Soundview Executive Book Summaries


Amazon’s Burning Sales Start with Kindle-ing

Call me bookish, I don’t mind. When it comes to intellectual stimulation, few things compare with the word on the printed page. Of course, the page isn’t always printed anymore. People are turning to the convenience and portability of digital reading devices. This leads some to wonder if the reading device is to the printed book what the iPod was to the compact disc. Like any technology, the early forays are met with enthusiasm by early adopters and approached with trepidation by the majority of the buying public. Name a technological innovation in the last 25 years (particularly as it applies to leisure activities), and you’re likely to recall people who said, “I’m not buying it until the price comes down.” Somewhere along the line, there is a magical combination of a low price, word-of-mouth marketing and an updated version of the product with its earlier kinks smoothed out. This is the point when the masses reach for their debit cards and join the party.

Amazon.com appears to be on the verge of this point with its Kindle device. According to a piece in InformationWeek the online retail giant claims that  the previous month was its best sales month ever, not to mention the device holding the top position in all sales categories. However, as the folks at IW point out, Amazon didn’t exactly release any numbers to support its claims.

What can’t be disputed is the new dominance of digital formats for materials that previously existed only in the realm of print. Granted, I get to see the changes firsthand. All of you new Kindle owners will be happy to know that we’ve got you covered. Soundview offers our executive book summaries in a variety of digital formats, including the Kindle format.



Who Sits at the Head of the Table?

From time to time, I like to take a little poll when I write this blog. Here’s today’s poll question: for Americans at home or abroad, raise your hand if you have already (or plan to) use the Internet to search for recipes for your Thanksgiving Day meal? OK, here’s the second question: for those of you who need a search engine, how many will use Google?

My reasons for asking these questions are simple. I read this blog post from ZDNet today and was entertained by the notion that a media titan has hopes of blocking his company’s content from the all-encompassing reach of Google.

The book to which the blogger refers is one that we’ve covered at Soundview. If you’ve never checked it out before, it’s an excellent exploration of the secrets that caused and continue to extend Google’s impact on the globe. Actually, this post drops a few of Soundview’s favorite names, including Seth Godin, who had a particularly nice quote about what happens when you attempt to charge people for their attention.

However, the company that made “search” one of the most important marketing terms of the past decade, continues to innovate beyond its beginnings. Chris Anderson, author of FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, also an upcoming Soundview Summary, discusses in his book the power of Google’s Web based software as one avenue in which the company continues to grow and influence the online world.

Google’s dominance in the Web landscape is enough to easily land it a seat at the head of the Internet’s Thanksgiving table. Although, I’m sure there are some Web-based companies who continue to wish that the company would pass the potatoes (both big and small).

A final, more personal note, as we prepare to celebrate our day of thanks tomorrow, I want to take a moment to thank the men and women of the Armed Forces who will be apart from their loved ones on this holiday. Let’s save our greatest thanks for them.



Ready, Set, Shop!

Sooner or later, with a bit of push from media outlets and marketers, virtually anything can become an event. I’m old enough to remember when the autumn passed by quietly. It was a season where leaves changed colors, cooler temperatures crept into the forecast and before you were able to blink, it was the middle of December. In autumns of yesteryear, Halloween was still a holiday for children and the day after Thanksgiving was devoted to recovering from overindulgence of stuffing and pumpkin pie.

As with many traditions, debate varies as to the origins of the term “Black Friday” where it refers to the first day of the holiday shopping season. I must admit I found the Wikipedia entry to be interesting, in light of the fact that Soundview’s headquarters is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a possible location for the first use of the term. Regardless of where it began, the day after Thanksgiving has morphed into a tour-de-force of sales and marketing, to the point where it is now looked at as a key economic indicator of consumer confidence.

This year is receiving particular scrutiny as economists and retailers alike hope for the clattering of cash registers to continue in the face of overwhelming economic struggles. Retailers are going to extreme lengths to pull in consumers. In the past, we’ve covered books that help executives in the retail world gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to putting a product in the shopping cart. I get the feeling that this year, it may take more than opening at 1 a.m. on Friday to entice people out from under their comforters.

Just like with the majority of our practices, the influence of the online world has altered holiday shopping. As Black Friday continues to begin earlier and earlier, many sources now point to the start of the following week as the next big commerce phenomenon. “Cyber Monday” is often the kickoff point for special Internet-only offers. The decision whether to venture out early Friday morning or wait for the Web on Monday is one that would likely resonate with the author of this book.

If you’re like me, and you’d rather stay in bed on Friday, we’ve got your online shopping needs covered. For the busy executive in your life, nothing beats a little concentrated knowledge courtesy of Soundview.



A Push Toward the Top

There are times when I sit down to write this blog that I feel like I’m repeating myself. We touch on a number of topics in our little thrice-weekly conversation but often we return to the news of the day as it ties together the economy and the world of business books. The news, largely, hasn’t been good, but out of this cloud has been a shower of great reads.

Historically, the most trying times often produce works of brilliance. In other instances, a book that under normal circumstances would be considered a solid read takes on greater importance in a time of crisis. With articles such as this piece in The Wall Street Journal indicating that we’re far from regaining a firm economic foothold, even executives find themselves with the occasional bout of nerves.

This is one of the reasons we opted to include Scott Eblin’s The Next Level as a bonus summary in our December package. Differentiation and the ability to display confidence in a turbulent time will continue to be assets of ever-increasing value. Eblin’s book refers to the concept of having a Life GPS (Goals Planning System). When the road ahead looks uncertain, it can be a big asset to be able to forge your own path. I found Eblin’s advice to be a good fit for our current economic climate. Companies won’t exactly be dealing out promotions to any manager with a few years of experience. The new path up the ladder will require a bit of ingenuity and Eblin delivers the frank advice to keep executives at any level driving toward the top. If you’re in need of a boost, I’d recommend checking out our summary of his book.



Can We Take a Double-Dip?

Philip Kotler and John A. Caslione, authors of one of our more popular summaries of 2009 Chaotics, must be nodding with grim recognition that we continue to operate in, as they described it, “The Era of Turbulence.” I get the distinct impression that their book will be one of the summaries that continues to attract reader interest well into 2010.

This Reuters article notes President Barack Obama’s warning of the possibility of a “double-dip” recession. The United States is faced with a difficult road if it hopes to both use the power of government to spur economic recovery while also limiting the debt that the government takes on in the process. Obama’s upcoming forum on ways to lower the unemployment rate should give some indication of how feasible it will be to create job growth without increased debt.

The notion of this “double-dip” into recession is something that makes me glad we decided to summarize Geoff Colvin’s The Upside of the Downturn in our December 2009 edition. During our vetting process, we often debate a book’s shelf life because we want to ensure that our readers receive summaries to which they can return again and again. The shelf life of The Upside of the Downturn is a bit of a “good news/bad news” situation. The bad news will be if the U.S. economy does, in fact, take a second dip. The good news is Colvin’s book is an excellent resource for understanding how to navigate the unruly waters of the economic situation and prosper in the end. When we selected this book, I would argue that we chose it because it addressed an immediate need of our subscriber base. Much like Chaotics, our summary of Colvin’s book may prove to be one that sticks around  beyond even our own expectations.

You can check out The Upside of the Downturn as well as our other December summaries by visiting us at Summary.com



Profit and Purpose Can Work Side-by-Side

This week is going to be an exciting one here at Soundview. On Thursday, November 19, we’ll be hosting our latest Soundview Live event with author Jim Champy at Noon (EST). As with all of our Soundview Live events, this one is free to our subscribers. The topic of this conversation will be Champy’s recent book Inspire: Why Customers Come Back.  If your job description involves interacting with or procuring more customers, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

I get the opportunity to participate in some of the pre-event discussions with the authors. It’s always a joy for me when an author is vocal and passionate about the subject of his or her book. Champy’s enthusiasm for the companies he profiles in Inspire is readily apparent. When we asked him about some of these companies, such as beverage maker Honest Tea or grill maker The Big Green Egg, it was clear that he was impressed by the same attributes that impress the companies’ customers: originality, authenticity and a sense of purpose. It was the last point of the three that made the largest impression on me.

While a large percentage of companies today are encouraged to play up their philanthropy or involvement in a community for purposes of public relations, customers occasionally view these efforts with a degree of apprehension. There tends to be a strange split in public perception. Companies are either “for profit” and not capable of true purpose-based business or they are “non-profits” who do great work for a cause but struggle financially. One of Champy’s insights is that a company can both have a purpose and still be for-profit. I was so struck by his message that I wanted to share his exact words with you.

“Let’s not forget that there are also companies that sit right in-between,” Champy told us. “They’re for-profit, but they are also very noble. One of the most important things in presenting yourself is to maintain a real base of authenticity and have a genuinely high sense of purpose. The Honest Tea example is one where the company is profitable and it makes decisions based on profitability but still is highly respectful of its suppliers. They are highly respectful of the people in India and the Asian subcontinent that grow these teas. It’s highly respectful of everything that it puts on its label in terms of content. You can attach a very high sense of purpose to what is a very simple product or service but you better be true to that sense of purpose!”

Rather eye-opening, isn’t it? Consider this a bit of a preview of what’s to come this Thursday at Noon (EST) when Jim Champy offers insights and takes your questions on the next edition of Soundview Live.



The Climate of Change
November 13, 2009, 1:24 PM
Filed under: Books in General, Environment | Tags: , , , ,

When we look at the stacks and stacks of submissions to decide which books to summarize, I like to make a few notes if I see trends developing in subject matter. Looking back at the last two years, I see the words “India” and “China” appear numerous times in my hurried script. Developing nations are a point of interest in the business book world because so many executives are looking for the best advice on how to understand, interact and partner with these two rapidly growing economic forces. Take a moment to consider this statistic: one out of every three people in the world is from one of these two nations. Combine the sheer number of people with the rate of industrialization and it’s no wonder that books on the subject can barely hit shelves fast enough.

One of the major areas where India and China are addressed is in titles on climate change. Here’s an article from the L.A. Times that discusses recent United Nations’ efforts to get India to agree to emissions targets. I always find discussions about Asia’s rapid industrialization and its impact on climate to create some uncomfortable moments for those in international politics. For those who point out that Europe and North America industrialized without much regard for the environment, I’d counter by saying these same regions of the globe are now the leaders of the green movement. Perhaps much of that came from a deeper understanding of the true impact of growing one’s economy.

The upside of this careful attention to the planet’s wellbeing is that it has produced some great books. One of the best we’ve seen is The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge, Sara Schley, Nina Kruschwitz, Bryan Smith and Joe Laur. In a truly collaborative effort, these authors help executives understand the true need for sustainability and how one’s business can contribute to finding solutions to the most pressing environmental problems. It continues to be one of our most popular summaries. In light of the UN’s efforts, perhaps Soundview should consider translating this into Mandarin and Hindi. In a global economy, ecological concerns are something we all share, and so is the work to make it better.



From the Battlefield to the Boardroom

… And so it was settled. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the combatants entered into armistice and the curtain fell on the “War to End All Wars.”

Of course, we realize that such hopes were not to be. Were that truly the end of the story, the mere mention of places such as Normandy, Guadalcanal, Incheon, Khe Sanh, Baghdad and Kabul would not invoke solemn reflection on the part of Americans. Whether in field or forest, dense jungle or cloudy sky, churning sea or burning sand, American men and women have sweated and sacrificed, with many paying the ultimate price in their tireless defense of liberty and the principles of democracy. Today is a day to remember and give heartfelt thanks, but it should not stand alone on the calendar. As they are ever vigilant in their duty, so should we be fervent in our gratitude.

The fact that veterans populate so many of the boardrooms of American corporations means there is an interesting link between the military and the world of business. While critics debate the validity and tastefulness of comparing dollars and cents to life and death on the battlefield, many authors are willing to undertake the examination. One cannot argue with the military’s track record as it applies to leadership, execution of strategy and inspiring individuals to the highest levels of personal performance.

I receive a fair number of these books as they hit the market and I’m generally impressed with them. Leadership, in particular, is a topic which most executives would do well to look to the military for advice. In addition, I’ve found that the military is a key resource on the subject of accountability. One branch of the Armed Forces in particular seems to draw a large percentage of attention for the effectiveness of its training and strategy execution. If you’re looking for a unique insight from experts in efficiency, any of the above titles is highly recommended.

On this Veterans Day, one which is especially solemn in light of recent events, take a moment and give thanks to the men and women who served. I know I will.

 



A Sweet Acquisition in the Works?

You’ve got to give credit to Warren Buffett for a good turn of phrase. While sourcing this quote is a bit tough, America’s most famous investor is credited with saying, “When people are greedy, be nervous. When people are nervous, be greedy.” Companies that apply this logic often look at unstable economic times as an opportunity to make bold moves.

Today’s headlines indicate that Kraft Foods is one such company looking to make a move. In an acquisition attempt that’s on par with a lunar eclipse in terms of size, the food giant is bidding to take over British confectioner Cadbury. According to a company profile, Kraft is the second largest food company in the world and the largest in the United States. If you didn’t bother to click on the link in the previous sentence, go back and take a look at the brands Kraft controls. Stunning isn’t it? How much of your grocery cart is devoted to Kraft products? If you’re a parent, your purchases of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Oreo cookies and Kool-Aid are probably a large factor in why Kraft is able to make such a bold move. I know I’ve done my part with my love of Ritz crackers and Philadelphia cream cheese.

Now Kraft is looking to become parent to yet another organization. However, as press reports indicate, Cadbury is attempting to resist the acquisition. While I’m not certain that the move will affect the taste of the Dairy Milk bar (a Cadbury staple), investors and business analysts are keeping a close eye on the proceedings.

If this deal touches off a resurgence in mergers and acquisitions (also known as M&A, which tend to occur during periods of economic recovery), executives may want to brush up on the basics of M&A. For that, I’d recommend a book we summarized a short time ago whose advice remains timeless. Scott Moeller and Chris Brady authored Intelligent M&A, a title that gives executives a strong survival guide to the intense, high-stakes world of mergers and acquisitions. It’s one of the most clear-cut books on the subject and would serve any executive well prior to being given a role in a company’s M&A efforts.



Small Business Weighs Health Care Options

Here at Soundview we’re experts at condensing books that number in the hundreds of pages down to eight essential pages of information. Our purpose in doing this is to provide executives with concentrated knowledge that’s meant to give maximum impact for minimum time invested. Knowing the amount of effort that we put into this work, I can only tremble at the thought of tackling the bill that’s currently sitting on Capitol Hill. The health care reform bill that awaits the House of Representatives is nearly 2,000 pages. While I can’t give you eight compact pages, I’d like to discuss one aspect of the bill that is currently causing debate amongst a key segment of the American economy: small businesses.

Take a look at this article from The Dayton Business Journal for an inside track on the debate. I was glad to see that the reporter indicated there are people who are in favor of the bill, as well as covering the vocal element that are against it. While I don’t state my political opinions in this forum, I bring up the bill and its impact on small businesses because I’m anticipating a bump in business books dealing with health care if the bill is passed.

To date, Soundview has really only featured one title that dealt explicitly with health care. The Innovator’s Prescription by Clayton Christensen, Ph.D. remains a valuable resource for understanding the nature of the American health care system and the history of the system’s development.

We had the opportunity to speak with Christensen at a Soundview Live event in July 2009. Looking back on that conversation, I continue to reflect on Christensen’s argument that the government’s efforts had little to do with the care that patients actually receive. “This is a debate about reforming health insurance, not health care,” he told us at the time. While I think there is truth in his argument, I can’t help but feel that the thousands of small business owners across the U.S. are more concerned with the bill’s potential effect on their bottom lines at present.

I revisit Christensen’s book quite often, particularly when I read stories about the progress of health care reform. Regardless of the size of your company, it wouldn’t hurt to take a second look at our summary of The Innovator’s Prescription. In the event a new system dawns, those who stay informed will likely be the ones to have the smoothest transition.