Today, I picked my newspaper up off the lawn and brought it in to my house to read with my coffee. I didn’t have to take my daughter to school because of President’s Day, so I came back inside my house.
From all indications, this ritual is on the road to extinction. Many reports predict that all newspapers will transform to on-line versions where readers can see the content on a PC, mobile device, tablet, cell phone, or other electronic piece. Indeed, some newspapers have already gone that route, in the midst of many others folding.
Many of you may not be old enough to remember the milkman. When I was little, competing dairies would deliver two bottles of milk, ice cream, butter, and other goods directly to your door. Only one service still does that today, Schwann’s, and it has added many other food items and ready-to-eat meals in order to be profitable. If we don’t intervene, the delivery of daily print newspapers will go the way of the milkman.
This does not have to be the case! I am reminded in the now-classic work by Jim Collins, Good-to-Great, where he discusses the Hedgehog Concept. Of the three components, one is “understanding the denominator that drives your economic engine.” Or in other words, what is it that keeps your lights turned on?
For newspapers, this is not subscriptions. The number of subscribers to daily and weekend newspapers continues to dwindle nationwide. If the denominator were subscribers, print newspapers would be history.
Clearly, the economic factor is advertising. As long as companies are willing to advertise in print editions of papers, we will still have them produced and delivered.
If you love your paper delivered to your door, if you like picking it up off the lawn and taking it with you when you leave in the morning, the key is not to encourage your friends and co-workers to subscribe. Rather, it is to frequent the advertisers who invest in the paper with your business, and further, to let them know that the ad they placed in the paper influenced your buying decision. You can say at Macy’s, “I want to see the dress you advertised in the paper on Sunday,” which reinforces that is how you got there.
The simplest way to reinforce print advertising is to use the coupons that businesses pay for to print, giving you discounts or tw0-for-one purchases. If customers don’t use them, advertisers will stop paying for the newspapers to print them. And, when advertisers stop paying for printing, that will turn out the lights for papers.
Think about that. Do you really want a world where there are no print newspapers? Where everyone stares at a cell phone or tablet on the bus? Where you can’t sneak a peek at a headline and make a mental note to find more about it later? Where you eat cereal with your spoon in one hand and your stylus in the other? Where you have to send a link to a friend instead of clipping an article with a handwritte note and mailing it? Really – do you also appreciate receiving e-Cards?
Not me. I’ve got my coupons from Saturday’s and Sunday’s paper. I’m ready to turn them in this week. I want to support print editions.
The good news is that there are plenty of households that still subscribe to physical newspapers. Many homes on my street, including me, have more than one paper thrown and waiting for them each day. I also take the print edition of the Wall Street Journal. We are not starting from a base of zero.
If enough people want to keep papers printed, we can do that. It is just a decision that enough of us need to make and want to do.
How about you? Let’s talk about it really soon!
“When you decide to sell off your problems, don’t sell off your best people. This is one of those little secrets of change. If you create a place where the best people always have a seat on the bus, they’re more likely to support changes in direction.”
“At the top levels of your organization, you absolutely must have the discipline not to hire until you find the right people. The single most harmful step you can take in a journey from good to great is to put the wrong people in key positions. Second, widen your definition of ‘right people’ to focus more on the character attributes of the person and less on specialized knowledge. People can learn skills and acquire knowledge, but they cannot learn the essential character traits that make them right for your organization. Third – and this is the key – take advantage of difficult economic times to hire great people, even if you don’t have a specific job in mind.”
Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.
Over twenty years ago, a large Christian publishing firm bought a quite small, but rapidly growing Christian publishing firm. Why? The large firm wanted the President of the small firm to work for them – and thought the easiest way to make that happen was to buy the company. That President later became the leader of the entire company.
The lesson – you do what you can to get the best people. Getting the best people provides the single greatest strategic advantage. Whatever else is second is a distant second.
The latest example of putting this wisdom into practice comes from Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. To state it simply, he buys companies to get people. Here are a couple of excerpts from: Mark Zuckerberg: “We Buy Companies To Get Excellent People”:
Speaking to an audience at Y Combinator’s Startup School last weekend, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that “Facebook has not once bought a company for the company itself. We buy companies to get excellent people.”
Facebook’s chief is on the prowl for top talent. And scooping up that talent has recently meant absorbing the companies they run.
Here’s the video of Zuckerberg talking about this practice:
Getting the right people. Mastering talent acquisition. The history of success is a history of products and people. And it is always people that find/discover/invent the products and the systems that lead to success. Getting the right people really is critically important.
So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.
For the first major chapter in my life, I served churches in California and Texas as a minister. I still serve as a “guest preacher” occasionally, and I present books at the Urban Engagment Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries. So, each month, I read and present a minimum of two book synopses – one a business book for the First FRiday Book Synopsis, the other a social justice/poverty/nonprofit book.
The selections for the Urban Engagement Book Club are genuinely diverse. I have presented Forces for Good, kind of a Good to Great for nonprofits. I have presented books about poverty, such as The Working Poor by Pulitzer Prize winning author David Shipler. (I am repeating that presentation later this month). I have presented the provocative Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.
And this week, I presented the book The Hole In Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life And Might Just Change The World, by Richard Stearns (President, World Vision, U. S.). This book recently received the 2010 Christian Book of the Year award from The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
Though Central Dallas Ministries is a faith-based organization, we usually do not choose books that are “overtly Christian.” (The books are selected in discussion with leaders of CDM, with major input from their CEO, Larry James). We choose books that would be helpful to anyone concerned with issues of poverty and social justice, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy. We simply try to get people to think more often and more deeply about the needs others, and then we strive to point to needed actions and solutions.
This book by Stearns, a former business executive and now President of World Vision, a remarkable Christian relief organization, has some gripping passages, like this one:
I don’t think I have ever been to a place as spiritually dark as Gulu, in northern Uganda. Gulu is the epicenter of more than twenty years of violent atrocities committed by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, and its leader, Joseph Kony, a monster who has declared himself to be the son of God. If Satan is alive and manifesting himself in our world, he is surely present in this cultish and brutal group whose trademark is the kidnapping of children who are subsequently forced at gunpoint to commit murder, rape, and even acts of cannibalism… He has kidnapped more than thirty-eight thousand children… it was in this unlikely backdrop that I witnessed the awesome power of the gospel that has become so tame to us in America.
It is also filled with challenging quotes, such as this one:
It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.
In my presentation, I tried to speak to the universal truths and challenges from this book. Because this is what I believe: yes, it is a Christian obligation to serve those in need, but, in fact, it is deeper than that – it is a universal human obligation. Here is what I put on the handout:
What could someone who does not believe in Christ make of this book? I think this: the principles are “transferable” into any approach to human life, to human ethics:
• any understanding of the call to human virtue would demand the same things as this book argues re. Christ’s demands:
• an unwavering commitment to serving people, meeting their needs, lifting them out of poverty
• an unwavering commitment to a more selfless life in that pursuit
• perpetual, expanding vision (i.e., actually seeing) regarding real human need
For all Christians, I highly recommend this book. It pulls no punches in pointing out that the church has a “hole in its gospel” whenever it focuses solely on “spiritual needs,” and does not seek to meet the simple (and, in many parts of the world, including all around us, the overwhelming) human needs.
And to others, this book is still worth reading to raise your awareness of the “hole” in our approach to life. That hole is two-fold – people battle with the holes in life caused by poverty, disease, the inhumanity of others… And, any approach to life that does not see such holes, and seek to serve and solve, is a life that is not whole.
Cheryl offers: There is a reporter at CNN named Caitlin Hagan that I really like. Her latest achievement is today’s story about a surgeon at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It seems his patient, a young Afghani soldier who had been brought there with a serious head injury, was also quite dangerous to himself and those around him without even knowing it. What they initially thought was shrapnel turned out to be a live bullet that had not detonated. After multiple tests confirmed the identity of the object, an explosive ordnance disposal team was summoned. That’s when Major John Bini, who oversees all major trauma cases there, became what Jim Collins defines in his book Good to Great a Level 5 leader. Bini took all the precautions necessary such as donning body armor under his scrubs, dismissing all non-essential personnel from the premises, removing sources of electricity in the operating room, manually administering the procedures for the operation and when he couldn’t use clamps or a scalpel close to the bullet, he pulled the object out with his hands. When it was all over, he calmly deflected praise and instead pointed to the soldiers who are in the field as the ones deserving praise. Collins defines a Level 5 leader as someone who “Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Dr. Bini saw this as his job because he is the director of the emergency surgery course, nothing more, nothing less. To me, that is greatness, courage, and humility. Who wouldn’t want to follow that leader?
I’ve just become aware of the current listing of the Thinkers 50 (The definitive listing of the world’s top 50 business thinkers), which lists the most influential business thinkers by ranked order of importance and influence, based on 10 measures:
1. Originality of Ideas: Are the ideas and examples used by the thinker original?
2. Practicality of Ideas: Have the ideas promoted by the thinker been implemented in organizations? And, has the implementation been successful?
3. Presentation Style: How proficient is the thinker at presenting his/her ideas orally?
4. Written Communication: How proficient is the thinker at presenting his/her ideas in writing?
5. Loyalty of Followers: How committed are the thinker’s disciples to spreading the message and putting it to work?
6. Business Sense: Do they practice what they preach in their own business?
7. International Outlook: How international are they in outlook and thinking?
8. Rigor of Research: How well researched are their books and presentations?
9. Impact of Ideas: Have their ideas had an impact on the way people manage or think about management?
10. Guru Factor: The clincher: are they, for better or worse, guru material by your definition and expectation?
It is an impressive list, and one that I think most of our readers will agree with. Among the authors in the top 20 that we have chosen for presentations at the First Friday Book Synopsis are:
Malcolm Gladwell (#2), W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgnew (#5), Bill Gates (#7), Gary Hamel (#10), Ram Charan (#13), Marshall Goldsmith (# 14), Jim Collins (#17), Tom Peters (#19), and Jack Welch (#20).
The #1 Thinker is CK Prahalad, the author of the book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. This book is one that I am aware of, but have not read and presented.
For a brief slideshow of the top 15, go to the Huffington Post article The Top 15 Business Thinkers: Thinkers 50. For the complete list of the 50, click here to go the web site for the Thinkers 50. You will find a video interview with CK Prahalad, and profiles of all of the rest on the list.
(By the way, check out the post by our blogging team member Bob Morris: Q#147: Who were the most influential business thinkers in the 20th century?)
You can order our synopses for many of these books, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com – including all three of Gladwell’s books, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgnew’s Blue Ocean Strategy, Charan’s Execution (and other titles), and Collins’ Good to Great (and soon, Collins How the Mighty Fall – we have presented it, and it will be available on the web site soon) — plus other titles by some of these leading business thinkers.