Current Reading

by Dave Michels

I realized the current stack of books on my desk were ideal for a photo and blog post.  But before i get into the actual books, let my preface this post with two points:

I find I’m not so good at reading one book at a time any more. Of course, as I write that I see that I currently have 47 browser tabs open (not to mention six other programs). The Internet has clearly changed the way I work and think. For example, writing a post might require research or references. In the old days, that type of activity required a trip to the library. Now, instead of queuing those activities one just opens a tab. I like to think it is more efficient, but I’m not actually sure. Sometimes I open a tab, and forget why before I can use it.

I find that, without effort, I seemingly returned to printed books. I was an early adopter to the Kindle. I think I prefer fiction on the Kindle (or tablet), but I (evidently) prefer business/professional books the old fashioned way. I like to mark them up, share them, and I like the feel. Also, many of them have diagrams, pictures, or non textual data that doesn’t work well across the Kindle. I do use my Kindle quite a bit. I prefer the E-Ink display for reading over the tablet – actually carry both when traveling. I use the Kindle for fiction and a surprising amount of web content. When I come across a longer interesting post (commonly found at, I send them to my Kindle for later reading (sometimes I run into problems when the post is broken across several pages). I also like to use the Kindle in the hot tub. The quart size Zip Lock bag makes a good case. It works well, surprisingly even better than paper. Though I still have problems with my glasses fogging.

On to the books.

Business Model Generation. I bought this book immediately after hearing Steve Blank’s keynote at Twiliocon 2013. This is an example of a book that would not work well on a Kindle at all. The book takes would-be entrepreneurs through the process of building a business model. When Blank discussed the process, it became clear to me how so many startups could benefit from this. Too many come up with a great idea, and wonder why the world didn’t become a customer. A central theme of this book is what’s called the Business Model Canvas. The idea is to get the entrepreneur to fill-in or at least think about all the components of a business model such as key activities, key resources, customer relationships, channels, and more (9 sections in total). That’s a big step forward by itself, but the book also discusses in detail several business models and specific businesses. Larry Lisser and I were both impressed with Blank’s presentation, and have adopted many of these principles in our work with startups.  You can learn more about this book here

The Connected Company. This is one of the best books I’ve read on how social networks, UC, and collaboration is changing the workplace. The book is not written from a telecom/UC perspective, but gets many of the same points across that UC vendors are making with collaboration. This book talks about the need for connection – internally and externally with customers and partners. It covers many important shifts that are taking place such as the shift toward a service oriented culture. It also hits on Net Promoter Score and a concept I had not seen elsewhere called Podular organizations.

The book indirectly hits telecom in many ways. For example, the shift toward services means that our quality tools associated with mass production are no longer adequate.  Six Sigma and other quality controls are not optimal for experiences because the inputs inherently vary. This is clear with contact centers and one of my peeve’s that they are actually optimized to minimize or prevent contact. Customer service calls come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes with unique needs, yet most companies attempt to standardize these inputs into defined factory processes to optimize the transaction rather than the experience. Trying to force-fit customer interactions into standardized containers results with a poor experience.

Call center managers with a production or cost focus work to mitigate variation and reduce agent times. In fact, reducing or eliminating calls can be seen as a win. But thanks to self service improvements, customers that actually call usually have interesting needs. A more modern approach is to embrace customer interactions as an opportunity to differentiate and deliver excellent experiences. Too many organizations are focused on avoiding and minimizing actual interaction.

New Community Rules: Thanks to my experience with IDG/Avaya, I’ve new found respect for community management.Vibrant web communities are not accidents. I’ve been working with several organizations lately on improving their communities and it’s a blast. Some of it is formulaic, but each community is different. The only one I am at liberty to discuss is UCStrategies where I’ve been very active in developing the community since late last year. Site traffic is significantly up, and the best part is it is truly fun.

This book is a how to book for effective community management. It covers lots of important steps. Community management, blogging, and even Twitter are constantly changing. I find books like this helpful, but it’s also important to connect with others doing similar roles at other sites and various community management groups.

Startup Communities: This book is authored by Brad Feld, a local rock star celebrity venture capitalist. I really enjoy Brad. I follow him on Twitter and read his blog. He’s very active locally and I’ve heard him speak numerous times. I was very impressed that he recognized me and knew my name at a recent event, at least I think he did – I later realized I was wearing a name tag. Though one time Brad served me fries when he volunteered at a local restaurant. Brad’s done a lot for the local community. The book is about what he’s done for the local community presented as a blueprint for others to follow. Unfortunately, Brad’s already done it here, so I just enjoy the many references in the book to local events and organizations.

Interestingly, Brad, along with Dave Cohen, are behind TechStars. TechStars companies do the Business model canvas as part of their intensive program. I know this because I saw it in one of the Founder’s videos that covers selected TechStar companies. Dave Cohen is also an investor in Twilio which hired Blank. Small world stuff. Every year I send a note to Brad about the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect – so far no TechStars companies have applied. However, VerbalizeIt was just recognized at Larry Lisser’s Startup Camp.

Collaboration Imperative: This book is more of a curiosity. It provides great insight into the Cisco world. It does have some great content, but it’s buried behind “Wired”- like graphics and a lot of lightly filled pages. The book is very Cisco centric. Cisco gave the book to me, and I suspect gives it to a lot of folks. For some reason, it feels more like a PowerPoint than a book – maybe because it is divided into three parts People, Process, and Technology (I  remember this slide from the PPT Collaboration deck course it taught at Cisco). If the book were a little more generic, I’d recommend it to more people. As it is, I recommend it to the Cisco faithful.

The Collaborative Organization: Jacob Morgan and I both contribute to Jason does an excellent job of dealing with collaboration which is a tough subject.  Collaboration is a term that UC vendors co-opted as if it where their own. However, Jacob barely acknowledges the UC space and focuses more around “traditional” collaboration platforms (SharePoint, Tibbr, Atlassian, etc.), wikis, blogs, forums, file sharing solutions, etc. Personally, I think it was a mistake to exclude UC. However, it is common for people to put content/content management in the center of collaboration while UC folks put the conversation in the center. Both are important. UC fans will find value in Jacob’s book, but will also feel a bit invisible. I generally avoid “Collaboration,” and stick with the term “UC” because I hate it less. To me UC, social business, enterprise 2.0, the contact center, and CRM tools are all on a collision course. It won’t be pretty.