Thomas Wood

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My granddaddy could sell anything. When the shoe company pensioned him off after 50 years, he went straight to work for a little outfit selling customized pens and plaques. He couldn't stand not to sell. And I can't sell to save my life.

Journalists tend to make lousy salespeople and un-promising sales prospects because we don't take any claim at face value. Come to think of it, though, nobody else does either anymore. Granddaddy's go-getter sales style might not be so effective in today's jaded and mistrustful marketplace.

Winning over a cynical public, whether you're selling products to consumers or selling the idea of strategic alliance to another company, requires innovative approaches to the art of persuasion. This month's featured books explore some of those approaches.

In The Soul of the New Consumer: What We Buy and Why, consultants David Lewis and Darren Bridger probe the hearts and minds of the economic organisms who populate modern society. The new consumer, in their view, is motivated by three scarcities: lack of time, attention, and trust. Marketing successfully to this rushed, scattered, and skeptical buyer is all about addressing those scarcities, or at least not making them any worse. It's also about establishing the authenticity of whatever you're hawking. Everyone is on the lookout for snake oil these days.

The authors offer lucid analyses of a wide range of sales-related issues, incorporating and building on the insights of a dizzying array of thinkers from psychologist B.F. Skinner and cultural critic Christopher Lasch to management theorist Peter Drucker and permission marketing guru Seth Godin. From those sources and their own research they draw sometimes surprising conclusions about how factors like aisle width in a store and a rapid cutting rate in a TV commercial can influence the new consumer's buying behavior.

The Soul of the New Consumer is likely to shape the marketing messages you see, hear, and read in the first years of the new century. For anyone in the business of sending those messages, it's an enlightening and compelling guide.

There's no denying the growing dominance of service industries in our economy, nor the fact that convincing someone to buy a service is fundamentally different from convincing him or her to buy a sack of flour. In 1997, service-industry expert Harry Beckwith published the best-selling Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing. His follow-up effort, The Invisible Touch: The Four Keys to Modern Marketing, is an eye-opening compendium of lessons in service marketing. The book draws on Beckwith's wide-ranging experience inside company walls to offer trenchant examples of things done right and wrong by people selling the invisible quantity of their own expertise. In short, pithy mini-essays that often have the resonance of motivational speeches, Beckwith dispenses sometimes counterintuitive wisdom about his four key concepts of marketing: price, brand, packaging, and relationships. He explains, for instance, how a survey of 13 consumers can yield better research than a detailed study involving 350 people, and why your company probably shouldn't bother responding to formal requests for proposals from prospective customers.

Beckwith echoes a theme from The Soul of the New Consumer in arguing that mere customer satisfaction is not good enough. To win over today's demanding clients, a service provider must wow them. (Lewis and Bridger call this phenomenon supersatisfaction. ) Even among the supersatisfied, Beckwith points out, there's no such thing as permanent loyalty to any brand or business. The new consumers are savvy and self-centered; if you don't keep on adding value to their lives, they'll find someone else who will. The new consumer has raised the bar for today's marketers. Beckwith shows how to clear it.

A smorgasbord for the Oracle, a pie fight at the sales conference, and the mysteries of the millstone market such are the ingredients of a highly entertaining tale by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens, entitled Selling the Wheel: Choosing the Best Way to Sell for You, Your Company, and Your Customers. This parable tells the story of Max and Minnie, family business operators in the time of the Pharaohs, and how they brought to market Max's big idea, the wheel.

There's more going on here than just a cute conceit. Co-author Stevens runs a company that assesses the effectiveness of sales personnel and prospective sales hires, working from over 25 years of research involving thousands of salespeople and customers. Much of the story that he and Cox weave is based on his observation that there is no perfect way to sell rather, there is a right way to sell in a given situation, and selling the wrong way can be catastrophic.

As Max and his growing sales force persevere through early rejection (by the purchasing agent for the Pyramid project), the introduction of competing technologies (wooden instead of stone wheels), a price war with foreign producers (cheap wheels brought in by caravan from China) and other strategic challenges, it becomes clear that different stages of the wheel company's growth call for different talents in the sales force. The sales rep who achieves good results when clients require a specialized product can become excess baggage when the product becomes a commodity.

To cope with the obstacles before them, Max and Minnie take their most vexing questions to the Oracle in his mountain cave. The old guy sets them straight, sagely advising them on the marketing steps that will keep their wheel business alive and prospering as times and technologies change.

We could all benefit from a visit to the Oracle now and again. For those of us who don't have a nearby Oracle to turn to, Selling the Wheel is the next best thing: a strategic resource to help navigate through a menacing marketplace.

There is a unique type of sale that takes place in the upper echelons of corporations. More and more corporations are depending on this sale: the negotiation of strategic alliances between companies. In Trusted Partners: How Companies Build Mutual Trust and Win Together, Jordan D. Lewis shows what it takes for firms that may be competitors to come together in mutually beneficial collaborations. Lewis should know, since his business is facilitating joint ventures between major corporations. He mines that experience and other research to provide vivid glimpses of the process of combining two companies' efforts for a shared purpose.

As is so often the case in business books (and life in general), the stories of troubled relationships in Trusted Partners are often more illuminating than those of happy relationships. Lewis offers a fly-on-the-wall view of the catfight that nearly ruined the marriage of Northwest Airlines and KLM, as well as keen observations on what's wrong with the leadership of the Sprint/Deutsche Telekom/France Telecom alliance. The author does just as lively a job of narrating things gone right the hard-won alliances that have allowed partners to build trust in each other and, in turn, to build profitable new enterprises.

This is not just a book for senior execs at Fortune 500 companies. More and more companies of all sizes are referring to their relationships with key vendors as alliances, and Lewis explains how such partners can build relationships that live up to the name. He devotes the last third of his work to a deep and thorough how-to guide for business people involved in implementing alliances. There is enough carefully crafted advice here on the theory and practice of corporate alliances to make Trusted Partners a lasting resource for companies of all sizes.

Briefly noted: The easy pickings among technology stocks may all be plucked by now, but Francis McInerney and Sean White argue that there are still fortunes to be made in that volatile sector. In FutureWealth: Investing in the Second Great Wave of Technology, the authors explain not which stocks to buy that would be a silly exercise, if you think about it but how to pick the winners that will emerge in coming years.

To the entire generation of Americans that has come of age since the oil embargo and gasoline shortages of the 1970s, it may be hard to fathom why government and industry would be making Herculean efforts to develop a car powered by something other than gasoline. But the fact is, we may need one someday. Jim Motavalli's Forward Drive: The Race to Build "Clean" Cars for the Future chronicles the painstaking progress of efforts to build alternative vehicles and their even slower progress toward acceptance by the SUV-dazzled public.

And finally: The double-edged legacy of ingenuity and muleheadedness that Adolph Coors bequeathed to his beer-brewing heirs is the subject of journalist Dan Baum's Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty. This account of the Colorado clan's varying business fortunes, its rise to prominence in right-wing politics, and its histories of erratic behavior and personal tragedy, is not likely to get a friendly reception from the Coors family, but Baum's research appears authoritative, and he tells a vivid story.

Journalist E. Thomas Wood is product-development director for the family of European language-and-culture products.

My granddaddy could sell anything. When the shoe company pensioned him off after 50 years, he went straight to work for a little outfit selling customized pens and plaques. He couldn't stand not to sell. And I can't sell to save my life. Journalists tend to make lousy salespeople and un-promising sales prospects because we […]
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Why are we here? Is our purpose in life a) to find fulfillment and human dignity in relationships of mutual love and respect? b) to act as stewards of the earth's bounty and nurturers of its inhabitants? or c) to maximize shareholder value? After years of living through a supercharged but sometimes vicious business environment, some Americans are focusing anew on that existential question and wondering why they seem to have chosen option c for much of the 1990s. Prosperous times allow for the luxury of introspection, so that managers, employees, and consumers can rethink their roles in the corporate food chain. This month, four new books offer fresh perspectives on the roles of work and commerce in our lives.

The radio voice of David Brancaccio is familiar to listeners who tune into National Public Radio's Marketplace program, which he hosts. Squandering Aimlessly: My Adventures in the American Marketplace demonstrates that Brancaccio's voice as an author is just as arch and incisive as his on-air personality. He roams the country and the consumer landscape to ask himself a simple question: What would I do with a windfall? In these days of just-add-water initial stock offerings that mint overnight millionaires, it's hardly a hypothetical query. And its implications are not necessarily comforting: Suppose you've got your money. Where will you find your meaning?

Squandering Aimlessly is a Canterbury Tales for our times, a road-trip that introduces us to characters who illustrate the vices and virtues of the age. Brancaccio shadows a high-amperage market specialist on a stock-exchange floor who looks, in his little framed kiosk, like Lucy in a high-tech lemonade stand. He wanders the Nevada desert in the company of a drifter who has frittered away a $133,000 nest egg. He passes a quietly weeping woman as he walks into the Mall of America. And he encounters kindred spirits whose life journeys involve the metaphysical question: What am I to do with my blessings? The architecture beneath Brancaccio's anecdotes is an understanding of how wealth happens in our society and how people think about the money that affects their lives. Those concepts are elusive, but he explains them with clarity and moral vision. Those of us who can't help feeling a little ill-at-ease about the gospel of modern prosperity will find this book thought-provoking. Those who have been firm believers in that gospel will find Squandering Aimlessly a worthy challenge to their faith.

Joanne B. Ciulla's The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work probes the ways that work has assumed outsized importance in so many of our lives. Displaying a broad and deep command of business and labor history, human psychology, and the philosophy of work, Ciulla identifies continuities that have remained evident through centuries of working lives. More trenchantly, she identifies the ruptures that have lately torn at the unspoken social contract between employer and employee. Of many telling statistics in this book, one has stuck in my mind as an illustration of the creeping dominance of work in our lives: In 1986, when Christmas fell on a Thursday, 46 percent of employers gave workers Friday off. In 1997, when Christmas fell on a Thursday, only 36 percent did. One can argue that working harder has made us more prosperous. After years of stagnation, worker productivity began rising dramatically in the 1990s, fueling what is likely to be certified, this month, as the longest economic expansion in American history. But at what price? Ciulla paints a portrait of America as a dysfunctional workplace, where employers try to manipulate subordinates through the latest management fads but find it increasingly difficult to motivate or satisfy the people under their command. That situation is untenable; workers do have other options, and the stigma of job-hopping has largely evaporated since employers have abolished the concept of job security.

Ciulla's prescription for healing the country's wounded labor relations boils down to a single word not often seen in management books: justice. She makes a persuasive case for not trying to get more for less from employees, not trying to turn the office into a surrogate family, and not trying to make buzzwords like Total Quality Management into a way of life (a common piece of corporate parlance whose sinister undertones are only now becoming evident). It remains to be seen whether managers in the new decade will understand that workplace justice is in their enlightened self-interest but if they don't, they can't say Ciulla didn't warn them of the consequences.

Neither gender has a monopoly on anxiety about balancing the demands of making a living and living a life. Still, it's undeniable that women face special dilemmas in this regard. Creating Your Life Collage: Strategies for Solving the Work/Life Dilemma, by Kathy McDonald and Beth Sirull, is a valuable how-to guide for women who feel a psychic need to move beyond wage serfdom.

This is a book about vision. McDonald and Sirull exhort the working woman who feels trapped in a life-sucking job to visualize her life as a collage of activities that are productive not just producing income, but producing fulfillment. Drawing on interviews with scores of ordinary women who have turned life into art in this manner, the book offers practical advice and motivational therapy in equal measures. Anyone considering a transition into self-employment, part-time work, job-sharing, or telecommuting will benefit from the sound suggestions in Creating Your Life Collage. Anyone just wondering how to start seeking a more fulfilling daily life will benefit even more.

Senior managers have their own set of frustrations about the way people work in this country. The endless complexity of the knowledge economy often saps the attention of CEOs and shop-floor employees alike. Consultant Bill Jensen presents a road map for moving beyond complexity perplexity in Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster.

In his own way, Jensen is addressing the same paradox that this month's other books examine: We are more productive and prosperous than ever, and yet many of us feel utterly frazzled as we cope with the daily demands of this wonderful life. The beginning of a solution, Jensen argues, is for all of the colleagues in a workplace to recognize they are competing for the time and attention of the people they work with. He presents a convincing case that successful business people intuitively make the most of every minute spent with others on their teams.

Competing on clarity is Jensen's term for that kind of success; its opposite is the white noise of wasted time. A manager who wastes the time of employees is no longer just costing the company lost hours he or she is incurring deep resentment on the part of workers whose time has become a precious and scarce commodity. The author shows how managers and team leaders, working from an understanding and respect for time and attention, can design business processes that make jobs more fulfilling and enterprises more productive.

Many business self-help books cite nightmare examples of mismanagement, caricatures that allow the managerial reader to think I'm glad I'm not like that. Simplicity is a challenging book precisely because it indicts the reader: Few of us who work with other people can truly claim not to be guilty of the sin of making things too complex in some way. Read this book if you're ready to face that challenge.

Briefly noted:

Cyber-ideas come to print in The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. Last spring these authors, a la Martin Luther, nailed up, on the Web, 95 theses intended to herald a new age of business based on the principle that markets are conversations. This provocative book encapsulates some of the continuing conversation that has resulted from that online effort at reformation.

The blithe indifference of most Americans toward languages and cultures not their own is a national liability in an era of open-border commerce. Reading Global Literacies: Lessons on Business Leadership and National Cultures, by Robert Rosen with Carl Phillips, Marshall Singer, and Patricia Digh, would be an excellent first step for anyone now awakening to the globalization of the world economy. Based on a worldwide survey of top executives from a variety of national cultures, the book not only examines the peculiarities of individual cultures but also explores the meaning of cultural literacy.

Finally, if you want to help an ambitious teenager or college student turn imagination into reality, a fine place to start is The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting and Running a Business, by Steve Mariotti with Debra De Salvo and Tony Towle. The guide clearly and comprehensively tackles the basics of entrepreneurship, illustrating each principle with an inspiring real-life success story.

Journalist E. Thomas Wood is product-development director for the family of European language-and-culture products.

Why are we here? Is our purpose in life a) to find fulfillment and human dignity in relationships of mutual love and respect? b) to act as stewards of the earth's bounty and nurturers of its inhabitants? or c) to maximize shareholder value? After years of living through a supercharged but sometimes vicious business environment, […]
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It's an awkward time in American history to dwell on the subject of leadership. Some millions of us were led to believe in a place called Hope earlier in this decade, and that trail led to a girl called Monica. Millions more have suffered through enough Dilbert-esque misrule at work to make anyone cynical about self-styled leaders.

It takes a certain courage, then, to publish books about leadership in the current environment. And yet, either in spite of the leadership vacuum in our public and working lives or because of it, leadership titles abound among this month's new releases. There are authors out there who want to tell us how to lead the 21st-century organization, why leadership is essentially a moral function, what to do as a first-time manager, and how to maintain productive relationships with other leaders and subordinates. And, believe it or not, they have some valuable insights to share.

Leading Beyond the Walls

Leading Beyond the Walls, a compilation of essays produced by the Peter F. Drucker Foundation, offers a wide-ranging set of new ideas about how to run organizations. There is a metaphysical quality to this book, which features work from thinkers as varied as the famed Drucker himself, Stephen Covey, and Arun Gandhi (grandson of the Mahatma). Over and over, the authors ask readers to embrace contradictions in the pursuit of heightened understanding.

For Peter Drucker, the tearing-down of walls around medieval cities marked not their defeat but the emancipation of their people from narrow parochialism a process he sees metaphorically repeating itself in corporations and non-profit groups today. For essayist Jim Collins, one of the guiding truths of management is that the exercise of leadership is inversely proportional to the exercise of power. Such statements may sound like mere clever wordplay, but the authors back them up with convincing arguments.

Perhaps the most surprising paradox in the book is Drucker's about-face on the issue of corporate social responsibility. Having once been in the forefront of the movement to get corporations to recognize all of their stakeholders (including employees, customers, and communities), Drucker now sees a narrow focus on a well-defined business niche as a primary responsibility of every company. His reasoning: Corporations are generally not in the business of addressing diffuse social needs, and when they spend energies on non-business concerns, they detract from their ability to create the shareholder value that indirectly benefits all stakeholders.

And yet the book makes room for alternative viewpoints on the issue of how corporations should lead the broader community. In the essay Leading in a Leaderless World, Iain Somerville and D. Quinn Mills take the opposite position from Drucker. They see the current emphasis on shareholder value above all else as one of history's great and unfortunate ironies, since it forbids corporate leaders from taking a broader view just when society most needs them to do so.

Though its authors approach leadership from different directions, Leading Beyond the Walls exhibits a clarity of vision throughout its 23 essays. This book will lead leaders to a new understanding of what they can accomplish, not only within their organizations but in the world at large.

Leadership A to Z

From the time of Julius Caesar, ambition has often been viewed as a negative trait. But author and consultant James O'Toole recognizes that an appropriate level of ambition is essential to sound leadership. (For examples of inappropriate ambition, see Hitler, Mussolini, and Kim Il Sung, each of whom took Leader as his title.) O'Toole explores what makes true leaders in Leadership A to Z: A Guide for the Appropriately Ambitious.

O'Toole's widely acclaimed 1995 work, Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom presented several corporate chieftains as positive role models for moral leadership. In Leadership A to Z, he spices up the moral mix with a few villains such as Lenin, Hitler and deposed Sunbeam CEO Chainsaw Al Dunlap. Of each of these forceful personalities, the author makes the most scathing possible assessment: They weren't true leaders. At the same time, he acquaints us with a few new and unlikely heroes such as Joe Thompson, a Veterans Administration official whom O'Toole praises for transforming the culture of what had been a notoriously unresponsive bureaucracy.

Leadership A to Z's alphabetized entries cover some of the more colorful aspects of leadership, from Coolidge Syndrome (when nobody is putting forth much effort because the top guy doesn't) to hangings, public (the necessary act of disciplining flagrant wrongdoers within the organization). These short essays, more or less randomly presented, embody more wisdom and common sense than many weightier tomes and make this a uniquely accessible book.

The Rookie Manager
In The Rookie Manager: A Guide to Surviving Your First Year in Management, author Joseph T. Straub focuses on the basics for new managers. This much-needed management handbook is sure to be required reading for rung-climbers in organizations of every size and type. Straub's hand-holding approach is designed to allay the anxiety and even terror that every first-time manager feels at times or at least everyone with an appropriately humble attitude.

Straub details the conciliation techniques most likely to build good working relationships in even the most intimidating situations facing those who are promoted through the ranks, such as managing former peers and colleagues. (It would be hard enough if all of the buddies left behind acted like grown-ups about the change in roles, but often they don't.) The author tries to take some of the stress out of new managerial roles by coaching the neophyte leader in new skills such as time management and delegation of authority.

The Rookie Manager goes beyond simply addressing the roles of a manager; it covers the relationship between theory and practice in motivating workers. And Straub is not afraid to buck fashion in certain instances, as when he points out that there can be a time and a place when an autocratic style is the appropriate way of managing people. What would Peter Drucker say to that?

Working Relationships

Which brings us to the leader's role as corporate trouble-shooter. In just about every office, there's one person widely referred to behind his or her back as a difficult employee. It's up to the leader to manage not only that person, but also the leader's feelings about that person. Working Relationships: The Simple Truth About Getting Along with Friends and Foes at Work is author Bob Wall's guide to that and other thorny workplace issues.

Actually, Working Relationships may make its way into some of the same gift baskets as The Rookie Manager. This book, too, is a primer for people trying to get off on the right foot, including new managers. Wall is frank about the stakes at that career moment: Technical abilities may get you into management, but it takes interpersonal abilities to stay there. And although his book addresses a broader audience than just managers, it is full of leadership insights.

Wall, a psychologist and consultant, has mediated enough troubled working relationships to write a book, and here it is. He presents case after case of leaders gone wrong, and what makes these studies compelling is that none of the people are ogres. It's easy to identify with any of them and to understand why one guy broke down in tears, and later left his job, upon learning how radically different his employees' view of his leadership abilities was from his own view. The theme of self-deception by leaders echoes through this work and makes it a cautionary tale for anyone in the executive suite.

Some of Wall's examples rise to the level of moving drama. Case in point: A company owner comes to him for help in motivating listless workers. After Wall helps him understand that he himself is the problem, he stands before his employees in a moment of epiphany, apologizing for his managerial shortcomings and telling them he wants to do better. Other cases illustrate more limited concepts, but the wealth of real-life glimpses into the trials of management makes this an exceptionally worthwhile read for managers of any kind, at any level.

Briefly noted:

Goldilocks on Management: 27 Revisionist Fairy Tales for Serious Managers by Gloria Gilbert Mayer and Thomas Mayer (AMACOM, $21.95, 0814404812) adds a new twist to the genre of cultural icon (Shakespeare, Winnie the Pooh) as management expert. This entertaining collection of business parables, intertwined with real-world stories on the same themes, embodies lessons any manager can take to heart.

In Gravy Training: Inside the Business of Business Schools (Jossey-Bass, $25, 0787949310), British journalists Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove survey the MBA landscape throughout Europe and North America and don't always like what they see. All too often, they assert, business schools are more about business (enriching universities) than schooling (educating students). Though the authors chronicle plenty of positive contributions by B-schools, they tear down the oft-touted image of the business school as a source of important new ideas for the business community.

Roger J. Volkema's interactive text in The Negotiation Toolkit: How to Get Exactly What You Want in Any Business or Personal Situation (AMACOM, $17.95, 081448008X) truly as much a toolkit as a book trains readers in the techniques they need to get the best deal, whether negotiating an office lease on the job or a car deal on their own.

And there's a new edition out of one of the most useful reference works available for aspiring entrepreneurs: Paul and Sarah Edwards' The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, $17.95, 0874779731). Among other things, this volume will be a valuable anthropological document someday, detailing such uniquely late-'90s jobs as microfarmer, doula, and feng shui consultant.

Journalist E. Thomas Wood is an editor with the family of European language-and-culture magazines.

It's an awkward time in American history to dwell on the subject of leadership. Some millions of us were led to believe in a place called Hope earlier in this decade, and that trail led to a girl called Monica. Millions more have suffered through enough Dilbert-esque misrule at work to make anyone cynical about […]

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