Books: The Starbucks Experience : 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary

For some reason, if there’s a business book related to Starbucks, I just have to pick it up and usually wind up going through it as quickly as one of my favorite mocha’s.

This week I ran across The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary by Joseph Michelli. This book is the result of an 18 month study of what makes Starbucks work by the author.

Starbucks has been one of those companies that completely fascinates me. From everything written about them, they are run a lot differently than most companies one reads about. Their commitment to their customers, employees, and communities in which they reside is really unparalleled in the business world and I am constantly wondering how they make it work.

This book gives you some insight. In it, Michelli outlines the 5 principles that the Starbucks leadership team instills in its “partners” through tons of training and consistent modeling of behaviors by senior management.

  1. Make It Your Own – Starbucks goes to great lengths to educate their employees on their products. They also allow their employees (or “partners” as their called) to do whatever it takes to ensure a positive experience by the customer of the company. Each employee is encouraged to take action as if the company were his own.
  2. Everything Matters – Starbucks employees are trained to pay attention to the smallest details. Within this principle the author makes a distinction between “above deck” and “below deck” activities. The “below-deck” activities are those which the customer does not see. Great care is taken at Starbucks to pay attention to the “below-deck” activities. Traditional business find it “OK” to cut corners on below-deck activities to cut costs. Starbucks views these activities as just as important as customer facing ones. It is understood at Starbucks that in order to deliver quality, you have to deliver it at all levels of the business. Any compromises can relax “quality awareness” throughout the organization.
  3. Surprise and Delight – Cote actually addressed this principle fairly well in a recent posting where he talks about how companies can “unexpectedly delight him” by doing things he wouldn’t expect but are useful to him, the customer (see the “Making My Life Easier” section). At Starbucks, one of the primary principles the company is built on is cultivating this ability to delight customers and go beyond their expectations. The book gives some really good examples of this type of behavior.
  4. Embrace Resistance – This principle is all about accepting feedback, both positive and negative – and using the negative feedback to feed into the business to find lessons to improve. The company finds all feedback important. A recent example of this is its response to Oxfam America and its efforts to get Starbucks to use its leverage to stand up for the Ethopian Coffee Farmers. Rather than ignore the feedback, Starbucks responded – constructively and calmly, explaining its position on the issue. Accepting and responding to feedback is built into the core principles of the company.
  5. Leave Your Mark – The final Starbucks principle is built around being involved and contributing to the communities in which it resides. Starbucks has a strong commitment to contributing to the community around them. This chapter focuses on the social aspects of the company, including its activities concerning the environment and various social issues.

To me, these seem like some pretty solid principles to build a business on. It almost seems “too ideal to be practically possible”. One thing that comes out fairly strong in most of the books I read about Starbucks (and Toyota as of late) is the acknowledgment of senior managements importance in setting the culture, ideals, and principles of the overall business while giving the “people doing the work” the ability to act within the framework of the principles. It seems that the more I read about these two companies, the more there is in common between them at a high level.

A book that I would be really interested in reading would be a book focused on the IT practices and principles in both companies. It seems to me that it is really easy to push down authority in a company which is distributed across the country, while that same practice in a corporate environment (especially IT, which is traditionally looked at as a “necessary evil” and liability rather than an asset) would be a little harder to foster this type of culture. I would be extremely interested to read an honest, detailed descriptions of how these areas of the company are run within the context of the overarching principles.

But here I go, digressing again. I thought The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary was an excellent book and would recommend it to anyone managing people. It documents an interesting framework for running a business and is full of great examples of each principle to illustrate application of the principle to “real life” in a business.

The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick

Over the last few months I’ve started a lot of books. There is so much interesting reading out there that between the usual blogs that I read, the effort I’m spending learning Ruby on Rails, and the interesting books I run across in my usual ritual of trolling book stores, I’m finding it hard to focus on a book from start to finish. I think the only ones I’ve been able to read completely over the past few months have been Fight Club, Practical Subversion, Second Edition (reviewed early last week), and todays pick, The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin D. Mitnick and William L. Simon.

It is rare that a book conjures up such paranoia in me. The book is described on the back cover like this:

The worlds most celebrated hacker delivers the lowdown on today’s most serious security weakness – Human Nature.

Boy does he ever.

When one thinks of computer security, one normally thinks about things like closing unnecessary services / ports on your systems, using strong passwords, and things like that. All things of a technical nature that are necessary, but aren’t truly secure because of the people that surround the technology.

Mitnick and Simon do an excellent job in walking you through extremely realistic social engineering scenarios and make you realize that the basic pieces of human nature, like sincerely wanting to help others, fear of crossing someone in an authority position, or just plain carelessness can open up your systems to security breaches no matter how well of a handle you have on the technology aspect of security in your company.

Each scenario is followed by a section called “Analyzing the Con”, where they explain, in detail, the factors that contribute to the scenario being played out and your systems being compromised. There is a lot of interesting information in these analyses that you may not have thought of before.

The last chapter of the book gives you approximately 70 pages relating recommended corporate information security policies. This chapter was excellent, explaining the different policies you can enact and, more importantly – and something you don’t get very often from corporate security – the reasons WHY they are important to implement.

For me, this book was a total eye opener. It is interesting to think about the amount of information that can be “leaked” that seems unimportant at the time one can be in a conversation that can be pieced together later on for the purposes of compromising a computer system or a business.

If nothing else, this book will definitely make you think about the next conversation you have with someone. It shows you the dark side of human nature, where people can seem completely sincere in their interactions with you but deep down have only one objective. To get information. It also illustrates the effort in which people can put forth to put together a con with so much detail, over such a length of time, that the individual interactions seem innocuous, but in the end compromise your systems security.

This book is a must read for everyone even peripherally related to IT. Let me rephrase that. This book is a must read for everyone who has even remote contact with people. Its extremely informative and engaging – so much so that I could hardly put it down.

I’ve already recommended this book to numerous people at work and will be putting it on the required reading list for this year for my teams. Its an area of computer security that is often overlooked and I’m glad to see it covered in such detail – and in a very non-technical way. Anyone can relate to the content in this book.

Do yourself a favor. Take the time pick this one up and read the whole thing. I can guarantee, no matter what your role, you will get something useful out of this book.

Practical Subversion – Second Edition

I received a free copy of Practical Subversion, Second Edition by Daniel Berlin and Garrett Rooney on Friday from their publishers, Apress.

I had reviewed the first edition before it was released and had found it to be an excellent companion to “Version Control with Subversion” (C. Michael Pilato, Ben Collins-Sussman, Brian W. Fitzpatrick), mostly due to its coverage of the Subversion API’s – which I had not seen covered in any real depth in any other book.

I have to say, the authors have outdone themselves with the Second Edition. The book is extremely well written for varying levels of Subversion experience. The beginner will find a very easy to understand introduction to using Subversion in the first two chapters, giving a really great tutorial on how to use the tool along with explanations of many of the concepts embodied in the implementation of the tool, such as locking vs. non-locking systems, properties (from file to revision properties), the basic workflow involved in using version control, and how to use the various commands, from checking out, to using svn blame (or ‘praise’ as I learned from the book is an alias for the command) to find the origin of a change in the system.

Thats just the first two chapters. As the book goes on the reader will learn about repository administration, the differences between the BDB and FSFS file systems, using Apache and Apache modules to squeeze additional functionality into the system, migrating from other version control systems such as CVS and Perforce and third party tools that work with Subversion (such as ViewVC, emacs, etc). The book also covers maintaining vendor branches, and contains a very good chapter on Version Control Best Practices. You then have, from my memory anyway, a greatly expanded chapter on using the Subversion API.

Practical Subversion, Second Edition does a really good job of covering information at many skill levels in an extremely accessible way. This book will definitely be one of those that I would put on the shelf at work as we continue to move people into more advanced roles in the management of our repositories – as there’s really nothing the book doesn’t cover.

I’ve been a user of Subversion for a very long time (I think I started around version 0.19 or so) and as I perused the book last night I walked away with some new distinctions about how we were using the tool and changes I could make to make administration and maintenance easier. That says a lot.

Congratulations to Garrett and Daniel on a fine piece of work. Hopefully the next edition will cover some of the newer features of 1.4, specifically the svnsync tool.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

I just finished reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

I remember the first time I had watched the movie. I never actually wanted to see it. Jonna had run across it by chance and told me that I HAD to watch it – that it was a movie right up my alley and that I would love it.

I remember not really believing that it was something I wanted to see but I watched it anyway. The movie blew me away. I thought it was brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. I was completely impressed.

I bought the DVD soon after that and have watched it numerous times since then – always saying to myself “I definitely have to read this book sometime”.

Well, Jake wound up buying the book for some reason and after he read it handed to me and said I just HAD to read the book. So finally, I read it.

The book is absolutely brilliant. More than that, overall the movie stuck pretty close to it, something I was very glad to see. The one thing that I hate the most is when you read a book to find that the movie makers completely trashed it. This one made it through the movie making processes pretty well intact.

If you liked the movie, you will absolutely love the book. The writing style is extremely disjointed – just like the movie. You actually feel like you are on a ride through one mans complete mental breakdown.

While the movie did a fairly good job of exposing you to the main characters inner dialog, there is nothing that compares to actually reading it for yourself.

I will say, its pretty difficult to read the book and not hear Ed Nortons voice as the narrator. Then again, he had the perfect voice for it.

If you liked the movie, you will absolutely love the book. On a scale from one to five – I give t a ten. It’s that good.

Off The Rails – The Review

I just finished reading Off The Rails by Rudy Sarzo this last week. Overall, I would say I liked it.

I’ve been a fan of Randy Rhoads since first hearing the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of Madman albums in 1983 or so. He was a unique player for his time and these two albums are of the sort that they sound just as fresh today as they did when they were released.

As a Rhoads fan, I’ve always picked up any and all information I could get on him. Every guitar magazine he’s been in, I probably have or have had it. Each article or magazine never really gave you enough, as a fan, as to what Randy was like.

Off The Rails was written using Sarzo’s daily diaries that he had kept during the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary tours between 1981 and 1982 (at the request of his accountant) and gives you an interesting glimpse of what was going on in the band at the time. While this book is probably the most detailed about Rhoads as a person, the book for me seemed to focus more on how screwed up Ozzy and Sharon were during this time, which is actually the stuff I wound up getting more interested in as the book went on.

After reading this book, you will be amazed that Osbourne has gotten to where he did, and that he actually produced the music he did over the years. Rumors have always abounded about his alcoholism and wild antics, but Sarzo gives you a very detailed glimpse into the amount of abuse Ozzy exposed himself and everyone around him to during the early days of his solo career.

Most interesting to me was the circumstances around the planned live album that became Speak of the Devil and Randy’s resistance to doing the album. Given where the band was at the time, with two albums of solo material, its easy to understand that Randy did not want to do a live album of Sabbath material, but the most telling is how Ozzy reacted and treated Randy when he refused to do the album initially.

Over the last twenty some years, we’ve heard a lot of positive things about the relationship between Ozzy and Randy. This book, if nothing else, gives you a glimpse of the “real life” circumstances on the tour and paints a much less rosy picture of the time that the band spent on the road.

That is not to say at all that Off The Rails is negative. Sarzo manages to detail all of the goings on during this time without giving the reader the feeling of reading a “tell-all” book meant to smear the participants for the sake of making money. Rudy does a great job of reporting what happened in a very balanced way that manages to get the reader to close the book and walk away thinking.

Bottom line, the book is excellent. Sarzo does a good job of reporting the daily goings on in the tour, giving you a glimpse into the life of guitar hero, and doing it in such a way that it does not feel exploitative in the least. I would definitely recommend this book to those who are Rhoads fans, or even those who just want a third party addition to the biographies already out there on Ozzy and his crew.

Off the Rails by Rudy Sarzo Now Available At Amazon.com

I received an email yesterday from someone letting me know that Rudy Sarzo’s long awaited book, Off The Rails is now available at Amazon.com. The book chronicles his time with Ozzy Osbournes Blizzard of Ozz band, featuring the late great Randy Rhoads.

From what I’ve heard, this book is a one of a kind. I actually headed over to Borders yesterday to pick it up, only to find it listed in their computers as out of print. I guess I will have to forego my need for ‘immediate satisfaction’ and wait for Amazon to deliver it.

Rhoads fans have been waiting a long time for this release. I’ll let you know what I think once I get it.