Archive for category Book Reviews

Book Review: The Year Without Pants

Posted by on Saturday, 8 February, 2014

year-without-pantsI’m not sure if it was a blessing or a curse to read The Year Without Pants reviews on GoodReads while mid-read. The reviews are mixed. Many hate the book. Some love it. I’m not sure how many get it.

The Year Without Pants isn’t your typical business book. Author Scott Burkun wondered if he could walk the talk. It was several years and four books since he left a management role with Microsoft. So, he took a job with WordPress and wrote this book on leadership, productivity and work. It’s part memoir, part business book. Scott describes it as participatory journalism.

If you’re not aware, Automattic, the company behind WordPress operates with a 100% remote workforce. Not only that, they’re successful enough to run 21.4% of the world’s websites. I’ve been running sites on WordPress for many years and heard Scott speak at WordCamp 2013. This little fan girl was excited to read this book, and annoyed that life got in the way from a quick read.

Was I disappointed? Not a chance. I loved the inside stories of the product I was using. So many moments of “ooh, I love that plug-in” and “awww, baby-sized JetPack”. I actually had to drop half my post-its from this review because they were pointing out great examples of teamwork and process I want to implement, not if this is a good business book or not.

So Is It a Good Business Book?

Yes. It is. It’s not as straight forward as something by Philip Kotler, but it’s more entertaining and useful. And contains more drinking stories. The hits and hindrances of leading a much-younger team, whom you only see face-to-face a couple of times a year will help many as this becomes our norm. There are also great quotes like, “safeguards don’t make you safe, they make you lazy”, and “morale isn’t an event, it’s the accumulated goodwill people build through work together”.

Overall, The Year Without Pants is an honest and open look at leadership tactics being put into practice, thorns and all. Just remember while you’re reading this, it’s Scott’s story, not an instruction manual. Learn from his experiences, not his examples.

Book Review: The Bright Idea Box

Posted by on Thursday, 16 January, 2014

bright-idea-boxLove count – six.

I read an ebook ARC of The Bright Idea Box by Jag Randhawa. As such, I made more annotations in the text than I do with a print copy. Some were detailed, some were to cross-reference items, others were simply the word, love. The Bright Idea Box got six “loves”.

Oops, I’m jumping ahead. It’s a first book by a business author, and was only released this week. Chances are this is the first you’re hearing about it. I should explain its topic.

The Bright Idea Box is a step-by-step guide to simultaneously innovate your business and increase employee engagement. Randhawa mixes his experiences with examples from other companies who do aspects of the MASTER program well. He then formatted it in a linear adoption plan, with workbook exercises, to take you through all that’s needed for implementation. Yes, it’s that practical and Randhawa makes it too easy and compelling not to implement. I love (there’s that word again) the chapter on each stakeholder and how get them on-board. He ran this to improve his team, but it can be done – small or big.

What I like about this book

  • It’s modest. Randhawa doesn’t claim to be world-changing. It’s very much “this worked for me”.
  • Sentences like, “Do employees understand the relationship between the company’s success and their success”, and “You will learn why employees either quit and leave, or quit and stay!”.
  • It’s perfectly practical. I actually noted this twice, but it’s true. Some tips are as basic as training your employees to listen to customers. I’ve worked with a company that charged a large Asian bank more than $1 million with this same advice.
  • Advising accountability in Reports and Dashboards. My comment on this section actually was (I’m blushing already), ” Will the author marry me?”. Jag? – update: I just saw the Amazon author profile. I concede I’m too late.
  • Advice on why this method works better than just a Suggestion Box in the corner. Employees submitting ideas need to show the business case, and there are details on how to support this ensuring implemented ideas support the company’s goals.

What could be better

  • Randhawa has so many great ideas that some could be books or shorts on their own. I love the what’s your passion exercise, I even blogged about it. But, it doesn’t really fit here.
  • The combination of marketing and employee engagement is great, but the link between them isn’t always clear.
  • A couple of times I found myself flicking back to see how we got onto topics. I didn’t read it in one hit, so maybe that was a factor, but the innovation versus invention discussion confused me. The MASTER program’s name could have been reinforced more through the steps.

We all know that with business books you need to pick and choose what you take from it. Do that with this one, but I’m sure you’ll be choosing the vast majority of it. There’s just so much “love” on the pages of the Bright Idea Box.

Book Review: Klout Matters

Posted by on Sunday, 22 December, 2013

Klout_MattersKlout Matters (Gina Carr and Terry Brock) is as close as you can get to a book-sized advertisement for Klout, without it being written by Klout.

If you’re wanting to know how to game your Klout score, then this is the book for you. Yes, I went there. Despite how many times the authors claim you can’t and they’re not instructing how to game Klout, this is a book how to game your Klout score.

The authors want this book to be a fair, definitive guide to Klout. There’s even an entire chapter on Klout’s shortcomings. It’s towards the back and positioned as their wishlist for development. Despite my personal dislike of Klout, I’m trying to be fair in this review. Author bias aside, there’s one major flaw with this book, the editing. I’m not sure any was done. My copy was a pre-release from NetGalley, a few days before its official release, so I can excuse the switching between podcast and pod-cast. I can’t excuse the inconsistent claims and weak narrative.

With some editing, this could be great. I’m afraid many would put it down before getting to chapter four and discovering why a Klout score is important or relevant. Also, mid-way through we’re told we must be content creators, but later we’re told to be expert content curators. Which is it? Personally, I think a mix. I’m also not sure who the book is targeting. It’s 90% at individuals for personal branding, but then a random corporate reference appears.

The marketing concepts are also a tad dated. Audiences and targeting are rarely mentioned, even within the tips on using social media to increase your Klout score. Chapter ten is definitely the most useful. It discusses getting to know your key influencers, putting value first, and, amusingly, that it’s not all about your Klout score.

Who is Klout Matters for?

This is tough. Probably people who are wanting a numeric score as a trophy, and are trying for freebies from companies. Not marketers who are wanting to see if Klout is relevant for their brands.

If there’s a second edition, with some strong editing, Klout Matters can be a useful book. Assuming Klout still has clout.

Book Review: Promote Yourself – The new rules for career success

Posted by on Saturday, 2 November, 2013

Promote Yourself Dan SchawbelIt’s hard to work out exactly why I don’t like Promote Yourself by Dan Schawbel. I’ve written many introductions and deleted them, all trying to find an objective reason.

I think it’s because there’s no clear audience identified.

There are many other reasons too, but they’re all subjective. The focus on millennials, the “it’s all about me” attitude, the instructions to do A and B to receive C. But these are disagreements, not reasons for it to be a bad book.

I know Dan Schawbel intends this book to be a career guide for millennials. I’m not convinced that’s who’ll get the most out of it.

I see the primary audience as early gen X and baby boomers who are struggling to relate to the younger members of their teams. The secondary is audience is millennials, but those who do well on tests, but struggle to make friends. The ones who want to be rich, famous and have an MBA, but lack an understanding of creativity or how.

Let me explain.

The first half of the book focuses on building your personal brand at work with the aim of getting promoted. Dan explains the need to network with the right people. He also explains how being a social media guru will make you indispensable, because no one older than “you” understands or can use the internet and computers. You can help them learn. But he also feels the need to explain what Twitter and Facebook are. By his reckoning, shouldn’t millennials already know that?

All through the book are to-do items. Take on an extra project, promote your wins, set up a personal website and you’ll be promoted. Sure there are caveats about over doing it and looking like a jerk, but I think the book (and its readers) would benefit from being told how and why. It’s there on a surface level, but reading this brought back memories of some jerks I’ve worked with. They knew how to tick boxes, but lacked the understanding to know which boxes should be ticked. One thing these jerks had in common was an MBA, giving them a great theoretical knowledge, but not the wisdom to apply it.

Which made me laugh at page 229: Should I Get an MBA? It’s probably the page I agreed with the most. No, an MBA isn’t mandatory, and is more useful in some companies than others. However, I’m not sure the entrepreneurs Dan used as examples of successful people without MBAs were the best to use. They each built their fortunes by making ideas happen, not by playing the game for a promotion large companies.

Promote Yourself isn’t all bad. Pointing out need to excel in your current job first is essential advice, dealing with job hopping and self-directed learning were other gems.

I’d love to give recommendations of alternative career books to read instead of this one, but it’s a sub-genre I tend not to read, so cannot. If anyone can, please add it to the comments. In the mean time, I’m sending this book to a millennial for his perspective.

Book Review: What’s the Future of Business by Brian Solis

Posted by on Wednesday, 12 June, 2013

wtf-brian-solisOn Saturday I heard Justin Briggs explain how to set up WordPress for SEO.

During his presentation I was getting more and more agitated. I was convinced he was wrong and that his techniques won’t work.

I was right and I was wrong. Yes, his check list of things to do will get your site a certain level of visibility. Applying Justin’s tactics along with the tactics in What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences by Brian Solis will get you even more visibility. Justin’s presentation leaves out the people aspect of SEO: write posts people want to read.

In this book, Brian changes things up from his previous publications. I love it. The most obvious change is the coffee table book style. It’s a hard-cover, 12″ x 12″, and full of bright colors and scream-out quotes. I was stopping all the way through to take photos of the quotes. Yes, the featured image is one of those.

Aesthetics aside, Brian’s focus in this book is on how to create amazing customer experiences. He introduces the concept of Generation C (the generation of customers), and What’s the Future of Business takes you through the Moments of Truth needed to turn a fan into a customer and get them to buy again. Differently than other business books, Brian quotes a Google publication that the first moment of truth is actually as early as when the customer first identified a problem to be solved.

He includes lots of models and case studies and research that’s useful and engaging. If professors can move passed the need to select expensive heavy tomes, this would make a very effective text book. Weirdly enough, I finished reading and couldn’t recall any case studies at all. I don’t think it’s a fault of the writing; there’s just so much packed in and I read it over a few weeks.

So, yes, [WTF] is very different than his outline of social media tools in Engage!, and all the better for it. If you’re in business but don’t have a marketing theory background, this will help. Even if you do, grab this, you’ll LOVE the models. I know I did.