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I’m putting together a Christmas/Winter reading list for 2008-9. It consists both of books I’ve reently read or am reading right now that I would recommend to other contractors and some new books I’ve just discovered and plan to read.

How Fit Is Your Business?: A Complete Checkup and Prescription for Better Business Health by Mark G Richardson

The first book I’ll mention comes from that last category in that I haven’t read it yet but it looked so good I just ordered it and plan to start in on it in just a couple of days. Its How Fit Is Your Business?: A Complete Checkup and Prescription for Better Business Health by Mark G Richardson who is President of Case Design/Remodeling , Inc. I’ve been a long time fan of Richardson’s articles and commentary in Remodeling Magazine so this one was sort of a no-brainer in my book but in reading from a preview chapter I discovered online I spotted a passage that tells me some of the information in the book is going to be particularly apropos for me and a lot of the contractors I work with. Quote:

“When all of your business comes from personal referrals, you are not really in control of your future. If the economy slows down or a specific market changes, you need to be able to generate new clients. Over-reliance on referrals can make your marketing “muscles” weak; when you need some “heavy lifting,” your strength will not be able to handle it. Most businesses with a very high percentage of revenue from personal referrals ride a rollercoaster from good times to bad.”

I’ve long been a believer that contractors that don’t market and advertise are steering an aimless rudderless ship in terms of directing their business towards the projects they feel they are best suited for and Richardson comment illustrates another problem with the all my business comes from referrals perspective. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in the book.

Building a Successful Construction Company: Create a Strategy / Organize Your Business / Protect Your Bottom Line Original Edition by Patricia W. Atallah

Next on my list is a book I ordered a month or so ago and have worked myself a little over halfway through at this point. It’s entitled Building a Successful Construction Company by Patricia W. Atallah.

While I think a lot of small shops, mom and pop contractors will find the book addresses concerns and planning that they think is beyond them I still find it full of rich ideas and concepts and highly recommend it to the more serious contractor business owner regardless of the size of their business.

From an excerpt (the introduction) from the book that I read on the author’s website the author writes:

“I started a construction business more than 12 years ago with business and banking experience and scant knowledge of the construction industry. What on earth possessed me, you ask? I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, and in my early 30s, I became anxious to drop out of the corporate fold and start my own business. I was looking for flexibility, a better balance in my life, and freedom from the limitations of a job description. I researched various possibilities for about a year and, based on my research, finally decided to start a business in the construction industry. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I recognized some of the critical issues facing the industry and saw an opportunity to eventually make a contribution.”

I often hear you have to have “experience” argument being thrown around by a lot of men in the industry and I think that the author, Patricia Atallah, illustrates that business smarts are probably the most valuable asset an individual can have.

Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (Strategy and History) by Frans Osinga

Next I’ll mention a group of books written about John Boyd. Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd and two more biographies written about him entiled Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War and The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security

I first turned on to learning about Boyd through a Yahoo Group Theory of Constraints discussion group I am a member of but you can read a little bit about him and his influence on business here in the Wikipedia article on him.

I found Boyd’s OODA loop based planning similar to Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act PDCA Cycle and Boyd’s belief that management defines objectives and strategy. Workers (soldiers, originally) decide how to carry the work out right in line with Deming’s thinking on management too. Boyd believed people are entirely capable of making intelligent decisions, provided they have the right education training and work environment to make those decisions within.

Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Mark Richardson

Next, on my list I’m going to put a book I haven’t read but only just accidentally discovered while I was looking for Mark G. Richardson’s book that I mentioned above. This one is by Mark Richardson which to the best of my knowledge is of no relation and is entitled: Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I’m a long time fan (30 years) of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and consider it to be one of the most influential and seminal books in my life. I’ve only just ordered the book and so I haven’t read it yet so I can’t comment but I’m putting it on the list here for those who feel more intellectually and philosophically inclined to examine juust what is “Quality”.

The Wikipedia article on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance says ZAMM “is the first of Robert M. Pirsig’s texts in which he explores his Metaphysics of quality.” (more..) One of my favorite quotes from the book that helped reawaken my interest when I heard it again a decade or so ago when it was mentioned by the business guru Tom Peters in one of his books is :

— “Quality doesn’t have to be defined, You understand it without definition. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.”—


— ” Quality is not a thing. It is an event. It is the event at which the subject becomes aware of the object… The Quality event is the cause of the subjects and objects, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of the Quality!”—

Run Your Business So It Doesn't Run You by Linda Leigh Francis

Next on the list I’ll put Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You by Linda Leigh Francis

Now I’ve known about this book for a couple of years now but have never really sat down and read everything in it until this past fall and I find it so valuable I’m going to add it to my Contracting 101 Essentials list.

Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You teaches you the same lessons as Michael Gerber’s E-Myth books about the concept that most contracting businesses fail because the founders are technicians (trades men and women) that were inspired to start a business but don’t have the business awareness to run a successful construction business but also provides some actual plans (checklists) and management tools for you to work within making sure you develop your own systems and don’t fall prey to the “Entrepreneurial Trap” .

Reaching The Goal: How Managers Improve a Services Business Using Goldratt's Theory of Constraints by John Arthur Ricketts

Last on this particular list (there will always be more book lists) I’ll put Reaching The Goal: How Managers Improve a Services Business Using Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints.

This book is rather technical about the practical application of the Theory of Constraints in a service business environement. I recommend it for the folks who have a basic understanding of TOC and who have already read The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement and/or Critical Chain : A Business Novel and/or Critical Chain Project Management, Third Edition.

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J. Jerrald Hayes
Primus Inter Pares at Paradigm Projects, Ltd.
I am an architectural woodworker and general contractor turned IT, Business and Project Management consultant, software developer wannabe senior division triathlete and ski racer, Yankee fan and founder of, 360 Difference, and now too.
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