Jan 012016


switch book









Switch is a book about change. Its authors – brothers Chip and Dan Heath – claim the content is applicable to change in all situations, individual, organizational or societal. It does as it claims, but the emphasis is less on societal as perhaps the theories have been less applied on a grand scale, and despite its full title of Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard it does make the process seem simple with plenty of stories, anecdotes, ‘clinics’ and most importantly applicable information.
The Heaths believe that successful change has a pattern. Crucially, they assert that change comes as a function of the state created and the environment in which people, companies, departments, et cetra are placed. This is wholly different from the more traditional ‘change’ books, which emphasize creating and articulating a crisis or urgency.
Firstly, however, the authors remind us that there is the matter of the heart versus the mind or one side of the brain (the rational side) versus the other (the emotional side) and the latter is often stronger. It is a variation on the selfish id versus the conscientious superego. About now most would agree that the emotional side is the unsavoury one, but the book is steadfast that the notion is inaccurate. In fact, the emotional side – which the authors adopt from another book as ‘the elephant’ – is the one that gets change done. It is also the side of ‘drive.’ One needs both the elephant and the rational ‘rider.’ Having only one of the two is like possessing passion without direction or having understanding without motivation.

The outline for a ‘switch’ the authors offer becomes:
1- Direct The Rider
a. Find The Bright Spots
b. Script The Critical Moves
c. Point To The Destination

2- Motivate The Elephant
a. Find The Feeling
b. Shrink The Change
c. Grow Your People

3- Shape The Path
a. Tweak The Environment That Requires Change
b. Build The Habits That Support It
c. Rally The Herd

Direct the Rider – what seems like resistance is a lack of clarity. Clarity dissolves resistance. Be specific. Borrow words and use analogies. One has to Find The Bright Spots and stay away from ‘archaeology.’ In other words, the focus has to change from problems shift to solutions. This is noteworthy because conventional wisdom has it that to change or improve an understanding of the root causes for failure or inadequacy are necessities. Next is to Script The Critical Moves by showing how to change. Point To The Destination suggests a vision is needed to inspire. Change requires a script and not just high level direction. Ambiguity is the enemy. The change agent needs to be specific.
Motivate the Elephant – what is seen as laziness on the part of the people is actually sheer exhaustion. As such, the rider cannot always get his way. Change agents need to Find The Feeling for everyone, which means people’s elephant side responds to emotional convincing. As James Bond has said, “Made you feel it, did he?” The onus, furthermore, remains on the person seeking to change. That person must Shrink The Change and Grow The People. These are equally important and should be simultaneous. The onus is not on everyone whom is being asked to change. Everyone has heard the clichéd ‘raise the bar’ phrase. On page 129 the authors again show a taste for being different. They assert that ‘raising the bar’ is exactly the wrong instinct. Instead, it is more sage to lower the bar i.e. shrink the change or if not grow one’s people instead. One example provided is of a demonstration of different kinds of gloves piled onto a table to make a point tangible and visual.
Shape The Path – what looks like a person problem is actually a situation problem. Instead of solely focusing on the person’s Rider and Elephant it is important to Tweak The Environment and Rally The Herd. In the latter case because humans respond to peer pressure or, as the authors put it, peer perception. Speaking of Shaping The path the authors suggest it is very simple and very effective to create check lists. Yes the humble check list! Humans have a limited capacity for change as the mental muscles tire. The key is for everyone to realize that this is not synonymous with laziness. It is exhaustion getting in the way.

One reason the book is a likely success is that it is easy to consume and features stories, anecdotes and studies. Here are several points, which the book elaborates on:
• Do not dot on TBUs – things that are True But Useless. See above regarding avoiding archaeology.
• On page 82 the authors show more disloyalty to conventional thoughts. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals are found lacking by the authors. The book insists SMART lacks emotional resonance. As such, SMART is suitable for steady state situations and not for change goals. The key is behaviour level execution: marrying goals with short-term moves because it is impossible to script medium-term moves.
• As mentioned above a prerequisite for change is often said to be creating a crisis or a ‘burning platform. ’ Switch reports that this type of situation is good only for quick actions and not for lasting organizational change. This is due to its inherent negativity. What works better instead is a happy emotion as they innately broaden hope and creativity.
• The accepted script for taking action is Analyse>>Think>>Change. The authors believe it should be See>>Feel>>Change. Notice again the emphasis on the visual and emotional side of things.
• Somewhat reminiscent of Daniel Pink’s impressive Drive the authors sink their teeth into, what they believe, is the two models for decision making. The first is about consequences. It assumes a rational being. The second is identity (which could be cultivated). This is when people ask themselves ‘who am I?’ or ‘What would someone like I do?’ Humans, per the book, use the latter decision-making process to determine whether they would be a Republican or a Democrat to cite one example the book uses.
• The authors insist that it is crucial to at all times maintain a growth mind-set for it implies success. Success is not guaranteed by genetics. A static mind-set will lose regardless. The growth mind-set is melodramatically presented through an example on page 173 where mid-20th Century IBM CEO Thomas Watson – after whom the Watson computer is named – would summon an executive who had lost the company ten million in then dollars and instead of firing the man would keep him on because the man had just been given a very expensive education!
• Leaders who shape the path and lead change should be coaches and not score keepers. Moreover, specific behavioural prescriptions are what is needed and not merely grand vision devices and statements.

Switch is a fine book and reads easily. Its references to and quotations of various books and scholarly studies are appreciated. The authors place the onus on the environment and the methodology as opposed to the oft wrongly maligned individuals. There is not much could criticize here. As with any business book hindsight is 20/20 and whether the theories the authors leverage are ever invalidated is a concern. A couple of examples the authors use come across as suspect, but frankly they do not disprove the overall notions and are a small part of the book as a whole. As noted, the authors are insistent that a ‘good’ environment is a cure for many things. The authors note that twenty percent of American soldiers in Vietnam were drug addicts, while half had tried a drug or the other. In a survey, 1% of soldiers claimed they were drug users when in the better environment of the United States. Could the authors and we really take what the soldiers said as gospel? In other words, was it actually a more wholesome environment that drastically diminished drug usage or were the soldiers giving the answer they were expected to give? Speaking of gospel, the book non-chalantly throws in the following good habits: jogging, praying, brushing our teeth… and soon comes a particular beef of mine. One culture seeing its own morality and values as better or superior to another. While the prevention of AIDS in Africa is definitely a laudable goal and those engaged in the fight are praiseworthy the authors and a US organization also pass judgment on Tanzanian older men having sex with younger women and try to end the practise on which they report. Shaping or exporting cultural norms, history shows, are arrogant and often lead to disastrous consequences. The authors would do well to remove the implied inherent hubris.
Switch is a good read on the subject of change instillation and, for better or worse, mostly different from more conventional transformation management books.

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Nov 112015


Korean cool book








As an important economist, Ha-Joon Chang the author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth Of Free Trade And The Secret History Of Capitalism, has argued partly utilizing his South Korean knowledge, a centrally designed and formulated economy is one which best serves growing or aspiring economies. Euny Hong’s The Birth Of Korean Cool is a concrete example of the successes of an actively interventionist government and the merits of concerted central planning. Euny Hong has likely not read Chang, but her book could easily be the entertainment corollary to Chang’s research.
That South Korean culture has made much progress in recent years is not news. Gangnam Style and PSY (which inspired the cover of the book), Rain, SNSD, Oldboy, My Sassy Girl and drama like Winter Sonata are famous the world over. Still, could South Korea become the number one exporter of pop culture, replacing the USA, as the Korean-American author reports from her country of birth?
Before continuing here are a couple of idiosyncrasies and oddities. The book begins with a statement that certain identifying characteristics, dates, places and other details of events have deliberately been changed. This is strange for a non-fiction book. Additionally, and for a book covering pop culture, there are not any photographs. One finds multiple grammatical and conventional mistakes peppered throughout the book. Page 7 reads, “government who has….” Page 11 notes that, “had forbidden my sisters and me…” Page 9 remembers that “when my family moved to Korea, in 1985,..” Moreover, Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea or North Korea might take umbrage with the constant reference to South Korea as “Korea.” The famous Korean penchant for cosmetic surgery also gets an airing. When describing the double eyelid surgery, in which the author has also partaken, one could not avoid feeling denial is at work. She claims her compatriots undergo this surgery not for Westerners or to look like them, but do so for themselves. Forgive my scepticism. At the very least, one could be undergoing the surgery for oneself too when one wants to look closer to a Westerner. Then there is the instance when she claims that K-pop is buttoned down… which K-pop has she been listening to and watching?

The Birth of Korean Cool is a fun and interesting page-turner that discusses South Korea’s determination to export its culture and the level of government involvement and public-private collaboration that is occurring. The book has much to say regarding the agility and sophistication it takes and the levels of horizontal and vertical integration in the ‘cultural’ industries of South Korea.
South Korea is aiming for “soft power” plan and has multiple five-year plans to successfully enact it. The effort has been going on for some five decades, but it received added prominence when the government determined to push Korean culture abroad even harder following the famous 1997 Asian crisis after which even the country’s mega-conglomerates (Chaebols) re-adjusted. Hong points out that unlike most countries South Korea has no military complex to rely on for growth or industrialization. Based on a 1953 treaty with the United States the country is barred from such activity. On page 98 under the title ‘The World’s Coolest…’ the author discusses the nerve centre of Hallyu or culture. According to the author a ministry in charge sounds dystopian – not really – but there indeed is a Ministry of Culture whose divisions coordinate and push cultural ‘technology’ like holograms, artificial rainbows, Korean designs, fireworks for use at concerts and more all with a buttoned down bureaucrat in charge. Nonetheless, or rather because of it, this sector of the South Korean economy is now a major revenue generator. The book attempts to explain its rapid growth from levels near zero.

Yes, there is a film five-year plan and a musical five-year plan and so forth. The book seems to confuse pop culture with technology such as microchips however. The book’s emphasis is on ‘hallyu’ or Korean popular culture, but it has no problems seamlessly transitioning from one sector to the other. The author theorizes that hallyu started with electronics. This is interesting, but again there is not much proof that LG, Samsung, Hyundai and other are drivers. However, if Hong means indirectly by earning the country revenue and making the investment and policies possible then she has a much better case.
The book leads the reader to a discussion of Confucianism and the concepts of national shame and Han, which could be described as a persistent and lingering fury and resentment. These notions drive the Koreans and are complicit in their quest. There is also reference to the stringent Korean education system with its intense requirements including rote memorization and after-school academics’ (Hakwon) custom. On page 47 the author recounts an amazing concentration exercise involving paper and chopsticks she has observed. Sign me up for a demonstration!
Han is especially targeted at Japan, which colonized Korea in the first half of the last century and whose cultural and technological exports are directly targeted by the South Koreans. Much of the endeavour and protectionism is directed at Japan and the West. With Japan earning its own section in the book the author discusses the other Asian cultural and economic giant. There are many valid and relevant points, but the reader has the nagging feeling that Hong suffers from confirmation bias. J-pop and the Japanese film industry are not quite as dead as the author contends. AKB48 is huge, Japanese films are popular the world over, Baby Metal is coming on strong, so on and so forth. In the same context, there is little discussion about how K-pop is largely South Korea’s take on Western music, dance and imagery. Korean food is correctly cited as popular in USA. It is claimed that is so largely due to one David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku chain. Aside from the wild exaggeration, omitted is the fact that the chain’s name is Japanese or how the chain doesn’t actually serve Korean cuisine. Moreover, when contrasting South Korea from Japan, the author notes the population of Japan to be 100 million strong. The number is actually 127 million. This maybe more than a mere error because Hong is distinguishing the two countries.
How are the five-year plans and interventionist government plans being executed? South Korea has deployed government economists to plan its invasion by country of export, offer detailed analyses and plan sector-by-sector advancement. The author contends that South Korea is well-positioned because, having until recently been a Third-World country, it understands what is needed and whom it is targeting.
Still there is much to criticize or, at least, take in with a punch of salt here. Page 248 has a surreal claim that there is ”no doubt” that the Korean effort is destined to go well. The USA helped South Korea and look what happened, remembers Hong. South Korea’ analogous approach to third-world countries will have a similar effect. The determination and prowess of the competition from France, Germany, Japan, China and persistence of US efforts to grow or maintain their influences and cultures have no bearing it seems. Could the Koreans really seriously penetrate the West given the language barrier? There is no denying that US’ (and Canada, Australia, UK, etc.) domination of popular culture has been partly due to the English language’s global dominance.
It is also predicted that hallyu will bring USA and South Korea together – such is its potency – although this like many other statements seems more perfunctory than rooted in data.

The South Korean Government has an investment fund of $1 billion allocated to this specific effort. Indeed, there are industrial divisions focusing on museums, pop music, opera, ballet and films too. As part of South Korea’s interventionist stance we learn of the grants the government allocates to its film industry. Of note, a full 50% of cinema receipts were directed to K-film. That is, foreign films’ success was subsidizing the domestic completion. One does wonder how global liberalizations – international rules such as GATT – ended up conspiring to remove and wind down such measures. Regardless, Korean films progressed both domestically and internationally due to a deliberate “National strategy” to make South Koreans films popular.

Lest, the point has not sunk in about how seriously the country is taking its goal Hong reports that one-third of that country’s venture capital is spent on the entertainment industry. Left unsaid, but important, is how private capital has a short-term view of things and it takes government mobilization to think long-term – as the Japanese did for decades. Tellingly, the author fails to mention that Japan’s progress in the twentieth century has made quite an impression on its eastern neighbour. Much of what South Korea is attempting is modelled after and inspired by the Japanese experience.

Here are a few interesting facts and figures found in the book:

• South Korea is the fifteenth largest economy in the world.
• Hallyu refers to Korean culture. Hansik refers to Korean food.
• Korean food features five tastes and kimchi is especially good with Korean rice which is that country’s staple and like many other things influenced by Confucianism of elements.
• The popular Korean alcohol soju could either be drunk or used to clean tables as it cuts through grease.
• Kim Jong-Nam, the older brother of current North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un and a one-time heir apparent to that country’s throne, once tried to enter Japan on a Dominican Republic passport ostensibly to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was deported.
• Finally, until two decades ago teachers used to routinely beat the students at school.

As hinted, the book comes occasionally across as a personal observation-cum-memoir, which translates into a fun read. Likely even the author wouldn’t call her own book a historical or scholarly study. A few tangents and seemingly unrelated history give The Birth Of Korean Cool context.
Aside from meandering, there is a fair bit of self-depreciation, nostalgia and humour in the biographical and other content’s context. When noting the discipline and hard work that constitutes the Korean regimen the author remembers her parents would wake her up to “watch the fucking sunrise.” The author confesses that she would rather undergo waterboarding than watch a highly celebrated South Korean ‘80s movie for example.
As the final phase and completion of South Korea’s transformation Hong mention that her birth country is developing a sense of irony. You must have wealth first before you could mock it!

Aug 032015



little red book









To be upfront Little Red Book Of Selling and its author Jeffrey Gitomer came this way with my prejudices built-in. Gitomer had previously endorsed a shallow book called Never Cold Call Again by an author whom moreover many have accused of spamming and shady business practices. Was it guilt by association or was Gitomer’s work in the same league as the aforementioned book?

The claims and standards assigned to the little red book are not trivial. “It’s about how to make sales forever..” Is it hyperbole? Could the book deliver? The author, speaker and sales trainer is obviously a bombastic and forward person with exuberance to spare. Perhaps, and as such, aside from the book’s informal and colloquial style grammar shall be damned. Page twenty one, for example, notes that “the one’s who can’t seem…” Elsewhere, at whom is this book aimed at? On page 28, and on the subject of fear, Gitomer reminds one that external means outside and that internal is inside.
Stylistically, the man and the book are `loud and proud,’ which anecdotally may fit with his having lived and sold in New York City for five years. The book itself has an inventive layout and stands out. The loudness comes through with its red colour. It contains `redbits,’ cartoons and bold fonts to go with its irreverent and conversational tone. The author also drives traffic to his website when answers are not in the book. It is easy to understand the need for self-promotion, but constantly referring readers to the website for content is not offering value to the reader. The author also mention another site, namely netweaving.com, and also references other books.
Is the book an actual sales technique book or more of a motivational tome like the stuff Zig Ziglar used to put out? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps the author also is implying strictly sales technique methodologies like SPIN, Sandler or QBS are not wholly thorough or that a combination of sales technique and softer touches are a more rounded approach.

In one respect, Gitomer is like Wal-Mart. He really likes fractions. The book’s message is one of 12.5 Principles Of Sales Greatness. These are:
Kick your own ass.
Prepare to win or lose to someone who is.
Personal branding is sales: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
It’s all about value, it’s all about relationship. It’s not all about price.
It’s not work, it’s network.
If you can’t get in front of the real decision maker, you suck.
Engage me and you can make me convince myself.
If you can make them laugh, you can make them buy!
Use creativity to differentiate and dominate.
Reduce their risk, and you’ll convert selling to buying.
When you say it about yourself, it’s bragging. When someone else says it about you, it’s proof.
Antennas Up
Resign your position as general manager of the universe.

Moreover there are 8.5 attributes of success.

The book emphasises fear as the biggest problem. One is his own biggest enemy unless one takes risks. On page forty the book wonders what causes a slump. You do! While this is possible and often so one has to think many other factors contribute and could also be `causes’ … this is another example where one cannot believe in the medicine if the disease has been misdiagnosed. Also on the same page the author implores the reader to make a plan for success, which prompts one to ask “how?” The question is of what is the plan comprised? In the same mould, this reader was not a fan of the “winner versus whiner” anecdotes. Factually speaking, whining is a human defence mechanism. Life is not so black and white. People fall on different spots on a spectrum. Finally, and on the same theme, it is not in good taste to also have charity activities fall under the personal branding umbrella for promotion, material wealth and ego as espoused on page 58.
The book turns more sales-specific around page 72 where Gitomer gets into the discussion of price versus value. The author talks at length about giving value. Give first and give freely. He also mentions something that has been on my mind for years, namely after-sale service. This is a much more important point than the amount of space it is given. Gitomer adds that one is not a commodity, put yourself in front of people, be friendly and network. On the subject of price page 77 offers this quotation to ask customers: “price or profit Mr. Jones. Which would you rather have? Price lasts for a moment Mr. Jones, profit lasts for a life-time.” Adds Gitomer, all executives want more profit and this would be a good acid test of whether one is speaking to the correct person. For early sales stages Gitomer advises one not to sell product and service. Instead, sell the appointment and a profit-driven answer instead of yourself or your product. On the subject of questions Gitomer wants salespeople to ask “power questions,” which sound like SPIN’s Implication and Need Payoff questions, and not closed questions which he calls “dumb questions.” Ask questions, but smart questions that lead to value and to price. Smart questions tell customers you are smart.

Elsewhere Gitomer dedicates space to positive thinking. He claims that thinking you can is 50% of outcome – yes exactly that. He again reiterates that one has to make connections everywhere even in the bathroom (p. 181). He reminds salespeople to have humour and to laugh at oneself. The writer does not forget to address risk reduction: first find out what the risk is and address what is often not explicit. This book exceptionally does not have jacket, or other, testimonials, but it claims strong support for them. There is a noteworthy quote on page 183 (agree or disagree) which is especially interesting. The quotation emphasizes that selling is not about techniques. “Selling is about focus and creative verbal exchange.” Gitomer also encourages you to work at it, although to be precise one wonders why the concepts have to be mutually exclusive in the first place. As an added remark and as something that comes across as a little bit of fatherly advice Gitomer ends his book with the sage advice for us to mind our own business with non-sales issues and instead focus on selling. Remain positive and, for those who want to know which book he recommends (in addition to Never Cold Call Again!), Gitomer suggests we think like (and read) the book The Little Engine That Could: think you can!


May 192013


the long tail






This book makes an important albeit, perhaps, obvious point. It is something that most people younger than a certain age instinctively understand.

The long tail in the age of Internet is a model where abundance and endless variety is available and can be found and filtered. Costs being near zero this long tail of goods – although the book clearly focuses on music and film – is a revenue stream equal to or superior to the head, which in mainstream parlance is the hits or what is available in a typical retail outlet. The book was initially instigated when author Chris Anderson, who at the time edited Wired magazine, was meeting with someone at a company called Ecast and was surprised to find how deep the sales `tail’ extended. That is, how much obscure titles sold in aggregate. Also, the title of the book stems from the type of curve representing powerlaws an example of which is linguist George Zipf’s observations on frequency of words’ usage (and many other things). Note: clearly an obscure product would not sell as much as a well-publicized or mainstream one, but in total the sum of available non-mainstream `long tail’ products would match or surpass their better-known cousins. Now imagine a business (on the net) that can supply an infinite choice to its customers not constrained by what page 94 calls the “tyranny of the shelf.”

Incidentally, and as an aside, pages 90 and 91 taught me that there are no atoms in bits – something I had believed was unimaginable. The author makes mention of how one can reduce atoms to zero as well as getting rid of atoms. I didn’t know what to make of it and had to ponder the physical reality of it.

Here are the secrets to the Long Tail business:

1- Make Everything Available
2- Help Me Find It

Don’t panic. In the model described costs are near zero. Traditional economics are placed on its head. As the author reminds us economics is the science of scarcity, but while many things like money and time remain scarce the shelf space or incremental cost of the net are approaching a cost of zero.

The principles are focused on CD (music) and DVD (film) likely because it is still the dawn of Internet and the available data is limited. Still, at the book’s end there is a perfunctory attempt to go beyond the aforementioned markets. Having said that, still half the non-music and film examples are Internet-related. What is more, likely partly due to the data and the industry and partly due to the author’s location the data, if not the conclusions, is US-centric. It is still universally applicable but Yahoo, Rhapsody, Netflix are all USA-based. These are several of the main companies the author cites as case studies.

Anderson thinks that this model not only supports his central thesis, but also proclaims the end of the era of central command and control. Not so fast, he should check who owns most of these Internet bits and bytes assets. The answer is the same moguls and conglomerates that own everything else. More importantly, the medium is now the centre. Never mind. He makes a point about fragmented and decentralized micro niches being the end of hits and the mainstream.

The concept discussed is really a simple and observable one that the author takes to in detail. Occasionally it is inarticulate and occasionally it is self-servingly elongated. Ultimately, it is not improbable to see how it could have been an article (in Wired magazine?) or a Blog post (which it once was) given its data, theme and conclusion.

Finally, I bet former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is misquoted from the company’s first shareholder’s meeting where he did not say, “we were able to capture very large and historically undeserved businesses…” or perhaps he was not!

Nov 072007

So You Want To Be A Consultant, Eh?


Pondering a career as a consultant? Wondering whether a career as an independent consultant is feasible? Not sure how to go about it? Need help setting up a business consulting in the United States? Then Getting Started In Consulting is the right book for the budding consultant rookie.
In a book drawing from personal experience Alan Weiss covers the A to Z of how to set up a business as an independent consultant in virtually any field. The topics range from the mundane (office furniture, gadgets needed, etc.) to the more germane such as obtaining financing, fee structure and structured networking, marketing and selling.

Divided into neat chapters including useful sidebars and summaries and providing succinct checklists at the end of the book Getting Started In Consulting is an easy to read and digest book by someone who has walked the walk. The knowledge that this is more than a mere academic study is in fact reassuring.
Nevertheless, the book is not perfect. The obvious, and Weiss is forthright about this given the title of the book, issue is that certain aspects of the book are quite elementary. Furthermore, some of the discussion regarding technology is already dated – and the book is only three years old. Finally, the author’s insistence on finding the least expensive options when obtaining the services of others, compensating others’ services cheaply, shopping at Wal-mart and so forth are not only symptomatic of the petty and cheap society we live in, but also go against Weiss’ own advice on how to structure one’s consulting fees, charging customers and asking for superior remuneration and are moreover counter-productive on a macro scale. If adopted universally, these tactics will perpetuate what consultants themselves face day in and day out. Namely, everyone’s top concern is minimizing costs and getting a service cheaply.
All in all, Getting Started In Consulting is a valuable book for consultant rookies or those with ambitions to rev up their practice and is a good investment for the reader.