Category Archives: Reading

Service Economy

I attended a seminar the other day from a group that was offering a new service to businesses and business professionals. I admit that my attendance was more at the urging of a friend who played upon our friendship to get me to go than any specific desire on my part to attend a seminar of this sort. I don’t usually go to these things. I usually prefer root canals to seminars. However the lure of a “free” lunch in exchange for having to listen to the speakers, and the fact that I was reminded by my friend that I had agreed to go a couple weeks earlier was enough to swing the deal.

I should have known. I think most of you can guess where this is going.

I’ll start with the lunch. It was your typical buffet set up. Not too bad. Most of us understand the idea of getting in line and taking our turns walking by the assorted warming trays and selecting the ingredients for our meals. That is most of us with the possible exception of those that are prompt enough to get in the front of the line.

Why is it that the people in the front of a line need any kind or urging to actually do what they got to the front of the line to do in the first place? I guess they just wanted to be at the front of the line. They didn’t actually want to be first to get their food, sit down and eat. Didn’t they realize that by slowing the line down at the onset that the follow on effect would be that every subsequent function, including the after lunch speakers, would also be delayed.

Wait a minute. In hind sight that might not have been such a bad thing.

Come on, people. I was here for a lunch and some enthralling discourse, not to stand in line wondering why those in the front weren’t holding up (pun intended) their end of the bargain and getting a move on. Step up and take control of the situation. We are supposed to be business leaders.

After almost ten minutes of standing around, a slight nudge and a direct suggestion (Why don’t we get started with lunch?) by some obnoxious loud mouth (I couldn’t say who. Really…) somewhere back in the line, lunch got started. It is here that I should have reinforced one of the rules I had learned at previous buffet lunches.

If you have to ask someone what the contents of a buffet lunch warming tray are, if it is not readily apparent just by looking at it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your plate and try to eat it.

As I said it had been a while since I had been to one of these things, and I was hungry. After all we had been standing in line almost tem minutes. The response to my tray contents question did not include the words “poison” or any other items related to “inedible”, so I gave it a go. It did not go well. I ended up eating the rice, vegetable medley and a roll, all of which were easily identifiable at the outset. I had to go back and get butter for the roll. I have my standards when it comes to breads.

My friend (the one who insisted that I go to this thing) informed me that he was a vegetarian so it seemed that he was able to avoid my food selection miscue. His lunch plate contained no mystery ingredients. It seems these events are scheduled monthly and he has attended them in the past. If he had been a true friend he would have suggested my conversion to the vegetarian life style before lunch.

So it was on top of the delicious, nutritious and filling repast that we then embarked on the actual reason for the meeting. We were going to listen to a couple of people tell us about a new service that they had put together. I could hardly wait. It was going to be good.

Now I always try to simplify things. It just makes it easier for me. If it is simple I can rapidly come to the determination if I think it is useful or has value. It took me a while listening to them talk and rereading the handout to figure out what their service was.

They were offering a service where they would read the management trends and directions books on the management book (I really didn’t know there was such a thing) best seller list and provide the subscriber of their service a synopsis of each one. Really.

The netted out value was that you still had to read (their synopses), you just didn’t have to read as much.

I had to give them points for creativity and trying to figure out a way to monetize their love of books and reading. I enjoy books and reading too. But there are some books that even I have a hard time reading.

“Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce is probably at the top of that list. It’s over six hundred pages long. It took him several years to write the base story and then more than a decade to obscure it in a variety of dialects, images and allusions as to render it almost unreadable. I am not the only one that feels this way about this book. You can look it up. It took a few weeks of dedicated effort for me to get through it, and then when I was done I had to additionally read one of those literary analyses books about it just so I could understand what it was that I had actually read.

The rest of the books on my personal “Hard to Read” list are comprised almost entirely of business management books. Their titles are basically interchangeable and don’t really seem to matter. They are usually on the list because of their content, not their style.

It is George Bernard Shaw who is usually attributed as the author of the phrase:

“Those who can’t do, teach”

I would be so bold as to extend this with the corollary:

“Those who can’t teach, write”

If these business management book writers were so good at business management, why aren’t they captaining businesses themselves and being successful implementing their own ideas? But I digress.

My point here is have we really reached a point in a service based economy where we need a service to read books for us and provide us with their views of the salient or important topics of each book?

Now I think we have had this in the past. There was a set of “books” called CliffsNotes. They could be purchased at just about any bookstore (this is in a dark historical period before Amazon and eReaders, where books were actually composed of paper). These short booklets contained the summaries and salient explanations of many different literary works. In today’s vernacular they would probably be known as Lite Books along the same lines as Lite Beer. All the literary enjoyment, but much less reading.

They were primarily purchased by students that were too lazy to actually read the entire book they were assigned to read, yet still had to pass a test on the book in their English class.

In reality I am not so sure how I actually feel about this new service in our serviced based business society. I am strongly in favor of reading and enjoy a broad spectrum of topics and genres. However I am not particularly in favor of reading management self help books as they all strike me as being somewhat derivative of the previous generations of these instructional books and the authors haven’t quite learned yet how to compensate for this shortcoming with incremental entertainment value.

Yet further on the other hand (since we can’t have three hands) is the fact that the service actually reduces the amount of reading that one would have to do if one actually desired of such management instructional input. This would result in less time actually wasted on reading these books.

I guess the bottom line is that the value of this service depends on the value that each person ascribes to management self help books. If you are a devotee of them, then here is a way to increase the number of them that you become aware of with the same reading effort as a synopsis is shorter than the actual book. If you are not, then it is just a shorter version of something you wouldn’t have read anyway.

Either way, I think next time I’ll make my friend buy me lunch.

The Crowd

At one point in time or another we have all wanted to be part of the “in crowd”. However we usually don’t want to be a “face in the crowd”. We know that “two is company, but three is a crowd”. We usually don’t like to be crowded in or crowded out. When we do something good it may be referred to as a “crowd pleaser”. The crowd is part of our lexicon, and it normally refers to the everyman or average person.

No one really wants to be average. We all want to some extent to be different. This is a way in which we are all alike to some extent. I try to encourage everyone to read. This act in itself will separate you from the average crowd. Not enough people read anymore. The more you read the more you will separate yourself from the crowd. I think this is a good thing. Our businesses and our society seem to be predicated on the addressing of the crowd, not the individual. There are several books on group and mob dynamics. I encourage everyone to find one and to read it.
There are some very interesting aspects on the way crowds are managed (ever here of the phrase “crowd control”) and the way crowds behave. The crowd, on average is easier to get money from and to manage because they like, and in some instances want to believe what they are told. If you want to be a leader you have to understand this and step away from the average crowd.

Leaders start being leaders by first not thinking as they are told. As trite as it sounds, they think for themselves. The information that we get about Pay Day Loans, Vitamins, Exercise Devices and all sorts of Weight Loss Diets is designed for the average group. This is information for people who want to believe that it is easy to get money, get healthy, and get in shape or to lose weight. It isn’t. Unfortunately for them it usually takes work, dedication and effort. People who do not continue to read and who do not continue to educate themselves will believe all sorts of outlandish claims and will subsequently be separated from their money in return for the easy promise of these items. They will be managed and as they grow they will become managers, not leaders.

This “think for themselves” standard applies to leaders in business as well. They learn to think for themselves. They understand where the information they are receiving comes from and why it is formatted and presented in the manner it is. They recognize who is providing them the information and what their goal is in providing it. It doesn’t matter if it is an individual contributor presenting their monthly report or the Chief Executive Officer presenting the corporate quarterly report, they both have a message that they want to convey and an objective they want to achieve aside from just presenting the information. That message doesn’t invalidate the information being received; it just adds another facet to it that must be considered.

Leaders form their own opinions. They don’t get them from the same place that the crowd does. They don’t get them from thirteen second sound bites on television. They don’t get them from one source. They don’t get them from news papers, magazines or the internet. They create their own. Leaders look at both sides and sometimes multiple sides of a problem. They strive to understand the supply side as well as the demand side of the issue. They understand what they want to do, but also try to understand what others want to do as well so that when both of their “wants”, sometimes competing and sometimes complimentary interact, they are ready.

Today the average person in business has been educated to one relatively higher level or another. This education is usually the product of our various educational institutions and systems. These institutions have a prescribed path and set of requirements that were probably developed many, many years ago. It is a tried and true formula that for the most part we are all the product of. It worked well when the process was put in place and it continues to work, right? I am sure that we are all comfortable knowing that the world, and more specifically business has not changed substantially since our educational curriculums were developed.

In case you were wondering, that was just a little sarcasm. Possibly just slightly more than a little.

If institutional education was the only key to success, why is it that new graduates, fresh out of college with their newly minted college degrees are not immediately made executives and put in positions of authority in business? The answer is pretty simple. It is because they have a lot to learn.

The average college degree indicates that its holder is capable of applying themselves toward a long term goal, working multiple years toward it, and actually achieving it. More importantly it indicates that the person has demonstrated the capability to learn. The average college graduate then enters the business world and seems to stop learning. They have been conditioned to expect that they already have learned all the information they will need, or that the information they need to learn to be clearly and cleanly presented to them. This has rarely been my experience in business. Leaders understand that graduating from college is the educational equivalent to an admission ticket to the major league business game, and that the real learning about business is just about to begin.

The average employee looks to receive assignments and fulfill them. They look to be told what to do, and what needs to be done and what is expected of them. Their belief is that by doing what is expected and what is asked of them they will advance. This is what was required of them in their educational institutional experience, and that seemed to work out pretty well there. That may be the eventual case for managers, but they will not ever lead in business by taking that approach. Leaders understand that they can do more. Anyone can do what is asked of them. Leaders do not wait to be asked to take on an assignment or solve a problem. 

Leaders understand that in business you learn by doing. They do more than they are asked to do. They do things that they have never done before. They risk being wrong in what they do. They build on what they have learned before and apply it to the new activities that they must now do. Leaders understand that they must now educate themselves if they are to continue learning, growing and succeeding, and that they do not educate themselves by following a manager.

Learning is a habit that is acquired and honed in school prior to entering business. It also seems to be a habit that many in business seem to forget once they are working. They have a tendency to rely on what they have learned instead of learning what may now be new. Two of the best ways that I have found to stay in the learning habit is to (One) try and add to the breadth of activities that you enjoy. Take up new sports. Learn to play a musical instrument. Go to new or different social events. The new or unfamiliar will force you out of your safe zone and isn’t that what learning is about. By keeping the learning habit alive, even in unrelated topics or fields, you will keep yourself open to learning in business.

The second method for continued learning is to read. Read a lot. Read for enjoyment. Read for professional interest. Just read.

Out of curiosity I did an internet search on the phrase “someone who likes to read”. I thought the results were pretty interesting. The definition of someone who likes to read is a “bibliophile”. Someone who loves books. That one is okay. It also returned “intellectual”. That’s also a good one, but it seems to me to be acquiring a bit of a negative connotation in today’s changing vernacular. “Bookworm” also came up. Definitely a negative connotation. Finally it returned “Dork” and “Nerd”.

I couldn’t make this up. Something that is acquiring that sort of negative connotation has to be good for you.