Not talent, not even education

 Calvin CoolidgeNothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work make the difference. Calvin Coolidge

Check out these dead CEOs and how they operated

War heroes, long after they pass on, live on in the movies. The life and exploits of sports heroes are retold in books. Sixty years after his death, we still know Babe Ruth.

Stars of the business world may be less well-remembered, but their daring feats qualify them as heroes just the same. Dead CEOs still have a lot to teach. In New Ideas From Dead CEOs, author Todd G. Buchholtz dramatically brings their business stories back to us.

Take A.P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America. He cared so much for his customers that he reopened his bank four days after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It was a Sunday. Giannini went down to the wharf, put a plank across two wooden barrels and declared himself open for business.

Some of Buchholz’s heroes started their empires from scratch. Walt Disney first supported himself by taking baby pictures. His career got a boost when he received $500 for a film on dental hygiene.

Sam Walton wasn’t shy about scoping out the competition. At one point, he sneaked around competitor’s stores and looked under the display racks to check inventory. Walton was a proud skinflint. He was so tight with a dollar that he once shared a hotel room with eight staffers. Those were the early days. By the time he became a retailing legend, he only shared his room with one staff member.

Book reviewer Paul Carroll says the author recounts fascinating stories of early beginnings of mega businessmen, showing how his subjects transformed business.

In addition to the dramas of Wal-Mart and Disney, Buchholz tells the adventures of Tom Watson Sr. and Tom Watson Jr. of IBM, Mary Kay Ash and Estee Lauder, David Sarnoff of RCA, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s, and Akio Morita, founder of Sony.

New Ideas From Dead CEOs by Todd G. Buchholz, Collins, 300 pages, $26.95

How unknown and improbable events shape our history

Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls his new book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. (It was the discovery of one black swan that invalidated the theory that all swans are white.) His work continues the theme of his previous book Fooled by Randomness, which is about the role chance plays in life.

It’s not just forecasters who take a chance on predicting the future, however. Each of us does it every time we make an insurance payment or fasten our seat belts. But Taleb says improbable events are inevitable.

The Black Swan is symbolic of the dramatic, earth-shaking events that shape the course of history. He cites such events as September 11, World War I, and the Wall Street crash of 1987 as demonstrations that the world is dominated by the extreme, and the improbable. These events have massive impact. Taleb says, “History does not crawl, it jumps.”

Reviewer Chris Anderson calls the book “a delightful romp through history, economics, and the frailties of human nature.” He quotes Francis Bacon who 400 years ago warned that our minds are wired to deceive us.

Taleb says we spend our lives engaged in small talk, focusing on the known while ignoring the possibility of events that could change our lives. A mathematician turned philosopher, he contends that we really have no idea why stock markets go up or down on any given day, and whatever reason we give is sure to be grossly simplified, if not flat out wrong.

He says our love for simplistic explanations blinds us into thinking we understand how things work. He recommends looking for ways to profit from serendipitous developments (good Black Swans), while at the same time preparing broadly for disaster.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 400 pages.

How excellent calls made companies successful

Book Review
Now you can be an insider. In a couple of hours, you can know the facts about how great leaders  turned troubled companies around and led them to success.
Sometimes you will be surprised, sometimes impressed, and at other times, you’ll think their decisions were exactly what you would have made yourself.         In their new book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis give new insight into the art of making great decisions. They don’t come by accident, and they’re not isolated events. Rather, they come as part of a process including the present situation and how it should evolve in the near and distant future.
Both Tichy and Bennis are prolific authors who have many business and leadership books to their credit. This one could be their best. They tell what steps to take when the stakes are high, information is limited, and the right call is far from obvious. They say leaders add most of their value by the quality of their judgments. Every other aspect of leadership is secondary.
Many people assume that making good judgments is an inborn trait. Tichy and Bennis show that it’s a skill that can be developed and refined over time, especially when nurtured by an organization.
The authors have spent many years studying decision-making and advising CEOs of major corporations.
They conclude that there are three judgment domains. The first is people, the domain with most potential for good or ill. The right people must be chosen.
The second domain is strategy. When the current road isn’t leading to success, the leader must find a new path.
The third is crisis. Disastrous consequences of bad decisions come quickly. A new plan must be forthcoming including a great decision.

Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, Portfolio Hardcover, 288 pages,

Alan Greenspan and the ‘extraordinary half-generation’

He had great credentials when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to be chief of the Federal Reserve in 1987. Just 69 days into Alan Geenspan’s term, however, the Dow dropped by 508 points and 22 percent (if the stock market average dropped 22 percent today, the Dow would lose about 3,000 points). The financial system was close to a financial panic, but that didn’t happen, not then and not during his five terms as Fed chairman.

In his book The Age of Turbulence, Greenspan says the effect of 9/11 was far different. Not much happened at all. He knew then that the world of a global capitalist economy is more resilient and fast-changing than it was in 1987.

Previous to his tenure, it was assumed that an unemployment rate below 6 percent would trigger inflation. Greenspan believed the New Economy would prevent that. In 1995 and 1996, he convinced the Federal Open Market Committee to leave interest rates low in spite of falling unemployment. He was right. The unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in the 1990s without causing inflation.

Some economists blame the post 9/11 interest rate cuts for cheap money that wound up in the real estate market. Greenspan says the blame lies less with the Fed and more with investors’ demand for high-yielding debt like subprime mortgage bonds.

His 531-page book provides glimpses of his life, including several less well-known aspects. Greenspan started playing the clarinet at age 12 and later studied at Julliard School of Music. He played professionally in the Henry Jerome band in 1944 before deciding on a career in economics. In 1948, he graduated summa cum laude from New York University and later earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. He co-founded Townsend-Greenspan & Co., an economic consulting firm. In 1974, President Ford named him chairman of Committee on Social Security Reform.

The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan, Penguin Press, 531 pages, $35.

Best-loved Christmas stories bring seasonal fun

This Christmas you have a variety of holiday books to choose from and all are certain to bring a little Christmas joy to you or that tyke in your life who likes a good bedtime story.

Julia Livshin collected 16 classic tales to include in her book, Classic Christmas Stories: Sixteen Timeless Yuletide Tales. The stories include well-known and loved tales such as O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” And you could be surprised to discover a Christmas story by Jack London. Others include those of celebrated authors who you may never have associated with Christmas, such as stories by Frank Stockton, Mary Agnes Tincker, Robert Grant, Edward Eggleston, Sara Orne Jewett, and Bret Harte. The tales depict people in various social settings, from farm to city.

Another entry into the genre is The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories, compiled by Iam Whybrow. Here you will find stories from the German, French, English, and Norse traditions by writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, The Brothers Grimm, and Kenneth Grahame. This book is great for children with its colorful illustrations and perfect for a story with hot chocolate before bed.

For a longer story to enjoy with your kids throughout the Christmas season, try Mary and Carol Higgins Clark’s He Sees You When You’re Sleeping. This book, new in 2001, is about Sterling Brooks, a heavenly wannabe, who must do something nice for someone before he can get into heaven.

Classic Christmas Stories: Sixteen Timeless Yuletide Tales by Julia Livshin, 400 pages, Lyons Press, $9.95.

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories, Iam Whybrow, 144 pages, Kingfisher, $19.95.

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, Carol and Mary Higgins Clark, 208 pages, Scribner, 2001, $7.99

Trust your gut, value your intuition

Part of the research behind Malcolm Gladwell’s remarkable best-seller, Blink, was done by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Now, Gerd Gigerenzer provides an engaging explanation of the science behind it in his new book, Gut Feelings.

Gigerenzer illustrates how the key concept centers on rules of thumb and how such rules serve us well in the analytical process. He explains why rules of thumb and intuition are such powerful decision-making tools.

As director of the Max Planck Institute, the author draws on nearly a decade of research to show how we have derived rules and intuition from our environment and experiences. He says they are the result of unconscious processes. Their value, in part, comes because they take into account only the most useful bits of information. They don’t attempt to evaluate all possible factors.

Gigerenzer notes that gut feelings correspond to neural processes that have evolved over thousands of years, and the decisions they give rise to are usually sound. Without them, we would drown in a sea of information. He also argues that hunches and facts should be equally valid reasons for a search warrant.

Sometimes, the answer to a complex problem can be reduced to one easily recognizable factor. Unconscious rules often help us decide who to marry, which stock to choose, or the answer to a million-dollar game show question.

Note that gut feelings in some areas should be examined further. These areas may include trusting a doctor without taking into account fear of a malpractice suit. It is possible to learn how to spot those situations and how to hone our intuition. Sometimes, however, the learning is in the school of hard knocks.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer, Viking Adult, $25.95.

What the world would be like without people?

Just 200 years ago man saw himself as an agent of improvement on the earth, making it bloom and grow.

But, today, a flurry of new books suggest that man sees himself as the earth’s problem, not the solution.

In this latest entry into the human apocalypse genre, journalist Alan Weisman asks the question: What would happen to the earth, if we were suddenly gone?

Weisman doesn’t bother much with the issue of how man disappears, his book, The World Without Us, focuses mainly on what would happen next. It is a combination of science and guesswork, offered up in readable vignettes, concluding that remnants of human works would stay long after the humans are gone, but that plants and animals would thrive.

Weisman’s descriptions of how buildings and bridges would decay and cities implode are the most compelling aspect of the book, says Business Week reviewer Adam Aston.

In Manhattan, for example, pumps that keep the subways dry and sewers from clogging would shut down and groundwater would quickly fill the subterranean spaces. In time, some of the island’s buried streams would resurface, accelerating the process of rust and rot.

Pond-filled craters from collapsed buildings would hydrate raccoons, feral cats, amphibians, and birds. They would eventually be joined by bears, beavers, wolves, and escaped animals from local zoos.

Thousands of years to come, visitors from other planets could still find ancient stone statues of the Greeks and remnants of modern suspension bridges. Floating in the Pacific, would be a vast continental size island of plastic bags.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 325 pages, $24.95