Category Archives: Book Reviews

My book reviews. Fiction, non-fiction and mainly business literature. These are all excellent books, ’cause I never review the books I don’t like.

Book review: Chief Joy Officer by Richard Sheridan

I was incredibly fortunate to get an advance copy of this amazing book and reading it brought me nothing but (yes!) joy.

It’s a fun and accessible read, but beyond that Rich’s book is also a clear call to leaders everywhere to transform their leadership so that it promotes happiness and joy rather than fear and frustration.

But my favorite thing about this book is absolutely that Rich tells you exactly how lead with joy – and that none of it is rocket science.

And you can take Rich’s advice on this – he’s done it himself and made Menlo Innovations a tremendously happy workplace, as I learned for myself when I visited it a while back:

Read more and buy the book here.

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Book review: Payoff by Dan Ariely


Payoff, The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, is a short book with an important message: “We suck at motivation.”

Based on fascinating research from workplaces and psychology labs  all over the world, the book documents how we consistently fail to understand what really motivates ourselves and others and consequently end up  killing motivation off, when we try to strengthen it, much of the time.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace, where a blind belief in the power of bonuses, raises, promotions and perks has kept managers doing the wrong things for (or to) their employees for decades.

Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, is the perfect person to convey this message. As a researcher he has conducted fascinating and very elegant experiments to uncover what motivates and demotivates us. He shared two of these in this TED talk:

In Payoff he uses his own research and that of others to get to the truth of motivation. And while he clearly shows that performance bonuses can actually reduce performance, he also shares the factors that motivate us to do better. These include things like praise, meaningful work and a real connection to the people you work with.

This is a short book (120 pages) but that just counts in its favor, in my opinion. It is a captivating read, incredibly useful and highly entertaining – in fact I laughed our loud several times while reading it.

In short, I hope I have motivated you to read this book :)

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Book review: Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman


This is simply one of the best new business books I’ve read in a LONG time.

What if you ran your organization based on actually, genuinely caring for every single person in it? How would that inform strategy and leadership and how would it affect employees and the bottom line?

Bob Chapman’s leadership at Barry Wehmiller shows what that looks like and it is amazing.

Barry Wehmiller is essentially in the business of buying struggling production companies around the world and making them happier and more productive by introducing their processes and culture. They have 8,000 employees in 100 locations around the world in a large variety of businesses and they’re profitable and growing fast.

In this short speech, Bob Chapman explains their leadership philosophy:

The book contains a ton of powerful lessons that any workplace could learn from, but for me, these were the 2 most powerful things in the book.

1: Performance focus - with people first.
Of course the company cares about performance, but they realize that people come first. Chapman shares the story of what happened when a lean consultant came to do a presentation:

We scheduled a kickoff meeting in Green Bay with a group of senior leaders to learn about Lean and begin our continuous-improvement journey.

On the first afternoon, a consultant gave an opening presentation on Lean. After forty-five minutes, I stood up and walked out of the room in frustration. The presentation was all about justifying bringing Lean tools into an organization because they help add to the bottom line and get more out of people. “This will help you get more out of people.”

That’s when I left the room.

Brian followed nervously after me, glancing back to see if the presenter was still speaking.

“So, what’s going on?”

With fire in my voice, I said, “Brian, we are never going to have a Lean journey like that in our organization. We are not going to suck the life out of people and take advantage of them in that way. We are going to build a Lean culture focused on people or we’re not going to do it at all.”

I had made it clear that our version of Lean was to be about people.

Too many CEOs would never even catch that. They are steeped in the idea that results come first and processes like Lean are used as a tool for that purpose.

At Barry Wehmiller, Lean has become a tool to make work more fun and meaningful for the employees. And that in turn drives better results, than a direct results focus.

2: No layoffs
Your values are tested in hard times. It’s a lot easier to be nice and appreciative and people focused when the business is profitable but when revenue takes a hit and your company is losing money that’s when you get a chance to show if you take your values seriously of if they’re just pretty words that you don’t really mean.

In the book’s most interesting chapter (for me at least) Chapman discusses what happened when the recession hit them in 2008. They lost a large amount of business and were faced with massive pressure from their bank to cut costs.

Most companies around the world would not hesitate for a second before enacting layoffs. It’s just what you do, despite the fact that evidence shows it’s actually bad for business.

Chapman instead worked hard to come up with a plan that would ensure the company’s survival without laying off a single person – which they did.

The upshot

I HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s a great read and shares not only a great business case but also Chapman’s personal story which is interesting in itself.

The book shows that happy workplaces can exist in any industry (even production) and that you can systematically transform bad, failing workplaces into happy successful ones. Provided you do so with some good structure, great leadership and the basic idea that people deserve to be treated well at work.

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Book review: Joy, Inc by Rich Sheridan

Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Rich Sheridan came out December 26 and it’s the single best business book I have read in a long while.

Menlo is a software design and development company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have built a culture that removes the fear and ambiguity that traditionally makes a workplace miserable and made joy their explicit goal.

I have recently had a chance to spend a day at Menlo talking to their founders and their people and I can say with confidence that they are an amazing workplace with a remarkable energy.

How would you like to work at a company where:

  • They’ve eliminated meetings
  • They’ve eliminated internal email
  • Employees can bring dogs and babies to work
  • You work a 40-hour work week
  • Finances and salaries are transparent
  • You get to constantly learn from and with your co-workers

I’ve previously written about Menlo on this blog – especially about their hiring process which is radically different from other companies.

Joy Inc by Rich SheridanThis book is a pleasure to read and has a great story that will pull you right in but it is, above all, incredibly useful.

Sheridan clearly lays out the many innovative and effective things they’ve done to create a happy workplace and most of them could without a doubt be translated into any kind of workplace.

You will read this book with a smile on your face and go “Of course – that makes perfect sense! Why isn’t every workplace doing this?”


Book review: Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky

I just finished reading Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky and I was struck by two observations:
1: Apple gets a lot of things exactly right and some other things exactly wrong.
Ie- the design-driven development, the commitment to making great products and the pride their employees can take in contributing to that are all fantastic.

On the other hand, Apple’s culture of fear, paranoia and mistrust really comes through in the book. Check out this article about Apple’s secret police.

I think Apple could be even more successful (hard as that is to imagine) without the paranoia and bad behavior shown in the book. However, I think some people will conclude that “Apple are assholes and Apple is successful. Being an asshole makes you successful.”

2: The Apple culture is completely at odds with the Apple brand.
The Apple brand is about individuality and freedom of expression. The Apple culture is about secrecy, uniformity and doing what you’re told. Is that duality sustainable in the long rung? I don’t think so.

Finally, I simply can’t figure out from the book if Apple is a happy or unhappy workplace. It’s clear that employee happiness was certainly never a top priority for Steve Jobs and other top execs. On the other hand, their pride in their products and in working for Jobs’s vision makes them happy.

In any case, read the book – it rocks.

Book review: Best Practices are Stupid by Stephen Shapiro

Innovation is a term that gets thrown around a lot but it also seems like there is very little new in this area. You keep hearing the same old advice, the same brainstorming exercises, the same admonitions to just open that suggestion box and get everybody in the workplace to contribute their ideas.

In other words, it seems like the field of innovation is somewhat lacking in innovation.

Well, today an excellent new book comes out to change all that. It’s called Best Practices are Stupid – 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition by Stephen Shapiro and it will challenge everything you think you know about innovation.

I’ve had a chance to read and advance copy and I was blown away by all the great advice in the book. It outlines clearly what any workplace – big or small, private or public – needs to do to become more innovative.

The book is easy to read and the advice is clearly outlined and accessible. It has 40 chapters each of which challenges one of our preconceived notions about innovation.

Here are some of my favorite examples from the book:
Hire people you don’t like. Because the people you like the least are the people you need the most.

Asking for ideas is a bad idea. Define challenges more clearly. If you ask better questions, you will get better answers.

The performance paradox. When organizations hyper focus on their goals, they are less likely to achieve those goals.

Expertise is the enemy of innovation. The more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it is for you to think about it in a different way.

Basically, this book should be your new innovation bible. Read more about the book and buy it here.

Let’s play some Personality Poker

Steve Shapiro’s new book Personality Poker comes out next week (October 28, to be precise) and I really, really urge you to get it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to’ve read both an early draft and an advance copy of the book and it’s one of the best and most useful business books I’ve ever read. And of course it’s much more than just a book – it comes with a deck of Personality Poker playing cards, Steve’s brilliant invention for learning more about yourself, your co-workers and your employees.

We’ve been using Personality Poker for 2 years now in our work and it’s an absolutely awesome tool for creating more innovation, energy and happiness in teams. It’s fun, simple and fast but still give people a genuine insight into their personalities.

The book itself is a fun and easy read of about 240 pages with tons of real-life examples – exactly the kind of business book I love and actually manage to read. As opposed to those 400-page theory-filled tomes that I really ought to read, but which always end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Possibly the only drawback of the book is the section on page 195-199 about this weird guy from Denmark who is apparently some sort of workplace happiness guru… I mean, how bizarre is that :o)

Read more about the book here.

The Chief Happiness Officer says: “Buy this book!”

Book review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

There are some companies that seem completely unafraid to do things differently. While others cling desperately to business as usual, I admire organizations who try alternative ideas and Zappos is one of these companies. For those outside of the US who have not yet heard of Zappos, they sell shoes and clothes online and they do so with huge success: Their sales for 2009 was $1 billion. That’s a lot of shoes and for a company that’s only 10 years old, that’s nice going.

Zappos have about 800 employees in their HQ in Las Vegas and another 700 in the warehouse in Kentucky where all products are shipped from. And what truly separates them from many other organizations is how they treat their people. Zappos has committed itself to great service and has realized that the only way to consistently deliver great service is to have happy employees.

And that’s what “Delivering Happiness” is about. In the book, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tells his own story – he co-founded an IT company that became worth millions and then felt he had to leave it when he discovered that he was no longer happy at work there. The company was sold to Microsoft for $265 million.

Tony ended up investing part of his money in a strange guy with a weird idea: Selling shoes online. After several false starts and slow growth in the beginning, Zappos found the winning formula and the rest is history.

So what is their winning formula? It’s culture! Zappos have defined their culture and spend a lot of time, money and energy on maintaining and developing it. And here it is:
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

They hire people based on who will fit into the culture, and they’re quick to fire those who turn out not to fit. Their hiring mantra is “hire slowly, fire quickly”.

Typical interview questions include:

If you had a theme song, that played every time you walked into a room, what would it be?

On a scale from 1 to 10, how lucky are you?

To make sure that new hires join Zappos for the culture and not for the money, they will give all new people the offer. It’s simple: If you quit in the first 2 months, you get your salary plus an extra $2,000. Yes, you read that right: Zappos will pay people to quit. And since most new positions are in the call center or warehouse (jobs that don’t pay all that well) $2,000 is serious money.

Zappos have had to adjust that policy recently: Because of the financial crisis, less and less people took the offer, preferring to stay in a stable paying job even if they weren’t that thrilled about the workplace. So Zappos have now upped the amount to $3,000. In addition they also pay their people a salary that is above average and offer great perks like free food, free snacks, etc.

The result of this and more (like great parties, freedom to design your own workspace, etc.) is a happy workforce and excellent customer service.

It doesn’t stop with the culture – their business model is equally great. 1 year return policy on all products, free return shipping, their 1-800 number is right at the top of every web page (they actually want customers to call them) and when you do call in, a live rep is only one keypress away, not buried somewhere in a phone menu labyrinth. In fact, average wait times hover around 20 seconds – when other companies can easily take 20 minutes to reach on the phone.

All of this and more is described in Tony’s book and I highly recommend it. Not only is it a fun and easy read, it offers a great insight into the history and practices of Zappos and it’s always fun to hear from people and organizations who are not only unafraid of trying new ideas but who seem to revel in it. Zappos definitely do.

In that respect, this book reminds me of one of my all-time favorite business books, namely Ricardo Semler’s The Seven-Day Weekend.

It is, however, the first business book where the author spends a whole page on his undying love for Red Bull and a few more pages on how he’s been inspired by the community at techno raves :o)

The book is in three parts: Part 1 is Tony’s story from his childhood to founding Linkexchange and Zappos. The second part is about how they do things at Zappos and the final appendix is about the science of happiness, which Tony urges all businesses to study. I could not agree more.

The book will not only give you a peek into the mind of Tony Hsieh, it will also give you about a million ideas you could out into practice in your own business or work life. But most importantly, it will show you just how far out of the ordinary a business can go if it has the courage to do so – and just how much success can be found out there.

The book comes out on June 7 – read it!


Happy at work at ?What If! Innovation


Samantha Wood over at The Insider blog has visited British Innovation Agency ?What If! Innovation to find out what makes them such a great workplace.

Here are some elements from Sam’s post:

Let’s start at the beginning – the reception area. It IS a reception area in so much as there are welcoming people who’ll point you in the direction of the right meeting, but there’s a bit more to this space than that. It’s an eating area, a kitchen, a place for meetings, a place for parties, an internet café and a space for congregation and recognition.


“They just want to get involved. Everyone here does. We only hire the kinds of people who are really passionate and pro-active and who believe in our values”.

Even laying people off is done in a deliberate, positive way:

“It took a lot of hard work to plan a way of making redundancies that could be as painless as possible for those involved. But it was totally, totally worth it. These people are our friends, and they remain so – which I hope means we got it right”.

Go read Sam’s entire post – it’ll give you some excellent insight into a very happy and very successful workplace.