Gift Ideas: Two Books Every Executive Should Read Plus One for Marketers

We are starting the final countdown toward Black Friday, the huge shopping day after Thanksgiving here in the States, and I thought I would do a series on gift ideas for different groups of people. After reading how Bill Gates praised Steve Jobs today, three important books written by tech insiders came to mind as natural gifts for that aspiring or actual CEO in your life. You could send it anonymously through interoffice mail, and given how sensitive some of these folks are, that might be one of the safer paths.


The first two books deal with a common weakness in most executives, particularly CEOs, and that is that presentation is often more important than content. Given this is something that Jobs, Fortune magazine's "CEO of the Decade," excels in, it shouldn't be a surprise that the books have Apple content. The last book is focused on marketing train wrecks and showcases the messes that can result when executives make really stupid decisions.


'The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs'

I'm often taken by how poorly executives do on stage. Most tend to read from their slides and many don't seem to have much to do with creating them in the first place. They have no sense for what is important and the organization of the material seems more suited to dealing with a sleep disorder than to delivering a message, motivating an audience or selling a product.


"The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs" by executive coach Carmine Gallo talks about how the CEO of the Decade (he got this award after the book was published) was able to create iconic products like the iPhone and iPod. Both products entered competitive markets and created massive revenues and profits for Apple, but they wouldn't have been successful had Jobs not presented them the way he did.


The key lessons from each section of the book are highlighted and summarized at the end so you can use it as a refresher. While this won't make anyone into Steve Jobs, it does help prioritize things, and it points out that taking the time to do a presentation right can pay huge dividends.


Simply put, Jobs tells stories around benefits that make you want to buy products -- and increased sales go to the core of successful companies. This book should be in every executive's library.


It's less than $13 on Amazon and if you have a Kindle, you can read it yourself for $10.


'True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society'

While you can certainly say Jobs understands that facts don't matter as much as presentation, it was actually the AP story suggesting Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" was largely fiction (and Palin's response) that reminded me of this book.


Using political references from history, author Farhad Manjoo in "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," showcases how little we depend on facts to make critical decisions and how easily we are misled. This book not only teaches how to avoid being misled, it points to the importance of the message and how the message can generally be more powerful than the product.


Granted, I'm recommending this book in the hope that the recipient executive will focus on not being misled, more than how to mislead others. Both lessons are detailed in its pages and, fortunately, the second lesson is much more subtle.


In the end, our jobs and companies depend on whether we and those we work for make well-thought-out decisions, and this book helps significantly with that process. It is also a handy book to give to that know-it-all in the office who constantly blathers about politics and things that come from biased Web sites. I doubt that person will read it, but you can then say, "Well, had you read the book I gave you, you would understand why you are both wrong and stupid." This book is around $17 and is not available on Kindle.

'In Search of Stupidity: 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters'

"In Search of Stupidity" by Merrill R. Chapman is more for the marketing executive, but it is full of examples that can be used in meetings when some MBA starts spouting off about his or her great marketing idea.


Under the Zen of Marketing, the book attacks many of the common beliefs surrounding Microsoft, generally defending the company, then drops into a discussion on how Microsoft really messed up during the Justice Department trial. I think this trial and Bill Gates' own testimony (also highlighted in the book) eventually put Gates on a self-imposed path to retirement. He looked stupid even in his own eyes, and it was life-changing.


Many of the examples are relatively old, but can be applied to current thinking, which is common -- intentionally crippling products to protect markets, failing to own your brand or product identity, responding inappropriately to threats or simply not thinking.


One fascinating chapter, because I lived through it, was how IBM wiped out most of the existing enterprise software industry with OS/2 and lost its software market leadership at the same time. This happened because it fundamentally didn't understand what was going on in the market and OS/2 was referred to as "IBM's Idiot Piper."


This book costs between $16 and $23; the Kindle version is $10.


Wrapping Up: Books as Gifts and Tools of Change

Books can make statements, so be careful giving them as gifts. Still, each of these books teaches a lesson that most need to learn. The common thread is that impressions are often more important than facts. We can use that lesson to our advantage or have it used against us. I'm a big fan of the former path, but I know a lot of career executives that seem to prefer the latter. Here is hoping there are fewer executives on that latter path in the future.

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