16 posts categorized "book reviews"

December 22, 2011

The College Degree Myth

SchoollessEducational institutions have it all wrong. 

If you go to college, you will earn more money than if you did not. College admissions departments send collateral that show increases in income levels for those who earn degrees. Teachers, undoubtedly with the best intentions, hoping to find something that will motivate their students to learn the material they're being taught, repeat the same chorus: "If you don't pay attention now, you will not be able to go to college. If you don't go to college, you won't be successful."

They ask you to look the other way when they teach you about people from this august list.

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Abe Lincoln
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Thomas Edison
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Michael Dell

None of them earned college degrees. All were brilliant. All were succesful. And in case it's not clear from the list, several in the group had to overcome modest -- even oppressive -- circumstances of their youth to achieve great things.

There may be an explanation for this. In his classic book, How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff suggessts that the premise of the statement is the child of a post-hoc fallacy, that presumes that because many people who have degrees are successful, the degree must have caused it.

"Actually we don't know but that these people are the people who would have made more money even if they had not gone to college. There are a couple of things that indicate rather strongly that this is so. College get a disproportionate number of two groups of kids: the bright and the rich. The bright show good earning power without college knowledge. And as for the rich one... well, money breeds money in several number of ways. Few sons of rich men are found in low-income brackets whether they go to college or not." 

People like Lincoln, the Wright Brothers, Douglass, etc., weren't stupid on account of their lack of a degree, and they weren't self-made men. They were "Open-Source Learners" -- people who tapped into the resources of their age to improve their understanding about how some part of the universe works.

How much more should we in the 21st century, who can write and talk with and see people halfway around the world in an instant -- for next to nothing -- be able to improve our understanding of how some useful part of the universe works, and with the tools at our disposal, put it to good use?

A little background

My brother Gannon ran into a motivation wall when we were kids. Convinced by the world that he needed to go to college to be successful, once he got it into his head that he could neither afford college nor earn a scholarship, he lost hope, checked out mentally, did as little as he thought he needed to in order to stay eligible for sports and bided his time until he could graduate and join the Marines.

And he was smart. One semester in high school, he dedicated himself and got straight As. Just to prove that he could. After having accomplished that, not believing the effort was worth it, he fell back to Bs, Cs and Ds.

Since then, I've watched his very intentional transformation from a amatuer hobbiest illustrator to a master craftsman. (You can follow some of his work on his blog). His skill can't be chalked up to superior genetics or fancy schooling. It is a product of reading, collaboration, and 5 years or 10,000 hours of practice.

How to Pursue a Degree Without Going to College

In his book, Schoolless (Available on Amazon in paperback and for the Kindle), Gannon doesn't argue that college isn't useful repository of excellent learning tools, or that people should eschew a college degree... Rather, it is a celebration of alternative learning strategies that don't cost $27,000 (the average cost of a 4-year college degree in 2005).  

Wondering how you're going to possibly send your kids to college? Lost hope in ever getting a degree without a mountain of debt? The good news is that you have options. There's still time to get this book for Christmas! Do it today. - Cam Beck


November 19, 2009

The Value of Y-O-U

Value_based_fees Recently I read Value-Based Fees: How to Charge and Get What You're Worth by Alan Weiss. I've coveted this book since I wrote Innovation by the Hour last year. After I worked through my rather large (and growing) stack of reading material, I finally was able to get my hands (and eyes) on it, and I am glad I did! (Thanks to Lisa for the recommendation).

Many, if not most, people in service industries bill for time and material. This is problematic in industries whose output includes ideas, for who is to say when (or on whose dime) ideas were generated? Who owns the idea formed in an employee's head if it never sees the light of day?

Weiss argues that the problem is far more pernicious. Many of the headaches involved in consultancy or agency relationships stem from a systemic flaw in their billing methods. Weiss says it plainly: It's "simply crazy" for consultants to base fees on time and materials. When you sell value and do your job correctly, you maximize your margin while ensuring the client feels like they got a bargain.

That is the definition of a "good deal."

The book is well-written, memorable, and at times shockingly honest. Weiss says he's glad his accountant hasn't read his books, because he'd pay a lot more if he had to pay for value, not for time and materials.

He also practices what he preaches. The Kindle version of the book, which obviously does not require printing or distribution fees, is still $32, which is much more than typical new releases sell for on the Kindle, and not much less than the printed version, brand new. This is because Weiss is selling an idea and techniques to implement it, not paper and ink.

That idea in the book is worth the same regardless of the method in which it's distributed. And if you're currently billing by time and material, at $32 or $100, it really is a bargain.

The Supply and Demand of You
Weiss claims that "There is no law of supply of demand in the consulting profession." What he's referring to is that the fees you charge should have nothing to do with your supply of hours in a day, week, month or year.

However, as Weiss himself iterates elsewhere, there is only one person in the universe who is the product of your education, skills and experience. The supply of you is exactly one.

The question, then, is what is the demand for that product? It depends on what value you mutually establish.

  • What are the client's business objectives?
  • How will success be measured?
  • What results can you deliver against these objectives and metrics?

You, as a product, may be of significant value to a client, regardless of how much time you need to spend on a project, as long as you are willing to believe in your value enough to make yourself accountable to actual, measurable results. Do the work necessary to educate the client and establish agreement on what your goals are.

Then you can both come away confident that you've been successful at meeting those goals. The client will feel like they got a bargain, and you will come away knowing you've been adequately compensated for your expertise.

Pick up the book today. You'll be glad you did. - Cam Beck

May 21, 2009

The Root of All Failure

41RBEd9N6YL._SL500_AA240_ A funny thing happened to Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great & Built to Last) on his way to write his next book on companies that survive economic turbulence. A bunch of great companies he profiled in his previous two books started going belly-up or experiencing major problems, and he had to write another book just to address the crisis. Collins remarks in his preface, "I considered setting this piece aside until we'd finished the turbulence book, but then the mighty began to fall, like giant dominoes crashing around us." Take a look at the material he had to work with.

Circuit City. Bankrupt. Liquidated. The brand name and web domain was recently bought by the parent company for CompUSA at a reported $14 million price.

Fannie Mae. The harbinger of a major lending crisis so severe that it sent shockwaves throughout the entire global economy.

Hewlett-Packard. Experienced considerable difficulty trying to keep up with the dot-com bubble and lurched about for a bit before (as of this moment) recovering.

In his new book, How the Mighty Fall, Collins set out to identify the qualities that characterize a once-great company that fails. Although he doesn't claim causality, he wonders if a fall can be predicted and avoided if the company recognizes it's in one of the first four stages of decline.

Stage 1: Hubris born of success
Stage 2: Undisciplined pursuit of more
Stage 3: Denial of risk and peril
Stage 4: Grasping for salvation

Some companies realize they're in stage 4 and are able to recover. Others proceed to Stage 5: Capitulation to irrelevance or death.

But how do you know it's coming? And more importantly, how do you turn things around? If you thought, like I did, that great companies fail because they become complacent and lazy, you'd be just as wrong as I was.

"I've come to see institutional decline like a staged disease: harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. An institution can look strong on the outside but already be sick on the inside, dangerously on the cusp of a precipitous fall."- Jim Collins

As is probably true with most failures, the companies analyzed here failed because they were arrogant. They were arrogant because they were successful and they remained arrogant because they had been successful in the past. (See related post: The Marketing of Conceit)

The good news is all is not lost. And Collins discusses how and why some companies recovered.

There is a lot to appreciate about this work.

The first thing I noticed is that Collins doesn't claim that any one thing causes a fall and he explains why he is unable to do so. Also, Collins doesn't claim to be unbiased. He's human, he says, and it's difficult to erase any preconceived notions he had about companies.

However, unlike some other brilliant and popular authors, he takes great pains to explain the methodology he used to minimize bias and to identify the characteristics that precipitated the fall of great companies. This way, there is no magic box. The reader can judge the work and analysis on its merits.

Even so, like his other books, this work is supremely readable and informative. It's relatively short, so a motivated student can read it in a single sitting. I read it in two.

Whether you're a big company wondering what you can do to stay relevant or a small company wondering what principles characterize great, lasting enterprises, you can't buy and read this book quickly enough. I highly recommend it. Buy it today. - Cam Beck

February 16, 2009

Are creativity and intelligence at cross purposes?

In my inaugural post on the  new Click Here Blog, I wrote about the potential applications of business intelligence in interactive marketing.

By design, I didn't delve too deeply into the relationship between creativity, defined in the way marketing agencies typically define it, and intelligence, defined in the way business managers typically define it. However, that topic has been on my mind pretty much since I started writing here at ChaosScenario.

The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive, but one would strain credibility to deny the tension that exists between the artistic license that often passes for creativity and the requirements created by real-world business problems set by market conditions.

Part of our problem is language, and another part is cultural. Perhaps our definition of creativity has been too narrow.

As you ponder how you define creativity, pop on over to Alan Wolk's post, "Does Creativity Still Matter." - Cam Beck

January 09, 2009

Nothing is free. Not even this headline.

When David Armano describes the "Gift Economy," he rightly puts the word "free" in quotes. He does so, I suspect, because he realizes, like economist Milton Friedman said, "There is no free lunch." More accurately, nothing finite is free. But what we have in infinite abundance is worthless.

Love is free. Commitment is not.

You could say, for instance, that love may be infinite and therefore can be free.

But if I say, "I love my fellow man," yet do nothing to demonstrate that love with my time, what value is it for me to say "I love my fellow man?"

This website is not free.

You may think that this website is free. It isn't. 

If you've gotten this far, you're voluntarily paying me with your attention, and for that payment you probably expect to see or read something entertaining or enlightening.

If I don't deliver, you may be reluctant to return.

If I do, you may subscribe to this blog's RSS feed.

Your attention is valuable.

And lest you believe I don't value your attention, know that between last night and this morning, I probably spent about 45 minutes thinking about this morning's post. I'll also take another 30 minutes or so to write it, given time for editing and proofing.

This says nothing at all of the time I continuously spend trying to improve the veracity of my thoughts or the manner in which I can deliver them in order to gain and keep your trust.

How to love your customers

When you say you love your customers or clients, do you mean it, or do you simply value the revenue stream they represent?

We value money because it is scarce and because it allows us to buy other things that are scarce, but time is the great equalizer. Some people have more money than others, but each of us has the same number of hours in a day.

And we're all going to die one day.

Therefore, the first way you should show your customers you love them is by respecting their time.

If you're not going to help them make their time more enjoyable (and don't overestimate your ability to do that with marketing fluff), help them use their time more effectively. Stop treating them as if their time -- or their loyalty -- is free.

It isn't. Nothing is. Not even this closing sentence. - Cam Beck

April 18, 2008

A Whack on the Side of the Head: A Review Fit for a Fool


A Whack on the Side of the Head
How You Can Be More Creative
Revised and Updated (2008)

by Roger Von Oech

Buy it on Amazon

As is my custom, because I received this as a review copy and I'm recommending it, I will buy a copy of A Whack on the Side of the Head for the first person NOT named Roger von Oech who comments on this thread, as long as it can be shipped via Amazon.

This policy is in place so that you know that if I say a book is worth buying, I really mean it. - Cam Beck

March 05, 2008

The Road to Great Success is Paved with Miserable Failures

D9ae2dfe44a94fc4b141ed1602b97b93img I just finished a wonderful book called New Ideas from Dead CEOs. The book, written by Todd G. Buchholtz, is at times irreverent and witty, at others poignant, but it is always insightful. The author examines the lives and careers of 12 different CEOs and what made them successful. He concludes that they are united by one common thread: failure.

Sam Walton franchised a five-and-dime and, in spite of being beholden to an unfavorable franchising contract, turned it into a successful business, only to be denied a renewal of his lease, because the property owner was overcome with a sense of nepotism and wanted to give the proven real estate to his son.

This gave rise to his desire to be free from artificial and arbitrary restraints set by others, and he eventually became the world's richest person.

Walt Disney was conned out of the right to use one of the first characters he created. He since developed a company that became notorious for ferociously protecting its trademarks and copyrights.

Having toiled in poverty for a good portion of his early life and career, one of his finest creations, Walt Disney World, is now the largest single-site employer in the U.S.

Ray Kroc, a high school dropout,  built a business by convincing companies that sold shakes and malts (such as Walgreens) that using paper cups instead of glassware would increase their sales volume. Kroc further helped their businesses by devising a contraption that would allow them to make multiple shakes at once.

World War II and a slew of other factors caused orders for his machines to slow to a near stop. When he happened upon a couple of brothers in California selling quick lunches (and shakes!), Kroc saw an opportunity to transform the way Americans saw lunch.

Though he may have too hastily signed a contract detailing the franchising opportunity, he never relented in his pursuit of his dream, and after more than five years of quality management and trying to make ends meet (assuming enormous debt to buy out his less ambitious business partners), McDonald's started making a profit, and eventually served "billions and billions" of burgers that, at the time, far exceeded the standard fare of the day.

Additionally, Kroc's franchise terms were much more favorable than his competitors, and he favored the working middle class, who had a stake in their store's output.

Mary Kay Ash was a dedicated wife until her first husband, just home from World War II, decided he wanted a divorce. She remained a good mother throughout her life, but having been thrown into the role of breadwinner for her kids, she became a savvy businesswoman trying to be successful in a world where men were preferred and where her success was often punished.

The woman whose name would become synonymous with facial cleansers, makeup parties, and Pink Cadillacs defied all expectations of the bankers who refused her along the way by fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in women looking to make a few extra bucks or those looking to build their own empires.

I would be hard-pressed to pick any one CEO examined in Buchholtz's book who I admire more than any other, but if pressed I might have to toss a coin to decide between Mary Kay Ash and David Sarnoff, the patriotic immigrant who not only founded RCA and revolutionized entertainment, but who was also instrumental in creating the communication plan that allowed the Allies to coordinate D-Day in World War II.

All of these CEOs, as well as the others examined, had to leap hurdles so high that most people would not have bothered to try to overcome them. Most people would quit and resign themselves to working for someone else.

These CEOs did not point to their failures as an example of market failure. They did not ask anyone else to solve their problems. They simply assessed the situation and worked tirelessly to find a way to add more value to others than anyone else could.

They tried. They failed. They got back up and tried again. We can all learn a lesson from their sense of responsibility and their tenacious spirit. We would do well to remember that we can only fail when we do not learn the right lessons from that failure, and if we stop trying.

Buy the book. You will not be disappointed. - Cam Beck

January 29, 2008

Book Review: Letting Go of the Words

Lettinggo Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works
by Janice (Ginny) Redish
With foreword by Steve Krug
Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
Buy from Amazon

Writing for the Web is not like writing a college term paper -- or even print ads. It takes understanding what your audience is seeking when they come to your website and presenting it in a manner that allows them to find it easily. Letting Go of the Words is a brilliant, easy-to-read book that explains how you can write usable copy for projects of any size.

Redish writes about the difference between the three major types of pages and what should be on them (and what shouldn't).

  1. Home pages - Often, but not always, the front door for a company's website.
  2. Pathway pages - Pages that are necessary, intermediate steps between where users are and what they're looking for.
  3. Information pages - Where users find the information they need.

She also gives useful advice on

  • Focusing on your essential message
  • Making your design easy to use
  • Using lists and tables
  • Using headings and illustrations effectively
  • Writing links that get clicked, and perhaps most importantly,
  • Fitting this all into a process that allows you to set expectations and meet deadlines.

Anyone involved with building websites (or writing blogs) can find value in this book. I learned a lot from it, and I think you would, too. I strongly recommend it. - Cam Beck

December 21, 2007

eBook of the Week: Money for Nothing

Most blog-aware marketers already read Seth's blog, so you don't need me to tell you that Seth released a new eBook called "Money for Nothing (and your clicks for free)" (PDF) that explains how to attract and retain visitors to your website.

This book isn't really groundbreaking, and it reads like one big advertisement for Squidoo. But because 1) I like Squidoo, and 2) I like Seth, I'll go ahead and plug the book anyway.

As is often the case, Seth is very good at communicating something you feel you already know so clearly that he makes you wish you were as good as he is at communicating it.

Seth says there are three keys to attracting traffic. He calls them "The three U's."

  1. Useful
  2. Updated
  3. Unique

Like I said - Nothing groundbreaking... But he also hits on an important point near the end when he says,

Most people online are trying to solve a problem. They want to know something or find something or buy something. They want to meet someone or learn something. A useful lens solves their problem. It gives them a sense of meaning, helps them understand what’s what.

Note what they're not doing. They're not online to solve your problems. They have no desire to just "figure out" a difficult interface. It's your job to make the interface easy. As Jakob Nielsen says, most users are "selfish, lazy, and ruthless." They are not sympathetic to the behind-the-scenes backfighting that kept you from delivering. They care about the result.

It is the result, not the intent, that builds or destroys your brand. - Cam Beck

October 23, 2007

Book Review: The Elements of Persuasion

Eop_2 When I finished reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, the only thing I thought was missing was more detailed instructions about how to tell a story, especially since a story often encompasses all of the other elements of a sticky message. What I really wanted was a step-by-step guide to tell a story that people will remember -- a magic bullet that would give me the tools I needed to consistently deliver effective and convincing messages. When I received an offer to review The Elements of Persuasion by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman (blog), a quick bit of research uncovered that this might be the piece of the puzzle I so desperately wanted. Unfortunately, the Holy Grail of books about storytelling is going to have to wait, but The Elements of Persuasion, as part inspiration and part practical advice for telling stories, will remain top-of-mind useful instruction for years to come.

There is a lot to like about this book. The most salient points are made when the authors tell the stories that make the points arguing for the acronym on which the entire book is premised.

Stories are best when the narration is inculcated with passion. Ultimately the idea is to imbue the person hearing the story with emotion. This is unlikely if the story is told devoid of passion.

A hero grounds the story and gives us someone to relate to. The authors use both corporate spokespeople like Michael Jordan and politicians like Ronald Reagan to make their point about the role of heroes in crafting effective and convincing stories.

No one can be a hero unless he has something to defeat. This can be another human, or it can be a disease, an animal, an accident of geography, or simply wrongheaded thinking. Defining the antagonist wrong can kill your cause.

This is when the hero realizes what he must do to overcome the antagonist. This is the epiphany he has before he takes action. In super-sappy films, this is when the lead character he realizes he has been in pursuit of the wrong woman's heart, or when the hero finally puts together all the clues that will lead him to the killer.

The authors describe this point as the one needing the least explanation. It is simply when the hero achieves what he wanted. If we look beyond this for a moment, we will see that it can also be about the hero achieving what he needed. The moment of awareness the hero had, for instance, might have changed the object of pursuit. However, we implicitly understand what we all ultimately need self-actualization (according to Maslow), even if we don't understand what will get us there.

I have only two gripes about the book.

The first is the authors' use of the "5 elements" as a metaphor to make their point. This may have a profound effect on someone else, but it was entirely lost on me, and a bit distracting. I understand the double entendre with the word "elements," but making this connection with Fire, earth, air, water, and ether makes it seem like they're just trying too hard.

The second deals with a major theme in their book (I call it "major" because it came up several times, not because the authors spend a lot of energy making an argument for this premise). The authors claim that stories are "facts wrapped in emotions." However, anyone who has ever read about a persistent urban myth knows this to be false. Stories need not have anything to do with facts, but they can instead be used to manipulate emotions to serve both good and nefarious purposes. To the authors, the blame lies with the emotions that wrap the facts, but history shows us that many times they are built with the lies in order to manipulate emotions.

When taken in the context of the entire, book, though, these issues are fairly minor. On the first point, they don't spend much time arguing for their metaphor, and on the second, as long as you realize the self-evident point that powerful stories can serve both great truths and great lies, you don't need to dwell on this for two long before focusing on the meat of the book, from which some wonderful insight can be drawn.

Buy this book
Although I did receive a free review copy, in order to maintain my objectivity in providing a recommendation, I bought a copy of the book and gave it to John Keehler (blog). I did so in order to convince you of this point:

If I say a book is worth buying, I really mean it.

If you are interested in learning how to tell persuasive stories, this book can help. It is peppered with wonderful examples that are truly inspirational, and when you put them up against the principles taught in this book, you will come away with a greater understanding about why they work, and how to implement them in your own work. - Cam Beck