Book Review: It’s Not About You

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“Give people something good to live up to—something great—and they usually will. In fact, often they’ll even exceed those expectations.”

This book reads like a novel. It’s a lovely, heartwarming, story about a manager trying to coordinate a merger between a small family business and a larger corporation.

He’s there to convince people, persuade them to do what his employer wants them to do. He’s there to meet his own career objectives. While he achieves his goals, he also learns crucial lessons about doing business both ethically and effectively – about negotiating a win-win situation and about leading a people toward goals that may not be clear to everyone involved.

“The single biggest challenge to any organization is the constant cloud of fear and doubt that swirls around the heads of the people involved. As a leader, your job is to hold fast to the big picture, to keep seeing in your mind’s eye, with crystal clarity, where it is you’re going—that place that right at this moment exists only in your mind’s eye. And to keep seeing that, even when nobody else does. “Especially when nobody else does.” Your people count on you to do this. It’s the biggest job you have.”

This isn’t the business management version of a Christmas Carol. The main character is a far cry from the wicked Mr. Scrooge. In fact, he’s essentially a really good guy with some rather standard perspectives on management and business. This is a story about a good guy transforming into a better guy – a better manager and a better person.

“Building a business takes skill, work, and materials . . . but those are details. More than anything else, building a business—really, building anything—is an act of faith. Because you’re creating something out of nothing, you see?”

It’s a light read filled with truly useful advice, making it the perfect business book to pick up over the holidays.

It’s Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business by Bob Burg, John David Mann

Book Review: Women and Career Decisions

There are a lot of books focused on women in the workplace. Most are written by women who are CEOs, successful entrepreneurs or otherwise well know for their professional achievements. Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction by Marcia Reynolds is not that book.

Wander Woman is filled with facts:

What most surprised the managers was that the top-performing women did not stay and fight. These days, strong women take their expertise and knowledge to greener pastures.

Their workplace wish lists rarely state “being promoted” as a prime motivator. Instead, my survey respondents told me they look for (1) frequent new challenges that stretch and grow their ability to achieve; (2) the opportunity to be flexible with their schedule; (3) the chance to collaborate with other high achievers; (4) recognition from their company; and (5) the freedom to be themselves.

And with highly quotable and inspirational statements:

If you want to change how you relate to others and run your life, you have to first transform your concept of self. If you try to change your behavior without first transforming who you think you are, the changes will last a few days until you quit thinking about them.

But the real strength of this book comes from her personal experience. She describes being an overachieving teen who gets into trouble that very nearly destroys (or ends) her life:

I learned one of my greatest life lessons—if you don’t know who you are, you will never be content with what you can do—in one of the darkest places on earth, a jail cell. A year after high school graduation, I ended up spending six months in jail for possession of narcotics, an experience I swore would never happen to me. In truth, the sentence saved my life.

And delves into her struggles as the daughter of a man who was so tied up in his self-imposed identity as a man-who-works that he was unable to handle retirement:

The day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence…In my anger for his leaving me, I somehow missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not be a retiree. He could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit…When he had to give up his formula for prestige, he gave up his will to survive. I desperately tried to help him see what else he could accomplish if he redefined his goals. I didn’t see that his addiction to achievement was killing him.

There are pages upon pages of down-to-earth realistic advice pulled from the life of a highly-relatable professional woman. Reading it feels like sitting down for coffee or tea with a friend and hashing out the day-to-day frustrations every one of us has to face. I came away with advice that I regularly use:

I choose my work based on what I have defined as my purpose and say “no” to everything else. When I am buried under a to-do list, I prioritize and let some things go with no guilt. My exercise and fun time can’t be compromised. These are the good days.

This isn’t grandiose advice handed down to the masses by a woman who has achieved dizzying heights. It’s perspectives, thoughts and ideas that actually apply to the challenges of daily life, provided by someone who has been through it herself.

Admiration List: Ani DiFranco

I have been a fan of Ani DiFranco‘s life story since 1992. I was working in radio as a copy writer and part-time (weekend) DJ when I stumbled across a magazine/catalog of up-and-coming artists. It consisted of artist photographs, a brief categorical description of music style (e.g.: folk, R&B, rock, etc.) and a short biography. The magazine targeted station employees in charge of selecting music, with the objective of enticing the decision maker to listen to a sample and consider adding the featured musicians to the playlist. It probably came with a CD or cassette tape (cassettes were still regularly used back then), but I only saw the magazine.

The magazine is important because the biography is what attracted me to this artist. She not only writes and performs her own music, she also runs her own recording studio and is known for refusing to take potentially lucrative contracts that go against her political/ethical beliefs. In short, she defied the music industry’s standard operating procedures – and won!

I did not get the opportunity to hear her music until about 8 years later. 

Frankly, while I admire her skills as a lyricist and include a few of her songs in my private list of top-50-favorites, it was never the music that earned my admiration – it’s her actions as a small business owner, an activist and a person.

I would welcome the opportunity to hear her play live in concert but I would LOVE to hear her talk about her journey as a small business owner and an activist.

Ani DiFranco’s music on Amazon.com

Freedom Dividend

The freedom Dividend is an extremely important concept. When people are freed from slavery – or extreme poverty – the entire community is transformed for the better.

Kevin Bales, an internationally recognized expert on modern slavery and freeing people from slavery explains the concept.

A longer explanation is provided by Michael Shelton on FreeTheSlaves.net (PDF) which includes the following:

In helping to build sustainable freedom for survivors of slavery, we see that in addition to personal liberation, there is a significant Freedom Dividend – a range of social and economic improvements that occur with the removal of individuals and groups from slavery. This freedom dividend is seen in a number of dimensions, including:

  • educational participation in girls and boys,
  • increased family incomes and payment of wages,
  • initiation of family asset formation
  • improved access to health services,
  • improved status and greater safety from violence of women and girls
  • increased political participation,
  • reduced corruption at the local level in terms of access to legal justice and in delivery of social and development services (such as access to water).

In addition, because former slaves are able to participate alongside other citizens in using public services and in local economic activity, there are improvements in social integration.

These benefits are most directly experienced by the former slaves, and they also directly affect the families of returning trafficking survivors. It is also believed (though not so far rigorously tested) that increased incomes and more efficient work practices of people coming out of slavery lead to a general upward spiral in local economic activity (including the incomes of those families who were NOT held in slavery). Also, to the extent that groups of people coming out of slavery achieve changes in government behavior, improvements in rule of law, and reduction of violence against women, this benefits a wider group of citizens.

No Rest For The Creative

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“When you’re a creative person, you have to create. Retirement isn’t part of that mentality. The mentality is, What is inspiring you next?

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

Can’t Have It All

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“The age-old question about women and the workplace is, Can you have it all? The answer is no. When you’re driven, something in your life does always suffer.”

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

Passion and Success

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Amazon.com

“The trick to our success—and any success—is passion; you can’t manufacture that.

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

The Myth of Overnight Success

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Amazon.com

“Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance. Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really—but thankfully, you don’t need that time all in one big chunk. So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.”

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

Entrepreneurs vs Suits

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Amazon.com

“And that’s the absolute difference between corporate and entrepreneurial mind-sets. A suit looks at reports. If reports say this is selling, it’s design more of this. The entrepreneur says, “I feel a change coming around the bend, we need to get out of this and start getting into that. That is the new trend.” The corporate mind-set won’t do that unless they take a survey of one hundred people. The entrepreneur says, “It doesn’t matter what they say they want because they don’t know they want it yet.”

A good management team is able to meld what the entrepreneurial mind says is coming next and what the corporate mind says is working now. One is gut and the other is report.

The Glitter Plan: How We Started Juicy Couture for $200 and Turned It into a Global Brand by Pamela Skaist-Levy, Gela Nash-Taylor, Booth Moore

From the first chapter:

We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the glitter plan.

Getting Started

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Amazon.com

“The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.”

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon