Think small

A couple of weeks ago, flying home from conducting workshops in Chicago and in need of something beyond a periodical to read – I already exhausted the current issue of The New Yorker, and newspapers are way too unwieldy to master flying in coach – I diverted to a bookstore and paid way too much money for Ken Auletta’s Frenemies(Thanks to Amazon, who pays retail for books these days?)

I’ve long been a Ken Auletta fan, having read his pieces in The New YorkerFrenemies seemed promising, especially when you consider the book’s subtitle: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else). 


The book is every bit as good as advertised: meticulously researched and reported, replete with personalities, loaded with opinion and conflict, it is both entertaining and informative, at least to me and others devoted to advertising and marketing.

Back home, the book read, the question before me is, have I learned anything?


I’ve learned that I never will write a big book like Frenemies. Auletta’s stature as a veteran New Yorker writer – on its own a hugely impressive credential – along with being the author of eleven books and five bestsellers, likely gave him unprecedented access to the people at the highest levels of the business. If you’ve heard him interviewed on television, you know he is equally as good on camera as he is on paper: knowledgeable, thoughtful, and articulate. It took this author to write that book.

But has the book taught me anything?


Praised by critics and bought by tens or hundreds of thousands of readers, writers like Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, and Ken Auletta tell bold stories that rightly get reviewed, discussed, and debated. But here’s the problem: books by many of these writers are great at advancing a provocative theme supported by a compelling narrative, but less than great at imparting stuff you actually can use.

The Art of Client Service is a small book. Short on a sweeping theme – unless you count “relationships matter” as sweeping – but long on stuff that might help you, day in, day out, as you confront the challenge of serving clients well.

I don’t know what Lewis, Gladwell, or Auletta know; I couldn’t connect the dots they’ve drawn, or arrive at the conclusions they assert.

I do, however, know how to brief a colleague, run a meeting, write a proposal, presentation, or conference report. I do know my way around a Creative Brief. New business? Got it covered.

Above all, I know what steps to take to establish, build, and sustain enduring relationships with clients and colleagues, based on trust. 

These are what you might call “horizontal” skills, cutting across all vertical disciplines and specialties; it doesn’t matter what arena you work in or what company you work for, what I share provides a highly applicable frame of reference, regardless of your vocation or circumstances. 

I’ve been an Organizational and Executive Coach for nearly a dozen years. While I was getting certified as a coach at New York University, I read lots of supposedly illuminating and enlightening books, most of which were dismissible, disposable, and forgettable. But there was one book, The Coaching at Work Toolkit, that was full of incredibly practical, helpful advice on how to set up a successful coaching practice, supplemented by charts, checklists, and templates I could adapt to my business.

That one I kept.

You can learn stuff from books like Frenemies, but they won’t teach you the things you need to know to do your job well. For that, I suggest you turn to The Art of Client Service, knowing there comes a time to think small.