Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ditch the pitch

My weekly blog post on s+b explores improvisation as a sales tool, as described in a new book by Steve Yastrow:

Improvisational Selling

I like sales pitches about as much as vampires like garlic. Steve Yastrow clearly feels the same way. In his new book, Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion (SelectBooks, 2014), the sales and
marketing consultant lists some reasons why sales pitches are so often ineffective: They’re all about the seller, they’re monologues, they don’t connect the buyer’s offering to customer’s needs, and so on.

This won’t come as news to most professional salespeople, especially those who sell large-scale, B2B solutions. They already know that delivering a pitch in a warm conference room, with low lighting and a few hundred PowerPoint slides, is more a cure for chronic insomnia than a prescription for sales success. The problem is knowing what to do instead.

Yastrow thinks that salespeople should learn to improvise. In Ditch the Pitch, he applies the principles of improvisational acting to sales conversations. This is a terrific idea: Like improvisation, selling requires being in the moment, listening to what’s being said by the other players, and responding in a collaborative manner to move the process forward.

Although improvisational skills can be a valuable addition to a sales professional’s toolbox, Ditch the Pitch should have come with a few the rest here

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Capitalism's dotage

My weekly book post on s+b's blog covers a book that suggests that business as usual wont be an option much longer:

Fiddling at Davos, as Capitalism Burns
At the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week, approximately 2,500 politicians, business leaders, and assorted experts are considering many of the issues raised by five sociologists in
Does Capitalism Have a Future? (Oxford University Press, 2013). It’s likely that the WEF attendees will end up in a place similar to the sociologists—with a general consensus that the global economy is facing huge challenges, conflicting views about their causes and consequences, and only speculative guesses about possible solutions.

Leading the batting order of solo essays (which are sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion written by the entire author team), Yale senior research scientist and former International Sociological Association president Immanuel Wallerstein asserts that capitalism is approaching a “structural crisis much bigger than the recent Great Recession.” This crisis, he says, will come from a profit squeeze caused by an inexorable rise in the prices of labor and raw materials, and tax rates, combined with political instability. Randall Collins, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks that the primary driving force behind this instability will be the gutting of the middle class as up to two-thirds of the jobs that support it disappear... read the rest here

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dennis Kozlowski's bum rap?

My weekly post on the s+b blogs is about former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who paid an unjustly high price for the crime of losing perspective according to a new book by Catherine S. Neal.

Beware the “CEO Bubble”
After eight years in prison, Dennis Kozlowski is scheduled to be released on January 17. You remember him: the former CEO of Tyco who Time magazine dubbed “Dennis the Menace” during the accounting scandals of 2001 and 2002 (which occurred before the lending scandals of 2008, which
occurred before whatever scandals are currently being perpetrated). In 2005, New York state found Kozlowski guilty of stealing US$97 million of his company’s money, and handed down a supersized sentence for his crimes—eight-and-a-third to 25 years in the slammer and $167 million in restitution and fines. Just about everybody at the time was pleased with the verdict, but, according to Catherine S. Neal, author of Taking Down the Lion: The Triumphant Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), it was a bum rap.

Neal, a business ethics and business law professor at the Haile/US Bank College of Business at Northern Kentucky University, became interested in Kozlowski after reading case studies of the Tyco scandal. She contacted him with questions and spent 30 months studying his case. Her conclusion: “The evidence in the case speaks for itself. I do not believe Dennis Kozlowski committed any crimes. I do not believe he ever intended to commit any crimes.”

So why did Kozlowski go to jail?... read the rest here

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The 7 best books Bill Gates read last year

Bill Gates (he's looking good, isn't he?) published a list of the seven best books he read in 2013. No fiction and heavy on the university presses. Here they are, with Gates' notes:

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton, 2006), by Marc Levinson. You might think you don’t want to read a whole book about shipping containers. And Levinson is pretty self-aware about what an unusual topic he chose. But he makes a good case that the move to containerized shipping had an enormous impact on the global economy and changed the way the world does business. And he turns it into a very readable narrative. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.

The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention (Random House, 2010), by William Rosen. A bit like The Box, except it’s about steam engines. Rosen weaves together the clever characters, incremental innovations, and historical context behind this invention. I’d wanted to know more about steam engines since the summer of 2009, when my son and I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Science Museum in London.

Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature (MIT, 2012), by Vaclav Smil. There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil. Here he gives as clear and as numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere. The book is a bit dry and I had to look up a number of terms that were unfamiliar to me, but it tells a critical story if you care about the impact we’re having on the planet.

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (Viking, 2012), by Jared Diamond. It’s not as good as Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. But then, few books are. Diamond finds fascinating anecdotes about what life is like for hunter-gatherers and asks which ones might apply to our modern lifestyles. He doesn’t make some grand pronouncement or romanticize tribal life. He just wants to find the best practices and share them.

Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It  Cornell, 2013), by Morten Jerven. Jerven, an economist, spent four years digging into how African nations get their statistics and the challenges they face in turning them into GDP estimates. He makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it. But as I argue in my longer review, that doesn’t mean we know nothing about what works in development.

Why Does College Cost So Much? (Oxford, 2010), by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman. The title is a question that seems to get more attention every year. The authors are good about not pointing fingers but instead talking about how America’s labor market affects the cost of college. My view is that as long as there’s a scarcity of college graduates, a college degree will be quite valuable. So people will pay more to get one. And if they will pay more, then colleges and universities—whose labor is provided mostly by people who paid a lot for their own degrees—can ask for more. Until you get an excess supply of graduates, then you don’t really get any price competition.

The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future (Yale, 2013), by Paul Sabin. Sabin chronicles the public debate about whether the world is headed for an environmental catastrophe. He centers the story on Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, who wagered $1,000 on whether human welfare would improve or get worse over time. Without ridiculing either proponent, Sabin shows how their extreme views contributed to the polarized debate over climate change and other issues that continues today.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A study guide for wannabe thought leaders

My first weekly book post on s+b blogs for the new year covers two new books about thought leadership:

New Year’s Resolution: Become a Thought Leader

Having been a laborer in the business of thought leadership for a couple of decades, I’m always curious
to see the rankings of management gurus that appear around the end of the year. At the end of 2013, the most conspicuous list was the biannual Thinkers50—the high-profile brainchild of entrepreneurial U.K. journalists, and past s+b contributors Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer—which produced a flurry of nomination solicitations from wannabes, and gracious, self-promoting thanks from the happy winners.

You’re probably familiar with most of the people on thought leader lists like the Thinkers50. These are folks—Clayton Christensen, Rita McGrath, Marshall Goldsmith, et al.—whose names pop up regularly in the business press, convention brochures, and business book bestseller lists. But how did they become thought leaders? And if you aspire to become more influential in your company, in your profession or industry, or in the marketplace, how can you follow in their footsteps?

There are a number of books on content marketing, but there is a surprising dearth of books that are aimed straight at would-be thought leaders. (Well, perhaps not so surprising: if you know how to become a successful thought leader, you’re probably too busy becoming one or working for someone else who wants to become one to write a book about it.) But in the last couple of months, I received two books that fill this specific gap on the bookshelf... read the rest here