10 Best Business Books I’ve Read This Year

I’ve read a lot this year. Maybe…too much. (gasp!)

With so much good information out there, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to consume it all. But just like with food, wolfing it all down as fast as possible doesn’t make for good digestion.

What really matters is what we do with what we read.

So here’s a short summary (in no particular order) of the 10 best business books I’ve read recently.

But don’t add them all to your reading list. Instead, just pick one – whichever one you think will give you the best chance to change your life for the better. And then go and do what you learn.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

The ethos of this book is similar to what I just said. You’ve got to focus if you want to get more out of your time. Fractured attention hurts the quality (and Cal argues, the volume) of your work, and as science has shown, is bad for your brain. So after making a case for why you should focus, Cal gives some practical advice for how to do it. Thankfully, he doesn’t tout a one-size-fits-all approach. He suggests 4 different ones for us to experiment with, depending on our own personal circumstances.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

A critical reading of this book will reveal a number of issues, but nevertheless, it’s a classic with relational techniques that have now become common knowledge. The principles are quite sound, though in hindsight we can see how some of them can be twisted by less-than-conscientious salespeople. But the straightforward, folksy how-to approach is endearing, and it’s good to be reminded of implicit knowledge by having it spelled out once in a while.

Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

Are you a Multiplier or Diminisher? It’s something easy to spot in others, but sometimes we need someone to ask the hard questions for us to be able to see it in ourselves. Multipliers amplify the intelligence of those around them. Diminishers drain the intelligence, energy, and capabilities of others. Lest you answer too quickly, this book is a gut punch to help you really see what you’re made of, and what you do to those around you.

Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

This book describes the findings of one of the largest sales studies in history, and how it bucks the conventional wisdom on who makes the best salespeople. It describes 5 sales profiles (Hard Worker; Lone Wolf; Relationship Builder; Problem Solver; Challenger), and shows that the top performers were overwhelmingly situated in the Challenger category. (Not the Relationship Builders, as was supposed.) What do Challengers do that sets them apart? In a nutshell, they teach, tailor, and take control. If you want to learn how to do that, read this book.

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

It’s not a business book per se, but a it’s a good reminder about how business is part of the larger ecosystem that is our world. The book reads a lot like a biography, but in many ways it is a biography of Yvon’s company, Patagonia. It reveals the company’s values and how dedication to such values can turn a company into so much more for its employees – a cause they can believe in.

Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert John Rose

Marketing doesn’t have to be a cost; it should be viewed as an investment. But brands are now taking it a step further and using marketing as its own revenue generator as they embrace providing valuable content and not just widgets. Whereas traditional marketing was about describing value, today’s content marketing is about creating value. Successful business is largely about building an audience and then consistently creating value for that audience. That’s what content marketing is all about.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Here’s another book about focus. It’s about doing less, but better. We do so many things each day, but how many of those things would you deem really and truly important? Not many. Ultimately in life, you get to choose what you want to expend your time and energy on. So you might as well spend it on things that are important to you. Of course, there are problems associated with every choice you make. But the real question is: Which problems do you want?

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

People are drawn to story. It’s how we make sense of the world and our place in it. That’s a powerful thing. But most brands aren’t thinking about that. And if they are, they are too wrapped up in being the hero. But customers don’t want a hero; they want to be the hero! Don’s book shows brands how to connect with that desire in a way that translates into huge returns.

The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman

There’s no shortage of management books, but what I like about this one is that it is simple and practical. It’s based on the claim that managers are responsible for two main things: results and retention. It then describes 4 basic behaviors (one-on-one meetings; feedback; coaching; and delegation) that managers should perform with their direct reports to these ends. The book has some good instruction on how to start implementing these tools, and is a good starting place for aspiring managers.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This book hinges on the idea that you are what you do, and if you want a better life, you need better behaviors. About 40% of what you do is on autopilot. These are your habits, and they are made of 3 things: cue, routine, and reward. The book shows us that we can replace ‘bad’ habits with ‘good’ ones by simply changing the routine. In other words, the same cue, plus a different routine, can still give us the same mental reward. Yeah, but what about willpower? You can build that as a habit as well. You’ll have to read the book and try it out to be sure.

So there you have it, a little taste of the best business books I’ve read this year. Pick one, read it closely, and apply what you’ve learned before you even think of picking up another one.

Don’t Be an Ass. Take The Kindness On Purpose Challenge.

I used to be a news junky. I mean, I was seriously addicted. All news. All networks. All the time. I was consuming information quickly and frequently. Most of it sensationalized. All of it monetized. It was as though I was watching a tragic Shakespearean play unfold before my eyes. Each headline more insane than the previous. Nations at war, politicians infighting, and people killing one another for seemingly no reason. I had seen too much. I hit a wall and realized it was time for me to step away from the computer before I started to believe mankind was a lost cause.

It’s been years since I burned myself out on the news, but every now and again I see something that makes me wonder why some people are just so damn mean. Today, while picking my children up from daycare I watched a lady repeatedly bump her car door into mine. No biggie. The spaces are small, and the damage was minimal. I let her know I was going to move my vehicle so she could have more room to get her child situated. As I pulled my truck into another spot, words poured from this mother’s mouth that would make a seasoned barkeep blush. It seems what I thought was a kind gesture, was offensive to her. She was furious and it was pointless for me to explain that I was simply trying to help. Perhaps she thought I was calling her to the carpet, and that made her feel disrespected in front of her son. Or, maybe she was in a hurry and me moving my vehicle further exacerbated the anxiety felt by time slipping away. Either way, she unleashed a verbal lashing on me.

We humans are silly creatures. We’ve cloned organic matter, perfected flight, and can, occasionally, predict the weather. However, we’ve yet to master our pride, and our pride again and again causes us to be disrespectful to or feel disrespected by others.

So, what does this have to do with websites or software or video production or business consulting? Well, nothing. And everything. While we may not feel like we can do something as grand as get the political right and left to realize they’re individual parts of the same body, or bring peace to nations who’ve been at war for generations…we can. But, let’s start small. Treat those in your sphere of influence with kindness. Everyday. No matter what. Sometimes you may get a verbal lashing, however more often than not you’ll motivate others to be kind to those they encounter.Without kindness we’d all be devils. As business leaders, we have an opportunity to share kindness with people in many stations in life. At Greyphin, we’re going to spend the next 30 days trying to out-love those in our world. It may improve our revenue, it may not, but it will certainly improve the lives of those we encounter.

Take the Greyphin Kindness On Purpose Challenge today. Post pictures of you or someone you know committing intentional acts of kindness to your social media platforms with the hashtags #Greyphin and #KindnessOnPurpose.

To Be or To Do?

“To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” (Col. John Boyd)

John Boyd, considered by some to be “the most influential military theorist since Sun Tzu,” would pose this question to his mentees when confronted with major life decisions that pitted institutional success against their values. For Boyd, deciding to be was about focusing on institutional success, becoming part of the club, being somebody. But to do was about doing the right thing, doing things that make a difference, and being true to yourself.

This is an idea that feels familiar to us. It’s the dilemma of Faust. It’s the temptation of Christ. It’s Robert Johnson at the crossroads. It’s a real thing that most everyone has to confront at various points in their lives. And many choose to sell their souls. I mean, just this week I was confronted with a situation of this sort, and it was a harder decision than I’d like to admit.

For those of us interested in living moral, principled lives, it’s easy to see the potential pitfalls of success. If the classic cautionary tales aren’t enough, celebrity gossip columns are there to remind us. It’s etched into our social psyche. But what is a bit more difficult, is to see the dangers of “being a good person”. There aren’t many cautionary tales written about that. So let me explain.

Most of us want to be a good person. But our actions don’t always line up with our stated values. We give ourselves a pass because, well, at least we’re trying. In a thousand different little habits, we compromise, believing that it’s a few big things that really set us apart from “bad” (or lost, or misguided, or whatever) people.

That’s why some people would never vote Democrat (or Republican) no matter how good a particular candidate’s ideas or track record is. They could never bear to be associated with those commies (or fascists). That’s why others would never drive a big new SUV, even if it got better gas mileage than their old VW bus. How would that look to my freegan friends? It’s also why many people shy away from giving honest feedback. We don’t want to “be mean”.

Sometimes it’s harder for us to care about the actual impact of our choices than the perceived meaning of those choices. Even when it’s goodness we’re shooting for, we often prefer (to appear) to be good, rather than to do good. Col. Boyd’s question still applies.

Consider this analogy.

Swords are made from steel. Swords are made to kill. I don’t want to kill, or be associated with those who do, so I’m not going to use steel.

You can see the breakdown in logic. But what’s less obvious is this: If I don’t use steel, then I’m giving up dominion over steel to those who want to use it to make swords to kill people. If I really care about life, I’ll do what I can to wrench that power from those who use steel in that way. I’ll buy mines and steel mills. I’ll buy the swords (gasp!) myself.

And then I’ll beat them into plowshares.

I’ll reimagine the use of the steel and thereby redefine its meaning into something life-giving. If people want to lump me in with my opponents in the meantime, so be it.

Screw being good. Do good.

Respecting Others, Part III: Information

Welcome to our last post in our Respecting Others series, where we’re examining oft-overlooked ways of disrespecting those around us. In our first two posts we discussed stealing people’s time, and unleashing upon them our poorly prepared communication. In this post we’ll look at disrespect through withholding information.

Now before we get started, let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not saying that there is never a legitimate reason for withholding information from someone. I’m not talking about: secret recipes, magic tricks, nuclear proliferation, or your coworker who’s way too open about his bunions, for example.

I am talking about information that is pertinent to the shared goals of a group of people. Withholding that kind of information is disrespectful because it undercuts team members’ abilities to make decisions toward the shared goals. At work, there are few things more frustrating than having responsibility without the resources to carry it out. Withholding information takes away a valuable resource.

As a leader, you can’t afford to do that, especially because the goals they’re working towards are your goals. Not only is it disrespectful, it’s counterproductive.

It’s a classic power move that leaders mistakenly make with their people. The thinking goes something like, “Having all the answers got me to the top. I can’t just make my knowledge public. That will endanger my authority!” While that may be appropriate in terms of your competition, you’re not competing with your employees.

This fear-based move creates classes of citizens within an organization (those who know vs. those who don’t), and that breeds a culture of secrecy and doubt that is often at the heart of deep divisions, malcontent, and bickering within a company. The withholding of information becomes a sort of modus operandi for employees dealing with others outside of their “class”: managers to their teams, or this department to that department, for example.

The key here is to remember that we are a team and that our shared goals are best met when we’ve got what we need to make informed decisions.

Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is respectful.

If you’re interested in real strategies for incorporating transparency into your company’s DNA, give us a call at 843-249-6588. And don’t forget to check out greyphin.com.

Respecting Others, Part II: Communication

We’re always communicating. Our actions, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, syntax, and yes, our words all communicate something to those with whom we interact.

As we saw in our first post in this series, one of the most common ways we inadvertently disrespect others – disregard for their time – is based in actions that communicate that we don’t care about others’ priorities or perspectives. That may not be our intention, but it is indeed what we communicate.

The same thing happens with verbal communication. We may not “mean” to disrespect others with a certain message, but we can do so all the same, especially if our message is poorly prepared. We’ve all been there: a knee-jerk outburst before we’ve heard the whole story; a terse or snarky email reply to a coworker’s honest question; a hastily written report full of errors. These all communicate a lack of respect.

Each form of verbal communication has its own pitfalls. Spoken communication (especially of the face-to-face variety) is fraught with the dangers of instantaneous emotional expression. It’s much harder to collect our thoughts in the moment when we are in front of someone. It’s easy to get all riled up or to ramble on in a stream of consciousness more associated with our feelings than logical thought.

However, the additional nonverbal tools and immediate feedback available to us in in-person interactions do have the benefit of keeping us more cognizant of how our messages are received. If we happen to be calm, this can help us mitigate, in real time, any unintended messages and correct any misunderstandings.

Written communication, on the other hand, suffers from the loss of (almost) all of the nonverbal cues. That inherent lack often leads to a miscommunication of our meaning. While we may know this instinctively, we seem to get confused (or upset) when someone doesn’t “get” what we were going for. How many times have you thought that if a certain message was spoken instead of written, how much lost time, unnecessary back and forth, confusion, and hurt feelings could have been avoided?

Yet, written communication carries its own inherent benefit. It usually takes longer and thus, allows us more time to collect our thoughts. Sometimes that’s enough to diffuse any emotions we might have unleashed in the moment (a certain presidential Twitter account notwithstanding), but only if we are intentional about it.

So whether you are speaking or writing, a little preparation and empathy will go a long way. Here are a few tips to help keep your workplace communication respectful and goal-oriented.

  • Try not to communicate when you’re angry. You may think that you’re merely informing your direct report that she needs to turn her paperwork in on time so that other departments don’t fall behind, but chances are your red face (or triple exclamation points) are communicating something else (that she’s lazy, incompetent, etc).
  • Don’t leave your audience guessing. Be clear. When talking/writing about subjects that we know a lot about, it’s easy to overcomplicate it. Resist the urge to sound impressive by sounding confusing; that’s disrespectful. For written communication, a good rule of thumb is to write in such a way that a 5th grader could understand it. Connect the dots for your audience.
  • Consider your audience’s perspective. They come with their own experiences and perspectives, and to disregard them makes them feel talked at rather than talked to. Your audience may not have the same background information that you do, and therefore may not understand how you arrived at the conclusions you did. Imagine being in their shoes, and then think about what you would want to hear.
  • BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. While not appropriate for everything, it’s a great go-to for many workplace communications, especially written ones. Give your audience the key takeaways at the beginning and then any supporting details after that. This is great because it is clear and gets to the point quickly, wasting no one’s time. It is up to the reader, then, to decide whether they need more detail or not. How respectful is that?!
  • Prufreed…

Respecting Others, Part I: Time

We all deserve respect. Sometimes giving it’s easy. And sometimes it takes a bit of self control. But, often it’s more complicated. You don’t have to be downright mean to disrespect others. Frequently we do it without even knowing. This is the first blog in a series of three, written to uncover often overlooked acts of disrespect.

‍‍‍So where do we begin? With time. Time is one of the only resources you can’t earn or buy more of. (And if you follow our blog you’ve probably already realized we’re seriously obsessed with it.) There are only 24 hours in a day, and if you want to maximize them you’ve got to spend them well. This is particularly difficult to do if those around you are spending them for you. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • The Yapper. Years ago, I worked next to a kindhearted woman who, unfortunately for her, happened to be a great listener. You see, her listening skills attracted frequent and unsolicited conversation from me, and her kindheartedness prevented her from telling me to, well, shut it. But thanks to my newfound mindfulness habit (I owe you one Headspace), I’m now self-aware enough to realize I was spending her time without her consent. It’s funny really. I regularly saw her rushing around at the end of the day trying to cram two hours of work into 20 minutes, yet I felt no responsibility for her stress. I wasn’t malicious, but I was oblivious.
  • The Flake. I have a few people in my life who are non-essentialists and as a result are perpetually tardy. This would be fine if they operated in a vacuum. But they don’t, and their tardiness frequently leaves me scrambling so that I don’t do the same to someone else. These non-essentialists are not only spending their time poorly, they’re spending mine poorly without my consent. Time is money, and time is experience. I regularly leverage my time to provide both material and experiential possessions to my family, therefore my time is very valuable to me.
  • The Over-committer. We all periodically run into people who struggle with overcommitment. You know the ones. The every day is a “yes day” person. For these over-committers saying yes is easy, but scheduling all of the yeses isn’t. They’re chronically double and triple-booking themselves. Sadly, the people closest to the over-committer are the ones left holding the proverbial check, and the only accepted form of payment, is their time.

When we spend someone else’s time without their consent, it’s a subtle and socially tolerated form of theft. We don’t go around stealing money or possessions from others, yet we feel justified in stealing the time they use to procure their money and possessions. Many of us have been unaware of the way we’re disrespecting those around us. But now we know, and according to an animated G.I. by the name of Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.” And, the other half is…stop stealing people’s time!

You Don’t Want to Be The Best

I know that you say you want to be, but you don’t know what you’re saying.

If you’re the best, well, then that’s all you have to look forward to. You can only hope to maintain your status. And if your focus is your status, you can’t really expect to grow because you’re always going to be diminishing, stifling, or downright fighting the efforts of others. But you won’t last long. Self-preservation can’t compete with the hunger of those that want to get better. You only delay the inevitable.

Because there is no top. There is no ceiling. Only an expansive universe that beckons us to keep going higher. If the thought of not being the smartest one in the room, the top performer in your field, or even the coolest of all of your friends bothers you, then you are going to be the limit of your sphere, the ceiling of your universe. You shrink the world. And that’s depressing.

So you don’t really want to be the best. You want to be better. But in order to keep getting better you can’t be afraid to make others better than you. Your true value is known through how you influence positive change in those around you. The real benefit of being better than others is that it affords you the opportunity to do just that, but only if you refuse to settle for position over progress.

Because we are inspired by those better than us. We are reminded that more is possible than we originally thought. A 4-minute mile was seen as impossible until May 6, 1954, when Roger Bannister did it. Now, there have been over 4800 sub-4-minute races. There was a time when doing the splits on the balance beam was considered amazing. Now gymnasts do complex aerial maneuvers on the beam…every day. Getting better is not be about ego; it’s about evolution.

That’s why I’m not discouraged by others being better than me. I’m encouraged that better is possible. If I am afraid to make others better than me, then I am afraid of a better world. The only way to make a better world is to help others get better, and if that means “better than me,” so be it. I am thankful that there are better people, that there are people who can do things I can only dream of, because they inspire me.

Do you want a better you, a better team, a better company, a better world? Invest in expanding the world, in pushing the limits of human achievement. Expand our vision of what is possible by refusing to settle for position over progress. Making others better, making the world better, is far more powerful than being the best. It is motive force.

Best is a period. Best is terminal. But better is a story. Better is eternal. Better is better than best.

So, if you’re a leader, don’t think that only you can inspire your people, or that only you have the answer. If you can get over your need to be the best, and really give yourself to bettering your people, the greatness they can achieve will inspire their peers in a way that you may never be able to. And if you can celebrate that, rather than feel threatened by it, you can be more than the best…you can be good.

There’s No Time to Waste

How many of you just can’t seem to get everything done? It’s not like you’re not doing anything. I mean, you’re doing lots. You’re running from place to place, expending tons of energy, and to the outsider, it looks like you’re getting loads done. But, what do you have to show for it? Well, besides several unfinished tasks, a super stylish frazzled look, and a fractured attention span?

Not much. Here are a few practical tips to help you, actually get stuff done:

  • Recognize time is a limited resource. Unless you’re Hiro Nakamura, you only have 24 hours a day.
  • Keep a rolling task list. Task lists are great for the psyche. Setting small goals and meeting them has been known to help ward off depression (hmm… I smell a future blog). At Greyphin, we use a handy little task management software called, Trello. Check out this sample task list.
  • It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s great. Prioritize your time. It is yours, after all.
  • Now that you realize your time belongs to you, figure out how you’re spending it. You may have heard your crazy and budget obsessed cousin Clark say, “Give every penny a job.” Well, it’s time you give every minute a job.
  • Be honest. Now that you’re giving every minute a job, be real about the amount of time it will take you to complete each job. For example, you know it’s going to take you longer than 30 minutes to get you and your kids ready for the day. Yet, you still appear perplexed when you roll into work 10 minutes late, everyday. Stop it. You wouldn’t lie to others, so don’t lie to yourself.
  • Estimate better. Make a list of all the stuff you have to do from the moment you wake until you have to be at work. Assign each task a completion time. Add up said time, and then multiply it by your fudge ratio. What’s a fudge ratio? I’m glad you asked. Steve Pavlina, personal growth expert, has created this magical fudge ratio to help people get more done and stress less. According to Steve,

…if you estimate that a certain list of tasks will take 12 hours to complete, but they really take 15 hours, then your fudge ratio is 15/12 = 1.25. This means it took you 25% longer than expected to complete the tasks…My average fudge ratio is about 1.5. This means that whenever I make an off-the-cuff estimate for how long a task will take, on average I’m too optimistic; the task ends up taking about 50% longer than my initial guess.

  • Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. Literally schedule your day. This means put every commitment in your calendar. If you don’t have a calendar, get one. We recommend Google Calendar. Once you have all of your commitments in the calendar, you can use any remaining time slots to take care of the items on your task list. When your time slots are used up, you’re done.
  • Repeat. Sounds tough, right. It’s not as tough as you might think. With technology provided by the many calendar applications on the market, you can set your habitual tasks to repeat.

Anywho, I’d love to stay and chat, but it’s not in my schedule. Cheers and happy scheduling!

You Don’t Have Time For Balance

You don’t have time for balance.

That’s right. You heard me. All that stuff about how you gotta balance your work life and home life is garbage.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of the two of you reading this, one of you is saying, “Y‍‍‍eah! That’s right, man. I’m never gonna get anywhere if I take my foot off the throttle. Work while the other guy is sleeping. That’s how I get ahead.” And the other one of you is saying, “Hold on there, buddy. I have a family. Balance is important. I refuse to be a workaholic, gain-the-whole-world-lose-my-soul kind of guy.”

You’re both missing the point.

Reader number 1, I like your drive, and you’re right to an extent. You’ll probably get ahead…for a bit. And then you’ll burn out. People don’t come back from burn-out.

But more importantly, I don’t think you know where you’re even heading. Sure, you’ve got a goal. But since you don’t even have time for sleep, you most assuredly don’t have time for reflection. Because if you did, you would realize that you’re just trying to prove to that voice in your head that you’re not a loser after all. Good luck with that.

Reader number 2, you’re a little more self-aware. You understand that life is more than just amassing accomplishments. You have good intentions. Kudos. But it’s your fault that we’re having this whole balance discussion in the first place.

Now, I understand why balance is such a popular concept. When we think of a balanced person we think of someone steady, even-keeled; someone who won’t embarrass everyone at family gatherings. We don’t want to be “extremists”, after all. I can get behind that. But the problem comes when we try to actually apply balance to our lives.

Think about it. How do you become more balanced? Well, you start by thinking of some area in which you feel like you’re a little too [whatever]. Then you try and be less [whatever]. But you have to be careful, lest you become too [whatever-is-the-opposite-of-what-you-started-trying-to-avoid-in-the-first-place]. So balance isn’t really a thing. It’s just not being two opposite things. It’s avoidance.

Let’s look at the example that started this whole thing – work:life balance.

You don’t want to be a workaholic (you’ve got a family you want to spend time with), but you don’t want to be ineffective, or seen as (gasp!) lazy. So in order to find balance, you teeter back and forth as you try varying proportions of work:non-work time allowances. But regardless of the proportion, you find yourself sometimes feeling guilty about still being at work late at night, and sometimes feeling guilty for not answering your work phone while your kid tells you about her day at school.

Just gotta find the right balance.

That’s no recipe for success. That’s a recipe for guilt, no matter what you do.

And you know what else? It’s not inspiring. No one says, “You know what I’m passionate about? Balance.” Because it’s not a thing! We want to be something, to do something meaningful. We don’t want to just avoid bad attributes.

“Ok, ok. I see your point,” says Reader 2. (Reader 1 already stopped reading long ago; he had a meeting.) “But what do I do, then? If not balance, then what?”

Exactly.

You haven’t answered that question. You haven’t decided what it is that you want; you only have some absolutes about what you don’t want. You’ve got to take some time and describe for yourself the life you do want. Then, do Toyota’s famous “Ask why 5 times,” to get to the root motivation. Once you know where you’re going and why, then you can make decisions about how much time or effort you devote to this or that, with greater clarity and resolve.

Continuing with the work example, you can think about how your work fits into the broader vision of your life. Rather than asking yourself questions like, “Is it lazy to stay home this Saturday?” or, “Is it overworking to go in?” you can ask, “Will working this Saturday do more to contribute to, or detract from the life I want?” That’s a very different approach, much less binary and way more 3D.

So forget balance. Live in 3D.