Sunday, December 29, 2013

Drawing It Old School

Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design – Mark Baskinger and William Bardell (Watson Guptill Publications)

As someone who writes for a living, I have always placed a high value on utilizing words to tell a story. With the growth of infographics I have become a big fan of using the combination of words and pictures to convey messages. More often than not I find myself utilizing an old fashion pad of paper, flip charts or a whiteboard to help me tell a story, outline a project or goals.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I have utilized my drawing skills to convey design ideas for client websites, rough advertising graphics, signage, banners and much more. While I have utilized a variety of graphics programs from basic to more complex, to rough up projects; I find that my best stuff comes from using an old school sketchbook and pencils or markers. One of the few nodes to modern convenience is using Post It Notes to make it easier to move pieces around on the page.

With this in mind I have embarked on an effort to upgrade my design skills to help me better communicate ideas with clients. One of the first steps in the process was to pick up a copy of Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design by Mark Baskinger and William Bardell. Baskinger, an associate professor at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and Bardell, a principal at the design firm, Luminant Design, have put together a wide ranging collection of examples and ideas for utilizing analog tools for designing and developing projects.
This book gives you a great foundation of the basics including the tools to deliver the best end product. Later in the book they also offer up a variety of Top Ten Tips lists that are useful for any creative type. Again with the Post It Notes…I have flagged and indexed these pages for quick and easy reference; I know at some point they will be copied and placed in my work book for consultation.
Speaking of design, Drawing Ideas is a magnificently illustrated and uniquely bound collection; it will nicely on the work bookshelf or on the lobby coffee table.

Focus – On Your Success

Back in 1998 residents of California passed Proposition 227 which dramatically changed the way bilingual students were taught. Basically students who were limited English proficient would no longer be taught in a bilingual, 50/50 fashion; instead they would spend 100% of their classroom time immersed in English. Teachers unions and bilingual advocates groused about the unfairness of the bill and complained that students would suffer from this allegedly misguided legislation.

Some of the loudest and most ardent advocates of the law were Hispanic parents who believed that this heavy focus on English would benefit their students. As the bill took effect and student became focused on English, a surprising (to those against the bill) thing happened; by focusing on English student actually excelled and learned English and other subjects at a faster rate with improved scores across the board.


Why would anybody be shocked by these results? When you put 100% focus on something, as compared say to only a part-time, 50% focus, wouldn’t you expect to have stronger results? All too often business leaders and entrepreneurs get distracted by the newest, shiny object and lose focus on their goals and their success.

More often than not the shiny object ends up being the promise of a quick buck that seems too appealing to pass up. Revenue may seem like a good reason in the short term, but the loss of focus comes with a price tag that far outstrips the short term gain. By tenaciously locking in your focus on your goals, avoid getting sidetracked and ignoring the naysayers, you will reap bigger rewards.

Don’t kid yourself; having focus is hard work and one of the appeals of the distraction is they just seem so darn easy! You need to remind yourself daily what your goals are, which means they need to be written down and they need to be front and center in your work environment. When you start to feel things slide off track, grab that list and refocus your energy on your goals!  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design – Randy Krum (Wiley)

The old saying is “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As a writer my response has always been, then imagine the value of a thousand words. By utilizing infographics, marketers get to have the best of both worlds.

Marketing has always been about telling stories and engaging customers. Through the use of infographics your data can tell your story by creating a visual representation of your story coupled with words that make your story easy to not only comprehend, but also to remember. Randy Krum covers a broad range of uses for infographics in Cool Infographics: Effective Communication with Data Visualization and Design that goes way beyond adding charts and graphs to your presentation or report.


Krum starts with the basics of how infographics work, what makes them effective tools and then details how to develop your story and create your design. For the non-designer, creating infographics may seem like a daunting task, but Krum offers some great basics tips, design rules to live by and tools and tricks to make the process a whole lot easier.

Krum also loads the book up with some great example pieces that prove to be great creative inspiration. Okay, so you’ve got your idea, you gathered your data, developed and refined your design and you’ve created a winning infographic. Now what? Krum also provides a road map for successfully launching and releasing your infographic so that delivers the bang you are looking for. As always I am looking for actionable steps that I can put to use right away and Krum certainly delivers.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advice for a New College Graduate, My Son

Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn – John C. Maxwell (Center Street Press)

Call me proud Father; my son Thomas is getting ready to graduate from college in a few weeks. This occasion has spurred me to, once again, offer up some fatherly advice as he prepares to take on the challenges of the “real world.”

Quite naturally for me, I began to look around for just the right book that would offer Tom some solid, useful, advice that would not only help him to set off on the right path, but that he could turn to for advice and inspiration when needed. There are plenty of classics from the likes of Carnegie, Covey, Blanchard and Maxwell, that I myself have used often.

I started to look back over the course of my career and the many ups and downs and dramatic turns, that I have taken thus far and I determined that much of what I have done can be attributed to hard work; but not without a solid dose of confidence and faith in my own ability. It’s not something that you can really teach, but I firmly believe that you can set the table and prepare yourself to never be afraid; take the leap and the net will appear.

 
As I was looking for just the right book, I came across John C. Maxwell’s latest, Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn and was struck that this might be the one. Maxwell has always offered up actionable advice and illustrated his thoughts with practical, real life examples of how the tools he writes about have been put to use.

Never be afraid to fail

If I could boil down once piece of advice that Maxwell offers early in the book that fits perfectly with what I would like to pass along to Tom, it would be, never be afraid to fail. If you are afraid of failure, chances are that you’ll never try something and if you never make the attempt, chances are you’ll never succeed.

There is never a “good time” or the “right time” to do something. It doesn’t exist. Waiting for the “right time” is just doubt and hesitation getting in the way of doing something. If you have an idea and you develop a plan, then pull the trigger and make things happen! If you fail…that’s okay. If you fail and you will at some point, then be sure to ask yourself “what have I learned?” If you don’t ask that question the chances are next time you won’t pull that trigger. It’s all about accessing what you have learned and putting that to use the next time you step up to the plate.

Learning is the key

While you have spent your time getting your education, learning never stops. Maxwell makes the case that much of what we do is really about being open to learning; whether it’s improvement, adversity, change or maturity.

While Maxwell offers dynamic leadership advice for people at all stages of their careers, and while Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn can be useful to those farther along their career path, it is best suited for those new to Maxwell and those starting out.

With that I will pass the Maxwell on to Tom and let him know how proud my wife and I are of what he has accomplished and that we are confident, and he should be as well, that he will work hard, move forward with no fear, have faith in his ability and accomplish even greater things. With love, Dad.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Work From Home: Kicked Up a Notch

Remote: Office Not Required – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Crown Business)

Earlier this year Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused a firestorm of controversy when she announced that her company would be pulling the proverbial plug on their remote-work program and that those employees in the program would have to make their way into one Yahoo!’s traditional office outposts if they wanted continued employment. They outpouring of vitriolic response was staggering and aimed squarely at Mayer; ranging from questioning her intellect to downright rude street punk name calling. Oh so classy and professional.

Then came the story of the remote software developer who took a portion of his sizeable income and outsourced his work to China so he could wile away his days surfing the web and watching cat videos. Not exactly the best endorsements for the concept of using available technology to free workers from the constraints of the traditional office setting.

 
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (the co-founders of 37 Signals, the software development company that produced Basecamp, a project management program) are out with their follow up to the bestselling Rework; Remote: Office Not Required, which makes the case that remote work is the way to go for companies to succeed. I found this book interesting based on the perspective that I live and work in both worlds; holding down a traditional office based, 9 to 5 job, while operating a successful content marketing company on the side and working remotely with clients.
There’s nothing too dynamic here; as Fried and Hansson make a pretty straight forward case for why remote work is the way to go. The book falls short of a how-to manual for pulling the trigger on making the transition to remote work. I think there are clearly huge advantages for creatives, developers and even engineers that can be gained by remote work settings. As technology continues its inevitable march, those opportunities will continue to expand. It also doesn’t provide actionable material for those already doing remote work to make their operations more robust.

The more traditionalist side of me kept looking for tools to measure the progress and success of remote work. I literally burst out in laughter when I read the section of one-on-one check in calls that the authors conduct with their own remote employees; that they conduct “every couple months.” I have direct reports that I trust to get their job done and I don’t spend anytime micromanaging what they do on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, but I do check in with them a whole heck of a lot more often than every couple months.  I think its management 101 that folks in those positions know that I want them to have the tools and resources they need to succeed, so it’s only natural to check in on a regular basis.

While we certainly live in age where the tools to succeed working remotely are in place and new and advanced tools are coming online almost daily, that dynamic has not changed the need for traditional, results oriented measurements to be put in place. The innovator that develops an effective measurement tool for remote work will be the one who energizes traditional businesses to make the all in leap to remote work.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Story of Pervasive Influence

The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and It’s Secret Influence on American Business (Simon & Schuster) – Duff McDonald

I found Duff McDonald’s new book The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and It’s Secret Influence on American Business to be an interesting examination of the influence that the consulting giant wields not only in the corporate world in the corridors of government power. It is equally thought provoking when pondering the impact that business consultants have had in both positive and negative ways.

It got me thinking back over my career and how consultants have often negatively impacted the industries that I have worked in over the course of my career. McDonald makes a strong case that that the goals of the consultants don’t always work in harmony with the businesses that they are serving. Projects often snowball into seemingly lifetime appointments with lines being blurred and initial goals pushed to the wayside if not completely off the table.


While certainly there are any number of high profile successes that can be cited, there are an equal if not exceeding number of grand failures that can be laid squarely at the feet of the consultant class. The overriding question for businesses seem left unanswered; are the consultants delivering the expected outcomes or have they become just another crutch for a failure to lead on the part of upper management. Consultants can be the double edged sword of hero or scapegoat for leaders who fail to truly lead.
I have witnessed the limp leadership that is wrought by consultants. Having spent the first half of my career in broadcasting, I am firmly of the belief that the dire circumstances that radio broadcaster currently find themselves in can be laid squarely at the feet of consultants. In their determined rush to homogenize and make uniform the way “personalities” delivered their product, consultants gutted a business that thrived on creativity and left the door wide open for replacements like online streaming services and Ipods. Is it any wonder that advertisers have jumped ship and radio struggles to produce revenue.

It is that pervasive influence that is the underlying question that McDonald weaves through the McKinsey story. It is clearly a question that real business leaders must ask themselves as they ponder the role consultants play in their organizations.  

 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Getting to the Why

Big Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value – Lisa Arthur (Wiley)

Any marketer possessed of common sense will tell you that word of mouth is the most effective way to market. A potential customer of ABC Widgets expresses and interest in purchasing a widget and a family member, friend or trusted co-worker speaks positively about the experience they had with ABC Widgets and before long Mr. Potential customer is walking through your door or visiting your website and making their widget selection/purchase. Short of cloning a bunch of product or service advocates armed with antenna to scope out potential customers seeking your goods, and hone in to deliver your positive message; what is a marketer to do to reach those customers and drive business.

There has been a business section headline making fundamental shift in the way we do business in recent years; that shift has placed the consumer squarely in control of the of the journey from prospect to close. No longer are traditional methods of shouting at customers (advertising) driving business growth. Marketers are on the hunt not only for what works when it comes to effectively communicating to consumers, but also on a journey to discover why it works. It’s about getting to the why.

 
One of the most prominent business page headlines involves the phrase “Big Data.” Every day we are inundated by a firehose of information about who our customers are and what they want. Author Lisa Arthur tries to help marketers make sense of all this information and how to make effective use of it all in Big Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value.

Arthur delivers a no nonsense approach to the entire process. If you go into this book looking for a way to justify your marketing strategy, you’re in for a wakeup call. This is about the customer experience being front and center when it comes to your marketing. Think about it; you have effectively researched and developed the product or service offerings for your business; you’ve right priced for the marketplace and then you deliver an awful customer experience. All the marketing, advertising, public relations and community outreach in the world won’t save your business.

This is not a book that delivers secret formulas or hard to understand process improvements. Arthur serves up five practical steps that marketers of every level of the experience scale, can take to drive strategic marketing decisions. In a day and age where the mantra continues to be “do more with less” Big Data Marketing offers up tools to understand what works and why and do things more effectively.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Just Do It!

Do It! Marketing: David Newman (Amacom Books)

The branding masters at Nike famously coined the term Just Do It! to sell their iconic athletic gear. The message left unsaid was to get up off the couch and get to it already.

It is with a similar thrust that David Newman exhorts business owners and marketers to get on with it when it comes to marketing their goods and services in his new book Do It! Marketing. While strategy and planning certainly are a major part of marketing for any business, there is a tendency to get bogged down in the planning stage and never getting off the dime when it comes to execution.

 
In the book, Newman teaches a bias towards action; by offering practical steps that any business should be able to put into action immediately. I think he hits on a real cornerstone on which to build when he talks about the starting point for any business should be knowing very clearly who you are! It’s amazing the number of businesses owners I have talked with about their marketing who can’t manage to clearly define who they are, what their business is and what their goals are.

That thought process once defined and in place should according to Newman lead to what really boil down to a set of simple decisions and tactical steps to implement and reach a higher level of success. Newman provides 77 executable actions steps that can be put into play today.

Like any long laundry list of ideas, the decision making process should not hinder taking action; again the bias is to action. Clearly you won’t fire up all 77 tactics at once, or in many cases at all; the idea is to pick those tactics that work best for your situation and get cracking. Anything worth doing, is worth measuring; check the results, tweak the actions to improve or continue the results then move on to the next action step.

Like Newman says, “ small business marketing is not a mystery” it’s about making a decision to just do it!

 

Ron Paul: Capitalist

The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System – Ron Paul (Grand Central Publishing)

I remember very clearly the time I took something called the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. Ten questions total; five on personal issues and five on economic issues. Answering the questions online, I was taken to a graph that was divided into quadrants and that dropped me firmly into the heart of the libertarian section. For a person who believes in freedom, personal responsibility and small government it made perfect sense to me.

It also made perfect sense that I was drawn to then Texas Congressman, Ron Paul. I had the opportunity to interview Paul in the days before he ran for President and found his thoughts on limited government lined up well with my own. Paul is an accomplished, bestselling author and in this new effort, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System he offers up his fix for the failing public U.S. education system.



Paul writes with a very matter-of-fact style as he dissects the current state of the centralized education system. Along the way Paul delivers a historical take on things through the lens of his own education. He also indicts the system we are saddled with for funding the education system. He posits the solution that we must somehow put the funding of education back into the hands of parents as educational decision makers.

I can hear the unholy howls of public education advocates and teachers union types in response to Paul’s “answer.” Like anything else, including healthcare, I favor putting the decision making power back into the hands of the individual. I am not certain that we could ever effectuate the wholesale change that Paul advocates. In this day and age of social engineering of liberals that has lead to the destruction of the family unit I can’t imagine what the country would look like if every so-called parent; just because you’ve been part of the process of having a child, doesn’t make you a parent, were to determine the education process for their children.

It does however make perfect sense that those parents who are capable of making educational decisions on behalf of their offspring, should be afforded the opportunity to opt out of the government education system and take their dollars with them to the alternative choices they make. This simple step will inject competition into the education system. Where there is competition, it naturally follows, there is the pursuit of excellence and higher standards. If the government schools improve, they can compete on equal footing for parent’s education dollars.

Despite agreeing with Congressman Paul on the personal freedom side, I could never bring myself to support his presidential runs, because his supposed support for smaller government rang hollow when he larded his districts pork barrel projects into house spending bills and sought cover by voting against bills that he knew would pass. In similar fashion, Paul uses this book to not only offer up an education solution, but to hawk his online education curriculum. While I am a capitalist and completely understand Paul’s goals, there’s just something a bit smarmy about the approach.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Business Writing for Dummies – Natalie Canavor (Wiley Books)

My answer was simple: Writing.

I remember being asked to speak to my cousin’s 8th Grade class on career day. I was working as a radio disc jockey at the time and she wanted to have various friends and family members speak to the kids about how to choose a career path and what tools you would need to develop to be successful. Naturally all the kids thought it was “cool” to be a DJ and wanted to know what was the most important ability to have to be successful.
My answer then, remains the same today; writing. Now the 8th graders where a little surprised, but anyone in business probably wouldn’t be shocked by that answer. The ability to communicate effectively by written word is easily one the greatest skills/needs in today’s business world.

If you play a role in the hiring process, you probably also know that it is one of the skills that is clearly under-developed, if not darn near dead. I can’t believe the number of cover letters/resumes that I see on a weekly basis that I am tempted to take a red pen to and send back to the applicant. While the advent of technology has certainly added speed to the written communication form, it has also been detrimental to developing writing skill.

 

The folks at For Dummies books are out with an updated edition of Business Writing for Dummies by business writing consultant and coach, Natalie Canavor. This nifty little volume covers a vast array writing types including; proposals, e-mails, letters, and executive reports, among many others.

This book is perfect for any level of workplace experience, because Canavor offers up great tips to take the experienced business writer to the next level while giving newbies at great starting point. I would highly recommend this for parents with kids in college or soon to be graduating to the workforce; writing is an ability that will set your child apart from rest of the pack.
Canavor say it all very early in the book with a section entitled; “Make writing your not-so-secret weapon.” I am firmly convinced that my ability to write has set me apart from the pack and allowed me to smoothly transition through a variety of career paths where the ability to put words on paper effectively is critical.

The ability to write does not come easy; it takes time, hard work and plenty of practice to hone the craft. Business Writing for Dummies is an extremely useful tool to have on your business bookshelf and refer to often.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Live Your Life With Some Brass


Grow a Pair – Larry Winget (Gotham Books)

When you work in the public eye and you express a strong opinion (the only kind worth expressing as far as I am concerned) you learn pretty quickly that you are more than likely to tick somebody off. In fact you may have people who downright loath you! So you have a simple choice; you can worry about whether or not people like you and waffle your opinion or you can choose what I did and not compromise and not really care if people like you or not.

Working in talk radio, if I wasn’t ticking somebody off, then chances are I wasn’t doing my job. This isn’t to say that I looked for contrived ways to make people mad, I simply had a set of principles and I stuck to them and if that makes you mad, then so be it. I wasn’t losing a minute of sleep worrying about if you liked me or not. It is that set of core values that I think drives what bestselling author, speaker and the pitbull of personal development® Larry Winget is all about.

Winget’s latest book is Grow A Pair: How to Stop Being a Victim and Take Back Your Life, Your Business, and Your Sanity. I found myself nodding my head in agreement and I admit it, even saying YES! out loud any number of times as I read the book. It’s so nice to know that someone else thinks exactly like I do!
 

Winget’s take on social media is right on! Yes it’s can be a great tool for business, but too many people drive themselves to distraction worrying about so-called “friends” and how many empty “likes” they generate. For me, Facebook was interesting for about ten minutes, but at the end of the day, my real friends are the folks I talk to and see in person on a regular basis, not somebody that I haven’t seen since graduating high school or college. Think about it; if they were really that important to you, wouldn’t you have stayed in contact with them? Yet I know family and friends that lose their minds if they don’t get a response to something that they posted, to the point of getting pissed off at even real friends! Sorry, but that is just plain stupid!

Winget lays out a very simple road map for you to follow when it comes to relationships, business, money and life. I am certainly not some touchy, feely self-help book kind of guy and don’t expect that from Winget. Touchy feely this ain’t; for some it will be an affirmation and for others it will be a much needed kick in the ass!

My plan is to gift a copy of the book to family and friends who will benefit from it. I can hear the response now…it will range from outrage to “this guys sounds just like you!”  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Made in The USA - The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing – Vaclav Smil (MIT Press)

A few years back I had the opportunity to interview/debate Robert Reich, the stubby little Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration about a New York Times op/ed piece that he had authored were he made the case that it was not a bad thing the United States was shipping low-skill jobs overseas. Reich’s argument was that American’s should have to do these low skilled jobs because we could spend our time and resources in a better way by developing the next generation of technology and advanced products.

My response was that while that sounds great; what were we going to do with our workforce of low to moderately skilled workers who often did those jobs for family sustaining wages, more often than not in the manufacturing sector? Did he really believe that the American education system was capable of not only training the next generation of technologically advanced workers, but re-training those existing workers to tackle those new, higher level of skill jobs. While often praised for his brilliance as an economist, professor and author, the diminutive Reich seemed dumbfounded and dumbstruck by my question.

Now respected thinker, author and professor, Vaclav Smil, a man proclaimed to be Bill Gates favorite author tackles the question in his latest book, Made in USA– The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing. Don’t be confused by the title, Smil’s effort is not a simplistic or jingoistic approach that simply advocates buying products manufactured on these shores.

Smil makes the case that to survive and prosper great nations must have an innovative, manufacturing sector and the jobs that it creates. He chronicles the economic boom that followed the close of World War II has the spark that lit the fuse on the mass consumption economy. While the so-called information economy may sound great, it really boils down to moving existing dollars from one side of the board to the other. It boils down to basic economics that real wealth is created when we take raw materials and create something of increased value from it, Facebook and Twitter be damned!

Smil tackles the future by discussing the lack of a level playing field in the global economy, the need to lower corporate taxes to encourage new investment in U.S. manufacturing and calls for a change in our education system as part of the steps we need to undertake a re-birth of our manufacturing and of our economy. Clearly Smil understands that President and politicians don’t create jobs and that they can play a vital role in creating an environment where investment and jobs can grow.

This is not only a thoughtful and in depth examination of the problem, but also an honest roadmap to a solution. That said, even Smil only gives it a 50-50 chance of succeeding.   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Roadmap for the Social Media Maze

Social Media Engagement for Dummies – Aliza Sherman and Danielle Elliot Smith (Wiley)

A quick look at any number of infographics that have been created in the past couple of years cover the explosion of social media outlets and it quickly become clear that the way we do business has changed dramatically and we’re going to need a roadmap to guide us through this ever increasingly tangled web of sites.

Clearly this is not a “build it and they will come” kind of thing; you need a strategy and a plan to execute. Aliza Sherman, founder of Cybergirl Inc. a full service internet company and Danielle Elliot Smith founder of ExtraordinaryMommy.com among many others, are multi-talented and engaged on a number of levels in guiding folks through the complexities of the social media maze. They have offered up a tremendous set of tools in the form of their new book Social Media Engagement for Dummies.

 
While some may scoff at the For Dummies books as a guide to the basics, sort of training wheels for the uninformed, I find them to be useful compendiums that I turn to for quick reference and often times inspiration. Sherman and Smith do breakdown the basics of social media, but also delve into helping you learn from their missteps and help you drill down into ways of being more effective and truly targeting your audience to maximize results.

They also help to broaden your horizons beyond the standard Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Google + routes. It’s not just a matter of bombing your audience with messages; it’s about developing the right message and the right method to make that message impactful. Sherman and Smith make path easier to follow and you will quickly find your copy of Social Media Engagement for Dummies dog eared and underlined just like mine.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Death of Deception

Spy The Lie – Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant –

(St. Martin’s Press)

Have you ever been in a situation, workplace or social, were something struck you as being just not right about the person that is across from you. Call it instinct, call it a sixth sense, if you’re superhero inclined call it Spidey-sense or call it whatever you’d like; your internal detection system has noted that there is a problem.


Now imagine that there is a system that can take that internal sense for deception and take it to the next level through a program that has been developed by folks who made their living by spotting deception in the high stakes world of international intelligence at the CIA. Imagine no more…that system exists and is available in the form of;  Spy The Lie – Former CIA Case Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant.

Houston developed the techniques to detect deception in counter-terrorism operations and criminal investigation to protect the security of the United States. Now they show you how to take that skillset and transfer it to work and social situations. No you won’t have to visit your favorite hardware store to buy powerful spotlights and a length of rubber hose. The techniques they detail, involve the ability to pick up on both verbal and non-verbal clues that indicate deception.

While much of the material involves a level of technical information to digest, but the anecdotal examples give real world incites that make the technical easily digestible. The authors do an amazing job of showcasing the deception in verbal cues from the Bob Costas interview of Jerry Sandusky prior to his criminal trial.

While the insights and techniques provide in this book are not a magic bullet for detecting deception. The authors clearly developed these processes through trail and error over the course of time and through a variety of situations and with time and practice you will be able to hone your skills.

 

 

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Leadership Library

Motivation – Negotiation -  Delegation and Supervision – Brain Tracy (AMACOM)

Fear is a great motivator.

That true if you’re reading a thriller centered on taking out a bad guy or stopping a terrorist. In the work place not so much. Speaker, author, and leadership trainer Brian Tracy makes the strong case that leaders who wield fear as a motivational tool are actually having a negative impact on their organizations.

Tracy is out with the first three installments of what is currently planned to be a five-part series dubbed the Brian Tracy Success Library. Tracy has authored or co-written a shelf full of books and this set does borrow concepts that he has written about in prior editions. This compact set makes a great reference tool and boils down many broader concepts into useful, actionable tools that can be put into practice today.


 
I was struck early on in Motivation by the concept of driving out fear in your organization; it actually de-motivates managers and employees from taking chances and striving for success. I think everyone has worked for one of those iron-fisted tyrants who ruled with fear; I know I can certainly relate. Contrast that with leaders who created an environment of freedom that nurtured success. This is good stuff for newbies and veteran mangers alike; full of useful tools and concepts to move your team forward.

Negotiation brings you the perspective from both sides of the table; in a world that preaches a win at all costs mindset, this was a interesting perspective. Tips, tricks, skills whatever you want to call them, the book certainly delivers clear insights into the process of negotiation. As a obsessive preparer, I could certainly relate to the section on the keys of preparation when it comes to negotiation.

Knowing what your goals are going into a negotiation is a critical point; being confident in your preparation allows you the ability to use one of the most effective negotiation techniques, the walk away method. I have used this technique effectively on numerous occasions with everything from buying a car to huge broadcast rights contracts and the purchase of collectibles. While negotiation is a skill honed over time and practice, Tracy certainly compiles a great collection of tools to help you refine the skill.

 
Ever feel like the guy on the Ed Sullivan Show that tried to keep the plates spinning on the sticks?  Is your plate filled to overflowing? Then you may want to ponder Delegation and Supervision to learn how to effectively hand off work while maintaining a level of control and still delivering on measurable goals.

Tracy makes the case that delegation not simply passing the buck, but a way for managers to display confidence in their employees and utilize delegation as a tool to develop new skills in the team. The section of delivering useful feedback and constructive guidance works for both of the book’s title topics. As an experienced manager I readily admit to having difficulties with delegating; you have to train yourself to get over the control issues and learn how to match skillsets with tasks to improve outcomes.

While some may find this series a little too basic, I think they offer a solid mix of tools and tactics that will help you no matter what your leadership experience. I am looking forward to adding the next two installments; Leadership and Time Management to my toolkit when they get released.

 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Marketing Must Have

The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly – David Meerman Scott (Wiley – Fourth Edition)

When David Meerman Scott originally released The New Rules of Marketing & PR six years ago, it was at the time a groundbreaking, direct to consumers approach that was a twist to traditional marketing. While the book may not have spawned a revolution, it certainly was one of the early roadmaps to the evolution of how to communicate and market directly to consumers.

In the completely revised and updated fourth edition of The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, Scott goes beyond just strategies and delves directly into tactics that not just marketers, but business owners can put into practice today to improve their results.

 
Rather than taking the often expensive route of trying to reach consumers through traditional mediums, utilizing repetition of messages to hopefully reach consumers, Scott offers up techniques to open up a treasure trove of information about your products and services and open the door to them becoming your customer. This is steps ahead of tried and true calls to action, making the approach more about the consumer than it is about you and your business.

Some may be quick to claim that this is a death knell for traditional marketers, allowing business owners to start a DIY marketing storm, but the reality is that nimble practitioners will simply showcase their value by deliver focused content that will allow business to stand out in the storm. If this book isn’t already in your business toolbox, it should be.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why An Educated Consumer is Your Best Customer


Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype – Jay Baer (Portfolio Publishing)

Back in the early 1980s clothing merchant Sy Syms coined the phrase, “an educated consumer is our best customer” as a way to attract clientele to his men’s clothing outlets. He reasoned that if customers knew that they would get a good deal on a nice suit every time they shopped at his stores, then would keep coming back for more. It was an interesting concept, meant to be helpful rather than hype-ful and it was about 30 years before it’s time.

While things didn’t work out in the end for Sy Syms with his stores closing in bankruptcy a few years back, the concept of the educated consumer has become a whole new way for smart marketers to attract new customers. That concept is at the center of Jay Baer’s new book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype. The online world has created a seismic shift in consumer’s favor when it comes to the purchase process. The abundance of information that is available to consumers about the products and services that the purchase everyday is truly staggering.

 
By the same token the information available to those consumers about your business is equally abundant. Baer makes the case that marketing battleground has shifted from winning the consumer’s hearts to winning the consumer’s minds. I have always made the argument that the best person to tell your businesses story is you and Baer illustrates that concept with examples of real companies succeeding by offering help rather than hype.

As a healthcare marketer it would be easy for me to think that sites like WEB MD would lead patients to try to treat themselves and avoid coming to a doctor’s office for help. The reality is that while WEB MD does offer treatment suggestions, in the end they help doctor’s to treat patients because the patient is better educated about potential illnesses or injuries; they can communicate more clearly, ask better questions and assist physicians in finding the best treatment options. So why would I want to shift marketing focus away from physician credentials and cool new equipment, to patient focused information to help them make better healthcare choices?

It may not be an easy transition for veteran marketers to make from talking at consumers to engaging consumers and drawing them in and allowing them to take the lead. A quick scan of how many companies use tweets, likes and blogs to continue to jam branding statements down consumer’s throats will tell you it’s not an easy jump. Baer makes the process easier with a series of blueprints to guide you through the process. I might suggest delving into the blueprints then going back to the real business examples of how companies “youtilize” themselves.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Inside Insights On Egos

Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership – Bob Lutz (Portfolio Books)

If you pick up Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk on Leadership expecting to pick up some insights on what separates great leaders from the not so great, I am afraid you will sorely disappointed. Bob Lutz, the octogenarian, automotive executive who held a plethora of high powered roles with GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW and Exide offers some entertaining opinions on his fellow automotive executives that he witnessed in action, often up close and personal.

Lutz makes a few things abundantly clear; he was (and is) a mover and shaker in the automotive industry, he has a VERY high opinion of himself, and he is certainly not shy about expressing his thoughts about his colleagues and the leaders he has interacted with during his career.

The most telling and entertaining profiles are of automotive industry colleagues who’s leadership and personalities Lutz dissects and more often than not flays with a rapier wit and the light touch of a verbal bludgeon.  Clearly Lutz is beyond worrying about winning friends and influencing people, which in the end makes the book so entertaining.

While you can glean that Lutz played a masters hand in the politics of middle to senior to C-suite management, always properly positioning himself for next steps and willing to make the beneficial compromise; I’m not certain that you will gain much in the way of useful leadership strategy here. Bottom line; Icons and Idiots, does live up to its promise of doling out straight talk.

 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Five Levels of Leadership Revisited

John C. Maxwell – How Successful People Lead (Center Street)

With more than 21 million books sold and 6 million participants in his leadership training programs in 177 countries around the globe, John C. Maxwell is arguably one of the world’s leading experts on what makes leaders and what makes them tick.

Along the way, Maxwell has identified the traits, tendencies, actions and levels of leadership. His bestselling 2011 book The Five Levels of Leadership set forth a yardstick by which leaders can measure where they are on the evolutionary scale of leadership.
The 5 Levels of Leadership are:
1. Position - People follow because they have to.
2. Permission - People follow because they want to.
3. Production - People follow because of what you have done for the organization.
4. People Development - People follow because of what you have done for them personally.
5. Pinnacle - People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

 
In his new book, How Successful People Lead, Maxwell revisits the five levels and makes the case that leadership is truly a life long journey were true leaders “learn, earn and return.” As always, Maxwell makes the case that true leaders are always seeking to develop, train and grow the next generation of leaders.

Maxwell is exactly on point with this thought process. It echoes one of my all-time favorite leadership quotes, from the equally legendary leadership guru, Tom Peters who said, “leaders don’t create followers, they create new leaders.” The five levels should be viewed by true leaders as a road map for that leadership journey. That journey never truly reaches a conclusion; leaders at the pinnacle are always up to the challenge of developing the next generation of leaders.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Idris Mootee – 60 Minute Brand Strategist (Wiley Publishing)


How do you want your business to be known?

A seemingly simple question…that has caused business nightmares and cost them millions of dollars in the pursuit of a legitimate answer. With his self-described “essential brand book for marketing professionals” 60 Minute Brand Strategist Idris Mootee, chief executive officer of Idea Couture, seeks a simple answer to answer the question. He even goes so far as claiming that this 60 minute read should help marketers answer the question for their companies/clients.

I’m not certain Mootee lays claim to doing what so many have who have laid claim to in the past; to have the magic plan or strategy to deliver the branding goods. The simple fact is; there is a reason why so much has been written and claimed about this process, everyone thinks they have the answer or the perfect plan, when in reality, there is no perfect plan that fits every business. What I think Mootee does successfully is offer up a comprehensive breakdown of what successful brands have done well in an effort to road map methods of brand development.

Having been through the dynamic process of mission-ing and vision-ing strategy sessions that for a variety of businesses, the section on the strategic branding process was of particular interest.  The role of brand identity, brand personality and how it plays into the customer experience are key steps that many businesses forget or forgo in the branding process. Mootee boils the process down to ten step steps to pull together a disparate array of strategic and business information.

While 60 Minute Brand Strategist makes for a good refresher course for marketers, it may prove to be a useful tool to encourage buy in from C-Suite and other players in the business development and branding process.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Focus On the One Thing

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results– Gary Keller & Jay Papasan (Bard Press)

A few years back California passed Proposition 227 which mandated an English immersion approach to teaching kids whose primary language wasn’t English. Teachers union-types and so-called education “experts” decried the policy as unfair and harmful to the students. After a year of focusing on teaching the students in one language rather than using the prior method of bilingual education, the results demonstrated that the students were actually performing at a higher level.

This shocked and dismayed the “experts” but, was actually a very predictable result. By focusing the efforts, 100% of the time on one thing, students learned English faster and improved the results across the board. If you did anything with a 100% focus rather than splitting your focus in half or quarters or eights, what do you think the results would be?

While multi-tasking has been the rallying cry for business for years, yet study after study as shown that outcomes aren’t great for those who practice it. Gary Keller and Jay Papasan are offering up a contrarian view to multi-tasking in the new book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results which makes the case not only for singular focus, but also for a process of determining what your priority should be.

They make the case that with laser focus being brought to your “one thing” it can start a series of dominos tumbling that lead to extraordinary results. The process that leads to those results starts with the work of trying to identify your one thing. Keller and Papasan detail the plan for “time blocking” a daily, four-hour, appointment with yourself used to focus on your one thing. They also spell out the three commitments you must make to make that block as productive as possible.
They cite the effectiveness of the practice of the One Thing; the challenge for rank and file workers is the inherent expectations of the work place. Like many business planning programs, The One Thing may be easier for those entrepreneurs and solo practitioners who can guide their own fates.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Look Back…to the Future?


Flashback to September 26, 1960, 70 million Americans witnessed a first in U.S. political history when the Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon aired on broadcast television. Prior to that point, the candidates for President had debated only on radio and political observers of that era spoke about JFK appearing calm, cool and collected and Nixon profusely sweating and looking generally uncomfortable. JFK was proclaimed the clear winner, yet those who chose to listen, rather than watch the debate said on content alone, Nixon was the clear victor.

Television had changed the face of politics seemingly forever. Flash forward to today and we see the face of not only politics, but of many layers of our society being forever altered by the internet and the way public perceptions are shaped and changed.

Enter self-described futurist Nicco Melle and his new book, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath (St. Martin’s Press.) Mele posits that this new found “radical connectivity” has impacted business, politics, the media, education and many other facets of our life. For a futurist, Mele seems to spend an awful lot of time and ink looking in the rear view mirror.

Mele’s credits as webmaster for the ill-fated Howard Dean presidential campaign, working with the Clinton Global Initiative, and being on faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government coupled with a blurb from Howard “The Screamer” Dean had my antennae up looking for political bias. Mele tries to draw some interesting political parallels; including one between the so-called Arab Spring and the Tea Party movement. Mele praises the radical connectivity of the Arab spring movement, yet for the Tea Party…not so much. Certainly the Arab Spring has radically altered the landscape of the Middle East; whether or not it’s for the better, the jury is still out. Radical connectivity likely hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with radical extremists.

Malcolm Gladwell has created a wildly successful cottage industry out of using anecdotal evidence to make his case about what he think causes movements and business to reach the proverbial tipping point. I’m not quite sure that Mele’s anecdotal examples of the radical connectivity concept as a game changer is quite ready to leave the starting gate.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

John Mattone – Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential (Amacom)


What makes a great leader? A simple question to ask, a complex set of variables; some intangible many critical, to actually answer. In a day and age when there is a critical dearth of great leaders, John Mattone, a veteran, global leadership consultant tapped into his years of experience advising, consulting, and coaching Fortune 500 leaders to help them achieve next level success has set out to draw a road map that answers the question. The result is his new book, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential.
 
Mattone tackles the problem from many perspectives using a multi-faceted, layered approach. Others have used charts, graphs and pyramids to approach the answer; Mattone takes a swing with The Wheel of Intelligent Leadership. The layers come in the form of inner and outer core principles that drive leaders.

The outer core competencies consist of:

1.       Critical thinking

2.       Decision making

3.       Strategic thinking

4.       Emotional leadership

5.       Communications skills

6.       Talent leadership

7.       Team Leadership

8.       Change leadership

9.       Drive for results

Mattone contends that the hidden inner core is critical to drive the outer core because people don’t observe the inner core values of self-image, beliefs and values.

The critical advantage that Mattone uncovers comes when he lays out the road map of the nine types of leaders and puts your leadership skills to a self-test. It is my belief that truly great leaders have the ability to distinguish themselves by being able to adapt and maximize the impact they have by being able to play well in most if not all of the nine leadership types. Mattone identifies them as:

1.       Perfectionists

2.       Helpers

3.       Entertainers

4.       Artists

5.       Thinkers

6.       Disciples

7.       Activists

8.       Drivers

9.       Arbitrators

While I will leave the details of Mattone’s definitions of those broad categories, if you are a leader, think about your day-to-day duties and just how many of those roles you may be cast in a varying times and situations. Truly great leaders have the ability to wear all of those hats when called for by a given situation. With Intelligent Leadership, John Mattone gives you the tools needed to maximize and make seamless, your ability to not only do it yourself, but to help bring it out in your leadership team.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bernard B. Kamoroff - Small Time Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, and Stay Out of Trouble (Taylor Trade Publishing)


So you’ve taken that great idea, brilliant concept or winning product or service and you’re ready to take the leap and start your own business; now what? What are the steps you need to take? Do you need a license? How do you write a business plan? How do you use a business plan? What the heck is a business plan?

There is an old cliché that goes something like this; “businesses don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” There are plenty of great ideas; the question is how do you make the transition from the drawing board to the execution of actually starting a business. Bernard Kamoroff provides some of the answers to those questions in Small Time Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, and Stay Out of Trouble.

Now in its 13th Edition, Kamoroff walks you through the basics of startup and offers sobering advice about the realities of starting a business. While many small time operators are focused on their products, services, marketing and selling, all too often they don’t spend enough time to focus on the basics of bookkeeping. A CPA by trade, Kamoroff offers easy to understand and implement guidance for tracking cash flow, keeping track of and paying taxes, and how best to avoid running afoul of the IRS.

No matter what path you take to starting your business, be it; solo practitioner, freelancer, at home, online, franchise, or buying an existing operation, the book offers great advice and interesting insights notably for those who are dipping their toe into the business waters for the first time.