Steve Jobs Biography

I just finished reading Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It’s taken me many months to complete this book. Summer has been busy with work, travel, and home renovation projects; moments with a book have been infrequent. Don’t get me wrong this book is a great read, it’s just not a page turner because you know how this one is going to end. I always enjoy a good biography and learning more about the twists and turns of the lives of people. The story of Steve Jobs is an incredibly interesting one. It’s a classic story of a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer; when told something could not or should not be done, Jobs would do it. His work was game changing and has had an impact on most all of us today.

I am not sure Steve Jobs is someone I would have wanted to meet in person. Known for his prickly personality and his drive to innovate at any cost, he was never afraid to loose a friend in the pursuit of progress. I think the thing I was most struck with, with his story was his total adherence to aesthetic and design to the exception of people. He was able to do the incredible things that he did because of his conviction, his powerful ideas and his and unwillingness to settle. What would easily be perceived as egotism was his greatest asset when it came to setting his products apart and changing the world. He would have never done some of the amazing things he did if he had been any other way.

The most interesting things I learned about Jobs in the book: He was a major force behind the movies of Pixar Studios, of which there are many I love. He was adopted. He credited taking LSD as being one of his life’s most profound experiences. Jobs got married at the Ahwahnee Hotel, in Yosemite National Park, where I worked for a number of years and met my own husband. Prior to getting married, but after becoming very rich he lived in a house that was hardly furnished, because he was so particular about furnishings and design. His commitment to simplicity and tendency toward exceptional design total was reflected everywhere in his life and work, from his signature black turtle necks, to what he decided not to do with his products, to his interest in and practice of zen meditation.

Ultimately this was a really interesting read about an major icon of our time. This book gives me a whole new appreciation for my iphone and how it came to be.

Youtility: A Book Review

Last year I ordered myself a stack of books related business, social media, and content marketing. I am still working my way through the stack but one of the best books so far has been Jay Baer’s Youtility.  Youtility is defined as creating and attracting business with content that is inherently useful, valuable and empowers content consumers to help themselves. The book is chock-full of examples of Youtility across industries. Businesses from toilet paper manufactures to computer repair services have found success when they have sought first to help with winning content and only later to promote.

“The difference between helping and selling is just two letters.”

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“Youtility is marketing so valuable people would gladly pay for it.”

I have spoken about content on this blog before. Content is king and all that. It’s an area of interest and I like to look at what separates the great from the rest. Developing great content requires a fundamental shift to thinking like a content consumer rather than a content creator. This is what Youtility is all about.

“ You’re not competing for attention only against similar products.You’re competing against your customers friends, family and viral videos of cute puppies. To win attention these days you must ask a different question. How can I help?”

Youtility as Baer, explains it is the highest and most sophisticated form of content marketing. It’s not just about having a blog or creating pretty infographics but doing those things with with the intention that the content always be helpful and most useful to the intended content consumer. The principle is simple: consumers of all types are turning to the internet for answers when researching solutions and or products. The question is, is your business providing the resources and solutions they seek.

The book’s forward by Marcus Sheridan, the owner of pool company, says “success flows to organizations that inform, not organizations that promote”. Faced with the economic downturn and plummeting sales in 2008, Sheridan brainstormed a list of all the questions he had ever been asked by customers and then turned those questions into blog posts for his shiny new blog. The results: greater website traffic, reduced time on consults with clients, and web analytics that accurately defined likelihood to purchase.  Sheridan’s analytics told him that if a person had read 30 pages on his site they bought a pool 80% of the time and that customers who bought pools had read 105 pages of his website. Today Sheridan claims to have the most trafficked swimming pool site in the world. Further Sheridan says if you asked them previously what they did they would have said they built fibreglass swimming pools and today they would say they “are the best teachers in the world on the subject of fibre glass swimming pools, and we happen to build them as well”.

The book profiles numerous other examples of youtility. Geeksquad famously produced videos showing people how to fix their problems themselves. When questioned about putting themselves out of work showing people how to fix their problems, their founder explained that when someone did find themselves out of their depth with the problem Geeksquad would be the first party they would call for help. Companies should not just focus on being amazing, but on being useful.

I read this book a few months ago and had to scan it again to write this blog post. Scanning it I felt sure I need to read it again, soon! The concept and the way of thinking and approaching your marketing are just so dead on. Baer obviously explains this all in more detail and much more convincingly than me. I highly recommend this book for all marketers. If you are not thinking about Youtility yet, you should be. 

Baer rounds out his suggestions with wisdom about content for Youtility being a team effort rather than a product of the marketing department and making it part of the process rather than a side project. “If you don’t supply the information your prospects need to choose your company over the competition, they’ll get that data somewhere else, and the outcome may not be as favorable to you.”

If you are ready to start on Youtility right away here are some questions to ask yourself about your customers:

How is it that they discover information?

What are their preferences for consumption? (devices, channels, content types)

What motivates them to take action?

Questions via Lee Odden Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing

How Will You Measure Your Life? – A Book Review

The title of this book intrigued me – I mean how could it not. Typically I will take a book like this and flip to random pages to read excerpts and see if they really grab me. The excerpts, as well as the back of the jacket description, got me interested in this one. Christensen is  Professor at the Harvard Business School and this book came about as a result of a commencement address he gave to the 2010 graduating class.

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The premise of the book is that Christensen applies theories used in business to individuals and their lives. He talks about Honda’s emergence in the American market and how they had to quickly change their strategy from offering a product they thought the market wanted to offering them the one it turned out they wanted. He likens this to what he calls a person’s deliberate versus their emergent plan. We have  ideas about what we want to do in our lives, and it is important to have these goals, but we also need to be open to recognizing new opportunities like Honda did. Christensen talks about how in his own life he always wanted to work at the Wall Street Journal and instead became a Harvard Professor; it wasn’t what he had in mind but he recognized it as an opportunity, found a love for it and then this emergent plan became part of his deliberate plan.

In another chapter he talks about Dell outsourcing it’s manufacturing  to Asus bit by bit over a period of years. It started with just outsourcing production of their motherboards, but piece by piece resulted in Dell doing none of the manufacturing at which point Asus knew how to make their computers better than they did. Dell had outsourced all of their competencies to the point Asus could do better without Dell which he likens this to parents outsourcing the care and instruction of their children. In the Dell/Asus analogy he refers to RONA, the financial ratio of return on net investments. As Dell outsourced further work to Asus, their RONA continually improved which is/was interpreted as good thing, but what that metric failed to take into account was what they were losing, which was their hold on their key competencies. This mistaken or distorted estimation of results, emphasizes the errors we might make in assigning value to things in our lives.

While you might not agree with everything Christiansen has to say, he presents some interesting ideas for consideration. It’s a good read if you are interested in business or if you are living.  I highly recommend this book, while I could not agree with everything, I found it thought provoking and intelligent. There is little point in my trying to summarize all the interesting things the book has to say, you should give it a read. Suffice to say if you should come across the book, I think you will find reading it worth your time.

UnMarketing

I am rereading a book I read a year ago. The book is UnMarketing by Scott Stratten. Scott Stratten is a self professed Twitterholic,  having built a huge following there, I think it is fair to call him a thought leader on the platform. His book details numerous examples of Twitter successes and major fails and he has chronicled many more examples as screenshots and photos on his Facebook page. While Twitter is his real home, Stratten’s book touches on other networks and good etiquette and best practices in Social Media in general. I first became aware of him because other people on Twitter were talking about him, which led me to discover he had a book.

UnMarketing is not only the book’s title but also Stratten’s Twitter handle: @unmarketing. The idea of UnMarketing is defined right on the book’s cover: “Stop Marketing. Start engaging.”

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This is a concept I take seriously in my use of social media both personally an professionally. Social media’s potential is so great but often times we use it like a dull knife. We forget about forging connections and building relationships and instead just spout and post hoping someone is paying attention. Stratten’s book and his work, I believe, are about getting us to sharpen the knife and to be effective in being “social” with social media.

One idea from the book that really resonates with me is the idea of building up your social currency.

“Think of it this way: You wouldn’t open a business bank account and ask to withdraw $5,000 without depositing anything.”

The emphasis here is that you have to “invest in something before withdrawing”. Stratten says he sent 10,000 tweets before trying to pitch something to his followers. And then when he did pitch something to them they were hungry for it, they trusted the source and they valued what he was offering. I think he has nailed this idea on the head. If you offer value to the people who follow you, you engage them and this is half the battle maybe even 76% of it. It’s hard to cut through the clutter these days; as a producer of content, the promoter of a cause, or a marketer you need to give me a reason to care.

If you want to follow UnMarketing you can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or at unmarketing.com.

The Dip: A Book Review

I’m sitting in an airport, waiting for a flight and I have just finished a skinny little book called The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin. It’s a quick read with a simple idea. The “dip” that Godin is talking about is that “long slog between starting and mastery”.

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Almost anything in life that is worth doing is controlled by the dip. If there is a worthwhile reward at the finish line, the dip will precede it. The dip is the tough part, where resiliency comes into play and separates the winners from the herd. Godin uses the example of a CEO, who everyone thinks has it made, but who had to endure a twenty five year dip to get there. So while the book is essentially about sticking it out in order to reap rewards, Godin emphasizes there are times to quit:

Quit the wrong stuff.
Stick with the right stuff.
Have the guts to do one or the other.

The sentiment  here is similar to “go big or go home”;  if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Godin provides justification for being number one: when diagnosed with an illness we are not looking to get in with the fifth best surgeon, we want “the best”. When hiring for a new position no one sets out to hire the most mediocre candidate.  Those who succeed have persevered through a dip and proven themselves worthy.

This book is a quick read offering the benefit of some fresh ideas on dilemmas many of us will likely contend with when making decisions about where and how to spend our energy. Godin has even included a page at the back where you can list all the other people you think need to read the book so the book and it’s simple idea can be shared.

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