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Business Reads

By Amanda Henry
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 25, 2006

In today's diverse, savvy book market, guides to business success must promise both triumphant careers and eternal happiness -- in a hurry. (Eye-catching titles and pretty pictures are also a plus, of course.) Considered below are four versions of this formula, each aimed at a different segment of readers.

The "on the fly" part of Bill Butterworth's ON THE FLY GUIDE TO BALANCING WORK & LIFE (Waterbrook Press; paperback, $9.95) is meant literally: He wants you to buy this book to read on your next business trip. Butterworth, a counselor-turned-motivational speaker, identifies three types of dysfunction among today's working adults:

? The Hazies, who have no perspective on life, and thus lose sight of their long-term goals.

? The Lazies, who lack the self-discipline to balance home and work.

? The Crazies, who take on too much in both spheres, until their lives spin out of control.

In addition to rhyme, Butterworth is a fan of alliteration in his tips -- e.g. Forecast, Focus and Fun -- as well as simple diagrams like the Priorities Triangle, whose three points are Attention, Connection and Reflection. These equations are intended to help befuddled business types cure their hazy, lazy or crazy ways, though Butterworth's heavy ammo is the Hallmark-ready biographical anecdote. There is some sentimentality and obviousness here, but it's nothing on the level of, say, "Tuesdays With Morrie" (which still managed to sell a few copies). Even though you should know most of this stuff already, Butterworth's refresher course can't hurt.

You can't argue with the success of Build-a-Bear Workshop, which during the last 10 years has expanded from a single St. Louis store to more than 200 North American outposts, plus franchises in Europe, Australia and Asia. What you may find harder to swallow is the chipper attitude of founder and "Chief Executive Bear" Maxine Clark. In The BEAR NECESSITIES OF BUSINESS: Building a Company With Heart (Wiley, $24.95), she reveals a fondness for "bright, happy colors," all things Disney, McDonald's Happy Meals, every job she's ever had and infinite plays on the word "bear." But then the cynics of the world probably aren't looking to build a company with "heart," as Clark -- the former president of Payless ShoeSource -- has done with her custom-teddy-bear empire.

Underneath the fuzzy exterior and punny platitudes, though, Clark is a sharp cookie. Although some of her advice won't be widely applicable, the fundamentals of her business plan are sound. Come up with a quality product, give customers an exceptional experience and expand with care: It may sound like a no-brainer, but how many of your recent run-ins with retail America have been what Clark would call "paws-itive"? Even budding entrepreneurs who won't buy into the sweet nothings about dreaming big, finding your inner child and sending cookie bouquets may still find bear ied treasure here. (Sorry.)

If teddy bears and rainbows aren't your style, you may prefer the testosterone-charged Mark Stevens, a tough-talker from Queens who favors military language, name-dropping and power plays in YOUR MANAGEMENT SUCKS (Crown Business, $25). Scoffing at such notions as consensus and political correctness, Stevens advocates radical action and innovation, whether that means a new marketing campaign or firing your entire staff. His rejection of complacency is admirable, but the semantics of the book can be a bit off-putting.

In the Stevens universe, Donald Rumsfeld is an admirable bureaucracy smasher, while the United Nations offers an example of ineffective dithering. A good manager declares "constructive war" on himself, looks for the "shock-and-awe" sales strategy and must unleash his own "Manhattan Project." The author recounts many of his triumphs as a consultant (though he prefers the term "secretary of war") in dialogue form, always giving himself the Big Speech. Setting is also important to Stevens, whether it's his steak dinner at Morton's, his resort vacation in Anguilla, his annual stay at an exclusive ski lodge, his sit-down with Bill Gates, etc. The message is pretty clear: I'm at the top of the heap. Join me if you dare.

Strip away the jargon, and the copyrighted thought process known as "Asset-Based Thinking" sounds a lot like the old Johnny Mercer song "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." Don't focus on what's wrong, Kathryn D. Cramer and Hank Wasiak write in CHANGE THE WAY YOU SEE EVERY THING (Running Press, $22.95). Instead, think about what's right -- because with Asset-Based Thinking (or ABT), the glass can be half-full and half-empty, at the same time. For example, rather than looking at an annoying co-worker and thinking, "He's out of his mind!," ask yourself, "What makes him tick?" In the face of negativity, try to discover "the positive motives that are fueling" it. And when problems do occur, say, "How can this be the best problem we've ever had?"

That may sound like a tall order if your name isn't Pollyanna (or Buddha), but the authors helpfully supply an assortment of mental exercises -- interspersed with inspirational color pictures -- to guide you on the path to positivity. There are also interviews with a fascinating assortment of asset-based thinkers, from Linda Gray of "Dallas" fame to Moby. Yes, the world would be a shinier, happier place if more people thought this way -- though things might slow down as we all struggled to think something positive about each other before opening our mouths.

Amanda Henry writes for the Tampa Tribune, VH1.com and Public Radio International.

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