Made to Stick

Early on, the authors state the purpose of this book:

We wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick. By “stick,” we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact – they change your audiences opinions or behavior.

This is important for me. The description on the jacket of “why some ideas survive and other die” grabbed me. I need and want to get better at getting my “ideas to stick.” It seems like I should have always had this desire, but I didn’t.

Now, I need to get better at it because I have my own business and I need to sell my ideas to potential clients. Now, I want to get better at it because I have ideas about books, golf, and food that I think could make all of these things more enjoyable to people. These are recent realizations. But that doesn’t explain my complete lack of care about improving my ability to get my ideas across to humanity up until this point in my life.

I’m not going to dwell on it. Now I care, let’s press on.

Chip and Dan Heath have crafted an informative and very readable business book on this subject. So informative and readable, that I will re-read it, tab and bookmark it, then add it to the “reference” section of my book shelf to be referred to regularly. Outside of the fact that material is timely and important to me, I liked it for a variety of structural reasons.

  • It’s packed with examples, stories, and illustrative anecdotes. I mean packed. I can’t recall another business book that I’ve read recently that is so loaded up with real-world examples. They are incorporated into the material and set off in stickiness “clinics.” These stories are the backbone of this book and for me, it’s an effective way to convey the material.
  • They have a simple mnemonic that describes their theory on stickiness (SUCCESs), and they confirm, reconfirm, and expand on it throughout the book. They set up the structure in chapter one for applying their theories then analyze each illustration throughout the book relative to this structure. Also, highly effective for me
  • Tonally, this book reads like people talk. Even though the Heaths appear to be academics, there isn’t any academic-speak in this book. In fact, it’s highly approachable. They tell stories as if in wonderment at how cool the stories are. The make humorous comments and put offbeat thoughts in parentheses within a sentence. It’s an easy read.

This simple mnemonic that I spoke of is SUCCESs.

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Sticky ideas have at least a few of these traits. They describe each in detail in its own, action-packed chapter.

They also refer throughout the book to what they call the Curse of Knowledge.

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

They use this in their descriptive framework throughout and it clarifies certain things for me. Like why I zone out when someone is explaining a specialized or technical topic to me. Or why my ideas about golf click immediately with others that love golf but are met with blank stares by those unfamiliar with the game.

It’s straightforward, it’s informative, and it’s useful to me today.


The Art of the Start

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately and one that I keep coming back to is Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World. It has a lot of practical content on entrepreneurship, marketing, and management. Much of it relates to the tech industry because he manages a tech venture fund and is a former Apple exec. The blog is interesting enough so I bought one of his books.

He claims that this book is specifically geared towards starting a business, a not-for-profit, or a new product in an established company. He is stretching it with the not-for-profit and established company claim. I would only read this book if you’re slaving away in your garage on the next YouTube and you’re wondering what the next steps are.

Here is my diagram:

The Art of the Start

This diagram is not quite as involved as my diagrams for Execution and Blue Ocean Strategy. It’s a different style than those. This book is not very theoretical and is written kind of like his blog, just a bulleted brain dump of his thoughts, which I think is appropriate for covering the topic of starting a business. He is just grazing the surface of a broad range of topics which is what the person in the garage needs most.

For sure however, that person in the garage is going to have to shortly recognize when they need additional business knowledge. If capital is scarce and bootstrapping is the route taken, much more focus on running the business is going to be required. That means being clear that your personnel policies, marketing strategy, operational model, and financial infrastructure are sound. In this case, Kawasaki’s book will still be a great start, but will need to be supplemented quickly with more general business learning.

If the garage owner has a compelling enough idea and capital flows freely, they may never need to think about running a business because the capital provider may very well bring in a CEO. In this situation, the inventor can stay on and concentrate on the technical and creative side of things or take the money, buy a bigger garage, and start working on the next big thing.

These are extremes, but in either case, this book is a solid start that can be consumed in a matter of hours. So get started if you want to get started.


Six Disciplines for Excellence

There are lots of good things that have come out of my hometown of Findlay, OH, in no particular order:

That small town America can churn out such manufacturing, culinary, and athletic excellence may come as a surprise to some, but not if you grew up there. That’s why, when my brother-in-law suggested a business book written by a local entrepreneur, I took it to heart and put it on my reading list.

Gary Harpst, a local Findlay guy who sold his financial software business to Microsoft and started a small business consultancy, wrote this book. The subtitle is “Building Small Businesses that Learn, Lead and Last.” Therefore, don’t expect to gain a lot from this book if you just finished your MBA and you’re shuffling paper at a huge multi-national.

In short, this book is a great overview of all of the different things you need to excel at in order to have a successful business. There’s not any single concept that feels particularly groundbreaking. In fact, if you’ve read much of the popular and classic business press, you will immediately see where Mr. Harpst is grounded. But he makes no bones about it and gives credit appropriately. I think he is comfortable that his book is intended to be an overview and that if you really want to become expert in each area, you have to read more on your own, or hire a Six Disciplines consultant, of course.

You have heard of the vest pocket MBA. This book is like that but it won’t fit into your vestpocket. Let’s call it the “briefcase MBA.” Some of the great books that he relies on follow, and I have already started picking up the ones that I have not read because I was so compelled.

If you are just starting a small business and you are curious about resources that can help you with the business side of things, you can’t go wrong with this book. I would blast through it quickly without reading all of the charts, tables, and graphs. Then, I would start from the beginning and read it for implementation purposes. When you get to an aspect of your business that you think needs extra focus, look at the footnotes that Mr. Harpst gives and start reading some of the books that he used to formulate his theories. The man ran a highly successful business so he knows what he is talking about.

I have another idea for those that have just started their own gig but have no business experience whatsoever. Try this, grab this book and the E-Myth and read them together. They are both about small business. Just bounce back and forth between the chapters or something. In the E-Myth, you don’t get charts, graphs, lists, or stats like you do in Six Disciplines. The E-Myth is motivational, theoretical, and emotional whereas Six Disciplines is practical and tactical. They are a great complement to each other. Give them a whirl.


Blue Ocean Strategy

Kim and Mauborgne are strategy and management professors at INSEAD. They have a very compelling take on strategy. They use the examples of red oceans and blue oceans to make their point. Red oceans are markets where “industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known.” Companies fight for share in these markets by taking blood from the competition, creating a red ocean. Blue oceans, in contrast, are unknown, “untapped market space,” where “competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.” Companies like Cirque du Soleil have found blue oceans and the profits and growth are voluminous. That’s good stuff, I like the visual.

So they set out to explain how to create a blue ocean strategy. In explaining their methodology, they debunk some of the assertions in some famous business books, like In Search of Excellence and Built to Last, both of which focused on “America’s best run” or “visionary companies.” Those books, they say, have highlighted companies where the profits and growth have not been as successful as portrayed. For instance, Kim and Mauborgne bring up HP, which was fawned over in Built to Last (I have not read it, I am trusting them). Kim and Mauborgne agree that HP outperformed the market during the period that Built to Last studied it. However, they say, the whole computer industry outperformed the market, so what’s the big deal. In fact, HP did not even outperform the competition in their same industry. Therefore, instead of focusing on the company or the industry, Kim and Mauborgne explain how to create blue oceans by focusing on the “strategic move.”

Here is a picture that I’ve drawn to give you a big picture view of concepts and content…they want to take you from red oceans to blue oceans – from the bottom to the top.

Blue Ocean

They describe a systematic method to discover blue ocean opportunities and bring them to fruition. They introduce a host of graphs, matrices, charts, and tools to help you frame your quest for blue oceans. I like their take and I like they way the book is organized. The meat of this book is Part Two, the four chapters on formulating the strategy. They back everything up with solid, real-world examples and really make it feel like you can put together a blue ocean strategy in your industry, with the team you have in place, without a lot of extra resources.

However, I think the two chapters on executing blue ocean strategy in Part Three are weak. Their whole take on execution does not seem to fit and feels like a retread of current management practice. For example, they bring up the decrease in crime during the 90’s in NYC to illustrate how to execute. They use it as an example of “overcoming organizational hurdles” and refer to it as an example of “tipping point leadership.” (Don’t worry, they give Malcolm Gladwell, writer of The Tipping Point, credit.) Ever since reading Freakonomics though, I can’t read another recounting of that example of great police work without smiling. Their take on execution (management) just does not feel as groundbreaking or innovative as their take on formulation (marketing and strategy). So think of this as a marketing and strategy book, and you will not be disappointed.



The subtitle, The Discipline of Getting Things Done, drew me into this book. It’s a common theme these days; David Allen’s book Getting Things Done (GTD) has a cult-like following amongst the internet set, popular websites like Lifehacker and 43F espouse the benefits of GTD and personal productivity, and it has become popular to say things like “git ‘er done” with a fake southern accent (I’m guilty).

I did not expect this book to address any aspect of personal productivity, and it doesn’t. What it does address is how a CEO gets the job done. It’s basically CEO 101 by a rock-star CEO (Bossidy) and an accomplished consultant/academic (Charan). It’s a management book; a treatise on the ingredients that your company needs to consistently deliver results. Bossidy and Charan detail the building blocks and processes that they feel will allow your company to bridge the gap between what your company wants and what your company eventually gets.

I drew a picture:


This book is laid out in a straightforward manner. Chapter 1 begins by identifying the problem, referred to by Bossidy and Charan as “the gap nobody knows.” They follow it up with a chapter recounting the real-world execution successes and failures of three companies (Xerox, Lucent Technologies, and EDS). These examples drive home why the authors feel the discipline of execution is so important for your company. The rest of the book provides specifics, with lots of examples, for the three building blocks and three processes outlined in the picture above. Your company’s leadership and staff must achieve excellence in all of these areas in order to have the best chance of achieving execution success.

The target audience for this book may appear to be grad students and middle managers that aspire to be a CEO some day. However, I think this book is also appropriate for first-year staffers that are embarking on any sort of career in an industrial corporation. It gives an excellent description of the internal workings of a business entity and how processes like strategic planning, budgeting, performance reviews, and quarterly management reviews are linked. These processes, along with all of the informal, cross-departmental dialogue a company has, are referred to as the “Social Operating Mechanism.” By linking all of this, Bossidy and Charan take some of the mystery out of why people have to participate in such apparently mundane things as departmental budgets, monthly variance analyses, and annual people assessments. If I would have read an overview like this when I joined corporate America after leaving public accounting, it would have accelerated my learning curve on many aspects of management.

This is not a complicated book. Just by the nature of the topic, it’s more practice than it is theory. Bossidy and Charan clearly explain the nuts and bolts of how to excel at each aspect of execution without a lot of business jargon. I think this book has a place in your business library because you need something that links the big picture to the bottom line, so to speak. It may fit nicely somewhere between Competitive Advantage and The Goal.