Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World's Largest Derivatives Exchange

Some books jump out at you as something you have to read.  Others, like this one, sneak up on you.  Commodities trading and a corporate merger hardly sound like subjects that could keep most people awake, let alone hold their interest.  And yet... the book was interesting and engaging.

I have a weakness for books like this; books that take something that you don't know much about, and explain it in a way that's vivid and easy to understand, but not too dumbed down.

Zero Sum Game tracks the acquisition - officially labeled as a "merger" - of the Chicago Board of Trade, or "CBOT", by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or "Merc", which was finalized in the summer of 2007 by newly hired marketing executive Erika Olson, who had no idea for the wild ride she was in for when hired just before the acquisition commenced.

The book closely follows the action, and gives some background about many of the major players.  At times, given that I read the book in bits and pieces, I'd forget who someone was, as there are a lot of people mentioned, but the descriptions add a lot to the story in terms of making it human, rather than just a description of what the various companies did.

It's a pity we don't learn more about institutions and economics like those described here in school, as markets like these are so central to the economies of modern countries.

Would I recommend it?  If you're interested in reading about something different, certainly!

In an interesting footnote, one of the major players in the book, the ICE recently (end of 2013) concluded their purchase of the storied New York Stock Exchange.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Since this book is so related to what I do professionally over at LiberWriter, I wrote it up in the blog over there:

I thought it was pretty interesting, although you can probably pick up some of the same advice on the internet if you have the time to do the research yourself.  If you're a professional who could package up some of your knowledge and sell it, this book would easily pay for itself, though, as it's got lots of great advice on how to write and market a book that will help people with their jobs.

Monday, November 11, 2013

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Everyone is in sales.  Well, maybe not 'sales' sales, but pretty much all of us are involved in trying to convince other people to do things, if not actually buy products.

The book starts with this thesis, which makes intuitive sense.  The author then spends quite a few pages trying to sell us on... err... convince us that it's a fair assessment of the world.   We need to be on board with the idea that selling is important for the rest of the book to be worthwhile, but I pretty much knew that I was getting a book about sales from the get go, so I didn't really need much convincing.

In any event, from there the book picks up, and I found it to be an enjoyable read.  I like the fact that he cites a lot of other books and explains their relevance.

One of the critical points of the book is that a lot of power has moved from sellers to buyers - in the past, there was often "information asymmetry", meaning that one party (almost always the seller) knew a lot more about what was being sold than the buyer.  This is a case where knowledge is power, and buyers came off the worse for it, but sellers also gained a reputation for being somewhat sleazy.

These days, thanks mostly to the internet, if you're buying something, you can almost always do a lot of research and know as much as the seller, putting the two parties on a more even footing.

Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity are the keywords of the second part of the book, and are contrasted with the "Always Be Closing" mentality associated with sales in the past.
  • Attunement means the ability to be 'in tune' with the people you are trying to convince.   If you're receptive to their wants and needs, you'll be better placed to help them see your own point of view.  This isn't really a "touchy feely" skill, but the ability to think about what motivates the other person in a logical and rational way.  It also turns out that being very extroverted may not really be an advantage in terms of producing results, according to studies cited in the book.
  • Buoyancy means the ability to bounce back from setbacks.  If you're out there trying, you'll inevitably hear a lot of "no"s.  One cited technique is to practice questioning self-talk.  Rather than, "I'm the best, I can do it!", ask yourself "can I do it?".  It seems to produce better results, perhaps by stimulating thought about how you are going to accomplish what you set out to do.
"The more you explain bad events as temporary, specific and external, the more likely you are to persist even in the face of adversity."
  • Clarity is defined as "the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn't realize they had".  On other words, to clearly communicate how you can help them.
The third part of the book focuses on "what to do", and covers the pitch, improvisation, and how to really serve your customers (or those you're trying to influence): genuinely improving others lives.

The pitch section defines a few ideas for pitches, including one that struck me as less than convincing, the 'one word pitch'.  The idea being that you can simplify your pitch down to one word.  He conflates it with branding where some companies basically own a word in customers minds, like search (Google).  But that's going to be pretty much impossible for all but the largest of behemoth companies.

Improvisation is necessary in a world where scripted sales don't really work very well any more - you need to be able to listen to those you are trying to convince, rather than simply rattling off a list of points in your favor.

In any event, to draw things to a close, it's a pretty good book that also comes with some exercises to try out in order to help you think about what he's trying to impart.

Thanks to fellow MicroConf attendee Stephen Kellett for the recommendation.