Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy by James Kerr

When I started speaking to the business community about my plans and method to exit Business Computer Solutions, people started suggesting a few books I should read20170925 - Legacy by James Kerr including this one.

As I started reading the book I couldn’t directly see how this was relevant, maybe partially my fear of all things sporting and the initial feeling that this was a bit too much like just a biography of the New Zealand All Blacks. It was worth persevering though as there are some great pearls of wisdom to help me define my next steps.

In the first chapter on ‘Character’ it became much clearer that we focus at BCS on performance at work in isolation to the individual’s team members performance in their personal lives. As such developing people needs to have a much greater emphasis on their personal achievements.

One of the issues of concern with our senior engineers for the legacy plan is ‘Who is responsible for looking out for the next big thing’. I had this as a note already, but I realised that the question being asked was not correct. It is not about the ‘what’ but more about the ‘when’ to change and the ‘how’ to make the leap from one thing to the next big thing. More work for me to do on this.

In the section on ‘Purpose’, James references Daniel Pink’s book Drive (on my list to read) saying that people leave well-paying jobs for purpose driven jobs. As such, we need to ensure that the roles on offer within our business have clearly defined purpose. Although we are in the middle of a pay structure review for the engineers, we need to ensure emotional reward has been fully actualised too.

The section on ‘Learn’ talks about the aggregation of marginal gains for which I have always been a massive fan. Until reading this book I didn’t think about teaching the people I lead to use this technique to drive self-improvement. Additionally, it’s important not to overlook the part that the environment plays on achieving these marginal gains.

Under the topic of ‘Sacrifice’, James says that “Champions do Extra”. In physical training, he talks about an extra rep or an extra 10 minutes on a run. For our team at BCS, I guess it’s about providing just a little more service than the customer expects or perhaps studying to the next level up than needed for the work we are undertaking today.

As part of the work for the legacy plan at BCS we are defining the whole business ‘Play Book’, but ‘Legacy’ has helped me define a section of this based on the ‘Black Book’ given to new All Blacks team members. The BCS version will have many of the same lines, such as ‘No one is bigger than the team’ plus extras that I think the team will enjoy getting down on paper.

I forgot to mention that this book has done it’s best to teach us some Mãori terms. Towards the back of the book is a section called ‘Whakapapa’ which means ‘You are but a speck in the moment of time situated between two eternities, the past and the future’. The legacy planning work I am currently undertaking at BCS is to ensure the business has a bright future after the current shareholders exit. An Old Greek proverb mentioned in this section tells us ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see’ and that resonated with me.

A great book and one that deserved 21 little post it flags attached to the pages with content I need to give additional attention.

100 New Customer Prospects for a Tenner

If I could offer you a scheme that for £10 would bring 100 new prospects into the door of your café, pub or restaurant business would you be interested in knowing more?

Having enjoyed a tour of the Isle of Wight this month I was taken by how of20170907 - 100 New Customer Prospects for a Tennerten businesses who are wholly dependant on the tourist trade post notices on the door to say that the toilets are only for the use of their cash paying customers.

Now let’s consider an alternative.

What if you were to allow these people to use your preciously protected toilet facility?

  1. If we assume that 100 extra visitors will cost a few toilet rolls, some soap, electric for the hand dryer and an extra clean. By my sums, I can’t see that being more than £10.
  1. The toilets in most venues are near the back. By the time a visitor has made it to your toilet they have seen all your key marketing messages and maybe even been greeted by you. Why not enhance that with a leaflet that visitors can take away detailing your food options or forthcoming entertainment schedule.
  1. Customers worry that dirty toilets are an indication or poor cleaning in the kitchen too. If your toilets are clean, by extension people assume that the kitchen is also likely to be hygienically clean. If your toilets are clean, let prospects see them.
  1. Most people are decent and will want to repay your generosity with their patronage during their vacation.
  1. If your local competitors are equally short sighted about this opportunity, why not change the poster on the door to say, “You are WELCOME to use our toilets”. You can have their share of the available prospects too.

If I owned a tourist based business, I would make the free and unhindered use of our toilets one of our marketing pillars.

It’s Not About You by Bob Burg and John David Mann

20160630-It’s-Not-About-You-Cover-196x300A short book and one worth being read twice, by the authors of the ‘The Go-Giver’. I first read this in February 2015 and it changed my perspective on my attitude to others. My second read of this book was in June 2016 and it was interesting to see how much I have changed some of my arrogant attitudes by realising that it turns out it is not about me!

As Chairman of the Thanet Business Network from July 2015 to June 2016, my opening addresses were renowned for seemingly being about me. The irony is that most Chairman’s reports were crafted to be about business development and lessons that may help one or more business owners in the room. Frequently members would speak to me after the meetings and say “Yes, I have that issue too. Thank you”. This was a deliberate strategy created after my first read of this book and hence why I have waited until the end of my year as Chairman to publish this review.

Right, down to the book review …

The book is really just one long story of a chap working for a mergers and acquisition company who needs to convince the management of an established manufacturer to sell. What are they bringing to the table? What does the company have in buckets and what do they need to get them to thrive? Why has the company been successful up until now? Typically, an ‘M&A’ person is not a ‘Go Giver’.

The first note I made as I read this book was around the idea of ‘holding the vision’. Anyone can dream their vision for the future, but it’s a level of commitment that allows people to hold the vision when external pressures change the game so regularly. Success comes from having the faith to continue to believe in your vision.

The second note I made was about the ‘employee scrapbook’. A wall in the office devoted to the extended family that is our work colleagues. The people we work together with and serve. I have chosen a wall within the offices of Business Computer Solutions and am ordering picture frames now. It will be great to recreate this Americanism, in Ramsgate!

The third and final note was a big one. The difference between reacting and responding. This is demonstrated by a story in a restaurant about how a complaint handled correctly becomes a winning situation. Most people react, but taking the time to consider the next step would mean everyone would be better off responding. This now means that I am a calmer person to deal with. Although still not perfect, I am more likely to respond later than react now. This is not in my personality so has taken me quite a while to control but seems to be worth it. My team at Business Computer Solutions certainly think so!

When I was struggling with a problematic customer about six months ago, my wife and business partner profoundly said to me “Gareth, you don’t know what is going on in their lives”. This gave me a wakeup call to consider others in a much broader way than I had before that point in time. The pressures on that customer were probably the reason they were ‘reacting’ rather than ‘responding’ to every interaction. From that day, life became easier … for me, the people around me and probably even the client.

Invest a couple of hours and read this book. The story is warming and the lessons pertinent.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

20160630-What-Got-You-Here-Won’t-Get-You-There-Cover-191x300I have to start this review by saying that this book was not what I expected when I started to read this (on a sunbed in Cyprus). I was ready to be told how to fix the issues with the team within my main business (Business Computer Solutions) that cause our recurring growth plateaus. Turns out this book points the ‘blame’ with laser accuracy at the leadership, starting from the very top.

Successful people believe that they are doing what they choose to do, because they choose to do it. When we do what we chose to do we are committed but when we do what we have to do we are compliant. How much do the people we lead do because they are compliant rather than committed?

Marshall also believes that lots of us are quite delusional about how successful we are and that maybe why we resist change. Marshall goes on to suggest that a natural law exists where people will do something, including changing their behaviours, only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their best interests, as defined by their own values.

In chapter two Marshall defines 21 bad business habits and personal flaws that will stifle progress and more usefully, practical steps to take to improve. You guessed it, I read the habits and realised I could tick too many of the boxes for me to be smug about my current situation. Admitting that I have these habits is the first step.

Please let me apologise to everyone. This is the next step on long journey for me.

Habit #10 talks about failing to give proper recognition of a team member’s contribution to the team’s success even suggesting that it is common for leaders to claim this as their own success. A practical solution and one I will be putting into place in my own life is to make recognition procedural. You start by creating a list of the important people in our lives, be them family, friends, colleagues or customers. Then at a regular interval, perhaps weekly, check the list and consider if anyone has done anything that could be recognised and make that phone call, drop an email or send them a gift. The impact of this is to ensure that those people that are committed to our shared success, get to understand how much we value them and their contribution. The topic is revisited later in the book suggesting the benefits of taking time out to consider those on our full life journeys that have helped and sending them some gratitude too. If you have helped me become who I am today, expect me to be in touch soon.

This book introduced to me the concept of feedforward to fix the interpersonal habits that may be holding me back. This is broken into four simple stages.
1. Start by picking the habit that will make the biggest positive difference.
2. Describe it to whoever you chose as your feedforward ‘partner’.
3. Ask for two suggestions for the future they think may help you. No reference to the past is allowed.
4. Listen attentively and the only response permitted is thank you.

Repeat this with any other partners you select who you know will be honest with you and help you in your task. The important key detail here is that this is not to fix what you think is the root cause, but what your trusted feedforward partners think is the issue. They will know better if you are deluding yourself.

One last little thought that came from this book is I noted that during my working life I have had lots of ‘to do’ lists to ensure I don’t forget the things that are important that I must do. Until reading this book I hadn’t considered the idea of a ‘to stop’ list. Smart people know what to do. They also need to know what to stop

This book has given me things I need to do for my own self-improvement. Once underway, I will use the tools I have learned to start to help those I lead to develop too. Wish me luck in this quest.

Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath

20160630-Made-to-Stick-Cover-196x300The book ‘Switch’ by the brothers Heath had a massive impact on me, changing the way I see decision making across the people I lead and providing practical ways I could manage change (I reviewed it previously on this blog). As such, I had very high expectations of ‘Made to Stick’. I also chose to read this book about the same time as I attended a training course on the topic of storytelling at the Entrepreneurs Circle.

At 300 pages this was a fairly long read, but as it is principally about why stories stick I am sure you can imagine there are quite a few stories in there. I ended up reading the book twice, first on a trip to Hastings in the Motor-home in May and then again in June from a sunbed in Cyprus. It was worth the second read and gave me a great chance to pull some notes to help with this review. It was a long book … this will be a long review. Here goes …

The biggest takeaway for me was the idea that you need to be careful not to confuse the core of any message. When you tell a story you are better off having one really good idea fully delivered than squeezing ten ideas in where none will be remembered. As is typical of every business book I have read, this is ‘obvious’ but doesn’t mean I have not been guilty of this mistake. A quote in the book that resonated for me was that a design reaches perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. As such, simplicity and clarity are key.

The second lesson from this book is about the ‘Curse of Knowledge’. This is the idea that once you learn something it is really difficult to think back to a time when you didn’t know it. As such having revisited some of our output from Business Computer Solutions including our ‘new’ website, it became clear that you would need more knowledge of our industry than a layperson has to be able to understand what we are saying. We are now reviewing everything using proof readers from outside our organisation. It has proved quite revealing.

I had never heard of the term ‘Burying the lead’ before this book, but it transpires that it dates back to 1977 and relates to a writing style where you start the story with secondary information leading to the essential facts further into the story, used perhaps in politics where you don’t want people to ever get to the finer and more contentious details. Sadly, I realised I do this. The practical tip is to use an ‘inverted pyramid style’ of writing starting with the actual primary core of the story, working down to the secondary and tertiary facts on the basis that if the reader breaks off any time after the primary message, they have received your message. If they get bored of your story before you tell the core, you have wasted your efforts.

What is in a name? Well, everything. I read the story about the Daily Record in Dunn, North Carolina where they talked about the importance of names in stories. People like to see their own name in print or online. To be recognised for their achievements. Their part in the story of life. We are already pretty good at acknowledging people on the Business Computer Solutions website blogs and social media output. Reading this book makes me just want to double that commitment.

Stories that reveal gaps in knowledge help engagement. This could be sensational teaser headlines that draw people to the ‘inverted pyramid’ of content leading from it. The compelling desire to find out what happens next or how the story ends. The danger of not having a good opening headline is that the reader may presume from the headline they know what’s coming … and not even get to the core reason for the story.

I have grown up with Abraham Maslow. I say grown up, he died in 1970 when I was just two years old, but his theory of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ from 1954 has been something I studied when I was just a kid and think back to frequently. This book documents a widely agreed alternative view that once you have the basic physical needs covered (food, water, heat) the rest of the needs and desires are not achieved as rungs up a ladder but are pursued simultaneously. I won’t do justice to this section within a review, but when you are creating a story you need to understand what need you are looking to fulfill for your target reader. Is it safety, belonging or maybe even esteem.

After I read this book for the first time in May this year, I had a guest speaker come along to the Thanet Business Network to pitch the services of his organisation. I got to the end of the meeting and realised that there was not even one story in his presentation and I can’t remember one of his core messages. I spoke to other members about this and it turns out I was not alone. If his organisation has made a difference anywhere, he didn’t convey that to us. Maybe I will send him a copy of this book!