Joy Stauber runs Stauber Design Studio in Chicago, IL, and not only is she a great friend of the company, she is also a terrific designer who has helped us identify, articulate, and express our brand. If you’ve enjoyed any of our marketing pieces over the years, know that Joy has partnered with us to create the most eye-catching and consistent of messages. Watch the video below, created by Joy’s intern, Lizzie Callen, which captures the best of our brand. And if you want to “be the architect of your own brand,” as Joy puts it so well, you might want to take a look at how Stauber Design Studios can help you too.
July 1, 2014
June 13, 2014
Roadside MBA: Back Road Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Executives, and Small Business Owners by Michael Mazzeo, Paul Oyer, and Scott Schaefer, Business Plus, 279 pages, $27.00, hardcover, June 2014, ISBN 9781455598892
Three microeconomics professors enter a shoe store in Maine… It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, or a very boring story. It is actually the beginning of a great new book that combines two quintessentially American things: the road trip and small businesses.
If you’re worried that an economics book by three scholars is going to be too dry or complex, don’t be; Roadside MBA is rooted in the everyday economic reasoning that companies and individuals use in the real world, and they leave the math and graphs out of it. They teach through the stories of the small businesses they visited on their travels across America. So, you’ll learn about economies of scale, and fixed and variable costs from Braces by Burris, an orthodontist in Jonesboro, Arkansas. You’ll learn about things like scaling your business, identifying demand, and quality monitoring from Steel Rubber Products in Denver, North Carolina, Silk Espresso in Gresham, Oregon, and Mugshots Grill and Bar in Hattiesburg, Mississippi—and that’s all within the first twenty pages!
That match of brevity and breadth is possible because the stories are quick, yet concise (usually four or five a chapter), which also keeps the pace brisk and the reader engaged. Another benefit of this approach is that you get to hear business owners explain their operations in their own words. These are not case studies, but stories directly from the front lines of American enterprise.
So, you’ll learn about serving your target customer and product differentiation from Dave Bobbit, who started Community 1st Bank in Post Falls, Idaho after retiring from a bigger bank in a larger town nearby. Describing what he does to remain community oriented and make personal connections with his customers:
“There’s not any one thing,” Dave said. “It’s a lot of things … Every new account that’s opened gets a personal letter from me. We always have coffee and cookies in the lobby … every day. We send birthday cards to every customer.
“We do a bank barbecue one Friday a month … We do about two hundred burgers on Friday between eleven and one. Anybody can come. … It’s gotten to be a real community event.”
When some of his employees told him that having cookies in the lobby everyday was attracting people to hang around the lobby, he said “Yeah, that’s what I want. … I want people to come here and hang out.” Now, as nice and warm and fuzzy as that sounds, not all of us want people hanging out in our lobbies or offices everyday. But, as nice and homey as it sounds, it’s also a sound strategic decision for Dave. So how do you know if this kind of strategy (or any detailed in the book) will work for you? That is where a simple philosophy of business—that one of the authors “has so repeatedly emphasized in his classes” that they named it after him—comes in. It is:
The answer to every strategic question is “it depends.”
The trick is knowing what it depends on.
If the answer to a question isn’t “it depends,” then it’s not a strategic question.
With the vast number (and variety) of stories you’ll get from Roadside MBA, you’ll get a thorough education in “it depends” that will leave you much wiser about what your own business—large or small—depends on. And so, when it comes to making the strategic decision about whether you should pick up Roadside MBA, I would say: “It depends… do you want to be successful?”
Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Harper Business, 210 pages, $26.99, hardcover, June 2014, ISBN 9780062246899
With her new book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett bravely tackles an unwelcome elephant in the room. Few people want to admit that appearance, or bearing, or reputation really plays a part in how much a person succeeds in his or her chosen profession. We want to believe ourselves to be “above” that, to have the ability to look only at the data, at a person’s qualifications and performance. Hewlett says to ignore the “number of seemingly peripheral factors that feed into the judging process” is a detriment to yourself, and to all the hard work you’ve put into being an expert in your field. So what separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff?
It is executive presence—and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you’re in charge or deserve to be.
Hewlett and her research team set out to find the “EP” equation—engaging in extensive surveys, focus groups, and interviews—so that everyone can feel more in control of how they are perceived. And they found that the three pillars that interact to form your EP are how you look (appearance), how you speak (communication), and how you act (gravitas). Gravitas is the foundation of EP; but communication and appearance play a part in either shoring up or eroding your gravitas.
For example, if your communication skills ensure you can “command a room,” your gravitas grows exponentially; conversely, if your presentation is rambling and your manner timid, your gravitas suffers a blow.
Hewlitt is not advising an expensive or extensive wardrobe, but she is encouraging dressing and acting with intention, so “that you take pains to signal, in your appearance, a seriousness of purpose by attending to the details.” But EP isn’t only about offering a good first impression; It’s about understanding how your personal brand needs to be nursed and maintained, and the critical role it plays in your future successes.
Managing your personal brand is almost a job unto itself, lest it be managed for you by people who don’t hold your best interests at heart.
If you leave your image to other people, you can lose control of it quickly, and reputation can be a hard thing to rehabilitate.
Hewlett acknowledges that there is a fine line between confidence as evidence of competence and confidence as evidence of self-aggrandizement. And the terrain between conforming to standards while remaining authentic is rocky. But all of these sensitive subjects and more are in sure hands with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, and as such, your career will be, too, if you follow her lead with Executive Presence.
It’s Not the How or the What But the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best by Claudio Fernandez Araoz, Harvard Business Review Press, 244 pages, $28.00, hardcover, June 2014, ISBN 9781625271525
At it’s simplest, It’s Not the How or the What But the Who is a guide to hiring, developing, and retaining the right people. That seems like a fairly straightforward proposition, but if you’ve ever had to hire people you know it is easier said than done.
But why is it so hard to find the best people for your organization? Araoz tells us the challenges are many, “both internal (your unconscious biases) and external (organizational and societal pressures).” So the first thing he does is help the reader identify those obstacles, because there are “ unprecedented opportunities available if you can overcome them.” And that’s exactly what It’s Not the How teaches you how to do next:
To that end, later essays will teach you how to identify the best—the people who have the right motives, qualities, and potential to help you excel—with effective assessment tools and strategies … [and] how to expertly develop the people you’ve chosen by encouraging them to become more agile and versatile and putting them together in great teams.
Perhaps the most difficult decision leaders must make with regards to personnel is letting go of the people who are holding you back. But why is it so hard. Araoz tells us it’s because:
Three powerful psychological forces work against us: procrastination, loss aversion, and compassion.
In other words, putting ourselves, our company, or other people in distress is difficult, potentially risky, and unpleasant emotionally. But, Araoz reminds us, “Tough decisions are what make you a leader.” Another difficult decision is whether an open leadership postition should be filled by someone from inside the company or hired from outside it. In many cases, Araoz shows that it pays big to hire an outsider, and that growth and success occurs in much smaller measure when the company promotes an insider. How to insure that whichever approach you take results in success? Don’t hesitate to thoroughly vet insiders just as you would outsiders.
As I mentioned at the open of this review, in some ways, It’s Not the How or the What But the Who is a simple hiring guide. But Araoz’s book stretches its boundaries further than most, tackling sensitive issues like those that occur within family businesses, and even delving into his considerations on how to intelligently and objectively vote during a presidential election. Ultimately, it will assist you—whether you are a leader or a participant—in making sound assessments of the people you rely for your own ultimate success.
June 11, 2014
Repairing the Hole in the Boat: How the Poor Can Save Capitalism
by John Hope Bryant
“What if there was a way to use the power of free market enterprise to lift every American and indeed every human being on the planet to a level of dignity, inclusion, fulfillment, engagement, economic security and stability? Wouldn’t that be a truly noble cause?”
“Organizations everywhere are struggling to keep up with the accelerating pace of change—let alone get ahead of it. The stakes—the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences—are rising in a similar exponential way.”
Seven Steps to World Domination by Lori Ann LaRocco
“You don’t have to be a billionaire in order to be at the top of your game. In fact, you have more in common with the world’s most successful business leaders than you may think—you are probably already using some of the strategies they use without being aware of it.”
The Nature of Investing by Katherine Collins
“We are all investors. We invest our time, our energy, our money. We invest every single day, as citizens, as consumers, as businesspeople. […] We need to reengage with investing in its essential, connected form—to reintegrate our professions with the real world, instead of the world on the screen. But how?”
How to Unlock Employee Ideas to Power Your Organization
by Alan G. Robinson & Dean M. Schroeder
“It is time to change the way we run our organizations. Today, a growing number of organizations are becoming very good at promoting front-line ideas, and as a result are reaching extraordinary levels of performance.”
Against the Odds: Startups that Make It by Derek Lidow
“It is one of our saddest economic statistics: More than half small businesses fail within a few years of startup. … I think that the solution is deceptively simple: entrepreneurs should stop thinking so much about the idea behind the business and focus instead on how to lead it.”
May 30, 2014
May 21, 2014
There has been a shake up around one of the major business book awards given every year, with McKinsey & Company taking the place of Goldman Sachs as the partner of the Financial Times for the tenth year of their prestigious award. Submissions have been open since last month, and they officially announced the launch of the 2014 Business Book of the Year Award yesterday.
Also a first this year, they have announced an additional award—the Bracken Bower Prize—which “will be given to a promising young writer with the best proposal for a book about an emerging business theme.” Dominic Barton of McKinsey & Company said this new award is “aimed at encouraging the next generation to join the conversation on the challenges and opportunities of growth globally.” Business books have seen something of a youth movement in recent years, and I think they’ll find there are many more young voices waiting in the wings for their opportunity to contribute.
They usually put out a longlist for the overall award in August, but it looks like they’ll be skipping that step this year, going straight to the announcement of the shortlist on September 24 and the overall winner at a dinner in London on November 11. Submissions end June 30.
The past winners of this award have been:
- The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2005)
- China Shakes the World: A Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future—And the Challenge for America by James Kynge, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2006)
- The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Freres & Co. by William D. Cohan, Doubleday (2007)
- When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change by Mohamed El-Erian, McGraw-Hill (2008)
- Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed, Penguin Books (2009)
- Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram G. Rajan, Princeton University Press (2010)
- Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, PublicAffairs (2011)
- Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll, Penguin Books (2012)
- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone, Little Brown & Company (2013)
As you can see, the award has always favored books that are big-picture, high-finance, and big-business-oriented. It will be interesting to see if that will change at all, if it will look at books that delve more into the nuts and bolts of everyday business operations, now that McKinsey & Company is involved instead of Goldman Sachs.
Whatever the case, we will be sure to update you here as the books are announced.
May 15, 2014
The Magic Triangle of Company and Career Health by Rich Karlgaard
“The soft edge of business is the side of deeper human longings and values. … Not surprisingly, the soft edge is the most underestimated and oft-neglected side of the triangle. But do not dismiss the soft edge. It is the source of enduring strength.”
“In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. All aspects of performance—mental and physical—go through the roof. … It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.”
Make Your Company Smarter by Geoffrey James
“Corporate culture is like the banks of a river and the behaviors in the corporation are like water that flows inside those banks. Over time, these behaviors dig the channel deeper, reinforcing the culture, which in turn reinforces the behaviors. The deeper the channel, the harder it is to change behaviors … ”
12 Myths that Lead to a Busy, Unfulfilling Life by Greg McKeown
“15 years ago, I quit law school to pursue one overarching question: ‘Why do capable people fail to breakthrough to the next level?’ The answer to the question, to my great surprise, is success. … In other words, I found that success can be a catalyst for failure.”
The 3 Stoic Disciplines: How to Turn Your Trials Into Triumphs
by Ryan Holiday
“Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. It’s a rather amazing and even touching feat. They took what should have held them back—what in fact might be holding you back right this very second—and used it to move forward.”
How to Ignite Innovation with F.I.R.E. by Dan Ward
“The pattern of rapid, thrifty innovation shows up across a large range of technical contexts and genres. Whether we are talking about submarines or software, medical or military technology, the most impactful and successful innovations tend to be produced by small teams with short schedules, tight budgets, and strong commitments to simplicity.”
May 14, 2014
Greg McKeown has a stomach-sinking story to tell near the beginning of his new book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, about the day after his daughter was born. Fortunately, the little lady was okay, “healthy and happy at 7 pounds, 3 ounces.” But not everything was well with Daddy.
[W]hat should have been one of the happiest, most serene days of my life was actually filled with tension. Even as my beautiful new baby lay in my wife’s tired arms, I was on the phone and on e-mail with work, and I was feeling pressure to go to a client meeting. My colleague had written “Friday between 1-2 would be a bad tome to have a baby because I need you to come be at his meeting with X.” It was now Friday and [...] Instinctively, I knew what to do. It was clearly time to be there for my wife and newborn child. So when asked whether I planned to attend the meeting, I said with all the conviction I could muster…
To my shame, while my wife lay in the hospital with our hours-old baby, I went to a meeting. Afterward, my colleague said “The client will respect you for making the decision to be here.” But the look on the clients’ faces did not evince respect. Instead, they mirrored how I felt. What was I doing there? I had said “yes” simply to please, and in doing so I had hurt my family, my integrity, and even the client relationship.
As it turned out, exactly nothing came of the client meeting.
This experience led him to the discovery of an important, life-changing lesson:
If you don’t
prioritize your life,
someone else will.
And that lesson is the base of this book. Everything else is built upon it.
It’s a lesson that led him out of the organization he was working in and back to school for graduate work at Stanford. It led to his work with Liz Wiseman on the brilliant 2010 leadership book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, and it led to him starting his own strategy and leadership company. And, luckily for us, it led to him writing this new book, because it was while doing his consulting work that he realized that most of his clients were also letting other people and outside forces set priorities for them. And this led him to another breakthrough realization, that “the pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure.”
The failure doesn’t always become personal as it did with McKeown, but that actually makes it more nefarious, harder to spot, and address. Staying “busy” at work can blind us to the fact that we stopped making purposeful and deliberate choices on “what we’re busy about” long ago. And that makes us less effective than we otherwise could be.
This is nothing new. Great business minds like Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, and Stephen Covey have been warning us of “the undisciplined pursuit of more” for some time now, and counseling that the power to say “no” makes us more effective. McKeown references these minds and their ideas, brings those lessons up to date, and gives them the a much-needed full length treatment perfectly suited for our times. In Mckeown’s own words:
There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.” Like mythological sirens, there assumptions are as dangerous as the are seductive. They draw us in and drown us in shallow waters.
To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.” These simple truths awaken us from our nonessential stupor. They free us to pursue what really matters.
Especially with the always-on nature of the modern workplace and the endless stream of pings and updates from the devices we carry with us, we are almost all stretching ourselves increasingly thin. And we are stretching ourselves thin on trivialities instead of stretching out with those things that really matter, those things that would enable us to contribute the most to our organizations, our loved ones, and our own well-being. As a result, most of us are “overworked and underutilized.” McKeown (like Robert Osborne at Turner Classic Movies) wants us to get down to the essentials.
To help us do that, McKeown breaks his book into four parts: Part I: Essence explores the question “What is the core mind-set of an Esentialist?” Part II: Explore asks (and answers) “How can we discern the trivial many from the vital few?” Part III: Eliminate teaches us “How [we can] cut out the trivial many.” And Part IV: Execute examines “How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?” And he does this all in a breezy style with brilliant, succinct takeaway quotes like “Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.” and “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” It is a beautifully designed book, too, with the quotes I just referenced pulled out in larger text for effect and emphasis, and many of the ideas illustrated in the same style as the cover image, which makes it easy on the eyes, helps crystallize the most important lessons, and allows us to consider the ideas spatially rather than just abstractly.
Greg McKeown has clearly been able to find what is most important and essential in his life, and to focus in on those things to be his best self. This book is not only evidence of and testament to that fact, it will help you do the same.
Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity Without Getting Complicated by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman is one of those books that comes into your life at the exact time you need it. And you’ll know immediately whether you need it now or not. And if you do? What a godsend, because when you are working in a complicated business environment, it’s tempting to try to match it with complicated work of your own. But that often leads to chasing one’s own tail, or rather chasing loose threads, to the point you can’t even remember why you are making the effort in the first place. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” was a popular sentiment in the early ’90′s, and while Morieux and Tollman don’t reduce their advice down to anything quite that lean, their six rules are still concise, memorable, and much more instructive.
The purpose of the simple rules is to let managers really manage, to use the tools that managers have always used–strategy setting and organizational design–but for a different end and a far more effective outcome. The rules help managers foster both autonomy and cooperation to effectively handle business complexity and prevent much organizational complicatedness.
The first three rules “are designed to give people an advantage in the way they mobilize their intelligence and energy at work by providing them with relevant knowledge, room for maneuver, power, and the resource of cooperation.”
Simple Rule One: Understand What Your People Do
“When you think about it, to focus on what people fail to do as opposed to what they do is a fundamentally backward way of addressing a performance problem.”
Simple Rule Two: Reinforce Integrators
“An effective integrator has both an interest in making others cooperate and the power to impel them to do so” and that’s what differentiates them from coordinators.
Simple Rule Three: Increase the Total Quantity of Power
The authors remind us there is a “distinction between simply redistributing power…and actually increasing the total quantity of power in the organization.”
One of my favorite lines in the book explains why this distribution of power is important:
When power is used to mobilize collective action that furthers the goals of an organization, it is a fabulous thing.
The next three rules “are designed to impel people to confront complexity and to use their autonomy to cooperate _with_ others, by embedding feedback loops that expose them as directly as possible to the consequences of their actions, without the need for extra supervision and structure or for the bureaucracy of compliance metrics and incentives.” They are:
Simple Rule Four: Increase Reciprocity
Simple Rule Five: Extend the Shadow of the Future
Simple Rule Six: Reward Those Who Cooperate
Six Simple Rules is a management book, but it is also a social science book, an important asset because it will assist you in both understanding the people in your organization and what motivates and inspires them.