Category Archives: Business Books

Calendar Season

This is what I call “calendar season”.  It doesn’t seem possible, but the middle of summer is when stationery stores put out displays of next year’s business calendars.  If you want the best selection, now is the time to shop.

There are other benefits to getting your calendar now. Many calendars, including the calendar I use from a company called Quo Vadis, have refills which reduce the annual cost by two thirds and waste of having to replace the cover.  Having next year’s calendar now lets me start to record planned events for next year.

It’s a good time to consider “calendar management,” which is what most of us call “time management.”  Manager Tools, a series of podcasts ( devoted to improving management skills, has a two-part series on Calendar Management.  It’s approximately 60 minutes long and is well worth the time.  They recommend, and I agree, that a week-at-a-time calendar is most effective.  A month display is too long and a day at a time does not let you easily plan the week.  For me, week-at-a-time is the most natural.

While we’re on the subject, I also recommend David Allen’s Getting Things Done, available in both paperback and on CD.  I find the abridged CD’s to be an especially effective way to get an overview of his thinking before diving into the very detailed book.


We are all motivated by “free.” But free is more than just a low price. In a new book Predictably Irrational , behavioral economist Dan Ariely of MIT tests how humans respond to free. In discussing free, he uses the example of how Amazon’s sales really took off when they began offering free shipping for orders over a certain level. Everywhere but France. On investigation, Amazon management found that in France, the country manager decided to do the promotion a little differently by offering shipping for one franc (in the US, it might be the same as offering shipping for 50 cents. ) But one franc did not elicit the same irrational response as free. When they changed the offer to free, they had the same response as everywhere else – spectacular sales growth. The bulk of the book is actual experiments that he performs with different age groups to understand how we all behave.

Responding to free is only one of several irrational behaviors he investigates. He looks at how honest we all are, how we react to irrelevant environmental clues, even how adolescent boys change their behavior when they are excited and many others.

This is my new favorite book. It defies categorization. The bookstore where I found it had it categorized in Self Help. For me, it belongs in the Business, except that many books in this section are (forgive me) boring. This book is anything but boring. It is an easy read. The author has a dry sense of humor and playfulness that makes the science of his investigations seem like fun. I think it is really a science book … the science of Behavioral Economics. I suspect most bookstores do not have a section for behavioral economics, so you might have to ask.

I believe any small business owner who reads this book will find plenty of ides for their business. This is a must read.

Customer Service: it’s more than just being nice

The true test of great customer service is not how nice your staff is. The true test of great customer service is what you and your staff do when things go wrong.

When Margaret Fox owned Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, she trained her staff to solve the customer’s problem at the table. It was more than just training. It was empowering. To correct a less-than-ideal experience, or even because the customer took so much delight in the dish, the staff could comp a dish or a bottle of wine, or the whole meal if they thought it was appropriate. Word-of-mouth reputation works both ways. It is much less expensive to prevent a bad reputation than to correct it once it has spread.

Many small business owners fear giving employees this authority. They feel the need to be in control of any financial commitments made for the business. This is a good instinct in general, but misplaced in the case of creating great customer service. You want to leave the customer feeling like they had a great experience regardless of any problems that occurred. The cost of a bottle of wine or a free dish is trivial; the effects of a bad experience can be enormous.

Danny Myers, in his recent book Setting the Table, has a whole chapter titled “The Road to Success is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled.” He looks at problems and mistakes not just as something to be fixed, but as opportunities to turn the problem into a truly exceptional experience for the customer. He calls it “writing a great last chapter.”Clearly there is a lot more to great customer service than just creatively solving customer problems, but I believe that there is a very high correlation between organizations that do so well and those that succeed.

By the way, the book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Myers is a book about his experiences in the restaurant business. But it is also a fabulous management book for anyone in any business that deals with the public. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with great customer service.

The First 12 Minutes

This is about breaking through blocks that prevent us from getting things done.

I love to ride my bicycle. Road, trail. It does not matter. But I often have trouble getting started. The critical time is the first 12 minutes of the ride. As I get closer to the time for the ride, I find that maybe my knee hurts, or that I am tired, or that it is cold outside or that it looks like it might rain. You get the idea. I would like to tell you that I always overcome those rationalizations, but often I do not. But what I have found is that if I can just get on the bike and ride 12 minutes, all of that goes away. I get into the ride, I forget my knee and my discomfort with heat, cold, wind, and all of the other excuses. What was all the fuss about? This is great!

To me there is a lesson for my business life and maybe for my coaching clients. What ever it is that we are avoiding or putting off with excuses, rationalizations and resistance, we just need to make a deal with yourself to do it for 12 minutes. Sometimes that gets you past the block and into the project.

There is a great book on the subject of breaking down the resistance to getting things done It is called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He addresses this problem from the point of view of a professional writer, but what he says can be applied to any of us who struggle with getting things done.

For other books I have found helpful, see my book list.