The Hot Iron

A journal on business, technology and occasional diversions by Mike Maddaloni

Book Take-Aways

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Takeaways From The Book The Death Of Meriwether Lewis

So do you think Meriwether Lewis committed suicide or was assassinated? This question is not frequently asked as most people don’t often think of the person who was one half of the duo who explored America’s new territory over 200 years ago, and more than likely had no idea about his demise. At least I had no idea of the controversy, and I was the kid in school who liked U.S. history. This topic is explored in depth in the book The Death of Meriwether Lewis by Kira Gale and James Starrs.

The book has 2 unique parts. It opens with the transcript of a coroner’s inquest for the exhumation of Lewis’ body. It is believed by many that Lewis did not commit suicide, as was his official cause of death, but rather was assassinated. The inquest was held several years ago to recommend whether or not to exhume his body and perform an autopsy based on evidence provided, and it was decided to do so. Within the transcript lies the evidence proving reasonable doubt to the original cause. The second half is the backstory of Lewis’ life and death, and who may have been behind his murder. It is an interesting story not only about his life after he and William Clark trekked west but detail of the journey itself I was not aware of.

So could I possibly have takeaways from what is in essence a history book? Certainly. My greatest takeaway is there is more to historical events than is commonly taught. The Death of Meriwether Lewis explores the circumstances around his death that I had no idea about, and after reading it was glad I finally knew them. As most grade-school history courses have to cover many decades if not hundreds of years, it is not possible to delve into each story in depth. This is probably why books such as this are selling well, as people are curious about their country’s history.

Another takeaway form this was the reference to Lewis being the Neil Armstrong of our day. The mention of this caught me off guard, as we don’t think of the mere concept of celebrities prior to Hollywood and TV. News traveled a little differently in the early 1800’s than it does today, but people’s curiosity was alive then as now.

A final takeaway was on the importance of knowing one’s history. Why would people over 200 years later care how someone died? It is the belief of many that Lewis was killed, and they wish to correct the journals of history where it is mentioned that he committed suicide. They feel the truth should come out, no matter how long ago it happened.

The Death of Meriwether Lewis is a good read and I recommend it for anyone who has an interest in history and politics. Gale is a historian and has also written Lewis and Clark Road Trips, a book on traveling today along the trail Lewis and Clark took so long ago. Both The Death of Meriwether Lewis and Lewis and Clark Road Trips have excellent companion Web sites – I know, as my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC developed them with Visible Logic, Inc. Though Gale is a client, I was not paid to say what I did about the book; it is my personal opinion that you should read it.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 01/30/10 at 03:56 PM
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

On What I Wrote And Did Not Write

likemind.chi logoAs last year I looked back on what I did not write for The Hot Iron the previous year, I am doing so again this year.

Where in 2008 I had more ideas than the time to write them, this past year my overall blogging count was down. I could overanalyze this, but I chalk it up to its lower priority in my overall schedule. That being said, I am proud of what I wrote, and received many good comments on those posts. I met my goal of reading 12 books in 2009, even with Atlas Shrugged taking most of a year to do so. Despite this, I only blogged on half the number of books. Be on the lookout for those book takeaways in the next few weeks as I start my first books of 2010.

Then there was NaBloPoMo. I probably never should have signed up for this for the pure reason I never remembered how to spell it! I signed up to writing a post a day for every day last November. Well, I said I would do it, but in reality I was not really committed to the program. So I wear the “I blew it” badge pictured above, and next time will only commit to doing something that both interests me and is in line with my goals.

Here’s to a great year of blogging, and hearing from you in the comments.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 01/23/10 at 03:59 AM
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Takeaways From The Book BAM!: Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World

Bring up the concept of “customer service” and you will certainly cause someone’s blood to curdle. As much as just about every company provides service and support to its customers for its products and services, so many do it so poorly to the extent many times it’s easy to swallow the loss and buy from someone else. Well, at least I have done it that way a few times.

But why is it that way? This question and more around customer service are answered extremely well in the book BAM!: Delivering Customer Service in a Self-Service World, by Barry Moltz and Mary Jane Grinstead. Within the pages of this must-read for anyone who is in business, they share many personal customer services stories – both good and bad – as well as demystifying the entire process of customer service. The term “BAM” is for “bust a myth” and it dispels various customer service myths throughout the book. I was graciously given a copy of the book by Barry, with whom I have worked with in the past. After reading it, I was reassured as to why I worked with him!

There’s a lot to take away from BAM! and here are a few of my major takeaways.

Customer service must be baked into your business - Issues with customer service being removed from the core of a company are rampant. Sometimes, they are removed so far away it is outsourced to a third-world country! Not only should customer service be within the core of your company, it should be designed into the products and services you develop. Why create a product that you can’t support? Short-term gains will only last so long.

You must want to be able to deliver good customer service as it won't just happen - The road to good fortune is paved with good intentions. If you don’t have a plan in place to offer good customer service, it just won’t happen. If you only have 1 or 2 people to handle support and you need more like 50, good luck.

Have a customer service manifesto - Want to offer good customer service? Write it down, and tell everyone.

BAM! is a great read for a round-trip flight. It is also a book you’ll want to pass along to colleagues, especially those who have responsibility for customer service in a company. It also has lists of the various myths and examples that are real and ready to use. I highly recommend BAM! to anyone in business or those thinking about starting a business, so that they are ready to offer good service to their clients and customers.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 01/20/10 at 04:00 AM
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Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book That Was Zen, This Is Wow

Keeping positive and focused is easier for some than others. For those like myself who need a little help with it, it is the little things that can do the trick when we the day isn’t going the way we want it. It can be a call from a friend, a sign or a phrase.

This is where books like That Was Zen, This Is Wow: 232 Ideas for Transforming Your Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary come in handy. I met one of the co-authors, Rob Engelman, several years ago through networking and when I heard about his book I had to get a copy and purchased one from him. In it, there are 232 quotes and ideas that will cause you to pause, reflect and hopefully get back on course. You can read the book from cover-to-cover when you need some strong motivation or randomly flip to a page to get some quick inspiration.

One thing this book inspired me to do was to write some thoughts of my own. Many people have quotes of their own to help them get through the day. That Was Zen, This Is Wow can be that pit-stop we need during a hectic day to refuel our minds and hit the road running again.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 11/01/09 at 04:00 AM
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book Upbeat

When I was given a copy of Upbeat: Cultivating the Right Attitude to Thrive in Tough Times by a friend who had no connection with the author or publisher, one word in the title caught my eye – thrive. Many times we see books and get advice in how to just get by, especially these days. What also caught my attention was the cover was bright yellow. The author, Rajesh Setty, is trying to get a point across.

Upbeat is a small book and a quick read, but carries a positive message about reaffirming what to do to keep motivated. The book is in 2 parts – the first is narrative, the second is a summary, almost a checklist, for one to follow. Though many of the messages are not unique to this book, the reaffirmed takeaways I have had from other books.

My greatest takeaway is that you cannot do it alone. You need to have a network of people, as well as a mentor. Many entrepreneurs who work solo can easily fall into a quagmire as it is just them. Working and connecting with others will help gain perspective and help you see good in the bad.

Another takeaway is to remember to take care of yourself. A healthy body contributes greatly to a healthy mind. This is one I need to continuously remind myself of.

Everybody operates differently. Some have internal energy sources nobody can quite understand, even the person themselves. Others need a little help to keep motivated. If you are the latter, reading Upbeat might be the nudge you need.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/24/09 at 04:00 AM
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book The E-Myth Revisited

There is no shortage of business books available to read. All of them offer some unique perspective on one or many aspects of business. As is shown from an entire category here at The Hot Iron on book takeaways, I enjoying reading a variety of business books and manage to take something away from them. With some books, something resonates with me strongly, even if it is a reaffirmation of something I already know.

This was the case for me with The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It is considered a “classis” small business book as it talks about the dilemma most entrepreneurs (what the “e” stands for) get into, where what they thought was creating a business was more creating a job. Gerber, in a narrative style, takes the reader to the point where they are, and guides them out of it and back to leading a business.

In this description I have oversimplified the details of the book, as there are many to go through, plus I did not want to give too much away as I am hoping anyone who owns their own business reads the book! There is certainly a lot in each step of Gerber’s process, especially as he has developed a consulting firm around helping people do so. I will share with you my takeaways from this book.

My greatest take away from The E-Myth Revisited is to write is down, and write down everything. I am not just referring to to-do lists, rather I am talking about writing everything from a business plan to operation plans to logins and passwords. Many people will confirm with me that if it isn’t written down, it will never happen. This rings true especially for business planning. Why many people don’t write things down is because they believe they do not have to, that it is in their heads and that is good enough. However you will get to a point that you wished you wrote it down, so you have something to look to at all times as a barometer at how successful you are.

An equally important takeaway is to determine what you want out of your business. For most entrepreneurs, including myself, going on your own meant you wanted to do things the way you felt they should be and not how you did them working for someone else. Where this is true, one thing you probably didn’t want to do was work 20 hours a day, every day or balance your business’ books on a regular basis! In E-Myth Gerber calls this your Primary Aim, and defining it even several years down the road is important for you to do. I know, I did it myself.

Note both of these takeaways are not necessarily earth-shattering revelations you could only get from the book. Perhaps it was the style of the book, or when I read it personally, that made these points resonate with me.

The E-Myth Revisited was recommended to me by many people. I purchased my own copy and was personally compelled to write this post. My only regret with reading it is that I wished I read it very early on in the starting of my business. After reading it, myself and a colleague decided to go through defining our Primary Aims and we shared out discoveries. It was a soul-searching experience, not to mention important activity. Needless to say I recommend this book to anyone who is thinking of starting a business or even someone who is already in business who has not read it yet. I consider The E-Myth Revisited a must-read business book, with the likes of Barry Moltz’s You Need To Be a Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting and Growing Your Business. Note the links to books in this post are affiliate links to Amazon.com.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/17/09 at 04:00 AM
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Have you ever felt that all of the sudden you hear about someone who has done something great and then wondered, where did they come from? The term “overnight sensation” is commonly given to these people. But is their success truly something that materialized over the course of 24 hours? This is the idea behind the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In Outliers, several categories of people are analyzed as well as famous people who fall into those classifications. Gladwell is seeking to find out why they are successful – is it by chance, or were there contributing factors to their success? The book is told in a narrative, non-intimidating style for a book that presents a lot of data and unique scenarios to consider. He makes conclusions based on his research which in the end are rather simple – I won’t give them away as I don’t want to spoil it if you decide to read the book!

There were a couple of takeaways for me from Outliers. The greatest was we don’t often know the whole story behind a person’s success. Many times when a person’s story is told, you hear their achievements and perhaps some obstacles they had to overcome, but not much more. This is no fault to journalists or whoever is telling the story, as these are the most interesting parts. Many other events occurring in a person’s history may not even be interesting; however they may have contributed greatly to their success. In the book Bill Gates is highlighted. Where most people may know he dropped out of Harvard University, most probably don’t realize the high amount of access he had to computers as a youth, which Gladwell contributes to his success.

Another takeaway from the book was there could have been other titles for this book. I assume “Outliers” was chosen as the people highlighted are considered outliers from the mainstream of society. Another good title could have been “Chances” as many of the people in the book had chances and opportunities others have not which contributed to their success. Another title could have been “The Rest Of The Story” which though is probably trademarked by the late Paul Harvey’s estate would have fit as it does tell the rest of the story of those featured. I’ll admit the given title did not compel me to read the book as much as who wrote it, as I have liked Gladwell’s other books.

I enjoyed Outliers and would recommend it to anyone in business or beyond, as the back story of the book helps remind you there is probably more going on or has gone on than you may realize. And to fully disclose, I was offered this book by a colleague, and it was shipped to me directly from either the publisher or a publicist at no cost. I was not asked to write a review or takeaways on it. Note the links to the book within this story are affiliate links to Amazon.com, where I would earn a few pennies if you did buy the book from one of the links.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/10/09 at 06:52 AM
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Friday, August 21, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book Don’t Make Me Think

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, right? Despite this, people still have a hard time using the hardware or software on it. What should be intuitive is not usually the case. This is the premise of Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, as he explores the world of Web design.

How many times have you been on a Web site and you are having a hard time finding information when you know you should be able to easily find it? I am not just talking about novice users here, as this happens to yours truly all the time, and I like to consider myself an experienced Web user! Somebody somewhere made some decision to layout and design a Web site a certain way, and thus your pain. In Don’t Make Me Think, common-sense, straightforward information is presented to the reader, who should be everyone from a Web designer to Web developer to Web site owner.

Needless to say, I had many takeaways from this book, all of which are of equal weight as I believe in what this book talks about quite a bit! Here are a few of them:

Creative Doesn’t Mean Different – Many times I see a Web site or hear from someone who created one that is virtually impossible to use, and it is deemed to be “highly creative.” Where there is more than likely some creative minds behind it, in the end a Web site needs to be usable, and if it is not, then it is merely something nice to look at, but not touch. A Web site can still be creative yet intuitive, and great Web designers know how to do that.

A Redesign of a Web Site Should Be Thorough – Many times when Web sites are redesigned, it is merely a fresh coat of paint on an old home (page). If that is the case, then the design can be hampered by old code behind the scenes, which can hamper its usability as well as its growth. When approaching a Web site redesign, be as comprehensive as possible, including all elements, to prevent the need for more work soon after it is completed.

There Is No Such Things As A Typical User – When we at Dunkirk Systems, LLC work with clients on a Web site, we seek to identify potential users of the Web site. These users are identified by their role or title – media, consumers, students, etc. – and not by their technical ability. In the past, there was always a desire to identify the “typical user” and this meant more about their ability, which related to the complexity of the Web site. Krug backups the notion that there is no such typical user, and I concur from my own personal experience.

Testing a Web Site is Not Just for Experts – Where quality assurance (QA) and usability experts are vital to many Web sites and applications, if your budget does not allow for such experts, you can still do effective testing.

I enjoyed reading Don’t Make Me Think, and I highly recommend it to anybody involved in the creation or maintenance of Web sites, as well as anyone who owns one or who wants to. It is written in a no-nonsense yet lighthearted style that is suitable for the most technical and non-technical people.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 08/21/09 at 03:04 PM
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

My Takeaways From The Book Atlas Shrugged

photo of Atlas Shrugged1,069 pages. That’s one-thousand, sixty-nine pages, and no pictures either. The text on the pages was tight to the margins too. Spending an hour may get you through a dozen pages. Thus reading Atlas Shrugged took me almost a year, and finally I have another book takeaway to present.

That being said, I enjoyed reading Ayn Rand’s famous novel. I came by it from mentions in other books and blogs I have read, as well as from reports in the media. The latter has much to do with the free-market theme of the book. Many who call themselves Libertarians consider this book from their inspiration to their manifesto. As a result, Atlas Shrugged is referred to much with regards to today’s political environment, especially in the US, and by “both sides of the aisle” in one form or another. That being said, I am not writing takeaways about politics, as I wish only to look at what I took away from it within the theme of The Hot Iron. Any other dialogue on it can be discussed over adult beverages!

With that setup, here are my takeaways from Atlas Shrugged.

Understand the big picture – Many times decisions are made in business (and life too) that have an impact within a small sphere. Even if the results of these decisions are successful, they could have a negative impact on the bigger picture. Sometimes when an action is taken locally it may have not been needed, as there could have been something globally that could have been tapped into, thus saving time and cost. More often than not, a decision is made without regard it may impact those outside of the sphere, and ultimately does.

The best way I approach this is to step back and say to myself, “what is the ultimate goal?” This type of thinking outside of the box almost always brings creative ideas.

Get the best people for the job – There are 2 ways to do this. One is to simply match the job with the best qualified individual, one who brings experience and integrity to the role. The second way is to hire someone who you believe can do the job and manage them well and give them the time and venue to learn the job. If you don’t give someone the opportunity to thrive, they won’t.

Stick to your principles – Your principles are the one thing you can truly own. When your business runs out of customers, time or money, you will still have your principles. When you compromise them, not only are you changing how you operate but also yourself. You can change aspects of how you execute and still stick to your principles. It may take more effort, but in the end you will still be you.

Know when to quit – Quitting doesn’t mean a finite termination in all cases. It could be pausing what you do or simply doing what you do best in a different venue. Quitting is often considered failure. But if you look at the big picture, you may not see that is necessarily the case.

I enjoyed the journey that was reading Atlas Shrugged and highly recommend it to everyone. I considered it a worthwhile investment of my time. Now back to my other books that stacked up over the last year.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 08/01/09 at 01:14 PM
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Anticipation Of My Next Book Take-Away

When I began writing book take-aways, it started with a goal of clearing my bookshelf of long unread books. But as I traveled along this literary journey, I discovered other books to read, many of which were mentioned in some of the books I previously read. One of those books is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

I look forward to finishing this book and writing my take-aways, if for any other reason it is well over 1,000 pages long! Most of the books I have previously read were no longer than 300 pages, so it will be interesting to see when I finish it. Stay tuned.


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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/18/08 at 04:00 AM
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The Hot Iron strives to present unique content and perspective on business, technology and other topics by Mike Maddaloni, a Web and business strategist based in Chicago.

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