"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."

Steve Jobs

"Please explain the problem to me slowly, as I do not understand things quickly."

Albert Einstein

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."

African proverb

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader"

John Quincy Adams

"I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Best Leadership & Business Books of 2014

Here are our Top 5 leadership & business books from 2014, as well as our Rotten Tomato:


1. Consiglieri by Richard Hytner (2014)

This book is how to be (or manage) a great no2, chair, COO, advisor, consultant, vice-president etc. It's full of insights, interviews with great & famous No2s, and good advice on how to become excellent in these roles.
It's also laugh out loud funny. In the Amazon recommendations it has Gordon Brown saying, "I wish I'd read this book." The next recommendation is by Tony Blair who said, "I wish he'd read this book."
Hytner is deputy chair of Saatchi & Saatchi and is Professor of Marketing at London Business School. 


2. Contagious by Jonah Berger (2013)

This Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller is a must for those who want successful word-of-mouth campaigns. If you've ever wondered why certain stories get shared, emails get forwarded or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to make your product or idea catch on.
With research showing that word of mouth is the primary factor between 20-50% of all purchasing decisions this fascinating book is well worth reading and applying.
Berger is a professor of marketing at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. 


3. The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters (2012)

This book has been highly talked about because Peters has supported various famous sports stars and teams, for example: "Without Steve I don't think I would have won gold in Athens in 2004," Sir Chris Hoy. 
The Chimp Paradox is a powerful mind management model that can help you healthily manage emotions so that you can improve performance, relate better, and enjoy more sleep. It's science written in an accessible way!
Peters is a Consultant Psychiatrist and is Undergraduate Dean at Sheffield University Medical School.


4. Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet (2012)

Marquet was a US submarine captain. On taking over command of the USS Santa Fe - then the worst perfoming sub in the fleet - he unknowingly gave an impossible order which his crew tried to follow anyway. When he later asked why the order wasn't challenged, the answer was, "Because you told me to." Marquet then began implementing a philosophy of management that turned followers into leaders and saw the Santa Fe become an outstanding boat.
This is a very practical book on how to engage people and solve problems collectively. Think The Hunt for Red October meets Good to Great
Stephen Covey visited the boat and thought it the most empowered organisation he had experienced.


5. Difference by Bernadette Jiwa (2014)

This short book is well worth a read as it will help you develop marketing strategies that don't focus on what's different about you but do focus on helping your customers to make a difference.
The book teaches how to use Jiwa's useful one-page marketing tool. Seth Godin called this book, "A generous work of genius." 


And our 2014 Rotten Tomato: 

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek (2014)

We are fans of Sinek and loved the simplicity of his Start With Why. Leaders Eat Last is well written and is about an important subject - employee engagaement. The problem is that it's a subject that has already been extensively written about and unfortunately Sinek doesn't really offer anything new.
So this title gets our Rotten Tomato thrown at it because we want more from this talented writer and thinker. 
Read more…

The Dangers of USP

The Dangers of USP

Defining a unique sales proposition, or USP, has become part of business mantra. I’ve sat in many meetings with boards and senior management teams and heard someone challenge the group with a question like, “What’s our USP?” The response is usually the same – people grasp onto the question and begin furiously trying to either define or redefine their business/product/service USP as if it’s the missing magical ingredient for strategy.

The point of a USP is to help a product or brand stand out in a crowded market place because of the qualities that make it different. Whilst this is important there are some significant traps in overplaying USP:

Firstly, and most importantly, USP puts the focus on the business rather than on the customer, and this seems the wrong way round. The danger here is that corporate introspection can lead to ideas and thinking that aren’t aligned to customers. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, keeps driving his business to obsess about customers. In an article with Harvard Business Review he said, “we’ve made a number of decisions siding with the customer that have been questioned by well-meaning critics, Wall Street analysts, and industry analysts. I’m talking about things like free shipping, relentlessly lowering prices, Amazon Prime.” Amazon’s ideas and thinking have usually been driven by their deep understanding of their customers rather than by trying to identify what makes them different.

Secondly, the meaning of the unique part of USP is often strained when it’s used. I recently read a business article that said, “Tesco and Asda can genuinely use low prices as a USP.” Really? Both of them? Often others are doing something similar but fortunately uniqueness is not always important to customers. Continuing with the example of supermarkets, it’s often convenience and location that guide purchasing choices and not just so-called brand differences.

Whilst it is useful to identify USP it may be far more critical to discover how to make a difference to the lives of customers. Bestselling marketer, Bernadette Jiwa, writes in her book Difference, “People don’t want to be sold for the reasons you think your brand is better or best. They don’t want something different. They want something that makes a difference.”

Here are some questions to help you think through USP and difference:

  • Why is it important for us to clarify USP?
  • Why do returning customers come back to us?
  • What do new customers say persuaded them to purchase from us?
  • What do we do to find out about the difference we make to our customers’ lives?
  • What are the strengths of our organisation and how are we deliberately leveraging them for competitive advantage?
Read more…

Culture is what you repeat repeatedly

Culture, in organisational language, is often said to mean, “what we do around here.” Often culture can seem ambiguous and less important than hard measures such as revenue, delivery or productivity. Yet leaders usually discover the true value of culture when confronted with negative staff behaviours or obstacles to strategy implementation.

The great management thinker Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and this has proved true so often, as the following two famous examples show:

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Best business & leadership reads of 2013

Best Books of 2013

These are my top five 2013 books that help leaders with direction or wellbeing. These are books I’ve read in the year rather than were published in 2013.

Read more…