Markable: a book review

There is a sub-genre of business and leadership books which I call ‘business fiction.’ Books like Who Moved My Cheese?, The One-Minute Manager, The Five Disfunctions of a Team each use a thinly-veiled narrative as a parable to impart managerial advice. The goal is to present the books contents in an engaging, storied manner. Some of these books are better than others, but because their purpose is solely didactic, they all tend to break the first law of good fiction: show don’t tell. The result may be sound business advice, but it will never win a Pulitzer.

 9780801018831Remarkable: Maximizing Results Through Value Creation by Randy Ross and David Salyers is a business fiction. It tells much more than it shows. The central character, Dusty Harts, is not happy at work. He is an executive at a call center company which despite doing well on all the metrics, has a disengaged workforce. He takes his 1968 Ford Thunderbird into a Classic Car Care repair shop owned by Fred Walters. Dusty discovers that Fred is a Harvard MBA and a successful business man himself and begins to pick his brain about the ‘clutch’ situation at work–a moment which will determine how much people will engage. The rest of the the ‘narrative’ is mostly Fred and Dusty sitting in coffee shops and writing equations and diagrams on napkins about how to move a work force for egocentric value extraction to a we-centered value creation. This helps Dusty lead his company to become more engaged (and therefore more profitable), improves Dusty’s family life and makes him feel more fulfilled. Everyone lives happily ever after and in the closing chapter, [spoiler] Dusty is now the sage imparting wisdom to a young executive at his own Classic Car Care location.

This is thin fiction. The characters do not live and breath, they are mere mouthpieces for the principles  which Ross and Saylers desire to impart. But hey, that is my standing critique of the whole genre. What of the principles themselves? For the most part I think the advice imparted is sound. There are four maxims of value creation: (1) We are designed to create value in life, (2) Authentic positivity is the byproduct of creating true value, (3) to continuously create value, leverage your passion and strengths to solve problems and (4) ownership empowers people to take responsibility for creating value (181). Ross and Saylers approach also advocates bringing value to every endeavor by making relational deposits in people rather than seeking simply to ‘extract value’ and getting what we can out of people. They make a good case for reflective and thoughtful leadership (thinking about the whys and making the ‘superior decision’) instead of reactive leadership and business as usual. There are lots of concepts and ideas  worth underlining.

So I can suggest this book to leaders of companies and organizations. Not because it is riveting fiction, but because it may spark your thinking about the character of your leadership, and because the book is markable. You can mark it up. Maybe more than once. It is re-markable.  I give this book three stars

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Power Through Weakness (or Community, Rest & Mission): a book review

The Christian life is the empowered life.  In Christ we are set free to live life and face the challenges that come our way. But sometimes we feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles. Kevin Harney, author of Reckless Faith and the Organic Outreach books has written a month-long daily devotional exploring how God’s presence empowers believers. Each week of Empowered By His Presence explores a different God-given source of strength which reveal God’s empowering presence. These include:

  • Suffering, loss & pain.
  • Community
  • Sabbath and rest
  • Mission

The daily devotional entires profiles a character from the Bible which explores their experience of God. Each week has a reading on Paul and Jesus, but the rest of the entries take you across the Old and New Testaments. At the end of each section in the book are a daily reading plan (which parallels the daily devotionals, suggestions for prayer, personal reflection questions and action steps. There is a discussion guide at the back of the book, designed to accompany a small-group DVD also available from Baker Books.

I really liked this book for a several reasons. First, this is a book about God’s empowering presence, but it isn’t esoteric or strange. Harney starts with the experience of grief and loss in Job, the persecution of Paul, Hannah’s sorrow, Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Peter leaving his nets and Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  Each of these people were met by God, but they came to experience his power through loss, grief and weakness. This isn’t a book about the ‘power of God’ that never enters into human suffering. Rather Harney posits that we meet God there!

The other sections are similarly thoughtful. Community is a Christian buzzword, but Harney draws attention to the ways we mediate Christ to one another. The chapter on the four friends and the paralytic is pure gold (chapter seven). He has good stuff to say about Sabbath and Mission as well.

Second, I think the format is perfect for a small group. I am suggesting it for a small group study at my church and will  likely be ordering the DVD.

Third, I appreciate the breadth of Biblical people profiled. Harney isn’t stuck in the New Testament or Old but gives us a nice cross-section of the communion of saints.

Finally, I loved how solid this is. Harney has keen pastoral insights and is judicious in his reading of the Bible. I don’t remember any specific passages where I felt like he fudged it

I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for use in small groups. It may also be read profitably as a small group resource. ★★★★☆