Business Books

The Business Books That Make Me Smarter

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the email newsletters that make me smarter. Today, I want to share some of the business books I have read and loved, and learned from.

Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury.

An oldie but goodie, this book was published in 1Roger Fisher981 and is almost as old as I am. It is still the best book on negotiations that I have read, I go back to the five propositions on a weekly basis:

  1. “Separate the people from the problem.” (watch out for emotion, make sure the negotiation builds the relationship, instead of destroying it)
  2. “Focus on interests, not positions.” (what are they really asking for?)
  3. “Invent options for mutual gain.” (grow the pie)
  4. “Insist on using objective criteria.” (commit to a real conversation)
  5. “Know your BATNA.” (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)

Love Is The Killer App by Tim Sanders. 

Other than the amazing title (the world needs more love), I return to this book almost daily for the way Sanders suggest we treat others in the workplace. Every day, I try to be a “lovecat.”

How? By sharing my knowledge, my network, and my compassion and love. Because, “Those of us who use love as a point of differentiation in business will separate ourselves from our competitors just as world-class distance runners separate themselves from the rest of the pack trailing behind them.”

Good To Great and Built To Last by Jim Collins.

From Good To Great, I go back to the idea of the bus: get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to drive it. Not necessarily the other way around. “First who, then what.”

From Built to Last, I go back to the acronym BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I ask myself, is my BHAG big enough? It is clear and compelling enough?

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg explains habits as cue, routine, reward. He also explains that you can’t stop or extinguish a bad habit, but you can work on the cue and the reward, and thus change the routine, change the habit.

The concept of keystone habits (the habit that makes every other good habit easier) is also eye-opening.  

On that same topic, on my reading list next is Atomic Habits by James Clear.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

I love lists. But am I using my various lists in the most impactful, efficient manner? This book is about how to create the right checklists, and how to use them to save lives (in hospitals or in the airline industry for example) and make businesses work better. I read it twice, and still feel like I would learn more by reading it a third time.

The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma.

There are so many lessons from this book, I wrote a separate blog post on it after finishing it. It is a reminder to think about our thinking. Indeed, as Sharma puts it, the “one thing that makes us fully human is our ability to think about our thinking.”

Think about your thinking. And read books that help guide, improve, challenge, grow your thinking.

What are your favorite business books?

Great by Choice

The ISPA (International Spa Association) 2012 Conference has begun, at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Florida, and the theme is “Be Inspired.” This comes at a great time, I am feeling the need for some re-motivation and inspiration. Last time ISPA was at the Gaylord Palms was in 2007. Walking in to the lobby last night made me think about how long these past 5 years have been, and at the same time how quickly time passes by. Am I where I thought I would be five years ago? Probably not. Have things changed in the past five years? More than I could have imagined. Have some things stayed the same? Indeed…

Who better to inspire me than one of my favorite authors, Jim Collins. Five years ago at ISPA 2007, he spoke to our industry about the principles of Good to Great, he motivated us to be great, he told us that “good is the enemy of great.” Five years ago, after his talk, I started my “stop-doing” list. Today, looking not a day older, Collins spoke to our industry again. Today, he focused on sharing the lessons from his new book, Great by Choice, which looks at the best practices of those companies that have thrived over the last five years, those companies that have thrived in chaos.

Collins, who takes an extremely data driven approach to analysis, focused on three practices that have enabled companies with level five ambition to thrive in chaotic times, to grow during a recession, to get better during tough times.

1. Fanatic discipline

“Discipline is a 20 mile march, which enables consecutive, consistent performance.” Great companies are not about one fabulous quarter, about one peak performance year, but are rather about delivering consistent, consecutive results, over and over again. This takes discipline and commitment. This 20 mile march requires the discipline to march even in the worst weather, i.e. the discipline to move forward even when the market conditions are poor. This 20 mile march also requires the discipline to march, not run, when the weather is balmy and the market is soaring. Indeed, Collins tells us, “the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” Fanatic discipline enables consecutive consistent performance.

But discipline alone is not enough… great companies must also create and innovate, even in chaotic times.

2. Empirical creativity

However, both great and not great companies innovate… how do they innovate differently? Great companies are more empirical in their innovation. Great companies test and are data driven. Great companies prove something small before making it big. Collins compares this to shooting bullets before bringing out the cannonball. Bullets are the test… once the test is successful, cannonballs come out.

The combination of fanatic discipline and empirical creativity, Collins muses, “gives you something to do when you get up in the morning, even if you are scared.” These have been scary times, and this system enables leaders to not be paralyzed by fear. Get up, do your 20 mile march, shoot your bullets. Indeed, asking the audience to raise their hands if they have feared for their business at some point in the last five years, most hands go up. At least we are honest!

3. Productive paranoia

Collins seems pleased at the hands shooting up in the air. Productive paranoia, he says, is another characteristic of the companies that have weathered the storm. “The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive…” so it is essential to survive. To do that, you must worry about what can kill you, and channel this worry and knowledge into preparation, and training, and buffers. “Always worry about the facts that have not yet happened,” Collins encourages us. And remember that “bad decisions + good intentions = bad decisions.” Don’t let fear paralyze you. Use fear productively. Use fear to create a better company.

4. The twist: luck.

Collins ends by speaking about luck. Isn’t it true that a significant part of success is luck? Aren’t the successful companies “luckier” than those who don’t make it? Collins defines luck (good or bad) as an event that:

  1. I didn’t cause
  2. Had a potentially significant consequence (good or bad)
  3. Came as a surprise

Having identified events of luck or unluck, Collins studied the data. And the data shows that great companies are indeed not luckier than the average company. Average companies are not unluckier than great companies. Indeed, the explanation of success is not luck. Rather, the explanation of success is what you do with the luck or unluck that you get. Do you use lucky events as a defining moment? Do you use unlucky events to learn and become even better?

Collins’ conclusion: “Success is not a matter of circumstance; greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

Today, I choose to be great. And I thank ISPA and Collins for the inspiration.