Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marty Sklar's reflections on Disney

My book post on the s+b blog this week is about an insider's view of Disney-style leadership and language:

Leadership Lessons from the World of Walt Disney

I’ve been enjoying Marty Sklar’s memoir Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (Disney Editions, 2013). Sklar is a legend in the Walt Disney Company (literally) and among Disney aficionados worldwide. He joined the company as a summer intern in the public relations office in 1955, a month before Disneyland opened. After graduating from UCLA in 1956, he returned to Disney as a full-time employee and stayed until his retirement in 2009. Sklar spent most of his career in Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s design and development subsidiary, and served as its president from 1987–1996.

Dream It! Do It! reveals that Sklar was also Walt Disney’s go-to ghostwriter for much of the last decade of his life, and it provides a firsthand description of Walt’s leadership style during that momentous period in the company’s history. When Sklar joined the company, Walt was a veteran leader who had made a big bet: He was launching a new, unproven business that most everyone predicted would be a flop, including his own brother Roy, who held the purse strings at Disney. When Walt pitched him the idea for Disneyland, he refused to back it. Walt forced Roy’s hand by forming a new company and financing the planning on his own. Eventually, Roy relented. It was a smart decision: In 2012, Disney’s parks and resorts business generated US$12.9 billion in the rest here

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bob Dylan's signature watch

I was watching Ed Bradley's 60 Minutes interview with the coolest guy on the planet, Bob Dylan, of course, on YouTube the other day. Bradley asked Dylan about destiny and Dylan said:

"It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself that nobody else does. The picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true. That's the kind of a thing that you kind of have to keep to yourself because it's a fragile feeling and you put it out there and somebody will kill it. So it's best to keep that all inside."
So I figured that's going on the blog and I started looking for a great image to go with it and I found this:

My first thought was: Really? Bob's flogging a watch? My second thought was of another Dylan interview from almost 50 years ago. A reporter asked young Bob if he thought of himself as a singer or a poet, and Dylan smiles and says, "I think of myself as a song-and-dance man." Everybody laughed and I did, too.

It took me until now to realize that it's an even better joke because there's a truth to it that I never really acknowledged. And yet it doesn't change a thing. Dylan is still the coolest guy on the planet.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Killer quotes #3

"Everybody has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth

-- Mike Tyson

Shortlist for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs 2013 bizbook of the year

Yesterday, FT/Goldman Sachs announced the shortlist for best business book of the year. Here they are, with the publishers' descriptions. Congrats to the authors!

The Alchemists: Inside the Secret World of Central Bankers by Neil Irwin
When the first fissures became visible to the naked eye in August 2007, suddenly the most powerful people in the world were three men who were never elected to public office. They were the leaders of the world’s three most important central banks: Ben Bernanke of the US Federal Reserve, Mervyn King of the Bank of England, and Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank. Over the next five years, they and their fellow central bankers deployed trillions of dollars, pounds and euros to contain the waves of panic that threatened to bring down the global financial system, moving on a scale and with a speed that had no precedent.

Neil Irwin’s The Alchemists is a gripping account of the most intense exercise in economic crisis management we’ve ever seen, a poker game in which the stakes have run into the trillions of dollars. The book begins in Stockholm, Sweden, in the seventeenth century, where central banking had its rocky birth, and then progresses through a tutorial on how the central banker came to exert such vast influence over our world, from its troubled beginnings to the age of Greenspan.

Irwin covered the Fed and other central banks from the earliest days of the crisis for the Washington Post, enjoying privileged access to leading central bankers and people close to them. The Alchemists, based on reporting that took place in 27 cities in 11 countries, shows us where money comes from – and where it may well be going.

Making It Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy by Iain Martin
When RBS collapsed and had to be bailed out by the taxpayer in the financial crisis of October 2008, it played a leading role in tipping Britain into its deepest economic downturn in seven decades. The economy shrank, bank lending froze, hundreds of thousands lost their jobs, living standards are still falling and Britons will be paying higher taxes for decades to pay the clean-up bill. How on earth had a small Scottish bank grown so quickly to become a global financial giant that could do such immense damage when it collapsed?

At the centre of the story was Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive known as ‘Fred the Shred’, who terrorised some of his staff and beguiled others. Not a banker by training, he nonetheless was given control of RBS and set about trying to make it one of the biggest brands in the world. It was said confidently that computerisation and new banking products had made the world safer. Only they hadn't.

Senior executives, board members, Treasury insiders and regulators reveal how the bank's mania for expansion led it to take enormous risks its leaders didn't understand. Based on more than 80 interviews and with access to diaries and papers kept by those at the heart of the meltdown, Making It Happen is the definitive account of the RBS disaster, from the birth of the Royal Bank in 18th century Scotland, to the manic expansion under Fred Goodwin in the middle of a mad boom and culminating in the epoch-defining collapse.

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
Two leading experts present a revelatory exploration of the hottest trend in technology and the dramatic impact it will have on the economy, science, and society at large. They explain what ‘big data’ is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards.

Which paint colour is most likely to tell you that a used car is in good shape? How can officials identify the most dangerous New York City manholes before they explode? And how did Google searches predict the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak?

The key to answering these questions, and many more, is big data. ‘Big data’ refers to our burgeoning ability to crunch vast collections of information, analyse it instantly, and draw sometimes profoundly surprising conclusions from it. This emerging science can translate myriad phenomena – from the price of airline tickets to the text of millions of books – into searchable form, and uses our increasing computing power to unearth epiphanies that we never could have seen before. A revolution on par with the Internet or perhaps even the printing press, big data will change the way we think about business, health, politics, education, and innovation in the years to come. It also poses fresh threats, from the inevitable end of privacy as we know it to the prospect of being penalised for things we haven’t even done yet, based on big data’s ability to predict our future behaviour.

Big Data is the first big book about the next big thing.

The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund by Anita Raghavan
Just as WASPs, Irish-Catholics and Our Crowd Jews once made the ascent from immigrants to powerbrokers, it is now the Indian-American's turn. Citigroup, PepsiCo and Mastercard are just a handful of the Fortune 500 companies led by a group known as the ‘Twice Blessed’. Yet little is known about how these Indian émigrés (and children of émigrés) rose through the ranks. Until now ...

The Galleon Group was a hedge fund that managed more than $7 billion in assets. Its collapse following criminal charges of insider trading was a sensational case that pitted prosecutor Preet Bharara, himself the son of Indian immigrants, against the best and brightest of the South Asian business community. At the centre of the case was self-described King of Kings, Galleon's founder Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan-born, Wharton-educated billionaire. But the most shocking allegation was that the éminence grise of Indian business, Rajat Gupta, was Rajaratnam's accomplice and mole. If not for Gupta's nose-to-the-grindstone rise to head up McKinsey & Co and a position on the Goldman Sachs board, men like Rajaratnam would have never made it to the top of America's moneyed elite.

Author Anita Raghavan criss-crosses the globe from Wall Street boardrooms to Delhi's Indian Institute of Technology as she uncovers the secrets of this subculture – an incredible tale of triumph, temptation and tragedy.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry, meaning that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one ofTime’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010 she gave an electrifying TED Talk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to ‘sit at the table’, seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfilment, providing practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of ‘having it all’.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
This is the definitive story of, one of the most successful companies in the world, and of its driven, brilliant founder, Jeff Bezos. started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn't content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that's never been cracked. Until now.

Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech's other elite innovators – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg – Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionised manufacturing.

The Everything Store is the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Edmund Phelps's values-driven view of national prosperity

My weekly book post for s+b's blogs is about Edmund Phelps's new book:

What is the Wellspring of Innovation?

Every author I read these days seems convinced that innovation is the wellspring of national prosperity.
But what is the wellspring of innovation? That answer is not as clear-cut.

Everybody’s got their own prescription for innovation—an education system that emphasizes science and mathematics, regulation-free markets, more patent protection, less patent protection, you name it. So I was curious to read what Edmund Phelps, a Noble laureate in economics and a professor at Columbia University, had to say on the subject in his new book, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change (Princeton University Press, 2013).

In the book, which is more akin to classical economic sociology than straight-up economics, Phelps examines how and why the national economies of England, France, Germany, and the United States pulled away from the rest of the world in the 1800s. He pegs the growth of these first modern economies to a new dynamism, which he defines as an “appetite and capacity for indigenous innovation.” This dynamism, he says, wasn’t the result of the “headline inventions” of the Industrial Revolution (such as spinning machines, locomotives, and iron mills); instead, the inventions were a result of the dynamism. And the source of the dynamism? Phelps says that it was the mass flourishing driven by societal values, such as individualism, curiosity, and creativity, which gave rise to a capitalistic the rest here

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Less sugar...reads great

My weekly post on s+'s blog is about an unusual book by the founders of Honest Tea:

Comic Books, Iced Tea, and the Secret to Winning in Business

Once in a while I receive a business book that, like a box of Cracker Jack, comes with a prize inside. I enjoy these promotional gewgaws; often they engage me more than the books that they accompany. Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently—and Succeeding (Crown Business, 2013), which arrived with a bottle of Honest Tea’s Honey Green Tea, is an exception: In this case, I was engaged equally by both.

Mission in a Bottle succeeds for a couple of reasons.The biggest is that its authors, Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, offer a combination of practical experience and theoretical insight that’s atypical of business-book authors. They founded Honest Tea in 1998 in one of the most competitive CPG categories. They grew it to the point that Coca-Cola invested US$43 million for a 40 percent stake in 2008—and eventually bought the company lock, stock, and barrel in the rest here

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Customers are storytellers; companies are storydoers

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs offers a interesting twist on corporate storytelling:

What’s Your Metastory?

The first book I remember seeing on corporate storytelling was Managing by Storying Around: A New Method of Leadership (Doubleday Currency, 1992) by the late David Armstrong, a CEO who practiced what he preached. Armstrong took a time-honored idea—telling stories to communicate, disseminate, and reinforce information—and applied it to promulgating the mission, values, and strategy of a company.

Since then, many authors have written business books about how to use storytelling to galvanize employees and build brands, and more than a few of them have covered the topic in more practical detail than Armstrong—Annette Simmons immediately comes to mind. There are so many business books on storytelling, however, that I tend to give new ones a perfunctory browse and move on (been there, read that).

True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), by Ty Montague, the cofounder of co:collective, a strategy and brand story consultancy, is an exception to my rule. Montague gets right to the chink in the armor of storytelling: Unless the story you tell about your company is true, it is just empty words. And the way you make a story true, he says, is by “storydoing.” Storydoing is telling a story through your the rest here