Tag Archives: business


JRF’s #51 – Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

One of my goals in reading this year was to force myself to read a business/organization/leadership type book. Having a B.A. in history and an M.Div means among other things that I have absolutely no business administration acumen.  This is definitely an area where I need to grow, especially if I want to be a tent-making missionary in the future.

The author, Scott Belsky, is the founder of Behance, a company that seeks to find and foster creative ideas and transform them into real completed projects.  He writes in a style accessible to people like me that hate books like this but need to read them.

The basic premise is that making ideas happen doesn’t require genious.  It requires hard work and determination.  Did I already know that?  Yes.  Where Belsky helps is by giving some bit-sized, realistic ways in which to keep that hard work on track and efficient while not suffocating creativity.  I have already tried some of these suggestions in my work place as well as with my own personal projects and with some tweaking have been greatly helped.

I recommend this book to you if you are seeking to improve your organizational skills, business management, or have just been sitting on that great idea for years but don’t know how to get the ball rolling.


Ron’s #15: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

When I told people that I was currently reading a book on the start of Zappos.com, the response was always the same: “Why?” I’m not exactly sure what interested me in this book, but I found it in the thrift store, and I was eager to read it. Aside from theology, my favorite topic to read is the history and evolution of the computer industry. Reading a book on how an online shoe store became a powerhouse retailer seemed to be perfect.

This book is part autobiography of Tony Hsieh and part how-to-be-a-leader book (a genre that I usually try to avoid). I enjoyed reading the start of young Tony with his entrepreneurial endeavors and accidental encounters that led him to Nick Swinmurn, the owner of a business called shoesite.com, which then transformed into what we now know as Zappos.com. Tony’s dedication to Zappos (even when business logic told him it is a losing proposition) was inspiring. It made me want to buy shoes at Zappos.

Before you readers get too inspired and leave this review to buy the new Nike Frees, I want to give what annoyed me most about this book: Tony Hsieh himself. He is an arrogant, condescending, and strange man. He is smarter and richer than you, and he makes sure you know this. He loves to refer to his friends as his “tribe” (so annoying), and tells of the epiphany he has in a rave. (Tony makes it clear that he liked raves before they were popular). Somehow, that trippy experience inspired him to provide excellent customer service.

Hsieh pontificates how amazing the Zappos culture is, and, frankly, I don’t care. While I appreciate good customer service, let’s keep in mind that they are selling shoes, not running the United Nations.


Ron’s #38: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

I’m not too much into leadership books. I’ve read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People a few years ago, so I’m good, right?

Mark read Switch and kept telling me stories from it. I liked the premise of how to get people to switch the way they are currently doing something into a better way. To simplify, this book is about getting people to do things you want them to do when they do not want to. (If Mark gave me this synopsis, I’d have thought it was a book on mentalism or hypnotics). This book is filled with story after story with how change occurs, whether in business, government, or education. As a teacher, I thought I could use a bit of help in motivating students to switch their current ways.

The brothers Chip and Dan Heath use the image of the Rider and an Elephant on a Path as the metaphor of the book. The Rider is our rational side and the Elephant represents our emotional side. Switch is about how to appeals to both to have the Rider guide the Elephant down a designated Path. While I didn’t always understand the distinction between the Rider and the Elephant, I gained a great deal of information and confidence in motivating others, especially in the classroom. Here are some “bright spots” that I learned that I will apply to my teaching:

Follow the Bright Spots: Find out what is working and highlight it. This application is clear for the classroom. Rather than focusing on negative behavior (as teachers are quicker to address), find those moments/behaviors when students are doing excellent work. Also, talk to other teachers to find what others do with a particular problem student (or problem issue such as apathy or low skills).

Script the Critical Moves: Instead of finding the big picture or a major goal, find a small behavior that will get the Rider moving. Rather than telling a non-writer to work on the essay, the critical move may be to write a six-sentence paragraph.  This is manageable.

Find the Feeling: Connect to the emotional side of people rather than merely the intellect. How can I address students so that they hear me with their guts? (Please forgive the mixed metaphor!).

Shrink the Change: This is similar to Scripting the Critical Moves, but it provides the feeling of success in smaller, bite-sized pieces. These small victories provide students with the confidence to move on to the next step. I remember a teacher I worked with at Turnaround School in Portland who would address an angry student yelling about not being able to do the math. Barb would bend down at eye-level and ask, “If you can’t do this, what can you do?” The kid will say that he can do three problems, and Barb would watch and praise. Her technique always stuck with me, even if I don’t always use it.

Tweak the Environment: The Heath boys state that behavior will change when we change the environment. What is the environment of my classroom? Is there something that is in the air that allows kids to give up or not try? Is there an expectation to pass the class? This is an area that I should ask a trusted colleague or even a few sharp students for feedback. There were a few excellent stories in the book about how teachers and principals altered the environment to make gains in student success.

I enjoyed this book, and I think you will as well, no matter your career. I think the authors did a fine job giving examples across a spectrum of careers, so there are stories in here for you. I hope that after I print off the Switch one-page overview (see http://www.switchthebook.com ) and post near my desk, I’ll be reminded how to help students who are currently resisting change.

And if the principles in this book do not work, I’m dusting off How to Win Friends and Influencing People and giving that a try!


Ron’s #27: Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing by Chris Anderson

While I don’t usually enjoy books on economic principles, I do love books on computer history and start-up Internet companies. I loved the PBS mini-series, Triumph of the Nerds and its follow-up about the Internet, Nerds 2.0. Discovering how companies start and sometimes fail fascinates me. (After I write this, I will purchase the DVDs of Nerds 2.0. Perhaps you should as well).

Chris Anderson’s Free satisfies my desire to read about the success of companies in the digital age. A writer for Wired magazine, Anderson offers this seemingly contradictory hypothesis: companies will make money by giving away things for free. He uses two powerhouse companies to frame his argument: Gillette and Google. King Gillette (yes, that’s his name) was a struggling salesman and inventor who come up with a genius idea: give away the razor and sell the blades. Because of this, an entire industry of disposable razors was born. That is why today the razor is free or cheap, but the blades cost two bucks each. Gillette makes up whatever money they “lost” on the lower price of the razor. I suppose this is why heroin peddlers give away the first few tastes for free (not that I have any idea if this is true from personal experience. All my drug-trade knowledge comes directly from The Wire).

Much of the book focuses on Google, as it provides an excellent success story of a company giving away free services (email, search engine, documents, maps, you name it) but is incredibly profitable. Free examines how this works and why.

The essence of free in the digital world is summed up in three commodities that are “too cheap to meter” and they can be given away: bandwidth, storage, and processing. Because these can be given away, companies should find ways to give away services and content.

Music and digital piracy is discussed several times in the book. According to Anderson, if it is digital, it will one day be free. He addresses the discussion of music piracy, and seems to lean on giving it away for free. He uses musician Derek Webb as an example. He gave away music content online if users provide email and a zip code. Using the zip codes, he sent invitations to shows around the U. S. He found that more people were coming to his shows and buying merchandise, making up for the money he “lost” in giving away his music. (This is coincidental, but iTunes is currently playing Derek Webb’s music as I type. I don’t even like Derek Webb. Does he have my zip code?)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it helped me see possibilities for a new economy in the digital age. While I don’t have a business, it still helped me to look for ways in which I can give away content online (this blog, for example) to gain something (your applauding and gushing comments, perhaps).

Most importantly, reading this and The Shallows (see review #31) together makes me be weary of the power held by Google.

By the way, I listened to a free audio book of this work. Strangely enough, when I was at a bookstore last week, I had the temptation to purchase a copy of it to review. Chris Anderson knows what he is talking about!

Here is the Wired article from which the book is based. It can offer an overview of his argument.


Ron’s #12: Chew On This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

I read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation several years ago and loved it. It opened my eyes to specific problems in the fast food industry. Chew On This is the teenage version of that book, and I bought a class set to teach to 8th graders next month. It should be fun, and I think they’ll like it, mainly because of the gross-out stuff.

My favorite part of the book is the history of the key players. Like the computer industry, I love reading about how these world-changing companies were started by some key personalities. Ray Kroc is the Steve Jobs of hamburgers.

Best parts: history of the industry, slaughterhouse descriptions, advertising campaigns

Weakest parts: too much time with the Yupiks in Alaska, the blow-by-blow account of one girl getting a soda machine removed from school, and the Edible Schoolyard narrative. Kids will skip over these dull parts, and I wanted to as well.

My main criticism of this book (and other books and articles that attack the power of big companies over what people buy/eat/consume) is that they ignore the other “forces” out there that attempt to manipulate culture. Where are the outcries about what TV shows teenagers watch, about the popular music with violent or sexual lyrics, about over-protective parents who try to be buddies over mothers and fathers, or about allowing kids to have three televisions, cell phones, and any other electronic device they whine loudly enough for? The Saw series of movies and the Kim Kardashians provide a generational numbness that disturbs and frightens me more than the methylphenylglycidate in strawberry shakes. These produce something far worse than overweight teenagers with pre-adult onset diabetes; they produce a morally anemic, self-serving, and self-obsessed generation unable to look beyond their digital navels.

I’d take the fat kid any day.

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