November 10, 2004
News & Opinion: Looking for Inspiration
There are two new titles in the "Learned Lessons from Famous People" genre of business books.
The first is Lee & Grant: Profile in Leadership from the Battlefields of Virginia by Major Charles Bowery. Bowery draws heavily on the lives of these two Civil War generals. He weaves the lessons into the narrative and ends each chapter with a set of takeaways. I enjoyed Appendix C where the author gives instructions on how to organize a "staff ride" on the Virginian battlefields and walk the same route the soliders did during the important battles.
The second title is from the hardest working man in business books - Alan Alexrod. I have talk about him before and he is very familiar with this genre. He wrote titles like Patton on Leadership and Elizabeth I, CEO. His latest is Office Superman: Make Yourself Indispensable in the Workplace. There are 21 strategies from How to Please Perry White to Kareer Kryptonite. I am a comic book fan from childhood, so I was partial to the book from the start. The research Axelrod has done is outstanding. He has mined the history of Superman and pulled out some analogies. Early in the book, he talks about the Stretch Factor:
Just as the story of the source of Superman's powers evolved over time, so did the nature of those powers. When the Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), he couldn't fly, but could "leap 1/8th of a mile" and was capable of hurdling a "twenty story building". He was strong, but not unimaginably so, merely capable of raising "tremendous weights". Was he "faster than a speeding bullet"? No, but he was "faster than an express train". Most of us grew up thinking Superman wass invulnerable to everything except kryptonite, but in Action Comics #1 we are told that "nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin." Amazing durability, to be sure, but not invulnerable. Over the years, the creators of the Superman stories increasingly added to the super hero's powers. By the 1970's, Superman had penetrated to the core of the Sun without acquiring so much as a tan, he proved himself capable of flying thousands of times of the speed of light, and he even used his prodigious lung capacity to blow out a star as if it were a candle.
Most of us have become all too familiar with inflation, not just in the realm of economics, but in just about everything, including, especially, entertainment. Each new action-adventure flick ups the ante with bigger explosions, faster and more reckless car chases, and oceans of blood and gore where mere lakes had earlier sufficed. It is no different with the comics, but it is also true that Superman's powers grew in proportion to the challenges with which he was confronted. [p17]
Let me also say they did a great job on the book design of Office Superman. There are illustrations throughout the book. They have insets of the major characters from the Superman universe and how they have changed with the times.
If you want examples to learn from, here are two great suggestions.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.