Top SMUG Book Recommendations

While we have a SMUG book store that I plan to reorganize and upgrade, I wanted to take a moment to highlight three books that most professionals thinking about applying social media will find particularly helpful.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen, is my absolute first recommendation, particularly if you just don’t think you have the time or energy to fit another thing, social media, into your already overcommitted life. This blog started out as a way for me to learn about blogging, and Getting Things Done (or GTD) was a key element of my posts for the first year or so. Just type “GTD” in the search box at right and you’ll see several of those posts. A good way to get an intro to GTD, before you buy the book.

On a similar topic, I recommend The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, particularly for his observations relating to email and meetings. He’s snarky bordering on sarcastic and I don’t buy into his “new rich” goals for life, but he has some excellent and immensely practical observations on how to get the most out of your work time.

Finally, on a more theoretical note, I offer Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. This book won’t help you swim through the torrents of email and other commitments, but it will give you perspective on how and why it makes economic sense for services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to be free to users. And it may help stimulate your thinking about you work or business, and how you can incorporate free into your business model.

I’ve reviewed each of these books in more detail here on SMUG, so look in the book review category for background. If you click the affiliate links above and buy the books, SMUG would get a dollar or two. But if you have an account, you can get this last book for free. The other two also are available on, which leads to no SMUG kickback. It doesn’t matter to me…get them however you would like, but I really think you’ll find these books helpful.

A Twitter Quote That Crushes It!

I’m listening to the audio version of Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, and Gary just used one of the best, most direct lines about Twitter’s value I’ve heard recently:

If you’re not using Twitter because you’re in the camp that thinks it’s stupid, you’re going to lose. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid. It’s free communication, and there’s a crapload of users.

If you have sensibilities about salty language, this book may cause hypertension (figuratively speaking). He’s got some solid insights, though, backed by his experience of having applied social media profitably.

I’ll probably do a full review when I’m done, but couldn’t resist sharing this quote. So far, it seems like his book might be a good introductory text in “Why you should enroll in SMUG!”

Gary has some good examples of how social media (Twitter in particular) can help you build your personal or business brand. I think SMUG can give step-by-step help for people Gary has inspired to get into social media, but who need some how-to handholding.

SMUG Textbook: What the Dog Saw

Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer, which is why he has his own section among the SMUG textbooks. His latest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, is unlike the others I’ve reviewed in that it’s not “about” a single topic. It’s rather a compilation of his previously published columns in The New Yorker.

I listened to What the Dog Saw over the Thanksgiving weekend, and here are a few snippets of his provocative thinking:

It’s almost impossible to predict which college quarterbacks will make it in the NFL because there is nothing “like” being an NFL quarterback. The defensive players are so much faster in the NFL, and therefore the offensive schemes must be so different, that success in college isn’t a good predictor of pro prowess. A college star can be a complete bust. This, Gladwell says, is “The Quarterback problem.”

There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.

Thus, Gladwell observes, advanced teaching certificates (or Master’s degrees) don’t correlate at all with student outcomes. And yet, there is enormous variability in teacher performance: the best teachers can get through a year and a half of content in one year, while those at the bottom end of the curve only cover a half-year’s worth of material. Gladwell suggests that the reason why “book smarts” don’t guarantee good outcomes is that there’s nothing “like” being a teacher. And he has some interesting ideas for how teacher hiring and compensation could be changed if we were really serious about striving for excellence in our education system.

Among Gladwell’s strengths is that he questions commonly accepted truisms and brings research data to bear on the issues. In another of the essays, he looks at proponents of the so-called “War for Talent” and asks, “Are smart people overrated?

The management of Enron, in other words, did exactly what the consultants at McKinsey said that companies ought to do in order to succeed in the modern economy. It hired and rewarded the very best and the very brightest—and it is now in bankruptcy. The reasons for its collapse are complex, needless to say. But what if Enron failed not in spite of its talent mind-set but because of it? What if smart people are overrated?

The broader failing of McKinsey and its acolytes at Enron is their assumption that an organization’s intelligence is simply a function of the intelligence of its employees. They believe in stars, because they don’t believe in systems. In a way, that’s understandable, because our lives are so obviously enriched by individual brilliance. Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coördinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.

I would just add from personal experience that I work in just such an organization, at Mayo Clinic. Don’t get me wrong: we have a lot of really smart people working at Mayo. But it’s the way we work together in teams, and the systems that enable us to do so, that set Mayo apart. As Gladwell says, the system is the star.

In other essays, Gladwell examines FBI profiling, the Popeil family of pitchmen, why Grey Poupon mustard was able to make inroads into the French’s mustard market while Heinz continues to dominate ketchup, and several other interesting issues. You can read much of Gladwell’s New Yorker archive here (including the one Seth Godin and I disagree with), but I strongly suggest you go ahead and buy the book. It will be one of the best investments you’ll make in improving your critical thinking skills.


SMUG Textbooks

Despite the decidedly social media nature of SMUG (“social media” is part of our name, after all), I’m still a big believer in books. They enable authors to make an extended argument and deal with a topic in more depth than the blog format allows.

I’ve written several book reviews here on SMUG, but it’s time for me to catch up, based on several more I’ve read or listened to via And I thought it would be helpful to develop a more comprehensive list of books that receive the SMUG Seal of Approval. As soon as I’ve finished adding related reviews and links to this post, I will be using it as the basis for a remodeled SMUG Bookstore.

Of course, everything about SMUG is voluntary, and tuition is free, so I can’t really say these are “required reading” for SMUGgles. As I get the reviews done, I will add links to the list of SMUG textbooks below. And if you have recommendations of books I’ve missed that you think would be helpful, please add them in the comments.

Personal Productivity

Social Media Theory and Philosophy

Business and Innovation

  • The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen
  • The Innovator’s Solution, by Clayton Christensen
  • Our Iceberg is Melting, by John Kotter
  • Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni
  • Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson. You can download this for free if you have an account.
  • Seeing What’s Next, by Clayton Christensen
  • Rules to Break and Laws to Follow, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers
  • The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki
  • Selling the Dream, by Guy Kawasaki

The Gladwell Grouping

Malcolm Gladwell’s books defy easy categorization, but he has a wonderful writing style and has a thought-provoking approach to all sorts of topics. If he wrote it, you should read it.

The Seth Section

Like Gladwell, Seth Godin deserves a section of his own. These are all somewhat related to marketing, particularly as it is understood as designing delivery of your products or services in a way that enhances customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth.

  • Tribes, by Seth Godin
  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin
  • Free Prize Inside, by Seth Godin
  • Meatball Sundae, by Seth Godin
  • The Dip, by Seth Godin
  • Small is the New Big, by Seth Godin

SMUG Textbook: The Innovator’s Dilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christensen.

Clayton Christensen is amazing. I got to hear him speak in person at our Mayo Clinic Transform symposium in September, but I was a fan long before that. In The Innovator’s Dilemma he lays the groundwork for a way of understanding disruptive innovation and why successful incumbent businesses and market leaders are so bad at adopting disruptive technologies.

It’s not because they’re stupid, lazy or unwilling to take risks. Christensen argues that they’re simply making decisions in keeping with sound management practices, and focusing on their most profitable lines of business.

Here’s my simplified version of the product progression Christensen describes. I will illustrate it using video cameras as the example.

  1. Incumbents develop products that are “too good” for most customers. In the case of tape-based video cameras, companies like Sony continually add new features to distinguish their products from those of competitors and to keep from having to cut prices to compete. So they improve quality with Carl Zeiss® lenses, or add night vision infrared capabilities, or 60x optical zoom, or other features that are important to the most demanding customers.
  2. Disruptive technologies arise that are much lower in quality but also much cheaper. In the video camera examples, the disruptive innovation was a camera that uses a Flash memory card instead of a tape. This “not good enough” product didn’t meet the needs of Sony’s most demanding customers, but it did make video recording available to many people who previously couldn’t afford it. Instead of chasing the low end, incumbents like Sony reasonably chose to focus on their most profitable market segment.
  3. Low-end competitors improve their product to move “up market.” Pure Digital, maker of the Flip video camera, continued to improve quality and convenience, meeting the needs of an increasing portion of the market at a much lower price. By the time the incumbents like Sony respond, they’ve lost their market leadership position. The Flip is now the most popular video camera in the U.S., and it is even available in HD for $200 or less.

This is a simplified overview, so you should read the book for a fuller explanation. But It’s amazing when you see how this same model has played itself out in countless other industries.

The Innovator’s Dilemma sets the stage for Christensen’s other books, including The Innovator’s Solution, Seeing What’s Next and The Innovator’s Prescription. I recommend all of them as SMUG Textbooks, and hope to review them here in the future.