Differentiate or Die

“We do good work for a reasonable price” doesn’t buy you much of an advantage in a world where almost everyone can and does make that claim. Writers Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin subscribe to Rosser Reeves seminal marketing idea of establishing a Unique Selling Proposition. Basically you pick one thing to emphasize - something you do very well, not already co-opted by your competitors and important to your clients. This is a fast reading and entertaining book that will change the way you think about branding and positioning. Lots of good examples

New Ideas About New Ideas

A real how-to on creativity and engendering innovation in your organization. Just about everyone I know sees creativity as genetically determined. Shira White, an artist and consultant in creativity in business, goes a long way to demonstrating that it can be fostered, even taught to the benefit of the organization. A fine read on a very interesting topic. As useful as Roger Von Oechs “A Whack On The Side of The Head”, the first book I know of on the same topic.

The Visionary’s Handbook

This book is built around 9 paradoxes. For example, the paradox of time "To succeed in the short term, you need to think long term, yet the greater your vision and the longer the time interval over which you predict results, the greater the risk you will be unable to take the steps necessary in the short term to achieve long-term ends." The paradoxes aren’t new but collecting them and thoughtfully applying them to your work and yourself is. Highly recommended. (A less practical but equally stimulating book by these authors is The 500 Year Delta)

The Discipline of Market Leaders

A different approach to positioning and focus. Rather than promote a product focus these authors  concentrate on customer sectors offering value, service and innovation as alternative positionings. It’s certainly not the only way to get focus but it is an effective way for some organizations. This is a real business classic and a very influential book. Just remember that how you get to “focused” is less important than being sure you get there.

Execution - The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Most CEOs I know are more effective at sparking initiatives than they are at seeing that they get successfully carried through. Good intentions are surely the paving of that well-known road and the aim of this book is to inspire better follow through. Lots of useful examples but maybe a little less in the way of specific methodologies and approaches than there could have been. Still, if you look at the business bestseller list you’ll find few others that focus on how to implement all those wonderful schemes

SPIN Selling

No, this isn’t about selling by putting a “spin” on what you tell the client. SPIN is an acronym for the research that supports this unique book. Most books on selling come from lessons learned in low-dollar or purely consumer sales. They espouse lots of presenting and pitching until the client is battered into buying. This approach, derived from high-ticket business-to-business sales, emphasizes intelligent and highly structured questioning to accomplish everything from qualification to closing. One well-conducted SPIN call will change the way you sell forever.

Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work

While very few CEOs do much cold calling (my friends raising VC funds these days are the notable exception!) this little book will help you understand what should go on in a well composed cold call. Maybe it will even help you to decide whether cold-calling should be part of your company’s approach. At the very least you should buy copies for all your sales people. It will send the message that you expect them to cold call and help them do so effectively.

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

A modern fable that will help you build an organization with a healthy culture. It takes you though building a cohesive team, creating organizational clarity (see Simplicity above). effective communication and process reinforcement. Fun to read and genuinely insightful. The same author’s earlier book, The Five Temptations of the CEO was also a business bestseller.

The Art of the Long View

Most reviewers refer to Peter Schwarz as “a” or “the” leading futurist. He got there though his work in planning at Royal Dutch Shell which, uniquely, forecasted the Arabian oil embargo. The approach used here is the construction of richly detailed scenarios for the future to help business plan its place in the future they portray. Being right in your construction of the future is wonderful but not as important as the flexibility detailed long-range planning can bring to your business. This is a good way to learn some of the tools of the futurist’s trade