Book Review – What the Dog Saw

April 13, 2010

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s work makes me feel intelligent.

Not because Gladwell’s writing is akin to the final season of Lost, more so because at the end of each chapter of Gladwell’s previous books, I felt like I learned something.

This is why I was irrationally excited to read, What the Dog Saw, a collection of Gladwell’s essays from the New Yorker. Instead of several opportunities to learn about parts of one idea, like snap judgments in Blink, each essay was an opportunity to learn something new.

Over 19 essays, I learned about the evolution of feminism through hair dye advertising, the difference between choking and panicking (especially relevant as I read that essay during the 2010 Winter Olympics), a more effective method for conducting job interviews and why we have multiple mustard choices in our grocery stores, but essentially only one type of ketchup.

For me, the two most relevant essays were a profile of Cesar Milan and a comparison between pit bull bans and racial profiling.

The former helped make my walks with my dog much more pleasant when we meet other dogs and their owners. Now I don’t even look at the other dog, I keep my eyes totally on the other person. You’ll have to read the essay to find out why 🙂

The latter was an interesting study in how overreaction can have unintended consequences (my boxer falls under Ontario’s pit bull ban for having similar physical characteristics to a pit bull) and how often problems with animals (and by extrapolation, humans) aren’t germane to the animal, but to the animal’s situation. To paraphrase, Chip and Dan Heath in Switch, “what we have is a situation problem, not a people problem.”

Shortly before, What the Dog Saw was published, Gladwell wrote another canine-influenced essay investigating the similarities between dogfighting and football. I highly recommend reading that essay as well.


Blog Moved

March 29, 2010

I’ve set up my blog and book reviews on my new website, Here’s the RSS link

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Book Review – Switch

March 22, 2010

If Linchpin by Seth Godin is a Frommer’s guide to Maui off the shelf, a blank slate to to create your own path, Switch, the latest from brothers Chip and Dan Heath is the Frommer’s Maui guide you borrow from your neighbour who has gone to Maui 15 straight years. Still room to create your own path, but a lot of really useful additions that will make your path that much more enjoyable.

Like their equally fantastic, Made to Stick, in Switch the Heath brothers take a relatively complex topic, change management, and boil it down to a straightforward (not simple) guide that could be followed by a 12-year-old.

I most liked the analogy of the rational versus emotional brain as being like a rider sitting on a elephant, which was borrowed from Jonathan Haidt’s, The Happiness Hypotheses.

Of the four books, I read recently about decision making, Kluge, The Watercooler Effect and Predictably Irrational, the rider/elephant analogy worked best for me to describe how the rational brain (rider) can be easily overwhelmed by the emotional brain (elephant).

If you plan to read Switch, I highly recommend reading Linchpin first.

Linchpin sets you up for change by addressing the fear/uncertainty/doubt that accompanies all change, even small changes like eating a different cereal for breakfast.

Once you deal with your fear of change, Switch lays out a clear path for not only changing, but maintaining that change into a habit.

Book Review – Linchpin

March 16, 2010

Are You Indispensable? Reading Linchpin, the latest bound musings from Seth Godin it seems the short answer is “no, unless.”

Unless I choose to go beyond “that’s not my job” or develop a relationship with my colleagues in accounting or stop talking about doing something and actually deliver.

The challenge (“resistance” Godin calls it) is we are generally afraid of alterations to their personal status quo even if a change could result in bettering our current situation.

To Godin, all of us are geniuses, but few are artists. In Godin’s words, “artists ship.” Artists don’t worry about “perfecting” a presentation because their audience will judge perfection, if that matters to them at all.

Even if you don’t want to be a linchpin, take one hour (heck, take two) and read through “The Resistance,” pages 101-150. Those 50 pages should be a book on their own.

Linchpin is not a book of answers. Step-by-step lists for becoming a linchpin will not pop up like castle’s in a children’s book.

Instead of a guidebook, Linchpin is a map that paints pictures of what a linchpin could be then let’s you fill in your personal details.

If not now, when?

March 8, 2010

One of the least appreciated sales skills is the ability to consistently confirm a next step with your target audience.

How many times have you heard or said this to someone pitching you, “I’m busy, call me later.”

First of all, we’re all busy. I don’t mean that in a condescending way, it’s a fact. Often acknowledging that your prospect is busy and subtly implying that you are busy too gets you past the “I’m busy” part of the objection above.

Second, what does “later” mean? Ambiguous time statements  trip us up because we want get caught up in the “relationship” side of selling and forget the “selling” side.

For me, one of the most difficult learnings was to respond to “later” with “why?” or “what will change?” or “later today? this week? this month?”

Key to delivering the follow up to “later” is your tone.  “Why” should sound inquisitive instead of whiny or condescending (yes, this should be obvious). Remember you are in control.

Alternatively, suggest “later.” “I understand you’re busy, does Tuesday at 9am or Wednesday at 1:30pm work for you?”

If you consistently confirm next steps moving your pitch from cold call to close will seem significantly shorter and easier.

What challenges do you have confirming next steps?

Book Review – Predictably Irrational

March 4, 2010

Despite mountains of books, avalanches of articles and forests of experts telling us human beings are rational creatures, Dan Ariely’s, Predictably Irrational lays out an opposing view.

Not only are we irrational, we are predictably so; however, by knowing how and when our brain will trip us up we have an opportunity to make abetter choice instead of an easy choice.

For example, Ariely’s demonstrates how we irrationally choose between two comparables even when a third option exists that might be better. Ariely uses several examples including house hunting, television shopping and, what I feel is the best example, judging the attractiveness of the opposite sex.

Predictably Irrational is an excellent starting point for understanding your behaviour and, if not making better choices, at least understanding the choices you make.

Book Review – The Watercooler Effect

February 26, 2010

My hometown, as I imagine most small towns, lived on rumors. Who was doing what, to whom, when and where. The question that was rarely asked, either to the rumor monger or the subject of the rumor was “why?”

The Watercooler Effect by Nicholas DiFonzo was throughly entertaining and helped me understand why rumors were so prevalent growing up and why they continue to form a part of my interactions with others.

Rumors, according to DiFonzo fulfill the function of gods and goddesses for pre-Christian humans, they help us make sense of our world.

DiFonzo also discusses the difference between gossip, urban legends and rumors; why we believe some rumors, but not others; and why it is difficult to convince a rumor spreader that a rumor is false.

I highly recommend The Watercooler Effect, especially if your workplace is highly politicized or if your competition uses rumors to degrade your position in your market.

Practice Makes

February 24, 2010

Money. Unless you waste your time role playing.

The idea of making calls to prospects and clients, a great “live fire” exercise for sales beginners, instead of the safety of role playing sounds frightening, yes?

That’s why we call it “practice.” Your first few calls won’t be perfect, heck your first 1,000 calls won’t be either . Vince Lombardi maintained that only “perfect practice makes perfect” so stressing over making the “perfect” call is counterproductive.

It’s not enough just to bang through a list of calls, machines can do that.

After each call, write down a few notes – first impressions, feelings, comments your callee (you are the “caller“) made. Before your next call, review your notes and adjust your pitch.


Sales is an art and a science. Through practice, we’re just testing a series of hypotheses (if I say this, my prospect says that, but if I say this, they say that and I am closer to a sale).

What I like best about live fire sales practice is the individual on the other side of the table or the other end of the phone might buy my pitch. If I role play, there’s little to be gained or lost.

What makes you nervous about “live fire” sales practice?

Book Review – Kluge

February 21, 2010

The depressing side of Kluge, The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus is that our brains are essentially a lizard strapped, poorly, to a dolphin with each vying for control. Telling you the lizard usually wins shouldn’t be news to you.

The uplifting side of Kluge is that even though our brain is like a ’84 Dodge pickup with duct tape seat belts and primer as the dominant paint colour, the imperfect construction of our brain enabled us to develop belief, choice and language.

If nothing else, pick up Kluge from your local library and read the chapter on Language, which had me falling out of my seat laughing,  much to the chagrin of the flight attendants on my plane.

Great Questions

February 5, 2010

Think back to the last presentation you took in. At some point the presenter said, “that’s a great question” and, maybe, they flashed a quick smile that showed all of their upper teeth.

How much did you believe the presenter at that moment?

I hazard not very much.

“That’s a great question” is auto-pilot language for presenters. That phrase is a placeholder, which was originally taught to presenters to help them engage with their audience. Now, it’s the aural equivalent of eating sugar packets.

Next time a question comes your way in a presentation try, “thank you for asking that” or “I plan to address that in a few slides, may I answer your question then?”

You’ll be more believable to your audience because you’re engaging them as intelligent individuals.

Let’s leave “great” questions to those that generate an “I don’t know” response. What do you think?