Professional Services, Fear and Answers to Life’s Big Questions – Top Books for 2013

by | Marketing Strategy

BooksIt seems like everyone is an “author” nowadays. Books are popping up everywhere as part of the content marketing fad. Most are nothing more that veiled sales pitches and .pdfs of Power Point decks.  Repackage an idea, pick a word or phrase and market the hell out of it (innovation, content marketing and story telling to name a few).

When I recently recommended a business book to a CMO friend of mine over lunch, he emphatically commented that he no longer reads business books. He thinks most are common sense diatribes that preach self-absorbed opinions of their authors. He prefers to read biographies and history.  I think he has a healthy, albeit cynical, perspective. I personally find inspiration and great ideas in all kinds of content (economics, biography, political science, history, self-improvement and spirituality are consistent genres) and believe it is this unique combination that helps me to “connect the dots” and form new ideas. Those ideas inform who I am and the way I move through life.

I love “talking books” with others and learning about books that have changed their perspectives or lives. So, I thought that I would start a conversation to hear about your recent reads. 

Following are a few of my Top Books for 2013. Some were “rereads” from long ago, some I wish I had read long ago and some were hot off the press.  As I told my friend, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” 

The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business– Not only is The Firm a “must read ”for anyone working in professional services, The Firm is a delightful read.  While covering the origin of today’s conventional business wisdom and introducing readers to the grandfathers of business consulting, the book also offers readers a deep appreciation for the corporate insecurity and groupthink of American business leaders. One idea espoused in the book: If you or someone you know has ever been “laid off,” you can probably thank McKinsey thinking for it. I highly recommend this thoroughly readable book.

Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition– Written by best-selling author and ADHD expert Edward Hallowell, M.D., Worry was a fascinating and enlightening read that provided incredible insights into understanding what makes humans tick. It helped me to worry less, take more risks and be more empathetic toward everyone I meet.  If you are one of the lucky people to be blessed with high self-confidence, you might choose another book. But if you’re like most people, then pick it up.

What Should I Do With My Life: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question- My entire life has been a search for “my calling”  (i.e. what should I do with my life?)  No coincidence that this book ended up on my list. Po Bronson flew all over the world to capture anecdotes from people on similar journeys.  Bronson brought each story to life in a relatable form and provided insights from his own journey to answer one of life’s greatest questions. My favorite quote from the book is, “A conventional ‘success’ story is one where, with each next, the protagonist has more money, more respect, and more possessions.  I would like to suggest an alternative ‘success’ story—one where with each next, the protagonist is closer to finding that spot where he’s no longer held back by his heart, and he explodes with talent, and his character blossoms and the gift he has to offer the world is apparent.” Powerful.

Never Eat Alone– Written by Keith Ferrazzi, former CMO of Deloitte, this is one of the best books I have read on building a network. I did not read this book when it first published because close friends of mine who worked at Deloitte described it as a narcissistic diatribe and not worth the time.  They were right on the first part. On the second part, I disagree; it is worth the time. After wading through the self-congratulation and name-dropping, I found the book excellent in providing practical advice and actionable ideas to build business. I would definitely recommend the book to people getting started in their careers and to people who feel their networks need developing.

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change– I heard Joseph Grinney, one of the six authors of Influencer, speak at the Global Leadership Summit. Grinney’s presentation was funny and enlightening.   He highlighted the six levers used to impact organizational change: 1.) Personal Motivation, 2.) Personal Ability, 3.) Social Motivation, 4.) Social Ability, 5.) Structural Motivation and 6.) Structural Ability.  I bought the book because I thought the ideas could be directly applied to marketing communication efforts. They are even more applicable to changing cultural and structural issues between sales and marketing. I have already begun applying the insights to our clients. The ideas even help me get out of bed a 5:30 a.m. in the dark and to go for a ride in the cold.

Creating Rainmakers– Ford Harding gave me this book several years ago when Gary Pines introduced us at Towers Perrin.  Rereading it this year demonstrated the timelessness of Harding’s ideas. If you have not read it, then move it to the top of your stack. It is full of actionable, “no BS” guidance on how to build client relationships and develop future “rainmakers.” I enjoyed it so much that I reached out to Ford to tell him again how much I appreciated the book.

Lead Generation for the Complex Sale– Before the latest “content” fad became out of control and marketing automation became a basic utility, Brian Carroll had his finger on the pulse of lead nurturing. This insightful and timeless book is a must-read for all professional services marketers.  Brian provides a fact-based approach to lead generation and sales and marketing integration. Make sure your sales and marketing teams read it together.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead– TED sensation and Global Leadership Summit presenter, Brene Brown, tackles the tough subjects of shame and vulnerability and shows us how to be courageous in spite of our shortcomings. As she did in her now famous video, Brown encourages us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to forget about our critics, to look beyond corporate mores, to take risks and to live greatly.  If you don’t have time for the book, watch her vulnerability video.  It will call you to authenticity—something the world desperately needs more of.

Waiting For Your Cat to Bark– Authors Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg outline how to understand the client buying cycle and how to use empirical data to target client personas. And while much of what’s covered has become conventional wisdom since the book’s publication, this title is still a must-read for marketers and business developers. (My friend Gary Slack, CEO of Slack and Co., deserves a shout out for giving me this book several years ago. I wish I had read it then. It would have saved me the effort of learning so much the hard way.)

Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway– In this classic, Susan Jeffers tells it like it is:  everyone feels fear.  The secret is in how we interpret that fear. Life is about growth, and growing requires living outside of our comfort zones. If we use fear as a warning sign to pull back, we have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to grow. If we feel the fear, appreciate it for what it is (i.e. being outside of our comfort zones) and then move through the fear, we grow.  Learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Icarus Deception– While I generally think I get what I need from Seth Godin’s blog posts, I occasionally read his books.  I find him thought-provoking and insightful. In this book, Godin uses the mythical story of Icarus to encourage his readers to “fly” higher than they currently are in work and the creation of their “art.” The book was timely for me because Godin calls out the stifling corporate culture that keeps people from doing their best art and encouraged me to demand and release more of my “art.” Be warned: if you are contemplating leaving your firm, this book may push you out of the nest.

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else– I first met Geoff Colvin when he spoke at an Andersen event many years ago.  He is incredibly articulate, insightful and fact-based.  Colvin delivers on all three in this instant classic about what it takes to perform at the highest level.  He takes examples from the sports and musical world, dissects the successes and applies the principles to the business world. If you want to perform at the highest level and build teams and organizations that perform as well, read this book. I have begun applying the principles to multiple areas of my life: work, cycling and parenting.

The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be- I am very wary of most “success” gurus and “law of attraction” thinkers. They always seem like over-the-top snake oil salesmen. BUT, I really liked this book.  Author Jack Canfield offered meaningful, actionable insights into overcoming obstacles, creating a vision and building a plan to achieve my life’s goals without going over the top.  I will reread this title for years to come, and I will buy each of my kids a copy of this book to take with them on their life journeys.

The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done– Peter Drucker is one of my “heros.” I love his genius, wit and humility.  In the Daily Drucker, I get all three on a daily basis to make me smarter, more focused and humbled. Every business executive should start his day with this book.

Like I said, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”  I would love to hear what books helped you grow and connect the dots, personally and professionally.  Leave a comment, send me an email or give me a call to talk.

Be prudent.

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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