Soundview Executive Book Summaries


Walking a Tightrope in HR

If you look closely at many of my posts, you’ll notice that I rarely give out any personal details. Truth be told, I’m quite a private person, despite the fact that I communicate with all of you a few times each week. I sometimes feel as though the continued dominance of social media in our lives has led people to willingly give  up their privacy with nary a second thought.

Strangely, some of the same folks who don’t mind posting photos from a company happy hour on their Facebook pages are likely to bristle at corporate requests for info for a health and wellness survey. They may not have a choice in the near future. This article from CNNMoney.com discusses the increase in Human Resource departments asking employees to fill out a health and wellness questionnaire prior to enrolling in the company’s health insurance program.

I found this article to be loaded with the type of issues that define life in today’s corporate world. The survey can ask an employee about the number of alcoholic drinks he or she consumes each week. However, it can’t ask the same employee whether or not there is a history of cancer in his or her family. This is due to a fear of lawsuits due to genetic discrimination. To help ensure employee cooperation, some companies are offering incentives such as lower insurance premiums for workers willing to participate in smoking cessation programs. Yet, companies are at risk if they bar employees coverage for not agreeing to fill out the survey.

However, I think my favorite quote from the article is this one: “Maybe you think you’ll fudge the truth? Don’t. That’s fraud, and could be grounds for dismissal.” I can almost guarantee that some people reading that statement would reply, “How will they ever know?” I suspect that these are the same folks that would thrill us with a Twitter tweet about low cigarette prices at a local gas station.

Human Resource professionals are in a bind that I, for one, do not envy. As they continue to walk a tightrope between lowering their health care expenses and breaching privacy issues, one has to wonder whether it will be employee or employer who has to make the biggest changes.

For a great read on the difficulties facing HR departments (and how to solve them), check out our summary of The HR Scorecard by Brian Becker, Mark Huselid and Dave Ulrich.

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Under the Media’s Watchful Glare

The skill and labor involved in creating a business book is something which not everyone is able to comprehend. Maybe it’s just my personal (and professional) pride, but as far back as my college years, I used to bristle at the suggestion that because people are able to type, they are able to write. The process of researching and writing about a particular topic requires dedication and a copious amount of patience to ensure that the message is clear and accurate.

Not taking the proper amount of care can sometimes result in swift and direct criticism. For an example, take a look at this article from Business Week magazine. The writer of this piece makes some strong allegations against Michael J. Silverstein and his co-author Kate Sayre. While Silverstein and Sayre’s book isn’t creating furor on-par with author James Frey and his much disputed memoir  A Million Little Pieces, the veracity of  Women Want More is being questioned.

In our ever-vigilant need for full disclosure, I can tell you that we previously summarized one of Silverstein’s books. We chose Treasure Hunt as a January 2007 summary because of its strong study of the changing consumer market. While we never found any of his arguments to be lacking in factual accuracy, the issues raised by Business Week are troubling.

I will be interested to see if this current controversy brings any additional attention to Silverstein and Sayre’s book. I will, of course, keep you posted should anything arise. In the meantime, check out Treasure Hunt. It’s a great read for marketers as they deal with the crunch of the fourth quarter.



A Window into Innovation

Receiving an inside look at one of the most powerful companies on the planet is something for which business book readers clamor. What if the deal were sweetened and the book were to be authored not by a third-party observer or a mid-level manager but instead by one of the top executives for the company?

In a matter of months, we’ll get the opportunity described above! This post from a blog on CNET confirms rumors that we’ve heard for some time. Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows Division, is collaborating with the Harvard Business School to craft a book on creating and implementing innovative strategies. As the article indicates, Sinofsky has been contributing posts to Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog, many of which offer insights into the inner workings of the intensely private software giant.

I for one was intrigued by the suggestion that Sinofsky’s book will delve into the strategic changes made by Microsoft after its Windows Vista release. I’m curious to know the level of detail to which he will discuss this subject. As fascinating as the creation of a new product will be to readers, it may be more helpful to executives to gain insight on how to recover when a product that took millions of dollars and an equal amount of man hours to produce is underwhelming upon its release. It takes a certain amount of bravery on the part of any executive to publicly acknowledge and address a product that has received its fair share of criticism.

Part of what makes Microsoft an object of admiration to many observers is its ability to stay ahead of fluctuations in its industry. Innovation is at the heart of what has separated Microsoft from its competitors. Sinofsky’s revelations could prove to be quite useful, particularly when combined with co-author Marco Iansiti’s research at Harvard. A collaboration between Microsoft and Harvard sounds like a winner. I’ll keep you posted when we get a sneak peek at the book as it nears publication.



A Search for Lost Wisdom

Say what you’d like about the continuing decline of the printed word, but The New York Times, particularly its Sunday magazine, is still delivering the goods. I have to offer full congratulations to Sara Corbett for writing one of the most captivating articles I’ve read in months. She tells the story of the upcoming publication of a long-hidden manuscript from psychology pioneer Carl Jung. As Corbett notes in her opening paragraphs, the story behind Jung’s long-sought book reads like the script for an adventure film. The fact that Jung’s work is in the process of being published is a delight to the scores of devotees who practice Jungian psychology, or at the very least, are interested in the depths of human consciousness.

This led me to speculate about the possibility of unpublished books in general and business books in particular. Suppose Dale Carnegie (who is profiled in this summary) wrote a sequel to How to Win Friends and Influence People? What if in some crate in a government warehouse, tucked comfortably next to the Ark of the Covenant, there were manuscripts for additional titles by Peter Drucker or Warren Buffett?

It seems odd to consider such a prospect, but there is no limit to what scholars are able to mine from the legacy of the greats in each industry. In many cases, as in the case of Jung, the decision to make available previously unreleased material falls to the estate. Corbett’s story profiles the difficulty researchers have had in attempting to persuade Jung’s descendants to allow his secret “Red Book” to see the light of day. We’re fortunate that in the world of business books, authors generally do everything possible to allow their message to reach eager eyes and ears.

However, I can’t prevent myself from wondering … what if? In the meantime, do yourself a favor a check out Corbett’s piece. It makes for a great read while we’re waiting for the hidden tomes from business greats to be unearthed.



The Land of the Brand
September 18, 2009, 3:40 PM
Filed under: Books in General, Brands, Marketing | Tags: , ,

Sometimes the best way to truly evaluate the way a business looks is to take a gander from the outside. The United States gets tagged with many labels, some of which are not too kind. Accusations arise constantly about everything from the country’s carbon footprint to its often reluctant role as global police officer. Still, after reading an article from the folks at Bloomberg.com, one finds it a little harder to shrug off a famous allegation: American brands dominate the globe.

Click the link above and check it out for yourself. According to the Interbrand study cited by Bloomberg, the U.S. can lay claim to eight of the top 10 brands in the world, as well as 13 of the top 20. Findings like the ones in this list create some interesting debates, both domestically and internationally. Much to my chagrin, I’m old enough to recall a time when foreign brands were unacceptable when it came to certain major purchases (cars, televisions, etc). While there are still those whose purchasing decisions are rooted in patriotism, the decision to drive a car produced by Japan or Germany is no longer looked at with a raised eyebrow. In fact, the opposite is more likely to cause curiosity.

Other areas of the world continue to lament the decline of their own local culture, or so it would appear. You’d probably anticipate the French being among the stalwarts who refuse to let the fast-food of the Stars and Stripes steamroll their cafes and bistros. Take a look at the photo that accompanies this articleand you’ll see that the Arc de Triomphe has competition from another set of arches, ones that are a little more familiar Stateside. Even the most particular of cuisine-lovers has to admit, someone must be buying all those burgers.

While America continues to debate the pros and cons of offshoring and trade deregulation, one export has never failed us: our brands. The value of our most famous companies may trouble some authors, like John Gerzema and Edward Lebar, but others don’t seem to share their concern. Coca-Cola once advertised it’s desire to achieve world harmony through song. We might not be there yet, but they’ve certainly followed through on the other end of their promise. Everyone, practically, has the chance to buy a Coke.



The Drill Sergeant of Small Business

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh by describing the subject of this post as a drill sergeant. Drill sergeants get a bit of a bad rap. They’re men and women with an extremely difficult task. They have to mold and shape a rag-tag band of recruits into a disciplined unit that perfectly executes every maneuver. This requires intensity, tenacity and a devotion to perfection.

When it comes to boosting the current state of small businesses in the U.S., George Cloutier may be the right man to wear the stripes. As you’ll see in this press release from Reuters, Cloutier’s new book is drawing a critical eye from some reviewers. Many of the suggestions he makes will seem a bit harsh to some readers. However, small businesses rely on the dedication and labor of their owners to ensure their success. A small business run with an average amount of effort will remain small. It takes a special amount of drive to create real growth and survive the treacherous competitive waters.

I’m curious to see how the majority of the business book reading public will receive Cloutier’s Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing. Cloutier himself refers to many of his theories as “tough love,” a term that, while receding from society at large, is still quite prevalent in business. Every so often, a book comes along that provides the necessary swing of the boot to the backside of business. I can’t say for certain if Cloutier’s new release is that title, but in light of the U.S. recently marking one calendar year of recession, the timing is certainly right for such a book.

If you’d like to read some additional titles specifically designed to boost small business success, we’re featuring Soundview’s Small Business Collection right now on Summary.com.



What’s Been Happening to Reading?

Sometimes I capture people’s names, and sometimes I’ll forget them as soon as I’m introduced. On Labor Day weekend I was standing around waiting for the start of a junior campers’ award ceremony when I was introduced to one of the other adults in the crowd, John Thompson. I remembered the name because in the course of the fleeting encounter he mentioned he’s a writer. That’s really all that was said about that. Although I later “found” him and discovered him to be the author of The Armageddon Conspiracy published in Feb.2009 by Joggling Board Press. The book has received some favorable reviews as well as the honor of being chosen the 2009 IPPY Gold Medal Winner (Independent Publisher Book Awards)!

We talked a bit about the future of books in print and entertained the possibility that schools may eventually load textbooks to Kindles or similar devices for students. He went so far as to posit that if that happened, that generation would become accustomed to reading books that way, which would spill over to all their reading habits.

As loyal as I am to print, I am open to the possibility that my grandchildren may look at my treasured books like my kids now look at my treasured record albums or VHS tapes. I guess the important thing is keeping the interest in reading alive and well.

A recent article in The New York Times, “A New Assignment: Pick the Books You Like” describes an approach by teachers in which students choose their own books instead of assigned titles to read, discuss and journal about in the classroom. Known as reading workshop, several public middle schools across the country have taken the new strategy on this fall as a pilot program. The article relates that some studies have indicated that giving students options can enhance educational results.

A NYT article written in July 2008 suggests that the Internet has created a new kind of reading. The article also mentions that by this year some countries are/will be participating in new international assessments of digital literacy.

“The question of how to value different kinds of reading is complicated because people read for many reasons,” the article points out. “There is the level required of daily life – to follow the instructions in a manual or to analyze a mortgage contract. Then there is a more sophisticated level that opens the doors to elite education and professions. And, of course, people read for entertainment, as well as for intellectual or emotional rewards.”

The key focus for protecting our readership for now appears to be convenience and quality of content. We at Soundview continue to evolve to keep up with the changes and opportunities afforded by fast-moving technology and we are turning increasingly to providing more and more online content for our subscribers.