On General Business Strategy


sevenSeven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution. Robert Simons. Harvard Business Review Publishing, 2010. Simons contends that most strategies fail because leaders have failed to ask the most basic questions. The best time to ask those questions, he says, is when you are creating a new strategy. This book lays out a series of seven questions, beginning with the most basic one: Who is your primary customer? An excellent book to use in conjunction with Getting Started, Lesson Two: Developing a Vision and Strategy.

creativeCreative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market – And How to Successfully Transform Them. Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan. Doubleday, 2001. This book, which surveys a range of industries from health care to financial services, articulates a number of ground-breaking concepts about innovation and disruption. News executives dealing with creative destructions will want to pay special attention to the discussion of these concepts: the life “expectancy” of a typical business (which, over the last half century, has dropped from 50 to 16 years), the four stages in the lifecycle of a business (foundation, growth, dominance and “cultural lock-in”), and the difference between “significant change” and “transformative change.” Most interesting case study in the book: How Intel’s Gordon Moore and Andy Grove dealt with the DRAM problem. Read an interview with Richard Foster in Chapter 3 of Saving Community Journalism.

innThe Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Clay Christensen. Harvard Business School Press. 1997. Published just as newspapers were beginning to understand the business ramifications of the Internet, Christensen’s book is in the library of many news executives, and he has been involved in the American Press Insitute’s Newspaper Next project. The Economist magazine called his 1997 book one of the six most important books about business ever written. Christensen’s former Harvard Business School colleague, Clark Gilbert, now CEO of Deseret Media, has attempted to implement many of the concepts at the Deseret News. These efforts are highlighted in Chapters 4 – 7 in Saving Community Journalism.

blueBlue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. W. Chan Kim / Renee Mauborgne, Harvard Business School Press, 2005. This is an international best seller with high degree of relevance to any industry going through change. Basically, the book looks at numerous examples of companies that have effectively moved away from head-to-head competition by creating strategy that helps companies differentiate themselves from others in the same field. – Bruce Kyse, publisher Santa Rose Press Democrat, 2005-2013.

goodGood to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. Jim Collins. Harper Business, 2001. Collins advises that you take one brilliant concept and execute it with imagination and excellence – which he calls “the Hedgehog Principle.” He contends the best companies had a simple, great concept to execute that flows from a “deep understanding” about the intersection of the following three circles/questions: What can you be best in the world at? What drives your economic engine? What are you deeply passionate about? – Chrissy Beck, General Manager, Duke Chronicle.

digitDigital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. James McQuivey, Forrester Research, Amazon Publishing, 2013. McQuivey has been studying successful digital innovators for years in his role at Forrester Research. In this short book, he shares poignant observations, perspective and step-by-step techniques to create your own “disruptive” digital business plan. This book isn’t industry specific, but the roadmap and business modeling feels very relevant to local media. – Bruce Kyse


On Leading Change and Implementing Strategy


leadLeading Change. John Kotter. Harvard Business School Press, 1996. Kotter’s detailed eight-step process for leading change is a handy reference for any executive in either a for-profit or nonprofit organization. Even though this was written at the dawn of the Internet age and Kotter’s timeline for managing the process seems somewhat sluggish, the steps he outlines are just as applicable today as they were almost two decades ago. There is a reason this book remains a best-seller. – PMA

I pulled out three important lessons from Kotter’s book. First – the notion that management and leadership are not the same. Management tends to focus on structures and systems, while leadership is more focused on culture and vision. Second, Kotter warns that culture is one of the most powerful influences on human behavior. To make change, you also need to change the culture. The third important take-away is Kotter’s assessment of companies of the future. The new model requires a “…state in which complacency is virtually absent, in which people are always looking for both problems and opportunities, and in which the norm is ‘do it now.’” – Chrissy Beck.

lineLeadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy. Harvard Business School Press, 2002. It’s lonely at the top, and this book is written especially for executives who are trying to implement transformative strategies. While Kotter’s book provides great advice on how to manage the dynamics in your organization, Heifetz and Linsky focus on how you can manage yourself, as you deal with the challenge of motivating people to abandon the lives they know for an unknown future, in which there will be winners and losers. Like Kotter, the authors differentiate between “management” (which involves solving technical problems in a stable environment) and “leadership” (which requires that an organization adapt to a radically changed environment in order to survive). The book lays out a series of steps for managing yourself that include: getting up on the balcony, giving the work back and constantly adjusting the temperature. Read an interview with Harvard professor Heifetz in Chapter 4, Saving Community Journalism.

strategyThe Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment. Robert Kaplan and David P. Norton. Harvard Business School Press, 2001. How do you know whether you are successfully implementing your new strategy? Financial statements are backward looking and often fail to accurately chart the progress that is being made. This book helps news executives come up with a system of nonfinancial measures, or leading indicators, which alert them to processes and procedures that must be altered or scraped. It considers the strategic issues in an integrated fashion, asking this question: If we succeed, how will we look to our customers, employees and shareholder? This book can be used in conjunction with Saving Community Journalism (Chapter 4) and with Getting Started, Lesson Three: How to Measure Progress.

startStart With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Simon Sinek, Penguin Group, 2009. This best seller on leading change has become required reading at the top management level of hundreds of companies. Sinek believes every successful company needs a leader with a vision and buy-in from employees. Numerous examples of how companies, from Apple to Harley-Davidson, created successful businesses. – Bruce Kyse


On Media Strategy


mediaMedia Ownership and Concentration in America. Eli Noam. Oxford University Press, 2009. Noam, a Columbia University economist, surveys the media landscape and highlights significant trends in ten different industries – from newspapers to telecoms. He argues that we live in a world in which media companies that survive will know how to take advantage of the “economics of networks.” His conclusions about the future of the newspaper business are especially thought-provoking, and highlighted in chapters 2 and 8 in Saving Community Journalism.

newsNewsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get. Ken Doctor, St. Martin’s Press, 2010. This is an industry-specific book that accurately identifies the threats and opportunities for the newspaper industry. Although somewhat dated (a lot has changed in four years), Doctor’s observations and predictions about the news industry still hold water. This is a good entry into Doctor’s blog. – Bruce Kyse

vanishThe Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism for the Information Age. Philip Meyer. University of Missouri Press, 2009. Meyer wrote this book in his effort to save the industry. Some insights hit really close to home, such as: “For a business that has been so successful for so many decades, new thinking is extremely difficult.” Meyer weighs in on the role of the press in democracy, “The decay of newspaper journalism creates problems not just for the business but also for society”. Meyer cautions. “Those of us who wish to preserve the social responsibility function of the press by improving its quality need to stop nagging long enough to start looking at the integrated product and not just the portion that is manufactured from paper and ink.” – Chrissy Beck


On Media Consumer Behavior and Pricing Strategies


ultimateThe Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth. Frederick Reichheld. Harvard Business School Press, 2006. Reichheld has spent more than two decades developing one single question that can reliably predict customer loyalty and, he argues, the future profitability of companies. This is a very simple measuring tool that is explained in Saving Community Journalism (Chapters 3 and 6) and in Getting Started: Lesson Three: How to Measure Success. Readers might also want to consult his Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow.”

stratThe Strategy and Tactics of Pricing: A Guide to Growing More Profitably. Thomas T. Nagle. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006. Nagle’s recommendations on pricing policy and theory apply to any industry, but the insights in this book will be especially valuable to publishers as they consider how to deal with the “digital ad rate problem” and readers who believe online information should be free. Over the last two decades, Nagle has consulted with a number of national publications that have successfully implemented his recommendations. His thoughts on how newspapers can get readers to pay for online news are in Chapter 6 of Saving Community Journalism.

predictPredictably Irrational, Revised Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Dr. Dan Ariely, HarperCollins Publishers, June 2009. Ariely’s research and books focus on consumer behavior. Within that context, the research on pricing strategies is highly relevant to local media. Several newspapers have used Ariely’s research to establish successful digital/print subscription pricing models. – Bruce Kyse

allthenewsAll the News That’s Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information Into News. James T. Hamilton. Princeton University Press, 2004. Though the statistics in the book are somewhat dated, the economics of digital news is much the same as it was a decade ago. Hamilton compares the supply of news and information on the web with consumer demand for that news, and finds a tremendous chasm. This is must reading for editors attempting to establish a vibrant community of news consumers on a digital medium, such as the web or mobile.

canCan Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America’s Appetite for News. Rachel Davis Mersey. Praeger, 2010. Mersey’s book looks at how we actually consume news, information and entertainment. She believes the Internet has caused a dramatic shift in the way we view community – away from geographic boundaries toward “communities” of like-minded individuals, just like us. Understanding this dynamic, she contends, helps newspapers create a new connection with their readers.