Short reviews of seven new business books offering information on marketing, starting a business, and problem solving. Plus: a best-selling author lists his favorite business books from this year.
Challenge your thinking with the wisdom in these books
If I can't sell, you can keep your revolution
Rules for Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services, by Guy Kawasaki with Michele Moreno, $25
Radical Marketing: From Harvard to Harley, Ten Who Broke the Rules and Made It Big, by Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin, $36.50
(both from HarperBusiness, 1999)
The oldest come-on around is the one that promises something new. How many times have your eyes skidded over book jackets that insist, " Everything you know is wrong"? Or, " Throw away the old rules--these are the new rules!" It's too bad, because the best books are often the ones that go back to basics. Take, for example, Guy Kawasaki's Rules for Revolutionaries or Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin's Radical Marketing. Despite the breathless titles, there's nothing really radical or revolutionary about either one. They're essentially books about how to be a smart marketer.
Radical Marketing is built around 10 company examples and what the authors describe as the 10 rules of radical marketing. Among them: "The CEO must own the marketing function," "Get out of the head office and face-to-face with the people who matter--the customers," "Use market research cautiously," and "Hire only passionate missionaries." It sounds like a lot of standard consultantese, but don't let the insights into the obvious fool you. Although some of the company cases will be familiar (the Grateful Dead, Boston Beer Co., Harley -Davidson Motor Co., Virgin Atlantic Airways), others offer stories you may not have heard anywhere else (like those of Snap-On Inc., Iams Co., Providian Financial). All are solid case studies full of useful stories of smart marketers.
The chapter on Snap-On's history, for example, lays out a brilliant, counterintuitive strategy. Rather than using traditional distribution channels, the company has built a mobile-dealer network. Instead of sitting on a phone in a warehouse, each of the Snap-On guys drives around in a van full of tools, bringing the goods right to the customers. Each van visits 200 to 3,000 customers every week and produces about $400,000 in annual revenues. Using that tactic, the company grew to $1.7 billion in revenues and $150 million in earnings in 1997 and captured a 60% share of the mobile-van automotive-tool market.
Compared with Radical Marketing, Guy Kawasaki's book takes a more tip-filled, cheerleading approach, with chapters broken into sections enjoining readers to "Create like a god," "Command like a king," "Work like a slave," and other crackerjack bits of strategic advice. But there's good stuff here too, including Kawasaki's guide to becoming a company evangelist (as he was for Apple Computer). He also gives a brief primer on finding market-research information relatively inexpensively on the Internet. And there's a chapter subtitled "Ne Te Terant Molarii," which translates as "Don't let the plodding millers grind you down." It is Kawasaki's entreaty not to let the naysayers keep you from driving on toward success. (He includes a copy of a rejection letter he received in 1982 from a Microsoft recruiter.)
Kawasaki writes frequently about his own trials and tribulations with technology, including an episode in which his E-mail system got corrupted and deleted a slew of his unread messages. To his surprise, no one ever wrote him back to find out why he hadn't responded to his E-mail messages. He now recommends that others practice the mass-delete tactic occasionally to manage their information overload. He's a practical guy and presumably is putting his tactics to work at Garage.com, his Silicon Valley company, which helps start-ups find seed capital.
I know what you read last summer
The Harvard Entrepreneurs Club Guide to Starting Your Own Business, by Poonam Sharma et al.
(John Wiley & Sons, 1999, $14.95)
Inc. Yourself: How to Profit by Setting Up Your Own Corporation, ninth edition, by Judith McQuown
(Broadway Books, 1999, $27.50)
The Accounting Game, by Darrell Mullis and Judith Orloff, with Larry Bograd
(Sourcebooks, 1999, $16.95)
What is it with Jennifer Love Hewitt? First she stars in teenage slasher movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer, and now she's an icon for college entrepreneurs. That revelation is the most curious thing about The Harvard Entrepreneurs Club Guide, which turns out to be a fairly standard how-to-start-a-business tome. The book covers all the basics, from marketing and finance to writing a business plan, without ever actually saying whom the authors are targeting--college students or anyone else who might want to start a business. The how-to advice is solid, but then there's the Jennifer Love Hewitt stuff. One of the contributing writers calls her his "inspiration," and the book ends by citing her motto--"Always follow your heart"--as the best advice any entrepreneur can receive. Whatever.
If you're contemplating incorporating your business or know someone who is, take note of the ninth edition of Judith McQuown's Inc. Yourself. First published in 1977, the book is a solidly researched and written classic on the topic of starting a corporation. Previous editions have sold more than 500,000 copies, and there's a good reason for this book's success: it's reliable. The new edition is updated to reflect all the changes in corporate structure, taxes, and pensions that have occurred since the last edition came out.
The Accounting Game is more of a workbook than anything else. Built on the premise that you learn best by doing, the book is designed to teach you everything you need to know about creating and understanding financial statements by having you set them up for an imaginary lemonade stand. The whole exercise is based on the highly successful seminars run since the early 1980s by an outfit called Education Discoveries. It's unlikely that the book version can achieve the same energy as the actual seminars, but it's written as a straightforward, interactive, and lighthearted romp through LIFO/FIFO, retained earnings, accounts payable, and the rest of that zany accounting lingo you're dying to learn. As an oversized paperback, it's a great value. Plus, if you work through the book, you really do come away with a basic understanding of accounting fundamentals.
The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, by Virginia Postrel
(Free Press, 1998, $25)
Free, Perfect, and Now: Connecting to the Three Insatiable Customer Demands, by Rob Rodin, with Curtis Hartman
(Simon & Schuster, 1999, $25)
Two notable books written by former Inc. staff members are now on the market. In The Future and Its Enemies, former Inc. writer Virginia Postrel (who appeared in the magazine from 1984 to 1986; her name was Virginia Inman then) makes a reasoned and passionate argument that a natural evolution of ideas usually leads to better problem solving in a company than centralized, technocratic planning does. Postrel, now editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, argues that our notions of work and play affect everything we do, from starting a business to running a government. "It is in curiosity, problem solving, and play that we discover who we are," she writes.
Curtis Hartman, a senior editor at Inc. from 1982 to 1990, collaborated with Rob Rodin, CEO of billion-dollar electronics-parts distributor Marshall Industries, to produce Free, Perfect, and Now. Under Rodin's watch, over the past six years, Marshall Industries, founded in 1947, grew from $500 million to $1.7 billion in revenues. But don't let the size of the enterprise scare you off. The book is full of practical, hands-on advice that is as useful for a start-up as it is for a company of Marshall's girth. "If your company's critical capabilities aren't accessible to customers 24 hours a day, you aren't designed to meet the future," Rodin warns.
Most chapters end with a "manager's workbook," and while such a device can seem tired and trite in some books, it's executed with aplomb here. The result is advice that reads like the best of Inc.'s Hands On section . "Experience your own service," Rodin advises at the end of one chapter. "No matter what you sell, you have no idea how your customers feel about your service or product until you order it, buy it, eat it, use it, or call for help with a problem." The rest of the book is devoted to telling his own story at Marshall and offering one management gem after another.
In one section, for example, Rodin observes that information-technology people speak only technobabble because at most companies they're "herded into one isolated department." He argues: "The best IT professionals live with the business units. They spread out across the company and work side by side with the business folks." It's smart advice to make IT truly useful rather than designate it as the place where everyone goes to gripe. Free, Perfect, and Now is a fascinating collection of one CEO's lessons in how to get customers what they want at the lowest cost, at the highest quality, and as soon as possible. Along the way, Rodin and Hartman offer a great deal of hands-on advice about the ways in which any business owner or manager can try to do the same.
William Bridges, author of JobShift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs (Perseus Press, 1995, $13), and founder of William Bridges & Associates, in Mill Valley, Calif.
LAST BOOK READ:
Best-selling author Bridges reads all the time--but you won't find a pile of dense business tomes on his desk or next to his bed. He says he looks increasingly to magazines ( Inc., Fast Company, Business 2.0) for novel ideas.
FAVORITE BOOKS READ THIS YEAR:
The classics. Bridges cites icon Peter Drucker and celeb guru Tom Peters as the tops. Heading his list are Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HarperBusiness, 1993, $14.50) and Post-Capitalist Society (HarperBusiness, 1994, $13.50). The Peters books he suggests are Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties (Fawcett Books, 1994, $15) and Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution (HarperCollins, 1991, $18).
WHAT HE DISLIKES:
"The thing that turns me off pretty fast--and I'm afraid I've fallen into this trap too--is too much advice. What businesspeople need is inspiration, stimulus, examples. That's what Drucker and Peters do, although Peters sometimes gives advice as well. That's one of his bad habits." --Mike Hofman