Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: The Start-up Of YOU

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

The Start-Up Of YOU is a recently released book co-written by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. It’s well worth reading, not only because it presents an interesting perspective based on the entrepreneurial experiences of the authors, but is also includes a number of practical exercises (called “Invest in Yourself”) which can help you improve your networking and self-improvement skills.

(Of course the book does its share of promoting LinkedIn and other Hoffman ventures (what similar books don’t?), but at the end of the day, after reading the book, LinkedIn will become a more valuable tool to you.)

The book is not a book about looking for a new job, but in essence it recommends that you do things every day that we usually only do when looking for a job. To quote the cover of the book: “Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.”

Here are some highlights from the book:

  • We should all think like entrepreneurs and create networks that outlive the initial start-up phase
  • Every person is a small business, and should be constantly planning and adapting as businesses do
  • You can’t be complacent. Always think of yourself as being in “beta” – constantly striving to evolve and make yourself better
  • Your personal asset mix is not fixed – you can and should learn new skills

Frankly, the main value of the book to most people will be its chapters (and follow-up exercises) on networking. The book talks about developing both a small inner circle of 8-10 key people – called professional allies – and an outer and larger circle of contacts – which can reach into the hundreds. As in all things, the more you view your networks from a “we” rather than “I” perspective, so that both parties can benefit from the relationship, the more effective your networking efforts will be.

The book concludes this way: “So start tapping into your network. Start investing in skills. Start taking intelligent risks. Start pursuing breakout opportunities. But most of all, start forging your own differentiated career plans; start adapting these rules to your own adaptive life. For life is a permanent beta, the trick is to never start stopping. The start-up is you.”

Let me know if you end of buying the book and agree with my assessment.

Book Review – The Devil’s Casino (Re: Lehman Brothers)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

I just finished reading The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Game Played Inside Lehman Brothers by Vicky Ward. I bought the book awhile ago, but frankly needed a break from reading about the financial crisis. But I’m glad that I finally read it, if only to remind myself of the lessons that I learned from the crisis and how such lessons remain relevant.

The book was enjoyable, and a quick read. Like many of the books on the crisis, it was filled with gossip and stories about the main characters involved. While this type of stuff is always fun to read, I do take the gossipy parts with a grain of salt knowing that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle….

I always ask myself when I read books if there are lessons that I can use in my day-to-day business – and there were here.

I have three main takeaways from the book:

1. Don’t let success breed arrogance – I hadn’t realized the extent to which Lehman had successfully navigated the Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis. Lehman emerged from that crisis better than most of its rivals, but this success gave them a feeling on infallibility which probably led to their ultimate demise (by over-leveraging and over-committing to real estate and other illiquid assets). Success once does not guarantee it again.

2. Always hire on merit not feelings – Though certainly not unique in this or any other industry, Lehman made countless personnel decisionsthat were seemingly not made on merit – and most of these decisions turned out poorly. We all have egos, but the more we let them interfere with rational decisions, the worse off we will be. Always try to take a step back before making important personnel decisions.

3. Thoroughly understand what you are getting yourself into before you do it – It still amazes me how companies such as Lehman amass huge exposures to instruments that they really don’t understand. The derivatives world has gotten so complicated and in the case of Lehman at least, the sophistication of its people and its ability to understand derivatives, leverage and risk did not keep up with the instruments themselves. In many senses, Lehman is the classic story of getting in over one’s head – and not realizing it until it is too late. In fact, I’m not sure if many of the Lehman principals even understand today why the firm failed. The lesson here is that you should stick to what you do well and only expand after a thorough and unbiased review.

Gossip aside, it seems apparent to me that ego and mismanagement above all else destroyed Lehman Brothers. Reading books such as this are good reminders of what not to do and how to keep yourself grounded and on track. And they provide a little entertainment as well.

Book Review: My Top 10 Thoughts on “Too Big To Fail”

Friday, January 21st, 2011

I decided to read “Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Washington and Wall Street Fought to Save the Financial System – and Themselves” by Andrew Ross Sorkin after it was recommended by a friend. Up until now I have avoided reading many of the books on the financial crisis – maybe you can call it overload.

Well – you need to read this book! Not since reading “Barbarians at the Gate” (about RJR Nabisco)  have I enjoyed a business book so much. Yes, there was certainly some gossip in the book which made it all the more intriguing and enjoyable. But there are also many lessons to be learned and I have not been able to stop thinking about its continued relevance.

Here are my top thoughts and observations on this book – please read it and let me know yours. (Note – these are in no particular order.) I also apologize in advance for the length of this blog – but there is so much to think about in this book!

10 – Wow – we were really close to a total meltdown of the entire financial system! I mean really close! I knew this before – but now I know a lot more of the details. And we are very lucky that the solutions ultimately worked (namely the decision to use some TARP money to loan banks money). It’s still hard for many of us free marketers to stomach bailouts – as it was hard for those in power to do at the time – but I am more convinced now than ever that it had to be done.

9 – It could happen again – actually will probably happen again – and it may be quickly. To be honest, I’m not sure that we learned a whole lot from the experience; it doesn’t seem to have greatly affected the behavior of many. This is the scariest thing to me. We continue to create derivatives of derivatives and products like triple-leveraged ETFs and nobody – and I mean – nobody really understands what they are. This leads to my next observation:

8 – Title and position are not necessarily correlated to knowledge. We all know this intuitively, but the fact is that many of the CEOs of the largest banks and financial institutions had no idea what was on their own books. The sophistication of the products at some point greatly surpassed most people’s ability to understand them. Everyone accused the leaders of Wall Street of being greedy; while this is probably true to some extent, part of the crisis was not about greed but more about mis-management. Business schools certainly failed us! Risk management? Didn’t exist!

7 – I have more respect for Tim Geithner than I did before (I don’t want to give too much away here – read the book!)

6 – Conflicts of interest are so rampant that to even pretend that they can be avoided is naive. I didn’t know that Hank Paulson got a special waiver which nullified his agreement not to deal with Goldman Sachs (the firm he used to run) during his tenure as Treasury Secretary, did you? If I had a dime for every time they mentioned GS in this book……

5 – Luck pulled us out of this as much as anything – which is scary for the future. The way the government came up with the $700 million for the TARP program would have made Houdini proud! So scary though – what if they had been a few hundred million shy? What if Paulson had not been Treasury Secretary?

4 – It still doesn’t make sense to me – or most people in the book I think – why Lehman was allowed to fail and others were not. Luck of the draw? Personal vendettas? Dick Fuld’s personality?

3 – So many random decisions were made – many which luckily worked out for the best. But this does not bode well for the future. We continue to allow bubbles to expand without knowing the true implications. I don’t think we learned a whole lot from what happened. Maybe this is human nature. Maybe this is where greed comes in. I’m not sure. Municipal bonds, student loans .. what will cause the next crisis? Will luck pull us through again? And it will have to be luck because I don’t see any evidence that anything has really been put in place as a backstop.

2 – TARP started out as a 3-page bill that was expanded to about 50 pages. Certainly there were not enough details in the original heat-of-the-moment proposal. Last year’s financial services reform (and health care reform) bills were in the thousands of pages, many of which were probably never read – or understand. Maybe we use 100 pages as a goal moving forward? There is something to be said for short and sweet – and clear and understandable!

1 – We the people – us little people – really have no control.  I hate to agree with those that have always claimed that individual investors, for example, are at the mercy of the institutions. In some respects, what has happened over the past few years has verified that the system is really rigged. Maybe that is inevitable in a system that has grown so large and bureaucratic.

I still need to think through this book – I will probably have more thoughts at a later date. In the meantime, please read the book!

The Un-Business Business Book

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Book Review: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of 37Signals)

This book is probably like no other business book you will ever read – and it will probably make the folks at the Harvard Business School cringe. I call it the un-business business book (or perhaps anti-business business book would be more accurate) because it is written from the perspective of two entrepreneurs who have done virtually nothing by the book. In fact, the book is written for entrepreneurs.

That is my only hesitation to recommending reading this book to folks in the financial services industry. We can still be entrepreneurs and have that type of spirit, but unlike a software start-up like 37Signals, we do work in a highly regulated environment. So I say, read this book – but remember the context and keep in mind that you will not be able to do everything that they suggest……but some of the ideas are relevant to us all.

This book will make you laugh at times – and it will probably scare you at others – but I think it is good to read something that is so different from conventional wisdom that it will actually make you think if all of these things that you take for granted really make sense.

For example, the chapter “Learning from mistakes is overrated.” Does the concept of failure being good as a learning lesson really make sense? You know, as I thought about it – it doesn’t! Or, the chapter “Build a product, not a half-assed product.” Do you have to wait to introduce your product until it is the best and has all of the bells and whistles? Or is better to go to market quicker, learn what the market wants and make any necessary adjustments? If nothing else, questions such as this make you think or re-think many of the ideas that us MBAers take for granted.

Rework is a quick enjoyable read – take the time and let us know what you think.

Top Ten Reasons to Read “Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard”

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Great book! We all know that change is difficult. This book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath helps frame change in a manageable way, so that much of the mystery of how to make change work for you and your business is revealed. In their terminology – which you will only understand when you read the book – Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path!

This book gives you actionable ideas and helps you:

10 – Deal with the rational mind which wants change and the emotional mind that likes the comfort of the existing routine.

9 – Direct the person in charge while motivating the one expected to follow directions.

8 – Shape the path – change must be defined and attainable – the more specific the better.

7 – Make change manageable – investigate what is working and clone it.

6 – Script the critical moves and point to the destination.

5 – Make people feel something – knowing change is not enough to change behavior.

4 – Tweak the environment – when the situation changes, behavior changes.

3 – Build habits – when behavior is habitual it is free and not apt to change.

2 – Rally the herd – behavior is contagious – help it spread.

1 – This book is the opposite of TBU (true but useless) ideas – read it to improve the quality of your life and your business.

Top Ten Reasons to Read “The Digital Handshake”

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

(This is the first in a series of book reviews that will be featured on the blog that I believe are relevant to our community.)

“The Digital Handshake – Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media” by Paul Chaney (

Recommendation: Buy this book today! I have read more books than I care to remember on social media and without a doubt this is the best of the bunch – by a large margin.

Top Ten Reasons to Read “The Digital Handshake” by Paul Chaney:

Number 10: It is well written and well organized. Sounds funny to say this, but I find so many of the books written on social media hard to read and I come away not sure who the audience is supposed to be.

Number 9: It is comprehensive – Paul covers every conceivable type of social media available today and explains where each fits (and where they don’t fit).

Number 8: It is chocked full of example and references – rather than bog the reader down in excessively long explanations, references are made to where the reader can go for further information.

Number 7: It puts social media into context. The book begins with a great overview of the 5 consumer trends that are turning the business world upside down.

Number 6: It has a point of view. In addition to covering social media in a very comprehensive way, Paul gives his opinion of the relative merits of the various alternatives in each category.

Number 5: It addresses the question of how to measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts so that you can determine if you are spending your time wisely.

Number 4: It helps you develop a plan of action before jumping in. For example, rather than just starting a blog, Paul walks you through the process of how to plan for your blog first so that your efforts will be more successful.

Number 3: It answers the question of how Facebook and Twitter (among others) are relevant to business! This was huge for me because I could never figure out how and if these were social media venue I wanted to pursue.

Number 2: It motivates you to learn! The book makes you want to try things that you have never considered before. Now, none of us can do them all at once, but the ideas will now be in the back of your mind and you will have a reference guide to refer to when ready.

Number 1: IT IS RELEVANT TO PROFESSIONALS IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY. I have finished most books on social media feeling like they were not talking to me – a small business owner in a specialized industry. I have implemented more ideas from this book in just writing this blog than in all of the previous social media books that I have read! (For example, did you know that search items like lists?)