Ambiguities of Experience – Book Review

The Ambiguities of Experience (Messenger Lectures) While on vacation last month, I saw a review in US Airways‘ magazine for The Ambiguities of Experience by James G. March (affiliate link).

The review was a short one but peaked my interest as it points out March’s main question presented in the book.  The question is a simple one…but has a very difficult answer.

This simple question is:

What is, or should be, the role of experience in creating intelligence, particularly in organizations?

Simple question right?

Now…I’ve always been of the mindset that experience is a good thing.  I’ve argued before that I’d normally hire someone with experience over education.  This book makes me rethink that approach in some ways. I’ll still hire for ability over experience any day though.

The book is a short one – only 120 pages of content in a 5″ by 8″ book.  While short, there’s quite a bit of ‘stuff’ in it.

As mentioned above, the main focus of this book is to question whether experience really is the best teacher.    In this book, March argues that experience can be a good teacher if that experience is used as a means to build context for stories and models of history.

The problems with ‘experience as teacher’ is that these experiences can be easily warped, misconstrued and interpreted in many ways.

March does agree that experience can be a good teacher, but isn’t always the best teacher.  Using experiences alone as a learning mechanism can lead a person / organization down the wrong path.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that there were no answers put forth by the author.  March realizes that the issue of experience as teacher is a difficult one and there is no ‘right’ answer on how to approach using experiences as learning method.

One caveat  before you run over to Amazon or your local bookseller, know that this book is a bit difficult to read.  It is written much like an academic paper and, as such, as a lot of academic language in it.    Not a bad thing…but it isn’t necessarily a book that you’ll breeze though.  You’ll have to work at reading this book.

That said, I like this book and have added it to my bookshelf to bring down and read again in the future.

Delivering Happiness – Book Review

A Path to Profits, Passion, and PurposeI picked up Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh through the Amazon Vine program (love that program…free stuff to review!).

I’m a big fan of Zappos and the things that the company has been able to do. I love the idea of a culture driven company and Zappos has been the poster child for this idea for quite some time.

When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it.

Quick Review

The first section of the book covers a great deal of time (birth to Tony’s start as Zappos’ CEO).

Tony provides provides a pretty interesting, and at times funny, walk-through of his childhood, high school and college.  While describing his life, its easy to see the entrepreneurial spirit alive and kicking throughout Tony’s life.

One of the really interesting parts of this section is the description of the building of Tony’s first company LinkExchange (LE) and the subsequent selling of that company to Microsoft.  The building and sale of LinkExchange isn’t chronicled in detail but an interesting summary is provided the gives the reader a good feel for what happened.

In addition, Tony describes the years after the LE sale and his search for something to do.  In this part of the book, Tony details the lessons he learned playing poker…and tries to equate them to strategies for business…and he does a pretty decent job of it too.

About half-way through the book (starting with Section II) Tony gets into the details of how Zappos became the company it is today.  The trials & tribulations of an internet company trying to survive the bursting of the dot.com bubble, the economic troubles of the early 2000’s and other issues (9/11, etc).

This part of the book is pretty interesting as Tony gives the reader some insight into how Zappos was kept afloat during the initial few years.  Basically, if it weren’t for Tony putting his own money into the company (and almost going broke doing so) Zappos might not have survived.

While describing how Zappos was built into a thriving business, Tony also provides some insight into his approach to building the Zappos culture that we’ve all become aware of.  There are some great tidbits of knowledge in this section of the book.

While I found the first two sections of the book (described above) interesting, the final section of the  book is where the real lessons can be learned about building a culture that fits an organization.

In the final section of the book, Tony describes the concept of Delivering Happiness.  This section is very interesting and worth reading a few times (which I’m doing).

This book is a winner.

I like this book for a few reasons.  First, its just an interesting read.  Being able to hear about Tony’s life from Tony is interesting to me.  Second….it provides some excellent insight into what its really like running a startup and the ups/downs that comes with the territory.

Will you like it?  I think so…but here’s some advice for those of you who are on the fence about the book:

  • If you have any interest in building a business, read this book.
  • If you have any interest in a building a culture that ‘fits’ your organization, read this book.
  • If you like reading about success stories in business, read this book.
  • If you are a grammar nerd and hate it when people don’t write in perfect grammatical english, you may not like this book.  But heck…if you’re reading my blog, you probably aren’t a grammar nerd 🙂

Buy this book when it comes out…great read and some excellent insights.

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SWAT – Seize the Accomplishment Review

SWAT Seize the Accomplishment ReviewI just put down SWAT – Seize the Accomplishment (Amazon affiliate link) by Timothy L. Johnson….and now want to pick it back up and read it again.  It’s that good.

I received the book as a review copy from the author…but don’t let that get in the way of believing me when i say that this business fable is an excellent one.

SWAT is an acronym for “Systems Working All Together”…but it also helps set the stage for the story in the book.

The storyline of this book is a good one and keeps the concepts moving forward quickly. In the story, a team lead has a difficult task to work through and turns to his best friend and cousin…who happens to be a SWAT commander.

The main character, Toby, spends time with his SWAT commander cousin and learns the systems thinking concepts that make SWAT teams successful.

The concepts are described perfectly and in a manner that makes it easy to comprehend and easy to understand how you might apply them to the problems your currently facing.

I’ve read quite a few systems thinking books but nothing as entertaining as this.   While this isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Timothy Johnson‘s put together a great little book that can help to introduce the systems thinking concepts quickly and easily.

Grab this book from your favorite bookseller today..Amazon has it for $14.95.

The Leadership Test – A Book Review

Leadership Test Book ReviewA few weeks ago I received Leadership Test: Will You Pass? (amazon affiliate link) by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. to review

The book is a small one (~99 pages in total) but packed with some interesting content.   Clark uses a business fable to describe leadership and what makes up a good leader.

I’m a HUGE fan of stories and storytelling as a means to convey knowledge and I love these types of books.   Obviously other folks enjoy these types of books as well (think Patrick Lencioni and his wonderful books).

The story in this book is an excellent one. It’s well written and the plot-line is pretty good and keeps you turning the pages. While the story is good, the lessons contained with the book are even better.  After reading the book, I didn’t feel as though I’d read a business book about leadership…I felt like I read an interesting story about someone learning to lead.

I’d recommend this book to everyone with any interest in leadership….and I’m not just saying that because I was sent this as a review from the author.  It’s a great little book.

What’s your passion? Find out and Crush It

Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush itI asked “What’s your focus?” last week and now I wanted to ask another question: What’s your passion?

I picked up Gary Vayernerchuk’s book Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion over the weekend and, while the book isn’t a great piece of literature, it does provide a good kick in the pants.

This book is a good one for anyone trying to figure out how to make something more of their lives.   Reading this book won’t make you rich overnight.  It won’t turn you into a social media ‘god’.  It won’t do a lot of things.

What does it do? This book doesn’t provide a recipe for success but it does provide a roadmap for those people who know they want to go somewhere but aren’t quite sure how to get there.

If you want to do something different with your life but don’t really know how to get started, take a look at this book.  You’ll get a swift kick in the pants.  Read this book and think about the question I asked “What’s your passion?”   Find the answer to that question and then use the tools and methods described in this book and you might just be able to change your life.

If you’d like to see some other reviews of this book, take a look at the following reviews:

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Book Review: Andrew McAfee’s Enterprise 2.0

Andrew McAfee's Enterprise 2.0Just finished reading Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges

My review in two words: Excellent book!

Whether you are an expert in the Enterprise 2.0 world or just a beginner, this book has something for you. Whether you believe in Enterprise 2.0 or not, this book has some excellent concepts that can be used to help bring social tools into the enterprise.

The book is split into two parts with the Part 1 covering the tools of Enterprise 2.0 and Part 2 discussing how to successfully utilize social tools within the enterprise.

Part 1 provides a very good overview of the tools and techniques of Enterprise 2.0 as well as some real-world case studies of companies that have implemented Web 2.0 platforms.  These companies are extremely diverse running the gamut from government agencies to start-ups and the information provided by McAfee shows real-world usage of Web 2.0 within enterprises.

Part 2 is where the really good stuff happens.  This is where McAfee shines.  This is the stuff that every CEO, COO, CIO and CMO should read and digest.   This is the place where you get to see some strategies for using social tools within the enterprise.    When you read this book make, sure you pay attention to the Six Organizational Strategies starting on page 179.  Good stuff.

Will this book give you the recipe for successful use of Enterprise 2.0?  No.  Will this book make your Enterprise 2.0 project(s) successful?  Maybe. Maybe not. What this book will do is give you some ideas on how to introduce Enterprise 2.0 into your organization and give you some tips on make it successful.

So…let’s take a step away from the book for a minute and look at the topic itself.  Enterprise 2.0.  Great name but one that has been much maligned.  The topic has caused a lot of debate since being introduced.  For some examples, go read Dennis Howlett‘s article titled “Enterprise 2.0 – the non-debate” and then read Mark Fidelman’s response on CloudAve titled “Enterprise 2.0 Caffeine: Let’s debunk the non-debate” to get some flavor of the various debate’s happening out there on the topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 in the comments.

With all of this debate, or non-debates as some would say,  let’s look at McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms by organizations in pursuit of their goals.

McAfee continues with his definition when he writes:

Enterprise 2.0, then, is about how organizations use the newly available ESSP’s [emergent social software platforms] to do their work better

With those definitions in mind, let’s revisit one of the main arguments against Enterprise 2.0 –> The value of Social Media / Enterprise 2.0 cannot be determined.  In fact, there are many (Howlett included) that say social media tools are worthless to the organization.

My response to this argument is a simple one:

How valuable is the knowledge of an employee?  How valuable is the knowledge of 10, 100 or 1000 employees? Can you place value on that knowledge?  Maybe.  Maybe not. That doesn’t mean that trying to harness that knowledge is worthless.  So why would using tools to harness that knowledge be worthless?

I can understand some of the arguments of folks out there against Enterprise 2.0.  There are a lot of buzzwords floating about and a lot of hype around the subject, but if you take the lessons from this book to heart, you’ll do more than buy into the hype…you’ll give your organization an opportunity to succeed by really harnessing the expertise, experiences and value of your organizational knowledge.

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