As an avid reader, I found my way through a number of books this year, and as we quickly move into 2014, I’d like to recap some of the best books I read in 2013. This process is proving to be a more difficult task than originally anticipated. Why? Just walk through your local Barnes & Noble or other major bookseller, and be reminded how much information is out there…and how little actually proves to be something of substance.
There’s no shortage of business books on the market these days, and it’s easy to find innumerable revisions of the same message or concept. It can on occasion be refreshing to view the topic through different lenses – I find this can further open my knowledge when reading about topics with which I am only partially familiar.
Other times, and in my experience these times far outweigh the former, it’s all I can do to not set the book ablaze and hurl it into the Great Unknown…all the while rambling strings of unintelligible profanities.
In any case, here’s my list of recommendations, with substantiation on why I chose each title.
Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin
Why: It’s pretty simple. Pick up this book, and read any 20 pages, and you will see why I believe it to be a benefit. Shortly after finishing the book, I wrote briefly about Playing To Win. My post didn’t do the book much justice. As an entrepreneur who has transitioned into a role in a large corporation, Playing To Win struck me on many levels.
Whether it’s marketing strategy, organizational strategy or business development strategy, Lafley clearly lays out the variables of constructing a viable and enriched business strategy. And to make it more visceral, actionable, he and Martin cite real-world experience and examples of strategy in action.
This book will appeal equally to business people in large corporations, or micro-enterprise ventures. It is at its core a playbook – a template of sorts to help guide direction and avail the opportunity to devise a strategy that sets one in place to win on whichever field they choose to play.
Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior by David R. Hawkins
Why: In business, as often as in life, we are confronted with a number of decisions. Many are made on the subconscious level (or at least without devoting much time to full consideration of the choices and possible outcomes), but many require a level of contemplation. In that contemplation, I believe, we tend to choose the option that seems to give us the most power, as it were.
Mr. Hawkins illustrates the difference between power and force – the two terms are often, and incorrectly, used as substitutions for one another. In essence, Hawkins argues that power comes from a purer, more rooted approach, whereas force comes from a manipulated perspective on what will be more personally beneficial.
The best way to illustrate this, I suppose, would be through an analogy of golf, or tennis, or billiards, or any sport, really. Force is represented by the people who swing the racket at full speed, or show their bravado by striking the cue ball as hard as possible. Unless you are at the professional level, this tactic rarely pays off. Tapping into the fundamentals, understanding that force is not always the virtue most sought, often separates the winners from the losers.
Sometimes, you must use force to be powerful. But force does not equal power. Power is greater.
Leverage: How to Get It and How to Keep It in Any Negotiation by Roger Volkema
Why: I actually picked up this book a couple years ago. The simple reason is that I believe every conversation is a negotiation of sorts. Sure, we don’t always expect to come out of the situation expecting to gain power, per se. But when it comes to business, my belief is that the cards are always stacked against you, or at least one should perceive a situation in this light.
Whether you are selling something as a one-person shop directly to a consumer, or you are an employee of a large organization, everything you say can and will be used against you. It’s not bad – it’s just the way things are. We are predisposed to aiming for the best deal, working to get a little more bang for our buck, as it were. And for most people, when confronted with these situations (e.g. buying a new car, or washing machine or cable package), we are taught by society and environment to accept what is offered to us.
This book identifies the various means of leverage – both as obstacles you may be facing, as well as leverage in your favor – so that you can be effective in not just identifying what you want, but justifying why you deserve it.
Why: The basis behind this book falls in line with a personal belief: Even when you’re good, you can, and should try to, be better. A short read (127 pages), almost pocketbook in size, and with gratuitous font, white space and margins, there is more wisdom packed into this book than most you’ll find on the book stands three times its size.
Arden was a creative director for advertising behemoth Saatchi and Saatchi in its heyday. What I like about this book, and what I can surmise of Arden himself, is his ability to acknowledge and learn from his losses and failures. But further, his ability to celebrate his successes. It’s not often you can find a book that is able to truly balance personal pluses and minuses, while still retaining educational and professional integrity.
Why: If you’re at all curious whether networking is really worth the effort, Ferrazzi will undoubtedly push you in the direction pro camaraderie. It’s a simple concept, really, and certainly one that isn’t entirely new. The driving idea is tha of generosity – helping others out, not to keep score, but to share something valuable. In turn, people will be more likely to remember a good deed than a debt they fell they owe.
This is the basis of networking, and, effectively, relationship building. You can easily see this put into action (albeit in a slightly different light) with websites offering free e-books and webinars, or e-commerce sites offering free shipping and no-hassle returns. We all want to be made to feel like we’re special, like we’re a part of a club. And when you lend your hand in generosity, rather than quid pro quo, you are much more likely to establish a deeper connection.
Sometimes this pays off directly – acquaintances may start referring more business to you, or customers may purchase more goods from you – but even if that’s not the case, as a power networker – one who connects people looking to build meaningful relationships – you will be seen as even more an authority. A few sales here and there are one thing, but being seen as a maven of connections, well, that’s a whole lot better, don’t you think?