May 17th, 2013

Books!

Me, I'm not a fanboy ...

This was one of those “business” books that I got from the good folks at McGraw Hill (I don't recall at this point if I asked for them to send me a review copy or if they queried me to see if I'd be interested in having a go at it), but it's obviously "in my wheelhouse". However, I again find myself in the minority on a business book, and wondering what others are seeing in a title that is escaping me. Ekaterina Walter's Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a very impressive 5-star rating over on Amazon, with 92 out of 103 giving it five stars, another 10 giving it four stars, and one lone reviewer giving it just one. While I'm not as negative about this as the1-star reviewer was, I certainly agree with the thrust of his commentary.

Frankly, I'm surprised … the author is, according to her jacket blurb:

“a social innovator at Intel. A recognized business and marketing thought leader, she is a regular contributor to Mashable, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and other leading-edge print and online publications.”
... etc., etc., etc. However, when she's writing about Zuckerberg she sounds exactly like my 13-year-old daughter extolling the virtues of Harry from (the current hot “boy band”) One Direction! If the parts of the book where Walter is writing about Zuckerberg maintained the tone of the parts of the book where she's not writing about him, it would have been a far better work. This dichotomy could not be more pronounced here, and it was almost embarrassing reading it, as one gets the impression that when she's thinking of Zuckerberg she's only a hormone surge away from flinging undergarments at what I have to assume is a shrine to the guy in her home. Seriously.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the book is quite interesting when she's looking at everybody else. As is all too often the case, I'm again left to wonder where the editor was.

OK, so shall we cut to the chase? What, you might ask (were you paying attention to the subtitle above), are those “Five Business Secrets” of Mr. billionaire Mark Zuckerberg? The book takes its structure from them, with five chapters each covering one … and all start with a “P”:

Passion – having passion to drive change.
Purpose – having a vision and a higher purpose to execute your passion.
People – building the team that will take your ideas and success to new heights.
Product – creating innovative products.
Partnerships – building powerful partnerships with people who fuel imagination and energize execution.
As regular readers of my reviews know, I'm a bit skittish about things that form an acronym, or are tortuously convoluted to fit a “cutesy” theme, so I had the start of that tic coming up when I looked at the Contents, but this is a rare case where the artificial structure at least does no egregious damage to the book.

While this does have aspects of being a long-form love-letter to Zuckerberg, it takes a look at a number of other companies (and their no-doubt somewhat less dreamy founders), including Threadless, CollegeHumor, TOMS, Dyson, and Zappos. Also of note here is the concept of the intrapreneur, a term she borrows from Edelman Digital's David Armano, which is defined as somebody who, in the example of Scott Monty, global head of social media for Ford, “helped fundamentally change the way the company engages with its customers online”, or is somebody with a strong entrepreneurial streak who chooses to work within a large organization rather than creating their own (which, to me, sounds like a formula for a lot of on-going frustration, but I guess you'd have to pick your “large organization” carefully!).

I found the following the best summation of the “Passion” section:

“I would actually go so far as to say that one doesn't have to be a genius to create something extraordinary. Sometimes average people are the ones who spearhead true change. And that is because they are willing to act on their passion. They are willing to be wrong, to risk everything. They are willing to fail, get up, and try again. Passion serves as a catalyst to the execution of an idea. Those who are passionate enough to pioneer true change are those most likely to deliver on it.”
Again, the strength of the book is in the examples that Walter delves into other than Zuck, and there are many really instructive stories here which look at those companies. Here's something from the “People” chapter that sets up a story about Tony Hsieh and Zappos:

“The right people are those people who share your beliefs, live your values and strive for the same purpose. Those are the people who will see the changes coming when you miss them and help you look in the right direction. Those are the people who will stay with you when times are tough and give their best in the worst of times.”
To those familiar with Zappos, this is obviously leading up to the tale of how they developed their rather unique HR approach, which includes testing candidates for how lucky they feel they are, and offering new hires, a few months into their tenure at the company, to pay them a substantial bonus if they want to leave. Another interesting quote here is from CollegeHumor's Ricky Van Veen: “I always hire people that are smarter than I am.”

Another idea that Walter injects into the “People” chapter is what she refers to as “The Hummingbird Effect of Leadership”, noting that hummingbirds push the limits of what is generally thought of as possible, and their hearts take up 30 percent of their body mass. While this is something of a side-concept for the overall book, it's interesting to see what she holds to be the “10 qualities” of the Hummingbird effect: 1. Flexibility, 2. Management, 3. Agility, 4. Strategic Thinking, 5. Persistence, 6. Fearlessness, 7. Results-orientation, 8. Intuition, 9. Character, and 10. Personal Development.

Again, the best parts of this book is where the author is digging into the histories of other business leaders, like James Dyson not succeeding on the right configuration for a bagless vacuum until his 5,127th attempt, or how William Hewlett and David Packard built HP through a common vision, in contrast to how many companies are driven by a Visionary/Builder team-up, with one expressing the dream, and the other the values of the company.

As noted, I believe that Think Like Zuck would have been a much stronger book if somebody had stood next to the author with a bucket of cold water to dissuade her from the “sqeeeeeeee … ZUCKY!!!” vibe that nearly every passage dealing with him has here. There certainly is interesting info about the genesis of Facebook in here, but it's so much harder to absorb than the insightful, analytical, material devoted to all those non-Zuckerberg examples. While I found the read useful for the good parts, it did have a “Tiger Beat” aftertaste, that was hard to shake. This has only been out since December, so you should have a decent shot at finding at the brick-and-mortar book vendors, but the on-line big boys have it presently at about ten bucks off of cover, which is probably your best bet if this sounds like something you want to venture into.


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