5 books to change your business and your life

5 books to change your business and your life

Summer is here, and with it, some long awaited leisure time for you to sit at the beach/pool/mountainside or wherever you find a great spot – and read.

It’s not easy to find a new book that can influence profound change, if that’s the type of reading experience you like. So we’ve compiled a list of five books with the potential to change your thinking about your life and/or organization. Each of these books offers you a perspective that just may jump start your next brilliant idea, elevate your work results, or simply make you feel great about yourself.


1. Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson







This is a terrific collection of contrarian thought from the founders of 37signals. The authors are not at all fans of business-as-usual and doing things because, “Well… that ‘s how we’ve always done them”. Consider a few choice passages from this spirited book.

“Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy”

“Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.”

“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make due with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.

“There are four-letter words you should never use in business. They’re not what you think they are. They’re “need”, “must”, “can’t”, “easy”, “just”, “only” and “fast”. These words gets in the way of healthy communication”


2. The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World by Frans Johansson

The click moment





If you believe in an ordered universe where everything is pre-ordained and happens for a reason, this provocative book will challenge you to the core. This author’s premise is that your life is shaped by a sequence of random events. But the good news is you can learn to better spot those important – sometimes invisible – events and use them to your great advantage.

This book is filled with stories of success that, if not for a chance moment, would never have existed. Think about how you met your spouse, how you discovered your current job, where you happen to live, etc. Johansson’s thesis is that by in large, those important aspects of your life didn’t come about through your controlled and careful planning, but rather from chance moments, events, impressions and insights which he calls “click moments”.  As counterintuitive as this idea may seem, after reading several of his examples, you may change you view of your life, of the things you own and of the people you know. Learn to spot these new moments in order to get more out of your life.


3. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

Trust me I'm lying






I admit. I was naive. Before reading this book I had a fair amount of trust in the journalistic process and the dissemination of news. But after reading Trust me, I’m Lying, I’m seeing high profile blogs and what passes for business news in a far different light.

Holiday was a marketing and PR guy who had a talent for manipulating the media in order to manufacture news to the benefit of his clients. Basically, he created fake news stories at the blog level that ended up being reported by the national media, and that media benefited his clients who were in the middle of it all.

Apparently, he’s now reformed and this book serves as his confessional. It provides great insight to the news process and to the little-known art of creating PR. Without resorting to the questionable tactics of Holiday, there are interesting lessons here about the relationship between blogging, the media industry, and the resulting PR. That knowledge can increase your skill for creating a legitimate public relations campaign can be built to the benefit of your organization.


4. The Flinch by Julien Smith.

The flinch




The “Flinch”, as Smith explains, is that lightening quick reaction brought about by fear that stops us from doing things that may be beneficial to us or our organization. It applies equally to individuals and groups.

The flinch is your real opponent. Behind the flinch is pain avoidance, and dealing with pain demands strength you may not think you have. There was a time when the Flinch was necessary to preserve our life – because we needed a lightening-quick avoidance of real physical dangers – a reflex. But now that lightening-quick reflex prevents some of us from doing things outside our comfort zone and keeps us from growth and prosperity.

Individuals and organizations experience Flinches that invoke a fear of a certain kind of person, a kind of racism or xenophobia, or a fear of new technology, or new ideas. After thoroughly examining the nature of the Flinch, Smith provides the reader with some very interesting exercises to experience and to tame the Flinch.


5. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek 

Start with Why






I was first introduced to this book by a TED conference video by Sinek. He starts the talk asking: How do you explain when others achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? Why is Apple consistently so innovative? Why did the Wright brothers, with little funding, no press, and little formal education, become the first to fly? Out of all the sufferers of the pre-civil rights movement, why was Martin Luther King the man that rose to such prominence and to lead the movement?

The theme of this book is an exploration of the most powerful motivator of all: The WHY. Sinek proposes that those with the strongest and most well articulated WHY will rise to the top. Going into great detail about the Wright brothers, successful companies and popular cultural figures, he convincingly demonstrates the power of starting with WHY. Most people want to start with the what or the how, Sinek makes a great case for why those aspects of a company, product or movement are very weak motivators as compared to starting with WHY.

How We Got To Now

How We Got To Now

How we got to nowIf you like learning about how big ideas have shaped human history, and want a great summer read, I’ve got a book for you.

How We Got To Now is precisely what this wonderful book describes. The now includes our current state of technology, population and who we have become as human beings. How did much the stuff we now have and take mostly for granted come about and why?

The book’s table of contents tell us the subjects author Steven Johnson will tackle 1. Glass, 2. Cold, 3. Sound, 4. Clean, 5. Time, and 6. Light.

If they all sound like very broad topics, they are. Each of these inventions, like fire much earlier, changed human history. Johnson shows us the ripple effect of each of them and how they changed much more than the narrow problem they were first intended to solve. In fact the real value of the book is in Johnson’s demonstration of seemingly completely unrelated effects coming from a single cause.

One example is the chapter on cold. We take ice cubes for granted, but 200 years ago, people living in the temperate climates had no idea of ice cream or a cold drink. The book traces the history of a great entrepreneur named Fredrick Tutor as he shipped huge blocks of ice from Walden Pond and other New England bodies of frozen water to the Bahamas, South America, Cuba and other warm-weather places. Johnson tells us the story of how introducing ice (cold) to the people of warm climates led to the invention of artificial cold air (air conditioning) and then to flash freezing invented by none other than Clarence Birdseye (Birdseye Foods) and beyond.

The ‘beyond’ is where I most enjoyed the book. Where flash freezing of vegetables leaves off, freezing of other kinds starts. In fact, at the end of this particular story, we are reminded of the flash freezing of human eggs and sperm. What Frederick Tutor started in the early 1800s has had a huge impact on family size, fertility rates, and the earth’s population!

The stories behind all the other topics are equally fascinating. At the end of the book, Johnson talks about the timing of great inventions and the curious fact that in each of these cases, coincidentally there were others working to solve the same problem at the same time. For example, Thomas Edison was not the only one trying to invent a working light bulb at the time. In fact, he didn’t even invent it – no more than Steve Jobs invented the MP3 player. There were many people all over the world trying to discover the best filament material and vessel for the light bulb. So why is the timing for a particular invention right at that particular moment in history?

These and many other interesting questions await you in How We Got Here. I highly recommend it for technology and history buffs alike. And you’ll seem so much smarter at that next cocktail party this summer!


What to do when it’s your turn – and it’s always your turn

What to do when it’s your turn – and it’s always your turn

Google ChromeScreenSnapz347The curious title to Seth Godin’s latest book eloquently encapsulates his plea for all of us to make the most of our lives. It is a topic for which Seth has become a leading advocate in the business community, resuming the theme from his 2010 book Linchpin. Earlier books such as All Marketers are Liars, Purple Cow, and Meatball Sundae defined Godin as a leading authority on all things marketing. He has since broadened his message and influence to the marketing of self-actualization.

According to Godin, it’s always your turn because you determine your life’s course. To use Godin’s vernacular, we all have the opportunity to show up and make a ruckus – to shake up the status quo and make a difference. Instead of sitting on the sidelines head down doing what we are told, get into the game. Find a problem that can be solved, take the risk, then ship. “Ship” is Godin’s term for getting our product or service into the market. It’s risky and it might fail, but this book teaches us to take the leap and learn from the experience. And, hey, it might even work.

There are certain threads throughout the book tying his ideas together. One example is taken from a 2006 commercial for a company called Becel. In it, an executive is riding up an escalator (not an elevator!) when it suddenly stops. Looking around and yelling for help, the executive is paralized by indecision as he waits for someone to get it moving again. Godin’s point is that too many of us are stuck on a metephoric escalator unwilling to take the initiative to take command of our situation and just walk up the steps.

There is a singular message within these 155 richly illustrated pages: Travel through your fears and plunge into your capacity for contribution and the resulting success that will define your life. The magic of this book lies in Godin’s ability to communicate that one simple message through a wide variety of stories and real life examples.

Some of my favorite ideas from the book

If we don’t dare to try, it’s our own fault

Failure: Are you taking it seriously or are you taking it personally?

Why not invent different rules, different expectations, different ways of deciding what success is and what it’s not?

If you care enough to do exceptional work, choose to risk failure

But the productive artist refuses to incur an artistic obligation. She acts as though the audience doesn’t owe her anything, and forgiving them in advance gives her the freedom to make the work she needs to make. The flipside, though, is also true. The productive artist must act as if she owes the audience, and in unlimited supply.

The Internet means you can learn anything you want, if you are thirsty enough to do the work to learn it.

As we make our world smaller by saying no, it gets ever easier to be alone with our thoughts, to tend the garden of our fears and imagined inadequacies. No closes doors; no diminishes the external distractions that can take away from our internal chatter. No feels safe, but no is a way to amplify the noise in our head. Yes is an invitation to the rest of the world. An invitation to be needed.

If your goal is to be remarkable, please understand that the easiest way to do that is to compromise less, not more. Mediocrity feels safe and easy until it’s neither.

DeVinci didn’t do kits.

Book review – The Martian

Book review – The Martian

Google ChromeScreenSnapz315The next time you find yourself browsing through the airport book store looking for something to occupy your next five hours, I have a recommendation: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Andy was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and lists relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight as some of his hobbies. Clearly, Andy Weir is not your average nerd.

The Martian is a gripping story about astronauts on a manned mission to Mars who are forced by a sandstorm to abort their mission and return to Earth. During the evacuation, one of them is separated from the party and presumed dead. Astronaut Mark Watney awakes to find himself alone on the red planet, with no chance of rescue for another four years, and not enough supplies to get him that far. Think Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

In the face of every problem – and they came fast and furious – Watney first thinks he’s doomed, then conjures up an ingenious solution that buys him another hour or day on the planet. One example involves his need for water. His strategy for creating water is to burn hydrogen in the “Hab” – short for “Habitation, the pressurized tent in which he lives. He uses fuel from the MAV (the vehicle for traveling on the martian surface) as his source of hydrogen.

“The concept is simple, but the execution will be incredibly dangerous.

“Every twenty hours, I’ll have 10 liters of CO2 thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I’ll vent it into the Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab then opening the valve until it’s empty.

“The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time.

“Then, I’ll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridium catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I’ll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it.

“As you can see, this plan provides many opportunities for me to die in a fiery explosion.

“Firstly, hydrazine is some serious death. If I make any mistakes, there’ll be nothing left but the ‘Mark Watney Memorial Crater’ where the Hab once stood.

“Presuming I don’t [screw] up the hydrogen, there’s still the matter of burning hydrogen. I’m going to be setting a fire. In the Hab. On purpose.

“If you asked every engineer at NASA when the worst scenario for the Hab was, they’d all answer “fire”. If you asked them what the result would be, they’d answer ‘death by fire’.”

I’ll let you discover for yourself how this complicated and dangerous plan ends.

Remember the iconic scene in the Apollo 13 movie staring Tom Hanks where the NASA mission controllers bring in only the materials and tools available to the astronauts? Using only what is available on the ship they devise a way to conform the available CO2 scrubbers on ship to clean the air. The Martian creates an entire book out of that type of ingenuity and survival urgency.

If you’d enjoy a story that continuously throws life-threatening challenges at a hero who never stops using his whits and his ruthless scientific mastery, this book will make that five hours fly by.

How successful leaders think

How successful leaders think

Think of the last time you were confronted with two alternatives. Nether one was a great choice, but you felt compelled to choose one – the best.

You probably don't have to think too hard since this is a very common scenario. In fact, it is so common that most of us routinely look for the opposite of the less desired option as the only alternative. 

It turns out that there is an important skill that can be learned as an solution to the either-or dilemma. In a Harvard Business Review paper written by Roger Martin, the "Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, entitled, How Successful Leaders Think, Roger outlines a thinking method that involves creating a synthesis of two seemingly opposing alternatives. "Martin calls this "Integrative Thinking".

Using Bob Young, the founder of software giant Red Hat, as one example of integrative thinking, Martin shows how the whole of the software industry saw only two methods of distributing software: The proprietary model employed by companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP in which the software is sold but the source code is kept proprietary, and the so-called free software model in which companies sold their software for a very low price and gave away the source code (open source).

Not liking either of those alternative distribution models, Young pioneered a synthesis of the two that allowed Red Hat to go public and become a $1.3 billion company. Great business leaders like Jack Welsh, Steve Jobs, and Bob Young don't lock themselves into an either-or scenario, and this well written paper illustrates the important life skill of creating a third alternative out of a synthesis of the most obvious two and how that ability can be mastered by you.

To read the Harvard Business Review paper, click: http://hbr.org/2007/06/how-successful-leaders-think/ar/1

I listened to it as an audio file. If you'd like to make the most of your 30 minute commute tonight, click here.

Discovering your inner genius: A video interview with Seth Godin

Discovering your inner genius: A video interview with Seth Godin

Icarus deceptionSeth Godin’s most recent book, The Icarus Deception continues his departure from authoring breakthrough marketing books by creating an ambitious work on individual achievement and personal greatness.

The title of this book refers to the legend of Icarus and the warning he was given by his father Daedalus not to fly too close to the sun with the wax wings created by his father enabling both of them to escape prison.

The word Deception in the title ties to the second, lessor known, warning Icarus was given. Godin laments that we are only taught the first half, that of not flying too high. Yet, Daedalus also warned his son not to fly to low – too close to the sea – because the water would ruin the lift in his wings.

The deception is that while most of us grow up believing in the dangers of flying too high, Godin reminds us that it is more dangerous to fly too low. The result of that ingrained fear of flying too high is that we settle for low expectations and small dreams and, therefore, guarantee ourselves far less than we are capable of. Godin admonishes each of us to find our art – a term he uses to describe anything we are capable of creating. Your art could be a new way to think about your company’s next product line, a new business venture, or your jazz quintet’s upcoming concert.

The Icarus Deception is an inspiring collection of insights from Seth on thinking differently about our lives, our “art”, and the potential life offers each of us. Here are a few examples:

  • “The safety zone has changed but the comfort zone has not. Those places that felt safe – the corner office, the famous college, the secure job – aren’t.”
  • “Creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of the artist.”
  • “Seizing new ground, making connections between people or ideas, working without a map – these are the works of art, and if you do them, you are an artist, regardless of whether you wear a smock, use a computer, or work with others all day long.”
  • “Correct is fine, but it’s better to be interesting.”
  • “What’s scarce is trust, connection, and surprise. These are three elements in the work of a successful artist.”

The video interview enables Godin to further illustrate his ideas. I found it particularly interesting to hear him talk about the frequency with which he gives birth to new entrepreneurial ideas and how he evaluates their success or failure.

Dale Carnegie’s great advice – mind mapped

Dale Carnegie’s great advice – mind mapped

It has sold over 15 million copies since being published in 1934. How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the great classics in the business self-help category. If you lack the time necessary to read the book, we found a mind-map containing its most salient points.

Click: http://www.mindmeister.com/da/40950677/how-to-win-friends-influence-people

The Cluetrain Manifesto – The End of Business as Usual

The Cluetrain Manifesto – The End of Business as Usual

As luck would have it, a thought-provoking book found me recently at a local book store. It's the Cluetrain Manifesto. The tenth anniversary edition came out a couple years ago, or according to the authors, the "tenth ADDITION", and unlike most books on the internet that are obsolete before they even come to press, this important piece originating a dozen years ago could have been written yesterday.

it is a persuasive reminder that corporate communication can no longer be sterile, cleverly crafted bromides announcing the company's brilliance of perfection. People can no longer be fooled. "Your call is very important to us" followed by "Please leave a message" just reminds one how little the company truly cares about them.

This is one of those books that will resonate differently with every reader. Here are 10 of their 95 theses that I really liked:

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Top ten summer reading list

Top ten summer reading list

With summer vacation season officially here, we can all use some reading recommendations, right? Here are my top ten books for your Kindle, iPad, Nook, PlayBook, or bound paper (do they even do that anymore??) Not in any particular order, here are some that might entertain and/or educate you this summer…

  1. Pinball by Jerzy Kosinski. An exciting adventure Kosinski wrote for George Harrison about a beautiful ruthless woman obsessed with finding the real identity of Goddard, a rock superstar whose identity is known not even to his family and closest friends.
  2. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely  Do you think we all act based upon reason and what is in our best interests? Dan Ariely exposes the irrational forces at play in our decisions regarding sex, money, pain and much more in this fascinating look at our very predictable irrational human behaviors.
  3. The Presence Process by Michael Brown As a former music journalist, Michael Brown has a rich talent for the English language. Using his great writing skills and deeply personal self-healing experience, he will take you on an introspective journey to still your mind and bring you back to the calm state in which you deserve to live: the present.
  4. Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki  Kawasaki's wit and candid communication style is in full force in this eclectic collection of thoughts on entrepreneurship, marketing, persuasion and much more. You'll feel as if you've read several important business books by the end.
  5. All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin  The intentionally provocative title reflects Godin's premise that a marketing message, to be effective, must mirror the existing beliefs of its audience rather than attempt to create a new belief. Very few can afford the marketing cost of convincing a mass audience of a new belief sufficient to support a new product or idea, so tie your product or service into their existing beliefs.
  6. Island by Aldous Huxley A man washes up on an unmapped island and discovers something oddly fascinating about the enlightened inhabitants. Something that will forever change the way he views his past and future. It might even change yours as well.
  7. Social Boom! by Jeffrey Gitomer  Having built his reputation as a modern day sales guru, Gitomer tackles the complex topic of business social media. In writing this insightful little book, Jeffrey was smart enough to bring in over a dozen social media experts to provide the detail of how to use social media in all its major variants to prospect and sell.
  8. Healing Back Pain by John Sarno M.D.  Okay, maybe this one isn't entertaining seaside reading, but for those of us feeling the ill effects of age showing up in our back and other places, this is required reading. Sarno is well-known for his thesis that all back pain is due, not to physical abnormalities, but rather from our subconscious attempting to get our attention. About what? That's for you to uncover so that your back pain ends.
  9. Little Big Things by Tom Peters  If you are looking for a collection of thoughts to jump start you out of a rut, this is the book. Irreverent and funny as ever, Peters will get you thinking differently about your job, career, relationships and life.
  10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand  Often considered the most influential book outside of the bible, its monumental theme has never been more relevant than today. If great writing, classically heroic characters, passionate love, real-world philosophy, life-changing ideas and (did I mention great writing?) floats your boat, read this book!

Is your marketing a meatball sundae? (part one)

Is your marketing a meatball sundae? (part one)

Speaking with a colleague the other day, I mentioned a favorite marketing book and was surprised that he had neither read nor even heard of it. I have noticed that too few well-read people know of this wonderful book and its important theme.

The book is Meatball Sundae by marketing guru Seth Godin. Having written such marketing classics such as Purple Cow and All Marketers are Liars, Meatball Sundae is not as well known. But its message is critical for all of us struggling to use the internet and the ubiquity of social media to market our products or services.

The book's title refers to what Seth calls average products and services sold to average people (meatballs) and the internet with its social media and email marketing components (Sundae). The premise is that you can't just put the ice cream, cherries and whip cream on a meatball in order to make it taste better (sell more). His point being that spamming through email, buying thousands of banner impressions and slapping your Facebook link everywhere isn't simply the next step in your traditional marketing strategy. Not if you're using this media like just another form of mass TV and radio media.

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