I’ve Been Thinking… – No. 14

When we read the definitive account of the year 2020, the publisher in me wants a book that opens with the events of July 30th. You could pick any number of other days in this crazed year but I don’t think you will find a single day that encapsulates everything.

At 9AM Eastern Time on that Thursday, the Commerce Department announced that the Gross Domestic Product dropped at a record 9.5% in the second quarter. That was coupled with the news of yet another week with over a million people filing for unemployment. They joined the 30 million that already had. At that point, the historical comparisons start to fail.

The economic impact will be just one effect that people will talk about when they talk about the year that COVID-19 hit. It would be hard for the writer to skip the 150,000 deaths in America due to the coronavirus. During his press conference that day, the President acknowledged the number and the loss of life. That writer might give other examples of the effects like the overall death rate in America and the fact that there were 190,000 more deaths in those prior five months than what’s found in a normal year, eliminating some of the doubt sowed in whether COVID-19 was anything to worry about or how easily it could be fixed.

The writer would address the theme of doubt in 2020. At that same news conference, the President would answer questions about a tweet he sent out earlier in the day, just ahead of the GDP announcement.

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???


Journalists would try to pick the right verb to describe what he was doing in the tweet. Was he floating the idea? Was he suggesting that election be delayed? Maybe it was all a smokescreen for the horrible economic news? Asked directly at the news conference if he proposed delaying the election, he would just cast doubt, saying mail-in balloting won’t work. “Everyone knows it,” the president said, “Smart people know it. Stupid people may not know it. And some people don’t want to talk about it.” The writer might cite all the states that already allowed mail-in ballots, the research that shows it helps neither political party, or the fact that studies showing fraud occurs at less than one in a million mail-in ballots, meaning in a typical election there would be fourteen ballots that were falsified . The writer also might introduce the concept of gaslighting or save it for a later chapter in the book, one based on the corrosive effects that confusion, misdirection, and suspicion had grown to have on American society.

In this imagined book, the author would also write about the national conversation about race in 2020. Pages would be devoted to the shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. The announcement that Breonna Taylor would be appearing on the cover of O magazine, the first time Oprah herself would not, would also be mentioned as having taken place on that day—July 30th.

Portland, my hometown, I imagine would get a mention. The author would write about Black Lives Matter, the sixty nights of local protests, and the response that spun out of control when federal forces arrived. July 30th would again be shown important, because it was the day that federal law enforcement left the city of Portland and that night, peaceful demonstrations returned to the city.

And incredibly, that wasn’t everything that happened that day.

In a day marked by economic strain, a pandemic, questions about an election, protests and even a rocket launch to Mars…in the state of Georgia, they were celebrating the life of Representative John Lewis. The writer would debate if the first chapter only be about the funeral, attended by three past presidents and many members of Congress. It would be easy to recount the speeches made about a man who fought his entire life for the rights of others and how all the speakers alluded to the divisiveness in the country. And how they also struck notes of hope and called for action. From the grave, Lewis called back, seeming to know the stories that would unfold that day.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

For this book, the rest of the year still needs to write itself, but July 30th, 2020 is a compelling opening. The events of that day show the past, the present, and the future all unfolding together. Whether we admit it or not, this weaving is happening all the time, and in rare moments the intertwining threads become a little more visible and we can see causes and effects in the complicated, myriad ways that the world reveals itself.

I hope someone writes this book; we all need more ways to make sense of what has happened this year.

Portlandia 2020

Photo by drburtoni

I live in Portland and I am getting notes from friends and family.

The nature of the questions varies but they fall along the spectrum from “What the hell is going on?!” to “Are you ok?”

Most of the time downtown Portland looks like the photo above. This is outside the Apple Store.

The nightly protests are taking place just south of there, in a 12 block area surrounding the federal courthouse. The lower floors of courthouse were damaged in the first weeks of the George Floyd protests and has been boarded up ever since.

Each night for almost two months, protestors have shown up to make their voices heard. There is a point each night when one side starts to throw fireworks and the other throws tear gas.

My conversations fall in a similar duality with demands for real change and expectations of a return to law and order. Ask about thoughts on the presence of federal law enforcement and those lines start to blur. The energy downtown has been refueled by people all over the city who believe in the protests and don’t believe federal forces should be here.

This is day 56 and it is not ending any time soon.

I’ve Been Thinking…(#13)

Here are some opening words…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

“Why you?”

This is one of the questions readers ask themselves before buying an author’s book.

“Why are you the person to listen to as an authority on this topic?”

Publishers and editors bring a similar lens when they make decisions about signing book projects.

We bring all sorts of biases to that question and we are fooling ourselves if race isn’t one of them.

While black authors are dominating the major bestseller lists right now, there are no black authors on the business book bestseller list this week. Or last week. Not the Top 15. Not in the Top 50. The last book I could find by a black business book author was back in the first week of May. Before that, it was a week in March.

Try this exercise: go to your bookshelves and find the business titles written by black authors.

What did you come back with? Malcolm Gladwell (maybe), and… My guess is that most people will come back empty handed. For me, I had two business books by black authors. That’s crazy and sad.

So, I started a real search for business books by black authors. I checked list after list. The same books came up. I bought all of them. There might be a total of twenty books sitting on the table in my office. Twenty books. That’s it.

A third of the books were biographies and memoirs that aren’t really business books. The next third were self-help titles with authors writing books framed around their experiences. The final third were straight up business books.

So, the sum total of what I could find was seven business books written by black authors. Like I said, that’s crazy and sad.

To successfully publish a business book, you need a combination of expertise and popularity. For the first part, authors need to do the work, think about the work and start to tell people how the work can done better. The works needs to have scale. Do the work at a big organization or for big organizations. Or create big, remarkable things that get noticed.

And then you need an audience. People need to see your work. Write for a newspaper. Host a podcast. Make documentaries. Become a Youtuber. Publish, publish, publish. Give speeches. Host events. Do interviews. Show people your work.

That truth leaves us with a problem.

We might use the fact there are only four black CEOs in Fortune 500 as a proxy for the difficulty that black people have in gaining the business expertise and market awareness needed to publish a successful business book.

This creates a credibility problem for readers. This creates a credibility problem for editors and publishers. This starts to explain the lack of business books by black authors.

I knew there were not many black authors in the business category. The 100 Best Business Books of All Time doesn’t have any black authors. And the honest reality is that if I rewrote it today, it still wouldn’t because there are so few titles to draw from.

Not seeing scope of the problem—the almost complete absence of black authors in business books—is the part gnawing at me. The work that the black community is asking everyone to do right now is to just start looking for the bias and the blind spots you have. I am biased. I have worked in business book publishing for sixteen years and I didn’t see it. There is more to say and do on this.

Today, I am going to start with something simple. This week, there is an effort underway called #BlackoutBestSellerList. The point is to create awareness for black authors and put more authors on the list by encouraging people to buy two books this week by black authors.

If you want to support black authors in the business community, here are four great choices:

  • The Power of Broke by Daymond John – You likely know Daymond John from Shark Tank. He writes his books to push you. He also has written three other books including Display of Power, Rise and Grand, and his latest Powershift. If you want a brand name, buy one of Daymond’s books.
  • Starting Finishing by Charlie Gilkey – Charlie is a close friend and I am a fan of Start Finishing. The book covers all the things that get in the way of doing the work you want to do. Start Finishing is works well for the analytics who want a manual for better productivity and a better life.
  • It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton – Arlan’s book came out six weeks ago. She is the founder of a venture capital fund dedicated to the “underestimated” women, LBGT+, and people of color founding companies. For me, this book is about possibility and how grit and smarts embodies successful entrepreneurship.
  • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins – Goggins completed the elite training in every branch of the U.S. military and has gone on to become a multiple world-record holder in endurance athletics. This book is for the drivers who work every day to be their best self.

If my work or the books I have published have helped you, my ask is that you buy one of these books this week.

I hope you are well. Please stay safe. More soon. -Todd

Market Update on Business Book Publishing – May 20, 2020

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my post from March 22nd and follow-up post on April 6th on the shift in the business book market.

1. Six Weeks Later…

I wrote my last report on April 6th and at that point, we were starting to settle into a new normal of depressed sales in business and self-help. There had been four weeks with sales down almost 50% and the trend continued into the following week.

But then a funny thing happened—sales increased.
And the same thing happened the following week.
And again the following week.

You can see in the chart below that those increases have been significant and we are starting to return to pre-COVID-19 sales levels in business and self-help.

This is good news for this corner of the world. The return of business books reflects the same resilience that has been seen in the book publishing market throughout the COVID-19 period.

2. The Tale of Two Categories

In my market reports, I have been discussing business and self-help as a singular category. I have a long standing theory that the two categories are starting to look more and more like each other and that the decision a publisher makes to classify a book in one group or the other may not reflect in what part of their life the reader is helped. This last part is very important. What business books look like today, or maybe more accurately what books people read to help in them in business, differs greatly from ten or twenty years ago.

But in digging into the winners and losers in the larger group, I started to notice that books classified as self-help were recovering more strongly than business titles. So, I went back to the full dataset and broke out the books by business and self-help.

Business books lost sales, have started to return, but have not yet fully recovered, down over 20% from early March.

Self-help also lost sales, has recovered, AND selling better now than before COVID-19, up 19%.

Well, that’s interesting 🙂

3. Where is the recovery?

  • Journals – I mentioned that in a prior report that journals for self-reflection were selling well. In looking at these last three weeks of recovery, eleven titles within the twenty books with the biggest gains (in business or self-help) were journaling products like Burn After Writing, 52 Lists for Happiness and 52 Lists for Calm, Create This Book and Create This Book 2, Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice (and Michelle Obama in the public right now with the new Netflix special and the just announced 2020 prom with MTV), Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You, and Zen As F*ck. If you extend further down the list, nineteen of the top fifty books are journals or workbooks. As a point of reference, I looked back at the self-help bestseller list for the week of February 23rd and there were nine journal titles in the top 50.
  • Best-Selling Self-Help – Books like Girl, Stop Apologizing, The Art of Not Giving A F*ck, and You Are A Badass saw their sales decrease, but they are leading the return with additional growth alongside the overall trend of increased sales in self-help.
  • Brené Brown’s books – All her titles have seen sales growth, but now Dare To Lead, her business leadership title, has seen big increases in these last three weeks.
  • Personal Finance and Investing – Not surprisingly, money is on the reader’s minds. When you look at subcategories for business and self-help, the subjects of investing, money management and personal finance occupy three of the ten top growing subcategories. This is driven by well-known titles like The Intelligent Investor, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Total Money Makeover.
  • A few in business titles – There are not many business titles that are selling better now than before COVID-19. Besides Dare to Lead, Never Split the Difference, a great book on negotiating, is seeing new growth. Atomic Habits has gained share among the titles in the habits subcategory.

4. Evolving Theories

It’s impossible to aggregate the felt need of thousands of readers and try to explain with one grand unifying theory to explain everything going on in the market, but I am going to offer a few ideas to consider.

After the initial COVID-19 shock, many people are returning to more normal routines. We are leaving immediate forms of media like websites and cable news and returning longer formats like books. Like the trend in journals, books help us reflect on our experiences.

Business books have recovered from lows in April but not fully because there are important channels that are not operating. Retail outlets like Barnes & Noble and airports stores like Hudsons are either closed or suffering from drastically decreased foot traffic. Almost all B&N stores are still closed to in-store purchases. Airlines passengers are down 90% from a year ago this time. And the events channels connected to speaking, coaching and training are way down. The authors I know are pushing hard to create virtual alternatives to in-person events and interactions. Some are connecting books to those events.

5. Shift to Digital?

There is an interesting question around how COVID-19 will affect product mix. Sales data for digital products is hard to come by, but anecdotes from several sources point towards an increased demand for ebooks.

  • Simon & Schuster was specific and said their ebook sales were up 13% in the first quarter.
  • HarperCollins reported that ebooks “returned to growth”.
  • Rakuten, the owner of the Kobo ebook platform, shared that they added 2.2 million new customers worldwide in the first three months of 2020. They attributed that to changes in reader behavior from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Storytel, a ebook and digital audiobook subscription service based in Europe, announced growth of 33.5% in the first quarter.
  • According to K-lytics, the Amazon KDP author fund of $29 million in March is the largest ever with year over year growth of 6.6%.
  • Ebook marketer Bookbub has reported double digit increases in sales of ebooks promoted through their service and consistent across all of their retail partners and region they operate in.
  • In our hometown of Portland, Oregon, we are finding ebook lending at the library much more in-demand and in the last three months, often needing to wait for popular ebooks to become available.

I plan to keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by clicking on this link.

I’ve Been Thinking (#12)…

…about how long it has been since I wrote one of these.

I started to write this back in February. The mood was starting to turn. People were sick in China and Italy. I got preoccupied by all of it. And then I got sick with all the symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of the month. I just thought it was a strong flu. Even then, I was barely connecting my illness to what was happening. At some point, I hope to get a test for antibodies to see if I did get infected early in the cycle.

Right Now

I have found myself struggling to figure out how to respond to everything going on. I finally relied on what has long worked for me: starting reading. This is not the first crisis that I or country or the world has faced. Many, many people have written about the struggle and the hope that is always there.

I collected a set of those thoughts and writings into an ebook called Right Now. It contains less than twenty pages and you can probably read it in about 15 minutes. There is a wide range of perspectives. I hope you will find something that lands with you. You can find the landing page here.

I also want to thank my friend and long-time collaborator Joy Stauber for helping me put this collection into the world. She does amazing work as a designer. You should check out her work.

Trends in Business Books

Another way I have felt that I have been able to help is looking at the business book market and try to make sense of it.

I was already doing market research for authors and around some future projects, when this all hit. I just shifted my focus to start looking at the macro effects.

It’s been rough. Business and self-help sales are down roughly 40%. Launches are seeing less sales and many publishers are pushing their release dates later in the year.

If you are interested in more detail, check out my update from March 20th and my update from April 6th. I am working on a third update, but I need a little more data to know where things are headed next.

Fun and Games

We are a big board game family and one way we are spending time together at the table. I have been posting photos on Instagram of our choices if you want some inspiration.

I have to say that Wingspan from Stonemeier Games has been getting a lot of play in the last two weeks. The illustrations are beautiful. The gameplay is easy enough to learn but the strategies you can play are numerous. If you really want to nerd out, you can read about the birder and game designer Elizabeth Hargrave in the New York Times.

That’s all for now. Stay safe (I mean it!) and be well. -Todd

Business Book Market – April 6, 2020

The business book market continues to shift.

Quick note: If you’d like more updates with trends and case studies from business book publishing, you can subscribe by clicking through to the newsletter sign-up form.

And if you missed it, please check out my first post from March 22nd on the shift in the business book market.

We now have three weeks of retail sales data from March and can compare February and March sales.

1. Total Market

Overall, the categories of business and self-help are down 33%.

NPDecisionKey has been highlighting business and self-help in the last two weeks as among the most negatively affected categories in book publishing.

And to use a Wall Street method of comparison, the ratio of losers outnumber winners in a ratio of 9 to 1.

2. Categories

The categories is the largest drops in business and self-help are the most popular ones:

  • Leadership
  • Personal Growth
  • Personal Success
  • Motivation and Inspiration
  • Management

The lone mild but notable category of growth is Creativity in the Self-Help category. This group is where you find guided journals like Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones, the various versions of Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith, Create This Book by Elizabeth Moriah. This demand feels like a corollary to the huge increase in sales of children’s coloring and activity books. In the case, they are activity books for teenagers and adults.

3. Losers

If the top-selling categories are being affected, individual titles in those groups are too.

Titles with the biggest drops in units sales include:

  • StrengthFinder 2.0 by Gallup
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Tiny Habits and BJ Fogg
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
  • Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

4. Winners

It is very interesting to see the books people are moving to as we work to understand and deal with the current state of the world. Here are the notables on the list.

  • Shift – The Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller and his co-authors wrote this book in 2009 following the mortgage to help agents adjust to the new market.
  • The Intelligent Investor – The 1949 classic on value investing from Benjamin Graham sells, as people try to navigate the stock market.
  • The Black Swan – Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s 2005 book about huge events you can’t see coming (for the record, Taleb thinks this is a white swan).
  • Remote – the guide from the founders of Basecamp on how they work as a company with employees all over the world.
  • The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday’s first book on stoicism with a perfect title for the time.

Speaking of timely tiles…

5. A Lesson on Framing

Mark Manson is a bestselling author with two books in the market.

His 2016 bestseller The Subtle of Art of Not Giving a F*ck has been a huge success with over three million copies sold. This book has been adversely affected at similar levels to other bestsellers listed above, with sales down 30%.

Everything Is F*cked, Manson’s follow-up from 2019, has done well but not reached the levels of his first book. The interesting part is that, in the last month, sales have been up 11%.

Like The Obstacle Is The Way, this most recent book from Manson, is titled in a way that speaks to the particular felt need that people have right now around fear and uncertainty.

The timeless lesson for developing books: be clear and direct when you title a book.

6. So, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about what’s going on in the business book market and if there is a way to adjust to those changes. Here are the biggest factors in my estimation:

  1. The events industry has been shut down completely – Conferences, conventions and training are an important source of direct selling and follow-on sales after an audience seeing an author.
  2. Retail “stores” are almost completely closed – With state mandated closings in most states, physical bookstores are closed all over the country. Barnes & Noble reported that all their stores will be closed in the next few days. Airport stores are open but empty. Libraries, another source of literary interaction, are also shuttered during this time. While many, particularly independents, are adapting and taking online orders to solid demand from customers, our exposure to books is dampened right now and online sales are not replacing all of the prior demand.
  3. We are choosing the more immediate – Books are great at telling stories in the long form, after the fact. The story of this time is being told right now and we are choosing more immediate forms of media to watch it unfold. Business podcast listening is up 10%. CNBC has twice the audience they did at the beginning of the year. Even President Trump’s news briefings are drawing ratings similar to a Monday Night Football game. Books don’t exactly fit the kind of information we are looking for right now.
  4. Cost cuttings – In 2008, as the economy began to tighten during the last crisis, large organizations reduced expenses with what was deemed optional. Books were at the top of the list. That was a tough hit for the market. A combination of purchase orders and corporate credit cards fund a lot of purchases. We are seeing that belt-tightening in market segments most affected by the shutdown, such as retail and aviation, but it doesn’t feel like effect runs across all business segments.

7. What’s good?

Well, books are still selling. In March, the market was 1.9 million copies. The market isn’t going to go to zero.

Books are still launching. The Blueprint by Doug Conant, The Catalyst by Jonah Berger, and Upstream by Dan Heath all launched in March with more than 10,000 copies sold in their first month.

…BUT (and this is a huge point) all of these books launched before March 10th. Launches since then have been very modest. The business book publishers, like all media firms, are pushing publication dates into the fall, which creates another risk with the certain preoccupation we will all have with the presidential elections in the U.S.

One test will be the business book launch of Joy At Work by organizing phenom Marie Kondo and her co-author Scott Sonenshein. It will be released April 7th.

8. Closing

I think it is a tough mix for business books right now. Lack of attention and lack of money are slowing the market.

Books are a long lead time product. If you have written something that can help clients adjust like the Winners above, you are in a good spot right now. Share and promote to create awareness. You likely have new customers for your work.

Get close to your clients and find out what is arising for them right now. Beyond the coronavirus, everyone is finding weaknesses in their businesses. I know several examples of companies that are using this time to get their processes fixed to be ready when we get to the other side. Don’t look for the book they need now; write the book that people need next.

I’ll keep posting updates. You can sign up for my newsletter on trends and case studies from the world of book publishing by click on this link.

Clayton Christensen

Dr. Clayton Christensen died on Thursday January 23rd, 2020.

I was sad to hear the news. He was management thinker that changed how companies think about innovation. He created a consulting practice, an investment firm and a think tank to fully explore all of the implications of that ground-breaking research.

The best obituary I read was in the Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.

The best profile is Larissa MacFarquhar’s 2012 piece that ran in The New Yorker.

As an author, Christensen wrote ten books over his lifetime. His most famous was the cornerstone for all of it. If you are not familiar with it, here is my review of The Innovator’s Dilemma from The 100 Best Business Books of All Time:

“Many in book publishing have a romanticized view of the industry’s origin, beginning with Johannes Gutenburg and the movable-type press he invented in 1453. While that treasured form has changed little in the past five and a half centuries, the way the book is sold and distributed has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. Independent bookstores first struggled against the mall chains of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, then the big-box retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, and now the online superstore, Amazon. And these retail redistributions pale in comparison for the tectonic shifts that lie ahead in the form of print-on-demand and electronic distribution of books. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen shows how management practices that typically serve executives will fail in the face of just such disruptive innovation.

Christensen begins by drawing a distinction between two types of innovation. In the first, everything from new products to customer service is designed to meet customers’ demands. In the normal course of business, customers pay the bills, and writing those checks gives them significant influence over an organization’s decision making. New ideas and new opportunities, evaluated on their ability to serve existing customers and earn the necessary margins to support the company, are called sustaining innovations and are always successful ventures for existing (and dominant) firms.

But sometimes, innovation creates a new technology or reveals a new way to organize a firm’s resources. This disruptive innovation does not offer the performance needed in the existing market, and entrant companies are forced to find a new set of customers who value innovation on a different set of metric than those of the traditional market. Existing companies disregard the disruptive innovation because of the lower margins, and the newcomers find a small beachhead outside the existing market, using that market space to develop further. As the performance of disruptive innovation outpaces the sustaining innovations, entrants move into established markets and their lower cost structures forces incumbents further up-market, forfeiting existing profitable markets.

Clayton Christensen provides an array of case studies in The Innovator’s Dilemma, including how the steel industry is still at the mercy of the disruptive innovation of minimills. Using scrap steel over iron ore, minimills require one-tenth the scale and can produce steel at 15 percent lower cost than traditional integrated steel mills. When minimills first emerged in the 1960’s, they were able to produce only low-quality rebar. The integrated mills were happy to cede this low end, price sensitive market. What the incumbents missed was the minimills’ desire to move further into their markets. With a completely different cost structure and technology that was improving faster than existing methods, minimills began producing structural steel and sheet metal. Minimills now account for 50 percent of the steel made in the United States, and here is the amazing part: at no point did an existing steel company using integrated mills construct a minimill to take advantage of the disruptive innovation.

To suggest that the integrated steel mills simply hid their heads in the sand would be too easy. Christensen says most markets that serve as the launch point for disruptive innovation are too small for large organizations to concentrate on. These emerging markets lack clear evidence that they will turn out profitable. When disruptive technologies are being developed, the applications for them are unpredictable, and worse, companies are misled when they attempt to use the same tools from their mature markets. In nearly every case, disruptive innovation, a new set of companies rises to dominate the industry.

For disruptive innovation to flourish, says Christensen, companies need to create the right organizational structure. Companies often start by promoting successful managers to lead new efforts, but without addressing the processes and values of the new group, the leadership will start to make decisions the same way it always has. Disruptive innovation requires an autonomous organization with the appropriate cost structure to address the emerging markets. In the 1970s, the motor controls industry was disrupted by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and the only company to successfully traverse the disruption was Rockwell Automation. The Milwaukee-based company did so by investing in two smaller companies shortly after the introduction of PLCs and combining them into a separate division, which pitted them against its existing electromechanical division. Rockwell showed that it is possible to establish dominance during a period of disruptive innovation while maintaining market leadership in the traditional product.

While the innovator’s dilemma stems from uncontrollable external pressures, dealing with it is an internal dilemma. Managers lack the information and experience needed to make confident investments in disruptive technology. The tried and true resource allocation process favors current customers and their needs., starving incubatory projects of needed love and attention. And to survive the innovation pipeline, the disruptive technology needs the marketing leader to new clients who appreciate the current capabilities. As performance improves, the customers who showed no interest in the initial idea are exactly the ones who will be clamoring for it.”


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New Year, New Habits

Happy New Year!

I have been thinking and writing about habits over the last two weeks.

I wrote a piece for Medium called 8 Essential Books for Creating New Habits.

There is great advice in all of those books, but the one piece that stuck with me was Charles Duhigg’s description of “keystone habits”.

In this interview with Harvard Business Review, Duhigg describes the effect of keystone habits:

“Some habits seem to have a disproportionate influence. When a keystone habit starts changing, it seems to set off a chain reaction that changes other habits.

And in a lot of people’s lives a keystone habit is exercise. When they start exercising, they start using their credit cards less. They start procrastinating less. They do their dishes earlier. Something about exercise makes other habits more malleable.”

I like this topic of keystone habits because of the asymmetry. What are a small set of things that we can do that can have a big effect on our lives?

In his book The Power of Habit, Duhigg describes some examples from the research:

“Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold. [p109]”

Duhigg says keystone habits do three things:

1. Keystone habits create small wins.

“Wins are the molecules of results. They’re the proof of progress. Some wins are big, some are small – all wins are motivators.” -John Kotter

In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg says you should build small wins into your process for creating new habits. Fogg says habits depend on ability (or maybe our perceived ability) to do the new behavior. To start a habit find the smallest thing you could do—complete one pushup, floss a single tooth, read one page. Do the smallest thing for the first couple days and even after you add more to a new habit, always make sure to complete the smallest thing each day. Get the small win.

2. Keynote habits create new structures

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg tells the story of a study run by The National Institute of Health in 2009 that looked at weight loss. The researchers wanted to take a different approach to the problem. Their idea for participants to write down everything they ate. After six months, the results were clear. Those who kept daily food logs lost twice as much weight as everyone else. Food journaling gave everyone the ability to see patterns they were previously invisible. For some, it was the foods they ate. For others, it was when and how often they were snacking. The keystone habit of writing things down created new ways for people to think about their eating.

3. Keystone habits help you make tough decisions

Last year, I took on a project to write a write a 25,000 word book with a client. Writing was not foreign to me, but the scope of the project and the definitive timeline created some new challenges for me. I needed to consistently produce writing each day to meet a deadline.

The best thing I did early on was to track my daily word count. This gave me good visibility to how much work I was producing over time and how it matched up to various project deadlines. Within two weeks, I could see that I needed to make some significant changes, and committed to create a daily habit of writing helped make all of the tough decisions that followed.

I found needed to produce a consistent word count each day, too much daily variability in my word count created even more variability in the following days. And that required moving writing to first thing in the mornings, right after the kids were off the school. All my calls and meetings moved to the afternoons. I wrote until I had the word count. Some mornings that was by 9:30am, other days I was still writing at 3pm. Each of those decisions to change my routine was made easier by my deliberate habit of daily writing.


Now, there is no magic set of keystone habits. Duhigg says a search for them can be tricky.

For me, meditation has been a keynote habit over the last ten years. Similar to my writing habit, I found I needed to make it a routine. I get up an hour earlier than I used to and the first thing I do after I get out of bed is meditate. I have a place in the house, a cushion to sit on and a timer that runs for 30 minutes. As a habit, meditation lets you see each day what your mind is doing and how quickly it shifts between thoughts. Seeing that malleability gives me more flexibility in how I meet all aspects of my life.

It’s interesting that the idea of self-reflection shows up in many of these keynote habits. Dinnertime conversation and spending budgets let us see the effects of our decisions in a different way. Tracking the foods we eat or journaling about the gratitude we feel draws us into introspection about our lives. Actively noticing and deliberately analyzing the daily run of quick, borderline unconscious actions uncovers a set of patterns that can be used to inform and reinforce the new habits we want to create.


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The Three Business Books You Need To Read From 2019

I know I am making a big promise in the headline, but stay with me on this one. There are several reasons these three books can help narrow down your “I’m behind on my 2019 reading” list.

In this post, I’ll share some good sources I use every year to help with choose what I read, tell you why these books are good selections and give you a few reasons to pick up each one.

The Sources

I mentioned in a post earlier this week that we are in the heart of the “Best of” Season. Everyone is posting their favorite things of the year. I love it. You get to see what is important to people. With these curated lists, you can see if there are themes that arose out of the past year.

In the world of business books, there are a handful of outlets that I watch each year to see what they are recommending when the year closes. Let me share each of them and tell you why you should pay attention.

First, Porchlight Books (the fine folks formerly known as 800-CEO-READ) are in the 13th year of the Business Book Awards. Some of you know that I spent several years working there and starting the Awards program is one of the things I am most proud of. Last week, they announced their longlist with forty books across eight categories. In December, they’ll announce their category winners and at their New York City gala in January, they’ll crown their Business Book of the Year.

Going on even longer has been the Strategy + Business Best Business Books feature, now in its nineteenth year. The publication from PwC and its partners keeps seven categories, selecting three books for each category and choosing one title in each as their TopShelf pick. The category winners are generally curated by industry experts, as seen in their choices of Bethany McLean, James Surowiecki, and Sally Hegesen to serve this year.

Given the headliners, many consider The Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award to be the most prestigious. The judging has a nice Trans-Atlantic feel with the awards ceremony alternating locations between New York City and London. The visibility also comes from the £30,000 in prize money given to the winner. Their format is to start with a 16 title longlist announced in August, the six title shortlist shared in September, and the winner celebrated in December.

Amazon has a comprehensive set of year-end selections. These are picked by a set of editors at the company. They choose 20 books across a range of what they call “business and leadership books”. Their list is always good balancing bestsellers and practical problem solving. Already this year, they named Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac as their business and leadership book of the year.

In the world of small business, I want to mention the list that comes from Leigh Buchanan at Inc. Magazine. She covers business books for the magazine and she often write articles that look ahead to upcoming book seasons, or as she did earlier this month, she wrote an eleven title Must-Read list for entrepreneurs in 2019.

The final list is from Bookpal, a West Coast best book retailer. They have the newest awards program, The Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, which they started in 2017. There are five categories from their OWL awards that fit into the world of business books and on their longlist, they nominate five books for each category.

Each of the lists above have different flavors. FT McKinsey is global and conglomerate. Strategy + Business is corporate and smart. Amazon plays it straight to the core of the business book category. Inc. Magazine leans toward small business. And Porchlight digs deep into their indie bookstore roots. Bookpal highlights books across the breadth of categories they sell.

The lists also have things in common. They are created by people who care about the business book category. They are journalists, booksellers, academics and business leaders who all believe they have a stake in helping readers find the best titles.

Intersections: A Meta-Analysis of The Lists

Personally, I always find myself drawn to the spaces between. With the common interests and divergent preferences, I always want to know where the business book lists intersect. A good book is a good book. And if multiple groups see that, there is something worth paying attention to. Looking at the intersections between those lists was particularly interesting this year.

Using the longlist from each group, the six groups recommend a total of 102 books. The majority of those books, 80 titles or 78% of titles, only appear once across the five lists. That represents the wonderful variety in both what these entities believe is a book that will appeal to a business audience and what represented a good book among what was published in 2019.

There were 19 books that appeared twice on those five lists. I am not sure I have pattern or conclusion I can draw from those. Porchlight nominated twice as many (or more) books and they are the common partner in 13 of the 19 titles that were selected twice. When you look at the other half of those pairs, they are evenly spread among the other five lists. The categories of those 13 books are also spread across general business, economics, current events and narratives. I believe this set of books shares the same effect of judges’ preference, as can be seen in the single titles.

This is where it gets interesting.

There were no books that were appeared on three of the lists.

There were no books that were picked by four lists.

And there were no books that were chosen by all six lists.

That leaves us with only three titles that were chosen by five lists. That’s where I want to focus the rest of the attention.

[If you’d like to see all the titles and some of the analysis, I have put all the data in a Google Sheet that you can find by clicking on this link.]

The Three Titles For 2019

Let’s start with the books:

  1. Loonshots: How To Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcali
  2. Nine Lies About Work: A (Freethinking) Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

As I said, these were chosen by four different arbiters of business books. The last bit of analysis that I’ll share is that each book was chosen by a different combination of those five players. So, there was no voting block of perspective that led to these three titles.

I’ll admit there is randomness and probably pattern bias in trying to focus on these three titles. I am not going to try to justify these picks with any statistics or additional analysis. Let’s just say that the bubbling up of these three books is convenient.

It’s handy that there are only three books with such overwhelming support. Anyone can get these three titles and be through them between now and the end of the year. If that sounds hard, go read my essay on How To Read A [Business] Book.

Another convenience is this small group of books touches on the three things we should always be working to improve. First, we always need to put some focus on ourselves and Range provides an interesting thesis for how we should position ourselves in today’s world. Next, we always need to be working on how we work with others. Nine Lies pushes hard on some commonly held wisdom and turns it on its head. Finally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by change and doesn’t need a way to bring new ideas and approaches into the world. Loonshots addresses that.

After I saw the broad agreement on these three titles, I decided to dig into each of them again. I’ll be posting reviews on each one of them between now and the end of the year. I hope maybe you’ll read along. When I share more about these books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them and how they helped you.

Update (11/26/19): I added the longlist selections from Bookpal’s OWL awards to the year-end lists for this article. They also chose the three common titles are well.


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My Reading List Gets Long This Time of Year

My reading list is never short, but as the year comes to a close, there are so many Best Of The Year lists that get published and I am left wondering how I missed so many good books.

Most lists cover fiction and creative non-fiction in an exhaustive way. I wish more outlets covered practical non-fiction. There is so much to recommend.

Here are a few places to look for your business and self-help needs:

Here is my current list of books to read that covers a pretty wide range of topics

Authors: Getting Better Feedback For Your Book Project

My primary job in the world of publishing is to give feedback to make book better.

That’s lead me to think a lot about how authors get the best feedback for the book they are working on.

I posted an article about this topic on LinkedIn that has a a video and more detail around working with general readers when you are gathering feedback.

Hope you’ll check it out.

Authors: Staple Yourself To The Problem

One place many authors go wrong is writing a book that doesn’t address a problem that a reader is having. I know that sounds crazy, but you’ve run across this problem as a reader. You pick up a book expecting to get help and find something different.

Sometimes, the problem is described in a way that doesn’t match your experiences. Other times, the solution doesn’t feel like something you can implement. Still at other points, the approach or the framing isn’t clear.

Listen to this seven minute clip of an interview I did with Geoffrey Moore. Moore has written seven books about seven problems including technology classics like Crossing The Chasm and Inside The Tornado.

In this clip, I ask him how he develops books and he says he always starts with a problem. And then he staples himself to it.

Better Books Interview with Geoffery Moore – Staple Yourself To The Problem

Authors Need Fellow Travelers

Earlier this year, I started a meet-up here in Portland for business book authors. There had gotten to be several people in town who were at some stage of working on a book. I’d talked to each of them individually and I thought there would be value in bringing them together.

Being an author can have a certain loneliness to it. We have to navigate a foreign process of developing proposals, wooing agents, and waiting to hear from editors. That’s all before we have even really started to write the book. The list gets even longer as we approach the launch with needing to rally friends, find new advocates and shout to the world, “My book is here!”

I don’t know any author isn’t deeply affected by the book they write. It’s a powerful experience to take a part of you and what you believe and release it into the world for laud and critique. The more personal the connection to the material, the more vulnerable we are. We need support in that process.

We met last night for the third time as a group. The session was ninety minutes of sharing knowledge, frustration and celebration on the crazy path to publishing books. It took another thirty minutes for the meeting to break up as the conversation continued. I’m really happy the group exists and it supports authors creating their books.

If you are starting a book, find friends to help you along the way.

Authors: Learn Everything You Can About Book Publishing

I talk to lots of authors about their books. Sometimes, their book is just an idea. Others times, they are a month away from publication. This week, I talked with authors on each end of that spectrum. Both of them were trying to learn everything they could about book publishing.

Book publishing, like every industry, has its nuances, business practices, and jargon. It gets even trickier because everyone has the illusion of knowing about book publishing. We see books on store shelves. We see ads in the Times. We watch morning talk show interviews. We hear about the next selection from Oprah’s book club.

The inventory and the ads and all the publicity is an elaborate process that starts months before a book is released. And that level of attention is given to the 1% of books written by celebrities and blockbuster authors.

The author’s realistic approach to book publishing has both a macro view and a micro view.

The macro is about establishing clarity. We ask experts about publishing trends. We pay attention to books released in our area of expertise. We look for the wedge that positions our title away from the competition. We learned more about the business model of book publishing to better understand the resources available to produce and promote the book. This is the work of a product manager, trying to fit the big pieces together.

On the micro, we focus on the details. Every person in your contacts gets a note from you, saying you have a book coming. AND there is a specific tailored ask for how they might help spread the word. We gather up anecdotes of what other authors have done to create awareness and generate sales. We examine the common tactics and brainstorm the uncommon, understanding that the unique combination of book, author and audience create singular opportunities that no one else has. AND for every ten ideas, two will work.

Start early.
Bring heaps of curiosity.
Ask lots of questions.
All that knowledge will set you apart.
(And I’ll be posting more to help in the coming weeks.)

my next six months

I have a Zen Buddhist practice. It’s a journey I started nine years ago and I took another step yesterday on that path.

In the tradition I observe, we call it a practice, because that describes a continual effort. Most mornings I meditate for thirty minutes. The app I use says I have done that 1531 times since 2011. Some mornings it is quiet and serene. Other mornings the thoughts in my head spin and whirl; my knees hurt. The practice is to keep sitting and work with whatever arises.

The Buddha was a man who got very interested in the quiet and the whirling. He concluded that the whirling is inherent in who we are as human beings. We want things—a friend we’ve lost, a different President, more hair—and we hurt because we don’t accept things for what they are as ever-changing, impermanent and unsatisfying.

I remember waking up one morning and realizing that I was no longer equipped to deal with my life. We’d been in Portland for about a year. We had moved, so my wife Amy could go back to school to study Chinese medicine. She was struggling with a sickness that couldn’t be diagnosed. I didn’t have a job and was hustling to string together a set of gigs to make the money work. We had a house back in Wisconsin that we couldn’t sell, so we were making two house payments each month. And I was about to become a single father to three young kids for the next four years. I couldn’t imagine being a good father, good husband, or good person.

I am not sure what led me to an evening class on meditation at Dharma Rain. When I told Amy I was going, she said “ok,” not sure what to make of it. After a few weeks and starting to attend the weekly service, she said, “Keep going!” Something had already shifted in how I interacted with her and the kids.

Zen is just one of many flavors of Buddhism. It came from India, through China, and into Vietnam, Korea and Japan. The Soto lineage I practice came through Japan and arrived in the U.S. about 50 years ago. My Dharma great-grandmother was Houn Jiyu-Kennett. She was an English woman who went to Japan to practice Buddhism. She was the first woman to be sanctioned by the Japanese Soto school to teach in the West and the first woman to establish a Zen monastery in America.

I remember having lunch with a friend a few years ago. They practiced deeply in another spiritual tradition and they asked me how serious my Zen practice was. I started to describe the Saturdays of 10 hours of meditation, the Tuesday evening classes on texts and forms, the four or five day silent retreats and how I decided to commit to a teacher to further explore my practice.

“Yeah, that’s serious,” he said.

It didn’t really strike me until then how much the practice was a part of my life. I served on and lead one of the ceremonial teams. I took trips to Japan and India to visit sacred sites in the Buddhist tradition. I am leading a group of practitioners to Japan next year.

Zen is interesting and challenging and transformative for me. The teachings make sense. And there are layers of depth that will take many more years to explore and appreciate. It feels easy to say ‘yes’ to practice. And I said ‘yes’ again yesterday.

I stepped into the shuso role at Dharma Rain and will be serving in that role through the end of the year. The word shuso is translated as “chief junior”. The role in our sangha is a combination of operation manager, work supervisor and protector of the forms. This person runs the meditation retreats and watches over weekly services. It is a big job and a significant commitment of time and energy.

Two years of planning have gone into making this six months possible. I changed jobs. I piled extra work into the first half of this year to make extra time in the second half. Amy is picking up more on the home front with our family. I am not traveling much. I am still working on the next book projects, just a little less. There are many things I am putting down, so I can pick up this up wholeheartedly.

A member at Dharma Rain asked me if I was ready to put my mark on our Zen Center and then he paused for a moment and said, “But it’s funny how it’s usually the exact opposite.”

It’s in that spirit that I share all of this. I can’t see how I won’t be shaped by this experience. Others who have served in the shuso role say you can’t prepare for it or know how you will be changed by it.

That’s why I said ‘Yes.’