Leading IT Transformation

In November 2008 I was asked to take a look at Leading IT Transformation: The Roadmap to Success from Oulette & Associates (O&A) and thought the book sounded interesting…so I agreed and Oulette & Associates sent me a copy of the book to review.

It took a while to get to this book with the holidays and other things on my ‘to do’ list, but I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

This is a good book, with a lot of relevant information if you are willing to put the time into reading it. The book was written by Dan Roberts, President of O&A, and nine O&A Consultants…and you can tell it was written by consultants.

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t believe ‘written by consultants’ is necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, I like the content of this book and the writing is clear and thorough.  The consultants who wrote the chapters in this book and noted O&A consultants that have been practicing what they preach in consulting engagements and workshops for years.

But (there’s always a but), sometimes we consultants can say much more than we really need to. This is the only complaint I have about this book…each chapter has a lot of extraneous information that isn’t necessary to get the point across.  This is the only flaw I see with the book.

The book has 10 chapters, each with a different topic written by a different person.  The chapters are fairly short but packed with information (and sometimes extraneous info as previously mentioned).

Some sample chapter titles:

  • Creating your 21st Century Workforce and Culture
  • Transforming your IT Team
  • Building a client-focused IT Culture
  • Marketing IT’s Value
  • Sharpening your political savvy

All interesting chapters written by people who’ve been involved in IT for a while.

So…now that I’ve critiqued the book, let me tell you that, if you are an IT Consultant or IT leader, and you have a chance to pick this book up, you should do it. There’s nothing ‘new’ in this book, but there are some interesting ideas and points of view that make it worth picking up.

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Finished this book up earlier this week and I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed.  I feel as though a book by the man who defined the word ‘crowdsourcing’ should give me more than just anecdotes about how companies have used crowdsourcing.

I’m not disappointed in the content of the book…it was good. As was the writing. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I felt like something was missing.  The book is interesting and a good read…but left me looking for more.

That said, there are some excellent stories of companies using crowdsourcing. There is some excellent ideas is this book, but very little actionable information. Well…except for the last chapter. The last chapter provides some ‘meat’ to the ideas behind crowdsourcing.

Before someone jumps on me for giving this book a bad review…I’m not doing that. I think people should pick up this book and read it, if only for the stories of iStockPhoto and other companies that have used crowdsourcing models.

After reading this book (or before it), take a look at Groundswell.  Groundswell is the book that I’ve been measuring all other books of the genre against.  Comparing Groundswell with Crowdsourcing might be wrong since they do cover different areas…but the comparison is there….and Groundswell comes up on top.

Perhaps Groundswell is higher on my list because it provides more of an analytical look at the social media aspects of business while Crowdsourcing takes a anecdotal approach.

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Supercapitalism, written by Robert Reich, is an amazing book and should be read by every single American citizen.

The book is a historical look at American Capitalism and Democracy and how they’ve been intertwined and even how they’ve diverged in recent years.  This divergence, Reich argues, is due to Supercapitalism.

What does this mean?  It means that this country has moved past a mixture of democracy and capitalism into a new era of greed. Consumers love the cheap prices we find online and in discount stores but we get angry when jobs are sent overseas.  Investors love the high returns that stocks have provided to us but we get upset when the companies we invest in cut costs be laying off there staff.

Has anyone stopped to realize that the reason these jobs are going overseas is because we (as consumers) demand cheaper prices and we (as investors) are demanding higher returns?

There is a lot of information in this book and much of it has opened my eyes to what Capitalism and Democracy in America used to mean….and what it means today.

This is a great book that everyone should read.  For a much more detailed review of this book, take a look at Lawrence Lessig’s review of this book over on his blog.

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I finally read “Good To Great”

For the longest time, I’ve put off reading “Good to Great” by Jim Collins but finally decided to pick it up.

Have you ever realized that your perception was completely wrong about something and felt like a fool?  Well..that’s what happened to me while reading this book.

I’ve always been wary of the book and the message it portrayed…at least the one I thought it portrayed.  Over the years, I’ve read many reviews (good & bad) of the book and heard many people talk about the book in a negative light. I allowed these negative sentiments about the book to keep from reading it.  I wish I’d picked the book up sooner…not because it delivers a resounding message but because it is much different than many of the critics have tried to make it.

Many critics claim the book trys to say ‘do these things and you’ll be successful’…I disagree.  That’s not what I got from the book at all. What I got out of this book was a affirmation of what I’ve been arguing for all along:

People are the most important asset an organization will ever have.

Many critics slam the book (and others like it) because many of the companies listed as ‘great’ aren’t that great these days.  The critics claim that this is ammunition against the book’s message…I disagree…sort of. I agree that many of the organizations outlined in this book are now ‘not so great’, but that isn’t proof that the message of this book is wrong.  Perhaps these organizations lost their way.  Perhaps they stopped focusing on the people and started focusing on the competition or maybe they started worrying about how investors would see them.

I like this book and its message.  I do think the idea of ‘do these things and you’ll be great’ is ridiculous but that shouldn’t stop an organization from looking at how other companies have been successful.

This book, and the many others like it, tend to oversimplify what companies and/or people have done to be successful.  There isn’t one solution that will fit every organization.  There isn’t a ‘recipe’ for success.  You can’t emulate your competitor, you’ve got to be true to yourself and your mission.

That said, the book was a good read and had some very interesting insights.  I may not agree with the entire premise of the book but i think there are some very interesting topics covered.

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Dealing with Darwin

Ever see a book in the bookstore that catches your attention and you realize it was a best-seller sometime in the past?  You realize you never picked it up to read it and decide that you should?

That’s what happened when I ran across Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution by Geoffrey Moore.

I heard about this book when it was released in 2005 and always meant to read it…but just never did.  Whilst perusing the local Half-Price Books, I decided I’d pick it up and read it…because I’m a book nerd, there is a dinosaur on the cover and I saw what I thought were fractals in the book! 🙂

I got the book home and started reading…and I made it to page xii in the preface to the paperback edition before realizing I may have made a mistake buying this book.  What happened?

I read this passage:

The key message is simple. In order to achieve competitive advantage in a commoditizing market, one must innovate so dramatically as to create definitive seperation between your offers and those of the low-cost commoditizers. That means selecting a vector of innovation that can set you apart and investing intensely along that vector…

Huh?  The key message is simple but the author makes the message difficult to understand.

Why didn’t Mr. Moore just say: To gain competitive advantage, you need to separate yourself from your competitor by choosing an innovation path and investing in that path.

After reading this passage, I was very very skeptical about the rest of the book.  Especially after this passage immediately following the above one:

Extract resource from context to fund core.

What does that mean?

There are some great ideas in this book but those ideas are often overshadowed by verbosity (as shown above) and/or using contextual language that makes little sense outside of the context of the book.

The book does do a good job of outlining the different types of innovation (e.g., disruptive, product,platform, etc). The author does a good job of describing the process of looking at the marketplace to determine how to attack innovation. The framework that Moore lays out is very useful and intriguing and is worth studying in further detail. Again, the author does know his stuff.

That said, the book is a difficult read.  If you are serious about innovation and competitive advantage, you should read this book..but be prepared to re-read many pages/sections.  I found myself stopping every  few paragraphs and trying to comprehend what I just read.

Is there anyone out there that has read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it?   Am I being to harsh on this book?  Could it be that I’m getting cranky in my old age? 🙂

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On Writing Well

I just finished reading the 30th Anniversary Edition of On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser and I’m wiser for having read it.

I can sum this book up easily/quickly with this sentence:

If you want to improve your writing, buy this book…then write write write.

What a great book!

Up until this book I thought that writing ‘serious’ non-fiction was something for other people to do…those people with a better command of the english language that I.  I now realize that non-fiction doesn’t have to (and according to Zinsser shouldn’t be) a dry, boring tome.  Non-fiction can be fun and take many forms and styles.

Another thing I learned: Writing is hard….and it should be!  There are many times on this blog that I’ve done some ‘stream of consciousness’ writing and hit the “Publish” button and then later realized that I could have done so much more with the post if I’d just thought and did  some rewrites.  According to Zinsser, if you find yourself struggling with a piece you are writing, that means you are doing it right.

In this classic, Zinsser destroys the notion that a writer is someone ‘special’.  Anyone can write and write well.  But, it takes practice practice practice.

If you do any sort of writing or want to write, go buy this book immediately.  It’s only $11 at amazon but will bring you a hundred times that in value and knowledge.

I enjoyed this book so much, I bought Zinsser’s “Writing to Learn“…look for a review of that book soon.

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