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Category Archives: Book Review

All blog posts by Kevin Dee, Chairman at Eagle — Canada’s premier staffing agency, related to book reviews.

Book Review – Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

Book Review – Five Secrets You Must Learn Before You Die
… by John Izzo

I have mentioned John Izzo several times in various blog entries, and I have also referred to this book in previous blog entries.

The “Five Secrets” was written after John had spent time interviewing 235 people, ranging in age from 60 to 105. He chose these people because he thought that they had a good insight into what really matters, having led meaningful lives thus far.

The book condenses the life learnings of these 235 “wise” people into Five Secrets, that are really guiding principles to live by … if you too want a fulfilling life.

Secret #1. Be True to Yourself.

We all have our own moral compass and our beliefs, yet some people lose sight of what is really important to them and compromise those values. They make life choices to achieve material things, they make life choices because of what other people think they should do … the message here is to really understand what is import to YOU, and chart your own course!

Secret #2. Leave No Regrets

When I referenced John’s book previously, the bog entry was titled What Will You Regret at the End of Your Career? Obviously this sentiment does not just apply to work, it applies to every facet of your life. You certainly don’t want to be uttering the words “I wish I had …” at the end of your life.

Secret #3. Become Love.

I am a little uncomfortable with how that is expressed, but the sentiment is good. Love is really what matters, so you need to tell people what you feel about them … and you need to do it now, a lot and keep doing it. We take people for granted. We let the little things get in the way. We don’t spend enough time with the people we love.

Secret #4. Live the Moment.

Life goes by really fast, and before you know it you are old. That seems like such a cliché, but it is so true! We need to enjoy life, we need to be good to ourselves, we need to forgive ourselves and not dwell on failures or weaknesses, we need to focus on our own life and not compare ourselves to others. These people tell us that happiness is not something you can find anywhere but inside ourselves.

Secret #5. Give More that You Take!

Find something that matters to you, get involved in a cause, chase a dream or invest time and energy in something important to you. If you are unhappy then do something for someone else … it feels good!

One of the sentiments expressed in the book is that if you can discover the 5 Secrets in your life, then you won’t be afraid of death! That’s a big statement.

One of my favorite sayings comes from James Dean, a man who dies young but achieved some fame in his short acting career. “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today”. Maybe he knew something about the 5 Secrets!

The following link is to a series of pictures illustrating John’s book.

Picture sequence with the 5 Secrets.

Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
Want to know where Canada’s hot jobs are?   Visit the Eagle Job Centre!

Book Review – Outsmart!

Book Review – Outsmart!
How to Do What Your Competitor’s Can’t
… by Jim Champy

Champy looked at high growth companies that have a track record of hyper growth for three years or more and came up with eight strategies that companies might want to consider when trying to achieve that kind of success for themselves.

Anybody running a business will tell you that they would love to be able to achieve this kind of sustained success, but these examples are from real life companies as opposed to theories!

1. Compete by Seeing What Others Don’t.

One example Champy uses here is Sonicbids, a Boston based company that launched in 2001 and grew from revenues of $250K in 20043 to $8 Million in 2007. The founder was a musician who saw a market gap between talented musicians who are looking for work and promoters who are looking for talent. He created an online agency that now has 10,000 promoters connecting with 120,000 musicians. The need had been there forever … he seized the opportunity!

2. Compete by Thinking Outside the Bubble.

MinuteClinic was a notion to allow people looking for healthcare to get quick, relatively inexpensive care without going to the emergency room. The idea was conceived 8 years ago and the company was bought in 2007 for $170 Million cash. They applied the same concept as the quick oil change/muffler companies to the healthcare field. It doesn’t take a doctor to deal with many ailments so a nurse practioner manning a booth can handle a lot of business!

3. Compete by Using All You Know.

Smith and Wesson grew its business from $100 million in 2003 to $237 million in 2007. The success is attributed to bringing in someone from outside the arms industry who was able to apply lessons from their previous management experiences … in the furniture business.

4. Compete by Changing Your Frame of Reference.

Shutterfly was an online photo finisher that reinvented itself as an internet based social-expression and personal publishing service. The success has come by focusing on the Shutterfly client “community” and providing that sense of community. The twin strategies of (a) focus on the community and (b) broadening the offerings, has led to success.

5. Compete by Doing Everything Yourself.

S A Robotics bucked the outsourcing trend by taking responsibility for all aspects of the robotic products through the full life cycle. This means more investment, potentially higher cost but an ability to control quality that is tougher to do when companies piecemeal parts of their operation to other companies.

6. Compete by Tapping the Success of Others.

Digital Lifestyle Outfitters hitched the success of their company to the iPod. Recognising the need for accessories that were not being supplied by Apple meant there was a huge opportunity and this company jumped right in!

7. Compete by Creating Order Out of Chaos.

Partsearch is company that creates order to the millions of parts that are available to retailers, repairmen, and consumers from the many manufacturers of various products. The manufacturers have their own way of presenting the data, with no consistency making it difficult for an individual to quickly find what they need. This technology driven solution meant growth at an annual rate of 85% to become a $64 million company in 2006.

8. Compete by Simplifying Complexity.

Smartpak packages medications and supplements for horses (and now dogs) that ensure owners can provide the dosages correctly at the right time. By simplifying an existing process they created a market opportunity that saw them grow a $40 million business!

This book is very practical, focused on real life examples of success and therefore should prove to be excellent, and thought provoking material for any entrepreneur or budding entrepreneur.

Book Review – Nobodies to Somebodies

Nobodies to Somebodies by Peter Han

This is a book that will be of interest to anyone who has aspirations to “get ahead” or even those people who like to live vicariously through others. Here in Canada “Speedy Muffler” have a slogan that says “At Speedy You are a Somebody” … I think the name for Han’s book is a little unfortunate, but still it is interesting.

Did you for instance know that Tom Clancy, one of the most successful authors on the planet was an insurance agent until well into his forties?

I think one of the most interesting things about this book is that you learn that success can come at any stage in life, it can come in many different forms and arrive in different ways. The author interviewed 100 “successful” people and each has their own story, no two of which would be the same.

There are common themes and messages through the book and plenty of advice from those that have been there and got the t-shirt. Some common themes included developing careers by steadily raising visibility, developing a broad functional expertise, taking less than glamorous roles for experience and making very conscious career moves. Others were not so structured in their advancement and credited intense passion, “right time – right place” and some lucky breaks for their success.

Invariably the “w” word is well used, hard work and then some more work, is a common theme with many successful people. Most however are doing something that they enjoy doing and can be passionate about it … so the price is worth paying. Many eschew the notion that they have no balance in their lives, suggesting that balance is a personal thing and it works for them.

Almost everybody benefited from relationships … so even the introverts needed to “get out there” and work relkationships. Many also committed to the golden rule of treating other as they would want to be treated, of dealing with everyone with dignity and respect no mater their position.

Life long learning, developing willpower and being adaptable to change are all commen themes among many of the 100.

This is one of those books that will get you thinking, because the remarkable thing about successful people is that they are very much like everybody else … which would suggest that success is attainable by almost anyone, if you are willing to do the things these people do!

Happy reading!

Book Review … Stealing Your Life

Stealing Your Life by Frank Abagnale

I remember enjoying the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of real life con artist Frank Abagnale. After being caught Abagnale goes to work for the FBI, helping them to catch con artists and today is a noted expert in the field as well as having written several books. This is one that you might want to pick up!

The focus of this book is Identity Theft and it is chilling (a) how easily this can be accomplished, (b) how often it is happening today and (c) with technological advances this is considered to be a high growth business!

The book tells stories of victim, how easily their identities were assumed and the impact that the fraud has had on their lives … people turned down for mortgages because others were racking up debts, people having to assume the debt of their impostors, and even a man who was arrested and help in a South African jail for 20 days for crimes committed by someone else.

Abagnale provides advice about how to protect yourself from this crime, including lots of common sense actions which are also easy to forget. Shred anything with personal information, check your credit rating regularly, check your credit card bills, don’t let your credit card out of your sight, only use secure sites for online payment, be wary of sketchy ATMs and practice “safe computing” etc.

The author also talks about the tell tale signs that your identity has been compromised … unfamiliar credit card charges, calls from debt collectors, unexpected rate increases from insurance companies, missing mail etc.

The inconvenience and discomfort associated with this kind of crime is not something any of us want to deal with, so it makes sense to do whatever you can to protect yourself. It is a sad fact but in the same way that the house burglar will target the easiest home to enter, so this kind of criminal will victimize those who leave them selves vulnerable.

Some of the statistics are chilling …in 2005 the statistics suggest that an identity was stolen every 4 seconds!

Whether you are a business or an individual you don’t need this hassle, so learn how to protect yourself … and do it!

Article Review: 8 Business Technology Trends to Watch

Eight Business Technology Trends to Watch
By James Manyika, Roger Roberts and Kara Sprague (McKinsey consultants)

One of the sources I use to try and keep up with trends is the McKinsey Quarterly. It is a relatively low cost source of information from experts in many different areas. In addition to the nice magazines that arrive in my office each quarter I also get articles in my email. This particular article caught my attention because as a business person I am always looking for creative and innovative business ideas.

This article about eight business technology trends to watch distills the ideas into three primary areas; (1) managing relationships; (2) managing capital and assets and (3) leveraging information in new ways.

Managing Relationships

1. Distributing co-creation. We see this when companies develop products and services in conjunction with partners as opposed to doing it themselves. This is considered to be a growing trend made more possible by the advanced communications available to all today. One example they cite is Locin, a Chinese motorcycle company that creates the specifications for its products and then lets its suppliers work together to create the components, ensure they work together and keep the costs low! (Not sure how I feel about traveling down the 401 at high speed on one of those … but it works!)
2. Using Consumers as Innovators. Very similar to above but using the client as opposed to partners and this phenomena has been helped with the introduction of web 2.0 tools. The obvious example here is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Another less known idea is the online South Korean newspaper Ohmynews which is written with more than 60,000 contributing “citizen reporters”.
3. Tapping into a World of Talent. This is definitely in my world … and relates to the ability to tap into resources anywhere in the world, be they free agents, specialists or talent networks. The people can be anywhere in the world. I know of businesspeople in Ottawa who have used small shops in India to develop websites etc. This will spread to many industries.
4. Extracting more value from interactions. This is the next level of offshoring and taking full advantage of the types of interactions mentioned above through the use of technology such as wikis, videoconferencing and collaborative tools. The suggestion here is that these tools will become as commonplace as the computer on your desk today and will improve productivity immensely.

Managing Capital and Assets

5. Expanding the frontiers of automation. For the last 30 years or more companies have been investing in their core systems. These have become very integrated and very sophisticated such that companies are now going to the next level and using these systems beyond internal needs. The authors talk about the way in which suppliers (eg. Fedex and UPS) allow their customers to track parcels through the supply chain, and they talk about the increased use of RFID technology and what that may bring.
6. Unbundling production from delivery. This is another way in which organizations are making more and better use of their technology infrastructure. for instance will allow other retailers to use its logistics and distribution systems. It is the creative use of the resources available. Other examples include fractional ownership of jets or high-end sports cars. It allows the owners to have a sophisticated infrastructure but share those costs. Could we make better use of school buildings during holidays and evenings?

Leveraging Information in New Ways.

7. Putting more science into management. As our systems have become more sophisticated so we have gathered more and more data, which if well used can improve productivity and ROI. It doesn’t even need to be about volume, Google uses a technique of innovation where employees present ideas, which are reviewed by other employees and ideas worth pursuing become identified and put forward for consideration. Many online suppliers have advanced algorithms that examine buying patterns and make recommendations for other purchases (Amazon etc). The options are limitless.
8. Making businesses from information. As companies gather more and more data, the available information can spawn new business opportunities. If you can aggregate data and provide value to a customer base then you have the basis for a new business opportunity. One example given was digital security cameras which prevent shoplifting could also be used to analyse shopping patterns and traffic flows through stores.

The great thing for me about these type of articles is that they become just one more input to that creative process. They make me think and question the status quo, which is ultimately how businesses can innovate to pass their competition.

You can probably access this article at the McKinsey website but if you want the full thing you will need to sign up … not a bad investment for about $150 a year.

Book Review – The Definitive Drucker

The Definitive Drucker … by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim

Peter Drucker has been recognised as one of the most influential management consultants of modern times and was responsible for writing 39 business books. Over the years he was an advisor to the top levels of management at GM, Ford, the World Bank, General Electric and even to Margaret Thatcher.

The author of this book worked with Drucker for 16 months prior to his death, and he talked about the development of modern business throughout his life. It provides sound management advice based upon a lifetime of experience and a vision that was legendary.

There is a lot of content here, so in order to be brief I will just touch on some of his topics. Drucker talks about the changes in the last 50 years of business in the areas of Information Flow; Geographic Reach; Demographics; Customer Involvement; and Company Boundaries (outsourcing, partnerships etc).

Drucker talks about “Lego” companies that are comprised of very visible parts that are assembled and disassembled to meet the needs of a market, time, or other pressure. He talks about Amazon as a perfect example interacting with other companies as necessary to meet the needs of its customer base. The implications of this “new world” are significant including a move to a knowledge economy and the crucial need for strategy to be an ongoing process, not just an annual event.

Drucker’s thoughts on “the customer” are very interesting, recognising that customers have more power than ever, therefore the need to truly connect with your customer. He also talks about the blurring between customers and competitors and collaborators … an interesting perspective that anyone in business is dealing with today.

Other important Drucker thoughts centre around technology, ideas about people and very pointed thoughts about building knowledge into businesses. Drucker also has definite opinions about the role of the CEO in corporations today.

Obviously hard for me to sum up such a comprehensive book in just a few words, but definitely worth a read. If you want the “Coles Notes” version you can get it at Executive Book Summaries.

Book Review – The Age of Speed

The Age of Speed by Vince Poscente

Nobody needs to tell you that the pace our world move at today is faster than ever, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Vince Poscente is a motivational speaker, a former Olympic skier and author of several books the latest being this Age of Speed.

His book talks about this phenomena, its affect upon us as businesses and as individuals. His conclusion is that in order to achieve success we need to embrace and harness the speed, but that does not have to mean we are giving up balance!

There are many examples of how companies have used sped to enhance their offerings and differentiate from competition. Chase Manhattan bank spent a great deal of money to reduce its ATM transaction time from 42 seconds to 24 seconds! What does that say about our patience? Netflix, when faced with expansion elected to invest in infrastructure that would assure its customers received DVDs within one business day 90% of the time. This was a decision that is considered critical in the success of a company that by 2006 grew to become a publicly traded corporation with 1,350 employees and almost $1 Billion in revenues!

Poscente talks about the individual using excellent time management techniques to ensure that tasks are handled with appropriate speed. He talks about the need for us each determine our own “alignment” of priorities and give the appropriate attention to the high priority items. Those could be in our personal or business lives … and as Poscente points out those are very blurred lines these days. He suggests that multi tasking can actually diminish our effectiveness when working on activities that require ‘brain power” … but can be effective for the less demanding activities. Again … we need to determine how to best use the resources we have in this age of speed.

This is not so much a book about time management as it is a book about “balance” or “alignment” where each of us (company or individual) needs to achieve that space which allows us to be competitive … and effective.

It is an interesting read and Poscente is a compelling character, given his success. If, like me, you prefer the condensed versions before investing the time into a full book you can get this book at Executive Book Summaries!

Book Review – Driving Change (the UPS Approach to Business)

Every month I get my three business book selections from Executive Book Summaries and one of last month’s books was Driving Change by Mike Brewster and Frederick Dalzell. It is the story of UPS, the success that company has enjoyed and the “secret sauce” that helped the company to succeed.

As a business owner I am always interested in the strategies for success that have worked elsewhere and I try to then understand how Eagle can take advantage of similar approaches or strategies.

The UPS “secret sauce” really boils down to culture, execution and a knack for transformation. The author talks about transformation being a part of this company’s DNA.

UPS has its roots in the American Messenger Company started 100 years ago in 1907. So immediately you know this is a company with staying power and that change has come about over a 100 year period. When they started their main source of revenue was delivering Western Union telegrams, went on to deliver small parcels and for its first 50 years did practically no business to business deliveries.

Some UPS facts …

UPS has a global footprint, serving 180 countries and yet as recently as 1985 UPS operations served The US, Canada and Germany.

Today UPS is largely defined by its brown trucks and uniforms, but it also runs the 8th largest airline in the world!

UPS invests about $1 billion a year in technology, ensuring that those 15 million packages a day are tracked and the 427,000 employees are working like a well oiled machine!

In terms of measuring success … UPS had the biggest IPO in history back in 1999. For its first 25 years in business UPS share prices never decreased in value … even in the great depression!

UPS’s growth and success has never really come from a new innovation or invention. Its strength has come from reinventing itself over the years and executing its strategies flawlessly. Any company can learn from UPS, you don’t need to be in a “sexy” space or have sexy innovative products … UPS just keep getting better at what they do, and they do it well!

Book Review: How to be Successful

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

I try to recommend a book most months. Often I take advantage of my membership in the Executive Book Summaries which is a great way to read summaries of books, providing 2 or 3 summaries each month. This month however I am taking advantage of my membership in Knowledge at Wharton. This is a great place to get excellent insight into business and I like thew look of this book they reviewed. “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful”, authored by executive coach Mark Goldstein and written with Mark Reiter. The Wharton review can be found at their website, but you may need to subscribe (free).

The book focuses on helping people identify and break the bad habits that are getting in their way. They are:

1. Winning too much: Goldsmith notes that the hypercompetitive need to best others “underlies nearly every other behavioral problem.”
2. Adding too much value: This happens when you can’t stop yourself from tinkering with your colleagues’ or subordinates’ already viable ideas. “It is extremely difficult,” Goldsmith observes, “for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) ‘we already knew that’ and (b) ‘we know a better way.'” The fallacy of this sort of behavior is that, while it may slightly improve an idea, it drastically reduces the other person’s commitment to it.
3. Passing judgment: “It’s not appropriate to pass judgment when we specifically ask people to voice their opinions … even if you ask a question and agree with the answer.” Goldsmith recommends “hiring” a friend to bill you $10 for each episode of needless judgment.
4. Making destructive comments: We are all tempted to be snarky or even mean from time to time. But when we feel the urge to criticize, we should realize that gratuitous negative comments can harm our working relationships.”The question is not, ‘Is it true?’ but rather, ‘Is it worth it?'” This is another habit Goldsmith recommends breaking via monetary fines.
5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However.” Almost all of us do this, and most of us are totally unaware of it. But Goldsmith says if you watch out for it, “you’ll see how people inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power. You’ll also see how intensely people resent it, consciously or not, and how it stifles rather than opens up discussion.” This is another habit that may take fines to break.
6. Telling the world how smart we are: “This is another variation on our need to win.”
7. Speaking when angry: See number four.
8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: Goldsmith calls this “pure unadulterated negativity under the guise of being helpful.”
9. Withholding information: This one is all about power. Goldsmith focuses on ways even the best-intentioned people do this all the time. “We do this when we are too busy to get back to someone with valuable information. We do this when we forget to include someone in our discussions or meetings. We do this when we delegate a task to our subordinates but don’t take the time to show them exactly how we want the task done.”
10. Failing to give recognition: “This is a sibling of withholding information.”
11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve: To catch ourselves doing this, Goldsmith recommends listing all the times we mentally congratulate ourselves in a given day, and then reviewing the list to see if we really deserved all the credit we gave ourselves.
12. Making excuses: We do this both bluntly (by blaming our failings on the traffic, or the secretary, or something else outside ourselves) and subtly (with self-deprecating comments about our inherent tendency to be late, or to procrastinate, or to lose our temper, that send the message, “That’s just the way I am”).
13. Clinging to the past: “Understanding the past is perfectly admissible if your issue is accepting the past. But if your issue is changing the future, understanding will not take you there.” Goldsmith notes that quite often we dwell on the past because it allows us to blame others for things that have gone wrong in our lives.
14. Playing favorites: This behavior creates suck-ups; rewarding suck-ups creates hollow leaders.
15. Refusing to express regret: “When you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you turn people into your allies, even your partners.” The first thing Goldsmith teaches his clients is “to apologize — face to face — to every coworker who has agreed to help them get better.”
16. Not listening: This behavior says, “I don’t care about you,” “I don’t understand you,” “You’re wrong,” “You’re stupid,” and “You’re wasting my time.”
17. Failing to express gratitude: “Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is abundant as air. We breathe it in but forget to exhale.” Goldsmith advises breaking the habit of failing to say thank you by saying it — to as many people as we can, over and over again.
18. Punishing the messenger: This habit is a nasty hybrid of 10, 11, 19, 4, 16, 17, with a strong dose of anger added in.
19. Passing the buck: “This is the behavioral flaw by which we judge our leaders — as important a negative attribute as positive qualities such as brainpower, courage, and resourcefulness.”
20. An excessive need to be “me”: Making a “virtue of our flaws” because they express who we are amounts to misplaced loyalty — and can be “one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior.”

Goldsmith even includes a bonus bad habit: Goal obsession, or getting so caught up in our drive to achieve that we lose track of why we are working so hard and what really matters in life.


Book Review – Talent is Never Enough

Talent is Never Enough by John C. Maxwell

This book strikes a chord for me because I have always believed that people with great talent don’t always achieve the success that they might, and my conclusion had been that they did not work as hard as others. Perhaps their talent made them a little complacent, such that less talented but harder working people beat them out. This book goes much further and identifies 13 factors at play besides talent!

1. Belief. Maxwell identifies a belief in yourself, in your potential and in your mission as major factors in success at whatever your goal might be … regardless of your talent.
2. Passion. I agree that a person with passion makes things happen, can ignite others to follow and will be hard to deflect from a purpose!
3. Initiative. People who succeed are willing to act even if conditions are not perfect, will ignore their natural fears and “go for it”.
4. Focus. People with focus direct all of their energies (talents) to the goal.
5. Preparation. People who prepare well increase their chances of success, where sometime the talented individual may rely upon their natural abilities.
6. Practice. If you study the great athletes they all practice their skills, to improve upon their natural talents. The same can be said of great business leaders.
7. Perseverance. People who lack perseverance will give up too easily, the resilience need to persevere through adversity makes winners.
8. Courage. The courage to face adversity and take risks will take you to great heights.
9. Teachability. This is Maxwell’s word, I might have suggested that humility might have worked here too. Winners are open to learning, will recognise that they can always learn from others. Sometimes talented people have an ego that suggests otherwise.
10. Character. Maxwell suggests that character is composed of four elements: self-discipline, core values, a sense of identity and integrity.
11. Relationships. None of us can accomplish much alone and the relationships that we build might well define the extent of our success.
12. Responsibility. Maxwell suggests that a sense of responsibility is required by all of us and often that is not nurtured. He cites the example of high school athletes whose reckless behaviours might be overlooked because of their importance to a sports team. Hence the talented individual may sometimes not develop a good sense of responsibility.
13. Teamwork. Often the talented individual is not the best team player, yet we all know that it is teams that win in the end.

Maxwell’s book is a good reminder that we are all capable of success, whether we are the most talented or not. It is also a reminder to those with great talent that they need other qualities to have true success.

Enjoy the book! I will also mention Executive Book Summaries, because this is a great way to get a synopsis of business books in 8 pages without committing to buying a book that you may or may not enjoy. Maxwell’s book summary is available through these guys!