Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author who has written, co-written and “ghosted” numerous best-sellers including Customers for Life (with Carl Sewell.) which has been translated into 19 differently languages and which continues to sell thousands of copies each month, some 23 years after its initial publication. (It has been updated twice.) A long-time contributor to The New York Times, Paul is also a contributing editor to both The Conference Board Review (where he also writes a column) and M.I.T.’s Sloan Management Review.
However, he spends most of his time writing books and has worked with internationally recognized senior executives, such as the president of AT&T and some of the nation’s largest financial services firms. In all, the books he has written–both under his own name as well as those he has ghosted–have sold more nearly 3 million copies worldwide and have made every best-seller list you can think of. A former writer and editor for Business Week, Financial World, Forbes and Inc. Paul is a graduate of Rutgers College and Rutgers University Law School and is a member of both the New Jersey and Massachusetts bar, but he asks that you don’t hold that against him.
His latest book is Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future, co-authored with Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer and published by Harvard Business Review Press (March, 2012)
Here is an excerpt from my review of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Just Start, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Brown: At the risk of being drummed out of the “Writers of Serious Business Books Union,” I have always loved story tellers. So, songwriters (Lorenz Hart; Johnny Mercer), radio personalities (Jean Shepherd, Klavin and Finch) and writers like Mark Twain; Hunter S. Thompson and people who write great murder mysteries really had a profound influence on me. I wanted to grow up and be one of them. When you combine that with the fact that I have always been extremely curious—both professionally and personally—you can see I am very lucky. I get to do what makes me happiest
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Brown: James Walker Michaels, the long-time editor at Forbes. Michaels, and it is not a stretch to say he invented business journalism, taught me how to think like a business reporter. He took someone who majored in theater arts and history, and didn’t know how to read a balance sheet, i.e. me, and turned him into an okay business reporter.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Brown: I have thought about this a lot, and I just don’t know. Clearly, knowing history—especially American history—has been valuable in providing context for what I do. And law school demands that you think logically. So, it was helpful in that sense.
But other than that, I am not sure. The most valuable part of college for me was working four or five hours a day, every day, at the college newspaper. It taught me a) the basics of being a reporter; b) how to write quickly and c) that I loved seeing “by Paul B. Brown” in print.
Morris: What do you know now about business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Brown: I can argue this either way. On the one hand, I would have loved to have had a MBA before I started writing business articles and books. On the other hand, there was a huge benefit of not knowing what I didn’t know so that I could ask questions that most people would think were too basic. (They tend to trigger the best answers.)
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Brown: I can’t think of a single one….although I am partial to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying when compiling a list of fun movies.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Brown: Let me answer this one generally. I like “big idea” books (i.e. there is money to be made serving people with little money) or books that go into great depth about a narrow subject. (Tracy Kidder’s House comes to mind.)
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Brown: There are a couple of things I have always liked about this quote. I know, that everyone always uses it as an example of how to lead (i.e. you draw the best out of people and guide and suggest instead of demand and order).
But to me, the most intriguing part has always been “learn from the people.” This is something smart people struggle with. They are so used to being able to come up with the right answer on their own, that they cut off other ideas and options.
Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Brown: I have never heard this one. I like it. I have always found much too hard to be other than what I am. It takes much too much work.
Morris: From Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Brown: I used to think this too. But I no longer do. The problem with this quote is that the approach does not let you repeat an experience.
Here’s what I mean. We just came back from wine country. (Our oldest lives in S.F.) If I were to strictly endorse the Keller quote, we would have only gone to wineries we had never visited before. Sure, we would have found some great new wines from places we didn’t know before, but we would have missed out on what some of our favorite wineries were doing today.
We split our time between wineries we love and finding new ones. It worked out quite well. I guess what I am saying is don’t rule out revisiting old experiences to see how they—and you—have changed.
Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Brown: I am in total agreement. The problem, for most of us, is figuring out what needs notbe done.
Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?
Brown: This ties back to the Lao Tzu quote, and explains why I like the first part of the quote so much.
Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ’Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’” Your response?
Brown: Ah. You have touched on one of my favorite subjects. And I am a fan of Schoemaker (and have reviewed him favorably in The New York Times.)
And yes, I think this is right. One of my favorite quotes, there is some debate about whether Twain said it or not, is: “It is not the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It is the things we know that just ain’t so.”
But, I think people don’t think deeply enough about just how important it is to make mistakes. I would put it this way: If you haven’t failed today, you are never going to succeed.
It would be nice to think that our best ideas come to us fully formed. I don’t think I have ever found that to be the case. (Although, once in a great while a perfectly formed book title will pop into my head.) You have to keep playing with just about every idea.
That’s my inarticulate description of what we call in “Just Start the Act. Learn. Build. Model.” You come up with an idea. Try it. Judge the market reaction. Fold the market reaction into the next iteration, and try again. The process repeats until you come with something you want, or decide either it is never going to work, or there is something else you would prefer to do more.
To read the complete interview, please click here.
Paul cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Amazon: Just Start
Amazon: Paul Brown Page
Harvard Business Review Blog
Jane Edison Stevenson is Vice Chairman, Board & CEO Services at Korn/Ferry International, where she co-leads the firm’s Global CEO Succession Practice. She is located in Korn/Ferry’s New York and Atlanta offices. Previous to Korn/Ferry, she spent a decade as Global Managing Partner with another global leadership advisory firm and prior to that, helped to build several boutique search firms into competitive brands.
Ms Stevenson is known for her strong global relationships in Fortune 500 C-suites, and among boards of directors. She has been recognized by BusinessWeek as one of the “100 Most Influential Search Consultants in the World,” and is frequently consulted by Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and The Wall Street Journal to discuss trends and issues related to governance and innovation.
With her co-author Bilal Kaafarani, Ms. Stevenson wrote business bestseller Breaking Away: How Great Leaders Create Innovation that Drives Sustainable Growth, and Why Others Fail. Breaking Away was released by McGraw Hill last spring and defines the world’s first innovation framework, linking the importance of innovation, leadership and growth. In addition to the USA, Canada and the UK, the book was just published in Turkey, and will be coming out in China this fall.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Breaking Away, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Stevenson: Probably my father, John D. Edison. He is the most selfless person I know, and early on, he taught me two profound lessons: happiness is a decision, and life is a series of trade-offs – always understand what you are trading for what you are getting. He also taught me that to keep growing you have to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” He is 75 years old now, and is still evolving and growing every year. For example, he just published his first book a few months ago, God: Grace and Deception.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development
Stevenson: That is a tough question. I have been blessed to work with many great people, who have both impacted and inspired me.
• My first boss in the executive search profession, Gerry Reynolds not only saw my potential, he also helped me to believe in myself.
• My friend and mentor Gerry Roche, encouraged me to develop high trust relationships that bleed from professional to personal.
• There are a number of top women whose friendship and counsel has had a profound impact on me as we have shared our journeys. In particular I would mention Adrienne Fontanella, Angela Ahrendts, Judith Glaser, Cynthia McCague, and Melanie Kusin, but there are numerous others as well.
• My co-author Bilal Kaafarani has been a key partner in my current journey, challenging my thinking and providing key insights for the future. He convinced me that we needed to write Breaking Away, to share our experience “in the trenches of innovation leadership” with others.
Partnering to develop and share the Breaking Away innovation framework has forever changed my outlook on the future.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Stevenson: The epiphany that comes to mind happened shortly after my son was born 14 years ago. I can still see the room I was in and how the sun fell on the floor around me at the moment I realized I might never get over my insecurities, and that I was going to have to decide whether I would allow them to define my life, or whether I would decide to “play full out” anyway. I decided to play full out. That decision has empowered me to take on many new challenges, like writing a book on the importance of innovation leadership and sharing a framework that can open up new possibilities for today’s leaders.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven to be invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Stevenson: Your question makes me laugh because, in matter of fact, my undergraduate education was in elementary education. Apart from my practicum teaching for six months, I never taught a day in my life, as I was immediately drafted into administration and leadership. That said, perhaps the most valuable gift of formal education is to teach us how to learn and to stay open to new truths and insights. In that case, my formal education has definitely served me well.
Morris: What are some of the most common misconceptions about executive search that in fact is true?
Stevenson: The most common misconception is that we are trying to find jobs for people, when, in fact, we are hired by the corporation to ensure that they make the best leadership selection (from either inside or outside the company) for the role at hand.
Morris: When interviewing candidates for C-level positions, which tend to reveal the most valuable information, the questions they ask or the answers they offer in respond to the questions asked of them? Please explain.
Stevenson: Both. Interviewing C-level executives is as much about learning who they are as people as it is about what they have accomplished. The questions they ask give us important insights into the way they think about things and what their priorities are. Their questions can give us a good sense about their motivators as well. Both in asking questions and in hearing the questions that are asked, our job is to understand whether the fit is one that will have the strongest odds for success. The more we can get behind a candidates questions and answers, to understand his/her value system, motivators, ambition and ability, the better job we will do of assessing whether there is a good fit.
Morris: Percentages vary somewhat but the results of dozens of major research studies suggest that during face-to-face contact, about 80-85% of the impact is determined by body language and tone of voice. What are your thoughts about that?
Stevenson: Communication is achieved through a combination of things: choice of words, affect, body language, tone of voice, choice of dress, and last, but not least, how they shake hands. You can learn a lot about someone based on a handshake. I’m not sure I could put a precise percentage on each factor, but I will say that I am more interested in intuiting “who” the person is than I am about the words alone.
Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face during the next 3-5 years? Any advice?
Stevenson: Actually, I think there are two: the changing “rules of engagement” to capture the hearts and minds of your customers in a digitally-driven world, and the desperate need for innovation and growth. In some ways, I think the two are intertwined. We live in an age of unprecedented access, interaction and connectivity. The question is: How will you use that to your company’s advantage? How will you be the beneficiary of the digital revolution, instead of having it define you? This is a big question for companies in all industry sectors. One of my friends refers to it as learning to “speak social”. The speed at which things are changing is directly influenced by new levels of access and interactivity. This creates a natural tendency for us to speed up, moving faster and faster and faster….Not a good move. The best thing you can do is to stop, look and listen, then assess what will drive the most productive and strategic results and play there.
The ability to step back and understand how to use these new “rules of engagement” to advantage, will require innovation, and will create opportunities for growth. Advice? The secret weapon will always be your people. The CEO’s who understand the power of people, and who are committed to fully utilizing people’s diverse capabilities, will ultimately win the race.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Jane cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites
Here is an excerpt from John A. Byrne’s cover article by FORTUNE magazine. Great ideas are hard to come by. Putting them to work is even harder. Byrne invites you to meet the founders who turned concepts into companies and changed the face of business.
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When Jeff Bezos came up with the idea for what would become Amazon.com, he went on a stroll in Central Park with his boss at the time to share his epiphany.
Bezos, in 1992, was a senior vice president for the New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He described his dream to create a company that would sell books on the Internet. His boss listened intently before offering a bit of advice: “That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.”
Big ideas of the ground-shifting variety are rare — and hard to pull off. But that’s the difference between the dreamer and the doer. It took Bezos all of 48 hours to decide to quit his job and get started. Some 18 years later, he’s still at the helm of Amazon.com, which has redefined the way people buy almost everything, employs 56,200 people, and is valued at more than $80 billion.
Having spent years studying Bezos and others like him as an author, senior writer, and editor at both Business Week and Fast Company, I can tell you that Bezos is one of those rare birds who have made a meaningful mark on our economy and our world. He would certainly be on anyone’s list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of my generation. Who else should make that cut? After spending the better part of the past year pondering that question for a new book, World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It (Portfolio Penguin), I was asked by FORTUNE who deserves to be on that list — and what we can learn from each of them.
Many are obvious — from the late Steve Jobs, who helped make Apple the hottest and most valuable company on the planet, to Mark Zuckerberg, who will take Facebook public in what is anticipated to be the biggest IPO of all time (at a value of more than $80 billion). But there will be a few surprises too, such as N.R. Narayana Murthy, the visionary founder of Infosys who has built one of the largest companies in India, helping to transform that economy and put it on the world stage.
Another surprise: Not a single woman makes the list of the top 12 — at a time when women have gathered more influence and power in business than ever before. Oprah Winfrey has leveraged her celebrity into a formidable media empire, and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick proved that you could market products by being socially and environmentally responsible. They clearly warrant honorable mention but have not, in my view, transformed the face of business or society in as profound a way as those singled out here.
Admittedly this list of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs is subjective. I based it largely on social and economic impact; the world-changing vision of a founder who has inspired employees and other entrepreneurs alike; a record of innovation; and the actual performance of their companies over time. These founders created and then nurtured healthy, sustainable organizations that now have a combined market value of more than $1.7 trillion. They directly employ more than 3 million people, ranging from a high of 2.1 million at Wal-Mart to just over 3,000 at Facebook.
Yet those numbers only touch the surface. Each of their companies sits at the nucleus of a thriving ecosystem that has cultivated and nurtured dozens if not hundreds of other enterprises. Small companies have thrived as suppliers, for example, to Whole Foods, which, among other things, buys produce from more than 2,000 local farms. So the power of each of these organizations extends far beyond its own walls.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
John A. Byrne is Chairman & Editor-in-Chief at C-Change Media Inc. John A. Byrne is the chairman and CEO of C-Change Media Inc. Until recently, Byrne was editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and executive editor of BusinessWeek. He holds the distinction of authoring a record 58 cover stories in BusinessWeek magazine and is also the author or co-author of eight business books, including two New York Times‘ bestsellers. Byrne had also been editor-in-chief of Fast Company magazine. He founded C-Change Media, a digital media company, to take advantage of the sea change that is roiling the traditional media business. C stands for content, curation and community, the three common attributes of each C-Change web venture.
Daniel Diermeier is the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, a Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management, and a Professor of Political Science at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, all at Northwestern University. He is director of the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship and co-creator of the CEO Perspective Program (Kellogg’s most senior executive education program), a joint venture between the Kellogg School of Management and the Corporate Leadership Center. Diermeier’s work focuses on reputation management, political and regulatory risk, crisis management, and integrated strategy. His work has been published in numerous academic journals in management, economics, and political science.
He is the author of the recently published book, Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building your Company’s Most Valuable Asset (McGraw-Hill, April 2011). Diermeier’s work has been featured globally in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Business Week, the Financial Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, De Telegraaf and many others. In 2001 he was named Kellogg Professor of the Year and in 2007 was the recipient of the prestigious Faculty Pioneer Award from the Aspen Institute, named the “Oscar of Business Schools” by the Financial Times. In December 2004 he was appointed to the Management Board of the FBI.
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Morris: Before discussing Reputation Rules, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.
Diermeier: When I was an undergraduate student in Germany I had received a fellowship from the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. This required attending a few seminars on philosophy, critical thinking, rhetoric and other topics. These seminars were conducted by Konrad Krieger, the director of the graduate program. His thinking, values, and approach to scholarship had a profound influence on me in every aspect of my work. He also taught me how to be a professional.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?
Diermeier: Before I came to Kellogg and Northwestern I was an assistant professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. My training had been in game-theoretical models of politics, but at Stanford I learned to apply these tools to business. David Baron, now emeritus at Stanford, had a tremendous influence on my development in this area.
Morris: Was there a turning point earlier in your life (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.
Diermeier: There were two. I had originally been a graduate student in philosophy, but realized that I was not suited to be a professional philosopher. That happened during a year at USC. The second turning point was my time at Stanford and the influence of David Baron.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished during your career thus far?
Diermeier: My background has always been inter-disciplinary. I had a very good education in logic and then game-theory, but also had studied philosophy and even a year of musicology. Recently, I have become interested in psychology and linguistics. A topic like corporate reputation is multi-faceted and helps dramatically to be able to view in from different perspectives and integrate these perspectives into a new holistic view.
Morris: In recent years, MBA programs – even those offered by the most prestigious business schools, such as Kellogg – have been severely criticized. In your opinion, what is the one area in which there is greatest need of immediate improvement?
Diermeier: Business schools have failed to understand and reflect on the role of business in society. Corporations have become the main engines of economic, social, and cultural change, and are being held accountable for the consequences of these changes by an increasingly skeptical public. Companies need to address these challenges whether they want to or not. Corporate leaders thoroughly understand this, but many business schools still act as if these issues can conveniently be ignored.
Morris: Look ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you expect to be the single greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Why? Any advice?
Diermeier: To overcome an ongoing erosion of trust at a global scale. To counter these trends companies need to develop reputational management capabilities.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to Reputation Rules. When and why did you decide to write it?
Diermeier: I had the good fortune of serving for seven years as the academic director of the CEO Perspective Program, a joint venture between Kellogg and the Corporate Leadership Center. This program is designed for direct reports to CEOs of large, complex organizations. As part of the program we invited CEOs of the world’s leading companies into the classroom for a candid dialogue with our participants. I was struck by how often these CEOs mentioned “reputation,”“brand” or “trust” as one of their main concerns. “People” was the only other topic that came close. That said, at the same time we all saw one reputational crisis chasing another. And in contrast to the accounting crises a decade ago (Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen), these crises could be connected to any aspect of the business such as supply chain management, quality, safety, but also executive compensation or board governance. Together this suggested to me that (a) CEOs are right to put reputation on the top of their agenda, and (b) most companies do not know how to build and defend their reputation effectively.
Morris: What differentiates it from other books that also examine reputation management?
Diermeier: I think there are two main differences. First, reputation management is still largely viewed as part of corporate communication. That is, it is essentially about communicating in the right way. Of course, effective communication is a critical component of reputation management, but effective reputation management needs to be integrated into business practices. It is about doing things differently. Companies need to think about reputation management as a capability, like quality management and customer-focus. That requires the right mind-set as well as processes and a matching culture and values. Second, many reputation and crisis management books are based solely on the experience of practitioners. This book draws heavily on rigorous research, some my own, some from various areas of the social sciences. My sense is that we need to take this area as seriously as other areas in management and developing new insights that go beyond best practices is critical. That said, I worked hard on making the book easily accessible with many case studies, examples, and practical tools.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it?
Diermeier: I was struck how underdeveloped the reputation capabilities of many companies are. Managers love to build brands and reputations but they fail to build capabilities to defend and sustain them.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ from what you originally envisioned? Please explain.
Diermeier: There were few major changes. I had been thinking about this topic for a while and had developed a successful course on crisis and reputation management. What did happen was that processes and culture starting playing a more important role.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Daniel Diermeier cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
On Friday, August 5, at our First Friday Book Synopsis, I will present a book entitled Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (2011, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass). The book is part of the Warren Bennis series.
This book is co-authored by Douglas Conant, who is the retiring President and CEO of Campbell Soup, and Mette Norgaard, who is a strategic leadership consultant.
The new CEO of Campbell Soup is Denise Morrison. She starts her new job on Monday, August 1. You can read about her at this link from the June 27 issue of Bloomberg Business Week:
As you will read in that article, the task she faces is formidable. Not only is soup consumption down, but her own company sales have been down and no better than flat. Nothing the company has done seems to satisfy consumers.
I don’t drink soup in the summer. It doesn’t sound good to me.
And, I don’t like soups that remove the sodium. As you read in this article, Campbell tried that, and it violated the taste expectations of its consumers.
Let’s watch the developments here. What will she do?
What do you think? Let’s talk about it really soon!
This is the time of the year that we see so many collective lists of the “best of 2010.” In the last few days, we have seen such lists for films, sports accomplishments, songs, architecture, recipes, restaurants, and of course, books.
I want to tell you that I am unimpressed with most of the lists that I have seen that focus on books. As with films, these book lists contain great confusion among quality and quantity. That premise is particularly true when the lists come from booksellers themselves, such as a recent e-mail I received from Barnes and Noble with their “Books of the Year.”
Just like a film, a book is not necessarily good because it sells. Popular, best-selling books are of no greater quality than are popular, high dollar-grossing films. Because people buy a book does not make it good. Nor do I consider it a good barometer for quality.
Consider the terrible film from the late ’70′s, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” That film grossed millions of dollars and played regularly in theatres on Friday and Saturday nights through the mid ’90′s. It had no redeeming merit and critics panned its quality. Yet, it had a cult-like following, and it played to packed audiences, mostly either inebriated or bored, for many years.
In the recent Barnes and Noble list, I saw one business book for the 2010 year. It was The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I saw no other business books. I believe that was a fine book, but not as good as his previous offering, Moneyball. Why was it on the list? Because it sold. The best books in that list are the best-sellers. But, best-selling does not indicate high quality. I can give you titles of at least a dozen other books this year that were of higher quality than that one, but that simply did not sell as well.
Please remember that we only summarize the content of best-selling books at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. The number one criterion is that the book must be on a best-selling list somewhere that we find credible. These lists include Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Amazon.com, among others. I will admit to you that after 13 years of doing this, I have delivered synopses of some books that sold well, but that were simply not very good. Some were not well-written, some were ill-researched, and some were best-sellers just because of the reputation of the author.
Regardless, we will continue to use best-sellers as our basis for book selection at the First Friday Book Synopsis. But, I am telling you that popular does not equate to good. And, there are likely some very good books that do not have the boost of marketing dollars from huge publishers that likely go overlooked. Strange as it sounds, it may not be optimal, but these lists remain the best vehicle available for us to use for our selections. Remember – popular may not be good. And, good may not always be popular.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it!
As you are aware, we select our books for the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas from best-seller lists sources such as Business Week, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Amazon.com.
On Friday, November 19, the Wall Street Journal published its best-seller list for the week ending November 14. One category that it includes is “Hardcover Nonfiction Gains & Falls.”
It is very interesting to me that the # 1 hardcover nonfiction best-seller is the new book by former U.S. President George W. Bush, Decision Points (Crown Publishers, 2010). At the same time, the greatest increase in hardcover nonfiction sales is the book by his wife, Laura, entitled Spoken from the Heart (Scribner, 2010). In the week that ended on November 14, sales of her book increased 224%. That is a whopping 84% more than the second closest book by Oliver North about American Heroes.
What does this mean? How do you account for the windfall effect that Laura enjoyed while her husband’s book is at # 1?
I think that this says something about the American appreciation for the great intelligence and support that she demonstrated during her eight years in the White House. We have been very fortunate in America to have had many fine first ladies. with causes and campaigns of their own right. Remember Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to beautify America? And Barbara Bush, who promoted reading to children? No one can doubt the superior intelligence in domestic and foreign affairs exhibited by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama compared with their husbands. Sure, there also have been some duds – consider Pat Nixon (who at least had more common sense than her husband), Jackie Kennedy (who was only classy and glamorous) and Mamie Eisenhower and Rosalynn Carter (who were simply figureheads).
But, overall, this result says to me that America respects first ladies who do more than sit on a throne. Laura Bush was always a strong, reliable, and transparent figure. She represented her husband and America very well. So, while shoppers pick up the President’s book to sit on their shelves, they pick up Laura’s book to learn something.
And, doesn’t that say as much about us as it does about them?
Let’s talk about it!
Collins is a student of enduring great companies — how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies. Having invested more than a decade of research into the topic, Jim has co-authored four books — including the classic Built to Last, a fixture on the Business Week bestseller list for more than six years, and the New York Times bestseller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, most recently, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. His work has been featured in Fortune, The Economist, Fast Company, USA Today, Industry Week, Business Week, Newsweek, Inc., and Harvard Business Review.
Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award. After seven years at Stanford, Jim returned to his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, to found his management research laboratory. He is fond of saying, “I am a self-employed professor who endowed his own chair and granted himself tenure.” Collins set up his research lab in the same building where he attended grammar school. Still a place of learning, he uses the laboratory to conduct large-scale research projects to develop fundamental insights and then translate those findings into books, articles and lectures. He continues to conduct rigorous research while maintaining an active teaching schedule with leaders in the corporate and social sectors.
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the publication of How the Mighty Fall.
Morris: Jim, if writing Built to Last today, would you use the same criteria?
Collins: Yes, pretty much. The key criteria for an enduring great company are:
PERFORMANCE: The company must display superior financial performance relative to others’.
IMPACT: The company must have made a unique and significant impact on the world that it touches.
RESILIENCY: The company must be able to go through difficult times and emerge even stronger.
LONGEVITY: The company must demonstrate these variables for a long period of time — decades, not just years.
Morris: You and Jerry Porras identify 18 common myths about the most enduring companies. Which of them seem to be as well-intrenched today as in 1994 when Built to Last was first published?
Collins: Great question. I would say the myth that the only constant is change. In a truly great company, change is a constant, but not the only constant. There are timeless principles of building great companies that never change.
Morris: One of the chapter titles is “Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works.” What is the relevance, indeed the great importance of constant innovation and experimentation to a visionary company?
Collins: Try a lot of stuff, keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t — this is the secret to the question of how to systematically “be lucky.” Luck is a variable in life. The question is, how do you ensure that you are more lucky than the next person? The answer lies in trying a lot of stuff and also having the discipline of persistence. Luck favors the persistent.
Morris: Can such initiatives alter the original vision?
Collins: You need to think of vision as having two components. On the one hand you have a Core Ideology, principally the core values of the company. The core values of a great company never change; they are like the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, the equivalent of “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” On the other hand, you have the Envisioned Future, principally the company’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). The big audacious goals of a company can change over time. For example, Starbucks evolved its goal to turning the Starbucks brand into the most respected and recognized consumer brand in the world after it had experimented with its store concepts and saw that such a goal was possible.
Kuzmeski is the author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009). Creating strong business relationships has been the focus of Kuzmeski’s business and career. The Connectors is packed full of tools and techniques aimed at helping her reader develop better, more profitable connections—tools and techniques proven effective by some of the world’s most successful professionals. She is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Kuzmeski has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and professionals.
An internationally recognized speaker, she shares the tactics that businesspeople use today to create more sustainable business relationships and sales and marketing successes. She is a regular media contributor appearing on FoxNews, ABC News, WGN-TV, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, and Forbes. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and an MBA from The George Washington University. Kuzmeski lives in the Chicago area with her husband Rich and two teenagers.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Kuzmeski. The complete interview is also available.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read The Connectors, what are the most effective strategies for building relationships, especially with one’s workplace associates and clients?
Kuzmeski: Being a great connector is really all about having focused attention on the other person. If you are obviously focused on yourself first and do a lot of talking, you are probably not endearing yourself to others. And, likely you are not connecting with them. The five main principles in the book revolve around that premise. They are (1) Develop a true “What’s In It For Them” mentality, (2) Listen, curiously and intently, (3) Ask others important questions that encourage and support connections, (4) Manage the selling process so that the sale closes itself – that is, use creative strategies “to sell without selling,” and finally, (5) Create a memorable multi-sensory experience so that you differentiate yourself by the enduring impact you have on others.
And probably the most important of these five principles is listening. We know we should do it better, but most often fall short. It is HARD to listen, but the benefits are overwhelmingly positive in terms of the connections that can be forged with others. If you are really listening and listening intently, people will know you care and will like you more than if you did the talking.
Morris: How can these same strategies also be effective in one’s personal life?
Kuzmeski: The same strategies for relationships and connecting that work in business work the same, in fact even better, with our personal relationships. Focusing intently on the other person (instead of thinking about what you are going to say next) is a great way to endear yourself to someone. If others know they have your undivided attention and that you are truly listening and care about what they are saying – it can change the way that they feel about you.
Morris: You devote an entire chapter (Chapter 18) to discussing the ten most popular social media Web sites. What advice do you have for those who wish to derive the greatest benefit from them?
Kuzmeski: The key with social media is to get started and stay focused. There are so many different activities you could take on and much of it may take up a lot of time without much return. Find out what types of social media your target marketing is using and get focused in those areas. For instance, financial advisors can’t use most social media because of their strict compliance but they can use LinkedIn. So, I have focused much of my efforts on LinkedIn. Begin my carving out 30 minutes a day to stay active with your connections.
Morris: You seem to think that almost anyone can become an effective “Connector.” Is that a fair assessment?
Kuzmeski: Well of course I think it is! The whole reason I wrote the book was to detail the tactics of the great connectors for those who want to learn and become better connectors. Whether you are already a great connector or you want to become a much better connector – it is possible! Simple strategies like placing a conscious focus on the other person can transform someone into a better connector very quickly. The book is filled with hundreds of tactics that anyone can use to connect while speaking, on a job interview, with colleagues, your boss, clients and friends and family.
Morris: Near the conclusion of your book, you assert “Your online presence defines you.” Please explain.
Kuzmeski: Today, if someone wants more information, they will look online. What is online about you and your firm becomes the reality of who you are. Your exposure online does define who you are. Does your website present you and your company in the exact way you want others to perceive you? Does it capture the personality and unique aspects? Also, Google yourself, your business name, and even your competitors. Find out what’s out there. If it’s not what you want, you need to develop and release more content so you effectively control your top 10 Google search results. Write articles, blog, update your website often, have someone evaluate your website’s SEO. And, set a Google alert on yourself so if anything new appears online about you – you are aware of it. (www.Google.com/alerts).
Morris: How is The Connectors book selling?
Kuzmeski: We have had very strong sales coming from Amazon.com, airport bookstores as well as regular bookstores. Wiley, my publisher, asked me to write another book after seeing the strong start of The Connectors. This book, …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All The Business They Want will be released in September 2010!
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Downes is a consultant and speaker on developing business strategies in an age of constant disruption caused by information technology. He is author of the Business Week and New York Times business bestseller, Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance (Harvard Business School Press, 1998), which has sold nearly 200,000 copies and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five most important books ever published on business and technology. His new book, The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Business and Life in the Digital Age (Basic Books 2009) offers nine strategies for success in the emerging world of digital life. It combines Downes’s unique perspective on economics, law, and innovation in the digital age. He is also a Partner with the Bell-Mason Group, which works with Global 1000 corporations, providing corporate venturing methodologies, tools, techniques and support that accelerate corporate innovation and venturing programs.
Downes has held faculty appointments at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, Northwestern University School of Law, and the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where he taught courses on corporate strategy and technology law. He is currently a nonresident Fellow with the Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Downes. The complete interview is also available.
Morris: At one point [in The Laws of Disruption], you observe that when confronted with the weird economics of information, the core principles of public law, private law, and in formation law are being turned upside down.” How to cope with this extensive as well as intensive disruption?
Downes: In many respects the best coping mechanisms here are the same as they are for the killer apps themselves. First and foremost, senior executives, especially those outside of the legal department, need to be aware of that fact that law is now the single greatest impediment to innovation in every industry. Next, they need to understand why, and that requires much greater appreciation both for the fundamentals of law as well as the ways digital technology is undermining those fundamentals. Then, just as with killer apps, organizations (including governments and consumer groups) who find ways of adapting even slightly more quickly than everyone else will stand to gain the most from the new reality.
Frankly, most governments are firmly stuck in the “denial” phase of transformation. Corporations are slightly better. Consumers, on the other hand, are leading the charge here in a way they’ve never been able to before the availability of the “collective action” tools the Internet and particularly social networking tools give them.
Morris: Given your response to the previous question as well as what you recommend in the concluding chapter of this book, it seems that what Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction” is relevant to the challenge of harnessing what you characterize as “the new forces that govern life and business in the digital age.” Is that a fair assessment?
Downes: Absolutely. What we’re experiencing is precisely what Schumpeter talked about. The only difference is that the cycle time between periods of “creative destruction” and what [Thomas] Kuhn called “normal science” (or “business as usual”) keeps getting shorter. Essentially, information technology has created an environment of constant creative destruction.
Think for just a moment of the impact that fact has on the traditional process of strategic planning, which assumes relatively stable markets and predictable responses from competitors. In many ways companies are better off not to have a strategic plan at all. But what I’d prefer to see is the emergence of new tools and methods that reflect the chaotic reality of a Schumpeterian world.
Of course when we talk about legal institutions like governments, regulators, and courts, the very idea of a strategy is completely alien. Getting legal institutions–whose goal is to minimize unpredictable outcomes and penalize chaos–instead to embrace creative destruction is a daunting proposition. My guess is that rather than reform existing forms of regulation, digital life will evolve its own, organic forms of law that will better suit its unique properties.
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If you wish to read the complete interview, please contact me at email@example.com.
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