I’ve always heard that the human brain is like a muscle–the more you work it out, the stronger it gets. And no matter how weak or strong it is, there’s always room for more growth. On the flip side, it seems the latter is also true. The more we use our brains for mundane and passive activities, the more they atrophy and become increasingly dependent on routines to help get through the many challenges that each day brings.

At gap intelligence we hold the firm belief that we can’t grow as a company without nurturing an environment and a culture centered around learning. Years ago our employees put this belief into action and founded gap University in the spirit of team education–that each of us not only has something important to teach, but we also have many things to learn from one another. If we all knew what we all knew, then just imagine how much smarter and more successful we all could be!

In addition to gapU, there are ever more lessons to learn in business, management, leadership, innovation, and life in general. Many of these lessons are organized and written down in things called “books!” Surprisingly, books have been around for hundreds of years. Although they don’t have high-powered CPU’s, ultra-HD displays, or cutting edge mobile operating systems, they often pack a lifetime of knowledge into just a couple weeks of reading. Not bad for 15th-century technology!

So it is with great pride and excitement that I announce: we too at gap intelligence read books! Quite a few of them actually. In fact, this month marks the one-year anniversary of the gap Book Club, which is kind of like Oprah’s book club, except we don’t give away free cars and the books we select don’t become immediate best sellers. Still, our little club of gap bookworms has steadily grown in popularity, and we are without a doubt the largest contributor of gently-used books to the gap intelligence library, which now occupies two large bookshelves on the main floor at gap’s San Diego headquarters.

TheAdvantage

For those of you who missed the last few meetings, here’s a primer on some of the titles we’ve read and discussed over the past 12 months:
The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni): A practical guide on organizational health that encapsulates many of the concepts within several of Lencioni’s other popular books, including The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive; The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars; and one of our favorites: Death by Meeting. Great cross section of topics centered around building winning teams, but more direct than his other books and not as interesting without all the fables!

TheLeanStartupThe Lean Start Up (Eric Ries) had probably as great an impact as any book we’ve read at gap intelligence in the last year. A new way of approaching product design–especially software–that centers on customer feedback as early in the new product development cycle as possible and leveraging that feedback throughout each iteration of development. The Lean Start Up introduced new lexicon into our intra-office conversations; the term “MVP” (minimally viable product) now finds its way into our daily dialogues.

DavidandGoliathDavid and Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell) was one of the most entertaining and provocative reads of the year, thanks in part to Gladwell’s gift of the silver tongue. In simple yet elegant prose, Gladwell challenges our assumptions about what we think are advantages, how they are really disadvantages, and vice versa. As the title suggests, the book presents a multitude of ways in which underdogs prevail even when “common sense” dictates otherwise.

LeadershipPipelineThe Leadership Pipeline (Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, James Noel) is one of those books that should be required reading for any Fortune 500 CEO or high-level manager within a large enterprise. Admittedly this one was not as applicable for those of us running a small or medium-sized business. That said, the book’s message still rings true–that time and time again the most successful companies are those that cultivate and grow leaders from within their own ranks. You do this by identifying future leaders at each level of management, assessing and planning their development, and measuring their results along the way. We’ll keep this one on the shelf and refer back to it a couple years down the road after we’ve moved up the Fortune rankings!

SixSigmaWayThe Six Sigma Way (Peter S. Pande, Robert P. Neuman, Roland R. Cavanagh) is like a quality process engineer’s dream come true. This book is basically the “Bible” for those individuals seeking out green belt or black belt certifications with aspirations of implementing Six-Sigma quality initiatives. However, at 400+ pages long, it is not what we in gap Book Club would consider light, off-hours reading. In all transparency, this was not our favorite book of the year. In fact, it was probably our least favorite book of the year.

6SIGonNapkinConversely, I would highly recommend the yet-unpublished, but highly impactful “Six Sigma on a Napkin,” which was literally drafted on a napkin during a business lunch at our local Sammy’s Pizza by gap consultant (and Six-Sigma Black Belt) Jane Marshall. Jane is phenomenal by the way. Condensing 400 pages into a 4-step process diagrammed on a Sammy’s napkin is genius.

KillTheCompanyKill The Company (Lisa Bodell) was also one of our favorite books of the year. It was especially timely after wading through 400 pages (and a napkin) about Six Sigma because the book promotes creative and innovative thinking–especially where process overload and status quo risk making our business and culture complacent. If I had to pick one word to describe this book, I would choose “provocative.” Thanks to a laundry list of easily implementable ideas for executive teams, managers, and all staff members alike, this is another book that has already had many impacts on our company. The most popular one so far: Kill a Stupid Rule. I count 5 stupid rules that we’ve killed just in the couple months since finishing this book, and each one has had a multiplier effect on improvement in culture, productivity, and positive attitudes.

DeliveringHappinessDelivering Happiness (Tony Hsieh) came highly recommended because it tells the story of how a little startup produced amazing results and growth thanks to an unwavering focus on company culture and the value of happiness–happy customers and happy employees. This book did not disappoint. Again, another highly entertaining read if for no other reason than to ride along with Tony Hsieh as he describes the thrilling downs and ups of overcoming adversity and leading his little internet shoe store startup to greatness (and a billion-dollar payday selling off to Amazon). We found a lot of great lessons in here, as well as validation for what we at gap intelligence strive to accomplish on a daily basis. Our motto has always been: “Culture Comes First,” which for us is a huge differentiator to our employees and our customers.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out last year’s holiday card, which we printed on actual card stock, signed and addressed with human hands and Sharpie ink, and mailed through the U.S. Postal Service (yes they still deliver snail mail) to about 1,500 individual clients around the world.

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TippingPointAnd lastly, The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) — OK, technically we aren’t done reading this one yet (our next meeting isn’t for 2 more weeks), but (SPOILER ALERT) the title pretty much gives it away. The Tipping Point is another Gladwell book that equates popular movements to contagious epidemics–but not necessarily in a bad way. The real purpose of this book is to help identify ways in which subtle, sometimes unidentifiable changes can have massive impacts–whether you’re running a marketing campaign, rolling out a new product, or like Paul Revere, riding from Boston to Lexington in the dead of night galvanizing American forces to rise up and fight against the British incursion.

That’s all for now, folks. In 2015 we’re hoping to post our reviews more regularly and even let you know what we’re reading next. If you’re feeling up to it, we’d even love to have more of you join us. As it turns out, time goes by pretty fast when you’ve got a warm book and a warm drink, which I hear works out well for our colleagues on the east coast buried in 3-feet of snow. Then again we live in San Diego, so what do we know!