Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer reading

Do you know anyone who’s lamented, “I read too much”? Me neither. Television and other passive mediums are easy to blame because they’re, well, so easy. Why do something (read) when you can do nothing (watch the tube)? It’s human nature.

I have a dozen or so books awaiting consumption. At the head of the table are two biz books (The Wisdom of Crowds and The Paradox of Choice) and a pair of novels (Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns). It’s going to be a four-sided coin toss; I can’t decide where to dine. And, post-absorption, it will be fun to pass them along.

Book sharing is a blast. I also enjoy learning about who’s reading what. One such list, published last month in US News & World Report, seeks to identify the best business books of all time, showcasing a CEO panel’s picks.

U.S. News spoke with 14 leaders from all walks of business life—from academics to entrepreneurs to corporate executives—about the five books they consider indispensable reading for managers. The responses ranged far and wide: Military metaphors popped up occasionally, with Sun Tzu's The Art of War rearing its age-old head. But books about biology were also surprisingly prevalent, not only for their insight into how business environments imitate the natural world but also, several executives said, because understanding biology helped them appreciate the concept of randomness.
Chris Anderson, author of my current read, The Long Tail, offered two of my favorites: The Cluetrain Manifesto and The Tipping Point. His takes:
  • Cluetrain: When they wrote this, it was still way too early. This was before blogging, before MySpace. People said, 'Who are these guys, ex-hippies and free spirits talking about economics and marketing and brands?' They talked about consumer empowerment, the inversion of power, that you don't control your brand–you share control of your band with your users. It sounded like a pipe dream, like useless utopian wishful thinking. And it's just remarkable to see how the world has basically evolved to demonstrate exactly everything they said.
  • Tipping Point: The best books on the economics of popular culture–the world we actually live in–are written not by economists but by writers like Gladwell. I suspect academia punishes economists who dabble in things like shoes and jeans and drug dealers–that's probably no way to get tenure. But it's superimportant, and it's a great tool kit to understand the world.
Mark Cuban (click here to read our entry about Mark) recommended The Gospel of Wealth, The Fountainhead, and The Innovator’s Dilemma ("helped me make sense of why things worked and didn't work in the technology industry"), among others. And Jim Collins, author of the great Good to Great, suggested an eclectic stack, including Everett Rogers’ 1962, ahead-of-its-time Diffusion of Innovations.
Everett Rogers was the person who first put out the concept of innovation adoption cycles. His essential insight is very profound: Innovation adoption is a social process. Innovations don't necessarily win because they're better; they have to be adopted. It had a huge influence on my own thinking about the evolution of ideas.
Happy reading.

Post-script (7/6/07): Take a peek at a recent Signal vs. Noise blog post, The Way to Wealth: The best business book is also the shortest. Interesting stuff (Benjamin Franklin's terse 30-page read), including:
  • Creditors have better memories than debtors
  • If you want to know the value of money, go try to borrow some
  • It’s easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it
  • A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two different things
  • Keep your shop and your shop will keep you

Post-script (8/14/07): Dug up a cool article from a late July issue of All the News That's Worth to Print. It's worth a quick read, and here's an interesting take: Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete.

Post-script (8/15/07): Interesting take from the 800-CEO-READ Blog talking about the Long Tail of interest in their 1,267-referenced business books. Their top-25 list is solid too.


Rame said...

The Wisdom of Crowds is a good read and reinforces the notion that the collective is more right than the individual. The issue for leaders is how big must the "crowd" be and at what speed can the "crowd" give you pertinent information. Let me know your thoughts.


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