Paul Whitaker

Rockville, MD 27 posts

Top 10 Customer Success Books for 2020

I've been reading and listening to audio books this year with renewed passion. I've learned a great deal about how to better serve customers and colleagues, how to think about business sustainability, and how to confidently make good choices about how I allocate my energy and own my time.

Here's the list of the top 10 books I've been engaged with this year, and will continue to dig into in 2020.

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  1. Farm Don't Hunt by Guy Nirpaz : Great perspective on keeping up regular engagement with customers and partners. They are your most accessible resource of (obviously) funding, but also ideas and energy.
  2. The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky : A well-stated reminder that the path to growing anything usually doesn't go how you expect it to.
  3. It's Your Ship by D. Michael Abrashoff : An awesome example of what it looks like to take bold steps as a leader.
  4. The Startup Way by Eric Ries : It's interesting to me to see how views on business growth change rapidly, even from a recognized expert such as the author. The same holds true in Customer Success. The field is evolving and it's great to learn lessons from peers ahead of us.
  5. The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, et. al. : This is an old book, but seriously important to revisit regularly. The idea of shifting from an outsider to an insider is critical in customer success.
  6. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle : I'm learning about the increasing importance of transcending daily tasks to foster culture by keeping a positive attitude and engaging with colleagues in new ways.
  7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson : For someone who cares about my customers, I was skeptical :) but of course the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek. But it's not about that. It's about picking how you spend your time for things that have impact, and letting other things slide.
  8. Customer Success: How Innovative Companies are Reducing Churn [...] by Lincoln Murphy, et. al. : This is feeling a bit dated but is one of the books that propelled the Customer Success movement. Worth revisiting and also keeping up with what the authors are doing on social media.
  9. Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo : I reviewed this one and although I have some reservations, the key point constantly sticks with me and I'll work with this some more in the new year.
  10. The Execution Factor by Kim Perell : This,along with Figureoutable and Eric Reis' "do your f-ing job" quote in The Startup Way combine to remind me that doing hard work and constantly plugging away at it make a huge impact.

Rather than burn past these books in 2020, I plan to revisit most of these and dig into concepts I may have missed the first time.

I also read or listened to these books in 2019. Each had some interesting nuggets but will be rolling off the end of my active list after this year.

  • For Better of For Work by Meg Cadoux Hirschberg : Stories of hard working entrepreneurs and family struggles to grow a business; specifically how a spouse can engage and participate int eh work. Interesting but don't feel like it requires re-reading.
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson : This was a book club book I chose. I learned more about an immensely productive man who led a full life. The audio book captured the essense and I got out of it what I wanted.
  • The Startup of You by Hoffman, Reid, et. al. : This is a manual on how to use LinkedIn to grow your professional presence.

I'm looking for a few new suggestions. Let me know if you have one!

Geek Book Review: Everything is Figureoutable by Maria Forleo

Note: This review is part of a book club I'm doing with a few friends (sup Joe and Dave). Some of the discussion is based on output from our online chats on the topic.

Everything is Figureoutable is a self-help book and brand by Maria Forleo. The author appears to have a strong reputation and following for various entertainment pursuits (YouTube? TV show?).

The author points to her mother as instilling her life mantra that she can do whatever she puts her mind to. She built this into a life coaching business, reconciled her own passions into a personal brand (appreciating that it didn't fit a typical career mold), and built an ecosystem around some related life goal setting tactics and formulas.

The author is clear about the book being part of a life coaching process, and to get the full experience she recommends participating in her exercises and online community. I listened to the Audible book for this one, and I didn't do any of the exercises.

I don't think the content of the book revealed much new information. It seemed to be tuned for people who are struggling to find themselves. Since I'm not in that place, and I have been working with a life coach in real life, the idea that I can set and attain goals wasn't a gap I was looking to fill.

Nevertheless, there are a few important points which resonated with me:

  • I can take back some time in my life, and should consider how I might spend that
  • My contributions are important, even if it's been done before (the idea that the world needs me)
  • Start before you're ready
  • Make something - progress over perfection

It raised a number of questions:

  • Is specialization bad?

We discussed that there must be some limits to what we want to figure out. It can't possibly be a bad thing to dig into a few topic areas and get good at them. Since time is the limiting factor, choosing how to spend time is important. However, some basic stretching of things you're willing or able to do is a useful approach sometimes. Having confidence in your abilities to come out of comfort zone tasks and do things to save money or time has merit.

  • Is the author credible and does her life experience resonate with my own?

Our book club talked about fame and whether this gave the author credibility. We didn't think so. It was somewhat thinly veiled that her writing and selling this book is to promote her own brand and way of thinking. I thought she took her mom's approach and made it too regimented and workshoppy - there wasn't much there to begin with I think. Her mom was a badass and that's fine, and she took it too far.

  • Figuring everything out on own seemed necessary in past (i.e. with author's mom) - is it less needed in this connected age?

I think it's not needed anymore in a well-to-do context in which we each (in our book club) live.

  • Even if everything can be figured out, how does one decide what to work on?

We ran out of time fleshing this one out, I guess we'll have to figure that out another time. :)

New AMD Ryzen desktop

I wasn't sure I would ever upgrade my desktop computer again. My 2011 model Intel Core i5 2500K has been super stable for me and seemed fast enough even after all this time.

When the AMD Ryzen processors came out, I got excited about the 1600 price point ($219 for 6 cores).

After some trial and error, I ended up with a 1700 with 32GB RAM and a new M.2 NVMe drive. It's all pretty much working except the memory runs at 2400MHz (it can do 2666MHz). That will require some learning on my part to figure out how to set it without burning something up. Not really interested in overclocking so want to do it in the stable-ist way. I've gotten a few blue screens but seems to have stabilized after driver and BIOS updates.

It's fast. It seems more stable now that I've gotten firmware and drivers updated.

If you're looking to upgrade, here are some tips:

  • Hopefully you use Chocolatey to manage software installs. If not, I'd recommend doing that first or at least looking up the package names for things you want to install later. You can run "choco list -lo" to capture what's installed now, and then make a batch file with a bunch of lines like "cinst -y 7zip" to install different packages.

  • Absolutely adhere to the motherboard compatibility lists. The specific combination of Motherboard/RAM/storage is more important than it used to be. Not just any DDR4 RAM with appropriate timings will do. Same for the NVMe drive if you choose one. Specific models that have been tested by the manufacturer.

  • If you're near a Micro Center, buy everything there. Don't bother with online purchases. Check prices and compability but they seem to have everything and returns are easy (even for CPU and motherboard, which surprised me). Amazon has been charging tax for purchase which eat away at competitiveness.

  • Look at warranties. A lot of the new drives have 3 year warranties, and this didn't seem like enough for me. I went with a WD Black 512GB NVMe M.2 drive which doesn't have the performance of others but has a 5 year warranty. There's also one from MyDigitalSSD with the same duration warranty. I tried that but didn't work with my motherboard.

  • Maybe upgrade your power supply. I thought mine was good but I think it contributed to some early issues. I upgraded mine to a new gold modular one. It's 650W which was less than what I had, but the 1700 is a 65W processor and I'm covered with all my other stuff running.

  • Use and check popular combos and for compatibility issues.

  • Once you choose a motherboard vendor, register for their support forums and search for open issues. For instance my MSI B350 TOMAHAWK has a long POST time issue. Would've been helpful to know that going into it.

  • Collect up the firmware updates for your motherboard and put them on a USB thumb drive. You could do this beforehand.

  • To turn on virtualization on MSI BIOS, it's under OC -> CPU Settings -> Features -> SVM

  • If you have a driver failure, don't do system automatic repair (system restore) unless you've explicitly set a restore point. I lost a few hours of installation due to this since it restored to the last driver update which wasn't what caused the error.

52 Tools: WebSequenceDiagrams

WebSequenceDiagrams is a site for generating UML sequence diagrams using a mini scripting language.

For example, this:

participant Sync\nService as SS  
participant Authorization\nService as AS  
participant Resource\nService as RS

activate SS  
activate AS  
SS->+AS: [1] Request Authorization with X.509 Certificate  
AS-->-SS: [2] Return Token  
deactivate AS

SS->+RS: [3] Request encrypted data using token  
RS-->-SS: [4] Return encrypted data

deactivate SS  

Gives you this:

Super cool, and no silly Visio hijinks like this one (Animated GIF):

52 Tools: Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager

Remote Desktop Manager is another entry in what's turned out to be a series of remote desktop management tools. This type of tool is proving critical for me to be able to maintain multiple lab and testing environments, which is becoming more of a priority as Hubstream grows.

The winner in this fight (for now) is Remote Desktop Manager, a paid product ($99 US) that does some new things compared to RDCman and mRemoteNG:

  1. Integrates with password manager tools (standalone encrypted files as well as onlin services). We have a need as a team to share credentials to various web sites, services and remote desktop sessions. By keeping that process separate from the RDP list, we don't have to keep two separate credentials lists such as if we used RDCMan exclusively. The flexibility in this area gives me some confidence that if we change password management suites, I can keep my connection database and remap the credentials.

  2. Scales awesomely at different resolutions, multi-monitor, etc. This one is great at even if I switch to a smaller monitor, the screen resizes in a usable way. If I reconnect, I get that monitor's native resolution.

  3. Lets you encrypt and password protect the connections database. This makes me slightly more confident storing the file on shared cloud storage. In the next version, there will be two-factor authentication for which I'm hoping to use my YubiKey.