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Not all Business Books are Created Equal

Quick, what’s the difference between a book and a doorstop? The answer: nothing, if the book’s not well-written.
Here’s a list of ten books that have changed the way I think. I consider them must-reads for 2007. These are whack-on-the-side-of-the-head good. Some are practical, some are theoretical. If you haven’t read them, fire up your computer and start ordering. If you have, this is the right time for a refresher.
And why not do something different with your books? Open one at random and read just a page. Or do a timed reading for ten minutes. Start from the back and work forward. Whatever you do, reframe your perspective and give yourself a different viewpoint. Consider this mental cross-training that will pay off when you’ve got complex problems to solve.
1. Why Service Stinks… and Exactly What to do About It!
By T. Scott Gross
Gross knows how to hook business readers with great titles and an incredible sense of humor. More important, his book delivers when it comes to being a complete customer service guide. As he says, “Customer service is a product!” Highlighting stories that outline exemplary server-customer relationships, it provides the reader with model approaches. He also serves up customer horror stories you won’t forget, along with simple remedies that could have prevented Titanic-like disasters. We can all improve our service level, and Gross (a customer service expert) shares ways we can encourage customers’ ongoing appetite for exceptional service. This book also appealed to me due to its focus on research and quant. Most books in this genre stick to the qualitative, but neglect to back it up. The 80 thinking points will change your view of service forever.
2. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
By Chris Anderson
This book burst on the scene last summer with incredible fanfare and caused great debate. Where it applies might be debatable, but this is not: the long tail is the fundamental business model, now and for the foreseeable future. Alternatives provide consumers with a huge number of opportunities. The demographic pie used to be sliced in four pieces. Now we can access thousands of what I call “digital splinters.” And each splinter, properly cultivated–can become a material opportunity. Marketers will lose if they fail to use the technology available and take this model to heart. That 91-year-old buying Nikes next to you at Macy’s? She just may be the geek babe with an Angelia Jolie-like avatar who flamed your blog last week. Anderson shatters several old concepts on the way to developing a thesis that every business person should read.
3. Hard Facts
By Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton
Just as you’d expect of two business and engineering profs from Stanford, Pfeffer and Sutton are so hard-boiled they could star in the old TV series Dragnet. Their premise? Just the facts. Their evidence-based marketing and management debunk many modern management practices. Yes, you read it. Many of your cherished assumptions are nothing more than myths. This is a painful read–we find out that pay-for-performance doesn’t work and wide pay ranges between top and bottom performers are related to poor financial results. They emphasize the importance of teams instead of the “star” system and refrain from the feel-good solutions that often indicate business authors are positioning themselves to “cross the chasm.” Credible and real.
4. The Must Have Customer
By Robert Gordman
Gordman states what I’ve long found to be true in business: success is there for the asking. Building on the notion of the alpha customer, he supports the notion that influencers, early adopters and mavens are critical to your success. Specific examples using “A” list companies such as IBM and Berkshire Hathaway illustrate the points he makes. The steps themselves are simple, the failure comes when companies don’t execute properly. This is a C-level read by someone who has no patience with poor management practices. He’s totally correct when he states that businesses don’t die suddenly, but incrementally from bad decision-making that chases away customers and profits.
5. Army of Davids
By Glenn Reynolds
Your world is about to be rocked by one of the most important books I’ve read in the past quarter. Reynolds explodes anything you’ve studied previously about segmentation, with huge implications for marketers and their products. It’s clear that great change can be championed by the common man. This marks the birth of a new class of entrepreneurs–people who take on big media, terrorism, and practice cyber-self expression. The exact opposite of the Eisenhower years, Reynolds describes a world where the individual matters more and more.
6. The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth
By Fred Reichheld
Reichheld backs up his claim that customer satisfaction is the most important business criterion except profits. The detail behind the simple premise supports his allegation that ongoing focus on customer satisfaction creates “good profits,” while short-sighted executives frustrate and disappoint customers, creating “bad profits.” While the supporting cases could be more compelling, this book supports a culture of customer satisfaction.
7. Six Hats
By Edward de Bono
Ignore the ego and read de Bono because this well-written book has something important to say about the questions we ask and the meaning of the answers we receive. This is the detail and prepared thought that leads to questions that illuminate. His framework–six “thinking hats” of different colors–provides multiple ways of looking at issues. For example, wearing the black hat you view risk, under the green hat you think of alternatives, and under the yellow hat the view is positive or optimistic. Whether thinking about defining opportunities, defending markets, delivering products or optimizing your business, this method should provide great benefits.
8. Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win
By William C. Taylor and Polly G. LaBarre
A compendium of the in-depth experiences of 32 companies, this book is the result of a great deal of primary research. Taylor and LaBarre investigated what went on in the corridors of a research facility, at sensitive monthly meetings, during company awards ceremonies and even listened to employees brainstorming on the streets of Manhattan. This book is relevant if you’re interested in finding out more about the power of business at its best. And because we’ve experienced business as a forum for service, innovation and complex problem-solving, we think this is a transformative book. If you’re interested in the future of business, you’ll want to read Mavericks.
9. Wikinomics
By Don Tappscotts
When Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, says that reading this book can help you understand the opportunities presented by people collaborating outside traditional hierarchical boundaries via the Internet and wikis, we listen. The velocity of information is increasing massively as the Internet enables low-cost sharing and collaboration. Wikis have the potential to revolutionize the way we work. Read it and deploy wikis to leverage team productivity.
10. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
By David Allen
A favorite of Merlin Mann (43 Folders), and I’m inclined to agree. The purpose of Allen’s closed-loop system is to free your mind. It’s a new year–follow the Two-Minute Rule: if you have something that must be done that will take two minutes or less, get it done right away. Cut your stress while gaining immediate closure. His terminology might be over the top, but the concept isn’t. Get organized–then get going.

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