The 2013 Digital Tonto Reading List
The winter holidays are always a great time to catch up on some reading. Â Unlike any other time of the year, when youâ€™re on vacation and everyone else is too, so there is no e-mail to get back to or urgent calls to return.
And this year, it is especially important to catch up. Â I canâ€™t remember a time when so much was happening so fast. Â Sure, you can keep up with events on the news or in blogs, but to really understand whatâ€™s going on, you need the depth and perspective that you get from books.
It used to be that we would read about the future and then wait for it to happen. Â Now, it seems that we read about it as itâ€™s happening and the impact is already being felt in business, economics and society. Â Just as in past years (this is my 5th list), this list reflects what Iâ€™ve read and written about over the last 12 months. Â Have a great holiday!
Books Of The Year
Last year I started a new â€œBook of the Yearâ€ feature to recommend the book that I thought was most important for managers to read. Â Looking back, Iâ€™m pretty happy with my choice of Race Against the Machine, by MITâ€™s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee about the effect that automation is having throughout business and society.
I donâ€™t think any other book has as much impact and am looking forward to its sequel, The Second Machine Age, due out next month. Â However, while Brynjolfsson and McAfee ably described the potential impact of technology, they didnâ€™t go into much detail about the effect new technologies such as big data and machine learning is having now.
This year, there were two books that did a great job of explaining how our world is changing. Â The End of Competitive Advantage, by Columbiaâ€™s Rita Gunther McGrath argues that, rather than trying to build sustainable business models, the most successful companies pursue â€œtransient advantageâ€ and constantly adapt.
In The End of Power, political scientist MoisÃ©s NaÃm makes much the same argument, but for society as a whole. Â â€œPower,â€ he writes, â€œis easier to get, but harder to use or keep.â€ Â We used to expect leaders to grow in power over time, now weâ€™re much more likely to see their power usurped, not by a rival, but by a collection of smaller forces.
Both books point to what I believe is becoming a central tension of the new age, that of disruption and legitimacy. Â While digital technology has made it easier to rise to the top very quickly, a rapid rise does not build confer the trappings we are used to associating with powerful positions, whether it be market, political or moral leadership.
General Business And Marketing
Anybody running an organization should take the time to read Tribal Leadership, which makes the apt point that different kinds of cultures require different approaches. Â The book gives an interesting taxonomy ranging from Level 1 to Level 5 organizations and offers good advice on how to move your enterprise up the ladder.
While many cast academics as out of touch inhabitants of ivory towers, the truth is that as outsiders, they often get unusual opportunities to look at whatâ€™s happening inside corporations. Â Several of the best books I read this year were written by business school professors.
Roger Martin and former CEO A.G. Lafley give an in depth perspective of how strategy was done at P&G in Playing to Win. Â Whartonâ€™s David Robertson gives a lively account of Legoâ€™s fall and rise in Brick by Brick and IMDâ€™s Bill Fischer, along with Boston Collegeâ€™s Andy Boynton explain how top executives find and develop winning business ideas in The Idea Hunter.
I read a couple of good marketing books this year. Â Jonah Bergerâ€™s Contagious is a must read for anyone whoâ€™s interested in what makes ideas spread. Razorfishâ€™s Ray Velez and Bob Lord (now at AOL Networks) give a competent overview of the digital marketing landscape in Converge and Jeremy Holden gives an insiderâ€™s account into how great brand planning is done in Second That Emotion.
For something off the beaten track, Publicisâ€™ Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval show how they built their unique agency culture in both The Power of Nice and The Power of Small and Christopher Schroeder tells the story of a burgeoning Middle East tech movement in Startup Rising.
Science, Technology And Innovation
There were some very good tech books out recently. Â Big Data, by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-SchÃ¶nberger is a must read if youâ€™d like to know what all of this fuss is about and Ray Kurzweilâ€™s How to Create a Mind offers a surprisingly readable account of how artificial intelligence works. Â The New Digital Age, by Googleâ€™s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen takes a deeper look at how technology is affecting business and society.
I also tracked back and read both Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics and was glad I did. Digital Disruption, by Forresterâ€™s James McQuivey, read a bit too much like a pitch presentation for my tastes, but gives a decent overview of the issues facing incumbent businesses and The Creative Destruction of Medicine by Eric Topol is an informative guide to how technology is changing healthcare.
If you think you canâ€™t be creative, you should read Creative Confidence, by IDEOâ€™s David and Tom Kelly and you might change your mind about what your capable of. Â Gary Klein, the father of naturalistic decision making has a great new book out on how insight works called Seeing What Others Donâ€™t. Â I also finally got around to reading Henry Chesbroughâ€™s classic, Open Innovation and highly recommend it.
I was very excited to read Benoit Mandelbrotâ€™s posthumous autobiography, The Fractalist, whichÂ I found a bit self serving, but hey, itâ€™s Mandelbrot! Â I also read Adventures of a Mathematician, by Stanislaw Ulam, which gave a great insiderâ€™s look at the golden age of US science after World War II. Â It was worth the time even just for the personal stories about John von Neumann.
Economics And Society
I have mixed feelings about Malcolm Gladwell and had similar misgivings about his new book, David and Goliath, but I read and enjoyed it like all the others. Â The discussion about legitimacy was particularly interesting. I have a similar attitude toward Nassim Taleb, but foundÂ Antifragile also worthwhile.
George Packerâ€™s The Unwinding gives a gripping account of how America has changed over the past few decades and The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism gives a scholarly, but very readable account of the sociological phenomenon by two Harvard professors.
There were also a lot of good recaps of the 2012 presidential election, which I wonâ€™t go into, but The Victory Lab, which explains the part technology played will not only interest political junkies, but marketers as well.
I finally got around to reading Jane Jacobsâ€™ The Economy of Cities and really wish I had done so earlier. Â If youâ€™re interested in innovation, economics or cities, you should really pick it up
Reading Tip For 2014
After I publish these reading lists, I often get questions from people asking how I manage to read as much as I do. Â The secret is that you canâ€™t be snobby about what you read. Â I often fall into reading slumps, but after picking up a John Grisham or Dan Brown novel, I get back into the habit of reading and that â€œprimes the pumpâ€ for more serious stuff.
I think itâ€™s very hard to read if you pick up a book only a few times a year and try to press through. Â If you make reading a habitâ€”and again any kind of readingâ€”it makes tackling more difficult subjects much easier. Â So donâ€™t be embarrassed, Harry Potter is wonderful! (And I should know, Iâ€™ve read them all).
In any case, thatâ€™s my list for 2013. Â Please leave your own suggestions in the comments below and have a Happy New Year!
image credit: inboundlogistics.com
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Greg Satell is an internationally recognized authority on Digital Strategy and Innovation. He consults and speaks in the areas of digital innovation, innovation management, digital marketing and publishing, as well as offshore web and app development. His blog is Digital Tonto and you can follow him on Twitter.
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