Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Designing Your Life

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

book cover imageBurnett, Bill. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

During my last year of college, I woke up one afternoon and realized that I would be graduating soon. I had no job and no idea how to get a good one. I had no life plan. This is not unusual. Millions of recent graduates do not know how to find a meaningful job or how to design a purposeful life. For those already mid-career, 66% are unhappy with their jobs. And many successful professionals at the end of their careers want to downshift into a position with social impact, but lack the skills to make the transition.

In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans of the Stanford University Design Program advise using the principles of design thinking to create a life that is creative, productive and constantly evolving. They explain that design is a process of experimentation. As they explore, designers create prototypes, building on them when successful and discarding them when not. As designers try new things, they build their way forward.

To create your own ideal life, Burnett and Evans recommend “starting where you are,” improving the life that you are already living, without making disruptive structural changes like resigning your job or moving to another city. Assessment tools included in the book help clarify current work/life situations, then show how to customize existing jobs or careers to make them more engaging. For those who feel stuck, options can be developed by reframing problems and finding fresh solutions. There is more than one answer to creating a good life.

Burnett and Evans include an avalanche of examples from students who have taken their class at Stanford. Their writing style is informal; some illustrations are scribbles. I recommend this book despite these style elements. A second key book about personal wayfinding is Clayton Christensen’s excellent How Will You Measure Your Life?

Designing Your Life is also available as an eBook on OverDrive, an audiobook on OverDrive, and on Business Bestsellers Kindles at the Ford Library.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Bill Gates’ Must-Reads

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Bill Gates imageBillionaire Bill Gates reads every day, finishing off at least one book a week. “Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading.” Here are Gates’ must-reads for 2016.

The Grid by Gretchen Bakke.
Says Gates: “The electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world.” Yet it stands in the way of an alternate energy future of solar or wind.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
Nike founder Phil Knight tells the story of building his company into a global athletic success but his path is “messy, precarious and riddled with mistakes,” Gates says.

The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown.
Successful leaders “tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate and negotiate – and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers.”

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
“The new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways,” Gates says, influencing our lives, personalities, identities, fates and choices.

String Theory by David Foster Wallace.
In this collection of essays about tennis, the author “found mind-blowing ways of bending language like a metal spoon.”

Thanks to Fuqua’s Gwen Barclay-Toy for bringing the Fortune article to our attention.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Audiobooks: Holiday Classics

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

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Last week I overhead a faculty member describing his trip to South America for the holidays. He welcomed time with his family, but anticipated long waits at the airport.

Hope that he knows that he can download a best-selling book to his iPhone or tablet from OverDrive.

Audiobooks are especially popular. Here are the top 10 business audiobooks this fall.

How to have a good day: harnessing the power of behavioral science to transform your working life
Former McKinsey partner Caroline Webb reviews findings from behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience to explain how our brains work and why we make the choices we do. Then she applies this research to the workplace, offering guidance on setting priorities, making effective use of time, strengthening personal interactions, becoming resilient to setbacks, and boosting energy.

Thinking fast and slow
Nobel Prize winning Economist Daniel Kahneman explores two types of decision making, intuitive and deliberate (fast and slow) that underlie our business and personal choices, counseling when to trust intuition and when not to. Kahneman’s groundbreaking research into irrational choices and contradictory thinking produced this international best-seller that won best-book awards from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Economist, National Academy of Sciences and others.

Good to great: why some companies make the leap… and others don’t
Possibly the most influential business book of all time, Good to Great reports on Jim Collins’ own research about how to turn a good company into one that produces great results over a sustained period of time. One key finding: the personal character of company leadership matters. Great companies have leaders who are humble but act with iron will. Also, combining a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship achieves sustained performance over the long term.

Lean in: women, work and the will to lead
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to dream big and to achieve their full potential despite societal and workplace barriers. Women advance to leadership by reaching for more opportunities, by remaining engaged and by acting self-confidently. Sandberg advises women to negotiate salaries and to keep acquiring new skills, accepting positions up, across and perhaps down the organization.

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
Co-founder of the Quiet Revolution ( Susan Cain explains that American culture values extroversion, while introverts are overlooked. In the U.S., dynamic speakers are much admired, but people have difficulty distinguishing between good presentation skills and true insight. Asian cultures are more reserved, appreciating thoughtful contributions. Personal stories and facts from scientific research are also included in this best-selling book. Recipient of many best-book awards.

David and Goliath: underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants
Master storyteller Malcolm Gladwell recounts the tales of ordinary people who face overwhelming challenges and are forced to respond. He explains that powerful people may not be as omnipotent as they first appear; and that sometimes disabilities or disadvantages can lead to profound strength and wisdom. Difficulties are not always negative, particularly for people who develop attributes to overcome them, such as courage, resourcefulness and tenacity.

Irrationally yours: on missing socks, pickup lines and other existential puzzles
Fuqua faculty member Dan Ariely writes a column “Ask Ariely” for the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, helping readers understand their own puzzling behavior and the actions of co-workers, family and friends. In Irrationally Yours, Ariely expands his answers to questions published in the Journal, presenting issues such as why people complain; how to select the best stall in a public restroom; and whether it is worth the money to buy an expensive car.

Mindset: the new psychology of success
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck shows that everyone has the capacity for lifelong learning and brain development, but not everyone has the same mindset. People who believe that abilities can be developed throughout life (growth mindset) are more likely to flourish than those who believe that abilities are determined at birth (fixed mindset). Hard work, good strategies and mentorship profoundly influence success in life.

Never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it
Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss maintains that his approach to high-stakes negotiations could benefit entrepreneurs selling a company or consumers buying a car. Key concepts in “confronting without confrontation” include understanding the opponent’s emotions, learning to say No, manipulating the opponent’s reality and developing a calm and authoritative vocal style.

Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead
Sociologist Brené Brown’s research about meaningful life experiences reveals a pervasive sense of anxiety and self-doubt in society. People never feel good enough, thin enough, smart enough, successful enough. Brown challenges readers to cultivate an authentic life, defined by compassion, connection and courage, to accept themselves just as they are – flawed, but worthy of love and belonging.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Silicon Valley II: Chaos Monkeys

Monday, November 28th, 2016

book cover imageGarcia Martinez, Antonio. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Harper, 2016.

Wall Street quant turned ads technology guru, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Facebook middle manager, Antonio Garcia Martinez presents a 500-page diary of a volatile 6 years of his life, from 2007-13. While too long by 100+ pages, his memoir is an entertaining and useful guidebook for working and succeeding in the new economy.
Garcia Martinez begins his story in 2007 when he leaves Stanford’s PhD program in Physics to price credit derivatives for Goldman Sachs. A year later he moves back to California, reinventing himself as an expert in advertising technology at Adchemy, a start-up that creates internet ads software and generates lists of potential customers for businesses. By 2010, Adchemy is sputtering and Garcia Martinez partners with two talented co-workers to apply to the start-up bootcamp Y Combinator. Their internet ads start-up, AdGrok, is funded by Y Combinator, but eventually sold to Twitter. Garcia Martinez abandons his partners to work at Facebook, generating revenue from user information for the Facebook Ads system. In 2012, Facebook’s IPO earns Garcia Martinez $4,000,000, but before he can collect it all, he loses a power struggle and is fired. In 2013, he rejoins his partners at Twitter.
Chaos Monkeys describes the brave new world of technology, where employees are replaced by computers and companies pay heavily for consumers attention. Garcia Martinez is at his best when he is illustrating the ways that technology is changing industries like finance and advertising, or when he is explaining complex concepts like derivatives, ads technology, venture funding or corporate buyouts.  His detailed descriptions about company identity, engineering culture, and decision making at Facebook are fascinating. Chapters about the Y Combinator network and process are vital for start-ups.  His portrayals of coworkers like Sheryl Sandberg and venture capitalists like Paul Graham are frank and detailed.
A self-described ruthless little shit, Garcia Martinez is weak when relating the personal aspects of his story. His drunken encounter with police is petty. He calls his partners at AdGrok, “the boys.” He complains that his $4 million IPO gain is a pittance for San Francisco natives. He is “snookered into fatherhood” when he sires two children with a derivatives trader, but pays his way out rather than compromise his freedom. Yet despite it all, Garcia Martinez’s bold and honest insights are recommended for anyone wanting to work in an industry disrupted by technology.

Also available as a ebook on OverDrive and as an audiobook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Silicon Valley I: Disrupted

Monday, November 14th, 2016

book cover imageLyons, Daniel. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble. Hachette Books, 2016.

Dan Lyons, once the anonymous author of the acerbic Fake Steve Jobs blog (2006-11) and now a writer on HBO’s Silicon Valley satire, hit a rough patch in 2013.  At 51 years old, he was suddenly downsized from his prestigious job as technology editor at Newsweek and decided to reinvent himself as a marketing professional at a startup.  His road to success is full of potholes and is the subject of his new book, Disrupted.

After sifting through a handful of opportunities, Lyons takes a job at a Boston startup, HubSpot, a cloud computing company, selling marketing automation software for businesses.  He accepts a lower salary but bets that his stock options will be worth money in a few years.  As Lyons settles into HubSpot, he finds the company and work culture mystifying.  Most of HubSpot’s 500 employees are in their 20s and relentlessly positive.  The culture is energetic, enthusiastic and loyal, but managers are poorly trained and oversight is haphazard.  Lyons’ cynicism about free candy, foosball tables and Fearless Fridays is a misfit.

Lyons describes HubSpot’s product as substandard and the leadership as a band of sales and marketing charlatans.  The two owners and a handful of investors are focused on growing sales and revenue and telling a heartfelt story about changing the world, while they stay in business long enough to get rich in an IPO, and then move on.  HubSpot is no anomaly – Lyons concludes that the new tech industry is run by young amoral hustlers.  In the epilogue, he explains that as he delivered the first draft of his book to the publisher, HubSpot executives hacked into his computer and broke into his house to steal his manuscript.

In the end, Lyons argues that in the tech industry, the social agreement that once existed between a company and its workers is gone.  Employees are disposable parts that play a role for a few years and then are replaced by someone cheaper just out of college.  Silicon Valley is leading the way, but as other industries are reshaped by technology, such as banking and media, they are also changing the way they treat workers.  This book is recommended for anyone interested in working or investing in the technology industry.

Also available as an audiobook on CD.


© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Reviews: Weekend for Women

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Welcome participants in the Duke MBA Weekend for Women. Congratulations on your determination to develop your own potential by earning an MBA. You are already on the road to achieving power and purpose in your life.

Three new books in the Ford Library provide insights about women in business.

book cover imageTraister, Rebecca. All the Single Ladies. Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Today only 20% of Americans marry by age 29. For the first time in history, it is normal in America to be a young adult and unmarried. Journalist Rebecca Traister tells the life stories of dozens of single women to highlight how society has changed and how women have benefited. Women are choosing to complete their educations and to dedicate themselves to thriving careers, earning an independence never before experienced. Singleness is not necessarily more desirable than being married, but women have more options than ever before and are free to make their own choices about marriage, sex, careers, parenting and friendship.

book cover imageVerveer, Melanne and Kim K. Azzarelli. Fast Forward. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Hillary Clinton wrote the introduction to this new book by two of the founders of Seneca Women, a global leadership community centered on the principle that advancing women and girls creates an equitable and prosperous world. In Fast Forward, authors Verveer and Azzarelli make the case that women are the drivers of economic growth and social progress. Companies with more women in their top ranks outperform their peers; Women entrepreneurs reinvest their earnings in their communities; Women promoted to the highest ranks in business and government leverage their influence to help other women and families. Fast Forward outlines a simple approach to achieve one’s potential: Know your power. Find your purpose. Connect with others.

book cover imageHuston, Therese. How Women Decide. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Seattle University cognitive neuroscientist Therese Huston explains that in professional organizations, when a tough call must be made, both men and women are more willing to accept a man’s decision than a woman’s. People sense that those who project confidence make better choices and they assume that those who collaborate are indecisive, both of which are false. Yet these hidden biases exist in every workplace. In her new book, Huston uses research findings and true stories of 34 women to explore how women make decisions and how they navigate judgments at work. In the end, she concludes that under pressure, having both men and women involved in decision making creates the best outcomes.

Also available as an audiobook on OverDrive and as an eBook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Reviews: Perfect Pitch

Monday, September 26th, 2016

boy_at_microphoneEveryone in business is selling something – pitching a product; launching a company; convincing a client; supporting an idea; advancing a career. Managers are responsible for influencing decisions and motivating others, but not everyone is naturally persuasive. Dozens of books offering advice on making an impression or promoting an idea are published every year, but it is not easy to know which ones are best. These 3 new books in the Ford Library are rated 4.5 to 5 stars on

Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. St. Martin’s Press, 2016. 

Executive coach and author of two bestselling books about making presentations, Carmine Gallo uses 100 compelling tales to illustrate how to craft a brief and emotional story about overcoming adversity and hardship to captivate an audience.

Also available as an audiobook on OverDrive.

Port, Michael. Steal the Show. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Author and professional actor Michael Port demonstrates how to use acting techniques, such as stagecraft and improvisation, to overcome fear and to improve everyday performances, including giving speeches, closing deals and nailing job interviews.

Nguyen, Kenny and Gus Murillo. The Big Fish Experience. McGraw-Hill Education, 2016.

Co-founders of Big Fish Presentations show how to create an unforgettable experience for the audience by creating engaging content, adding memorable visuals, and developing a powerful delivery.

Book Review: Leading through Language

Monday, September 12th, 2016

book cover imageEngal, Bart. Leading through language: Choosing words that influence and inspire. Wiley, 2015.

Desperately searching for a model strategic plan, I reviewed the 2016 plan produced by an elite university library. The first page listed new strategic directions, including these three:

  • Creating platforms for scholarly engagement
  • Supporting emerging literacies
  • Transforming the information ecosystem

All 5 pages of the strategic plan use this cryptic language.

This is not unusual. Managers often use particular phrases to capture complex ideas, assuming that the audience understands their meaning. Stringing these phrases into sentences and paragraphs makes it even less comprehensible.

In his new book Leading Through Language, Bart Egnal, CEO of The Humphrey Group, a communications consulting firm, explains that in the business world, jargon often undermines effective leadership. He uses his experience as an executive coach to explain why people use jargon and how leaders can use clear language to convey their ideas and to influence others.

Egnal begins his book by explaining that use of jargon can be positive. Jargon used within a small group of similar people fosters a sense of shared identity or serves as shorthand for concepts that everyone knows. But Egnal catalogs many negative types jargon, such as the unnecessary add-on (At the end of the day; Having said that) or the baffling noun cluster (Team strategy plan priorities) that confuse the listener. He encourages speakers to adopt the mindset of a leader, to communicate ideas clearly and to use every conversation as an opportunity to inspire action.

To speak as a leader, Egnal recommends developing a mental script of well-defined ideas that are ready to be articulated as communication opportunities arise. Scripts are adapted for particular audiences and delivered with authenticity and conviction. Every script has a clear subject, one sentence that defines the topic for the audience. An effective script also has a single leadership message that is positive, engaging and true and it ends with a call to action.

In Leading Through Language, Egnal shows how to articulate ideas that motivate others. He includes many examples of strong and weak messages. However, his book does not include something promised by the subtitle and the cover design – the specific “words that influence and inspire.” Nonetheless, this book is recommended for anyone who aspires to be a leader.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Presence

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Cuddy, Amy. Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. Little, Brown and Company, cover image

Next time you walk down the mallway, watch how Fuqua students walk. Early in the academic year, most students walk confidently with a long stride, swinging their arms and moving their heads. By October, some students are walking with a shorter stride and smaller arm movements. Their shoulders are rolled forward and their heads are stationary. These students are losing their confidence.

In her new book, Presence, Harvard Business School faculty member Amy Cuddy offers this advice to discouraged students: To regain your confidence and to feel your personal power, begin carrying yourself in an expansive way. Start acting like you are strong and in control and your confidence will return. The body shapes the mind.

In 2012 Amy Cuddy taught millions of viewers about power poses through her popular TED talk. In Presence she explains the science behind her work, citing academic research on how to make the best impression – by being confident, passionate and enthusiastic. To channel these qualities, people need to be genuine, to believe in their own abilities and to feel at ease when revealing them to others.

The way you carry yourself – how you walk or stand or sit – does not change your abilities. Yet Cuddy explains that the body’s posture is a source of personal power that increases feelings of strength and skill. She presents ample evidence that expansive posture makes people more open, bold and creative. It improves the ability to relate to others. It fosters confidence and enhances performance, particularly under pressure.

Graduate school at a top university is stressful and Presence has much to offer students in Fuqua’s demanding programs. For Cuddy, presence is not about winning. It is about approaching challenges without dread, executing them without anxiety and living without regret. This book is recommended. For those short on time, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is also recommended.

Also available as an audiobook on CD and in the Ford Library Kindle – Business bestseller collection.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Full Circle

Monday, June 6th, 2016

book cover image

Montella, Erin Callan. Full Circle: A memoir of leaning in too far and the journey back. Triple M Press, 2016.

Erin Callan made her career the center of her life and was named CFO of Lehman in 2007 at age 42, the highest ranking woman on Wall Street. Six months later, the market imploded and management threw Callan under the bus. Eight years later in Full Circle, Erin Callan (now) Montella tells the story of her dramatic rise and fall as a Wall Street rock star and she warns other ambitious young women not to “Lean In” too deeply.

In her self-published book, Montella writes candidly about her life and the choices she made. She graduates from Harvard and NYU Law School, begins her career as a corporate tax attorney at a large prestigious New York law firm. Five years later, attracted by the excitement on Wall Street, she moves to Lehman Brothers to work as an investment banker.

Montella explains that at Lehman she excels at working with clients and constructing profitable high profile deals, earning professional accolades. She is promoted quickly through 11 levels and eventually is tapped as CFO, where she is the first woman to be part of the Executive Committee in Lehman’s 150 year history.

But Montella also counsels that the Wall Street environment is incompatible with work-life balance. At Lehman she runs full throttle, devoted to her career, spending all her time and energy on work. She meets attractive people, but personal relationships dry up from lack of attention. She ends romantic relationships and her marriage for superficial reasons and has no personal friends. When her work life crumbles, she is devastated.

Full Circle is forthright and frankly told, but Montella fails to take personal responsibility for any part of the financial collapse. She was “swimming with the sharks” yet was one of the sharks herself. She calls herself a “rookie” after 15 years in the financial sector. Her complaints about money seem self-indulgent as she owns million dollar homes in the Hamptons, NY and on Sanibel Island, FL. Others who lost their homes in the financial crisis live in their cars. That said, Full Circle is a provocative story, recommended as an introspective memoir about life choices.

Two excellent books on the financial crisis include The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Too Big to Fail by Andrew Sorkin.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.