Tag Archives: Business Book Club

Solving the Omnivore’s Dilemma

wpid-20150630_150828.jpgIf the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan had come up while the Kalamazoo Business Book Club in person meetup still existed, I definitely would have approved it as a choice. Where I ended up learning about it was at a (Kalamazoo) Startup Grind event in May. The guest, Erika Block, founder of Local Orbit, stated that the reason she finally received funding was because an investor had read  a couple of Pollan’s books and it changed how he thought about food and eating. After reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I can see why!

I’m not sure what the difference in content is, since I happened to checkout the “young reader’s” edition. Pollan did a good job of narrating his journey and answering all of the types of questions there might be. In fact, he stated near the end that because of the book some vegetarians went back to eating meat, while others became vegetarians.

The definition of the “omnivore’s dilemma” given in the book was that we (humans) have access to a wide variety of food without knowing what is best for us. The experience has also changed where many were farmers and now there are only a few. In addition to this change, we have lost much of the knowledge of what is safe to eat from the land, contributing even more to the dilemma.

Have you ever wondered why corn exists in so many items, even when it is not a food item? Pollan started with the history of corn and how it became “King.” I can’t say that I have changed anything in my diet yet. It has definitely encouraged my thinking that I am on the right path and need to look more closely at the ingredients of what I do eat, and where it comes from and find ways to eat healthier overall with “real” food.

Another of Pollan’s points was about what is considered “organic.” According to the book, there is “industrial organic,” as one form of organic. In the case of the industrial version, the farms are created to have mass production. Because everything is geared towards mass production, the crops are limited (corn, at the least), and the animals are fed and treated for fast growth. The farms in these cases accomplish what they want and can  ship to anywhere. The farmers are always successful, too, because if the crops aren’t selling as well, then they receive government subsidies.

On the other side is the local sustainable meal which primarily comes from grass farms. Pollan wrote about his experience working at a grass farm for a week. The idea to do that was inspired by the fact that the farmer would not ship anything and told Pollan he would have to visit if he wanted to buy any of the food. Pollan’s work as a farm hand included being a part of the assembly line when it was chicken killing day. What freaked out Pollan the most was how fast killing chickens became “work.” The interesting part of the process was that it was all in the open so anyone who was going to purchase a chicken could see exactly the method being used. While at the farm, visitors could also see how the farm was run. According to the farmer, a grass farm helps create a natural ecosystem where each animal and plant has a part, all the way to the table. The grass farmer feeds the local community and does not ship far away. These farmers don’t receive the same subsidies as the industrial farmer since they grow and raise a variety of crops and animals. What they are able to do is feed themselves almost completely from the land, which I personally think is awesome.

The final part Pollan talks about is the hunter and gatherer. Pollan finds others who help him learn to hunt a wild boar and to gather mushrooms. After his experience hunting, Pollan decided to step back and be a vegetarian for a short while in order to check himself on the idea of eating meat.

After reading all of the experiences, I was thinking, “Ok, now what?” Pollan anticipated that and has sections with resources and ideas for how to handle the food dilemma. I appreciate the resources and afterword most of all and hope to follow up on some, such as buying more from the local farmer’s market or learning to grow some food myself.

If you haven’t read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I highly recommend it. If you have already read it, what was the one point that you remember most?

Thanks for reading! (and commenting/liking)

Stacy (a.k.a. “The book lady”)


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Book Club Turns Two


What better way to celebrate the Kalamazoo Business Book Club’s second birthday than to talk about the past year and look ahead to the next year?  Matt commented that by completing the second year we had already surpassed the average length of a book club. Yay!

Although the discussion in the back of the Michigan News Agency veered to business and not just the business book club, Jessica, Matt and I did cover both areas. Are you wondering what we read as a club in 2014? Check out the list for the ten books and the blog posts for each one:

The book choices are based as much on lists as requests from those in the group. One of the goals is to help Learners (members) read the business book that is at the top of their list. Sometimes it is taken a step further and the person who made the choice also leads the discussion. What’s at the top of your list?

Happy reading!

Stacy (a.k.a. “The Book Lady”)

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Have you seen a Purple Cow?


The book, “Purple Cow,” by Seth Godin, was nothing to sneeze about. Or was it? A topic that the five of us continually returned to while seated in the back of The Michigan News Agency was the group Godin referred to as the “sneezers.” These are the people who seek out the new ideas and not only try them out, they spread the word, too. These are the people who will be your early adopters if you have come up with a “Purple Cow.”

A “Purple Cow,” then, is another way of saying that something is remarkable. This means that your business is doing something different and original and it’s worth being noticed and talked about.  By the way, Godin states that the opposite of remarkable is “very good.” Another way of stating that would be “boring,” “average,” or “nothing special.” The Purple Cow, on the other hand, stands out, at least for a little while. Just like everything else, there are cycles for the Purple Cow products. The goal is for the early adopters (sneezers) to help move it to mass use and create a “cash cow.” After that, Godin states,  let the team who is good at “milking the cow” continue on while you reinvest towards the next time of doing it again. What happens if it fails?

Failure was another topic we discussed as part of why there are not more Purple Cows. According to Godin, in America, we learn to fail in first grade. It is where we realize it is best to try to fit in and color inside of the lines. In general, we are raised with the belief that criticism leads to failure and that being noticed gets us sent to the principal’s office, not to Harvard.

How are remarkable products discovered? The group discussed crowdsourcing, and Kickstarter as sources, which are newer ways of spreading the word. One question was if venture capitalists were specifically looking at those areas for investments or if it really is more of a grassroots support.

A few more points:

  • (p21) The old rule is to create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing. The new rule is to create remarkable products that the right people seek out.
  • (p113) Marketing is in the core of the product and sharing the value. The better description for previous versions would have been advertising.
  • Reference to the book “Business Brilliant” by Lewis Schiff – the difference between dwelling and analyzing failures is what is learned. Or, as mentioned through a quote by Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I ask again…have you seen a Purple Cow?

Happy reading!

Stacy (a.k.a. “The Book Lady”)

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One of the best parts of a group book discussion is what is learned from others who are at the discussion. Someone else may express a point that you didn’t think about or missed, adding to the value of the meetup. It’s also great when new people are introduced and to find out their impressions. Tonight, five of us (with one who was brand new!) sat in a circle of chairs in the back part of the Michigan News Agency (in Kalamazoo, MI). Our discussion revolved around the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.


Anything by Gladwell is bound to be controversial. In fact, one point near the beginning of tonight’s discussion was that Gladwell is trying to increase his credibility in the scientific community through the examples he provides. Much of this book (and many of his books) may seem redundant since he actually only has a few points, and then lots of examples. Overall, for “Blink,” the consensus of the four of us who read it was that the stories weaved the points together well throughout the book.

The concept behind blink is that the subconscious mind processes more than the conscious mind, leading to a history of stored experience. It is that history that makes what seems like a spontaneous and random reaction actually not random. The question is: “When is it good to use that “intuition” or “gut feeling” for a quick decision and when is it better to take time and research through a lengthier decision process?”

To go along with the previous questions, we discussed the following points:

  • Basketball is an example of needing more analysis since everything on the court cannot be experienced.
  • Editing data vs filtering data and the fact that sometimes “less is more.”
  • Analytic vs intuitive in the military and war games examples.
  • Why entrepreneurs have to make snap decisions most of the time.

Some other points that we discussed:

  • Pepsi vs Coke and why New Coke evolved in the first place (do you know?)
  • How the packaging, environment, and previous experience of a product effect the taste, plus wondering if this idea also effects the wine tasting experience.
  • The jam story and the relation to the regret decision theory, where more choices means being regretful for what wasn’t chosen. For example, more jam was sold when there were only 6 choices compared to 24. Is this why restaurant menu choices are getting smaller?
  • Why tryouts for orchestras have screens.
  • Why Warren Harding was chosen for (the worst) President ever, and the question of how we vote today – if it is by sound bytes, how is that different than Harding being chosen because of his “presidential look?”

Probably one of the most important points was priming, and how we associate what we do, and even why many self-help books include affirmation and other reinforcement statements. If you want to check out the test that is used for an experiment, click here for the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and comment below on your thoughts from the results.

Happy reading!

Stacy (a.k.a “The Book Lady”)


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Summer 2014 Reading Choices

Choosing a name

Since it is summertime, the focus of tonight’s discussion was a little bit different than normal. Everyone who wanted to participate put their name in a hat (my bike helmet was the hat). I asked Riley, who  works at the Michigan News Agency, to choose the first name. After that, the person speaking pulled the next name when time was done. We ended up with five different books being discussed tonight! Quite a bit to take in. Below the group picture is a short summary of each presentation.

group with books

The first name chosen was Moh’d, on the far left in the picture. He discussed “Doblin – The Ten Types of Innovation” by Larry Keeley. Moh’d stated that the book discussed innovation –  defined as what is new and useful – and how to apply it to different parts of a business to be profitable. He had a handout based on this page and discussed a few of the companies. Gillette, for example, will sell a razor really cheap, knowing that the consumer has to replace the blade. For a Keurig, the math shows that a $70 machine will mean an additional $700 spent in a year, based on two people having two cups per day at $.50 each cup (or $2/day). I’m definitely adding this one to my list! How about you?


The next person was Todd, who is on the far right in the group picture. He brought a business card and bookmark for everyone that went with the book that he wrote called “Out of the Darkness and Into the Blue.” Besides telling us what the book was about, Todd explained why he decided to write it in the first place, and the process for doing it. He was able to retire from his position as a public safety officer in December of 2012, and in order to remember his experiences, he started documenting it all. As he reviewed what he had written, Todd realized that not only was he writing a memoir,  there were training ideas that could be considered “lessons learned.” It was at that point that he decided to organize it for publishing. Todd’s main target market who he hopes will read his book are these three:

  1. Regular citizens, so that they have a better idea of why public safety officers do what they do.
  2. Potential future officers, so they have an idea of what to expect.
  3. Current officers, in a mentor role, so that they don’t make the same mistakes that he did.

If you are interested in this book and live in the Kalamazoo area, it is available at Michigan News and other local bookstores, and it is also available online.

Following Todd was my discussion on Conscious Capitalism, a previous book club choice and post. I had to return it before finishing it when I originally checked it out. I finally had a turn again and still didn’t quite finish it before it was due. Luckily, I found it at another local library and completed it! Most of what I discussed was from the appendices. My favorite section was about how businesses pursue profits like people pursue happiness. Both of those are  results, not something to chase after. This was emphasized in a section on conscious capitalism myths, which the authors agreed with or disputed.

If this book is on your list, I highly recommend reading those last sections! I liked the book enough that I want to buy it, and I don’t buy books often anymore.


The fourth book was presented by Barb with some help from  her son, Todd. It also had an interesting beginning. Barb’s mother’s mother’s father (great-grandfather to her) wrote poetry in the mid to late 1800’s. When Todd found the book as the family was going through old items, he organized and edited it so the world could have access. He was asked about his favorite poem, which he read for us. It was something different than the usual business book topics and everyone enjoyed hearing it. The book title is “Tommy Hawks Hill,” and is available locally or online.

 Finally, Matt was able to present his book choice, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which had also been a previous book choice and post. He discussed the definition of an outlier and gave physical and other types of examples of why a person or situation might be one, which included culture, the 10,000 hour rule, and birth month or year. It was pointed out that there was a lot of passion needed at some point, in all of those examples. Barb stated that all three of her children are passionate about something, and it is what they do in life, yet she didn’t have that same experience.

Matt and Moh’d and I stood outside of Michigan News after it closed and continued to chat. One of the topics that came up is how many projects each of us have going at any given time, on top of work, school, family or other commitments. Moh’d stated that after watching what others with a full plate seem to do he realized this: “When the plate is full, get a bigger plate.”

Happy reading!


Stacy (a.k.a. “The Book Lady”)

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The Black Swan

The Black Swan discussion group

 One of the reactions I received several times while advertising  The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb during the past month was the question, “The movie?” It was not the movie at all. According to Taleb, (in the prologue), “a Black Swan is –

  1. an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
  2. it carries an extreme impact
  3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrences after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

If that sounds like a big and long explanation, it is. Taleb is a philosopher and statistician, and, as pointed out by Craig during the discussion in the back of the Michigan News Agency, the thesis is regurgitated throughout the book. The three of us agreed that the author’s thought process was apparent, and we could see why it was easy for him to write it. One of the other points is that  we liked that the author’s ideas were from a different point of view than what is common.

The bottom line? People want explanations for events, even when they are truly unexplainable, and random. We tend to find some way to make connections and explain why something did happen or that it should happen. Taleb basically states that the random and unexpected occurrences are outliers –  they happen outside of what is expected. It is how casinos can make money because people expect big winnings based on the few who do, for example.

Matt brought up the point of the antilibrary. Imagine a bookshelf full of books with all the knowledge you have. The books that are missing, or what you do NOT know, would be the antilibrary.

We also discussed:

  • What Taleb might have thought about the market crash in 2008 related to the book “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis.
  • The variety of financial information.
  • That economists basically don’t have a clue and can prove anything.
  • How incentives determine behaviors.
  • How everyone tries to get to the middle, yet the rich keep getting richer and there’s a definite divide.
  • That for the most part we already practice not watching the news, which was one of Taleb’s points since there usually isn’t anything important.
  •  Hedonic Happiness (my favorite point from p91): “…your happiness depends far more on the number of instances of positive feelings, what psychologists call “positive affect,” than on their intensity when they hit. In other words, good news is good news first; how good matters rather little. So to have a pleasant life you should spread these small “affects” across time as evenly as possible. Plenty of mildly good news is preferable to one single lump of great news.”

I am always happy when there are book discussions 🙂 What made you happy today?

Black Swan

One final note: If you live in or visit Michigan, you can see a black swan at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. As the definition of Black Swan suggests, the black swan is a rare bird and it is found in Australia. Thanks to John, who recommended the book and took the photograph.

Happy reading!

Stacy (a.k.a. “The Book Lady”)

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Emotional Intelligence

 Stacy, Matt and Mariaa at The Michigan News Agency

Stacy, Matt and Mariia at
The Michigan News Agency

Why do we seem so “HAPPY?” The discussion about Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, started with the point of self-awareness. As a group we agreed that if we aren’t aware of feelings as they happen, then we probably are not going to change anything.

Being “HAPPY” is important, and it is easy to get sidetracked, or even too “emotionally involved” in a situation that does not require more than empathy. Sometimes, though, being empathic  is overwhelming.  Any Trekkies may remember the character Deana Troi in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” She could read feelings and would get ill from not being able to disconnect.  Other than extremes like this, empathy, according to Goleman, is the fundamental “people skill.”

Some of the other topics revolved around:

  • Groups – personal experiences and how they can be “dumb” even when everyone is “smart,” when talents are not shared well.
  • How it is easier to fix other people’s problems versus your own.
  • That when you realize you’re in a bad emotional state, STOP, and reframe.
  • That the world measures IQ more than EQ, and causes test anxiety, which, ironically, does not portray true IQ, such as with the SATs.
  • The idea that EQ training throughout school is great, whether as a separate course or a part of the curriculum, and that the rest of us allow therapists to make a living.
  • Flow…has nothing to do with the Progressive Insurance commercial, and everything to do with being in the moment and happy with the current task.
  • Quotes – can be inspiring for a minute. It is not the quote, but our own motivation, which drives us.

Bottom line – we all liked the book and, as Mariaa stated, “It was cheaper than therapy.”

Happy reading!

Stacy (a.k.a. “The Book Lady”)



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