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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 – Words That Work

Words That Work by Dr Frank Luntz

I found this to be a very interesting book, and for me it makes a ton of sense. One of the hardest things to do in sales and marketing is to get your message across to a prospect or client, in exactly the way you would like for them to receive it. Amongst other topics, this book talks about how we all frame what we hear or see, based upon our own prejudices, background and pre-existing beliefs.

Luntz spends some time defining the 10 Rules of Effective Language, again all of which is very rational and if applied can be very powerful.

1. Simplicity: Use small words!
2. Brevity: Use short sentences.
3. Credibility is as important as philosophy. (People need to believe what you are saying).
4. Consistency matters. Repeat your messages again and again.
5. Novelty: Offer something new. Old often repeated phrases lose power.
6. Sound and texture matter. An example is a string of words with the same first letter may be more memorable than a string of random words.
7. Speak Aspirationally. The idea here is to trigger an emotional response by personalizing the message so that it is something the reader can relate to.
8. Visualise. Paint a vivid picture with your words … “Melts in your Mouth” was an example given.
9. Ask a Question. A statement phrased as a rhetorical question can be very powerful. The example given is “Got Milk?”
10. Provide Context and Explain relevance. The message needs to explain the “Why”, the “therefore” and answer the question “so what” in order to be powerful.

Luntz addresses some other very interesting areas such as proving that they way in which you phrase things can often predetermine the reaction. We see this in courtroom dramas when lawyers are accused of “leading” the witness. Luntz uses the example that 42% of Americans supported the notion that they spend too much on “welfare”. Yet 67% of Americans also felt they don’t spend enough on “assistance to the poor”. Clearly you can impact the result by the words you use … and no doubt most surveys use this to their advantage!

There is much more of interest in this book but I’ll finish by mentioning the 21 Words and Phrases for the 21st Century that Luntz feels are powerful in the US culture, and one assumes largely applicable in the English speaking world. There are some obvious words such as “Imagine”, “Innovation” and “Peace of Mind” to name a few. There are some others that are a little more oblique such as, “A culture of …”, “Casual elegance” and “hassle-free” which might surprise some readers.

This book is definitely worth a read, and could have impact in many ways. Speaking of which, I must dash and reread some of our marketing literature!

Book Review – "Wikinomics"

Wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

Yesterday I blogged a little about web tools and sites that might be of interest to readers. Wikinomics is a book that explores how companies today can tap into the collective wisdom of large numbers of people through the power of the internet.

Wikipedia is probably the best known wiki, and it is an online dictionary that is created collaboratively by a large number of people. Part of its power is that as language changes, so too can the explanations in the dictionary. A wiki is one tool that allows many people to share ideas and concepts towards a common goal.

Wikinomics explains all the forces at play that make this phenomena timely, and talks about the collaboration tools, “weapons of mass collaboration”, that are available.

The book explores the ways in which collaboration can be harnessed to help companies grow and prosper. Some obvious recent examples of collaborative efforts that have led to corporate success include MySpace, Flickr and Second Life. YouTube might be the ultimate example having recently been bought by Google for $1.65 Billion. It too was developed through a collaborative user community over the course of about 2 years.

Obviously the book is designed to promote this concept and takes pains to explain why traditional companies will be replaced by sharing and peer production. My life experiences would suggest that somewhere in the middle lies the answer … the internet has supposed to be the death knell to many industries, but has become an alternate source of solutions rather than a replacement.

All in all, this is a must read book if you want to keep abreast of forces that have the ability to be disruptive to industries. It should also give some pause for thought to those strategic thinkers who are looking for ways to differentiate. I also think that Tapscott is always worth a read because he has focused on the IT industry and our ability to affect the world.

Book Recommendations … From Others!

Generally I will recommend a book every month of so, and often the recommendation is based upon the Executive Book Summaries that I receive. This time I am going to “cheat” and point you to reviews by two other people.

1. Kevin Eikenberry a motivational speaker with a blog entitled Unleash Your Potential. I visit Kevin’s blog every week or so now and this entry was a book review that has me thinking that I should pick up this book.

Made to Stick … by Chip and Dan Heath. You can read Kevin’s review at his blog here.

2. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence and others, is a very active speaker and consultant and blogger! He also reads a ton of books and I found this review on his blog that seems to be worth a read!

Tom was referring to The Managers Book of Decencies: How small Gestures build Great Companies … written by Steve Harrison (an executive at Adecco). You can read what Tom has to say about it at this blog.

So … two for the price of one, and I didn’t even have to write the reviews!

Book Review – "Know How"

Know How … by Ram Charan

Ram Charan is an author and consultant who has advised some the largest companies in the world.

This book focuses on Charan’s perspective on skills that differentiate successful leaders from those who under-perform. These skills Charan packages into eight “know-hows” that successful leaders need. He also suggests that often leaders are chosen because they have the appearance of leadership through their charisma, intelligence, communication skills and maybe even vision.

However the following eight “know hows” is what really sets the successful leader apart:

1. Positioning and Repositioning. Finding a central idea for business that meets customer demand and makes money (sounds simple, but try it)!
2. Pinpointing external change. Detecting patterns in a complex world to put the business on the offensive.
3. Leading the Social System. Getting the right people together with the right behaviours and the right information to make better, faster decisions and achieve business results.
4. Judging People. Calibrating people based on their actions, decisions and behaviours and matching them to the non-negotiables of the job.
5. Molding a Team. Getting highly competent, high ego leaders to coordinate seamlessly.
6. Setting Goals. Determining the set of goals that balances what the business can become with what it can realistically achieve.
7. Setting Laser-Sharp Priorities. Defining the path and aligning resources, actions and energy to accomplish the goals.
8. Dealing with Forces Beyond the Market. Anticipating and responding to societal pressures you don’t control but that can affect your business.

Some of this is academic but the underlying concepts and stories are interesting. I think that we are always looking to understand what makes a great leader and what can leaders do to improve. Charan provides some interesting perspectives.

Worth a read … one of the underlying messages is that business leadership in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart!

Book Review – Success Built to Last

Success Built to Last … by Jeff Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson

This is a book that sets out to tell the reader about success … what it really is, (and isn’t); how successful people stay successful; the psychology of success; and the action styles associated with success.

The book’s authors interview hundreds of “successful” people from around the world, President of countries, billionaires, Nobel lauriats, celebrities and CEOs along with “unsung heroes” who have had an impact without fame or fortune.

Their contention is that the traditional dictionary definition of success is outdated, at the end of the day the book talks about three “circles” that need to be aligned to attain success … “Meaning”, ”Thought” and “Action”.

Some of the points that come through in this book …

1. People have to have meaning to their lives in order to be able to dedicate themselves to the cause … whether it is a company, idea, charity or any other driver in their lives.
2. People’s “personal capital” is what defines their ability to be successful. This is not about money, but it about their skills, relationships, enthusiasm and talents. In today’s work environment this is also your job security … the stronger you are in these areas the more likely you will be employed.
3. People with a driving passion about “what they do” do not look for “balance” in their lives. They truly live their lives and are happy because they do not resent any part of it.
4. Trying to emulate perceived success is not the way to be successful. You need to find a passion, and apply all of your skills towards that passion.
5. You don’t have to be naturally charismatic to be successful, a passion about a goal/target/mission will transform you and people see that.
6. People with a passion will battle through adversity, problems, set-backs. It is not so much about “positive thinking” but more about a style of always moving forward towards the goal.
7. Successful people let go of things that don’t work … and move on towards the end goal.
8. Often successful people create a goal (sometimes a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) but don’t know how to get there. They just eat the elephant one bite at a time!
9. Successful people challenge those around them … to create the right kind of creative tension from which new ideas emerge.
10. Successful people build networks and strong relationships and they draw their networks into helping them with their mission.

Worth a read … the more books like this that I read, the more I broaden my own thinking. I might not always agree with the authors, but there is always something in these books that strikes a chord.

Book Review – Dealing With Darwin by Geoffrey Moore

Geoffrey Moore is the author of a number of best selling business books. A couple of his more recent successes were “Crossing the Chasm” and “Inside the Tornado”. This book focuses on the need for companies to continually evolve or they will be overtaken by competition.

The premise is that globalization, deregulation and commoditization are forces affecting almost every business. The “survivors” will be those companies that continually innovate to win the customers. These companies will bring “next generation offerings”, and they will raise the bar and make it more difficult for their competition to thrive.

Moore’s book tells us that innovation is not optional, it is a requirement for survival and he offers some thoughts on the life cycle of offerings. While his focus is more on products than services the same principles can certainly apply. Certainly we have seen major innovations in the services industry driven by globalization such a “offshoring”, there have also been innovations driven by the internet (eBay, flickr etc) and even the local coffee shop was revolutionized by Second Cup (and subsequently Starbucks etc.)

Moore talks about the economics of innovation and how it can neutralize your competition’s advantages in the marketplace, improve productivity and reduce costs.

In describing how to evaluate the positioning of your offerings in the life cycle he guides the reader in the decision making about potential action points.

Moore also provides ideas for recognizing the types of innovation that will be relevant and provides some suggestions for implementing the strategies.

Personally I find Moore a little academic and very much focused on the product market. His ideas are sound, he tells some relevant stories of company experiences and he has some good strategies that can be applied in any business.

This is a good book to read in the tradition of “Blue Ocean Strategy” and “Blindsided”.

Book Review – "Winning" by Jack Welch

Winning is written by Jack Welch and, whether you love him or hate him, the guy has real experience in running large (huge) corporations successfully … unlike many other authors who can be somewhat academic.

Welch’s book applauds winning as being positive at many levels … causing companies and individuals to thrive and grow, creating jobs and more opportunities for everyone. The winners can give back to society through the taxes they pay, but also by supporting charities and the communities in which they live and operate.

Welch talks a lot about ethics, and the need to win fairly while maintaining high ethical standards. He has a whole section devoted to the mission and values of a company and the need for them to be embodied in corporate culture … not just words on a wall.

He also talks about winning at the personal level as well as the corporate level and how they are intertwined, for example the success of a sales person can have a direct affect on the success of a company.

The book is really about how to win and Welch has some clear ideas about what it takes. He is a straight talker and advocates that for everyone … the term he uses is candor, and the need to foster candor in the corporate environment eliminating a lot of “politics”.

Welch’s focus at GE was that every business line needed to be number 1 or 2 in its market, or have a plan to get there. The alternative was to sell or disband that unit. In terms of people he talks about three categories (1) the top 20% of performers … a group it is key to keep and motivate; (2) The middle 70% or the “lifeblood” of the company that management needs to keep engaged; and (3) the bottom 10% … who have to go!

Welch has opinions on just about every aspect of running a successful business, from Leadership to hiring & firing, from people management to crisis management. On strategy he talks about finding the “big idea”; about finding the right people; and about finding and applying best practices.

Welch has thoughts on budgeting, he talks about organic growth and mergers and acquisitions with some pitfalls to avoid. Of course he spends time talking about quality and more specifically Six Sigma, for which is a well known advocate.

Welch even has career advice and some work-life balance thoughts that most senior managers would agree with. Worth a read, if only for a glimpse inside the mind of one of the most successful CEOs of our time.

Book Review – The Rules of Work

On a couple of occasions I have had blog entries that were designed to provide advice to people who were new into the workforce. One of those entries was based upon my own experiences and listed 10 rules. Another entry gave some more advice, this time 11 rules but taken from a book called Dumbing Down our Kids by Charles J. Sykes.

A number of years ago we used to hand out a book called The Rules of the Road, which was again designed to help people understand how to succeed in the job environment, however we have not been able to find that book again. Today, one of our sales guys gave me a book called “The Rules of Work” and lo and behold it is that same notion! It provides practical advice for all those situations that old guys like me forget were ever an issue! Some examples of sections that caught my eye include:

– Dress well.
– Cultivate a smile.
– Be 100 per cent committed.
– Don’t gossip.
– Know when to stay late and when to go early.

There are 10 chapters and each has 10 sections that provide sound advice about how to be successful in a career, as opposed to just being good at your job. Could be a good investment for an ambitious person … of any age!


Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)

Have you tried Eagle’s (very cost effective) VirtualRecruiter service?


Book Review – Time Traps

My book recommendation for October is Time Traps (Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople) by Todd Duncan. This is an interesting way at looking at time management for salespeople, but focused on specific common ways that we waste time.

The book focuses in on specific traps and I will address just a few of them here:

The Identity Trap can be applied to most busy professionals who are very focused on their career. They can let their work take over their whole lives, and this is detrimental to all parts of their life. What in fact is supposed to enhance a career may actually hurt it, because we all need to balance our lives (balance is different for all of us).

The Yes Trap. The propensity for salespeople to say “Yes” is astounding! We are so good at saying yes, and worrying about the consequences later it is amazing! Yet the fallout can crush us, and all around us!

The Control Trap. The willingness to take ownership for a task and ensure it happens is a good trait. Taken to extreme it becomes a trap that can kill our productivity as we find ourselves mired in non-productive activities.

The Technology Trap. Of course technology is an enabler … right? It is going to increase productivity and really help us to sell better. Well newsflash … sometimes technology is not the answer!

You get the picture. The book has lots of common traps that will help salespeople (and not just salespeople) see the kinds of situations that we create for ourselves, and thus hopefully avoid them!

As usual I also recommend the “Executive Book Summaries” version of the book, a great way to read business books fast!

Book Review – Does IT Matter

When Nicholas Carr published his first article on this in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 it created quite a stir, the book was subsequently produced in 2004. There have been some very high profile debates on the subject … many between Carr and Don Tapscott (who has received almost as much press with his opposing opinion) but also Kevin Rollins, CEO of Dell.

This is an important book for anyone interested in the Information Technology world, not because Carr is right or wrong, but because it really makes the reader consider this industry and its value.

The heading of Carr’s book is a little misleading because he certainly considers IT to be an essential component of any business. From that perspective he agrees that certainly IT matters, however his feeling is that IT is no longer a strategic differentiator. Carr tells us that IT is just another business cost that at best keeps us on par with competitors. In that light he suggests that companies need to view IT differently as an investment, seeking more to keep costs down and be efficient as opposed to creating differentiation.

Understanding Carr’s point of view provides people in IT with a good counter argument and an insight into how others perceive our industry. If this is a valid point of view then we need to react accordingly, if we disagree with Carr then we need to be able to articulate counter arguments.

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. Carr’s book summary is available through these guys!