2013 Reading List

I was fortunate to read some great books in 2013. From time to time, I am asked what I’ve been reading. For those of you that are interested (and for my sake!) below is a list of the books I read in 2013.

Mostly everything was business focused. In 2014, I’d like to expand my non-fiction and read more – a lot more. My blogging hero, Shane Parrish, has read 16 books in December alone! (note: please check out Shane’s blog!)

I was able to make it through 18 this year (with read a few of those on the list twice). In 2014, I have the goal of reading 26 books – 1 every 2 weeks.

Thanks for checking out my blog in 2013. Happy New Year!


Books listed in the order read.

1. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others – Daniel Pink

2. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World – Tina Seelig

3. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works – Roger Martin and AG Lafley

4. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Timothy Keller

5. Shepherding a Child’s Heart – Tedd Tripp

6. Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy – Joan Magretta

7. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation – Tim Brown

8. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

9. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? – Seth Godin

10. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries

11. The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development – Jeffrey Liker and Gary L. Convis

12. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy – Dev Patnaik

13. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen

14. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – Malcolm Gladwell

15. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – Brad Stone

16. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All – Tom Kelley and David Kelley

17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip and Dan Heath

18. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip and Dan Heath


Strategy is hard work

I recently read a wonderful blog post by Roger Martin regarding JC Penny’s dramatic strategy #FAIL over the past two years. (note: I do read other authors, I just haven’t gotten around to blogging about them!)

The blog post is “Memo to JC Penney: Execution Is Not Strategy“. I won’t repeat the entire post, but here are some key takeaways:

  • Strategy is a coherent set of choices about where-to-play (WTP) and how-to-win (HTW) and, if that WTP&HTW is significantly different than the current one, a credible path for getting from the present to the targeted state.
  • JCP had a plan for betterment and not winning — one of the most common mistakes in “strategy.”
  • JCP did not identify a set of shoppers with whom it could win — for whom JCP was their best alternative, to which they would look loyally for their shopping needs for some set of goods
  • JCP needs to decide how is it going to provide a superior value proposition to competitive alternatives in that chosen space. This is a tough task.

The last bullet point made me think of the blog post title. Developing a winning strategy is always difficult. Having the patience to think through multiple paths and determine “what must be true” of each path takes patience AND practice. You have to recognize that your first idea is probably not your best idea. You have to be motivated by your winning aspiration and be ready to change where you play and how you win.

If that all sound easy please get in touch with me! That said, I’m convinced that this work is worth it. Companies that have winning strategies deliver more value to their customers, employees and shareholders. Their hard work is rewarded in the end.

Do you or your company have a strategy? Or like JCP are you focused on betterment and not winning?

What is strategy?

As I have started to read more and more about strategy, I notice the word itself is often used (and misused). I admit that I’ve been guilty of misusing the word “strategy.” A google search for the word “strategy” turned up 529 million hits.

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Looking at the news turns up head-lines like “Will a new global strategy lift under armor stock?”. Or “Obama repeats strategy in student loan fight.” As you’ll see neither of these headlines accurately use the word “strategy”

Given my need for clarity around what strategy is (and is not), I wanted to devote a post to the subject. As I mentioned previously, I loved Lafley and Martin’s Playing to Win  – it has inspired several posts that I want to share.

What is strategy?

Michael Porter, the father of business strategy, wrote a seminal paper entitled “What is strategy” in 1996. This paper has become the most cited HBR article, ever.

In “What is strategy?” Porter defines strategy as “the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.” There is a lot going on in this definition and Lafley and Martin provide a valuable framework for unpacking Porter.

Lafley and Martin’s take

Building off of Porter’s work, Lafley and Martin, define strategy as

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Strategy is a “set of choices about winning” and as I mentioned in my previous post, “winning” can be a noble aspiration.

Having only read Lafley and Martin’s book a month ago, I have found the question set to be extremely valuable. They represent an easy way to teach yourself and others strategy. One of my favorite antidotes from the book relates to the idea of teaching strategy. This is from A.G. Lafley

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“I was going to teach strategy until P&G was excellent at it.”

Turning the framework on yourself

You’ve read this far and you think, “I don’t run a business” or “I’m in college” or “I’m not a manager.” How can you apply what is in Playing to Win? By applying the framework on yourself – your career, your marriage, your family, etc. Take your career as an example. I’ll use a hypothetical example:  Jen just started at E&Y and she wants to one day become a partner.

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Now Jen has a strategy. She will evaluate choices she has in light of this strategy. Her strategy will help clarify what choices she will make.

What must be true? (WMBT)  – this is a refrain that Roger Martin uses often and is a great way to brainstorm the requirements to successfully execute. I used WMBT to help work out Jen’s strategy.

For example, what must be true for Jen to learn how to sell and bring in business for E&Y? She must learn from the company’s best salespeople. Notice that this is just one answer….there are other answers to the question. The answer could have been, “Jen needs to read the top ten books written on how to sell.” That said, Jen must make a choice, she can’t do an unlimited number of activities in order to become a good salesperson (in this case she could read books AND learn from others at E&Y).  Strategy is a set of choices about winning.

The better the choices, the better the strategy and the more likely that executing on the strategy will lead to the winning aspiration – for Jen, making partner. Also, not making a choice, is a choice.

What is your winning aspiration? And what are the series of choices you are going to make to help ensure that you win?

Playing to Win


I am starting a series of posts on A.G Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win. It’s a delightful book on strategy AND it’s not what you might typically think about when the words “business strategy” are mentioned.

For many of you, the words “business strategy” will produce one of two responses.

One: you will want to fall asleep, close this tab in your browser, block my facebook updates.

Two: you think about businessmen and women in a room figuring out how they can make more money, often at the expense of you, the customer.

So what is different about Lafley and Martin’s approach? The winning is strongly linked to delivering superior value to your customers…i.e. you win when your customer wins.

Peter Drucker said, “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Contrast this with what is taught in every Economics 101 class, “the purpose of a business is to maximize profit.”

What Lafley and Martin show us (in this book and Martin’s articles) is that the way to maximize profit (the Econ 101 definition) is to maximize customer satisfaction. The ideas are related, but those that put the profit maximization ahead of making the customers happy will not win in the long run.

I think Johnson and Johnson’s credo is a great example of this idea. I’ve include the entire credo below. (highlight is mine). LINK TO PDF

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Notice the order in the credo:

  1. Customers
  2. Suppliers and Distributors
  3. Employees
  4. Communities
  5. Shareholders

The shareholders are listed LAST! Does J&J care about their shareholders? Absolutely, but they ensure that the shareholders win by taking care of 1-4 on the list above. “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”

I’l end this with a few questions, what do you think would motivate your employee base (or yourself)? A: Solving an important problem for your customer, somehow making their lives better, etc. or B: Improving returns for shareholders?

For me (and for 99.999% of the world) it’s A. I get excited about discovering and meeting our customers needs. I want to help ensure that they are delighted.

What should we be teaching students in economics? The purpose of the firm is to maximize profits? or should it be that the purpose of the firm is to maximize customer value? Which one would attract the best and the brightest into business? Again, I believe we could dramatically change the experience of most business school students by focusing on improving the lives of customers.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll dive further into some of the ideas discussed in Playing to Win. Now that you see that strategy can have a higher purpose, please come along for the ride.

Roger was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and sign my copy of his book.

Roger was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and sign my copy of his book.

The Opposable Mind

I was recently reading Roger Martin’s article entitled “How Successful Leaders Think” and I was struck by this term “opposable mind”. It immediately made me think of this picture:

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Most of us operate on the right side of the picture (“converge”), where we try to make trade-offs and converge to the one “right answer.” But, as Roger Martin points out, truly great leaders intuitively can hold divergent ideas in their mind and develop a new and better solution (vision, direction, etc). Integrated thinkers (as he calls them) actually welcome divergent ideas because it is necessary to their thought process. Let me say it another way…they need divergent ideas as a part of the learning process.

Although reading this article was the first time I had heard the term used in this way, Martin reminds us that this is not new.

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A great example of integrated thinking happened last week in Omaha at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting. If you’re not familiar with the spectacle that has become Buffettfest, over 30,000 people fill an arena in Omaha to hear Buffett and Charlie Munger’s take on a wide variety of subjects. 99.99% of these 30k people LOVE Berkshire and Buffett. (See below for a visual)

Despite having so many fans around, Buffett invited one of his toughest critics to the show – Doug Kass, president Seabreeze Partners Management and Berkshire bear. I don’t buy that Buffett invited Kass because Buffett is so confident he could answer Kass’s questions – rather, I believe Kass was invited to help stretch Buffett. Buffett has said before that he could be wrong and welcomes intelligent debate.

Buffett’s actions point back to the heart of Roger Martin’s article:

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Buffett is working the tension of introducing other ideas. He realizes that he doesn’t have the one answer and that a key ingredient in his development is divergent thinking. And speaking of Darwin, here is a quote from Buffett during the annual meeting in Omaha:

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So how often do you work your opposable mind? Are you in an echo chamber where everyone looks like you, thinks like you and acts like you? Do you like to listen to news shows were your beliefs are supported? Work out your opposable mind by having thoughtful conversations with people who are different from you. Seek to understand and welcome the divergence – I believe it will help your thought be more sophisticated and the path you end up taking will be more informed and potentially surprising. I love Roger Martin’s description of the difference between “either, or” and “both”. It makes me think of my previous post on “yes, AND

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Everybody can do ‘or’ – strive to do both through integrated thinking.

Edited to add this amazing endorsement.

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Brain Storm


Marriott knows me so well! I am in Toronto preparing for two design thinking sessions at an insurance conference. It will be fun to teach others in the industry a new way to approach problems.

I spent most of the day at the Rotman Business school talking with other design thinkers. I even got to meet Roger Martin and having him sign my copy of Playing to Win. I have more to post about Design Thinking and strategy once back in the states.

Now, I’m off to go drink a Molson, but not before going to the Canadian Tire to get change for my looney, eh.