Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Business Books

I have recently read three business books that have really opened my mind about the worlds of work and business. They are:

1. Good to Great by Jim Collins

also - www.jimcollins.com

2. Raising the Bar by Gary Erickson

also - www.clifbar.com

3. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

also - www.thelongtail.com

All three books made me do a re-think of some of my core beliefs about business and work.

In Good to Great, Collins ( who's wife I should say, for the triathletes reading this, is Joanne Earnst - one of the top triathletes in the early days of the sport) talks a lot about getting the right people on the bus, and not worrying so much at first about what seats those people are in or where the bus is going. In an ideal situation, you want to have a bus load of absolutely amazing people, that are extraordinarily passionate about working for the betterment of that company. Thats all they want to see - the company moving forward. The problem is so many companies fret a lot about who is in what seats and where they are going. We seem to live in an age of specialists - and a generalist, who may actually be better over the long term get s, shunted aside while specialists keep getting on and off the bus. As you can imagine this takes up an extraordinary amount of time and energy and many companies fiddle and fiddle with this, to get all the right people in the right seats on the bus. Then their is the direction - where are they going. Again, many companies choose the direction first, and then try and assemble the right people to get there. When Collins believes it should be the other way around - get the right people on the bus to begin with, and they'll figure out where they are going and they'll know how to get there!

In Raising The Bar, Erickson first talks about turning down a $120 million dollar offer from a large multi-national food company to buy Clif bar - a company he had founded. Many thought he had lost his marbles! Who in their right mind would turn down such money? But to Erickson it was about more than money, it was about proper stewardship and the ultimate direction of something that he created. The easy option was to take the money. The more challenging and ultimately interesting choice was to keep it going and see where he and his team at Clif could really go with it. Erickson's key metaphor was the the red road or the white road - as a keen cyclist, wwhich would road did he prefer to ride on? The red roads are the big super highways. The white roads were the meandering back roads. If you know maps, you will know what Erickson is talking about . I'm a keen cyclist. I know exactly what he is talking about. The message and the metaphor was clear as day for me. Like Erickson, I am always looking for the white road to ride on - it's way more interesting ride. You see more. You are challenged more. In the end, you gain more. It's not without it's risks. The road may turn to gravel. Or their may be no place to get water or food for many miles, if at all. and lodging and mostly anything you need every 10 - 20 miles on most super highways or interstates. Business is better on the white road. Every day can and is an adventure, but you feel way more fullfiled when you reach your goal(s), because you know that it's, for the most part well earned and you have done it un-supported and under your own strength and skill.

Anderson's Long Tail is a bit different. It's an explanation of a transition that is underway, that many are perhaps not that tuned into - if you will excuse the pun. The example and metaphor is the music business and how it has been completely and totally transformed by the internet. Years ago Top 40 pop music played on radio ruled. The big record companies kept churning out those top 40 hits either from known bands, or manufactured bands within the big record companies/labels that were almost guaranteed to be a hit. The internet changed all this. The biggest music retailer in the U.S. now is Wal Mart, but Wal Mart can only sell a small percentage of the total amount of music that is out there. Predictably, Wal Mart sticks to tried a true hits, and a few select artists who every one knows. What if you are into Ambient Dub? Good luck finding anything like this, such as music, of say Thievery Corporation, on the shelves at Wal Mart. You will not find this sort of music or artists in Wal Mart - but you will find it at Amazon.com or a number of pay-per-down-load sites such as iTunes, or free down load sites such as Limewire or Web based social music sites such as Imeem.com, because all of these online sites are not restricted by shelf space and distribution costs, like Wal Mart is, they give you access to not several thousand CD's and tunes, they give you access to millions of tunes!! - voila, you are out in the Long Tail looking for that Ambient Dub tune, by Thievery Corporation. And guess what, all these niche and obscure choices out in the Long Tail, they add up to 50% of the total sales on site such as iTunes - about equal to all the top 40 hit tunes that are sold! As I said many are totally unaware of this transition and transformation of the way we do things, but it's underway and here to stay and is already transforming they way many companies both big and small market and sell their product(s).

I know in terms of how I source the new music that I am into, and want to listen to, that I now do this in the Long Tail. I gave up listening to Top - 40 radio years ago. Now I source new music from reviews that I read on-line or suggestions for songs, and artists, or albums from other people's play-lists on sites such as Imeem.com Or even blogs like this, that talk about music and review new CD's. Or notice how I am endorsing and reccomending these three books via my own blog. The book publishing business has been transformed by this as well, says Anderson in the Long Tail and blogs are key to getting reviews and information!

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