Soundview Executive Book Summaries


Unbecoming Attractions

I couldn’t tell you the last time I set foot in a movie theater. I won’t voice the usual grievance of previous generations and toss out details about the cost of a single ticket during my youth (although, ahem, the cashier generally saw a couple of images of Washington rather than Alexander Hamilton’s portrait, if you understand my meaning). To be honest, I don’t go because I simply can’t take the incessant ringing of cell phones despite multiple requests to silence them before the film begins.

However, I would certainly hesitate to complain about such a problem if I lived in St. Croix Falls, Wis. A theater patron in the town wrote a humble e-mail to the theater to voice her displeasure that she could not use a credit or debit card to purchase tickets for a showing of Shutter Island. It seems to me that the majority of Americans walk around with mostly plastic and very little paper in their wallets these days. Her complaint sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

What this theater-goer received in return was a profanity laced tirade from the company’s vice president. Anyone who works in an organization that receives customer complaint e-mails has probably wanted to do exactly what the VP of Evergreen Entertainment did in this situation. Twenty years ago before e-mail and social media dominated every second of our lives, the woman’s complaint would have been in the form a letter that would have found its way to the trash. At most, she would have told her story to a dozen friends and the theater may have lost a few patrons.

That was then. I’m certain you can guess exactly what the aggrieved patron did next. You can click here and see for yourself.

In our new summary of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust, the authors repeatedly emphasize the need for companies to be more human toward their online customers. While yelling at one another is certainly a human action, it’s probably not what Brogan and Smith had in mind. In fact, this situation is a perfect example of how trust gets broken online. It also demonstrates the exponential power of one poor customer service interaction. The actions of Evergreen’s VP toward one customer now have 4,300 people lining up online to take their own shots at the company. You can only imagine how much the VP wishes he’d never hit “Send” on his rage-fueled e-mail.

As for the theater-goer, maybe she should take a page from my book and wait for Shutter Island to be released on Blu-Ray.



An Acceleration in Accountability

Today should be an eventful session on Capitol Hill. I’ve been keenly following the news reports about the investigation into Toyota’s mysterious acceleration problems with a number of its vehicles. I’m a bit of a nervous driver and although I don’t personally drive a Toyota, the thought of this same problem occurring with my car is enough to keep me tuned in to any news about the issue.

Toyota’s President and CEO Akio Toyoda will testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform via a prepared statement. It is expected that Toyoda will accept full responsibility for his company’s safety issue. While this type of statement is what we would expect of a CEO in the midst of a crisis, it raises an obvious question, one which was also raised by the authors of a recent Soundview summary: How Did That Happen?

There have been media reports that describe Toyota’s troubles as a negative outcome of the company’s recent success. The business grew quickly and needed to keep pace with the rapidly increasing demand for its product. In the race to produce more cars, commentators argue, corners were cut and safety was sacrificed. In my opinion, this is pure speculation. Toyota will require the type of analysis of its accountability procedures about which Roger Connors and Tom Smith write in How Did That Happen?.

While Toyoda does the talking before Congress, employees at every level of Toyota’s organization will be asked to examine their own performance and decision-making as it relates to the company’s acceleration issue. Connors and Smith are believers that with the right emphasis on the part of management, employees will willingly participate in a positive, principled program of accountability. Toyoda has an opportunity to lead the way for the company that bears his name. It will be interesting to see what happens next.



The Classroom vs. the Real World

Without revealing any political affiliation, I can tell you that I was reading a number of different blogs over the weekend and one blogger commented on the number of people advising the government who possess an MBA. The blogger created a very interesting debate about whose opinion should be asked to influence the drafting of public policies. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, he framed his argument with the assumption that MBA-holders have more of a foothold on academia and theory than on practical business experience. Of course, the counter to this argument is whether or not CEOs with real world experience are capable of offering an objective opinion to any government whose policies could cut into shareholder earnings.

While this debate could rage on for days, I came away from reading the blogger’s post with some additional thoughts on the value of the MBA degree. The blogger cited author Henry Mintzberg who examined the success rate of CEOs from a list of Harvard Business School “superstars.” While CEOs holding an MBA didn’t come out on top in Mintzberg’s study, I personally felt he looked at too small a sample. The MBA is valuable and so is real-world experience.

In Soundview’s latest edition, we summarize Mintzberg’s book Managing. This book examines the nature of both leadership and management and attempts to answer some of the questions plaguing business today. One of the most important aspects of management examined by Mintzberg is the way in which a manager’s job duties disconnect him or her from the people he or she is supposed to manage.

In some respects this question parallels the argument made by the blogger. If a manager is constantly in meetings, looking at “big picture” items, he or she is playing the role of the MBA holder, that of an academic. Meanwhile, a manager who is constantly on the shop floor interacting with workers has plenty of day-to-day knowledge but may be getting bogged down in details. In both cases, the true solution may lie in having the best blend of both academics and experience. Check out our summary of Mintzberg’s Managing to learn more!



The Search for Consistency

Scan the headlines of your favorite search Web site’s news section, and you may come across an article like this one from MarketWatch, part of The Wall Street Journal‘s digital network. The sudden and dramatic decline of the global economy two years ago left in its wake a new breed of paranoia. There is a hesitance among everyone but select lawmakers to declare any news as good news. We’re well past the point of hearing air raid sirens cranking away on Wall Street and yet, there is a slight hesitation to completely leave the shelters and declare the “all-clear.”

Businesses are locked in the same type of speculation as the general public. No one seems bold enough to declare the economy recovered and any small gains are examined with a certain degree of skepticism. The MarketWatch article is an example of how caution is the new standard.

But consider the possibilities of a business that can break through even cautious times and deliver consistent, excellent results. We’re examining this idea right now in a new summary Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times. Written by one of the leading authorities on leadership, Stephen R. Covey, and co-author Bob Whitman, this book provides executives with lessons in creating sustainable success. The authors carefully craft a formula for repeated achievement, one that involves “simple goals repeatedly revisited, together with clear targets and strong follow-through, including the measurement of results.”

MarketWatch maintains its skepticism that the housing market has completed its turnaround. Fortunately, businesses can lean on Covey and Whitman for a little expert advice to help stay the course in an equally tough marketplace.



Tapping into the Buzz

The arrival of Google’s new online tool Google Buzz is drawing a good deal of attention from technology watchers. Many are asking the same question asked by the blogger in this link: Is Google too late to market with this product? The questions raised by the Internet giant’s latest move are good fodder for discussion among executives. Google has traditionally relied on two components to help increase the use of its various Web tools: the strength of its brand and a zero-cost price tag.

However, Google is attempting to use its name as a battering ram to enter an established market. A mass audience can be a difficult beast to control, and Google may find that people are more comfortable with an established social media service. The blogger above is an example of the problem into which Google may run. He describes Google Buzz as “the same as Twitter — but integrated with your Gmail inbox, and a couple extra built-in features.” While this isn’t 100 percent accurate, it demonstrates the perception that an audience can form about a product. If this message spreads farther afield, Google may discover that the “Twitter clone” tag is impossible to lift, as consumers do little to no research to counter what they’ve been told by friends.

Whether you decide to try out Google Buzz or stick with your existing social media outlets, it’s what your business chooses to do with these sites that matters most. In that regard, I’d suggest taking a look at our summary of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s book Trust Agents for a better understanding of how to make social media work for you. The authors have some great advice to allow your company to truly connect with customers online.



Start Your Week with a Few Summaries

President’s Day is a good day to consider the qualities of great leaders. We treat today as a celebration of two of the best presidents in the history of the United States. It’s amazing when one considers that one of the key attributes that tends to surface in the average five-word description of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln is honesty. Nearly 150 years after Lincoln first took office honesty continues to be a central tenet of many leadership titles.

And speaking of leadership, Soundview has three new summaries available that are certain to help leaders everywhere keep their organizations running at peak performance:

We begin with Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. This excellent release helps companies use social media to garner more business. Unlike a lot of other books that deal with social media and Web 2.0, Trust Agents differentiates itself in two ways: 1. The authors help businesses communicate in a way that prevents customers from dismissing efforts as “advertising” or “sales talk.” 2. The authors themselves believe in and use each of the methods they describe in the book.

Next, we offer Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times. Information on the subject of handling unpredictable shifts in the business environment continues to be much sought after by our subscribers. Customer interest, combined with our own interest in pursuing the subject led us to summarize this excellent new release from management legend Stephen R. Covey. Co-written with Bob Whitman, the book is an important read for any business that wants to avoid being taken by surprise whenever an economic shift hits.

Finally, I believe this quote from author Henry Mintzberg perfectly sums up our summary of his book Managing: “We should be seeing managers as leaders,” he writes, “and leadership as management practiced well.” The interaction between philosophies on management and leadership continues to play out in many of the books we review at Soundview. Mintzberg’s book is an excellent look into the past and future of management.

Shake off the cold and heat up your business with these great summaries!



Predict the Unpredictable

You’d think after a long day of reading and summarizing the best business books the last thing I’d want to do with my free time is read. What can I say? It’s a passion and I’m blessed that I’m able to work in a field I enjoy. Of course, when the working day is over, I like to relax with a novel or the occasional biography. Any book lover (I believe the clinical term is bibliophile) will tell you that one of their greatest joys is wandering through a used bookstore for hours, pulling random titles from the shelves or discovering a hidden treasure among the stacks. I was delighted to see one of my favorite establishments profiled in The New York Times but sad to hear that it may be changing hands.

As The Times article indicates, the world of the independent bookseller has been somewhat gloomy in the era of Amazon.com. However, the shop profiled in the article has enjoyed a rare amount of success over the past several years. This quality, the ability to have success in a time when there are no guarantees, is the subject of a new summary from Soundview. Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times: How to Win in Any Environment is written by management legend Stephen R. Covey and co-author Bob Whitman. This excellent book offers a look into why some companies are able to weather any storm and perform with consistency. With so  many companies rethinking every step of how they do business, Covey and Whitman provide much needed guidance to finding stability and success. 

Before you go out browsing for your next read, check out our summary of Predictable Results in Unpredictable Times: How to Win in Any Environment.