One-Minute Book Reviews

April 15, 2008

James Marcus’s Memoir of His Years at Amazon.com, the Most Entertaining Book About a Business Since ‘Liar’s Poker’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

First, you sign a paper saying that you won’t sue if you go crazy on the job

I ran into the critic James Marcus at a National Book Critics Circle event last month, and he said that he’d launched a literary blog. James has great taste, so I headed to his House of Mirth housemirth.blogspot.com. I learned from it that after he and I served on the NBCC board together, he wrote a memoir of his time as a senior editor at Amazon.com, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut (New Press, 2004).

James worked for the online bookseller in its infancy, when job descriptions had greater fluidity, so he did more than write reviews for the Amazon site. He wrapped books and pitched in on customer service by answering e-mail queries from shoppers:

I saw a book on television last week, I would read. The one with the red cover. Can you tell me what it’s called?”

James writes from the perspective of a self-described “token humanist” at Amazon, not an MBA who itched to see his picture on the cover of Wired. But Amazonia is still the most entertaining book about a business that I’ve read since Liar’s Poker.

You think the forms you get from your HR department are bad? Before going to work Amazon, James had to sign a 10-page work agreement and, in Amazonia, quotes from its section on job-related stress. “Strip away the legalese and what remains is a fairly colorful stipulation,” he writes. “Namely: if you go crazy on the job, the company won’t pay to patch you up.”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 17, 2008

There Were 172,000 Books Published in the U.S. in 2005 …

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:59 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

… according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which tracks the number of books published per country per year en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_published_per_country_per_year.

So why does it often seem so difficult to find a great new book to read? Maybe the problem lies less with books than with the established practices in American book reviewing, an institution rife with ethical conflicts, review inflation and other problems that can make it hard to tell the gold from the pyrite.

Tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will review Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, in which a longtime critic asks: Why is so much book reviewing in the U.S. so bad? And what can be done about it?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 19, 2008

Are You Undercommunicating the Vision of Your Blog ‘by a Factor of Ten’?

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Explaining your goals more often or clearly may help you build your site

 

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I wrote about a paperback on how organizations change, which I recommended as a holiday gift for managers. But the more I’ve thought about the book, the more it’s seemed that the Harvard Business Review on Change (HBSP, $19.95) www.hbsp.harvard.edu makes a point that could also help bloggers who want to build their sites by attracting more visitors, gaining more links, or generally becoming more competitive. The point appears in an article by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School and an expert on corporate turnarounds. Kotter lists eight reasons why organizations fail to make changes that would help them stay competitive, including “Not Establishing a Great Enough Sense of Urgency” (Error #1) and “Declaring Victory Too Soon” (Error #7).

But the point that caught my eye was “Undercommunicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten” (Error #4). Kotter argues that the leaders in any field don’t spell out their vision once or twice and hope that people will buy into it (or worse, fail to articulate a vision at all and hope people will figure it out.). Leaders “incorporate messages into their hour-by-hour activities.”

Kotter’s advice might sound comically absurd to many bloggers. How can you weave your vision into your “hour-by-hour” activities if you post once or twice a day, as I do, or less? And yet, Kotter has a point. Most bloggers seem to convey their vision pretty much the way I did when I created One-Minute Book Reviews http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com: I described my aims on my “FAQ” and “About” pages and hoped that visitors would click on the links to them.

But these pages got much less traffic than others on my site, far less than 10 percent of the most popular posts. Based on that figure, Kotter was right: If I wanted people to understand my vision, I was undercommunicating it by a factor of 10. Worse, I can’t compensate for this adding information to the header on my blog, because I can’t customize the template.

So after reading the Kotter’s article, I made a few changes with the aim of conveying my vision better. These three seemed especially helpful and might work for you, too (though if could customize my header, that might be best of all):

1) Add a regular tag line to the bottom of posts, explaining what your site is “about.” Mine consists of just one sentence, “One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.”

2) Update your FAQ and post the changes both on the FAQ page and as a regular post, so visitors to your site will see the questions without having to click.

3) Keep visitors up-to-date on changes in your mission. If your thinking about your vision has evolved since you put up your FAQ or “About” pages, explain the changes in a regular post.

Have you taken any steps to communicate the vision of your blog that you think would help other bloggers? If so, why not share your views by leaving a comment?

Janice Harayda recently was named one of 25 “Women Bloggers to Watch in 2008″ by the site Virtual Woman’s Day virtualwomansday.blogspot.com/2008/01/women-bloggers-to-watch-in-2008.html. One-Minute Book Reviews is the sixth-ranked book-review site in the world on the Google Directory of top book-review blogs www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 6, 2007

Gift Books for Leaders, Managers, Executives and Others Who Want to Succeed in Business

The books in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series include authoritative articles on topics from “Managing Yourself” and “Motivating People” to “Green Business Strategy”

Harvard Business Review on Change: Ideas With Impact Series. By John P. Kotter, James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, Jeanie Daniel Duck, Tracy Goss, Richard Pascale, and Anthony Athos, Roger Martin, Paul Strebel, Norman R. Augustine, and Robert H. Schaffer and Harvey A. Thomson. Harvard Business School Press, 228 pp., $19.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Is the phrase “business books” an oxymoron? So many titles in the category read like Power Point presentations in hardcover or exercises in spin control by ousted chief executives who are trying to recast their legacies.

Not the more than 50 paperbacks in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series, each of which includes reprints from the magazine on a theme such as “Leadership,” “Managing Yourself,” or “Motivating People.” I picked up the Harvard Business Review on Change at an airport Borders, looking for an alternative to The Almost Moon, which I’d packed in my carry-on bag in the irrational belief that a novel about a woman who kills her mother and stuffs her in a freezer might improve with altitude. It was perfect.

This installment in the series collects eight articles published between 1992 and 1997 on why change succeeds or fails in organizations, and most of the essays have as much to say today as they did ten years ago. Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson argue in “Successful Change Programs Begin With Results” that sirens like total quality management lure corporations onto the rocks because they are “activitiy-centered” rather than “results-driven.” Other articles explore the failures of rightsizing, reeingineering and cultural change. The best is John Kotter’s “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which argues persuasively that organizational change fails for eight reasons from not creating a great enough sense of urgency at the outset to declaring victory too soon.

“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time,” writes Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

The authors of these essays draw most of their examples from major corporations. But their advice would also apply to or could be adapted for many smaller entrepreneurial ventures or departments or even for individuals wondering why they never keep their New Year’s resolutions. And because the series covers such a wide range of topics, you could probably find one for anyone on your gift list who is facing a challenge in business. How many of us wouldn’t benefit from being reminded at times of a remark by the novelist Rita Mae Brown, quoted in one essay, that “insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results”?

Best line: Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine in “Reshaping an Industry: Lockheed Martin’s Survival Story”: “Financial wizard Warren Buffet once cautioned, ‘Beware of past performance ‘proofs’ in finance. If history books were they key to riches, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians.’”

Worst line: A chart on page 194 listing the differences between “results-driven” and “activity-centered programs” appears to have the qualities of each program reversed.

Published: 1998

Furthermore: The titles in the “Harvard Business Review on …” series include books the follwing topics: Leadership, Marketing, Managing Projects, Managing Yourself, Motivating People, Effective Communication, Teams That Succeed, Women in Business, and the new Green Business Strategy. A complete list of titles appears on the Harvard Business School Press site www.hbsp.harvard.edu. Harvard Business School Publishing also has an IdeaCast series, a free podcast from “leading thinkers in management” at www.hbrideacast.org.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 3, 2007

Stephen H. Baum Offers an Antidote to Some of the Lessons of ‘The Apprentice’ in ‘What Made jack welch JACK WELCH’

A leadership coach draws on the stories of CEOs and others in a book that focuses on developing character, not unchecked ambition

Here’s something even scarier than Donald Trump’s hairdo: A lot of people who are just starting out in business have taken many of their ideas about how to succeed from The Apprentice. In some ways, that’s exactly what they shouldn’t do, says leadership coach Stephen H. Baum in What made jack welch JACK WELCH: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders (Crown Business, $24.95) www.crownbusiness.com, written with my friend Dave Conti.

“While the show teaches the value of hard work, outside-the-the-box thinking, and resourcefulness, it also displays the contestants scheming, manipulating, feigning team spirit, and lying to beat both their teammates and their competitors for the single position in Trump’s organization,” writes Baum. “It promotes a ‘win at all costs’ culture. Had these stories taken place in a real company with real colleagues, most of the young executives would have earned the enmity, not the respect, of others. They continually display many of the hallmarks of [pretenders] and too few of the hallmarks of real leadership. Who in the world would trust them enough to want to follow them? No one I know and respect would hire them or work for them.”

Baum offers an antidote to the me-firstism of The Apprentice in a book that taps the stories of leaders such as Rudy Giuliani, Cathleen Black, Gordon Bethune, Gen. Tommy Franks and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School. So his book could be a fine gift for a recent graduate who knows there’s more to success that the show lets on but isn’t sure what it is. Baum www.stephenbaumleadership.com expresses a cornerstone of his philsophy early on: “Character means doing the right thing when no one is there to see as well as when your actions or visible or will likely be revealed to the world at large.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

« Previous Page

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 372 other followers

%d bloggers like this: