Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Book Review: Grit In Your Craw


Robert Luckadoo's book, "Grit In Your Craw" talks about "Eight Strengths You Can't Succeed Without" and it is a pretty good list:

  1. Diligence
  2. Tenacity
  3. Optimism
  4. Flexibility
  5. Discipline
  6. Resilience
  7. Confidence
  8. Purpose

Luckadoo makes the 8 topics "real" by sharing personal stories about what he's learned in each of these areas. His style is very readable, and he talks about things like his father's death when he was 12 years old and what he learned from his mother through the struggle to keep the family on track.

If you read a lot, like I do, many of the themes will sound familiar (the same is true of a lot of business-oriented books - different ways of articulating common subjects). In Luckadoo's case, I was surprised at how much his content resonated with me - his life has been filled with experiences very different from my own. For example, he was a NASCAR driver, a sports coach, and runs his own insurance agency - definitely not a stranger to trying different paths to success.

Each of the chapters does a nice job of explaining the concept through one or more entertaining stories, generally about things that Luckadoo's experienced. That makes a different to me, since it takes things out of the theoretical and gets the ideas into your head in a very visual way.

Luckadoo gives some practical advice along the way, which was very thought provoking. However, this isn't really a "how to" book - it is more of a set of stories to get you think about the things that contribute to (or detract from) your success.

This book is very well-suited for business leaders, entrepreneurs, or people who want to move to the next level with regard to their impact in business. It will help you think about - and be more deliberate about - how you lead, how you follow, and why you do what you do every day.

I'd love to see Luckadoo come out with a second edition with exercises to take readers through some deeper thinking about these 8 areas, as I think that kind of approach would be very helpful - especially for people who feel stuck in their current situation.

In any case, I enjoyed "Grit In Your Craw," and found it well worth the read.

Your Best Just Got Better - A Review

I've been reading Jason Womack's book, "Your Best Just Got Better," on my Kindle for the past week or so.  I just finished it and the verdict is in: It is so well done!

Book YourBestJustGotBetter

I met Jason a few years ago when he still worked for the David Allen Company, and have been impressed with his perspective from day one, particularly his ability to provide insightful suggestions to improve your skills no matter what your current situation.

Expand your perspective to improve your outcomes

This book is very interesting, practical, energizing and I highly recommend it.  Throughout, Jason offers hands-on exercises to get you into a more active mode of driving your own future.  I read the book cover-to-cover, but now I am planning to go back and conduct the exercises step-by-step (I skipped some exercises because I was on planes, or my energy / attention levels weren't where they needed to be) because I can see just how powerful they can be.

One pervasive theme throughout the book is to think beyond your "normal" perspective so you can stretch your goals, drive different and better effort, and get more assertive in pushing your life where you want it to go.  For example, the book begins with an interesting visioning exercise called "Your Ideal Day," which gets you to begin imagining how things could be if you had a magic wand.  If you want a taste of this, be sure and check out Jason's web site for a sample, along with a contest that goes through the end of 2012.

One of the things I like about Jason is that he uses a lot of models and constructs that make sense to me (I'm big on finding models that I can apply in different situations.  For example, I like the I.D.E.A. model that shows up throughout the book:

I: Identify a very specific area you want to improve. Focus your attention on making the best better in one area of your life, and clarify what that will look like when you get there.

D: Develop strategies to engage in specific actions and techniques to direct your professional improvement and personal development. Acknowledge the process—remember, you’re just getting started! An important aspect is that the most sustainable changes people tend to make usually start small, are repeated with consistency, and often result in a payoff greater than anyone could have hoped.

E: Experiment by planning for and taking actions that generate bursts of momentum. Experimenting gives you the freedom to stop at any time to try something new. It also provides a more objective framework so that you can determine whether you should stop or continue moving forward. When you take actions to make your best better, it continues to get better.

A: Assess the value the effort has created. Here is the question I consistently ask myself, my friends, my family, even my clients: “Is what you’re doing worth the effort?”

Womack, Jason W. (2012-01-05). Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (p. 5). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

 Shape your own outcomes

Jason also provides some great advice in shaping the results you get in your life - one involves adjusting the words you use to create more positive, future-oriented results; the other involves taking inventory of the people you hang out with, and distancing yourself from those that have a negative or counter-productive influence on you.  Truly great advice.

You'll find some familiar concepts (including some I've written about in the past, like time audits) and they're always presented with solid step-by-step methods to help you apply the concepts.  For example, you'll find some great techniques for more effective "chunking" (aka time boxing) your day to get more out of each 15-minute block in your day.  You'll also find good techniques to track how you're doing on your goals, as well as how well you're using your energy to get there.As someone who's always looking for ways to become more productive, I eat this stuff up.  

This book is that it isn't just about getting more done, Jason also coaches you on methods you can use to make more money - that's something we can all use, particularly in this economy.  And Jason's advice on how to build and leverage your network (business, social, etc) is excellent.  Very cool.

A great book for "now"

Lately, I've noticed that a lot of people I know are taking hard looks at their lives - either to increase their success, make more money, or fig our out what's next for them.  If that sounds like you, this book is perfect for you right now, and I encourage you to pick up a copy and get started going through the exercises.

If you aren't sure, or you want to get a feel for Jason's writing style, why not start with a free e-book from him called, "7 Keys To A More Productive Day," from Jason Womack's web site.

If you're convinced and ready to jump in, grab a copy of "Your Best Just Got Better," today.  By the way - I think this book will be a great gift for some recent graduates I know, as well as great gifts this holiday season for some of my good friends.

"Brand Real" - does your brand pass the test?

Laurence Vincent's book, "Brand Real," is all about brands and brand loyalty.  At first, I was wondering how much of it would apply to me - after all, I'm more of a technical guy, and I'm not in charge of a big brand.  I found that there were actually a lot of relevant take-aways from this book that I could apply in my daily life.

Brand Real

"Brand Real" not only helped me understand what it takes to build a good brand, it also helped me think differently about some of the brands I have a fondness for (and some that I don't), in that it has a deep discussion about why leading brands create loyalty within its customer base.  In essence, this book spends a lot of time on analyzing brands that have become "sticky" based on what they do and not just whether they have a cool name or an exciting logo.

At its core, this book's discussion of "brand" reminds me of the maxim, "You become know for that which you consistently do."

Lots of case studies

I love learning by examples and through story-telling, so I was pleased to see that this book has a lot of real-world examples to illustrate some of its concepts.  These stories range from the personal, such as a discussion between the author and his son illustrating how superficially we think of the notion of a "brand;" and corporate-oriented stories, such as how The Gap triggered a huge backlash amongst its customers when it tried to change its logo.

Other examples feature Apple, Starbucks, and other household names, as well as case studies about lesser-known (but perhaps even more informative) organizations like Washington Federal.

Thinking of brands as living things

One thing that stuck with me in this book was discussed in a chapter called, "Expressing the Promise."  The author describes how researchers Robert McRae and Paul T. Costa, Jr. found that all people could be measured based on the degree to which they possessed 5 key characteristics:

  • Neuroticism
  • Extroversion
  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

Likewise, Vincent posits that brands can be measured along 5 similar axes - think of them as the "personality of the brand":

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

These attributes play a key role in measuring, defining, and even redefining your brand.  In "Brand Real," Vincent discusses how to use these to develop your messaging strategy, as well as how to "test" your messages to determine whether they are congruent with how your brand behaves.  Then, you can use these anchors to map what you say, what your brand does, and who you're talking to (your audience or customers) to make sure things all hang together in a credible way.

The third rail of brand

In much the same way that the third rail on a subway system provides the power that enables the train to move, Vincent talks about what it takes to connect your brand to the heart - the emotional side - of you customers, which is really the key in making a brand that customers feel passionate about (and loyal to).  These are the brands that go beyond functional products and capabilities, and move into something that makes embeds itself in the lives of its customers to create strong, emotional loyalty.  I think of brands like Apple, Nike, and Coca Cola when I think of this kind of brand.

I'm just touching the surface of the depth of this book, as it relates to brand.  I think all of the concepts apply to anyone involved in branding and company reputation, but I was surprised at how many of the concepts can apply to our personal brands.  I can see how many of these concepts could be used to improve your perceived value at work, home, organizations in which you're involved, etc.

So, if you have any interest in branding and reputation management, check out "Brand Real" -- it is well worth your time.


Seeing the Big Picture

Last week, I got a copy of Kevin Cope's new book, "Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company." This is a great primer on how to figure out the real way your business works - I'm talking about money and profitability.Big Picture book image

I wish I'd had this book a year ago. I work for a company that was purchased by a private equity firm last year, and I've had to learn a lot of new things about the financial aspects of business, as they were thrown at me. A lot of what I learned e hard way is presented very clearly in this book - along with some additional information I'm sure I'll need in the near future. Do yourself a favor and learn about it before you need to apply it.

You see, a lot of us know the basics - "A business should bring in more than it costs to run the business." But there is a lot more beyond that to help us use real data to not only run our businesses, but improve them and make them sustainable and profitable in the long term.

Knowing the key elements

Kevin Cope does a great job of explaining aspects of the business in a very understandable way, whether you've got a financial background or not. The sections include:
  • Cash
  • Profit
  • Assets
  • Growth
  • People

Each of them is detailed in a way that unfolds very well - each section builds on the last, so you can better understand the relationships between these key elements of a business. He also does a great job of linking them so you can understand the interplay between these 5 elements.

Furthermore, Cope explains how to use and interpret some of the "artifacts" you'll encounter as you dig into the financials of a business, including how to read a balance sheet, how to interpret an income statement, and how to get real meaning out of financial reports.

One of the concepts I've had to learn about through hard knocks is EBITDA (Earnings Before Income Tax, Depreciation, and Amortization) which is a key indicator tracked by the private equity firm that owns my company. Cope explains this very succinctly in the book and relates it to the 5 elements, above.

Not just for managers

One of the things I love about this book is how relevant it is for anyone who wants to add value to the business they are involved in. This will add a lot of value for managers, but it will also help any individual contributor better understand how they can contribute to making the business more effective. In other words, if you want to figure out how and where you can add value to your company's success, this is a great book for you.

Cope also talks a lot about how you can use all of this information to make better decisions about your business - such as how you can make pod decisions about when to save earnings, when to reinvest them in the business, how to look after both short-term and long-term horizons for your business.

If you want to brush up on your financial acumen and learn some techniques to help you add more value to your business, grab a copy of "Seeing the Big Picture" - it's like a crash course MBA.

Enjoy Every Sandwich - a powerful book

I just finished reading Dr. Lee Lipsenthal's book, "Enjoy Every Sandwich." Wow - what a book.  enjoy_every_sandwich_coverThe author wrote this book to share his experiences and new-found perspective after he was diagnosed with esophogeal cancer in 2009, and it is a very powerful and touching book.

Lipsenthal takes you through some very touching realizations of the precious nature of our time here on earth, and provides guidance on how we can take better care of the relationships and truly important parts of our lives - whether we know we're near death or not.

For me, the most "connecting" parts of the book were when the author takes us through the journey of accepting the inevitability of death.  It was interesting to read how he dealt with his mortality, but even more interesting to learn how he took his family through the journey.  Dr. Lipsenthal's wife was truly his soul mate, and I recognized the relationship I have with my wife in this book.

Appreciate what you have

As some of you who've been with me since I've been blogging know, I had my own bout with cancer (I wrote a little about my experience here).  This was a very sobering experience, and it brought my wife and I closer.  Luckily, I made it through - I've been cancer-free for almost 13 years.  But I know the feeling of helplessness very well.

What I love about Dr. Lipsenthal's book and the journey he shares with us is that he's managed to translate his cancer journey into a set of concrete recommendations for all of us - and does it in a very inspiring way.  In this book, you'll appreciate the opportunities we have to share ourselves now with the ones we love.

Learn from the journey of others

If you find yourself in the midst of your own struggle with cancer, this book will help you, as well.  Not only will you gain some wisdom and ideas for how to make the most of your relationships during your struggle, you'll also find strength in the way Dr. Lipsenthal dealt with his cancer.  As a medical Doctor, I found his thoughts to be very powerful - both in what you can do for yourself, and what you can't.

I love this paragraph from the book:

"You get to choose the world you want to live in.  It can be a house of fear and constriction or a house of mystery and creativity.  Do you choose honor and compassion about your frailties and the frailties of others? In your world, will it be the fear of death, or the joy of life?  It is that simple."

This framing of your options, beliefs, and realities is your choice.  And Dr. Lipsenthal's reminder that we can all decide is very empowering.

You may be wondering how Dr. Lipsenthal fared in all of this.  Well, he lost his fight with cancer in Septemer 2011.  But in this book, I think he took full advantage of his "knowing" time to make sure the important people in his life felt his love for them.

This book is both sad and uplifting; about death and about life.  And it is an amazing legacy for Dr. Lipsenthal.  I highly recommend "Enjoy Every Sandwich."