Book Review: The Impact Equation—by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Impact Equation book review photo of bookDisclaimer: I was not paid to give this review. I did receive the book for free and had a chance to be chosen to go to the book launch in New York (but wasn’t chosen). None of this influenced my opinion. I also happen to love reviewing books.

The Impact Equation is the second book written together by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Though I follow Chris on social media channels (and now Julien too), I had not read any of their books.

Chris’ instruction to us reviewers was “…no three star reviews. Either love it or hate it.”

I have to admit I almost gave the book three stars. And I’ll explain why in a second. But first, let me tell you this (which I learned from reading some other reviews): Your opinion of this book will depend on your level and type of experience.

Most important, I do believe that everyone who needs an online presence can learn from this book. Maybe a chapter or two might not make much difference to you, but the whole book will.

Three Stars to Four

The first few chapters didn’t speak to me. I felt like the authors were talking too much, over-explaining without saying anything concrete. But this may have been because of my own thoughts and experiences. I read Shannon Clark’s review in which he said he loved the first few chapters and thought the last few were the weakest—exactly the opposite of my opinion. I thought the final chapters were the strongest.

This difference is why I say that different chapters will speak to different people. And, you will still find little nuggets of wisdom and inspiration throughout the book, like:

Ideas without reach are like plants without sunlight.

and

Information alone rarely sways people. Only feelings do.

The authors aren’t telling you anything you don’t know with these statements, but they’re worded so that they really sink in.

Good Examples

Real-life examples that demonstrate the points Chris and Julien discuss strengthen the book quite a bit. They’re easy to find—outlined in boxes throughout the book—and they’re kind of the gift that keeps on giving. I can’t wait to go back and look up all the websites, books and people they mentioned.

I do wish, however, that Chris and Julien would’ve given more details about their own struggles and journey to making an impact. (Was this something I missed by not reading their other books?)

The Four-Star Clincher

I did think this was a three-star book overall, except for one thing—the emotional connection it made with me. Call it what you want—resonance, inspiration, even impact. I left the book thinking “Yes, I understood many of their points and strategies before, but I need to put more effort into actualizing them…I WANT to put more effort into actualizing them.” (I expanded on this in: Shifting Perspective & Finding Purpose to Make an Impact.)

That’s why I give it four stars—for the energy and inspiration I, and I think all readers, leave with.

The book consists of an actual equation that may seem to some a bit contrived, but it works. The content is real, the connection is personal, and we know from experience that the authors are credible. They do know how to make an impact. Learn from them.

I recommend you buy The Impact Equation. Read it and underline it, even, so you can refer back if you go off track on your own path. Be inspired and start increasing your impact on the world.

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Book Review: Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance

Photo of Uncertainty bookUncertainty—we all have to deal with it in life and in business. And, as the book Uncertainty says, it “will freeze you in place if you let it…unless you know how to use it to your advantage.”

Author Jonathan Fields draws on research, science and his own personal experience to show us how to do just that—use uncertainty to your advantage.

Right away in this book, Fields introduces us to the three “psychic horsemen” of creation:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Risk
  3. Exposure to criticism

How a person, especially a businessperson, handles these three things determines whether you and your business will be successful.

As Fields correctly states, “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas and creations.”

Giving Us Tools

Certainty anchors

“A certainty anchor is a practice or process that adds something known and reliable to your life when you may otherwise feel you’re spinning off in a million different directions.”

Rituals and routines are examples. Your certainty anchor might simply be following the same schedule every day—wake at a certain time, work at certain times, eat at certain times. Fields explains how to identify the rituals, routines or other anchors that might work for you.

Creativity hive

Handling judgment and constructive criticism is crucial to being able to get through the entire creation process—whether you’re creating a work of art, a new technology or a new business.

Building your own creativity hive—or finding one to join—is about being around people who who are similarly creating and who you can share the process with. This includes having mentors as well. Your “hive” can be online or in person. Startup incubators are a good example of the sort of hive Fields is talking about. He also mentions Scott Belsky’s Behance network.

Attentional training

When dealing with uncertainty, it’s very important that you have something that grounds you. Fields introduces readers to different types of attentional training—daily contemplation-driven practices that require a focused awareness.

Such practices include:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis and self-hypnosis

Active attentional training is participating in an activity that gets you “in the zone.” If you’ve been there, you know what I am (and he is) talking about. For me, I used to find this zone in an art studio. Once I started drawing and shaping and shading what I was drawing, hours could pass and I would barely notice time because I was so focused on what I was doing.

Rock climbing is another activity I find works. You’re so focused on your next hold or your next few holds, you’re not thinking about anything else but climbing. All the day’s cares fade away.

Fields uses the example of trail running. You have to stay so focused on the obstacles on the trail, that the rest of the world “ceases to exist.”

Relief: Peace of Mind or Loss of Anxiety?

Have you ever made a decision to walk away from something and felt good about it? Are you sure you made the right decision?

Fields brings up an important question: Is the euphoria you feel simply a relief from anxiety of dealing with building a business—dealing with uncertainty? Or is it a sign you’re at peace with your decision?

How do you know?

There’s a touching moment in the book (pages 155-157) in which Fields is talking to a client, Anne. Anne feels restful and “like a weight has been lifted” after deciding to shut down her business.

Fields asks her to visualize herself two years in the future, pretending that everything she wanted to have happen in her business has happened. He asks not only how it feels, but where in her body she is feeling the response. Then he asks, “Do you still want it?”

It’s a powerful moment. And it represents a snapshot of what this entire book is about. Sometimes we need a different perspective to know for sure in which direction to head. This book gives perspective and reminds us that uncertainty is a tool. It’s a necessity that means you are creating something new.

Uncertainty is not groundbreaking, but it is eye-opening. Reading it should make you more comfortable with uncertainty, and you’ll gain instruction on how to use it to your advantage.

The book is not “brilliant and subversive” as one reviewer says. But another back-of-the-book reviewer sums it up perfectly:

Let’s face it—the leap of faith required to follow a dream is usually accomplished by gut-wrenching, knee-quaking, soul-shaking fear. Jonathan Fields knows this—but instead of offering an empty pep talk, he delivers daily practices that can help you transform fear and uncertainty into confidence and creativity.

True. But don’t take our words for it, read the book for yourself and see what you think.

Image of the Platform book

Book Review: Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

Image of the Platform book

This book, by Michael Hyatt, read much like Rework did—in short, quick bursts—only Hyatt’s book crammed in a lot more knowledge sharing. The incredible amount of information he stuffed into this book is alone enough reason to buy it.

Reading through Platform, I kept feeling like I was stealing from the author. I think I paid about $14 on Amazon, and because I bought it so early after its launch, I also received access to several bonus items as well, including:

  • Digital and audio files of Platform
  • 7 videos that complement the book’s content
  • Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal e-book
  • Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal e-book

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World has another subtitle: A step-by-step guide for anyone with something to say or sell. Honestly, my only negative feeling about this book comes from these titles. I feel like it should’ve been named something else, but I’m not quite sure what. He didn’t get into the whole platform thing right away, and that kind of threw me.

Who is this book good for?

If you’re trying to build a presence in social media and/or readership for your blog and are hoping this parlays into speaking engagements and more, read Platform. You will not be disappointed.

I was familiar with much of the instruction included in Hyatt’s book, but even so, each chapter kept giving me more and more info and energy. I wished Hyatt had released this book when I first entered social media (thank God for MarketingProfs instead). Pretty much everything you need to know as a blogger is in this book.

There’s even a bit of Marketing 101 built in as well. You’ll get great tips on product naming, using different branding tools, creating an elevator pitch and more. Here are some sample chapter names:

  • Define Your Platform Goals
  • Set Up Your Branding Tools
  • Develop and Online Media Kit
  • Protect Your Intellectual Property
  • Avoid Common Blogging Mistakes
  • Use Twitter to Promote Your Product
  • Set Up a Facebook Fan Page
  • Develop a Comments Policy

Hyatt is also very generous in offering up some of his own copy for your use. His advice on using disclosures and certain disclaimers to protect yourself, includes giving us the actual disclaimers he uses. So, we don’t have to start from scratch.

Don’t believe his take on proofreading

Oh yeah, one more slight negative—his opinion on proofreading. I agree with him that you don’t have to hire a proofreader, but then he says, “…crowdsource your proofreading. Your regular readers are happy to do it.”

No, we’re not.

In my opinion, a sloppy blog post shows you don’t care enough about your audience. Yes, errors here and there are forgiven, but you will lose readers if you consistently publish blog posts with errors in them.

Write your draft, let it sit for at least an hour, then go back and proofread it. If you’re not good at proofreading, then scan it once forward and once backward to help you catch more typos.

But I digress…

Back to the book review

In Chapter 29, “Create a Better About Page,” Hyatt offers up 13 tips on how to make this page better and also includes his own About page as an example. Thirteen tips on just the About page. That should give you some idea of how the whole book goes.

Hyatt is more than generous in sharing his knowledge and giving advice. And almost every chapter uses bullet points or lists to help you cruise right through. As if his book isn’t enough, he even provides a list of more resources at the end.

My suggestion? Buy the book. Maybe even buy two and share it with a friend. This is one you’ll keep going back to refer to, even after you’re out of the beginner stage.

Creative, Inc. – The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business

Cover of Creative Inc bookTitles of these types of business books are important. Readers should be able to trust that the title reflects what’s inside. In this book, the title is where the authors (Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Deangdeelert Cho) make their first mistakes.

Ultimate shmultimate

The word “ultimate” really should not be there. Creative, Inc., does cover a lot of ground, but it’s more an introduction or overview, not the ultimate guide. It’s a guide, plain and simple. And, I think, if you don’t know where to start or what’s involved in freelancing, you will get a lot of good information from this book.

Contents include:

  1. Introduction to creative freelancing
  2. Setting up shop
  3. Getting the word out
  4. Working with clients
  5. Getting paid
  6. Agents
  7. Balancing your business and personal lives
  8. Next steps

Creative, Inc. or Design, Inc.

The other mistake in the title is that it simply says “creative,” when it should instead mention design.

I’m a writer, and I did like this book and learn from it. However, if I had realized it was so focused on design, I would not have bought it.

If you’re a writer, you can—and should—find other books that will help you much more than this one. But if you’re an illustrator, designer, photographer or other type of artist, you will probably like this book and learn a lot from it

Personal touch and tone

Where this book wins is in tone and language. You feel like you’re getting advice from two old friends with industry knowledge and connections. Interviews in all of the chapters are what make this book special. They complement the surrounding information, and they provide a much appreciated real-life view.

Because of the way the authors add variety, especially with the interviews, Creative, Inc. is easy to read and flows very well. Plus, at the end, there’s a fantastic list of resources that will come in handy as you start and build your freelance career.

So, good luck and good reading! And if you have suggestions for other books on freelancing for writers or designers, feel free to share them here.

My Rework review

“Most business books give you the same old advice: Write a business plan, study the competition, seek investors, yadda yadda. If you’re looking for a book like that, put this one back on the shelf.”

This appears on the inside cover of Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Consider it fair warning.

The outside cover also gives you a good idea of what type of book this is. On the front is a blurb provided by Seth Godin, the master of pithy observations. On the back (as you can see pictured here), are some of their catchy chapter titles.

Rework cover, front and back

All of these clues are very important because whether you enjoy the book depends on your expectations.

Rework, in my eyes, reads more like a page-a-day desk calendar than a business book. In fact, it seems to be a new type of book that has become popular in the age of blogs and tweets. Maybe we should call it a “blook.”

Some readers are not okay with this (see Amazon reviews), and I had to ask myself why I am. My answer was, again, expectations.

The back cover is what set me on the right path. I saw those short statements and immediately agreed with some of them, which made me figure I’d like what they had to say. And it made me curious about the others.

I’m a big fan of common sense, and many of their precepts are exactly that.

Excerpts: My two favorites from the cover

ASAP is poison

Stop saying ASAP. We get it. It’s implied. Everyone wants things done as soon as they can be done…when everything is high priority, nothing is.

Meetings are toxic

The worst interruptions of all are meetings…the true cost of meetings is staggering. Let’s say you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people…You’re trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time.

Rework helps you rethink

There are many nuggets of wisdom like this in Rework, and that’s why I recommend you read it. Everyone should regularly rethink the way they work. And this book definitely gives you a strong outside perspective to consider.

However, Rework is not “the perfect playbook for anyone who’s ever dreamed of doing it on their own,” as it says on the inside cover. Though the authors give some great information in limited space, they don’t give step-by-step instruction or go into much depth.

I would call Rework a quick, even entertaining read, with some smart perspectives to help you rethink the way you work.

And I would love to see a follow-up book by Fried and Hansson that does go deeper.

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If you do read Rework or have already read it, let me know what you think. The authors also have a top-rated blog you can check out: Signal vs. Noise.

Making Ideas Happen: Book review

Photo of book, Making Ideas Happen

Scott Belsky is the founder and CEO of Behance, with some wise words to share in his book Making Ideas Happen. The book is exactly what the title says. It’s a collection of information and instruction you can use to make your ideas happen.

Overcoming obstacles between vision and reality (the book’s tagline) requires a sort of process to follow, says Belsky. But he also notes:

“When a process is imposed on you externally, it can weigh you down and diminish your energy.”

Amen! The solution, he says, is to customize a process to your own personal preference.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like process, read this book to discover why you need one and how to follow a process that doesn’t have to be painful.

If you’re someone who loves process (hello, Six Sigmas!) and makes a living instilling process on others, read this book to humanize what you do more (and get buy-in from more coworkers). This book could open you up to a more simple way of doing things but still keep you process oriented.

For creatives, if you can get over being insulted over and over throughout the Introduction of this book (I’m not kidding), you will take away some very valuable tools.

The earliest and arguably most important one would be the Action Method. The Action Method is based on the idea that everything is a project. And for every “project,” you need a system to reach your goal.

Belsky has a nifty method that breaks down parts of your project into three categories:

  1. Action Steps – The actual steps you must take to move your project forward
  2. References – Project-related notes, sketches, websites, etc., that you may want to or need to refer back to
  3. Backburner Items – Tasks and ideas that come up that are not actionable now, but may be in the future

Simple, right? That’s the idea. If your process or way of organizing doesn’t suit you or isn’t simple enough, you won’t use it. Yet you need structure to move your ideas forward.

This structure works for almost anything. Test it out by using this method to organize your e-mail. At work, you can use it on most projects and jot down action steps, items of reference and backburner ideas during meetings.

Use it in your personal life to:

  • Plan a remodel of a room or home
  • Keep track of all you have to do when buying and/or selling a home
  • Set up a financial plan
  • Plan a long vacation trip
  • Create a “to do” list for the week

Possibilities are endless. If the process were more specific and lengthy, chances are uses for it would be specific and limited too.

Belsky doesn’t just talk about process though. He explains how to work smarter and manage better through the three sections of his book:

  1. Organization and Execution
  2. The Forces of Community
  3. Leadership Capability

For a guy who started off by insulting creative people, he sure did put a lot of effort into helping us as well. His ideas for creating and maintaining a productive workplace are easily doable and right on the money.

When you read this book, you might want to keep some paper nearby to keep track of action steps that come to mind, references, and backburner items. Here are just a few tidbits you’ll find yourself underlining:

“A fearless approach to sharing ideas is one of the most common attributes” among successful creative people.

“Smaller, more confined spaces may help us focus more intently, while wide-open spaces with higher ceilings foster a more unencumbered way of thinking.”

“Writing is a particularly labor-intensive exercise that calls for pure discipline and perspiration…Sheer perspiration will only come from organizing your energy and holding yourself accountable with some sort of routine.”

The book holds probably thousands more fresh ideas on conflict, apathy, leadership, productivity, skeptics, brainstorming, best practices and more. I wish I could list them all.

This is the type of book that excites you while you read it, because you feel like you can’t wait to put these ideas into practice.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this review and go make your ideas happen!

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Your experience doesn’t have to end when you finish the book. You can download a free template of an Action Pad (to help you create Action Steps), join the 99% community, and attend the 99% Conference. Also, I was not compensated in any way for writing this review. I just spotted the book online after hearing about Behance.net and thought it sounded interesting. I was right.

Delivering happiness, humor and inspiration

Picture of book coverToday marks the launch of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. I was sent two advance copies and was asked to give an honest review of the book and give one copy away. I was not told what to say or paid for this effort. And, if you comment on this blog post, you will have a chance to win one of my advance copies. So, let’s get to it.

Who is Tony Hsieh?

Some of you may not know who Tony Hsieh (pronounced ‘shay’) is, and that’s ok. You don’t have to in order to enjoy the book. He’s the CEO of Zappos, a company he got involved with in 1999, shortly after selling his own company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million in 1998. He was only 24 years old.

Delivering happiness

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh shows you what it would be like if a kid ran the world—a smart kid. Reading his book is like being on a rollercoaster ride. Half of me thinks, “How is this guy not completely broke?” and the other half marvels at his dedication and pure genius and sees exactly why he is so successful.

His story made me laugh out loud at times and shake my head in wonder at other times. Most of all, for me, it delivered inspiration.

It’s inspiring to see that a CEO can run a company based on real values, not boilerplate ones that are made for show. In a time where more and more companies take advantage of their employees, who work in fear of losing their job in a bad economy, it’s refreshing to see a company that gets it right.

And it’s proof that you don’t have to do things the way everyone else does to be successful.

Zappos Core Values

Do your company's values look like this?

Path to profits, passion and purpose

Tony’s path started on a worm farm at the age of 9 and is now at a company he helped build that’s making over $1 billion in sales a year and was just acquired by Amazon. Why wouldn’t you read this book?

At the start of the book when Tony said he insisted on writing the book himself, I rolled my eyes and braced myself. As a writer, I was skeptical. But it couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Once you read the book, you’ll see why. Tony is genuine and didn’t want one word to sound like it didn’t come from him.

Except for a few spots of awkward writing and redundancy—and an ending that while matching his intention, strays from the path—the book is written well. And it’s a fast, informative and entertaining read.

Who should read this book?

Many great lessons pop up throughout the book. The lessons are for businesses, for businesspeople, for adults and for kids.

Adults and children will both laugh at how Tony recorded himself playing the piano and violin and replayed it at times to get out of practicing. Really, why not give your kids an inspiring story of how an energetic, creative kid found happiness and great success at an early age?

Cynical people might not like the book. Positive quotes appear throughout and Tony can lay the happiness stuff on a little thick at times. But that is the point.

Tony Hsieh is an idealist, a venture capitalist, a realist, an adventurist, an entrepreneur, and now an author. Most of all, he’s a fearless humanist. That is what makes him and this book special.

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What do you think? Leave a comment and your name will go into a random drawing in which the winner will receive an advance copy of the book. If you want to buy the published version, go here. (I do not get any money for referring you here.) If you’re feeling brave, send a copy to the CEO of your company.