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Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't Hardcover – September 15, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Joining the nonfiction tradition of redefining simple concepts in terms of more complicated ones, technology journalist Maney presents theories of fidelity (consumer experience) and convenience (ease of getting/using products) to explain the success or failure of marketable goods. Terms like "fidelity swap" and "fidelity belly" are rife, but Maney's explanations boil down to the conflict between ego gratification and straight-up laziness: visit McDonalds, and you get an easy (cheap) meal while impressing nobody; attend Harvard and you'll impress people, but at an inconvenience cost of hard work and big money. Maney's plethora of examples range from Wal-Mart and Starbucks to newspapers and fashion labels: "A big part of fidelity is derived from a product's aura and identity... thus, $20,000 for a Hermes bag." Some honest insights do crop up-"High convenience is not about love, but about need... about habit"; "Mass is about convenience, and luxury is about fidelity. They can't coexist"-which might clue in general readers to the forces behind their shopping choices, but should prove old hat for experienced business readers.
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Review

“A rare book that leaves you with a simple but profound way to build stronger products, organizations, and careers.  Trade-Off introduces one of those ideas that will stick in your mind for decades. Get ready to re-think what differentiates success from failure.”
--Tom Rath, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Strengths Based Leadership

“What’s new out there, what’s good, and will it be around tomorrow? Kevin Maney has written a provocative and original exploration of some of the mysteries of our consuming lives: why, for instance, has Apple stayed hot and Motorola gone cold? Will Starbucks and Wal-Mart and American Airlines flourish or flop? Required reading for all CEOs; intriguing and entertaining for the rest of us.”
--Harold Evans, author of They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators

“This book demystifies success in the marketplace. Buy it, read it, learn from it and use it.”
--Keith Ferrazzi, bestselling author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back

“Moving deftly from Crocs to the Kindle, to Ozzy Osborne, to the daily newspaper, Kevin Maney shows how the trade-off between fidelity and convenience can make or break a business.  He shares several success stories, of course. But even better, he tells us about some serious commercial bloopers. These cautionary tales alone are worth the price of this terrific book.” 
-- Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind

"Trade-Off by Kevin Maney shows how the tug-of-war between quality and convenience can make or break a product, a brand, or even a company. This book puts a new slant on why we make the choices we make in the marketplace. A fresh and fascinating read!"
--Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and Leading at a Higher Level

“Packed with historical and contemporary case studies, Trade-Off is a practical guide to overcoming business dilemmas and steering your company toward long-term success.   Kevin Maney offers straight talk about choosing winning strategies that will keep your brand strong.”
--Tom Kelley, bestselling author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation

“Unputdownable!  Trade-Off will change the way you think about why some things–iphones or Coach bags–take off, while others fall by the wayside.  It you want to understand why the marketplace works the way it does, read it–then read it again.”
--Linda Kaplan Thaler, bestselling author of The Power of Nice and The Power of Small

“...like Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling books Outliers and Blink, Maney presents a seemingly simple premise and the evidence to support it -- as well as various factors that can complicate it.”
--Reuters

“Worth a read for another take on shifting ideas of quality.”
--Wired
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038552594X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,247,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Compromises are inevitable and usually involve a trade-off in one form or another. In the business world, Kevin Maney suggests that there is an ever-present tension between quality and convenience, more specifically between what he calls "high-fidelity" and "high-convenience." He provides in this volume what Jim Collins suggests in the Foreword, a "strategic lens" that "does not in itself give an answer about what you should do, and not do. Rather - and much better - it forces you to engage in a powerful question, from which you derive your own insight and make your own decisions...The power of a strategic concept [such as the one Maney shares] lies first and foremost in giving us a lens and a stimulus for hard thinking and hard choices. The critical question is not its universal truth, but its usefulness. And in this, I think Kevin Maney has extracted a very useful framework."

Maney cites the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, as an example of a business leader who obviously did some hard thinking before making a critically important decision. During a program at a conference that Maney attended, "Hastings said that his strategic decisions at Netflix were driven by one simple core principle: People are willing to trade the quality of an experience for the convenience of getting it, and vice versa." It occurred Maney that Hastings' core concept "was a terrific lens for viewing the way the world works. It can be an invaluable insight when dreaming up new products, when positioning brands, when planning company strategy, or when analyzing competitors."

Each day, business leaders are required to make decisions that involve trade-offs of one kind or another. I agree with Maney that "how they play out in the marketplace is the key to countless business successes and failures.
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In Kevin Maney's new book, "Trade Off - Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don't", we are treated to a simple world set apart from the latest theories on the complexity of our economic systems. Most intellectuals writing on the subject today will tell you how truly difficult it is to understand market pressures and the dynamics that determine what happens in our commercial market place. Even Malcolm Gladwell, who has given us the "The Tipping Point", which allows us to visualize how a product or service with sufficient critical mass, the right "stickiness", and the right combination of salesmen, connectors, and mavens a product might tip, catch-on as Maney would say, didn't quite give us something practical to use when making decisions.

Maney has given us something practical to use. He has given us a lens, as he calls it, a mirror as I would call it, to understand the very basics of human psychology when it comes to seeking out products and services. It's a mirror because the markets are a reflection of ourselves. First, since we are sensory beings we like to be fully engaged in a high fidelity environment. In essence we like the high bandwidth experience of being there, live and in concert. Second, if we can't be there in person, then we are extremely lazy. These are the two extremes. We pay for things that simulate our senses, or we prefer the habit of convenience where we don't have to use our senses at all. We are willing to pay for the convenience as well.

Gladwell was never able to definitively explain "stickiness", that unknown phenomenon that produces an attraction to a product or service. Maney has given us the essence of the Gladwellian "stickiness".
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** spoiler alert ** Kevin Maney’s Trade-off is about the constant exchange of fidelity and convenience. The concept Maney lays out is insightful when loosely applied, but doesn’t hold up under a lot of scrutiny. Maney argues that the trade off between convenience, price + availability, and fidelity, aura+identity+experience, is a zero-sum trade. You can’t have more convenience without getting less fidelity and vice versa. Maney warns against chasing something he calls the fidelity mirage, which is both high fidelity and high convenience, but both are measured relative to the nearest competitor , which means achieving the fidelity mirage only adjusts the baseline for comparison. Google seems to be high fidelity and high convenience. It’s free, it’s on every internet enabled computer and my phone, while at the same time being much higher fidelity than other search engines. Is Google a fidelity mirage, or is there a flaw in how fidelity and convenience are being measured?

Possibly, I’m being too critical. Trade-off provides a useful framework for how to position a product or a brand, some clues into the long-term viability of a company, and even a little enlightenment into experiences and products around us.

Kevin Maney’s writing style is neat and clear. He does a great job of explaining a complex topic in a way that doesn’t make it seem overwhelming. Overall this a good book and well worth my time, but I don’t think it’s my first recommendation to anyone.
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Format: Hardcover
Trade-Off is one of those is one of those businessy books you might find at the airport, one of those types of books that try to break down complex situations into simple concepts, such as retrofitting non-causal 'theories' like 'the stock market will be up if the AFC wins the Superbowl!'

The central 'insight' of Trade-Off is 'the balance between quality and convenience.' High quality, or high fidelity other, on the one hand, or highly convenient products, on the other, will be successful. Those that languish in the 'fidelity belly' of being neither will not. This is interesting as a conceptual tool, which has the virtues of both simplicity and elegance, and I commend the author for this insight. The rest of the book comprise cases which supports or elaborates this concept.

The theory both explains too much and too little. It should be pretty clear that high fidelity or highly convenient products fail, for example, a doomed startup called General Magic to which the author himself draws attention, but drops. So he really doesn't spend much time on those cases that disprove his thesis--if it's either high fidelity or high convenience, it *must* work. Is there no commodity which can escape this theory? According to the author only a few basic ones, like electricity. But is this really the case--aren't all demand inelastic consumer goods immune to this thesis? For example, toothpaste, or toilet paper. If you use enough conceptual effort I suppose you could squeeze these into the theory by saying puffy toilet paper is 'high fidelity' while thin TP is 'highly convenient' but that's a bit of a reach isn't it? Some of his other examples are risible. He claims that hockey is not a 'high-fidelity TV sport' because--get this--the puck is too small.
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