Monday, October 31, 2005

Begging for Change

This book is by Robert Egger, who apparently is awesome! I thought this book was just your typical fluffy "change" book when I found it online, but it really has an edge to it, a good, useful edge. So Egger is the founder and CEO of the D.C. Central Kitchen, which, if you live around here is just one of those names you've heard of but don't know why. [BTW, their volunteer scheduling calendar is an awesome idea].

His point in writing appears to be something that I've thought about quite a bit, especially since my current organization is a culprit: the nonprofit sector is fat, happy and ineffective. Execs get too much money for not enough results, and everybody's too busy navel-gazing to actually make a difference. He's militant in a way that appeals to me, and I figured out why as I read: one of the things he's got figured out is the way that Gen-X is being wasted on the nonprofit sector. It's a thing he's noticed and doesn't approved of, so naturally, my trust factor vis-a-vis the author went up.

The title of the book comes from a line in the prologue, when he qualifies the condition of beleaguered nonprofits: "they're begging for money when they need to be begging for change." Sing it, brotha.

One of the concepts he talks about is the "tangible link" which is where you get people in your helped demographic to meet your helper demographic. It makes lots of sense, so I would refer back to the book to get additional examples.

Another resource he mentions are the Better Business Bureau nonprofit standards and says they are the best there are, although he allows that they are far from perfect.

For me this book was useful, although I am filing it away under "inspirational" rather than technical because it's very idealistic and into the "vision thing."

By Robert Egger
ISBN # 0060541717

The Sokal Hoax

This is a follow up to my previous book report on Fashionable Nonsense, although The Sokal Hoax came first. It's really a compilation of writings, reviews, and the actual sources from the debate. I'm actually glad I read the more secondary materials first, since the actual reports were totally contextualized. One thing I didn't realize was that all this happened in 1996, which is getting to be a long time ago. Oh well, a little slow on the uptake.

A bit of mind-bogglingness was the actual response reprinted from the follow-up issue of Social Text. It was so embarrassing you wanted to put your hand over your face. They were totally like junior-high schoolers who say after they've been dumped, "as if, I didn't like you anyway."

One thing that bugged was how often Sokal talked about working in Sandinistan Nicaragua. He claims over and over that he's a "Leftist" with a capital L, mind you. It's like don't keep reminding me that you're a communist. Whateva. But anyway, I support his hoaxing of Social Text.

by the Editors of Lingua Franca
ISBN# 0803279957

Stephen R. Block Reading List

I got this list of Recommended Reading from the book Why Nonprofits Fail, by Stephen R. Block. They are good references so I wanted to make note of them for my future reading.

Motivation and Achievement, by Raynor and Atkinson.
"The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: a Meta-Analysis." by Barrick and Mount, published in Personnel Psychology, 1991 44 1-26.
Making the Right Decision, by Beach.
Managing Intergroup Conflict in Industry, by Blake and Shepard.
Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest, by Peter Block.
"Escalating Commitment to a Failing Course of Action: Separating the Roles of Choice and Justification." by Bobocel and Meyer, Journal of Applied Psychology, 1994 79 360-364.
Supervision and Performance: Managing Professional Work in Human Service Organizations, by Bunker and Wijnberg.
Charismatic Leadership, by Conger and Kanungo.
"Culture: A New Look Through Old Lenses." by Deal and Kennedy, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 1983 19 498-505.
Corporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness, by Denison.
"The Definition of Organizational Politics: A Review." by Drory and Romm, Human Relations, 1990 43 1133-1155.
"Patterns of Political Behavior in Organizations." by Farrell and Petersen, Academy of Management Review 1982 7 403-412.
Keeping Good People, by Herman.
How to Become and Employer of Choice, by Herman and Gioia.
Ten Steps to a Learning Organization, by Kline and Saunders.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Kuhn.
The Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil, by Leckey.
Field Theory in Social Science, by Lewin.
Transforming the Way We Work: The Power of the Collaborative Workplace, by Marshall.
Team-Based Organizations, by Mohrman, Cohen and Mohrman.
Making Tough Decisions: Tactics for Improving Managerial Decision Making, by Nutt.
Process Consultation: Its Role in Organization Development, by Schein.
"The Role of the Founder in Creating Organizational Culture". by Schein in Organizational Dynamics 1983 12 13-28.
Organizational Culture and Leadership, by Schein.
"The Structure of Interpersonal Trust in the Workplace," by Schindler in Psychological Reports 1993 73 563-574.
Organizations in Action, by Thompson.
"Why Board Members Participate," by Widmer in Nonprofit Boards of Directors: Analyses and Applications.

from his references

"Toward and Understanding of Founder's Syndrome: An Assessment of Power and Privilege Among Founders of Nonprofit Organizations." by Block and Rosenberg in Nonprofit Management and and Leadership.
Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership, by Colman and Deal.
Managing Beyond the Quick Fix, by Kilmann.
"The New Work of the Nonprofit Board." by Taylor, Chait and Holland. In the Harvard Business Review, September/October 1996 pp 36-46.
Work and Motivation, by Vroom.

Why Nonprofits Fail

This book was the most useful book I've read in a long time. It is definitely not your typical business fluff, but has some ideas that you could use as tools to really turn around a small, struggling nonprofit. I have even been plugging it to others and my boss came and saw it on my desk and we had a meaningful discussion around the points it brings up. Basically, it's a lot of organizational behavior type stuff applied to small nonprofits instead of the huge hulking corporations we usually read about. Now, I firmly believe that principles that are used to advantage in large corporations can be put to work in tiny organizations as well, however, I've found it's a) hard to convince people that the theories used by corporations b) hard to fully adapt all those theories and feel like you're still doing it right. So this book was great because no adaptation is required.

A quote from the beginning of the book is "uncontolled change [the reason nonprofits fail] is a consequence of nonprofit managers' inability to resolve problems effectively, whether the problems are between individuals, teams, departments or organizations." So, whether you define managers as staff or board, problems need to be addressed and resolved in order for them not to become bigger problems.

On page 25, there is a list of steps to resolving association problems that do not usually respond to usual methods:

1. Gather the facts about the problem that could not be resolved through the standard (first-order) approach.
2. Disclose the beliefs that guided the intervention that did not work in this situation.
3. Select one or more theories to use as a lens to examine the issues.
4. Come up with a hypothesis that will guide planned change.
5. Devise an alternative intervention strategy based on the hypothesis (this is known as a 2nd-order approach)
6. Implement the new strategy.
7. Evaluate the results.
8. If the problem remains unresolved, repeat the steps.

So this is kind of like the scientific method, only applied to a sociological, and then an organizational context. Parts of the book get very psychologically oriented, which was interesting to see. The author takes a pretty clinical approach to problems of the small nonprofit organization, and helps the reader "diagnose" his/her organization's problems by using different symptoms which are "presenting."

He talks a lot about 1st-order and 2nd-order solutions to problems and says that people keep trying 1st-order solutions and wonder why their efforts fail. They should try a 2nd order approach, which can involve "reframing" the problem or the question at hand. First-order approaches are idealized and focus on the "why" of the situation. Second-order approaches focus on a more concrete target to seek for and attain.

One example of this concerns the problem of board members being negligent in meeting attendance. You can say everyone has to come to the meeting or they are neglecting their duty, or, you can decide that what you really want is for them to be engaged, and therefore, it's acceptable for them to participate via telephone calls.

Part II really gets into the guts of his theories of nonprofit dysfunction. It's called "Seven tough problems and how to solve them."

1. Recruitment Disorientation. Basically, this problem results in an ineffective board. No one has ever trained the board members or been informed of what the organization expects out of them. It causes board members to exhibit "problematic behaviors."

A useful list I found in this chapter concerned what the E.D. example expected his board to do. He expected them to:

- help solve board problems
- represent the organization in the community
- develop and use important contacts
- help raise money
- serve on committees

I thought the list was instructive. So does the author. The problem is that no one ever put it to the board that way. So I take the point.

Recruitment disorientation can "present as" the following things:

- inconsistent commitment to tasks
- spotty attendance at board or committee meetings
- limited or no follow-through on assignments
- limited or no involvement in organizational events
- avoidance of fundraising and making no financial contribution to the organization

So, the author concludes that it's best to prevent such situations by prevention (I would guess that's during the recruitment phase of the board) and the use of best practices (again, I would guess that would be things like good board/volunteer management principles).

He also asks if perhaps the E.D.'s expectations aren't too high for the board members. Always good to look at one's expectations when grappling with these problems I think. I always ask myself/others what would (name an ideal situation) look like. I know I sound like a one-trick pony, but usually I get good results out of thinking that way.

2. Cultural Depression in nonprofit organizations. Culture can build people or destroy them. Cultural Depression creates a toxic work environment. I think that most people who've had more than a couple of jobs (or even less!) can identify with this. Block posits that the main symptom of cultural depression is staff turnover, which I can easily agree with. Another symptom that I've observed is that staff too are depressed (or at the very least unenthusiastic about their work).

3. Political Performance. This means that people are not in it for the organization, or for the greater good, or for the betterment of humanity, but they're in it for #1. In my limited experience, I think is really different in a human service environment versus a trade association. In a trade association, the good that service to the organization does for one's career is readily acknowledged. In a human service organization people have weirder reasons for wanting to be involved. My boss gave me an example of this I hadn't thought of. It's like when you have a patient advocacy organization where a patient's primary reason for involvment is say, access to the top researchers in the disease, or access to pharmaceutical industry resources. It happens a lot. Once I was in a seminar and a guy put it as "nonprofit empire building." But I think anyone who's around a little knows what that is. The examples in the book focus on staff issues: "When nonprofit managers exhibit political performance behaviors, they usually target individuals in subordinate positions." One takeaway for me came from an example he used where an employee had a difficult boss. The employee finally asked to have a meeting with her boss and the E.D. I think that's a good, honest example of an approach to that situation probably most people face all the time.

Mentions the book, "The Empowered Manager" by Peter Block.

4. Role Confusion. A very relevant problem to my organization. It is "an HR managment problem where there is a breakdown in the process of communicating task assignments and responsibilities and clarifying work and performance expectations. Communication breakdown is typically associated with receiving too little, too much, or contradictory information about one's role in the organization."


How do we ensure that volunteers are oriented to their roles and responsibilities?
How do we ensure that they are satisfied and productive?
How can we ensure that differences of opinion between self and outside organization be resolved in the best way?

The board should learn:

How to delegate assignments
Adhere to rules
Structure meetings and deadlines
Establish ground rules for meetings, decisionmaking, and leadership

The board should develop process maps for:

Dealing with disagreements
Conflict resolution
Researching information
Policy decisions

5. Financial Misfortune. This happens when the board or a manager puts finances in a subordinate role to something else. Even if there are not immediate problems, the author states it's a sign of problems to come. Signs include: bouncing checks, not paying invoices on time, double-paying.

Useful quote: "Executive directors are not expected to be as knowledgable as accountants, but they are expected to have a strong working ability to develop and use organizational budgets. They are also expected to be able to read financial statements and know how to compare the organization's actual spending to the budgeted amount for each fiscal year. Nonprofit managers are also expected to understand certain rules of sound financial management and ensure that the organization complies with all of its legal reporting responsibilities."

6. Fundphobia. Fear of raising money, obviously.

Steps development directors follow:

- Identify a prospective giver
- Cultivate the relationship
- Present a stirring case about the nonprofit and its services
- Invite person to make a gift

Page 178, problem-solving model:

- Define the problem
- Identify the important ingredients of the situation and what is important to the decision maker
- Weigh the pros and cons
- Determine if alternative solutions exists
- Prioritize the solutions
- Select the decision choice, based on the likelihood of achieving the results

S0 anyway, I liked the book so much I found myself thinking I would like a bibliography to do some follow-up reading. So I was glad when I found one at the end.

By Stephen R. Block
ISBN # 0787964093

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The New Job Security

I need to start reading books that teach me something new instead of firming up what I have already learned. On some level, it's good to see that you're not alone in drawing the conclusions you draw, but branching out is good too. To me, "The New Job Security," is pretty much common sense if you've ever had to worry about keeping a roof over your head in the years following 1990 or so.

The gist is that the new job security involves always being desirable for a company to hire. Develop your skills, your networks, and your knowledge and you'll be fine is the premise of the book. It articulates something called "inverse security" which basically states that the more secure you *feel* in a job, the less secure you actually are. Which means that while you're sitting around being comfortable, your skills and your networks are wasting away with time. It certainly makes sense to me.

The book does develop some ideas worth thinking about, and I took some notes from some of the many exercises the book offers. Here are my notes:

"Can you communicate your value clearly?"

Exercise -

Do a skill inventory of all your strengths and assets. Ask friends because your friends will be more likely to identify your strengths.

In interviews and the like, use a PAR approach which stands for problem, action, result. Pick an accomplishment you are proud of and use that.

"Don't be mushy"

The five new strategies for job security:

1. Take control. Don't let your company or whatever decide who's in control of your career. You are the captain of it, type of deal.

2. Market for mutual benefit. I have been doing this recently, thinking of the employer relationship as a hands-off transaction, which it is. You offer something, they offer something. It is healthy I think on both sides.

3. Stop looking for jobs. This is the one I don't identify with as much. The point is great: look for a problem, not a job. Then propose ways to fill it. I guess my network isn't as developed as some people's, but I am still in the looking for jobs category and so far so good.

4. Network as the norm. We hear a lot about this lately, network. The more people you know, the better your job prospects are, naturally. Don't be a loner. Although, this definitely is personality-driven, so I feel bad for people who are naturally shy or have to work very hard to connect with people.

5. Negotiate in round rooms. This means that you should avoid putting negotiations in terms of "it's either x or y" instead, leave lots of options and more "ways to say yes". Makes sense in theory but is one of those things that is harder in practice.

A useful thing is the "elevator pitch" for yourself.

Intro - I have x years of experience doing y.

list three skills - "what I particularly enjoy doing is"

list two results that you have achieved. So you can use the PAR thing for that.

By Pam Lassiter
ISBN # 1580083978

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How to Develop a Communications Plan

I know this is not a book, but then I am writing this because it is useful to me. I found this article yesterday while I was preparing for a job interview. It is by a consultant called Nancy Rathbun Scott of Liberty Communications. I think it is a great quick-and-dirty overview of the process. Explains the what, why and how.

The part that was a little leaky was the how to evaluate results portion. It says:

"Your evaluation might take the form of: a monthly report on work in progress; formalized department reports for presentation at staff meetings; periodic briefings of the chief staff executive and department heads; and a year end summary for the annual report."

This one paragraph is a little less useful than the rest of the article. Evaulation is not about reports, I think, it's more about the stuff that's in reports. But earlier in the article she talks about goals and objectives, so I assume those are going to be the bits of information that are actually *in* the reports for those department heads we keep hearing about.

I also reviewed this article from the Association Center online. It talks about managing a brand, and, in particular managing an association's brand.

Sago's main benefits of branding are mentioned, and I found these to be useful:

- positioning the association
- building intra-organizational congruency
- build a coherent and unified image of the association
- increase acceptance of products and services
- increase customer loyalty

My goal in reviewing these materials was to figure out how a "Communications Plan" worked with a "Branding Plan". My guess is that most people make these plans and then set them on the shelves, like you hear about happening with strategic plans. But I find that even if I don't refer to a plan very often, having created it forges the content in my brain to the point where I can move forward kind of by instinct. That is if the plan makes sense.

Anyhow, my conclusion was that a branding plan is sub-part of a communications plan, which is more specific and technical. Communications is more global.

Bonjour paresse: de l'art et de la nécessité d'en faire le moins possible en entreprise

This book is like, wow, hard to interpret. It's kind of like getting a glimpse inside of France's psychosis of work. Corinne Maier, an economist (part time, mind you) for EDF, France's state energy company, goes out of her way to pillory the French business establishment. As a professor once told me, "this is just venality." Of course, Maier is a hilarous writer and she makes me think of a particular archetype of the hilarous Frenchwoman.

Now, I'm sure there is much to pillory in these horrible corporations where people are condemned to "neoslavery". In the United States, I would say that the bloom is very much off the corporate rose as well--difference is, people's response here is much different than the one outlined in Bonjour paresse. Of course, in France, it's nearly impossible for an employer to fire an employee, so the solutions outlined by Maier make a sort of twisted sense: rot out the company from the inside, get by without expending any effort, ape the latest management jargon and save the "essential" of your energy for your own personal pursuits.

Still, as I read the book in my role as an American employee, I can't help but think I couldn't live this way. I would rather be part of the solution--if the company is hypocritical, help change it. If that's not possible, vote with your feet in pursuit of a better organization, or best yet, start your own. Which is really what she's done herself by becoming a best-selling author, even if she's kept her part time gig at EDF. As-tu dit «hypocrite», chérie?

By Corinne Maier
ISBN# 2841862313

English Version:

Charming Your Way to the Top

This book struck me while looking thru the books on neomanagement at the library. It was a good fluffy nonfiction read and I read it in a couple three hours. I have become interested in the topic of personal skills, or as the author (Michael Levine, Hollywood PR Guru) would say, "charm," since I started working with my boss who milks charm for all it's worth. Since we have similar personalities, my boss and I, I thought that it would be good to more explicitly try the approach since it seems to work so well for her.

So this book does help codify some of the things that I have observed. While he offers no data or designed research to back up his points, he does have plenty of anecdotes from his years of work in the field. Basically, the approach is simple, and he admits as much: if you are consistently charming, you will have a better chance of success in your undertakings.

He claims, I believe rightly, that charm is a skill that can be fairly easily learned. Further, he says that the bar is set very low by our rude society, so that it's easy to shine. He talks a lot about sending people thank you notes, which he says no one does anymore (and I'm sure he's right). I think the thank you note is kind of a metaphor for going the extra mile and since it's uber-concrete, it is referred to often. But the point is taken: go the extra mile, sincerely care about people and let them know. Then you can leverage your other skills the best way possible. So he's not saying that you can get somewhere if you're an empty-headed dolt. He uses the interesting example of Thomas Edison, who apparently was lacking on the social skills. He points out that indeed, Thomas Edison got to the top, however, if that is how smart you have to be to get there on smarts alone, not many of us are going to make it.

By Michael Levine
ISBN# 159228440X

Monday, October 24, 2005

Boards that Make a Difference

John Carver's Boards that Make a Difference can't be called anything less than a bedrock text for nonprofit governance. Everyone who's anyone in nonprofit administration should have at least pondered over the possible implementation of this model.

My old organization used it and, while it had (more than) its fair share of dysfunction, its board I believe was quite effective. My current organization does not have any governance model and the board of directors is literally falling apart. So, from my perspective which is based on a miniscule data set, the approach works.

My boss always talks about the need for volunteer management with a board, which I think sounds kind of condescending. I prefer to think of managing a board as project management or team leading. The Carver Model has the Executive Director as being the liaison between the day to day work of the staff and the (ideally) strategic, directional work of the board of directors. To me this makes sense, and someone in an Amazon review referred to it as "codified common sense". However, this article makes a point that Carver posits his approach is the one best way, and that adaptations to it increase an organization's chance of failing at governance reform. I don't know where the article's assertions come from, but I would agree that Carver's approach can't be the only way to run your organization, even if it works for a lot of people.

A drawback with the renown of the book, though, I would say is the tendancy to reduce it down to "staff deal with the day to day, the board stays out of its way." While this is almost true, it's a soundbite out of context. What I see happening with my less-effective board of directors is that they aren't following any governance model, yet they have the impression they should be staying out of staff's work. Comments are made like, "I know we're supposed to stay out of the day-to-day, but..." In reality, they're the ones in charge, and they should govern themselves and make meaningful decisions. In my opinion, an Executive Director should facilitate this important work of the board.

To me, what this would look like would be similar to the way a former organization of mine did it. They had a manual of governance policies, which contained the "laws" of how the board governed itself. It spelled out, a la Carver, the Ends that the board was looking for and the parameters in which staff could work. It also spelled out other touchy subjects, like dealings with the Executive Director, etc. With all these kinds of administrative subjects under control, the board was then free to make each decision could be made in the context of other decisions without, as Carver would say, spending "time on the trivial".

I have heard concerns that the model is too difficult, or somehow too formal and stilted, which may or may not be the case for any given organization. However, I think that quality governance, like anything worthwhile, is difficult, takes practice, and requires continuous improvement. Effective governance, though hard, must be the standard nonprofits hold themselves to. I am sure there are other effective standards that organizations could implement, so I'm not schilling for Carver here, although he does enjoy industry-wide approval. But think about it this way: without effective governance, nothing gets done, money gets squandered and/or pocketed, and those resources are taken from those organizations who are effectively producing something worth producing. So, if you're not going to do it right, why not just go watch TV instead of sitting in that board meeting?

A good governance resource, very adaptable to volunteers, is this website.

Takeaway quote: "Failures of governance are not a problem of people, but of process." pg. xv

By John Carver
ISBN # 0787908118

Boxer's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Boxing

I got this book because I started taking boxing lessons earlier this year from a guy I found on craigslist. I started taking lessons because as I get older, I feel the need to be able to defend myself physically. I started getting the literature so that I would have more background to bring to the lessons.

Here is one of the more smack-talking quotes: "Boxing is at the heart of physical toughness. It's the barest art of self-defense. It can be the rawest measure of a person. It's the most basic of competitions where fears are met and overcome or all is lost. It's the ideal vehicle for unfettered agression. Short of actual hand-to-hand combat, it's the ultimate contest between two people." The rest of the book gets into more actual how-tos as opposed to this motivational stuff, which presumably the reader is into since he bought the book.

Anyway, I thought the book was a really good introduction, and the guy who co-wrote it was a true beginner, so he brings that perspective into his writing. For me, the most useful part were the run-downs of the punches: jab, straight right, hook and uppercut, along with notes about their various uses, etc. There is also a chapter that covers the basic combinations: double and triple jabs, one-two, one-two-three, right-left-right and left-right-left. These two sections were helpful to me in solidifying the stuff I had learned in my lessons.

In all, the book is very accessable and not intimidating. So it would be helpful to people like me who want to stick a toe in and who are not culturally savvy about tough-guy stuff.

By Start-Up Sports and Doug Werner
ISBN # 1884654096

Friday, October 21, 2005

Yardening: How to Grow Cool Weather Vegetables

I know, this is technically not a book but I may need to refer to this in the future. This is a video made in 1987 which is a good treatment of how to garden. Now, I am a complete neophyte to the gardening scene, however this video gives you a good vision of how wonky you can be about vegetables.

Jeff Ball is the host and is likeable and not embarrassing to watch, if a little stiff. His big deal is "intensive gardening". Since this video is on cool weather vegetables he gets to show off his tunnel set up for lengthening the growing season. Since I live in the Mid-Atlantic, I don't think it's worth that amount of work to add some more months, but if you live in Minnesota, you might take the trouble. One good point he makes is that if you garden on a more year-round basis, you can get by with storing less food.

Good info on soil conditioning, disease, etc., which are the harder parts if you want to garden properly.

Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science

This book rocks! It says everything that has been repressed deep inside me for years. Alan Sokal, the author of the book, is the NYU Physics professor who perpetrated a hoax on the literary establishment by getting Social Text to publish his parodic paper. He is my hero du jour, and a very smart and reasonable one.

Fashionable Nonsense is hilarious. I mean, I'm sure that it is hilarious only to a relatively small sub-sub-category of people who have read or studied "post-modern" or "foundational" theory and found it to be largely of ill report. I would read bits of the book to my spousal unit and we would laugh and laugh--funnier than Ashlee Simpson's hoe-down on Saturday Night Live.

Sokal's main targets in this book are Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, and Virilio. I am more familiar with some of these theorists than others, but Sokal's criticism hits home, and he's smart enough to render a proper chastening. He is careful to dilineate that his criticism is narrow: when these theorists use science to make a point, it should mean something. Most people would agree, but the theorists seem not to.

My deal is that if these people want to invoke science as a metaphor, knock yourself out. However, to me, they seem unwilling to admit that they're simply invoking metaphors, as if that would be somehow facile or below them. Whateva. So they lay themselves wide open to the kind of argument that Sokal and Bricmont (I forgot to mention him, he teaches physics at the Université de Louvain in Belgium).

In the epilogue of the book, the authors put together a series of "lessons" to be learned from the parody, and from their arguments in general. The first one is awesome: "It's a good idea to know what one is talking about." Agreed. I look forward to reading the rest of Sokal's books.

By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
ISBN# 0312204078

Reading People

I got this book at the airport in Cincinnati on my way back to BWI. I got it because I have been thinking that people skills are where the cash is at in this day and age.

Anyhow, the book was a fairly interesting nonfiction read for the airplane. However, I found I had already intuited most of the strategies they gave. Basically, if you boiled down the advice it would be "look around carefully and make judgments based on what you see." Of course, the authors were careful to point out that certain things were not good indicators of personality, and that exceptions to these rules are often called for. Most high-functioning people are pretty good at doing this kind of thing as a matter of course.

Here's an interesting quote that I liked, though: "Truly kind, thoughtful, and confident people do not treat others in dramatically different ways depending on their mood or their perception of what someone can do for them. As a result, watching how someone acts toward 'everyday people' can give you a pretty good idea how he or she will act toward you once the bloom is off the rose of your relationship."

By Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella
ISBN# 0345425871

How to Win Friends and Influence People

I got this book at a place called Powell's Bookstore which has locations in the airport in Portland, Oregon. It was awesome because they had all these used books in the airport--perfect because it's not like you really want to spend 25 bucks for a book that you just want to read on the airplane.

Anyhow, I have heard of this book forever, and I finally decided this was a good opportunity to read it. I infer that it's the seminal work on interpersonal relationships, and a lot of what it has to say, I've learned from people who obviously were informed by the book. It is copyright 1936, so obviously it's stood the test of time. (My boss says that when you plan a conference, you should have food that stands the test of time. We used shrimp and quesadillas and apparently they work okay for that purpose.)

My takeaway from the book is that you need to let people "save face". For example, you shouldn't corner people and say "you should do whatever" because that will trigger their ego to respond. Instead, you should facilitate the process of letting them figure out what the problem is and why fixing it will be of benefit to everyone. (This is kind of like the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where you have Tula and her Mom and Aunt trying to convince the dad to go along with their idea.) You kill two birds, in a way, because your problem gets fixed, and if you tackle it right, you will have made a friend in the process.

Obviously, easier said than done, but these are some points that are worth mulling over if you are dealing with some interpersonal troubles. A takeaway quote is that a "person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."

By Dale Carnegie
ISBN# 0671027034

How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan

I got this book because I am ever thinking about starting a business or two. Who knows when that will actually happen. But I have started reading the literature. This book is a workbook. This particular edition is copyright 2003, which makes it pretty recent. The cover says it features actual business plans of Pizza Hut, Ben & Jerry's and others. First off the whole Ben & Jerry's thing didn't do anything for me because I don't like to support neo-communism. My second thought is that Pizza Hut et al are really big and make starting one's own business (presumably a small business) seem pretty inaccessible. But that was a first impression, and the book's exercises are largely pretty useful.

The book takes you through picking out which kind of business plan matches your business (kind of like whether a person should use a functional or a chronological resume). Then it talks about asking the key questions, knowing your market, knowing whether there is a market, and evaluating your financial positions. The thing that is good about this approach is that they teach a principle and then give you several real-life examples, which is clearly a good way to teach something. Then, proverbially, it finishes by having you "work the plan."

I have taken a class on this kind of thing at the National Women's Business Center here in Washington, DC (even tho I am not a woman) and they have classes that are very good at treating these issues. However, if you are more of a booklearner, but still want to put yourself through some rigor, this book is probably a good choice.

By David E. Gumpert
ISBN# 0970118171

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Selling for Dummies

The dummies series is exactly the kind of book that is nice to get at the library. I mean, I have found them to be terrific resources, but it's not the kind of thing you want a lot of on your shelf at home or at work. Plus, you either mastered the content and thus don't need the book anymore--or--you (sniff, sniff) failed in your pursuit. Either way, you don' t need the very branded look all over your shelving unit cluttering up your French poetry and coffee table books on Andalusian art. Gosh! This book is pretty useful tho - obviously very similar in philosophy to the book by Mr. Ziglar--only more diagrammy and flow-charty.

By Tom Hopkins
ISBN# 0764553631

The Commons

This is a Jossey-Bass book and it's getting a wee bit long in the tooth. It is copyright 1992 but feels much older than that. It is quite theoretical and academic, not that there's anything wrong with that. NB: I got a little tired of it and just skimmed thru so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

To cut to the chase, the "theory of the commons" is based on nine assumptions, so let the debate begin.

1. Social Action: that a characteristic of a nonprofit and/or voluntary service is its intangibility.

I think this is not really true. I think a lot of junior league types spend a lot of time on "intangibles," but a lot of people I know in the nonprofit sector are awful worried about outcomes. My perspective is that it's a crappy nonprofit that assuages its conscience with complaints of its work being "intangible." Every nonprofit should come up with some kind of indicator or deliverable to justify its existence. Otherwise, leave the money for someone who can.

2. Affluence: This one seems like a hierarchy of needs issue. If people don't have their basics down pat, no one can participate in the betterment of society. Makes sense to me.

3. Authenticity: the theory "assumes that actors operating in nonprofit and voluntary settings are authentic, that is, they are what they appear to be to informed others operating in the same context." So anyone who is not authentic is subject to excommunication from the commons, and laws help inforce this (e.g. IRS's enforcement of charitable tax fraud).

4. Continuity: This part is really wordy and marginally comprehensible. But basically, I take from it that these are "traditional" organizations--the past matters, and people know have a duty to plan for the future to preserve the heritage of the community.

5. Rationality: That people aren't crazy. Shouldn't I have this?

6. Near-Universality: that the whole democratic idea of a "commons" is near-universal, "known in some manner in most, possibly all, human cultures." I suppose that this position seemed pretty sensible in 1992, before the postmodern neo-hippies of 2003 convinced us that really, some people must not be cut out for self-governance.

7. Autonomy: volunteers and such in these organizations are free to act for themselves. Or rather, that they are "capable" of doing so. "The ability to act with others to create and sustain and autonomous social world is one of the most fundamental characteristics of nonprofit and voluntary action." This part makes sense to me.

8. Intrinsic Valuation: whoa, on the lingo there. Evaluations of a given "commons," or "an autonomous common world," should be made from the values that arise from it. Is that like in the Bible "you shall know them by their fruits?" Or, is it the values that the group espouses. Those are different sometimes. Anyway, basically this one denies that a group should have to be accountable in any practical way for any of its outcomes. I'm not a fan of that idea.

9. Ordinary Language: "a satisfactory theory of nonprofit and voluntary action must be stated in language that philanthropic, charitable and altruistic actors can recognize and understand." This is pretty unclear, and doesn't quite rank with the other points listed.

So that's a resume of the "theory of the commons." I'm kind of an outcomes-oriented nonprofit/trade association/lobbying type so naturally I'm probably not the target audience for this work. Maybe if I were more of a charity, foundation environment it would be more useful.

By Roger A. Lohmann

Zig Ziglar on Selling

Did you ever wonder who Zig Ziglar was? I had heard that name a lot and then I figured out he was a salesman. It's one of those names that just goes into the common cultural repository without anyone quite knowing why.

I got this book because, wanting to go into business for myself, I figure I need to know how to sell a thing or two. Basically, all the literature is telling me that people who you think of as jerky salesmen (you know the gold-toothed used car types or the people who call your office and go "you mean you don't want to save money???") are not right at all. Selling is about having a relationship with people and finding the people who need what you want to sell. So that part is easy. The part that makes me nervous though is the prospecting part. This book addresses that some, here are the tips:

1. Take personal responsibility for building self-confidence and self-esteem.

2. Selling is a transference of feeling.

3. You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. (This kind of makes sense, doesn't it?)

4. Tame the telephone. Make it work for you instead of against you.

5. To be the winner you were born to be, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win. (This is where the therapist comes in handy.)

6. Use the "Experimental Syndrome" to overcome feelings of rejection by making each call a positive "experiment" instead of a negative "experience."

7. Get on a regular schedule and make an appointment with yourself to be face-to-face with a prospect at the same time every day. (I don't really get this one.)

This is some good advice I think.

By Zig Ziglar
ISBN # 0785263322

Adobe Illustrator 9.0 Classroom in a Book

Okay so this is like the second time I checked this out from the library. It's my on-again off-again thing with Illustrator. You see, I have these graphic visions parading around in my head but I am unable to bend the pixels to my will. Since I am too cheap to buy the book that actually corresponds to the version of Illustrator that I have, the pixels' lack of malleability is really somewhat understandable (how lame). Anyway, half the lessons on the CD won't download and I have to do some font manager thing which looks hard. So I'm going to take this one back yet again. I think I'm too undisciplined to learn Illustrator from a book. I did find a free class to go see, so maybe that will help. N

By the Adobe Illustrator Team

A Citizen's Guide to Lobbying Congress

I read this book last year and it was a really good guide to the political system. It does not get too far down into the weeds but is still very valuable and would be a really good read for any lobbyist who has to deal with volunteers. It would also be a valuable addition to any association training curriculum or board orientation process.

By Donald E. Dekieffer
ISBN # 1556521944

My Book Journal

This blog is for me to take notes of the books I'm reading, so that I won't have to buy a bunch of books and then keep them around. I have too many books already, and some of them will have to be pruned out. I used to believe you could never have too many books, but now I read so much self-help, popular nonfiction, and books of passing importance to a) purchase them and b) archive them. So I'm going to keep my records here and then I'll be able to refer back to them if I'm ever looking for similar information in the future.

I'm going to have a gap in my notes between the time I quit buying books and now, but I have a few records and will put as much historical info in as I can. But mostly it'll be forward-looking.