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.

Christmas special: Get my book for only $12.99

Happy Hour is 9 to 5I want to celebrate the incredible success I’ve been having this year AND to celebrate the upcoming holidays, so I’ve reduced the price of my book Happy Hour is 9 to 5 from $29 to $12.99. I’ve also reduced the price of the pdf e-book to from $19 to $5.99. This offer is good only until Christmas – click here to get it.

The book has been doing very well. The Danish translation is a huge hit – it’s on the top 10 list of management books. It is also out in Dutch and Spanish and a Chinese translation is coming very soon.

The reviews have been very positive. Here’s one from lulu.com:

Thank you Alexander for an outstanding book. Everyone who works, anywhere, must read this book. Managers of human beings most definitely must read this book. I hope you sell millions.

Another one from lulu.com

I browsed through the book and ordered a copy for my boss after telling her how good it is!

She LOVED it! She’s tried to keep as professional and fun of an atmosphere at work as possible, and now it’s even better!

If you are management, BUY THIS BOOK
If you are an employee, BUY THIS BOOK

You cannot go wrong!

From a Danish newspaper’s review:

…will certainly inspire employees and managers…

The book’s strength lies in the enthusiasm and sincerity it is obviously written on. A quick and useful read.

Get the book on lulu.com – they ship all over the world.

Come with me to New York (if you’re Danish)

I have an awesome event coming up: In October I’m arranging a week-long trip to New York to meet some of the best and most innovative businesses and leaders on the US east coast.

This is a chance to encounter the newest trends in leadership, business, innovation, customer service and employer branding years before they make it into the business literature.

While most of the people we’ll meet there speak English, the rest of the program will be in Danish, so you must speak Danish to participate.

To keep the trip as useful and valuable as possible, we’re limiting it to only 20 participants and I can promise you one of the most interesting, inspiring and useful learning events ever. I’m really, REALLY excited about it.

Read all about it and sign up here (In Danish).

Book Review: The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole RuleWhen Bob Sutton started to write a book about the hidden costs of jerks at work he wanted to go full monty and call the book “The No Asshole Rule.

Gasp! Yes! The A-word. He wasn’t writing about jerks or bullies – he was writing about flaming assholes and what they cost people and businesses.

His first choice of publisher, The Harvard Business School Press, were happy to publish the book if he would change the title to something less offensive. So he changed… publishers :o)

Once in a while a book comes along where you just immediately think “Yes! What a great idea for a book!” You know, the right book at the right time. A book that simply deserves success and wide recognition.

The No Asshole Rule by Bob Sutton is such a book. This book and Bob’s excellent blog have already generated massive amounts of well-deserved buzz, and I’d like to add my whole-hearted recommendation! It’s a great book, highly readable and massively important.

Why exactly have we tolerated jerks in business for so long? Bob convincingly demonstrates using surveys, psychological studies and anecdotal evidence that workplace jerks are far more trouble than they’re worth. They mat be getting results and making the numbers, but they do so at a huge cost to the rest of the organization and to the well-being of the people around them.

Not only that, but assholes breed. No, not with each other (a horrible thought in itself)! But not only do jerks tend to bring out the worst in others (creating more jerks) they also tend to hire jerks like themselves. Or they make sure to hire people who are too weak to oppose them.

The book has some very gripping (in the same way that car crash footage is gripping) stories of workplace assholes, including some flaming assholes like the Hollywood studio boss who goes through hundreds of personal assistants, firing them for such gruesome offenses as bringing him the wrong kind of coffee.

But more interesting than this, are the stories of workplaces that do NOT tolerate this type of behavior. Successfactors, a Californian HR company make every new hire agree to 12 rules of workplace behavior, including a “no asshole” rule.

I have always been convinced, that jerks should never be tolerated in a workplace. Quirky personalities are fine. Occasional disagreement and conflict are a necessity. We don’t all need to be slick, polished and on our best behavior all the time.

But the people who systematically abuse other people for their own gain or just for fun should never be tolerated and it’s nice to read in Bob’s book that more and more companies are coming to this realization and are implementing “no asshole rules.”

“The No Asshole Rule” is a great read and a crucial addition to any business library. Read it if your workplace is beset by assholes, if you’re afraid you might be one or if you just want to be convinced once and for all that jerks have NO place in a modern business.

Related:

Book review: The 100% Factor

The 100% FactorEver feel like sitting down and having a long quiet conversation with a very wise person? The kind of chat that leaves you thinking more and deeper about you, your world and how to be more yourself.

Reading Jodee Bock’s new book The 100% Factor – Living Your Capacity is just like that. It’s a wonderful affirmation that the world does make sense, that there are simple, deep truths that can help you enjoy it more and that there are people out who have both the experiences and the desire to share those experiences with others.

Jodee writes this in the preface:

When I think back on my corporate career, I identify myself as a square peg in a round hole…

With the benefit of hindsight now, I’m able to see that if I could have created a support system for my seemlingly outrageous thoughts and belief system, I may have been able to communicate my ideas in a way that wasn’t as threatening as it appeared at the time.

Had I known that there were others in the world who shared some of my frustrations about feeling stuffed into the box that was mine on the organizational chart, I may have been able to formulate my thoughts into meaningful dialogue.

Well, as Jodee now knows, there are plenty of people out there who share her frustrations and beliefs and this book then becomes that meaningful dialogue to all us like-minded individuals everywhere. The topics range widely (even wildly) from accountability, prejudice and fear to change, creativity and courage.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes pondering some of the great questions, and would like to peek inside the minde og someone who’s obviously spent a lot of time doing so already. You may not agree with everything in the book, but it will inspire you.

Disclosure: Jodee is a blogging buddy and gave me a free copy of the book to review. I’m also mentioned in the book twice – thanks, Jodee.

Book review: The Seven-Day Weekend

Ricardo Semler: The Seven-Day WeekendYou should know one thing before you read my review of Ricardo Semler’s excellent book The Seven-Day Weekend: He’s my idol.

I’ve read his books and followed his work and I’m a fan. Completely, unashamedly, unreservedly, probably in the same way that 14-year old girls are fans of Justin Timberlake. If he ever comes to Copenhagen to give a speech, I’ll be in the front row, screaming my little lungs out.

Ahem. I deeply admire Ricardo Semler. He’s the CEO of the Sao Paulo, Brazil-based company Semco, and his vision of leadership has been the driving force behind an organization so different, so innovative and so successful that the business world has been forced to sit up and pay attention.

That’s admirable but it’s not the most important reason why Ricardo is my idol. The core reason is this: Semler has chosen happiness as his driving force in business.

He enjoys life and he wants Semco’s employees, customers, suppliers and community to be happy as well. That is the real motivation behind Semco. Not growth. Not profits. Not power. Not status. But happiness.

This is why Semco has chosen to do things… somewhat differently. At Semco:

  • Employees set their own working hours
  • Employees choose their own salaries
  • All meetings are voluntary and open to everyone
  • Employees hire their own bosses
  • HR has been almost abolished, because leaders need to be able to treat their employees right themselves
  • All employees rate their bosses twice a year and all ratings are published
  • Employees choose which leader they want to work under
  • Employees choose which Semco office they want to work out off
  • Employees can take early retirement, meaning they get one day a week off in return for working one day a week after they retire.

Etcetra, etcetera, et-fricking-cetera… It’s hard to find a single aspect of traditional organization and management that Semco hasn’t either blown up, reinvented, abolished or turned upside down. I like it!

Semler first described his vision in the aptly titled book Maverick (also an excellent read). The Seven-Day Weekend was written about ten years later and goes even further.

The title references Semler’s belief that life cannot be divided into work and free time any more. If you can answer business-related email on a sunday evening, why can’t you go to the movies on a wednesday morning? Semco wants employees who are 100% themselves on the job or off it. Consequently, they treat employees as adults who are capable of making decisions for themselves. In return, people respond by honoring that trust and delivering fantastic results.

The book is full of stories from Semco’s everyday existence, and these stories are a joy to read. Time and again these stories illustrate, that Semco does not choose the easy way out. The easy, safe and comfortable way is to fall back on well-known, hierarchical control structures. Semco consistently resists this temptation and instead chooses to believe in its people and its corporate values.

As a result, on of Semco’s top management’s most important leadership tools is… inaction. Not to do anything. To not interfere and to let the organization work out an issue on its own. To trust the process they’ve defined and see where that takes them.

Not out of a laissez-faire management style or a fear of conflict (if anything, Brazilians seem to relish conflict), but out of a realization that every time top executives step in and mandate a solution, they rob the rest of the organization of initiative and the will to act.

This is without a shadow of a doubt the best and most important book on leadership I have ever had the pleasure to read. This book quite simply rocks, and any leader who reads it will be able to pluck dozens of useful, practical and innovative ideas from it’s pages.

It’s an easy, fun read, the stories are told amazingly well and the book is 100% free of MBA-jargon.

Read it!!!

If you liked this post I think you might also enjoy these:

Book review: The Lazy Way to Success

The Lazy Way to SuccessFred Gratzon’s book The Lazy Way to Success is a joyous, thoughtful and provocative celebration of the notion that work should, above all, not feel like work.

If your job is a struggle, if you must constantly put your nose to the grindstone, knuckle under and get it over with – you’re not doing it right. Or you’re doing the wrong job and should get out of it with all haste.

And Gratzon should know. Though he graduated sine laude whatsoever as an art major in 1968 and was the original long-haired hippy dropout, he’s started two wildly succesful businesses. The second one, Telegroup, grew to 1100 employees with $400 million in annual sales. All this without ever doing a single day’s work.

His credentials established, what does Fred want us to know about laziness as a tool to success? The three major messages must be these:

  1. The notion that success comes from hard work is wrong and is corroding people and businesses
  2. Laziness is not about doing nothing, it’s about only doing what you like to do
  3. If you “follow your bliss” (as Joseph Campbell put it) success will follow. In fact, if you follow your bliss, you’re already succesful no matter what the outcome

Fred has this to say on the traditional work ethic:

“I put in 16 hours a day of hard work,” is a typical boast from a poster boy for this twisted, snore-inducing mentality. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with hard work and long hours per se. If you don’t mind sacrificing your health, your family life, the rest of your life, and your spiritual evolution and you are willing to settle for a pedestrian achievement (snore), there is nothing wrong with working long hours. In this light, hard work has its own level of merit and satisfaction.

I will readily concede that if you achieve something in one hour, you will achieve two somethings in two hours. If your desiring limit is 16 somethings, then you have the mindless formula. But what if you want a million somethings? Then you need a new math.

The basis of that new math is this pure, simple and elegant truth – success is INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL to hard work. That means, as effort and hard work become less, success becomes more. As you move towards effortlessness, success moves towards infinity.

The book itself is absolutely beautiful with very funny illustrations throughout by Lawrence Sheaff. The tone is informal and irreverent but the book does not shy away from a few deep, complicated topics.

I bought my copy directly from the website and it came with an inscription from Fred that said “Wishing you effortless success”.

Thank you Fred, what more could I wish for. And is there really any other kind?

One thought that struck me repeatedly while reading the boook, is that what Fred calls laziness is nearly identical to what I call happiness at work. Many of his principles and ideas are very close to what we teach, which just validates my thinking that happiness at work is not just a nice thing in itself, it’s the best path to business success.

I never rate the books I review, because I only review books I really, really like. And The Lazy Way gets my very highest non-rating :o)

Also read this great interview with Fred Gratzon and of course his blog.

Book review: Difficult conversations

90% of all problems and conflicts in organizations stem from what has NOT been said. NOT been talked through. From issues that should have been raised, but weren’t.

This makes the skills that allow us to adress difficult issues in constructive ways crucial job skills. And Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone Bruce Patton and Sheila Sheen is the best book I’ve seen on this subject. It is, quite simply, excellent!

The book’s main idea is this: In every conversation there are three simultaneous conversations going on:
* The “What Happened?” conversation about the factual matters at hand
* The feelings conversation concerning how we feel about this
* The identity conversation where we assert and redefine our identity

Ignoring any of these means that you’re not adressing what’s really going on in the conversation, because all of these WILL be going on. And if you’re one of those people who believe that feelings have no place in business and that professional conversations should stick purely to factual matters, let this book be your wake-up call. Humans have feelings and there is no way for us to leave them at home when we go to work. One chapter is called “Have your feelings – or they will have you”.

Reading this book is a joy. It is well planned, well written and contains many good anecdotes that underscore the book’s messages. The questions it examines are critical in any organizations:
* How to raise difficult matters
* When to raise them and when not to
* How to deal with past conversations that went wrong
* How to better express your point of view
* How to better understand others

The advice given is specific and simple to follow and has already helped me on more than one occasion. Read it!

Book review: Beyond Fear

Did you know, that you run a greater risk of being killed by pigs than by sharks? And now that you know, do you fear pigs more than sharks?

In Beyond Fear, Thinking sensibly about security in an uncertain world, Bruce Schneier explains security, and manages to do so in a way that is clear, understandable, sensible, surprising and interesting. Here’s a quote from the book:

Fear is the barrier between ignorance and understanding. It’s paralyzing. It makes us do dumb things. Moving beyond fear means freeing up out intelligence, our practical common sense, and our imagination. In terms of understanding and implementing sensible security, moving beyond fear means making trade-offs openly, intelligently, and honestly. Security is a state of mind, but a mind focused on problem-solving and problem-anticipating. Security is flexible. Fear is also a state of mind, but it’s brittle. It results in paranoia, paralysis, and bad security trade-offs.

The book pokes hole after hole in traditional security thinking. Strict airline check-ins, NY subway bag checks, armed sky marshalls and ID-checks at corporate and public buildings are all exposed for what they really are: Bad security trade-offs that result in large expenses and much inconvenience and offer little real increase in security.

The book is great and it’s also important. It shows us how to keep our collective sanity and uphold civic liberties in an increasingly complex and uncertain age. Read it!

Book review: The Paradox of Choice

When I was a kid, danish bakers had maybe 4 different kinds of bread. Today? Forget about it. There’s french bread, italian bread, danish bread, white or whole grain, with or without spices, etc…

We are arguably living in the age of choice. There is no aspect of life that does not offer people of the western world more choice today than we had 100 years ago. Or 50. Or 10. Or just last year. And here’s the kicker: Among all these choices, we’re becoming LESS happy. Some common trends in western societies are:
* Lower satisfaction with lives
* Much(!) higher incidences of depression
* Higher suicide rates

And that’s why The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz is a tremendously important book. The choices we have are not going away – we wouldn’t want them to. This makes it crucial that we understand why more choices lead to less happiness and figure out what to do about it.

At the core of it, the reason is simple: Each new choice offers more options of choosing badly. More risk of missing an even better choice. Here’s one experiment demonstrating this: Volunteers in a psychological experiment were asked to sample and rate a number of different chocolates. One group sampled more chocolates than the other. The group that sampled the most chocolates gave the chocolates an overall lower rating, and when given a choice between money or chocolate as a reward for participating, were more likely to choose money.

One of the book’s main distinctions is between Maximizers and Satisficers. When faced with a decision, Satisficers strive to make a good decision. Maximizers, on the other hand, need to know they’ve made the best decision. They will agonize over decisions before making them, and typically regret them afterwards. Interestingly, maximizers are much more prone to ruminating on their own failings and even to bouts of depression.

Another book that deals with a similar phenomenon is Happiness by Richard Layard. This book argues that the increasing wealth of western countries does not lead to a corresponding increase in happiness – and that nations should be governed on the basis of what will make people happy, instead of what will make them rich.

Taking these two books together strengthens each argument: There is probably no more happiness to be gained from an increase in the number of choices offered us or from an increase in our wealth. Neither the choices nor the wealth is going away, so what we need to do is to learn to be happy in this situation. Sounds non-sensical, doesn’t it? Do we really need to learn to cope with wealth and choices? Well, experience tends to confirm that many people do – and that’s why Barry Shwartz’s book is so important.

Book review: Verbal Judo

George Thompson was on patrol with a fellow cop at two A.M., when they were called out to break up a nasty domestic dispute in a bad part of town. Upon arrival they found the couple arguing wildly, and this is where Thompson’s partner adopted an outrageous tactic: He walked straight in without knockin, sat down on their couch and started reading the classifieds.

Bruce kept reading and the couple kept arguing, occasionally looking at the cop on their couch. Bruce rattled the newspaper. “Folks, folks, excuse me, over here”. The stunned husband flashed a double take. “What are you doing here?”

Bruce said, “You got a phone? Look here, a 1950 Dodge! Cherry condition! Can I borrow your phone? I need to call right now.” The husband pointed to the phone, incredulous. Bruce dialed, mumbled into the phone, then hung up. “Can you believe they wouldn’t talk to me just because it’s two in the morning?”

By now the fight had evaporated, the couple standing there as dumbfounded as I was. “By the way,” Bruce said, “is anything the matter here? Anything my partner and I can do for you?”

Verbal Judo, the gentle art of persuasion by George Thompson is a book about non-violent, respectful communication by the one person who may be the most qualified to write it; Thompson is a cop and a self-admitted hot-head (making it necessary for him to develop good verbal skills) and has black belts in ju-jitsu and judo – not to mention a Ph.D. in english.

The book contains many excellent insights into communicating efficiently in difficult situations. The book’s lessons can be applied equalle well on the job or at home. It is also refreshingly different from most of todays management fare, which can seem glib and superficial. This book by contrast has heart, and Thompson obviously cares deeply about his message. In his line of work there’s a lot more at stake, than whether a business meeting goes sour – and his stories of using the techniques to calm down irate would-be attackers are fascinating and often touching.