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2 Remarkable Books That Will Change Your Life--And Your Business

Not every business book is created equal.
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Great business books challenge assumptions, encourage new worldviews, and help make us not just better businesspeople but better people. Here are two that have had a tremendous impact in my life, both personally and professionally.

Bigger Is Better. Always. Right?

“There are libraries of books, reams of articles, and endless videos and tapes on how to create a motivated workforce, but if you want to see examples of businesses that have cracked the code, so to speak, you need look no further than the small giants. Indeed, the entire relationship between the employees and the company is the entire basis for the mojo they exude.”

--Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham

It’s the American Dream. Our hard-won freedom provides us with the opportunity for success and prosperity, innately wedded to the concept of upward social mobility derived from hard work.

But why does hard work have to necessarily mean upward mobility? When we think of the health of a business, why is our reflex to talk first about its year-over-year growth instead of other performance indicators (e.g., year-over-year satisfaction, quality, or turnover)? And who says that growth itself is an innately good thing?

In Small Giants, Bo Burlingham takes a look at 14 companies that have “chosen to march to their own drummer,” each deciding to be extraordinary in a specific way that was meaningful to them and their business.

For each organization, this was a deliberate decision to focus on more satisfying business goals than acquiesce to the pressure of endless growth. For some, this meant simply being great at what they do. For others, it was about creating a great place to work or providing exceptional customer service. And for others, they found their driving force in the desire to provide significant contributions to their communities or the individuals in the organizations themselves.

For the avoidance of doubt, each of these companies (under $350 million in revenue) is also successful relative to many of our more classic “default financial metrics.” They’ve merely chosen to get off the U.S. growth gerbil wheel that seems to have somehow woven itself into the social fabric of our modern-day business conscience.

Bottom line, every business leader has an obligation to really look at the ambition and purpose of his or her organization with fresh and deliberate eyes; failure to make a conscious choice is, like it or not, still a choice.

As such, Small Giants provides not just insight into contrarian businesses and the attendant results for their customers and employees; it also delivers powerful insights and actionable questions for those seeking to create change in their own organizations.

How to Break the "Silence to Violence" Phenomenon

“The Pool of Shared Meaning is the birthplace of synergy.”

--Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

We’ve all been there. Stuck. Confused. Frustrated. Not sure what to do with a situation at work (or home, for that matter).

Odds are, if this is the case, there’s an important conversation standing in our way. Which leaves us with three simple options: avoid it (the easy route we all-too-frequently choose, which thereby perpetuates the problem); face it and handle it poorly (hardly a great Plan B); or face it and handle it well.

Most often, when we feel the pressure on our mental kettle starting to create steam, we hold it in until we simply can’t take it any longer--and then we drop a bomb, moving, in what the authors refer to as, “from silence to violence.”

In Crucial Conversations, the authors share the results of their 25-year study of successful communicators. Not surprisingly, the key skill that differentiated them from their peers was their ability to deal with these very crucial (and oft-dreaded) conversations.

The good news for those of us sitting outside of this cohort? This skill set is easy to learn and can help anyone face any situation with nearly anybody--regardless of the person's position, power, or authority.

Crucial Conversations provides practical tools on how to prepare for these situations, create safe and powerful dialogue, and get better outcomes--arguably skills that virtually anyone in any business could use a primer (or refresher) on from time to time.

Stephen King once described books as “a uniquely portable magic.” Though he was most likely conjuring fiction in the context of this quote, I think it’s a good perspective on the power that business books like these can have for organizations, small and large alike.

So, looking for a little magic? Stuck on the vision of your mighty endeavor? Or simply stuck? Pick up these two books--you’ll be glad you did.

Note of Acknowledgement: Bo Burlingham (author of Small Giants) is editor-at-large at Inc.; the author of this column read Small Giants several years prior to writing a biweekly column for Inc.com and is in no way being compensated or influenced to promote this book.

Last updated: Apr 15, 2014

CURT HANKE | Columnist | Founder and CEO of Shine United

Curt Hanke is the founder and CEO of Shine United, a 41-person advertising and digital agency headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, serving such clients as Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Cheese, Mizuno Running Shoes, Entwine Wine, and Winston Fly Rods.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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