SBJ/Dec. 16-22, 2013/Opinion

Ideas for the new and experienced managers on your gift list

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Since my son Dan has been assisting me the past several years with my annual selection of books to note as we move into the holiday season, I decided he merited co-authorship this year. Dan has selected three books to help new managers, while I have selected three for experienced managers.

New Managers

“The Dip” by Seth Godin
This is a book that I recommend first for a manager of any level as well as for any direct reports that he or she may have. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time manager or a veteran, you are personally going to go through “dips” — periods in your career where you need to decide whether to wade through it; figure out what you need to change, adjust or agree to in order to get past it; or move on altogether. I have read this book six or seven times in the past 10 years and it always helps me figure things out. I have purchased so many copies that I should start buying in bulk as I have given many colleagues and members of my past teams copies when they went through their own dips. It’s simple — less than 100 pages — and after you read it you’ll probably say you already knew that, but I promise you that it’s taking the time to read it every now again that will help you.

“Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” by Tom and David Kelley
Today in order to stand out in any business — sports, packaged goods, cars, food etc. — you have to be creative. People will argue that they either are creative or they are not. I’m telling you now — learn how to unlock your potential or get ready to become irrelevant. I’m not saying you need to know how to draw, or be artistically creative. What you do need is to develop an understanding and appreciation of the creative process. This recent book by the Kelley brothers is valuable because it covers everything you need to change your misconceptions. By the time you get through lessons like “The failure paradox,” Empathize with your end user,” “Reframing challenges,” and “Experiment to learn,” you will emerge with new skills and new ways to look at things, and I promise you will like what you start seeing. The book is easy to read, full of relatable examples and strikes an emotional chord, something that I think few business books have ever achieved.

“Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger
This is really the companion or modern update to “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, and could also be compared to “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. Every five-plus years someone writes a book about how to be relevant, gain traction, and stand out, and the aforementioned are the best two books in the past decade until now. Berger’s six “STEPPS” are useful and apply to so many areas. He breaks down the following attributes that aid in making something contagious: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. Each principle is described in detail and he presents each with relatable examples. There is no guarantee to making something catch on, but after reading this book and being more aware of the six “STEPPS,” you will be ready to approach your next launch or campaign with some new insights and guardrails. Though some have criticized the book for not going deep enough, it may help you see things in a new way and look out for them going forward.

Experienced Managers

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Economics Nobel Prize winner Kahneman explains how our mind works and the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional (Think Gladwell’s “Blink”) while System 2 is slower, more deliberative and logical (Think Mr. Spock). As I have always been a System 1 thinker, it was valuable for me to learn where I can and cannot trust my intuition or “gut feeling,” and how we can all tap into the benefits of slow thinking. I was fascinated by his descriptions and analysis of how choices are made both in our personal as well as in our professional lives. It also brought to mind how we could all benefit from some slow thinking with regard to the way we employ social media in our lives, a topic not addressed in the book, but definitely worthy of exploration.

“David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell
There are a number of adages that this book challenges or supports with excellent storytelling, cases and examples. If you are someone who believes that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” then this book is clearly for you. Gladwell had me reading, pausing, closing the book and thinking about some of the powerful issues he raises and the remarkable people he profiles to illustrate his points. His take on the biblical tale of David and Goliath sets the stage for thinking deeper as he explains that David really should have been the favorite, not the underdog, because he had all the advantages. That’s pure Gladwell — always challenging conventions, illuminating our thinking and causing us to accept his position as totally plausible and rational.

“Ctrl Alt Delete” by Mitch Joel
The book speaks about our need to evolve and change our business and our lives before we are passed by. This seems to be a common theme in many books and blogs because it confronts the fear that we have in falling behind and becoming obsolete — thus the need for us to “reboot.” The five dynamics that are changing our businesses, our world and ultimately us are direct relationships with consumers, utility, data-mining, active media and one screen. These are explained simply and the lessons are easily grasped. My favorite advice for the personal reboot is to “embrace the next” — which Apple and Google have been instructing us to do for years.
Hoping the holiday season provides you all with ample opportunities to stretch your horizons and prepare for 2014.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida, and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU. Dan Sutton (suttond@google.com) is principal brand specialist at Google BrandLab. Follow him on Twitter @thatdansutton.

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