Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier

Rate: ****

Read: Cover to Cover

Category: Branding, Big Idea, Communication

I like a book that has the reader’s time in mind.  This is a very short book; Mr. Neumeier calls it an “airplane read.”  He has a few very simple (aren’t the simple ideas usually the best?) ideas that he puts into a chronological order using a hypothetical (wine) business to illustrate his big idea.  He is talking about branding – but since he started out as a designer, he combines form and function (and a little beauty) in the process.  He is on the same Tsunami as Seth Godin (Purple Cow), Luke Wilson (Disrupt) and many other surfers in the new (huge) wave of marketing and branding in the 21st century.  They all say there are really only two ways this thing is going down.  The first is to do what everyone else is doing, trying to build your brand by differentiating on price, speed and improvement on the same type of products and services, or putting your efforts to creating something that is really different and truly unique.  He calls the process “zagging” as in “when everyone zigs, you should zag.”  He gives you a short painless history lesson, and then just when you’re a little depressed because you realize you are doing these things, he opens the gate and let’s you walk on the stepping stones (from naming your company to truelines, taglines, core product, passion to engagement) to that big house on the hill or in his case study, the unique wine store he imagines, Bibli.

My Takeaway

An excellent read for small business, entrepreneurs and independents.  It’s even a better read for people just starting out with an idea.  But what kind of “zagging” can you do when you’re already “zigging?”  How do you “zag?”  There was not a good answer to that, because in the second part of the book the “zag,” described handling entrenched business models of corporations – diversification, competitive cycles… yawn.  Oh, excuse me.  So, for independents who are already in the “zig” (you already have  crummy name) look to this book for thinking about the quintessential “disruptive” idea for, maybe not your product (or maybe your product or service), but perhaps how you can engage your customers in a different way, create an outstanding design for your website, or by discovering the concept of pulling your customers in rather than pushing information out to them.  Still a terrific read with some incredibly valuable information.  Read it.

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Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rate: ****

Read: Cover to cover

Category: Small Business, Entrepreneurial

Twitter Review: A take-no-prisoners approach to running a business in the 21 century

A friend and I were talking about books over a delicious hot cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop – no Starbucks for us.  I asked him what his favorite book for small biz was and he didn’t hesitate, didn’t waffle, didn’t look toward the ceiling – nope.  He said it right away.  Rework.  And then he smiled and said, “I just love that book.  It’s my bible.” Now, I’m going to backtrack a little (no I’m not going to talk about religion) and say that I find two approaches to business – one is hip and the other is hip replacement.  Chris Brogan – hip.  Donald Trump -hip replacement. Guy Kawasaki – hip.  Jack Welch – hip replacement.  Jason and David, co-founders of the remarkably successful 37 Signals (and if you don’t know the company, watch those stairs) definitely fall into the hip category.  They crush the old knee joint of business methodology, replacing it with a new, shiny, technologically advanced titanium implant.  Run faster, jump higher, feel better.  They write like they have a stop watch tied to their ass.  Each thought comes with a hastily rendered illustration and then a page or two on expanding the idea.  Business growth?  Overrated.  Mission statement?  Yawn.  Press releases?  Spam.  Advertising?  For suckers.  They reject growth, meetings, budgets, boards, salespeople and almost everything else in the “real world.”  But you can’t argue with their success.  In 1999 they started out as a three-person Web-design/consulting firm.  Unhappy with the project management software available, they created their own and named the company 37 Signals.  Five years later, they have generated millions of dollars in profit a year and continue to make boatloads of money to this day, with a very small staff.  In Rework, they take the model home of business and in their words, “take it down to the studs,” rebuilding in a new way.  This isn’t an autobiography (Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Zappos or the Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry) – this is an advice book.  Easy to read, outrageous, funny and double espressoed, these two absolutely make you believe even if you know nothing about business (or everything), you can build your dream if you just do it.

My Takeaway

Let me just say, my knees ache a little in the morning, so I know what the old boys say and do in business.  And it served us well.  But so did coupons in the mail (replaced by Groupon) and the good old boys network (replaced by indie.bz, LinkedIn).  Time to put the old dogs down.  Humanely, of course.  But down nevertheless.  I like their advice.  I think it democratizes business – who can get in, who can succeed, what you have to do to succeed.  They say nonsense to the old standard practices and I agree.  I want to put in a caveat here – I think their advice is for people who don’t anguish over keeping their desk clean, order their closets by color or arrange their spices alphabetically.

Elaine Joli

all things Jason Fried