The Real Walt Disney: Review of Walt Disney, An American Original

Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas (The Walt Disney Company, 1994)

Bob Thomas’ Walt Disney: An American Original is not just one of the best biographies I have ever read—it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Bob Thomas was an Associated Press reporter during Hollywood’s heyday and is best known for his biographies of the icons of the era, including Howard Hughes and Abbott and Costello.

Thomas’ wonderful work is best cast against another leader in its genre, The First Tycoona book I also loved. When you finish an incredible biography like The First Tycoon about Cornelius Vanderbilt, you’re left feeling a little gross, because you can’t believe the corporate world of today was formed by such a relentless and ruthless man. But, when you read about Walt Disney’s relentlessness, which formed modern animation (and entertainment at large), you’re inspired. Both The First Tycoon and Walt Disney are full of intrigue, suspense, backstabbing, and ultimately insight. Both make you want to do more and be more, but the character of Disney makes you want to be a better person. Thomas makes you want to tell a better story with your life and—if you’re a writer—Thomas also makes you want to improve your craft. Thomas’ prose is eloquent. At times, the details are mind-numbing, but even those usually get picked up on later, making you realize that Thomas really is as good of a writer as you suspected. (Even Disney’s childhood and youth years are entertaining, which include Disney impersonating older people to get jobs or simply get a laugh.) Continue Reading…

Why Customers Are the Focus: Book Review of Delivering Happiness

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieth (Business Plus, 2010)

Delivering Happiness will make you happy and it will probably make you better at business—if you’re willing to take the necessary risks.

Tony Hsieth (pronounced Shay) sold his first major startup LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million. He was only 24. This left Tony with the question, “What next?” He started a small venture capital firm, which led him to the founders of Zappos. After a time of simply being an advisor and investor, he went “all in” as Zappos’ CEO—and for Tony, that meant “all in,” because Zappos’ survival would eventually mean selling nearly everything he owned and dumping all of his money into the company. Zappos now does over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually and is owned by Amazon (Amazon exchanged shares for the purchase, at a deal valued at over $1.2 billion). Continue Reading…

Delivering Great Customer Service: Book Review of The Nordstrom Way

The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: The Handbook for Becoming the “Nordstrom” of Your Industry by Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy (Wiley, 2012)

I enjoyed The Nordstrom Way, but not as much as I thought I would.

Author Robert Spector loves customer service and loves writing about it. In addition to the classic The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story, which this title replaces, and his book The Mom & Pop Store, he is working on a book about Amazon.com. He is also a speaker, trainer, and consultant, who has authored articles for the three big U.S. newspapers. The coauthor, Patrick D. McCarthy was Nordstrom’s top salesman for 15 years; Patrick now applies his experience of managing a 12,000 person customer list to consulting opportunities and presentations.

The Nordstrom Way emphasizes that sales is really a customer service function—guiding the customer to make the right purchase for them, while building a lasting relationship. It provides story after story of Nordstrom employees doing outlandish things to serve the customer. When you join Nordstrom, you’re told “Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service” and that Nordstrom only has one rule: “Use good judgment in all situations” (pg. 29). From that point forward employees are encouraged to act like they own their department and their store; employees are entrepreneurs. They do everything from generating their own lead lists to starting their own personal social media channels where they recommend products. As long as an employee’s decision is about helping the customer, Nordstrom will back them. This freedom, combined with the right talent, is what makes Nordstrom so special (pgs. 45, 57). Nordstrom even shares profit with employees to emphasize their faith and trust (pgs. 57, 106). Continue Reading…

Minimizing to Be More Effective — Book Review: The Power of Less

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential … in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta (Hyperion, 2009)

I nearly stopped reading this book—that would have been a mistake. The Power of Less doesn’t have a powerful hook or interesting leading chapter. It’s not dogmatic or even persuasive. It’s simple. Like it’s title, it’s about “less.” Babauta, a reporter, editor, and speechwriter, is subtle. He likes to gently guide you in the right direction, hoping that you will in the midst of his do-it-yourself steps, see best way forward. It works.

We all know that focus is essential and difficult to come by because of the demands on our attention. We also all know that those with the most focus are likely to be the most successful. Babauta has probably close to 50 tips for how to be more focused. The best one is his suggestion to work on one major life change at a time and to introduce it into your life a little bit at a time. Because of this one piece of advice, Babuata says that he now rises at 4:30am (he gradually woke up 10 minutes earlier each day to learn to do so), has quit smoking, and lost nearly 40 pounds (e.g., pg. 150). He also says that this tip has made him more successful at getting things done—he takes one goal, breaks down into smaller goals (pg. 39), and then works on the smaller things with extreme focus (one thing a time). It’s great project management.

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Looking for More Time? Book Review: Time Traps

Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople by Todd Duncan (Nashville: Nelson Business, 2004).

Todd Duncan in Time Traps suggests multiple strategies for focusing our time and effort on profitable tasks (both in business and in our personal lives). As an author of a Wall Street Journal bestseller, founder of the Duncan group, and leading expert in sales and life mastery, Duncan has spent many years conceptualizing how a sales person (or any person for that matter) can better manage the way they use their time.

In juxtaposition to the phrase “time management,” Duncan argues that no one can control time, they can merely learn to manage the way they use it. Thus, we must intentionally place boundaries on how much time we spend on various tasks (e.g., phone calls, emails, paperwork, etc.) and focus at least half our day on completing profitable, measurable tasks (pg. 44–50).

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Why Talent Won’t Get You There — Book Review: Talent Is Overrated

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (New York: Portfolio, 2008).

In Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin argues that despite common belief that raw talent and hard work produces great performance, years of studies show that direct practice is actually the key. As Senior Editor at Large of Fortune, as well as one of America’s most respected journalists, Colvin is well positioned to collect and synthesize the studies needed to write such a volume.

The author states that dedicated, diligent and repetitive work on items that need improvement is really the key to great performance. Part of this has to do with identifying what needs to be worked on and getting immediate feedback on your practice—this can come from a teacher, or the individual performer critiquing their own work. Continue Reading…

Making a Career Out of Creativity — Book Review: Hackers and Painters

Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham (Beijing, Cambridge, Farnham, Köln, Paris, Sebastolpol, Taipei, Tokyo: O’Reilly, 2004)

Paul Graham’s Hackers & Painters, in essay-like chapters, illustrates how technology and art converge, both philosophically and in practice. As the creator of the Yahoo! Store, a Ph.D. in Computer Science (Harvard), and someone who has studied painting at the RISD, as well as the Academia in Florida, Graham is well positioned to offer insights on this subject.

To illustrate Graham’s overall argument, we will focus on chapter two of this perceptive book. Graham contends that the guild should reconsider how it trains students, because it naturally inhibits “hackers,” who are the artists of the computer industry, from being free thinkers (pgs. 18-21). According to Graham, Computer Science professors at the university level do not enable free thinkers, but conversely teach impractical, insufficient and abstract knowledge. Graham then goes on in the rest of the book to illustrate how the same problems occur in corporations, and the only solution for artists (“hackers”) in the technological age is to either work for a company that allows for them to “hack,” or create their own start-up. In spite of Graham’s “against the grain” line of reasoning, his practical philosophy is very useful—the key for the artist is finding the balance between art (what they love) and everything else in their occupation. Continue Reading…

Will Your Company Fail without You Realizing It? Book Review: How the Mighty Fall

How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins (JimCollins, 2009)

Jim Collins is a self-described “student and teacher of enduring great companies—how they grow, how they attain superior performance, and how good companies can become great companies” (jimcollins.com). He is also the author of Good to Great and coauthor of Built to LastHow the Mighty Fail is by far his most negative book, and well worth the read.

How does a successful company suddenly stop making money? Continue Reading…

Setting Yourself Apart — Book Review of Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon (Crown Business, 2010)

Youngme Moon, a Harvard professor who has published some of the bestselling business case studies in the world, argues that a company can be successful by defying the norm and the expected.

But this book moves beyond the cliché “Be different.” Moon suggests that differentiating yourself from the competition isn’t about the “new and improved,” because that involves embracing “product evolution” (pgs. 3–8; 26–34; 52–56; 61–65). Instead, it’s about saying “no” as much as you say “yes.” Continue Reading…

Why You Should Stop Using PowerPoint — Book Review: Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint

Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas by Christopher Witt with Dale Fetherling (Crown Business, 2009)

Christopher Witt, speech consultant and president of Witt Communications, says that leaders owe their audience more than a PowerPoint presentation. This book is as much about leadership as it is about presenting.

Every time a leader speaks they want to either identify, influence or inspire (pg. 19). “Real leaders” aren’t trying to just convey information, which is what most people use PowerPoint for; instead, they’re interested in persuading people. This is essential because leaders take stands (pg. 27).

In addition to the philosophical principles of presenting, Witt offers some practical, yet uncommon, advice. For example, he lists all the questions you should ask before presenting (pg. 52). (I would have never thought to ask how the room is set up that I’m presenting in—outside of asking if there will be a projector.) Continue Reading…

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