Five Intriguing Summer Reads to Feed Your Brain

Summer is a time for reading the kind of books you can get lost in.

They must be intriguing without being heavy. Your brain doesn’t want to work too hard while you laze on the beach in the park.

A good mystery novel (Michael Connelly is my favorite) or a trashy romance novel often fits the bill. Sometimes, though, we still want to learn. It gives us a guilt-free excuse to read even when we’re not taking some time off.

Here are five intriguing books that will satisfy your brain’s intellectual curiosity.

They all contain valuable lessons that can be applied to business, particularly customer service, but they rely on good stories to tell their tale.


Your Brain at Work

This book offers a fascinating look at how we can improve our success by having a better understanding of how our brains work. It follows a typical workday for Emily and Paul, who are both overwhelmed with constant emails, meetings, and distractions. The author, David Rock, rewinds the scenes that unfold throughout their day to show us how small changes can lead to big improvements.

The Invisible Gorilla 

This book starts out with a high speed pursuit of a murder suspect. When the police finally catch up, they nab the wrong guy. Sounds like a classic mystery novel? The book is really about how we often miss what should be obvious. If you've ever wondered how a customer service rep could miss an opportunity right in front of them, this book will explain how. The book gets its name from a popular experiment that you can see on video

Predictably Irrational

You may have heard about Facebook’s now infamous experiment where they showed how user’s updates were influenced by their friends. You’d like to believe that you wouldn’t be so easily manipulated, but Dan Ariely’s fascinating book reveals how we’re not nearly as rational as we think we are.


If your a fan of Breaking Bad, you'll appreciate the chapter called "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” This book uncovers the hidden truth behind a variety of topics by effortlessly blending hard data with captivating storytelling. Even more important than the stores themselves, Freakonomics causes us to challenge our assumptions.

In-N-Out Burger

Did you know that In-N-Out and McDonald’s share a lot of history? They were both founded in 1948, started in Southern California, and brought us many innovations that are common in the fast food industry today. From there, the two companies’ paths diverged as McDonald’s became a global titan and In-N-Out established a cult-like following. This exceptionally well-researched story gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of In-N-Out Burger’s rich history.

What's on your summer reading list?

Book Review: What's Your Purple Goldfish

I always enjoy a book that’s practical. 

One book that fits this description is What’s Your Purple Goldfish?: How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth, by Stan Phelps. 

Phelps defines a purple goldfish as an “unexpected surprise that’s thrown in for good measure to achieve product differentiation, drive retention, and promote word of mouth.” He argues that companies pursuing a purple goldfish strategy stand out from a sea of sameness by creating memorable experiences that customers will talk about.

The book is full of real stories and examples that illustrate each specific concept. In the spirit of practical application, I thought I’d contribute one of my own.

My wife, Sally, and I recently traveled with friends to Paso Robles, California to do some wine tasting. We made a point to visit one of our favorite wineries, Herman Story

Herman Story initially won us over with their outstanding wine. A purple goldfish has made us loyal fans. 

Winemaker Russell P. From likes to chat with visitors in the tasting room. Whenever we’ve been there, From has offered us a chance to taste some additional wine that wasn’t on the tasting menu. On our last trip, From poured us several wines that hadn’t even been bottled yet. He had poured them straight from the barrel just to give his guests some extra enjoyment.

It’s fun to learn about wine directly from the winemaker. It’s even more fun to taste something that hasn’t even been released yet!

Tasting a barrel sample at Herman Story.

Tasting a barrel sample at Herman Story.

What’s Your Purple Goldfish? is a fast and enjoyable read. I highly recommended it if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration for standing out in your customers’ minds.

You can purchase the book on Amazon or view this preview slide show to learn more about it.

Book Review: Uncommon Service

Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of your Business.
by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss

I've read a lot of books about customer service and I must admit that many of them tend to blur together. As I read Uncommon Service, my excitement grew because I realized I was reading something that was, well, uncommon.

This book is a practical guide for leaders who want to use service to strategically differentiate their companies from the competition. The central premise is that great service fundamentally comes from the choices made in assembling an organization's business model.

One of the biggest take-aways for me was that companies can't do everything well. Smart companies understand what their customers truly value and excel at that while allowing themselves to be mediocre or even poor in even other areas. It's a trade-off necessary to focus time, energy, and resources on what really counts.

I immediately thought of In-N-Out Burger as I read about this concept. They focus on burgers and fries rather than offer a wide selection of entries like other fast food restaurants, but their burgers are really, really good. (A few years ago, I reviewed a terrific book about their story.)

I enthusiastically recommend Uncommon Service if you are interested in customer service from a strategic perspective.