crocodile brain. Keep it short, simple, concise and clear and don't try to do too much. Save the fancy charts and data tables for next time. Nobody is going to seriously engage with you until you have credibility and some level of trust. That's the goal of the first meeting: build credibility and trust. And try to get to the next step of your education process. But forget about complex models and detailed financial analysis. They won't listen to it, they won't digest it and they definitely won't believe it. Save all of that for the next meeting, after you've satisfied their crocodile brain.

Also, on the topic of keeping your presentation short, Klaff points out that in 1953 when James Watson and Francis Crick introduced the double-helix DNA structure (e.g. the secret of life), the presentation that earned them the Nobel Prize, was five minutes long. That's right, the most important scientific discovery of our time was pitched in five minutes.

Regardless of what you're selling, something tells me that in your next meeting you don't need to be pitching for the full hour.

Do What Computers Can't

Zero To One I read Peter Thiel's new book, Zero To One, the other night. I highly recommend it. It's a quick read (about 240 pages) and is full of great insights on startups and growth. He talks about the fears that the public has over technology. At one time, everyone was afraid that globalization was going to take all of America's jobs because there'd be someone overseas that would do our jobs cheaper than we would. Instead, American jobs have simply transformed. While's there's always some short term pain caused by a transforming economy, unemployment isn't all that much different than it was 20 years ago. The new fear is that software and technology will take all of our jobs. Thiel points out that this is a myth as well. See this excerpt:

Now think about the prospect of competition from computers instead of competition from human workers. On the supply side, computers are far more different from people than any two people are different from each other: men and machines are good at fundamentally different things. People have intentionality—we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations. We’re less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data. Computers are exactly the opposite: they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human. To understand the scale of this variance, consider another of Google’s computer-for-human substitution projects. In 2012, one of their supercomputers made headlines when, after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, it learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy. That seems impressive—until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly. When a cheap laptop beats the smartest mathematicians at some tasks but even a supercomputer with 16,000 CPUs can’t beat a child at others, you can tell that humans and computers are not just more or less powerful than each other—they’re categorically different.

I love this. There are things that humans can't do as well as computers and things that computers can't do as well as humans. There is now and will always be a ton of opportunity to do things that computers can't.

Some Summer Reading

I've been meaning to write a couple of book reviews but haven't found the time so I decided to write a quick line or two about some of the books I've read over the last few months. I enjoyed a lot of them -- I hope you will too. To Sell Is Human

To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. This is a really, really good sales book that argues quite persuasively that we are all salespeople; that the most important thing that each of us does -- regardless of whether or not we're in sales -- is sell. And that the jobs of the future (mostly focused around education and healthcare) are going to be all about "moving people", e.g. selling people.  He gives really useful strategies for getting better at influencing and moving the people around us.

Where Does It Hurt

Where Does It Hurt? by Jonathan Bush. If you have any interest whatsoever in healthcare, disruption and where things are heading you should absolutely read this book. Bush is the CEO of Athena Health, an innovative healthcare software company, and while you may not agree with a lot of what he says the book is incredibly informative and important. I would expect to see a lot more books like this coming in the future. This is probably the most digestible and useful book I've ever read on healthcare.

Lead With A Story

Lead with a Story by Paul Smith. This is a book that teaches you how to incorporate the use of stories into your business life to help influence and inspire. Most of the lessons are somewhat intuitive and there are too many examples and I'd bet most of us do these things naturally, but the book is a good reminder that stories and analogies are a useful asset.

Amazing Things Will Happen

Amazing Things Will Happen by C.C. Chapman. I've been following C.C.'s blog and Twitter feed for a long time now. A speaker, marketing consultant and fellow Bentley grad, he is a really interesting guy. If you're interested in how to manage and improve your personal brand, don't bother taking a seminar or reading a book, just follow C.C. He is a brilliant at it. As for the book, it's basically a series of short blog posts, each discussing a life lesson that he's picked up over the years. Some of them are intuitive, but they're great reminders. It's also fairly short and can be read on a plane ride -- which is the way all business books should be.

Body of Work

Body of Work by Pamela Slim. This is a really good and important book about how the way that we define a "career" is changing. We're becoming our own brands and our own companies. Start-up jobs, volunteer work, content creation, freelance work and side projects are becoming the new normal for lots of people. This book does a great job of explaining this new reality and how you can succeed in it.

The Art of Learning

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. This is a true story about how Waitzkin went from being one the best chess players in the world to becoming one of the best martial artists in the world. He documents and dives deep into the learning process and how we can control it and speed it up to become an expert and master in any field. Highly recommended.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This about Ben's startup experience. I'd highly recommend this book to any founder or potential founder. It chronicles the pain, the failures, the impossible decisions and the successes of a fast-paced startup. Painful to read at times, but a great book.

Cubed

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval. If you're sitting in a cubicle right now and wondering how you got there, this book has the answer. A really interesting summary of work in the United States and how we went from the farms to the cubes. It gets a little dry and I wish it was a bit shorter and punchier but if you're like me and you find this stuff interesting it's worth the read.

Capital

Capital In the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty. If you haven't heard of this one you've been living under a rock. Long, complex and controversial this is a magnificent summary of the economy and the steady increase in the wealth gap in the United States. If you're not super interested in economics you might pass on this one and read some of the commentary around it -- this book is being debated everywhere.

The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. This is a eye opening book about habits and how they dictate our behavior. I've always believed that creating habits is one of the secrets of high performance. It's too hard to try to motivate yourself to go to the gym everyday. It has to be a habit (just like brushing your teeth). The Power of Habit validates this and teaches you to control your habits and perform at a higher level.

Finally, if you're looking for a light, easy reading thriller that's great for the beach pick-up Those that Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. I spent last weekend on the beach in Cape Cod and and I literally couldn't put it down.

The Contrast Principle

Another tidbit from To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink (the book I wrote about the other day) is the notion of the 'Contrast Principle'. Pink tells the story of when two ad executives were walking through Central Park and came upon a blind man begging for money holding a sign that read, "I'm blind."

They found that the man had only collected a few coins.

One of the ad executives decided to help. He asked the man if he could make a small change to his sign.  The man complied and the exec added four simple words to the sign.

Immediately, the execs noticed that people began to give the blind man more and more money. This continued throughout the day and the blind man had his most profitable day ever.

The four words that the exec added to the sign? "It's spring time and...".

"It's spring time and I'm blind."

By contrasting the experience of the person walking by with the experience of the blind man asking for change, the sign was able to give people better perspective on the blind man's situation.

Who knows if this story is true. But the point is a great one. Providing buyers with a contrast is critical. For innovation sales to work, there has to be a significant contrast between what exists now and what will exist in the future. The buyer must fully understand the current state.

Humans notice the difference between things, we don't notice absolutes.

Sales 3.0 & 'Problem Finding'

I've been reading To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, a great book that argues quite persuasively that we are all salespeople; that the most important thing that each of us does every day -- regardless of whether or not we're in sales -- is to sell. Selling your family, your friends, your colleagues, your customers, your boss. And he argues that most of the jobs of the future (mostly focused around education and healthcare) are going to be all about "moving people", e.g. selling people. Pink also puts a fine point on what I wrote about the other day where I compared Sales 1.0 and Sales 3.0. He notes that today's sales environment is more about “problem finding” than “problem solving”. He uses the example of someone purchasing a vacuum cleaner.

A guy might say, "I need a new vacuum cleaner". So the problem, is: he needs a new vacuum cleaner. It used to be that to solve this problem he would drive down to a a store and talk to a vacuum cleaner salesperson who would explain the options, features and pricing. This salesperson no longer exists -- or if they do, they're not that valuable anymore. Information on vacuum cleaners is easy to find on the internet. You can educate yourself on everything you need to know about buying a vacuum cleaner while sitting on your couch. The information is now a commodity. So the “problem solver" type of seller is going away. We don't need salespeople to solve the "I need a new vacuum cleaner" problem anymore.

But suppose that this guy’s problem isn’t that he needs a new vacuum cleaner. What if the screens in his house are letting too much dust into the house? Or what if his carpets are of poor quality and are attracting too much dust and replacing them would solve his problem?

This is what sales 3.0 does. It gives buyers insights (that's where the value is). But not insights on how to solve the problem, but what their problem actually is. Remember, information on the solution, in most cases, is now a relative commodity.

I love the vacuum cleaner analogy.

Sales 3.0 is about helping buyers understand their true problem.

Related to this, this is why RFPs (request for proposals) are now so backwards. Large enterprises don't need to execute an RFP to figure out what feature set will solve their problem at the lowest cost, they need advisers (sellers) to help them figure out what their problem is.

As more and more salespeople adopt the sales 3.0 approach, I think we’ll start to see the perception of salespeople begin to improve. If sellers are sincerely trying to provide buyers with insights on their business and helping them think through their problem, buyers won't avoid salespeople, they'll seek them out.

5 Reasons Blogs Are Better Than Books

Scott Young had a good post the other day asking the question, “are blogs better than books for mastering complex ideas? I’ve written in the past that most top selling business books are a waste of time and could be summed up in a couple of blog posts. Most business books start with a good idea but are executed terribly. They’re too long. They’re repetitive. They have too many redundant examples.

The reason for this is simple: the most effective way for a business writer to monetize an idea is to put it in a 300 page book and get it published -- regardless of whether or not that idea warrants 300 pages.

But the problem is you don’t need 300 pages to communicate most ideas. You really only need 1 to 3 pages.

With that in mind, here are five reasons that business blogs are better than business books:

  1. Blogs allow you to read about an idea every day or every week in short bursts, instead of in one, single commitment, so it continues to be top of mind. A much better way to learn.
  2. Because blogs enable real-time communities you can see the challenges with the idea and see it continuously evolve and improve.
  3. You can participate in conversations about the idea with people that care about it. Again, a better way to learn.
  4. Blog posts tend to be sharper and a bit more opinionated or controversial than business books. When you’re trying to sell your product to millions of people you sort of have to find a middle ground that most people will like. Bloggers generally don’t do this – blog post are shorter and sharper.
  5. Most people don’t read blogs – and they certainly don’t participate in the communities. You have an advantage over most people who just consume the initial idea and don’t iterate or engage.

I’m not saying I’m going to stop reading business books – I’m usually reading a couple at a time -- but I'm finding that more and more of the good stuff I read is in my blog feed and not my Kindle.

B2B Pricing & Malcolm Gladwell's New Book

Last Sunday night on a late plane ride back to New York I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. It’s not his best work, but it's still thought provoking and worth the time. David And Goliath

The cliff notes version of the book is that it turns out that David wasn't such an underdog after all. He was actually at a huge advantage in his battle with Goliath because he was able to change the rules of the game. Lots of underdogs win by changing the rules of the game so that they become the favorite. To prove his point, Gladwell discusses the civil rights movement, World War II, middle school basketball and many other examples. It's an interesting concept and a pretty good read.

Anyway, as part of his argument, he spends a lot of time talking about the difference between linear curves and U-curves. He argues that there are some things that correlate and may seem like they should sit on a linear curve, but in reality they sit on a U-curve.

Perhaps the most interesting and classic example that Gladwell uses is the correlation between class size and test scores. You might think that the class size/test score graph would be linear -- as class size increases (the X-axis), test scores go down (the Y-axis). That's the conventional thinking.

But it turns out that's not true. The reality is that when class size gets really small, studies have shown that test scores actually begin to decrease again. When there isn’t a range of opinions and when the teacher is too focused on one student, the quality of education goes down. Students benefit from the energy and discussion that comes with having lots of other students in the class. So the correlation between test scores and class size really looks more like a U-curve. Test scores are optimal when the class is around 25 students. Too big is bad and too small is bad.

U Curve

This is also true of crime and punishment. Many believe that as the severity of punishment increases, the amount of crime goes down. But studies have found that there’s a U-curve effect here as well. As punishment becomes more and more severe for smaller crimes, citizens begin to believe that the system isn't fair. That it’s us against them. And they commit more crimes as a result. So you obviously don't want punishment to be too lenient, but you also don't want it to be too strict. Like a lot of things, eliminating crime isn't simple. It isn't linear.

The corollary back to the story of David and Goliath is that you can't improve education simply by adding more teachers and reducing class size and you can't reduce crime by simply making punishment more severe. With complex problems, brute force doesn't always win.

With the U-curve in mind, I've been thinking a bit about price increases and how they impact client relationships. Traditionally, companies like to have modest annual price increases of, say, 2% to 5% per year. Companies like these small increases because they reduce the risk of putting a large strain on their client relationships or losing clients all together. And generally, due to inflation and other factors, clients usually find these increases acceptable.

But as you begin to raise the annual price increase more and more you'll generally see clients resist more and more; 2% is acceptable,15% is not. Like the examples above, on the surface, it seems that the correlation between price increases and client resistance should be graphed on a linear curve. As the price goes up (the Y-axis), so does resistance from clients (the X-axis). Keep your price increases low and your clients will be happy.

But I don't think this is true either. As price increases, client resistance certainly increases, but only to a certain degree. At some point, say 10% and up, in order for the increase to make sense there has to be a substantial and fundamental product change. A 20% increase isn't caused by inflation, increased labor costs, or a greedy salesperson. The increase is happening because there's a substantial change in the product and the product's value. As a result, clients should be much more accepting of this change and client resistance will start to go back down -- creating a U-curve. If the increase is sold and communicated properly, clients will begin to recognize that they're buying a much different product, or at least a much more valuable one. They'll understand that the rules have changed. In fact, I'd argue that at some point most clients would welcome these large but less frequent increases more than they would the small, annoying increases that don't show a corresponding increase in product value.

Increasing price is a requirement of any sustainable long term B2B relationship. And like most things, it's not simple. It's not linear. So when considering a strategic approach to pricing, companies should consider the U-curve and not rely on small, inflation-based annual increases that barely impact revenue. They should cancel those increases. That energy is better spent finding ways to change the rules -- to completely rethink product function, value and positioning. To make a splash. To delight rather than satisfy.

In short, the lesson of the U-curve is actually pretty simple. Don't avoid client resistance by keeping price increases small, modest and frequent; get clients behind them by making them big, bold and rare.

Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion

Influence

I just finished reading Influence, by Robert Cialdini. The book is about persuasion and examines the psychology of why people say "yes". I've never been a fan of the psychology of sales (I don't like the notion of tricking someone into buying something) but the book definitely gets you thinking. It basically walks through 6 "principles of influence". The principles are: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, consensus, authority and liking.

The book describes each principle and gives several examples of them in action. I've included some of the more interesting examples below.

The book describes a study where people go to homes and ask if they can place a small sign in the owner's front yard promoting a charity of some kind. Then, a few weeks later, the same people come back and ask if they can put a much, much larger sign in the front yard. They find that the people that said yes to the small sign are far, far more likely to say yes to the larger sign than the average person. This is the notion of consistency -- once you know you're the kind of person that puts a sign on your front yard, you become much more likely to do so when the stakes are raised. There are some obvious applications of this in sales (e.g. small deals that turn into large deals over time).

Another study found that when you call a potential voter and ask them if they're going to vote and they say "yes", they're far more likely to actually go out and vote than they would've been had they not taken the call (again, people like to appear consistent)

Several studies have found that we are far more likely to help people that dress like us.

In one controversial Ohio political election a few years ago, a man given little chance of winning the state attorney-general race swept to victory when, shortly before the election, he changed his name to Brown—a family name of much Ohio political tradition.

Salespeople in men's suits stores will always show the customer the most expensive suit first. Because when it comes time to buy a sweater or a pair of shoes, these look very expensive when contrasted wiht the expensive suit. It turns out that when a man enters a clothing store with the express purpose of purchasing a suit, he will almost always pay more for whatever accessories he buys if he buys them after the suit purchase than before.

This principle is applied in this excerpt from the book which is a letter from a college student to her parents.

Dear Mother and Dad:

Since I left for college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down, okay? Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now.

The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out the window of my dormitory when it caught on fire shortly after my arrival here is pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day. Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory, and my jump, was witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me in the hospital and since I had nowhere to live because of the burntout dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute.

He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven’t got the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child.

The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection which prevents us from passing our pre-marital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, I am not infected, and there is no boyfriend. However, I am getting a “D” in American History, and an “F” in Chemistry and I want you to see those marks in their proper perspective.

Your loving daughter, Sharon

There are lots of funny and interesting examples like this throughout the book.

Influence is pretty good and definitely worth the read if you have an interest in this topic. But like most business books it's way too long. So if you only have moderate interest in this topic, I'd try to find a cliff notes version.

Boomerang

Boomerang I recently read Michael Lewis' new book, Boomerang.  It's a fascinating book about the recent European Debt Crisis.  Like most of Lewis' books (especially The Big Short, that chronicles the U.S. financial crisis) he's able to take a fairly mundane topic, roll it up into a few hundred pages and make it a page turner.

The book dives into the crises that occurred in the last few years in three countries: Iceland, Greece and Ireland.

It's a fascinating and very well written book.  It gives the inside story on the political, economic and cultural circumstances that led to the unlikely collapse of three different economies.  If you're interested in European economics, politics or culture, I can assure you that you that you'll enjoy reading Boomerang.

Dethroning The King

Dethroning the King

I recently finished reading, Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover Of Anheuser-Busch, An American Icon.

The book, written by Financial Times columnist Julie Macintosh, gives the reader an astonishingly detailed look inside the takeover of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, a Belgian company run by Brazilians. Because the transaction occurred smack dab in the middle of the housing crisis in 2008, many didn't pay attention at the time.

If you like business history and have an interest in the mechanics of enormous organizations and enormous transactions, you'll love Dethroning the King.

Mastering the Complex Sale

I just finished Jeff Thull's bestselling book, Mastering the Complex Sale

I highly recommend it for individuals focused on complex and exploratory sales.  It gives some excellent perspective.  It points out that there have been three key phases in selling over the years. 

Era 1: Cold Calling, Presenting Your Features (me, me, me), Answering Objections

Era 2: Consultative Selling: Asking questions that lead the prospect down a path into your solution

The third era, and the one that Thull promotes, is around truly understanding a prospect's business and key business process and to diagnose problems and their impact.  Much like a doctor, Thull encourages you to spend time asking questions to determine whether the patient (prospect) has a problem at all and what is its impact.  Only after you and the prospect have a detailed understanding of the problem and the impact can you discuss a solution.  And in many cases, you may find that the prospect doesn’t have a problem or it isn’t a material problem, and you should walk away.  Just like a doctor wouldn’t operate on someone that didn’t need an operation, you shouldn't make a sale if there isn't a problem.  

Here were some of the key insights I took away from the book.  

  • Don’t present.  Always have one foot out the door.
  • You don’t want a decision on the solution, you want a decision on the problem
  • There’s no such thing as a decision maker – there are multiple people involved in decisions.
  • People make decisions based on emotion (Boeing is based in Chicago because the CEO wants to live in Chicago)
  • There isn’t a decision to buy, there is a decision to change.
  • Credibility comes from asking questions about the prospect's environment or situation that they haven’t thought of themselves.
  • Most prospects have a positive present state, they don’t feel they need to change.
  • Key question: How does the absence of my product manifest itself in my customer?
  • Procurement creates a framework for a decision and they always make the right decision within their own framework.
  • Most salespeople are selling with 90% of their product’s value behind their back because the problem isn't understood by the prospect.
  • Include all costs in your ROI analysis – including the cost of their resources to implement.
  • Talk about your top 3 pieces of value, but know all of them.
  • When diagnosing, get to the people that are closest to the data.
  • Don’t be a person that makes a sale, be a person that transforms your client’s company.
  • Take the customer backwards to get them to move faster, focus on the problem.
  • Don’t focus on bringing the prospect a positive future – a positive future implies they’re incompetent now.
  • Good salespeople mention the side effects or potential negatives of their solutions (like a doctor).
  • Don’t get emotionally involved, always be leaving.
  • If you can’t quantify the cost of the prospect's problem then there is no problem.
  • The decision to change is made during the diagnosis of the problem.
  • Don’t talk about your value proposition, talk about value hypothesis (e.g. net profit).
  • If you’re feeling pressure during the sales process you’re doing something wrong.
  • Go for the no.
  • Crisis drives change.
  • You cannot sell a group.
  • Find out out who owns the business metric that is impacted by your product and work with them to diagnose.
  • The hardest part of a psychiatrist’s job is getting the patient to see that they have a problem.  Same thing for salespeople.
  • When reaching out to someone cold, be sure that the message you send could not have been sent to anyone else in the world.
  • When a prospect goes cold, use the rule of two to give them the opportunity to tell you the truth.  “When I don’t hear back from someone it’s usually for one of  two reasons: 1.) they’re really interested in moving forward but they have some legwork to do internally to get the pieces in place or 2.) they’re really just not interested.  Either one is fine of course.  Which one is the case here?”

The Start-up of You

Startup of You I read Reid Hoffman's (LinkedIn's co-founder) new book last week, the Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself and Transform Your Career.

The thesis of the book is that everyone (from CEOs down to the lowest level employees) should view themselves as entrepreneurs.  It argues that you need to manage your career the same way an entrepreneur would manage a new enterprise.

I agree with this concept completely, and for those that haven't been exposed to this thesis, it's worth the read.  If you're already familiar with this career approach, you won't find much value in the book.  It describes the concept effectively, gives several practical tips and action items to help get you there but largely it comes off as a long advertisement for LinkedIn.

That said, there were a few valuable insights that I took from the book.  Here are two:

The first is about managing your network and asking for help/favors.  When you ask someone for something like advice or an introduction, try hard to give that person something first: a link to an article they might be interested in, an insight you picked up that might help their business, a connection or recommendation that might help them do their job better.  Also, give them some thoughtful and insightful context on what you need.  Once you've done this, then ask for the favor.  Give them a "gift" before you ask them for help.  This is a neat approach to managing your network.

The second is about risk.  The book cites a Neurophysicist that explains that to keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities).  This caused our ancestors to be very good at avoiding dangerous tribes or animals that could kill them in favor of seeking out opportunities for more food or shelter or resources.  While this was a practical approach at the time (they had to avoid death), this instinct is far less applicable to the world we live in today; a bad investment or a poor career decision isn't going to kill us.  The book encourages the reader to keep this instinct in mind when navigating your career and to try to resist it.  You're likely vastly overestimating the risk and potential pain that could come from most career decisions.

In short, the book is a fairly engaging and quick read and the message is spot on.  If this is new concept for you, I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy.

Stop Stealing Dreams

Stopstealingdreams
Seth Godin just released his free ebook titled, Stop Stealing Dreams. It's an excellent book. I highly recommend reading it and passing it onto your friends -- especially those that work in education. It's basically a series of blog posts so it's an easy read. Here are some lines from the book that I liked the most:

Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.

Every year, we churn out millions of workers who are trained to do 1925-style labor.

Are we going to applaud, push, or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable, and mediocre factory workers?

There are so many examples in the mainstream news of companies not adapting and failing as a result (Research in Motion and Kodak are a couple of the most recent examples). The markets change, competitors take market share and the companies that don't adapt fail and fail fast.

There's no secret here. In fact, I would bet that most school administrators and politicians could explain exactly why Research in Motion is failing. But our schools -- possibly our most important public institution -- are doing exactly what RIM did, and to some degree are experiencing the same fate.  

Evil Plans

Evil Plans

I've always believed that most business books never should have been written.  Instead, the ideas in the book could have been summed up in a couple of blog posts or a long-form article.  I prefer to digest business content in the form of a blog rather than a book.  Too often business books are stuffed with superfluous examples and repetitive fluff in an effort to turn a somewhat simple concept into a 300 page, $14.99 book.  Like most people that are apt to read a business book, I don't have the time or the desire to read a lot of fluff.

Hugh Macleod, the blogger, artist, and writer must share this opinion.  He's an excellent business writer.  He writes a bit like he's paranoid that the reader is going to get bored.  He knows how to write books for people that are busy.  He makes short and simple points (often with a real life example) and moves onto the next thing.  He almost forces you to read faster than you normally would.  He did this extremely well in his first book, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity.  Ignore Everybody was one of the best business books I've ever read.  It's full of insightful ideas that are communicated concisely, without the fluff.  I wrote a post on Ignore Everybody a while back where I called out some of the best tidbits.  I highly recommend reading Ignore Everybody.

Over the weekend, I finished reading Hugh's latest book, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the way to World Domination.  While not as insightful as his first, it's just as inspiring.  In short, Hugh asks his readers to develop and act on an Evil Plan.  What's an Evil Plan?  Hugh sums it up well in this line from the book:

"It has never been easier to make a great living doing what you love. But to make it happen, first you need an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs to get away from lousy bosses, from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate, and ACTUALLY start doing something they love, something that matters. Life is short."

The book is written with a sense of urgency that suggests that the writer has some personal interest in getting you to move on your plan.  Now.

The book is a great reminder that with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection, we all have the power to shape our lives and careers and link up what we do each day with what we love and are passionate about.

If you're looking for a bit of inspiration to get off your butt and start moving on what you love, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Evil Plans.  It won't be a waste of time and I guarantee that it'll at least make you challenge whether or not you should be working on what you're working on.

Poke the Box

Pokethebox I just finished reading Seth Godin’s new book, Poke the Box.  Much like the book, I'll try to keep my thoughts concise -- it's only 96 pages.

Like most of Seth’s books -- I’ve read most if not all of them-- Poke the Box promotes a very simple concept.  Seth probably could’ve communicated what he was trying to communicate in a couple of blog posts; actually, he could’ve summed it up in a word: “Go!”

Poke the Box means make change, make it happen, start, don’t wait, ship!  Shipping is what matters.

It was a  quick read and I’d recommend it if you have a few hours to kill on a plane or if you're feeling like you could use a good kick in the pants.  The book wasn’t all that insightful -- most of what Seth had to say most of us already know,  but it was filled with good reminders that can help motivate.

For me, the two most notable reminders were:

  1. Get started and iterate like crazy.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply move.
  2. Most initiatives don’t work so don’t be afraid of failure and don‘t get frustrated when they don‘t work.  Real failure is when we don't start.

Of course sometimes the hardest thing about starting is knowing when to quit.  Seth tried to answer that a few years ago in The Dip.

All in all, a solid, quick read.

The Management Myth

Cover of The Management Myth The management consulting business has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Something just doesn't add up. Matthew Stewart just wrote a book about this called the Management Myth, where he chronicles his time as a management consultant at a major firm. I think these two quotes from the book sum up my confusion nicely.

Can you think of anything less improbable than taking the world's most successful firms, leaders in their businesses, and hiring people just fresh out of school and telling them how to run their businesses, and they are willing to pay millions of dollars for their advice?

With my overpriced advisory services and profligate spending on luxury travel, I was a grossly inefficient efficiency expert, a parody of economic virtue.

Ignore Everybody

I ordered Hugh Macleod's new book Ignore Everybody from Amazon and read it cover to cover in one sitting after getting home from work tonight.  Great book.  There were a lot of really cool ideas and observations that I felt I could really relate to.  Some of his lines about New York were right on. ..

Anyway, here are the lines I liked the most and I hope I don't forget.

  • ...most team members are far more concerned with the power relationships going on inside their immediate professional circle than with what may be actually interesting and useful to the customer.
  • Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.  You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven.  But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed and all you will feel is emptiness.
  • Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me.  Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on a antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would seriously surprise me.
  • Art suffers the moment people start paying for it.
  • Never try to sell a meteor to a Dinosaur.  It wastes your time and annoys the Dinosaur.
  • Quality isn’t Job One.  Being totally f***ing amazing is Job One.
  • It’s hard to sell if nobody has bought in.
  • Stay ahead of the culture by creating the culture.
  • Nobody moves to Ne w York in order to survive.  Of course that’s what most of them end up doing.
  • A lot of people in business say they have twenty years experience, when in fact they only have one year’s experience, repeated twenty times.
  • The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there.
  • "I don’t need a lot to be happy," said Eric.  "Just enough to pay the rent and enjoy a beer with my friends.  I don't think that’s asking for too much."  Eric was obviously a deranged lunatic.
  • Work hard.  Keep at it.  Live simply and quietly.  Remain humble.  Stay positive.  Create your own luck.  Be nice.  Be polite.

Bloglines

I visit Bloglines more than any other website. Probably 3 or 4 times a day.

Bloglines is a free service that aggregates all of my favorite blogs onto one page for easy reading. They're plenty of these sites but Blogines is a very user friendly site that can be easily navigated on my laptop or BlackBerry. I'm not sure how they make money (my guess is they're charging for premium services or will be soon) but if you read a lot of blogs like I do they're definitely worth checking out.