One of my favorite “to ponder” exercises is this one: “what if we fell asleep today and woke up 20 years from now?” We live in a time of such rapidly accelerating change that we can hardly imagine the change that is coming.
Try this – what will the year be in which we no longer get around with vehicles that have drivers? Too far fetched? Let’s make it simpler – what year will bring the arrival of transportation for most people that uses something other than oil? For such a change is coming! The real issue is not if, but when – and, how will we get there?
Thomas Friedman has already led us on similar journeys – in retrospect, and in process. My first exposure to Thomas Friedman was in 1999, when I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It was an announcement that globalization was upon us. His next volume (I read it in 2005) told us how flat the world was. And now, the world is just as flat, but it is also becoming increasingly hot and crowded. Since I haven’t read his new book yet, I don’t know what his prescription for change is. But I know this – change is coming. Real change.
I heard Mr. Friedman interviewed on 60 Minutes about this new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America. One sentence jumped out at me. He described how ludicrous it would have been to lead a pep rally for the IBM Selectic typewriter at the dawn of the personal computer age. You remember that typewriter, don’t you? Interchangeable fonts on those easily removable balls, ease of use – it was a marvel!
(By the way, there is now a Selectric Typewriter Museum).
Who today would switch back to it?
Not me, thank you. A new age is upon us. And now I have added to my keyboard that nifty tiny keyboard on an iPhone. Who would have predicted?
Mr. Friedman calls us to a new revolution – a green revolution. One that will help our planet. One that will help our people. One that will help our nation.
Even his critics admire his work ethic. He continues to travel, to observe, to ponder, to think, to write.
And most of all, he makes us think.
I hope we will listen…
I will present a synopsis of the recently updated and reissued The Mary Kay Way: Timeless Principles from America’s Greatest Woman Enrepreneur by Dallas and international business legend Mary Kay Ash at the August First Friday Book Synopsis. I am just barely into it, having skimmed it and just now beginning my deep dive into its contents. But I have a first impression that I want to share. And I start with a story from an earlier chapter of my life in full-time ministry.
From the late 1970’s into the early 1990’s, as I served churches in California and Texas, I studied the books and literature of the “church growth movement” in the way that I study business books today. And I remember a breakfast meeting I had with M. Norvel Young, former minister at a church in Lubbock, then President and Chancellor of Pepperdine University. (I served a term as Chairman of the Chancellor’s Council at Pepperdine). He left the church in the mid-to-late 1950’s, as I remember. I asked for the breakfast, and asked Norvel just one question: how did you grow the church in Lubbock, Texas? (When he left the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock for Pepperdine, it was the largest church of that denomination in the country, and his decision drew enough attention that even Time Magazine wrote about his move). Norvel spoke with the enthusiasm of an idealist as he told me the principles he followed. As I listened, I realized that he simply did, naturally, what all the church growth experts had “discovered” years later. There had been no church growth books written yet when he served as a minister. He discovered/created/practiced church growth principles on his own — before anyone even knew to call them “church growth principles.”
I thought of this breakfast as I launched into my first read of the Mary Kay book. I’ve read a number of books about how to treat and encourage employees (Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner is excellent), and numerous good books on leadership. I now think I could have just read the Mary Kay book and learned most of what I needed to learn. I feel about Mary Kay what I felt about Norvel. She was a natural. She was a natural leader, a natural encourager, a natural company builder. She did all those right things that the experts would later discover and write about. Her values, her vision — they created and shaped her “business strategy.” Her approach was truly people centered and values based — she treated people well and encouraged them to the point that they could give their best, for their own careers, for the good of the company, and especially for the good of their customers.
I’m looking forward to my deeper dive into the book. But I already know the secret — Mary Kay Ash made all the right business decisions because of her personal values and philosophy. And now, experts are writing books that describe these principles that came so naturally to this remarkable woman. One could learn much from the self-discovered wisdom of this remarkable business leader.
Information overload has set in. People have been talking about this for quite a few years. But now it is getting serious. Everywhere I go, somebody else is writing about the problem. Too many e-mails. Too many distractions. The people in the United States are losing any ability to take an actual vacation. Most can’t even define the word vacation anymore.
WE ARE TOO BUSY!
And I see no light at the end of this tunnel. We are getting busier by the year/month/week/day. In a recent article in Slate.com, I learned of the news studies being done on how to write the kinds of sentences that people will actually read on line. The article states its opinion of our shrinking attention span: Lazy Eyes: How we read online.
But the real moment of understanding came recently when I finished presenting a book synopsis to a corporate audience. I could tell something was up by the body language. The book was Big Think Strategy, and it trumpeted the value of thinking big think thoughts rather than small think thoughts. It speaks of the value of looking at the big, big picture, of taking bold steps. And all of that requires time to ponder, time to think, time to dream. I asked someone after the presentation about the resistance I was sensing. Then I understood. The thoughts went something like this (my paraphrase): “We would love to think big think thoughts. We would love to think about anything. But we leave this presentation, and our to do list has gotten longer because we have taken time away from our work to think about the latest book. The crunch of the immediate saps the life of dreaming right out of us.”
As I said, it is a serious problem.
But I know this. Thinking — thinking big think thoughts — is part of our work. And if we don’t make time for that, the future might slip right out of our hands.
I don’t have a solution. Any suggestions out there?
Last Friday, April 4, we had a wonderful 10 year anniversary celebration for the First Friday Book Synopsis. Over 85 people gathered (some literally could not get to the Park City Club due to an overturned truck on the Tollway). We had our usual presentations of two good and provocative business books, but we also had a very special morning of visiting with friends from long ago as well as new friends made in the more recent past…
Karl gave away a copy of his favorite book from the decade: Winning the Global Game: A Strategy for Linking People and Profitsby Jeffrey Rosensweig. I chose The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp. And – we announced that our new updated web site is coming soon for audio recordings + handouts of our presentations. (Be watching — the news is right around the corner).
Check out our slide show of photos from the 10th anniversary.
And – as always, thanks to each of you who make this event possible — and successful.
I had breakfast with Robert Morris this week. Robert is the business book reviewer extraordinaire for Amazon and Border’s, along with a few other venues that use his expertise. We pondered this question: with so many business books out there, why are there not more excellent companies that remain excellent over the long haul? It is a good question. He calls this the knowing-doing gap. And it is a mystery.
First, an obvious problem. I present synopses for 24 books a year – minimum. At least half of these are business books. I don’t remember what I read from month to month – at least, not with great precision and detail. If I can’t remember, chances are that I am not fully implementing all the new wisdom I gain each month. I suspect this is a problem for many. We are inundated with information, and this means that we can’t stop, and then ponder, and then implement the best ideas that we read (or hear). But – we still have this concern: what do we do with all of this new, fabulous, useful information?
Let’s start with this question: how do you read a business book? This is not as simple a question as it sounds. Because there seems to be plenty of evidence that a lot of business people read a lot of business books and seldom implement the kinds of changes to their organizations, or their own lives, that would indicate that they had learned and implemented the lessons found in such books. In fact, implementation/execution – actually making changes — is the only evidence that such lessons have been learned.
In other words, the purpose of reading business books is not to say, “Yes, I’ve read that book.” It is to find something new, better, useful — that you can then put into practice. In other words, you have not learned until you know what to do, and then you actually do, what you learn to do.
So – how do you read a business book? Let’s try this list of questions as a place to start when reading any business book:
1) First, what is the key transferable content? What does this book say to me that would lead me to make changes in the way that I work, and the way my organization functions – for the better?
2) Ask, “What am I already doing well, that this book reinforces as valuable? KEEP DOING IT!
and then, ask
3) What am I not doing that if I did do, it would move me, and my organization, in the direction of greater effectiveness and success?
and then ask,
4) What am I doing badly that I need to stop, or change, immediately?
And then, just to remind you that you are not as dumb or as ineffective as you think, ask this:
5) How am I already ahead in areas covered in this book? In other words, what could the author have learned from me, to include in this book?
For a shorthand version of these questions, try these:
• What did I not know that I now know?
• What have I not done that I could/should do – now?
• What have I never even considered that I need to give major consideration to — now?
My baseball-coaching son would add this to this discussion. He coaches teenagers, and he says that you never tell a player to correct more than two things at a time. Anything more, and the player feels overwhelmed, and corrects nothing. So – maybe the First Friday Book Synopsis is just right. Two books a month are presented. Aim for one “incremental” step toward greater effectiveness and success from each book. Spend the month working on these two matters. And then, the next month’s synopses can provide a couple of new steps to tackle.
Yes, I know that every book has more than one good change to recommend and implement. But, improvement overload can stop us all in our tracks. So – pick a couple a month. Go to work, and then watch and evaluate what happens.
I think this is how to read a business book. What do you think?
“Seldom do we completely overcome even a single fault, nor do we aim at daily improvement.” (Thomas A’ Kempis).
I’ve been doing some thinking lately. What drives people to write so many books? And, more perplexing, what drives people to read so many? Here’s my theory: we all know that we have to do better. I mean that quite literally. We have to do better. We have to do life better, marriage better, and in this arena, we have to do business better.
It’s been years since I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. But I believed then, and I believe now, that his key point is true: we are all lazy. No, we do not lay around on the couch all day. We put in the hours. We (try to) get our work done. But we are almost intentionally obstinate, refusing to work on the parts of our (business) life that need to be improved. We do the same things in the same way, hoping that we won’t have to grow or change. It is simply easier to avoid the “I’ve got to do better” tasks.
But we do know better. We admire those who aim at constant improvement. One of my favorite books (a small, powerful, quick read) is by one of the best in history at aiming for better: I Can’t Accept Not Trying by Michael Jordan. He knew that he could always get better, and do better. And he did. We know we should aim for this same lofty ambition.
Or, consider the NFL players (any sport will do). At the elite level, the push for constant improvement is relentless. Drills, hours staring at game films, scouting the opponents, more drills, over and over again, making each week’s efforts a little tougher, a little more challenging, all in the hopes of getting better.
We’ve provided a lot of synopses over the last ten years. Many of the titles themselves reveal the call to better: Results that Last (because we can all point to results that don’t last), or, consider this quote from Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management: “Even the world’s “most admired” companies aren’t as adaptable as they need to be, as innovative as they need to be, or as much fun to work in as they should be.” In other words, even the best companies aren’t always doing better at getting better.
Warning: here is a subtle danger. Reading about getting and doing better is not the same as actually getting and doing better. Attending the First Friday Book Synopsis, or reading good business books, may expose you to all sorts of steps you can take toward better. But it is still up to you (yes, and up to me) — we have to actually do better. Reading about it can provide an illusion, a substitute. But there is no substitute. There is only stark reality: What about you? (What about me?) Are you better than you were a year ago? Five years ago?
“To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much.” (John Henry Newman).
If I had one hope for the new year in business books, it would be that the genre of fables, followed by related concepts and principles, would fade away. Speaking for me, this approach has worn out its welcome. The first splash, and obviously, big hit in this format was “The One Minute Manager” in 1981. In fact, that book is still on some best-seller lists. You are likely aware that many of the Ken Blanchard co-authored creations followed in this format, including “The Leadership Pill,” “The Secret,” and others. Other authors have found success with this format. One of the best examples is Patrick Lencioni’s hit, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” and several others that followed from his pen which we have featured at the First Friday Book Synopsis. Don’t forget about Spencer Johnson’s work, “Who Moved My Cheese?” It’s not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the books that use this format. Indeed, some would argue that if publishing a readable fable is the way to get people to read business books and learn business principles, then the format has served its purpose. The problem is that like anything else, how many times can we go to the well? The approach is no longer fresh and certainly not unique. I think that this format has reached a saturation point of where it is actually counter-productive, with readers flipping through the fable, moving to the back of the book for the key points and principles, and leaving dissatisfied. I can only speak for myself, but I am ready to move forward and embrace some different approaches. What do you think?
Karl J. Krayer, Ph.D. – President – Creative Communication Network
Let’s have a conversation. About business books.
Karl and I have each read a minimum of one business book a month for nearly 10 years. We know the field. We have traveled the terrain. And there have been periods of really good books, and a few sparse periods. I wonder – are we in one of those sparse periods?
Check the current Amazon business best-seller list, and you will find titles we presented (many, long ago) at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
(The Amazon list is updated hourly, but look at this from the list at midday on 1/17/08: Good to Great, #1; Freakonomics, #6; The Tipping Point, #7; Getting Things Done, #8; The Black Swan, #12; Made to Stick, #14; Now Discover Your Strengths, #15; Blink, #16; Who Moved My Cheese, #18; Nickel and Dimed, #20.)
The rest of the current business best-sellers in the top 20 don’t quite fit our purposes (books on personal financial success seem to be prominent).
As we choose titles, we do our best to choose books that have a broad appeal, books that point us to a new direction, or at least point us to new questions, and, of course, books that are worth our time and yours.
I ask you: do you have any thoughts about the current list of best sellers? Why are so many of these current business best-sellers not really “current” books? Are we in a stagnant time? Are the economic woes in the country affecting the choice of books that land on our radar?
Please write your comments. I would love to think through this question with others.
“The library (i.e., your personal library) should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there.”
(Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE.)
As we have since our beginning in April, 1998, we presented synopses of two business books each month at the First Friday Book Synopsis. So we have read enough business books to get a real feel for the quality, the depth, the substance of the books we read and present to our listeners.
How did 2007 stack up? I would say it was a very good year.
There were good ideas and useful strategies in all of the books. But here are my favorites from 2007. (Reminder: I chose only from the books I read. Karl Krayer presents one half of the presentations, so I am not reflecting on the books he read during the year).
I have not winnowed the list much. Nine of the 12 books I read stand out as “I’m really glad I read these” books. Here is my list, with just a comment or two:
• Communication matters. How we say what we say makes a huge difference. Two books were worth reading in my life-long attempt to learn how to communicate more effectively:
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Words that Work by Frank Luntz.
• “How we do what we do” and “what we do” both matter. Here are two books that spoke clearly to these concerns:
How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life) by Dov L. Seidman
Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top by Quint Studer.
• One book to remind us all that women face different challenges in the work place. This book was filled with great insight, for men and women alike:
How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business Success by Margaret Heffernan.
• The world really is flat, and collaboration is the name of the game in this flattened world. No-one knows what everybody knows, and learning how to tap into collective knowledge leads to genuine strategic breakthrough and dominance. This book was an absolute essential for 2007:
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.
• And, just thinking about things can make a big difference. Here are three books that help us do that, as they describe what we don’t know, what might happen, and how we are experiencing the “niching” of our culture:
The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years by James Canton Dutton
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes by Mark Penn.
Will 2008 be as good a year for good business books? Let’s hope so!