Tag Archives: Jim Collins

Onward by Schultz Takes the Prize as Most Enjoyable Book

I am frequently asked what has been the best book, the most influential book, and the most enjoyable book that I have read for the First Friday Book Synopsis over the 17 years we have been conducting the program.  I  entertained that question as recently as last night, as I distributed fliers for our August 1 program in Dallas.

The best book was Good to Great by Jim Collins.(New York:  Harper Business, 2001).   The most influential book was Winning the Global Game  by Jeffrey Rosensweig (New York:  Free Press, 1998). But, those explanations are for other posts.

In today’s post, I will cover the most enjoyable book.

That winner is Onward by Howard Schultz, the President and CEO of Starbucks (New York;  Rodale, 2010).  Onward Book Cover

Novel-like in its presentation, this book took you inside the operations of the company as well as inside the brain of its author.  The book makes you feel as if you were celebrating with the author in good times, and struggling with him to feel the anger and pain in hard times.

In every event covered in the book, you not only read the facts, but also, the attitude and feelings that accompany them.  Most striking was the story of a leaked e-Mail that found its way to the Internet, jeopardizing the future of the company.  Another was the anger that Schultz expressed when he wanted his shops to smell like coffee, not burnt cheese, causing him to ask if they were going to start serving hash browns.

The story of VIA was captivating, as were the issues of expanding the business internationally.

Starbucks has been the subject of many books, articles, and posts over the years.  The company’s success speaks for itself.  But you will find nothing that takes you inside nearly as much as this book.

Howard Schultz PictureI sometimes wish that Schultz would keep his mouth shut.  When he speaks out about politics, education, and other social issues, I visualize boycotts, picket lines, and lost customers.  But, he can’t do it.  He is outspoken and opinionated.  And, he has enough money to cut his losses.  There is no question that this book would not have been my choice for the most entertaining work had Schultz been modest and laid-back.  That is simply not him.

It is dated now.  Starbucks has moved on.  Schultz and the company have solved many of the problems you read in this book, and they have been replaced by new challenges.

However, history is history.  And this one is fun.  Perhaps that is because I am a customer and have experienced in the stores much of what I read here.  But, what makes it fun is going inside the boardroom, operations, and brain of its author.

For a period of time, this book was # 1 on the best-seller lists, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

You can read a review of this book written by Bob Morris on our blog by clicking here.

I will explain why I selected the best book and most influential book in future posts.

Keeping Newspapers from Going the Route of the Milkman

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!




Are They Telling Us The Truth? – Maybe The Issue Of The Era (60 Minutes Reveals a Liar)

Who can we trust?  Who can we trust to tell us the truth?  Especially, when the truth really matters?

This is not a new concern.  And, the sense that more and more people seem to be so untrustworthy may be a false sense.  I suspect that if we picked any decade, from any century, thoughtful people would be writing that there seems to be an alarming and society-threatening erosion of ethical standards evident to all.

So, now it is our turn.  And, really, what do we do?

This blog post is prompted by the very disturbing exposé on 60 Minutes last night, Deception at Duke.

The story focused on the fraud perpetrated by Dr. Anil Potti at Duke University.  This fraud was pulled off right under the nose of “the renowned lab of Dr. Joseph Nevins,” and Dr. Nevins had selected Dr. Potti to mentor.

Dr. Nevins believed in Dr. Potti.  He clearly should not have been so trusting.

The story centered on a breakthrough discovery by Dr. Potti that would certainly bring healing to cancer patients.  “80%” was the promised rate of cure.  But it was all built on a  house of lies; outright fraud.  From the report;

Pelley: Is it a close call? Or is it abundantly clear that the data were fabricated?

Nevins: Abundantly clear.

But this brief blog post is about the deeper implications:  “Are they telling us the truth?”  From Enron, to BP, to mortgage lenders to borrowers to Wall Street Banks to big banks to politicians to…  we face an era in which the ability to discover whether or not they “are telling us the truth” is the most important skill to develop.

How can we tell if someone is lying to us?

And, there is something of a spectrum to this.  There is the outright lie, as in the case of Dr. Potti at the Duke lab.  And then there is the overabundance of sloppy reporting, sloppy research, inadequate diagnosis of problems and solutions that is rampant.  And some (most) of this is from well-meaning, “honest people” who simply think that know more than they actually do know or can know.  And, yet, they announce their findings with such certianty.

I could give a long ist of business studies and books to add to this, like:  Jim Collins  and his pronouncements in Good to Great.  Good to Great came out in 2001.  That is eleven short years ago.  Of the eleven “great’ exemplar companies, notice these three:

• Circuit City – now bankrupt

• Fannie Mae – now…  we’ll, you know their many failures

• Wells Fargo – which just settled as one of the big banks with illegal practices in the foreclosure aftermath of the great 2008 financial crisis

Please do not misunderstand.  I am not accusing Jim Collins of being in the same category of Dr. Potti.  Dr. Potti lied.  Jim Collins was wrong.  That is a big difference.

Mr. Collins would argue that, at the time, these were in fact “great” companies.  And his follow-up book, How the Mighty Fall, was an attempt to describe how companies can fall from greatness.  I like Jim Collins’ books.  But when a writer writes with his kind of certainty, and then has to explain where he missed it, maybe there should be a red flag waving saying “don’t trust what this guy says so quickly.”

(In Great by Choice, Apple is an example of a “failed company”; but, as he explains, he was describing the Apple in the years before their greatest triumphs.  Here’s the flaw in his reason – their “bad years” may have been so very important to set them up for their insanely great years.  So, were they truly a failure?  I suspect not).

Back to the Duke story.  There is no indication that Dr. Nevins in any way participated in, condoned, or ultimately excused the lies of Dr. Potti.  Dr. Nevins was as astonished as the rest of us.  In fact, he looked just a little shell-shocked to me in the interview.  But, if the man overseeing the work did not catch the fraud, because he wanted to believe the good news, then what chance do the rest of us have in catching the fraud?

This blog post is simply an “I’m thinking about all this” post.  Here is one of my thoughts;  we live in a data-rich era.  Every book, every study, has to have data.  Jim Collins is data driven.   But there is some indication that one can carefully select data to “agree with” an already reached conclusion.  And, when one presents “findings” in such a “this is right, and it can be trusted” format, then when things do not turn out that way…  well, trust becomes one of the casualties.

60 Minutes seemed to be asking”  “Who can we ask to find out if the data really is trustworthy?”  I would like to know the answer to that question.

A friend of mine, a good teacher in a very fine local MBA program, reminds me that this is not a new problem.  It has always been with us, it will not go away, and…though he does not say these words, he implies that there is not much we can do about it.  Ethical failure almost seems to be the human condition.

“There is not much we can do about it.”  Now, that is an observation that can lead to genuine despair.

A Great by Choice Glossary

Last Friday, I presented my synopsis of the new Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen book, Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All.  It is a great addition to the Jim Collins canon.

Jim Collins is a vocabulary creator.  In his earlier books, he introduced hedgehog circles, and Level 5 Leadership, among other terms.  In this new nook, he continues his tradition.  So here is a Great by Choice glossary, to help you when you run across these terms.

• A Great by Choice Glossary:

1)    10Xers – companies that beat their industry, over the long haul, by at least 10 times
2)    20 Mile March – a set, pre-decided “advance,” on schedule (Learned from the daily goal of Roald Admundsen’s team, which trekked a set, pre-determined distance every day, on their way to the South Pole)
3)    SMaCSpecific; Methodical; and Consistent
4)    Bullets and Cannonballs – Bullets – an empirical test aimed at learning what works, it meets three criteria:  low cost; low risk; low distraction.  Cannonballs:  big cost, big risk, big focus/energy/distraction.
Two kinds:  Callibrated (based on empirical validation)
vs. Uncallibrated (you don’t want many of these!)
5)    The Death Line – the end, with no coming back.  (you don’t want this – “duh!”)
6)    Luck – there’s good luck, there’s bad luck.  And it is in the response to bad luck that the tale is told…  — ROL – Return on Luck. 


Blah, Blah, Blah & Demand – December Choices for the First Friday Book Synopsis

We had a terrific session yesterday at the November, 2011 First Friday Book Synopsis.  Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Shallows, and I presented my synopsis of the new book by Jim Collins, Great by Choice.  It was a valuable session.  Both books were terrific, and I view Great by Choice as an important book for all leaders.

For December, we have selected two books.  The first is Blah Blah Blah:  What To Do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam.  Roam is the author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, which Karl presented back at the July, 2008 First Friday Book Synopsis.  Though Roam is known for his creative use of simple drawings, it his clear thinking that makes him an especially valuable resource.  You can read the review of this new book by Bob Morris on our blog here, and Bob’s most recent interview with Roam (it’s his send with this author), here.

The other selection is Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian Slywotzky and Karl Weber.  I have not yet read much of this book, but Bob Morris speaks highly of it, so I look forward  to diving into it.  The title reminds me of the famous line by Steve Jobs:  “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  You can read the review of this book by Bob Morris on our blog here.

Speaking of Steve Jobs, I will present the new Walter Isaacson biography, Steve Jobs, at the January, 2012 First Friday Book Synopsis.  I have read the first couple of chapters, and am utterly captivated.  It is selling fairly well:  #1 on practically every list, (overall and nonfiction) and its different versions are #s 1, 2, & 3, (Kindle Edition; Hardcover Edition; Audio edition) on the Amazon Business Best-Seller list at the hour I write this blog post.  I look forward to every presentation I make at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but the Jobs books is one that I am unusually jazzed about.


You will be able to register through our home page for the December First Friday Book Synopsis, hopefully, by the middle of next week (around November 9).

From Viktor Frankl to Jim Collins – We are Free to Choose

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Viktor Frankl

We cannot predict the future.  But we can create it.
Jim Collins, Great by Choice


It’s been a lot of years since I was introduced to Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  It was one of those “assigned readings” in my graduate school days.   It was worth reading.  Viktor Frankl recounted his own experiences in a series of concentration camps ( he was moved from camp to  camp, including a stint in Auschwitz), a true, dire, “hopeless” prison existence. In the midst of that experience, he developed his “logotherapy.”  The quote above is at the heart of his philosophy – you cannot control much of anything, but you can, you always can, choose your attitude in the midst of whatever circumstances you face.

Jim Collins kept reminding me of Viktor Frankl in his new book Great by Choice.  Here’s a key quote, the last paragraph of the book:

We are not imprisoned by our circumstances.  We are not imprisoned by the luck we get of the inherent unfairness of life.  We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success.  We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives.  In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us.  But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.  

In this book, Jim Collins gives a clear call:  that leaders can, and must, choose to be great – “great by choice.”  It’s a pretty good reminder.  Because, at this moment, circumstances – economic unrest and uncertainty — appear to be the daily struggle all companies face.  But, regardless of the difficulty, to choose to be great, and then to work toward implementing that decision, is what sets apart the 10x companies from the rest.  (10x – his designation for the “great companies,” the companies that beat the industry index by 10.

From Frankl to Collins.  There must be something to this.


(I will present my synopsis of this new Collins book, Great by Choice, this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis).