Book Review – The Icarus Deception


Seth Godin writes books for his tribe.

If you are not in the tribe, you might have read Linchpin or Poke The Box and be disappointed to see Seth cover the same territory.

If you are in the tribe, you’ll be happy with this next title (or spend $120 on Kickstarter to get a whole box of books).

In The Icarus Deception, Seth pushes hard on the many stories and cultural myths reinforce playing it safe.

Don’t fall too close to the sun.
Don’t step outside the norm.
Don’t challenge the system.

He makes a convincing case for how the stories we are told keeps us from doing great things.

For me, every one of Seth’s book has a passage that touches me and Icarus Deception was no different. Toward the end of the book, Seth shifts the point of view and tells the reader what the artist in your life needs from you. My wife started graduate school this fall and is studying Chinese Medicine. I read this section to her aloud and started to cry as I told her this was the template for how I planned to support her art over the next four years.

If you like the kinds of books Seth writes, I imagine you will find something just as special in this book.

“It’s not about me, It’s about them.”

You might know that Jerry Seinfeld has a online series called Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

In a recent episode, Seinfeld takes Michael Richards to coffee.

There are several reasons to watch the episode, but I want to point you to a segment that starts at 13:17.

Here is the transcript of the interchange:

Richards: You know those performers who just love it.

Seinfeld: Yeah.

Richards: It’s always a struggle with me.

Seinfeld: No, no. I don’t accept the judging of process. I doesn’t matter that you like to rehearse with your nose up against the flat saying lines. That doesn’t matter.

Richards: You used to see me back there doing that.

Seinfeld: Yes!

We are all trying to get to the same island. Whether you swim, fly, surf, or skydive in, it doesn’t matter. What’s matters is when the red light comes on.

Richards: OK. Because sometimes I look back at show and I think I should have enjoyed myself more.

Seinfeld: Michael, I could say that myself, but that was not our job. Our job is not for us to enjoy it. Our job is to make sure they enjoy it. And that’s what we did.

Richards: That’s beautiful. Because I think I work selfishly, not selflessly. It’s not about me, it’s about them.

***

This is the most difficult thing I work with clients on.

The book is about the reader, not what knowledge you have or how you need to support your ego.

Do the work in the way that works for you, keep the reader square in your sights with each word you write, and you will create a book that can change the world.

#YearInReview 2012

Seth Godin had started a meme in 2010 where he asked people to make a list of what they shipped that year. I did the exercise in 2010, missed it last year, and decided to return to it again this year.

I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for freelancers to see what they have accomplished.

Here is what I came up with for 2012:

  • New Ebook Version of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time (1/4/12) – We spent months working on a new electronic edition of our book. A lot had changed with formats and devices in the three years since the book was first published and we wanted the book to act more like an app. If you buy the ebook edition, you will find it filled with links to other books both inside and outside the book.
  • Every Book Is A Startup – Version 3.0 (1/20/12) – A new edition came out and I did a short Q&A about the challenges of serialized publishing.
  • Taught Two Courses in the Publishing Program at Portland State (Winter and Spring Terms) – I spent time in the classroom this year teaching two graduate classes. In the winter, I taught Publications Management, a 10 week MBA for creative types. In the spring, we tried a new class called Entrepreneurial Publishing, where students came into the class with ideas they wanted to develop into businesses. Anyone who has taught knows how much work it is teach that a class for the first time. These were two big projects in the first half of the year.
  • miniTOC Austin Talk (3/8/12) – I was proud of this talk. I pushed hard on the idea of minimum viable publishing and talked about the possibilities in the most complete way I have to date. The tie to the copy of the Gutenberg Bible at University of Texas still feels good.
  • Ken Segall’s Insanely Simple launches (4/26/12) – I was happy to see Ken’s book about Apple so well received both here and overseas. This was the first book that I served as literary agent on.
  • “Being Direct” in Publisher’s Weekly (8/21/12) – All the talk about “discoverability” finally got to me and I wrote my rebuttal to this idea that suddenly readers where having a hard time finding books. I suggest that if publishers had a relationship with readers much of the consternation would be solved.
  • Speaking at SOBCON NW (9/28/12-9/30/12) – I was honored that Liz and Terry asked me to lead one of the Masterminds and talk about the importance of customer feedback. We talked about everything from Amazon reviews to Net Promoter Score.
  • Every Book Is A Startup – Version 4.0 (11/5/12) – This new release contained a chapter on pricing and an extended interview with Eric Ries.

The most important project we shipped this year was my wife starting at the Natural College of Nautropathic Medicine in September. It was also the best best thing to happen this year, but this beginning was another milestone among many over the last few years as we moved across the country, bought a new home and the whole family adjusted to a new life here in Portland.

Looking ahead, 2013 is already shaping up to be a great year. I am teaching again at Portland State. A number of clients have projects that will launch in the first half of the year. And I want to get back to more writing, so look for a new project early in the new year.

Best Wishes to you in the New Year!

Other Things I Liked In 2012

There was a bunch of other great stuff I ran across in 2012. Here is a list of books, apps, websites and experiences that made the year more awesome.

  • Buddha – Told across eight volumes of manga, Osuma Tezuka portrays the life of Shakyamuni Buddha in detail and with a light hand. I am not sure the interpretation would hold up to scholarly examination, but I found it a great way to become familiar with the life story of Buddhism’s founder.
  • Super Vendor – At SXSW Interactive this year, I remember being between panels and seeing in the Twitterstream that there was a vending machine across the street from the convention center dispensing notebooks. I literally ran to find it was even cooler than that. To start, you followed the machine on Twitter and, in turn, received a code, which you took to the machine, entered on the alphanumeric panel to chose your notebook. The small scout book contained a rope API, a set of git shortcuts, and many pages of kaleidoscoped patterns of dotted lines. Bravo, Bohemian Collective. Bravo.
  • Indie Game: The Movie – Project creators Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky found the perfect indie game developers to show the drama of creating. Required watching for anyone who is a maker. The soundtrack is brilliant too.
  • HackerNewsLetter – This is the one newsletter I read every week. Curator Kale Davis does a incredible job pulling the best from the popular community site. The links lean heavy toward programming and startups but the real value is in the eclectic mix of topics that come up on the forum and the honesty users have about sharing their experiences.
  • Tig Notaro Live – Cancer can be funny. Really. Tig proves it in this masterful 30 minute set and must be listened to through to the end. The recording made a big splash earlier this year when Louis CK sold it through his site. The album is now available through iTunes and other outlets.
  • Comeback by Redlight – This song was a popular track on this summer’s Avengers soundtrack and I think it works even better in this acoustic version.
  • Wirecutter – The sole purpose of this website is to tell you the best single choice to whatever technology problem you have whether you need a iPhone 5 case, are buying a HDTV, or want to know what the best condom is.
  • Kingdom Rush – The best game for the iPad, period. I spent most of the summer working through every level in this tower defense style game and on the weekend I completed all the missions, they released two more levels. Heaven.
  • Clear – The iPhone version of this app is beautiful and simple. This is the digital place that I put quick notes and to-dos when I am out. Nothing comes close to how intuitive this application for managing small bits of information. Spend the $1.99 and you won’t be disappointed.
  • The $100 Investment – I was sitting in The Newmark Theatre in Portland as Chris Guillebeau made his closing remarks at the World Domination Summit. Chris informed each attendee that as they left the theater, they would be handed an envelope with a $100 bill with the hope they would invest in a project, person or cause. It was an incredible moment that left the audience stunned and set high expectations for the works to follow.

P.S. My four favorite quotes of the year:

  • “We cook this way, not to be special, but rather to make it possible for anyone to eat here.” -Abby Fammartino talking about her philosophy to serve food that is free of gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugars at her Portland restaurant Abby’s Table.
  • “Profit is theory, cash is a fact.” -Unknown
  • “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off.” – Clay Christensen (source)
  • “On a scale from one to Adele, how bad was your breakup?” -The Internet

My Favorite Business Books of 2012

As the year comes to a close, I have been thinking hard about what books influenced me this year.

In 2012, I read fewer books than in past years and that is why I called these books my favorites, not the best (if you are looking for the best, check out 800-CEO-READ’s Elite Eight for 2012).

“Favorite” is also probably a better description of these books because I found my reading more directed this year as I worked on growing my business and spent time thinking about the parallels between entrepreneurship and publishing.

In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend any of these titles:

 

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley and Scott Without

The people behind of the innovative work environments at Standford’s d.school put everything they learned about collaboration and how to build space that support collaboration in this beautiful book. When I say everything, I mean everything from communication theory to bills of materials for the fixtures they built.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau

There is one message you get loud and clear from Guillebeau’s second book – be relentlessly useful to your customers. That means you need to be communicate in your offering clearly, give customers what they want (not what you think they need), and be OK promoting what you do. This might sound like Marketing 101, but we all miss some part of this when we launch our latest project or new business.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya

Maurya started his book in Lean Startup fashion as article written for his newsletter followed by a self-published edition. With a thousand copies sold of the minimum viable product sold, he partnered with O’Reilly to be their first book released in their Lean Startup Series. Running Lean is a more tactical book than Eric Ries’ Lean Startup and focuses around the three stages of startups: Problem/Solution Fit, Problem/Market Fit, and Scaling. Knowing which stage you are in allows founders to know what actions are going to move their startup forward.

The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups by Randall Stross

Books that promise an inside look into an organization are often weak. The writer often lacks the access required to provide new and insightful commentary. Stross delivers the rare exception with his fly on the wall view of the drama founders experience in the Y Combinator program. And yes it is drama with founders pivoting from one idea to the next hoping to find the funding they need to take their startup to the next level. What we also see through Stross’ reporting is the philosophy that drives the Silicon Valley’s premier boot camp/accelerator/grad school for startups.

The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality by W. Edward Deming

There aren’t many business authors who accumulate the quantity or quality of work that warrants a greatest hits album. Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis both did and it is nice to finally see Edward Deming receive the same treatment. You might find Deming’s writings more difficult to read as his arguments resemble geometry theorems in their completeness and clarity. The work might also seem foreign because his prescriptions are still largely ignored. Maybe this new volume will solve that problem.

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde

I am a member of the sketchnoting tribe and it’s so great to see my long time friend Mike Rohde create a book that celebrates visual thinking. I have wanted to move beyond my style of a single “font, arrows pointing all directions, and lots of exclamation marks. The Handbook shows great examples from other sketch noters and exercises to improve this largely improvisational art form.

FT/Goldman Sachs 2012 Business Book of The Year Shortlist

Galley Cat ran a quick post about the FT/Goldman Sachs 2012 Business Book of The Year shortlist that was announced last week. The site directed people to excerpts, but they used Amazon book page links for all of them.

I tracked down some excerpts to the chosen books as well. I realize that some of them might be the same content you would get by downloading an Kindle sample, but with all of these, you can be reading words from the book in one click.

I put them all into a Storify thread to make it a little prettier and easier to share.

Business Books Market Statisitics

I have always wondered who reads business books.

I know the category leans toward a male audience, one that is affluent and is likely educated.

In checking out some of the features in Bookigee’s new app WriterCube, I found a section of market profiles broken out by genre. Using data from Bowker’s Market Research, the business and technology category looks like this:

  • Men 71% and Women 29%
  • 57% are between the ages of 18-44
  • 54% make between $50-$100K
  • 68% have had some college education
  • 58% live in the South or West
  • 50% use Facebook and 19% use Twiter

The increased point is in regions where the country is growing, more people are reading business books.

The Two Things Every Author Wants

Lately, I have been thinking about what authors want out of the publishing process and how the industry is organized around those goals.

The first thing an author wants is to be published. The traditional definition of being published involved an editor acquiring the rights to a book and helping develop the best book possible. The scarcity of being picked made the act of being published something special, a privilege only offered a relative few. An ecosystem of agents, ghostwriters, copyeditors, proofreaders and designers has developed to support the curation and creation of long form publishing.

After the need to get published, the author’s other primal desire is to be read and read by many people. The abundance of new and old titles has always made creating awareness a challenge. Publishers and in many cases authors employ a cast of marketers and publicists to spread the word of a book’s release and the message it carries.

Authors want to be published and read, but nature of how those two desires can be satisfied has changed. To be read, you no longer need to be picked. As Clay Shirky says, the act of being published has been reduced to pressing a button. Authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Hugh Howey proved being successful was no longer linked to being chosen.

When Frank Chimero raised $112,000 in March 2011 on Kickstarter for his book The Shape of Design, I thought, “This is the future of publishing.” Two thousand people stepped up with credit cards in hand and declared they wanted a book written by Frank Chimero. There was no editorial board guessing about how design books have done in the past. No sales manager estimating a returns rate. No publicist wondering if she had the right contacts to get the word out.

On the other hand, Frank didn’t have an editor waiting to challenge his work. He hired one. Frank also didn’t have a production designer waiting to typeset his book. He did it himself. When he prepared to ship the 2000 packages to faithful backers all over the world, he had to find someone to do that too. The six figure advance he earned meant he needed to act like a publisher and hire the capabilities he didn’t have.

The abundance created by authors being able to publish and distribute their own books still has points of scarcity: a scarcity of good ideas and a scarcity of people willing to listen. Work toward solving those two problems and you create a wider range of options to pursue publishing on your terms.

Minimum Viable Publishing for SXSW 2013

I have proposed a panel for SXSW 2013 based on the work I have been doing with Every Book Is A Startup.

The panel is called from Cesna to 747: Minimum Viable Publishing Lessons. The panel description is:

Tablets and digital distribution have changed what books we read and when we read them, but the possibilities for how we create books in this new world are still constrained by the past notions of long lead times and unchanging permanence. Borrowing from the lessons of the Toyota Production System and the world of lean startups, this talk will discuss the concept of minimum viable publishing, how the inherently risky venture of book publishing can be made safer and what notions we need to let go of to see the new opportunities lie ahead for innovative authors and publishers.

Take a moment, click the button and give the panel a thumbs up.


THANKS!

Stephen Covey

Yesterday, Stephen Covey passed away at age 79. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the follow-on books in the series have sold 20 million copies. We selected 7 Habits for inclusion in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and the following is the review we published:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is the outcome of Stephen Covey’s doctoral research into personal development literature. He studied two hundred years worth of self-help, popular psychology, and self-improvement writings, and identified two distinct philosophies of self-improvement. The first is what we identify with principles found in the works of early American visionaries Benjamin Franklin: principles like integrity, industry, humility, and simplicity. Covey calls this the “Character Ethic,” and it was the dominant philosophy in American literature until the early 20th century. But Covey found the literature changed significantly after World War I, with a shift in emphasis from quality of character to improvement of personality, behavior, and attitude: the Personality Ethic. Though not by name, he takes aim at books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich, and The Power of Positive Thinking, saying at best these books focus on secondary traits and at worst teach deception using a quick-fix mentality.

The first of Covey’s seven habits, “Be Proactive,” describes the freedom of choice one has between stimulus and response, between loss of a job and loss of self-worth. The initiative to learn a new skill is a simple incarnation of “Let’s look at the alternatives” versus “There’s nothing I can do.”

The next two habits address the same challenges an executive faces publicly: leadership and management. “Begin with the End in Mind” uses imagination to envision a set of creative choices about the future, the same energies employed in leadership. Covey advocates the development of personal mission statements to codify the varying roles and responsibilities of home, work, and community. “Put First Things First” takes that newly defined identity derived from the mission statement and matches up tasks and priorities to ensure alignment. When Covey asked readers which habit was the most difficult to adopt, this management process ranked number one, and he wrote another book, First Things First, to further explore the challenges.

“Self-mastery and self-discipline are the foundation of good relationships with others,” Covey writes (186), and then moves forward with his three public habits: “Think Win/Win,” “Seek First to Understand…Then to be Understood,” and “Synergize.” All are based on relationships. “Think Win/Win” is interpersonal leadership that creates mutual benefits for all parties. The classic negotiation book Getting to Yes uses the same philosophy that calls for individuals to use an abundance mentality in their interactions and look past the confining paradigm of the zero-sum game.

Being a good listener is a skill that is helpful in any relationship and sits at the core of “Seek First to Understand…Then to be Understood.” When someone is speaking to us, our natural response is to listen autobiographically: agreeing or disagreeing, asking questions from our point of view, giving advice based on our own experiences, trying to figure out what is making someone feel the way they do based on how we would react. Covey spends much of the chapter on an extended example of a conversation between a disillusioned son and well-intentioned father. Covey replays the conversation a number of times showing how ineffective listening with our biases can be. When listening, “rephrase the content and reflect the feeling,” the author writes, and then he shows how the conversation completely changes. The second half of the habit is about presenting ideas, and Covey returns to Aristotle’s rhetorical philosophy of ethos (character), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic).

“Synergy” encapsulates the entire Seven Habits process. When people join together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and greater insights and previously unseen results are achieved. Covey suggests synergy is the third alternative to my way or the wrong way. All relationships grow when trust and cooperation grow.

The seventh habit, “Sharpen the Saw” returns to the individual. Covey believes we all have four dimensions that need continual renewal: the physical, the mental, the spiritual, and the social/emotion. He suggests spending an hour working on the first three every day. Find time for a cardiovascular workout. Read the classics. Keep a journal. Meditate or pray. It is only through recharging that we have the energies to succeed in the other aspects of our lives.