Manager’s Book Shelf

Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders is a principle L&M subscribes to and devotes time to. Following are some of the books Michael LoBue, CAE, has found useful and thought provoking as a manager.

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense
by: Michael Brooks
© 2008

A book about science might not seem relevant to management, but this one is germane in at least two respects. First, it underscores that even some “truths” that we hold as absolute, are only considered truths because we haven’t explored all the possible conditions of their use. This is a critical notion for all managers to keep in mind, lest we hold our assumptions to be absolute truths.

Second, the manner in which Brooks explores his topics, using what knowledge we do have in a ping-pong like fashion to determine the truth of a matter is highly instructive for a manager.

It’s a wonderful view into the thought processes of a scientist who has devoted his professional life to understanding some of nature’s most complex phenomenon.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

by: Dan Roam
Portfolio (The Penguin Group)
© 2008

It may look like a “child’s book”, but it’s a very serious treatment. If you’ve ever read anything by Edward Tufte on graphical presentations you were probably frustrated because Tufte doesn’t discuss anything about how to approach visual thinking — wonderful critiques, but nothing about how. Roam fills that void in a highly enjoyable and readable way.

This book is not about innovation — it is innovation!

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
by: Robert D. Putnam
Simon & Schuster
© 2000

Along with Democracy in America, Bowling Alone is one of a small handful of must reads for anyone serious about association management in the U.S. It is a deep study of social capital, how it appears in American society and more importantly how and why it has changed over the last half of the 20th Century.

Putnam maintains a level of detachment that brings real power to his research and this account of what he’s learned. He is clearly raising a warning about the changes, but he’s not waxing for a return to the good ol’ days.

Putnam also approaches his subject in a way that makes it very accessible to just about any reader. He divides the book into two parts. In part one he defines his subject and very meticulously presents a normative description of the state of social capital over the last half of the 20th Century and how it’s changed. In part two he approaches those changes like a prosecuting attorney systematically presenting evidence that explains why the changes happened — something of a “who done it”.

by: Bill Tancer
© 2008

Tancer exposes one of the important new tools for understanding what’s important to people — online search data!

While Tancer, and his colleagues, have access to data sets of search traffic that are not available to mere mortals, he was very candid in his descriptions of how he goes about answering questions about trends and consumer preferences. In his final couple of chapters he also reveals some characteristics about how products and services move from alpha/beta stages to fully embraced market phenomenons.

This book is very readable and drove me to rediscover Google analytical tools to run some search-data analysis of interest. This is an useful read for anyone interested in creating a “data-driven” organization.

Democracy in America
by: Alexix de Tocqueville
(Translated by: George Lawrence)
Harper Perenial Modern Classics
© 2006

The book, in any translation, is required reading for any professional manager of a trade association or professional society in the United States de Tocqueville’s observations of the American culture are as relevant today as when he made them more than 160 years ago. His observations are important to understanding the nuances of what might appear to be conflicting characteristics. For example, he observed that Americans were very critical of their politicians, other citizens and perhaps even ‘American traits’, but they were utterly intolerant of criticism from non-Americans.

This is an especially important read for anyone familiar with associations in the United States wanting to “export” the American model abroad. Associations in America are a unique private response to a public issue/need — rather than requiring the permission of government to form, our laws are crafted to make such private responses easy and inexpensive to undertake.

We Americans may have borrowed the European model for associations, but we put such a unique twist on that model, making it dangerous to assume that associations elsewhere are the same. It’s not necessarily better, but it is uniquely American.

For those interested in just a taste of what de Tocqueville observed about associations in a America, here is his chapter (it’s short) On the Use Which The Americans Make of Associations in Civil Life“.

The Dumbest Generation
by: Mark Bäuerlein
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin
© 2007

Based on exhaustive research poring over numerous reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions in addition to historical and social analysis, Mark Bauerlein draws an alarming portrait of the young American mind. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their minds has had the opposite effect. The author decries that most young people in the US do NOT read literature, work reliably, nor visit cultural institutions of any sort. They cannot explain basic scientific methods nor recount fundamental facts of American history, and do not feel the need to. Instead, they spend unbelievable amounts of time exchanging electronically stories and pictures (mostly of themselves), tunes and texts, dwelling in a world of puerile banter andself-absorbed pursuits.

Well written (the author is a professor of English at Emory University), the book is a quick read and in spite of some pontification, suggests how we might address those deficiencies.

The Future of Management
by: Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
Harvard Business School Press © 2008

This ranks up there with some of Peter Drucker’s books in terms of capturing the big picture issues of how management has evolved over the 20th Century, where it probably should go and more importantly why.

The author goes beyond fadish treatments of management in general to examine management innovations. For example, he cites a handful of case studies that pre-date the Internet to demonstrate that the fundamentals at play have been at play for a long time. The Internet has certainly increased the velocity of change, but it’s not the cause.

The Future of Work
by: Thomas W. Malone
Harvard Business School Press © 2004

Malone is well respected as an academic and researcher; this book is not so much about his own research, but a very accessible presentation of important findings in his area of research and his own observations about how work is changing and will continue to change.

His chapter on “From Command-and-Control” to “Coordinate-and-Cultivate” is especially useful in today’s knowledge work environment — particularly applicable to association environments.

Hard Facts – Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense (Profiting from
Evidenced-Based Management)

by: Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton
Harvard Business School Press
© 2006

What a treat to have two well-respected business school scholars and faculty members expose the hypocriscy that most folks working in business today have known for years. One of my favorite exposés is how the Harvard Business Review’s editorial policies prohibit citations, therefore leaving the distinct impression that most (everything?) published in the magazine is a new and breaktghrough idea — the authors point out several specific instances where previous HBR arcticles could not even be referenced to demonstrate that the ideas were not even new to the publication. (And we wonder why these venerable institutions produce unethical business leaders!)

Perhaps the most significant take-away from this important read is that there’s no substitute for creating data-driven organizations, especially since we’re now swimming in data thanks to the Internet. A must read for association managers, in our opinion.

Listening to the Future — Why It’s Everybody’s Business
by: Dan Rasmus with Rob Salkowitz
Wiley; Microsoft Executive Leadership Series
© 2009

This is a worthwhile read because it covers a number of important issues about strategic planning and frameworks for thinking about future trends. It’s an interesting read to learn about the future scenarios Microsoft has envisioned for itself about “the future of work”.

The author(s) can be forgiven for some choppy spots, given the breadth of the subject. There were spots when it appeared as though the target reader had changed, but there was not clear transition. Still and all, it contains some useful concepts and brief case studies that should provoke good discussion within an organization.

A Little History of Economics
by: Niall Kishtainy
Yale University Press
© 2017

This very readable book reminded me that managers/executives and economists have a good deal in common. Both deal with scarcity. Economists study how scarcity of resources are chosen by individuals and entire societies. Economists are concerned with systems that allocate, distribute and use scarcity.

In much the same way, managers are essentially concerned with the use and deployment of scarce resources (e.g., budget, staff, time, etc.) against competing needs and demands to achieve certain outcomes.

Two economic concepts in particular jumped out reading this book: opportunity costs; and salience of loss. Opportunity costs are simply the opportunities one gives up by engaging in a certain activity. If you have two conferences to attend, but can only attend one, what are you sacrificing by not attending one of them? In some respects, this is a trivial matter, but it’s important to always be mindful of the opportunity costs.

Salience of loss — this is as important as it is subtle. Salience of loss tells us that once people have something, they place a much greater value on it than they paid for it in the first place, even when the “market value” hasn’t increased. The point of this is that people over-value things they own AND processes they are accustomed to. Think about this is the context of boards and staff with seemingly unnatural connections to the way we’ve always done them. It’s not that we are simply creatures of habit, but we actually place an inordinate value on something simply because we already have it.

Armed with the new knowledge, I’m going to tackle cleaning out my garage and pitch stuff just because I have it, but don’t need it today or in the future!

[Guide to] Management Ideas and Gurus
by: Tim Hindle
The Economist in association with Profile Books Ltd.
© 2008

This is less of a guide than it is a very readable reference book containing 105 major management ideas, theories and fads of, or influencing, organizations in the 20th Century — and that’s just Part 1. Part 2 is an equally concise and rich profile of the leading management “gurus” of the same era — 56 in all!

This is not the type of book that you’d want to read for an extended period of time. I found that I could handle only a few “ideas” at a time because each description is self-contained and didn’t necessarily connect with each of the other descriptions. Each description is written in a classic Economist’s style: concise, powerful structure and packed full of useful information! Hindle follows his formula well; two pages for each idea and for each guru!

For example, if one has wondered about Six Sigma, the author tells us that it grew out of the work of Joseph Juran (then provides the pages this “guru” is featured in Part 2); the simple essence of the idea, how it was originally applied and how it might be applied today. Each description contains a list of further reading on the topic.

…maybe it is a “guide” after all? A “guide” or a “reference” matters not. Weather management is your interest or profession, this book belongs on your bookshelf and will be dog-eared soon after it arrives.

Race for Relevance — Radical Changes for Associations
by: Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAEASAE: The Center for Association Leadership
© 2011 Coerver & Byers

This book is worth reading for two reasons. First, it contains some good ideas, although they are weakly supported ideas. Second, it seems that everyone is reading it, so you should judge the worthiness of the ideas contained therein for yourself – because some are not fully baked.

One overriding thought occupied my mind while reading just about every page of this book. That overriding thought was: “Well, yes, but it really depends.” From the very generalized language to the overly simplistic recommendations to the case studies, there was no real evidence that their solutions were generally better than alternatives. The weakest idea of all is that five (5) is the optimal size for a governing board.

What the booked lacked was an overall framework for distinguishing one organization from another. Why might have this been important? Because their suggestions probably worked better for one type of organization and not another. For example, some organizations provide a co-op function for a group of professionals or companies in the same market sector. This type of organization is going to be more interested in lowering the average cost for members to access products and services they would otherwise buy on their own (e.g., insurance, marketing services, training, etc.). Then there are organizations that exist to create an impact outside itself, like creating a more competitive market for a line of business, including for non-association members. Or, improving a professional practice.

There may be other ways to differentiate organizations – but differentiating is a must if one is going to get any value out of this book. Too bad the authors didn’t include their ideas on how to do that.

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars
by: Patrick Lencioni and Jossey-Bass (A Wiley Imprint)
© 2006

This is one of Lencioni’s “management fables”, illustrating just how insidiously silos grow within organizations. But there’s good news. There are effective techniques for dealing with the “silo-problem” and Lencioni shares his techniques at the end of the book, which are almost better than his fable.

The story line he uses is clever — a young professional, Jude Cousins, is beginning to build a consulting practice and realizes that he needs a more stable offering upon which to build a business out of consulting. In the course of searhing for a focus, he interviews prospective clients around their problems and discovers a common theme across a very diverse set of organizations, including a small manufacturing firm, a hospital, a hotel and a church.

This is an easy and quick read, but this should not be confused with light or without value.

This book does not apply directly to AMC-managed associations, but it’s not a large leap to recognize the same phenomenon and risks caused by “internal silos” being constructed that separate organizations from the professions or markets they were formed to serve — we can think of this as the “inside – outside silo”.

Simple take-away: “silos are bad for things other than agricultural products
– especially organizations!”

by: Seth Godin
Penguin Books, Ltd.
© 2008

This book is a big thumbs down and it’s not because it lacks useful ideas — it does contain useful ideas — this is a must-miss because the ideas are not new and he doesn’t add any new insight to them apart from the all tired refrain about how the Internet has changed the nature of leadership and now everyone can be a leader, blah, blah, blah…

There’s another annoying and insulting aspect of this book — it’s a 147 pages WITHOUT a chapter break. At the risk of being criticized for being conventional (Who says a book has to have chapters?) — certainly don’t want to constrain someone’s creativity with arbitrary rules — but the point of book chapters is to collect thoughts and ideas in organized ways to improve the delivery and impact of those ideas. Reading Tribes is like drinking from a fire hose after a day of swimming.

Simple take-away: Choose something else to read!

Uniting the Virtual Workforce — Transforming Leadership and Innovation
in the Globally Integrated Enterprise

by: Karen Sobel-Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly
Wiley; Microsoft Executive Leadership Series
© 2008

The topics and discoveries authors Sobel-Lojeski and Reilly discuss in this book are valuable, if not essential, for any enterprise during any economic climate, but they are especially relevant during the current chaotic and uncertain times we all face going into 2009.

I found their work particularly poignent in two important ways. First, that distance is not just a physical condition, but a psychological condition that often exists between workers. And, that these psychological gulfs can have a more significant impact on the results than physical distances.

Second, they present a framework for understanding and measuring these psychological distances in their construct of the Virtual Distance model.

The Virtual Distance Model is comprehensive and comprised of three major parts: physical distance; operational distance; and affinity distance.

Their writing style is easy on the reader and as much for line managers as it is for C-suite executives. For that matter, it also contains useful concepts and practical lessons for entrepreneurs and professional sole-practitioners looking to improve their effectiveness working in teams working in teams within an office or worlds and cultures spanning wide time-zones.

The Venturesome Economy — How Innovation Sustains Properity in a More
Connected World

by: Amar Bidé
Princeton University Press
© 2008

While the major theme of this book is about national policy issues relating to how best to stimulate innovation to drive productivity, it contains equally valuable lessons for executives and managers relating to concerns of the firm.Professor Bhidé bases his analysis on an extremely robust 3-level model of innovation. This model deserves more attention as it clearly expands the dimensions of innovation beyond the typical models, which focus attention, resources and research only on basic R&D where the number of patents filed is the primary metric of measurement.

If there’s one book on innovation to read this year — this is the one!

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
by: Jaron LanierAldred A. Knopf
© 2010

I’ll give Lanier this much — he tries to warn the reader about what’s to come by subtitling this book as “A Manifesto.” He’s clearly on a campaign — a worthy one, I’ll concede. He attempts to draw attention to a deep and systemic problem.

As the risk of oversimplification, I’ll characterize it as this:

An individual or organization acquires a tool for the purpose of productive activities. But instead of the individual or organization using the tool, the tool uses the user or the organization.

To make matters worse, we often don’t even realize that “we’re being used.”

So, if you buy the bit that he’s selling (which I do completely) this may be a worthwhile read. However, be warned. Righteous indignation may be an asset for an advocate wishing to change the world; unfortunately, it can be a liability for an author. In short — this is a much harder read than it needs to be.

He delivers a worthwhile message, and thus it’s a useful read, but unfortunately, it’s not an even or easy read.