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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore

The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore: Three Instructive EssaysThe Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore: Three Instructive Essays by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this book up at Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge, MN, as part of Independent Bookstore Day. It's a short book but a good one. In this age of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores still thrive. Why is that?

The author, Ann Pratchett, owns Parnassus Books in Nashville. It consists of three essays about her experience. When the last independent bookstore, as well as Borders, in Nashville closed, she was approached about starting a new one. She was originally cool to the idea, but eventually she decided to go for it. As one person described her, she was like a chef who wanted to open a new restaurant. Mount Parnassus in Greek mythology is the home for poetry, music, and learning. In some traditions, it was also the home of the Muses. An appropriate name for a bookstore.

The bookstore went well, and is still going today. It got a big boost when the author was on The Colbert Report talking about her book. She describes her experiences with the bookstore, like employees, and dogs. She doesn't have a café, because she allows dogs to come into the store. (So does Scout & Morgan. They have two dogs on their logo.) There is also a list at the end of books she recommends. She encourages anyone who wants to open a bookstore to do so, provided you can get the money.

I like both types of bookstores. I will admit to getting books from Amazon that I can't get anywhere else. I also get a lot of Amazon gift cards. I will also admit to spending lots of time in Barnes & Noble. My first experience with Barnes & Noble was at Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Three floors of books, all available for me, provided I had the money. I was in heaven. And yet, I do like the independent bookstores like Scout & Morgan. It's easier to talk to people, especially the owners. It feels more relaxing. I can sit an enjoy a potential new purchase. There's a café next door, so it's easy to get a drink and relax. The other night, our local bookstore sponsored Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove, in Cambridge, MN. He came from Sweden to be with us. That took a lot of work, and was a good event. I will have a separate post on my blog later about that.

I also like the different attitudes on book signings. I've gone to Mall of America book signings. There, you stand in line with your book, which is usually a celebrity autobiography. You get your book signed, a picture with the celebrity, and then you go on. It's like an assembly line. At Scout & Morgan, and at the event last night, the author interacts with the audience, and gets to know them. As an author myself Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident(Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident, available on Amazon), I like the second type better, although I wouldn't mind being in the Rotunda of Mall of America with a huge line to sign books.

All in all, this is a good little book. It was just for independent booksellers, and just for the one day. It does make me appreciate them more. While I'm mentioning independent bookstores, I'd like to give a shoutout to some other independent bookstores I've been to over the years. Paperbacks & Pieces and Book Shelf in Winona, MN, and Book People in Sioux City, IA.

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Under New Management

Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as UsualUnder New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual by David Burkus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been on both sides of the management coin. I've been in management, and I've been managed. I have an idea of what works for me and what doesn't. In this book, David Burkus shows that many of the management practices that were developed in the early 20th century to manage line workers don't work today. Even some that have evolved over time need to change. He identifies 13 items that need to change. They are:
1. Outlaw Email
2. Put Customers Second
3. Lose the Standard Vacation Policy
4. Pay People to Quit
5. Make Salaries Transparent
6. Ban Noncompetes
7. Ditch Performance Appraisals
8. Hire as a Team
9. Write the Org Chart in Pencil
10. Close Open Offices
11. Take Sabbaticals
12. Fire the Managers
13. Celebrate Departures.

Some of these sound counterintuitive at first glance, but he makes the case, with examples of companies that have tried them, that they can actually work. Some of this is not new. For example, the idea of scrapping the standard vacation policy was explored in Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. They argued, as does David Burkus, that as long as the work is done accurately and on time, it shouldn't matter if you're at your desk for a certain time each day. There is some freshness to this book, though, from the use of real world examples. Some of them are modified from what he thinks. For example, the chapter on outlaw e-mail could be retitled outlaw internal e-mail. If a client is emailing you something important, you'd better be ready to take it. Space alone prohibits me from going into detail about every chapter.

One thing I wish the book had done more of is to show instances where the item in the chapter title was tried, and it didn't work. There is some of this, but there could be more. In the chapter on salaries, he discusses a company called SumAll, which has fixed, but transparent, salaries. You're assigned to a salary level, and there is apparently no negotiation. When I saw that, I thought of Ellen Pao, former CEO at Reddit. Ms Pao came to Reddit after losing a discrimination suit against her former employer, an investment firm. The jury returned the verdict in favor of the firm. Ms Pao then instituted a no negotiation policy for salaries at Reddit. This was your salary, take it or leave it. It was supposed to take the pressure off people who didn't feel comfortable negotiating, which some studies have shown many women are. Ms Pao may still have been reeling from her loss in court. At any rate, the policy was universally panned, not just at Reddit, but on other social media and the regular media. It probably led to her exit from Reddit. I believe the policy has since been rescinded. I'm not sure if salaries at Reddit were disclosed within the company or not. This would have been a good example for the book.

The author does emphasize flexibility. There is no one size fits all solution. For example, I'm a CPA who does taxes. The policy on vacations would have to be modified. January 1-April 15, no extended vacations other than medical or death in the family. The rest of the year, the schedule is much more flexible. That's what I like about this book. It doesn't attempt to impose a solution. it suggests a solution, and leaves it to the individual companies to implement it, realizing that it may not work for everyone. All in all, a good book.

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