Below is a selection of books and articles I’ve come across over the years that have helped my thinking about the action sports industry and business in general. Mostly, they’ve made me think about how companies, and managers, respond to changing business environments. They aren’t listed in any particular order.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail was written by Clayton M. Christensen and first published in 1997. The book is about how high tech companies have responded, or failed to respond, to disruptive technologies. The current edition has been updated but even if it hadn’t been, it would be well worth your time. Action sports/youth culture is not exactly a technology based industry. However, the discussion of organizational change and paralysis will strike a chord with you no matter what industry you’re in. The importance of taking risks, but not risks that bet the farm, is highlighted. And I find the idea that just because a market for a product can’t be identified and quantified doesn’t mean there isn’t a market intriguing. It’s also well backed up by examples.
The New Rules of Retail, by Robin Lewis and Michael Dart (2010), describes unequivocally how the traditional relationship between brands and retailers is breaking down and what’s replacing it. I’ve referred to the book in a couple of my articles. They talk about the imperatives of 1) providing an experience for the consumer that literally makes a neurological connection in their brain, 2) having preemptive distribution and 3) controlling your value chain. And, by the way, they note that operating really well is not an advantage- it’s just the bar you have to get over to even have the chance to compete. If what they want you to do is a bit intimidating, it’s also compelling. As usual, the bigger the challenge the greater the opportunity for those who rise to it. Their discussion of VF Industries may be of special interest to my readers.
John Mauldiin’s Endgame, published in 2011 is the easiest to read, most straight forward explanation of what’s going to happen, and is happening, as the world economy deleverages from its debt buildup I’ve seen. Get the book.
Published in 1997, so written before that, is The Fourth Turning; What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Here’s what authors William Strauss and Neil Howe say in their first chapter. "Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth." If you first think they are a couple of gypsy fortune tellers, their analysis of history will convince you otherwise. We have, on a regular basis gone through long cycles of Highs, Awakenings, Unraveling and Crisis. Our last crisis was the Great Depression and Second World War (though there doesn’t necessarily have to be a war) and we are due for another. Because that’s the way it happens as the generations roll along and interact with each other. Not to trivialize what they are saying, but if you, as a business person, can capture the market implications of the evolving social context, you might sell a bunch more. You need to read this one.
I’m in the middle of reading This Time is Different- Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. It was published late in 2009 and you can find it here. heir conclusion, of course, is that it isn’t different, and hardly ever is. They’ve been reasonable rigorous, so there’s a lot of data, charts, and explanation. But chapters 13-16 can be read on their own and will tell you all you need to know about our current economic and financial circumstances.
Tom Hayes’ Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business (2008) is an easy, interesting read that will make you think about the future of advertising and promotion. The key point I took away from it is that our attention is becoming a valuable commodity. Here’s a link to it.
The Black Swan- The Impact of the Highly Improbable came out in 2007. Talk about good timing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes compelling arguments that so called highly improbable events aren’t improbable- they are just hard to imagine. This is relevant to markets, business, and investment and is particularly fascinating to read after our financial meltdown. It’s not an easy read. This guy is really smart and uses about twice as many words as he needs, but it’s worth it. Here’s the link.
“Disruptive Change- When Trying Harder is Part of the Problem.” Harvard Business Review, May 2002. Interestingly enough, trying harder is a problem when the business environment changes because of the tendency to do more of the same thing you’ve always done. Typically, those things are not the right things to do anymore. As I’ve written, this corresponds to my own experience doing turnaround work. You can get a copy at the HBR site if you want it.
CHANGE- Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. By Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch (1974). These guys are academicians with an interest in how people perceive and solve problems. For somebody like me who’s done some work with financially troubled businesses, this is practically a bible. It’s only around 150 pages and doesn’t talk about a single business situation. But the insights it gives into why people behave the way they do in circumstances of stress and change are invaluable. You can get it here. Look, it’s still in print so it must offer some value.
Competitive Strategy- Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. By Michael E. Porter. First published in 1980, it’s been revised and is its 60th printing. The chapters on competitive strategy in emerging Industries, the transition to industry maturity, and competitive strategy in declining Industries still have something to offer. I think it’s safe to say that Professor Porter had never heard of action sports, but that makes his analysis all the more interesting to those of us who have been in the industry a while. I imagine you’ll recognize some of the trends and patterns he discusses. Take a look.
And if Porter doesn’t convince you that there’s nothing new under the sun in business cycles, read Edward Chancellor’s Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation. Published in 1999, it will convince you that fundamentally, the internet bubble or the housing bubble was no different from the South Sea schemes of the early 18th century. The statistical concept of regression to the mean rules- in financial markets or industries. What goes up must, indeed, eventually come down. Buy it here.
Kellogg on Integrated Marketing. Edited by Dawn Iacobucci and Bobby Calder. Published in 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This book was like a whack on the side of the head for me. Skip some of the chapters that go into extreme detail on some approaches to marketing and market research if you like. But when you read the chapters on how information how moved down the food chain, changing marketing and markets, you’ll say, like I did, “Hell, I knew all that- why didn’t I ever put it all together and do something about it?!”
Okay, here’s a really weird one. Bruce Catton, the noted Civil War historian, wrote a three volume centennial history of the Civil War. The second volume, called Terrible Swift Sword, was published in 1963. I’m kind of a Civil War nut, so I recommend all three volumes, but all I’d really like you to read is pages 308-321 on The Seven Days battle. If you think of Robert E. Lee as the entrepreneur who didn’t allow his preconceptions to limit his options and Union General in Chief McClellan as a CEO who was paralyzed by perception and fear, you have one of the best business stories I’ve ever read.
Relevance Lost- The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting. Written by H. Thomas Johnson and Robert S. Kaplan and published in 1987, it’s still relevant given all the creative corporate accounting we’re confronted with today.