Book Review: Introduction To Personal Branding – Mel Carson

Over the last few months, I've also been reading a number of branding-related books. One that caught my eye was Introduction To Personal Branding: Ten Steps Toward A New Professional You by Mel Carson.

Part of the reason I looked into it was that Mel was an evangelist at Microsoft and as most would know, I spend a lot of time dealing with Microsoft in various ways.

It was also interesting as it's a low cost book that Mel has published using CreateSpace and I'd often wondered about using that so I thought I'd check the outcome of that as well. Finally, it's a short book. Listening to it on Audible would probably only take an hour or two.

Mel defines personal branding as the practice of defining a professional purpose, and then being able to explain that to a target audience through digital media and social channels. He also talks about how having the profile in place is important if you want to get the most out of in-person events like conferences.

I did like the way he focused on defining how you see your role, and then honing right in on making sure that all your touch-points really support that. He's keen to see everything else gone. That one's a touchy subject as I often see people complaining that a well-known figure in one area, is posting comments about another area (eg: politics). The defence to that is normally "that I'm a real person and a whole person".

While much of the content that he covers would be familiar to anyone who's been building a brand already, there are always good solid and timely reminders, many of which I've taken to heart myself.

If you are just starting out with building your personal brand, you could do worse than spending an hour or two hearing what Mel has to offer.

Greg's rating: 7 out of 10



Book Review: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff – Richard Carlson

I've been going through a number of fairly famous books or ones that have spawned their own industry. One of those was Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson.

This one intrigued me as there are now so many follow up versions. There's a "for teens", "for men", "at work", etc. etc. etc. along with ancillary items like workbooks. So I presumed there must have been something to it.

Carlson has some great messages in the book. Clearly it's possible to have your life overcrowded with things that, in the end, don't really matter, and I do like the way he cut through to the essence of things. Althought, I think Greg McKeown's book Essentialism that I reviewed earlier did that better.

His thoughts on listening were nicely put: " Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It's being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond". That's one that it's really easy to mess up on.

This is another key insight: "We tend to believe that if we were somewhere else, on vacation, with another partner, in a different career, a different home, a different circumstance – somehow we would be happier and more content. We wouldn't!"

I particularly liked the way he talked about imagining your own funeral. I've heard that from other writers before but he put it all quite well by adding the urgency of a timeframe: "Imagining yourself at your own funeral allows you to look back at your life while you still have the chance to make some important changes".

I can't imagine that I'd want to get the workbook or any of the other books in the series, but I can see why people do seem to like this one.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10


Book Review: A Higher Loyalty – James Comey

I don't tend to read all that many books on US politics but I had heard interesting things about A Higher Loyalty – Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey.

I was especially interested to hear this one on Audible, given the author was also the narrator. I really wanted to hear him explain his view on the situation.

Generally, I'd avoid a book like this because I was assuming it would just be a self-apologetic or self-aggrandizing account of recent events. What I found though was very, very different.

I was genuinely surprised by how compelling I found the book to be.

Most of the book wasn't about the current Trump situation, etc. It was about his background, the New York mafia, and a lot of information about earlier investigations in the FBI.

I found the discussion around Martha Stewart particularly interesting. It seems that many times when people are brought in for questioning, that if they had just told the truth, the outcome for them might have been quite minor, but lying in the interviews is where things start to go very, very wrong for them.

I've heard a lot of people who support the current US president maligning Comey but I was left wondering that if they'd read this book (or listened to it), if they'd have either moderated or changed views.

US politics seems irredeemably polarized but regardless of your political leaning, given the background coverage in this book, and the timeliness of its later content, I'd suggest that it's worth your while reading or listening to it, before forming any further opinion on it or him.

What can I say? I found it fascinating and I wasn't expecting to.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10


Book Review: Hit Refresh – Satya Nadella

When I first heard that Satya Nadella had a book out, I was somewhat surprised as at the time, he had just taken over running Microsoft. Usually you don't see books from CEOs until they've been in the role for quite a while and have become philosophical about things.

But given the impact I could see he would have, I was fascinated to read his book Hit Refresh.

It was actually quite a bit more than I expected. I really enjoyed the tales of his life and how it led up to his current role.

He shared a great deal about his family situation, and you can see that he's really been through some hard times, and you can also see a love of his family shining through.

On any measure, Microsoft is a far superior company today than when we took the reins. I think people forget just how grim many things were looking at the time.

It's really interesting now to see Microsoft being seen as such an innovator, compared to say Apple. The jokes about Apple's biggest contributions lately being about removing headphone sockets off phones are only partially in jest. By comparison, they seem to have lost their mojo.

If you ever wonder if some of these CEOs are worth what they get paid, you only need to compare Microsoft today with Apple to get a idea of the impact that the right one can have.

What can I say? I really enjoyed the book.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: Blockchain – by Samuel Rees

Another book I've read recently while sitting on a few planes is Blockchain – by Samuel Rees.

I've seen some big claims in the titles of books but this one had me intrigued:

The Ultimate Beginner Through Advanced Guide on Everything You Need to Know About Investing in Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin, Ethereum and the Future of Finance

That's quite a claim. I was really hoping this book would provide a great amount of detail given it's 'beginner through advanced' guide claim.

That's not what I found though. While it might be a useful book if you'd never learned anything at all about Blockchain, I thought the overall discussion was pretty shallow and there was a whole lot of "gee whiz how amazing is this" types of messaging that I really didn't enjoy.

I did persevere to the end though, as I was hoping there was more coming. What I did find was a bunch of info on the author's views on investing in cryptocurrencies. While he's careful to avoid straight-out telling you to invest, the tone is certainly that you should do so.

While Blockchain as a technology is still a strong option, when I read the book, I'd have to say I wasn't in love with the idea of investing in cryptocurrencies. Given how the majority have now tumbled and/or become extinct, and the way that even Bitcoin and Ethereum have plummeted lately, I'm glad I thought that way.

Greg's rating: 4 out of 10

Book Review: Now I Know – Dan Lewis

One book that a number of my friends suggested that I read is:

Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World's Most Interesting Facts – by Dan Lewis

I wasn't sure what to make of this book as it just seemed to be a large collection of facts that Dan thought were interesting. Given I love trivia, I thought I'd try it.

Dan started an email list called "Now I know" back in 2010 with a handful of subscribers and grew that to over a hundred thousand. These are basically the topics that ended up being some of the most interesting.

I actually quite enjoyed the book. Some of the early topics captured my attention immediately. For example:

  • Where did the ampersand get its name from?
  • What actually happened to the flags on the moon?
  • Did Germany actually take over a Canadian city during the second world war?
  • Why did the UK intentionally plant a body to wash up on the shores of Spain in the second world war?

Anyone who loves a bit of trivia will get a kick out of something in this book. After each fact is discussed, Dan then has a bonus fact that's associated with the main fact. Some of those were quite fascinating.

The only downside I found with this book, as with many US books, is that there is a heavy US balance to the history and facts included. I'm not sure that the rest of the world has quite the fascination with the US Civil War, etc. that those in the US do.

I'd recommend this book but my rating depends upon where you live.

Greg's rating (if you live in the USA): 7 out of 10

Greg's rating (if you live outside the USA): 6 out of 10

Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, so I was really looking forward to reading or listening (via Audible) to his book Astrophysics for People in  Hurry.

It's always a bit of a tall order to try to cover something like Astrophysics in a short book. The title reminded of silly book titles like "Applied Multivariate Analysis and Calculus for non-Mathematicians".

But I loved this book.

Neil has very carefully chosen many interesting aspects of the world and how we come to be here, and what we do and don't know but the thing I enjoy most is his unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. You can just tell how much he loves this material and how keen he is to share it with you.

I've read a number of books on these topics in the past but still found many aspects that I either hadn't encountered before or where Neil provided a different view of the topic.

The book covers some tough territory but I think he's done a great job of keeping the treatment of it light enough to avoid losing the majority of his audience.

Recommended !

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Another book that I've been listing to lately on Audible is Greg McKeown's Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

This was a very timely book for me. I find it very easy to get endlessly bogged down in minutia, rather than just always focusing on the big picture of what I'm doing. It's really easy to do that if you have a great desire to get things perfect or close to perfect. But that's not what you should be aiming for.

What I particularly liked about this book is that Greg didn't just talk about the problem. He had a large number of examples of situations and just how you should deal with them.

In particular, I loved the section on how to say No.

I found the book to be practical and useful, and now I just need to take a long hard look at everything I do, to see how they fit into what I really need to get done.

If you find yourself super-busy with trivia, or just don't know how to politely say no to endless requests without offending people, you might find this book pretty useful.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Book Review: Building a Story Brand – Donald Miller

I've been reading and/or listening to a lot of books again lately and one that I didn't have high expectations for, but ended up really liking was Donald Miller's Building a Story Brand.

If you are a business owner, I'd suggest listening to it or reading it. It takes a really refreshing approach of what he calls using a story brand framework.

When you need to tell someone what your business does, how do you describe that?

Donald points out that good movies that hold people's interest pretty much all follow a tried and true pattern. He's distilled that pattern and gives you a number of steps to building a memorable story for your business.

This book gets you to reassess almost every part of your marketing messages, and makes you think through how you would present your company almost as the hero of a story. It really drills into how to clarify your message.

He clearly describes what you need to consider for each part of creating that story. If you want to use them, he's got online resources that you can use to provide the structure that you might need to work through the framework.

As I listened to him describing common mistakes, I could immediately think of where I had made them or where others that I deal with have made them.

I have to say I was surprised how much I liked this, and now realize just how much work I need to do to implement it, yet I'm excited to try.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10