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Will there be books in the future?

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Recently, someone asked me if I thought there would be “books” in the future.

So, never to over analyze things, whenever someone poses a question like this a few things occur to me… What does this person mean by a “book”?  And, what motivated this person to pose such a question in the first place?

The “book” – container and contents (“medium and message”)

In 2013 the question of “what is a book” certainly is legitimate.  Does the person think of a book in the traditional sense – that is, a physical object that carries/conveys/transports writing?  In this sense, the physical medium of paper and ink is a container.  Is “the book” the container or what it contains?

So, in 2013 with the ascendency of digital distribution and the decline of traditional bookstores it’s easy to understand the difference between the container and the contents of the container.  In brief, the new container is the digital distribution but “the book” remains the same – if what you mean by “book” is the contents (the message)

The deeper question of “the book”

It begs the deeper question.  Will there be “books” in the future?  And here we mean by book not so much the content as a genre of thinking.

Back in the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan came on the scene with a phrase that is linked to his basic insight – “The medium is the message”.  Prior to McLuhan people had the idea that the medium is an innocuous container and what really mattered was the content.  So in the case of a book the container should not matter in the least.  What is important is the content (message) and it does not matter if the “book” is in digital form, “paper and ink” form, or any other form or container.

The idea of an  innocuousness container goes far deeper than the simple example of a book.  What about the containers of mass media such a radio, television, newspapers, telephones, and the internet?  Are they all just innocuous containers of content?

“The Medium is the Message”

McLuhan says, no.  “The medium is the message“.  Briefly, what this means is that the medium (radio, television, newspapers, telephone, etc) changes us in a way – perhaps a diabolical way – that lies below the level of consciousness.

In essence, the message (content) is the meat that distracts the guard dog so the thief can rob you. The crime is the theft of the way we think.  The thief is the medium and the content (message) is the distraction.

Building on McLuhan, the idea is floating around that the medium of the internet is changing the way we think – and not in a good way.

Briefly, the internet has made us “shallow”.  On the internet we see a page at a time.  And even on that page we might skim a few lines of each paragraph.  Pages on the internet are filled with links.  And in some cases –  like the link I used above to Marshall McLuhan to help people if they don’t know who he is – is not so much helpful as it is a distraction from reading the rest of this blog entry.

Maybe someone clicked on the link, read about McLuhan in the Wikipedia, followed the links on the Wikipedia page, and never came back to this blog.  Those people are not reading this paragraph.  Those people fell for the power of distraction inherent in the medium of the web.

The Take – Will there be books in the future?

So, will there be books in the future?  Perhaps there will be old books in the future.  But, if McLuhan and others are correct about the medium’s ability to change us in diabolical ways below our level of consciousness then we might say that “books” might not exist in the future.  And in this case, by books I mean a genre of  “long form thinking”.

After the affect of the internet perhaps our ability to think deeply about anything will be diminished to the point that people of the future may not be able to read the books of the past nor create new books for future generations.  People living at “internet speed” simply will not be able to pay attention long enough nor think in a sequential manner or deep enough to read a book or write a book – as commonly understood in the 20’th century.

Find out more…

Check out this video from the 1960’s.  As for the term “Global Village” in the 1960’s who doubts that we have truly arrived and that “Global Village” may not be a term we use anymore since this is now our native habitat in the early 21st century.  What about the  prediction of the end of “literary man” and the rise of “tribal man” (a new man created by the electronic media).  When you hear the term “tribal man” in the video think about today’s social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and all the rest  Think about the diversity of  “public identity” that people fashion for themselves in social media.  Does anyone have an identity anymore other than what the media creates for people?

Written by frrl

February 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Quick review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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So what’s the deal with the new Kindle Paperwhite?

I purchased a new Kindle Paperwhite book reader a few days ago.  Since I have two other Kindle devices – an original e-ink Kindle and Kindle Fire – I pretty much knew what I was getting.

Really, if you already have a Kindle e-book reader then the only reason to get the Paperwhite is for the built-in reading light.  If you have the earliest Kindle, the one with the keyboard sans touch screen, then the addition of the touch screen is nice but not essential.

One step forward, two steps back

The amount one reads, all other things being equal, is about both availability and convenience.  With the addition of the back-light, the Kindle Paperwhite adds another level of convenience.  With my older e-ink kindle it was something of a bother, or at least an inconvenience, to get an external light source just right in order to see the e-ink Kindle screen in a dark room.  Now, with the built-in reading light, all that inconvenience is eliminated.  As for availability, there are more books then every available for Kindle through purchase, public library lending, Amazon lending library, and books being place in the public domain.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite takes two big steps back through, what I would call, “the great silencing of the Kindle”.  Unlike earlier versions of the e-ink Kindle e-book reader the Paperwhite is mute – it has no speakers… and it has no speakers because it is incapable of making any sound whatsoever.  No text to speech, no audio books, no music, no nothing.

Every product has a set of features.  Some people just count features – the more features the better.  Right?  Well, no.  Different consumer segments (and individuals) place a different value on each feature.

I’ll take a long-shot here and propose that there are very few avid book readers that would judge the value of text-to-speech as “low”, or “frivolous” to the point that this feature should be eliminated from a product.  Or, to put it another way, that the ability of an e-book reader to play audio books, and more importantly, the capability to convert any e-book to human speech would always enter into a buying decision.

The generic text-to-speech capability of the older Amazon e-ink Kindles along with voice navigation of the screen gave those with a visual disability the world of books that they may not have any other way with such convenience.  Now Amazon has taken that capability away.  Why?

Companies don’t do things without a business justification.  But, does the business justification outweigh the benefits the speech-enabled Kindle gave to certain under-represented segments of society.  Google as a company started out some simple values.  One of them was, “Don’t be evil”. (” …said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out”, ”  read more )

The Take

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is fine addition to the Kindle e-book reader line of products.  It’s outstanding feature is the addition of the built-in back light.  I find that I read more books more often on the Kindle Paperwhite for the simple reason that I don’t have to fuss with finding the lighting to read the Kindle in a dark room.  In a well-lit room there is little difference between the Kindle Paperwhite  and any of the older Kindle e-book readers.

Amazon took two steps back with the Kindle Paperwhite by silencing it.  No audio books and no capability to turn “any book into an audio book” though its excellent text to speech capability.  This was a wondrous feature.  My older Kindle e-book reader with aural capability will not find its way into the trash any time soon due to this lack of capability of the newest Kindle e-book reader.  The visually impaired have lost a friend at Amazon.

Amazon should take a look at Google’s informal corporate motto in their pre-IPO S-1 filing and re/think the Kindle product roadmap in this context.

We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.  (reference)

Read More

Read other postings on this site related to the Amazon Kindle  ( )

Folks that have any e-book reader would benefit from Calibre

Folks that want the audio for a large collection of books in the public domain should check out LibriVox

Written by frrl

December 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

Advice to Engineers from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple

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I was looking over some old books that I have and I came across this paperback:  “iWoz – Computer Geek to Cult Icon; How I invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it by Steve Wozniak.  As you might know, it was the “Two Steve’s” that created Apple – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  iWoz was published a couple of years after another book: iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business. So, the title of Wozniak’s book is a nice play on the title iCon – the book about the other Steve.  Significantly, iWoz was written by Steve Wozniak.  iCon does not claim any authorship by Steve Jobs.

So, I went flipping through the book and there it all was mostly as I remember reading it several years ago.  It’s a quick read.  If you know the history of the personal computer revolution (or, if you were there to experience it, first hand) then much of the book is a fond remembrance.

Personal observations by Woz on happiness, life, and the world

But there is much more in this book than the history of the personal computer revolution and the founding of Apple.  This book, written by the Woz himself, is filled with personal observations on many things – the goal of life, women and marriage, starting a company, and what he thought of large companies in general and Apple in particular after the Apple IPO when it became a “real company”.

The last chapter in the book is entitled: Rules to Live By.  This chapter is advice to young engineers.

Advice to Engineers

The chapter is fascinating in that it gives an insight into the mind of an engineer – or at least one type of engineer.

Here is a short summary of the advice to engineers  from Steve Wozniak

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Written by frrl

July 5, 2011 at 5:02 am

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Kelly Bundy would recommend: How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes

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Bud:    In college, I’m reading the philosophy of Plato
Kelly: You mean Mickey Mouse’s dog wrote a book?

If you want to know how an economy works and you don’t want to read one of those dry textbook-style books then you might want to try How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes by Peter D. Schiff and Andrew J. Schiff

A Fish Story

Wrapped appropriately in a fish story, this book is about the mechanics of a nation’s economy – growth and crash and some of the reasons for both.  I am not sure who the target audience for this book would be but when I picked it up from the new books table at the local public  library I thought of Kelly Bundy of Married with Children fame. (more

The Kelly Bundy character played by Christina Applegate certainly did not like reading books.  But Kelly may like this book by Schiff.

The authors say the island fishing story is an allegory of U.S. economic history.  That is true, but what has been practiced as U.S. economic and monetary policy has antecedents well back to the time of Rome.  So the book is also an allegory of decisions governments made when they got into monetary trouble throughout history – not just what happened in American history.  What was that saying about learning from the past or being condemned to repeat it?

Island Fishing & Entrepreneurship

The book starts out with three men living on an island – Able, Baker, and Charlie.  It’s a closed economy.  The three of them live at a subsistence level.  They spend all their time catching fish by hand to live.  It takes all day to catch one fish and they need to consume one fish per day to survive.  So, the book starts out with the most simply economy possible.  There is no savings, no credit, no investment, and nothing that increases a man’s productive capacity to catch more than one fish per day. 

Man has more of an aspirational vision than this.  Wake, fish, eat, and sleep.  And Able was just the guy that was going to take some risk to make things happen on the island.

Able in an entrepreneur and he comes up with the idea of a fish catcher.  A fish catcher could increase his productivity so that he does not have to spend all day catching a single fish.  If this invention works then he wouldn’t have to spend all day catching fish and he could use his time for something else.  For example, Able could use this extra time – made possible by the increase of productive capacity of the tool – to make some clothes, build a shelter, and write a screenplay for a feature film.  Able sets out to build a net.

Taking Risk, Lending, Interest Rates, Banks, Inter-island Trade, and the Crash

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The invention of FM Radio and the power to stifle the effect of technological change

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If you take a read of the book Free Culture (get the PDF for free) you will find the story from the early days of radio. 

It’s the story of the invention of FM radio in 1933 by Edwin Howard Armstrong and how this new (superior in audio quality) technology challenged the dominant technology (AM modulation) and the dominant corporation in the marketplace – RCA (Radio Corporation of America)

AM radio technology was at the heart of RCA Corporation and RCA saw FM as a threat.  RCA used its power to influence the government to its cause to undermine this new technology – FM Modulation of a radio wave.

RCA began to use its power with the government to stall FM radio’s deployment generally. In 1936, RCA hired the former head of the FCC and assigned him the task of assuring that the FCC assign spectrum in a way that would castrate FM—principally by moving FM radio to a different band of spectrum. At first, these efforts failed. But when Armstrong and the nation were distracted by World War II, RCA’s work began to be more successful. Soon after the war ended, the FCC announced a set of policies that would have one clear effect: FM radio would be crippled.

In the end, this was the tragic result

Armstrong resisted RCA’s efforts. In response, RCA resisted Armstrong’s patents. After incorporating FM technology into the emerging standard for television, RCA declared the patents invalid—baselessly, and almost fifteen years after they were issued. It thus refused to pay him royalties. For six years, Armstrong fought an expensive war of litigation to defend the patents. Finally, just as the patents expired, RCA offered a settlement so low that it would not even cover Armstrong’s lawyers’ fees. Defeated, broken, and now broke, in 1954 Armstrong wrote a short note to his wife and then stepped out of a thirteenthstory window to his death.

The insight

This is how the law sometimes works.  Not often this tragically, and rarely with heroic drama, but sometimes, this is how it works.  From the beginning, government and government agencies have been subject to capture. They are more likely captured when a powerful interest is threatened by either a legal or technical change. That powerful interest too often exerts its influence within the government to get the government to protect it. The rhetoric of this protection is of course always public spirited; the reality is something different.  Ideas that were as solid as rock in one age, but that, left to themselves, would crumble in another, are sustained through this subtle corruption of our political process. RCA had what the Causbys did not: the power to stifle the effect of technological change.

Here is the full text of the story from the Introduction of the book Free Culture: how Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity by Larry Lessig

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Written by frrl

July 13, 2010 at 11:42 am

Get Free Culture

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For those who want to learn about Free Culture but don’t have the time to read Larry Lessig’s book, Free Culture , can listen to the audio book which has been released by the author under Creative Commons.

You can listen via a stream or download the mp3 files (100 MB) from this site

Read a related article with video –

What is Free Culture?

It was culture, which you didn’t need the permission of someone else to take and build upon. That was the character of creativity at the birth of the last century. It was built upon a constitutional requirement that protection be for limited times, and it was originally limited.

–Lawrence Lessig

All creative works—books, movies, records, software, and so on—are a compromise between what can be imagined and what is possible—technologically and legally.  For more than two hundred years, laws in America have sought a balance between rewarding creativity and allowing the borrowing from which new creativity springs.  The original term of copyright set by the First Congress in 1790 was 14 years, renewable once. Now it is closer to two hundred. Thomas Jefferson considered protecting the public against overly long monopolies on creative works an essential government role.  What did he know that we’ve forgotten?

Lawrence Lessig shows us that while new technologies always lead to new laws, never before have the big cultural monopolists used the fear created by new technologies, specifically the Internet, to shrink the public domain of ideas, even as the same corporations use the same technologies to control more and more what we can and can’t do with culture. As more and more culture becomes digitized, more and more becomes controllable, even as laws are being toughened at the behest of the big media groups. What’s at stake is our freedom—freedom to create, freedom to build, and ultimately, freedom to imagine.

Written by frrl

July 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm

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The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

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“The conscience of a people is their power” – John Dryden

“Minds differ still more than faces” – Voltaire

Have you ever heard someone say “I did nothing wrong” when in fact you and a great many other people thought what they did was very wrong?  In fact, so wrong that the majority of people asked themselves, “How could anyone possibly do that?”

The risk to yourself  is to think that other people think like you or me.  Or, to think that the great majority of people are ruled by some sort of  standard of right and wrong; standards of which, are accessible to all of us – a sort of 6’th sense that we all have.

Martha Stout Ph.D is a clinical psychologist in private practice who also served for twenty-five years on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

Dr. Stout has an interesting description of public figures or people you might know

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members.  Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. 

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.  Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. 

Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.  You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness.  The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.  You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.

How many people are like this?  Dr. Stout thinks that 1 in 25 people in the population is a sociopath.

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Written by frrl

June 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

How to Look Really Brilliant with Little Effort

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Here is a story from Jack Canfield

Virginia Satir, the author of the classic parenting book Peoplemaking, was probably the most successful and famous family therapist that ever lived.

During her long and illustrious career, she was hired by the Michigan State Department of Social Services to provide a proposal on how to revamp and restructure the department of social services so what would serve the client population better.  Sixty days later, she provided the department with a 150 page report, which they said was the most amazing piece of work they had ever seen.

She replied, “Oh, I just went out to all the social workers in your system and I asked them what it would take for the system to work better.”

One of my favorite quotes from Henry Ford is this

Why is it that whenever I ask for a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?
— Henry Ford

What amazes me is that there are still so many “industrial age” corporations out there that think like Henry Ford.  That is, that the executive team has all the answers and the workers are just the “hands” that do the work and offer little else.


So, was it “brilliance” that allowed Virginia Satir to go ask the social workers how to make the system work better – or simply lack of common sense on the part of the executive team at the Michigan State Department of Social Services?

An old joke from consulting is… “a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is and then hands you a bill.”  This is exactly what Virginia Satir did.  She borrowed the states own employees to tell her how to do things better, compiled, analyzed, and delivered the information, then she handed the Michigan State Department of Social Services a bill. 

The approach of asking employees for input on improvement must have eluded the Departments executives.

The Toyota Way

Toyota is famous for The Toyota Production System (TPS) – which is not only a manufacturing system but also a corporate culture and philosophy.  A large part of TPS is employee empowerment.  Here are some recent statistics

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Written by frrl

June 13, 2010 at 5:22 am

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Fast Path to a Golden Parachute – Eleven Accelerators

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Mapping the Path

David Dotlich and Peter Cairo are a couple of executive coaches with experience coaching top executives.  Along with psychologist Robert Hogan these guys put together a sort of laundry list of why executives fail.  Or, in our terms, execute a fast path to a Golden Parachute.

Of note is that the list that these folks put together centers on behavior and psychological attributes of people.  The list of career derailers does not include things like lack of domain knowledge, industry expertise, or other sorts of “knowledge-based factors” or “vision/strategy factors”.  This is not to say that CEO’s do not lose their jobs based on performance unrelated to behavioral factors.

Behavioral and Psychological Factors that can Speed Your Exit

The focus of their list is behavioral and psychological attributes that cause people to undermine and/or sabotage their careers.

According to David Dotlich and Peter Cairo

The third thing that we know for a fact about leaders is that perhaps two-thirds of the people currently in leadership positions in the Western world will fail; they will then be fired, demoted, or kicked upstairs

… leadership failure is a behavioral phenomenon.

… leaders fail because of who they are and how they act in certain situations. Especially under stress, they respond with a pattern of behavior that can sabotage their jobs and careers. They rely on a specific way of thinking, speaking, and acting that ultimately causes them to fail. Many times, they’re not even aware that their behaviors have become reflexive.

A central focus – The inability to build a team

From Dotlich and Cairo

The most common reason for their failure will be their inability to build or maintain a team.

Their inability to build a team will be a function of certain dysfunctional dispositions, interpersonal tendencies that are usually invisible during job interviews or assessment center exercises.

These tendencies usually become apparent when people are under pressure or when they let down their guard. Moreover, there is considerable consensus regarding the nature of these dysfunctional dispositions. They reliably fall into eleven categories, and they can be assessed with considerable fidelity.

What’s so bad about failure?  It could be very lucrative

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Written by frrl

June 11, 2010 at 4:35 am

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Who owns culture? Culture as a corporate differentiator

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Who Owns Culture?

Over the past few days we posted a few articles on culture.  To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to society or to a nation, in a free society like the United States, one might say that “no one” (no person and no group) owns Culture. 

That is, in a free society, people are free to read the culture, and re/write the culture for this and the next generation.  For all we know, this is nothing more than a random walk into an uncertain future.  For people that take the long-view, this scares them.  (Read a related article.)

To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to a corporation, the answer is easy.  The culture is owned by the CEO and the Board of Directors. 

Just about every major corporation has a page on their web site dedicated to “espousing” the corporate vision and core values of the corporate culture.  I say “espousing” the corporate values insofar as sometimes much of this is Public Relations for consumption by investors and customers. 

The real test of corporate values is behavior.  You only need to look at the behavior of Enron, WorldCom and other poster children of corporate corruptionto to see what can go wrong despite exemplary stagecraft of corporate value systems. is a real success story.  Started by Tony Hsieh in his early 20’s, Tony is smarter than the average CEO about corporate culture.  In fact, Zappos is built around living the corporate culture that it espouses.

Perhaps Tony’s emphasis on corporate culture was based on the previous company he founded, LinkExchange.  In one interview, Tony said that they hired people with the right skill sets and experience but were not culture fits – then the whole company went down from there.  Asked what he would do over when he started Zappos, Hsieh replied that he would “hire more slowly and fire more quickly”.

Paying new employees $2,000 to quit

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2010 at 3:24 am

Why Nations Decline

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A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse [gifts] from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority only votes for candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship — Alexandar Fraser Tytler (1747-1913)”

Quoted by Mitt Romney in No Apology: The Case for American Greatness

Written by frrl

April 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

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When to Quit and When to Stick

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Complements of the mind of Seth Godin…

“If you are not going to put in the effort to be the best possible choice, why bother?  Is, “Well, no one better showed up” a valid strategy for success?  Are you hoping to become a success because you’re the only one being considered?

The reason big companies almost always fail when they try to enter new markets is their willingness to compromise.  The figure that because they are big and powerful, they can settle, do less, stop improving something before it is truly remarkable.

They compromise to avoid offending other divisions or to minimize their exposure.  So, they fail.  They fail because they don’t know when to quit and when to refuse to settle.

What Jack Knew

When Jack Welch remade GE,  the most fabled decision he made was this: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, we must get out.

Why sell a billion dollar division that’s making a profit quite happily while ranking #4 in market share?  Easy.  Because it distracts management attention.  It sucks resources and capital and focus and energy.  And most of all, it teaches people in the organization that it’s Okay not to be the best in the world.”

Written by frrl

April 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

On Reading and the Power of Ideas

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On political questions therefore I still continued to read and study a great deal. But reading had probably a different significance for me from that which it has for the average run of our so-called ‘intellectuals’.

I know people who read interminably, book after book, from page to page, and yet I should not call them ‘well-read people’. Of course they ‘know’ an immense amount; but their brain seems incapable of assorting and classifying the material which they have gathered from books. They have not the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in a book; so that they may retain the former in their minds and if possible skip over the latter while reading it, if that be not possible, then–when once read–throw it overboard as useless ballast.

Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Its chief purpose is to help towards filling in the framework which is made up of the talents and capabilities that each individual possesses. Thus each one procures for himself the implements and materials necessary for the fulfilment of his calling in life, no matter whether this be the elementary task of earning one’s daily bread or a calling that responds to higher human aspirations.

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Written by frrl

April 1, 2010 at 6:32 am

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A Savage Factory

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An Eyewitness to the Auto Industry’s Self Destruction

We (yes, I have a mouse in my pocket), wrote a review of this book a few months ago (here)

The author, Robert J. Dewar, has a WordPress blog.
For some insights into the auto industry, check out his blog –

I think Dewars book is an important contribution to the history of the automotive industry.

Written by frrl

March 13, 2010 at 5:11 am

Meg Whitman – Be Brave. Most things worth doing are hard

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In September 2000, eBay CEO Meg Whitman told analysts that eBay would hit $3 billion dollars in revenue in 5 years.  At the time, eBay’s revenue was $430 million.  In response, Morgan Stanley Analyst Mary Meker told Whitman:   “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen a CEO do.  It’s reckless and irresponsible.  If you miss, you are a dead woman.”

The above story is from Meg Whitman’s new book:
The Power of Many: Values for Success in Business and in Life

In the chapter  Be brave.  Most things worth doing are hard,  Whitman talks about BHAGS.

So, what are BHAGs?

BHAGS are Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  Without a BHAG, or a “stretch goal”, companies risk not reaching their full potential.  The goal can’t be too much of a stretch that it is impossible to achieve and demotivates people; nor can it be too small that it fails to energize people to their full capacity and capability.  Whitman uses the analogy of fly fishing:

When you are trying to catch them [trout], it’s important to place the fly right in front of their path.  Not too far in front, not to the left of right, not right on top of them, but directly in the feeding path, motivating them to speed up and take it.

Did eBay make the goal of $3 billion in revenue by 2005?  No, they did $4.5 billion in revenue.

The gravitational pull of mediocrity is strong.  There is always a reason why you should go slow, wait for anther quarter, hedge your bets.  I like taking bold steps, and I am not afraid of making significant changes.  That is the way you achieve things worth doing.  If I had set a goal of $2 billion, would we still have hit $4.5 billion?  We will never know.  I think probably not.

It’s fine to set these goals but it is really about alignment and execution

That goal rallied the troops in a remarkable way.  We looked across the entire company and broke down what had to happen: essentially 50 percent annual revenue growth per year for the next four years.  We figured out the larger number, the gross merchandise volume that we  had to meet, and we broke it down for every country and for every product category in every country.  Suddenly, a big company goal looks a lot more manageable…

We challenged every manager to understand his or her team’s responsibility to support our larger goal.  It was a rallying cry, and it worked.  You can make a big goal feel small by breaking it down, but you can’t make a small goal big.

Many corporations never reach their full potential.  Why?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Lack of BHAGS and stretch goals at the executive level (wrong CEO; wrong executive management team  ( Assumption: that the BHAGs are the right strategic fit for the environment, competitor analysis, markets, products, customer segments and so on.  BHAGs down the wrong path is clearly a corporate death march.  The Strategy Paradox apropos “… commitment-based strategy with the inescapable need for flexibility”)
  • Lack of alignment of goals and the ability of a corporation to cascade BHAGS and associated strategic initiatives and programs down into the divisions, business units, departments, and so on down to the individual contributor level.
  • Lack of process maturity and the enablers (collaboration, communication, measurement dashboards)  that facilitate cascading these goals throughout the organizations and measuring and reporting on progress to goals in a timely manner
  • Failure to hold people accountable for results – at all levels.  Not providing individuals with career paths and their own “stretch goals” aligned to strategic initiatives and programs.  Wrong person in the job role.  Not linking compensation systems and career advancement directly to measurable outcomes and results.
  • Complacency and mediocrity infused throughout the organization.  That is, not managing the corporate culture to a high performance organization and not managing & developing leadership talent at all levels of the organization.

All of the above is why Boards of Directors (accountable to the shareholders) bring in new leadership who have the courage to do what Meg Whitman cites “I like taking bold steps, and I am not afraid of making significant changes”. Without the above, corporations fall into a spiral of mediocrity and eventual death in a competitive environment.  (See Too Big To Fail )

It’s really about courage – at all levels of the organization.

Meg Whitman was CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2007 . She was replaced by John Donahoe.

Where to next for Whitman?  On September 22, 2009, Whitman announced she would run for governor of California in the 2010 election.  It would be interesting to see what a person with a solid track record of business success can do for the financially ailing state of California as governor.

Whitman –

She began her career in 1979 as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving on to work as a consultant at Bain & Company’s San Francisco office, where she worked her way through the ranks to achieve a senior Vice President position.

In 1989 she became vice president of strategic planning at The Walt Disney Company and in 1991 she joined Stride Rite Corporation before becoming president and CEO of Florists’ Transworld Delivery in 1995.[11]

In January 1997, Ms. Whitman joined Hasbro’s Playskool Division as a General Manager, overseeing global management and marketing of two of the world’s best-known children’s brands, Playskool and Mr. Potato Head.

Whitman joined the fledgling start-up eBay in March 1998, when it had 30 employees[12] and revenues of approximately $4 million; she grew the company to approximately 15,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenue by 2008.[13]

Fortune Magazine repeatedly named her one of the top 5 most powerful women for her success at eBay.

Written by frrl

March 2, 2010 at 5:19 am

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Making Whuffie in the Social Economy Or, How to be a ravenous social capitalist

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We seek a new beginning…

“We seek a new beginning”.  If you have seen the movie  Apocalypto then you know the significance of this phrase.  It refers to a new World – a fundamental paradigm shift.

A “new beginning” can come in many flavors.  In the strong sense, a  “new beginning” could mean  “a break into an apocalyptic end of the world”.  But it could also be a more subtle change.  And perhaps that change is happening now.

What could a new beginning look like? – or at least, what are the aspects of a new beginning?

The science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow has gotten some people thinking.  One of the people thinking is Tara Hunt.  Tara Hunt is a writer, author, and Marketing Consultant.  Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom got Tara Hunt thinking about Whuffie.


What are the aspects of the post apocalyptic world of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom?

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Written by frrl

January 17, 2010 at 6:15 am

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The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal

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“The girls were both Asian, pretty, and a little overly made up for a lecture like this.  The tallest of the two had long sable hair pulled back in a high pony tail and was wearing a short skirt and a white shirt open one button too far down the front.  Eduardo could see wisps of her red lace bra wonderfully offset by her tan, smooth skin.  The other girl was in an equally short skirt, with a black leggings combo that showed off some impressively sculpted calves.

Both had bright red lipstick and too much eye shadow, but they were damn cute – and they were smiling and pointing right at him.

Well, at him and Mark.  The taller of the girls leaned forward over the empty seat and whispered in his ear.
“Your friend – isn’t that Mark Zuckerberg?”
Eduardo raised his eyebrows.
“You know Mark?”  There was a first time for everything.
“No, but didn’t he make Facebook?”

Eduardo felt a tingle of excitement move through him, as he felt the warmth of her breath against his ear, as he breathed in her perfume.

“Yeah. I mean, Facebook, it’s both of ours – mine and his.”
“Wow that’s really cool,” the girl said.  “My name is Kelly.  This is Alice.”

Other people in the girls’ row were looking now.  But they didn’t seem angry that the whispers were interrupting their enjoyment of Bill Gates.  Eduardo saw someone pointing, then another kid whisper something to a friend.  Then more pointing – but not at him, at Mark.”

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Written by frrl

January 2, 2010 at 10:55 pm

The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

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“Danger, Will Robinson”

Be careful what you say – it might not mean what you think it means.  For those in the United States that “conversate” with new found friends or business colleagues in the United Kingdom or Australia what you think you are saying might not mean what you think it does.  And what they say, in the UK or in Australia, to you, might  not be, at all, what they mean.  Even though they are using common English words.

The decorum of this web site prohibits me from revealing the  faux paux in interpretation made in a business conversation between myself and a colleague in the UK.

Lets just say that he told me that he was “going to wake up his wife”  in a British sort-of-way.  But “wake up my wife” were not the words he used. (See reference section to look up the phrase)

This encounter netted me a gift from the UK – The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English

The best defense is a good offense

A tag line for The Concise New Partridge Dictionary… is “A veritable Madame Tussaud’s of the vulgar language”.  Not that we are advocating coming up to speed on vulgar language – but, you may find yourself in a situation where had you known the “multi-cultural” interpretations of common English phrases you may have avoided embarrassing situations.  So, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”

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Written by frrl

December 29, 2009 at 8:38 pm

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A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction

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“Clouds of blue-gray mist, laced with millions of minute metal particles hung in the air and brought to mind the movie about poisonous gas attacks in World War I… The factory floor was made of rectangular wood blocks, about the size of street bricks, saturated with filthy black oil that gave the plant an odor of sour rot as if the entire Industrial Revolution had died and was decaying right here in Sharonville… They were hard, resentful faces; unhappy miserable faces; dulled, stunned faces. Above all, hostile faces. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man glaring at me, and I could read his cursing lips.

Inside there were four dirty, dented gray metal desks. Ed herded me to the desk occupied by a man who looked like a fully clothed skeleton. His face was a mass of wrinkles, and his right eye was obviously false. A yellowish liquid like Elmer’s Glue, or the snot under a three-year-old’s nose seeped from the fake eye, which was tuned to the right even though his good eye was looking to the left.

The skeleton was aware that Ed and I were standing in front of his desk yet ignored us. Ed acted as if being ignored was normal etiquette at Ford Motor Company, and risked a long shot at the corner waste can. The tobacco juice fell short and ran down the side of the trash can over ageless stains of previous near misses.”

On the week of Christmas I took a trip to my local bookstore.  On the new books table I saw this book – A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction.

Since this was the week of Christmas I thought this would be an uplifting book for the holidays.  I grabbed the book and headed for the bookstore coffee shop. With a  Christmas Grande peppermint mocha in hand, and finding a nice overstuffed chair, I was ready to take a look-see at A Savage Factory.

Unlike a Dickens novel, there is no happy ending to this book.  A Savage Factory has numerous descriptions of the Ford factory that would match that  of a Victorian workhouse and stories of disdain for the working poor that Dickens so often attributes to some of his characters.

After about an hour of reading I decided that this book needed a much closer look than the time allotted by the grande mocha.

Many themes in this book

At the time of this writing, there are 33 reviews of this book at  You can read those reviews for yourself here.

There are many themes running through this book.  The most prominent, of course, is the deplorable conditions at Ford’s largest transmission plant which was located in Sharonville Ohio.  The deplorable conditions are not only the physical working environment of the plant but also the relationships among management, hourly employees, and the UAW (United Auto Workers).  The relationship among these three entities could easily and accurately be described as an ongoing war.

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Written by frrl

December 27, 2009 at 9:59 am

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World

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Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom:
How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World


Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, open innovation, and decentralized collaboration – all of this may be coming to a corporation near you.  Are you ready?

I have not yet finished (digested) this book – “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom” but I can tell you that if you are a fan of the transformation of life, society, workplace, and the world by Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 Technologies then this book is a “must read”.

I can’t give a summary of this book – there is far too much in here.  There will be some follow-up postings to this one on how some of the ideas on Identity, Status, and Power can be spotted in organizations.

In a blatant cut/paste (I hope under fair use) below are chapter summaries from the book.  It will give you a good idea of the content.  You like?  Take a read.

Intro and Chapter Summaries

…It won’t be long before Generation V kids (V as in Virtual) – born since the Internet explosion in the early 1990s – begin pushing out of schools into corporations and up the management ranks. [18] Gen V youths rate music, rate movies, rate friends, rate celebrities, rate teachers, rate everything. They’re going to rate their bosses too. They will rate and rank whether social networking sites are banned or not. And one day, they just might be your boss – throwing sheep in the boardroom.

This book, as noted in the Preface, is divided into three parts: Identity, Status and Power. A good way to remember the book’s thematic progression is through the acronym: ISP. I for identity. S for status. P for power.

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Written by frrl

July 9, 2009 at 5:42 am

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SWAY: The irresistible pull of irrational behavior

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SWAY: The irresistible pull of irrational behavior


The Twenty Dollar Bill Auction

Related article:
How to Auction off an Ordinary Twenty Dollar Bill for Fun and Profit

If you auctioned off a twenty dollar bill as I suggested – then good for you.  If you didn’t there is still time.  Do this with your friends.  This auction will elicit behavior and provide an insight into your friends personality that you can’t get any other way with such clarity.

The twenty dollar bill auction is cited in the book:

SWAY: the irresistible pull of irrational behavior by Ori Brrafman & Rom Brafman

According to the authors, the auction originates in a negotiations class at Harvard Business School.

The Three Phases of Bidding

According to the analysis there are three phases of the auction

1. The $2 phase. In this phase there is a good deal of optimism as the bidders see a real bargain.  When the bidding starts at $2 for a twenty dollar bill, this looks like a great deal.  This is the start of the entrapment into the momentum and logic of the auction.

2. The $12-$16 phase. This is where the bidders get an idea of where this auction is heading.  This is also where a consideration of loss sets in.  If one bidder bids $16 and another bids $17 then the $16 bidder has to bid $18 in order not to lose $16.  If the $16 bidder does not bid $18 then the $16 bidder will look like a sucker for paying $16 for nothing (see the bidding rules in our previous posting).

3. The $20+ phase. At this phase it’s all about loss.  No matter who wins the bid for the $20 bill both the highest bidder and the second highest bidder will suffer a loss. The contest is now about the reduction of loss.   As time goes on for the two bidders, it is no longer about winning – it’s about continuing your bidding to reduce the loss which only gets bigger and bigger as time goes on.

Irrational behavior – The convergence of loss aversion and commitment

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Written by frrl

June 27, 2009 at 4:01 pm

How to Auction off an Ordinary Twenty Dollar Bill for Fun and Profit

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How to Auction off an Ordinary Twenty Dollar Bill
for Fun and Profit

twentyDollarAuction_logoIt’s June 2009 and in the Midwest of the United States where this blog is being written it’s time for patio parties, picnic’s, pool parties, barbecues, and a lot of other outdoor activities.

If you have a nice friendly neighborhood party on the deck or patio with a fire pit going, you might want to try this… well… sort of… party game

It’s really not a game at all – it’s some serious business as you will discover.   You could make some money, get entertained, and learn something about human behavior all at the same time.  What a deal.

Auction off a twenty dollar bill


Why not auction off a twenty dollar bill at your party?

Pull a twenty dollar bill out of your pocket.

Auction it off  according to these simple rules

  1. Bids are in one dollar increments
  2. Highest bidder wins
  3. The second-place bidder has to pay his/her bid and get nothing.

“You can observe a lot by watching ” – Yogi Berra

twentyDollarAuction_logoTableThis is no ordinary auction.  I am not going to tell you what might happen.  It is highly likely that you are going to make a profit on this auction.

This is really a game of strategy, negotiation, commitment, and loss aversion.

Give it a try.  What you learn from observing the behavior during this auction is going to give you some insight into the thinking and behavior of your friends and neighbors that you probably could not get any other way.

Warning – you might see some very bizarre behavior during this auction.

Think through what might happen.  At the time of this writing, the highest documented bid for an ordinary twenty dollar bill was $204.

What can you learn from this acution?  Stay tuned for an upcoming posting on this site and watch how it can be applied to organizational behavior.  Best if you try this acution for yourself in advance – before we post the analysis and how it can be observed in an organizational context.

Written by frrl

June 14, 2009 at 4:45 am

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My Stroke of Insight: a brain scientists personal journey

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The Experience

“My entire self-concept shifted as I no longer perceived myself as a single, a solid, an entity with boundaries that separated me from entities around me… Everything in my visual world blended together… I could not perceive three-dimensionally.  Nothing stood out as closer or farther away.  If there was a person standing in the doorway, I could not distinguish their presence until they moved… In addition, color did not register in my brain as color.  I simply could not distinguish it.  But in this shifted perception, it was impossible for me to perceive either physical or emotional loss…”

So what is this?  A religious experience?  The effect of a hallucinogen?  No.  It is the experience of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, as she experienced a stroke and lived to write about it.

I pleaded, Remember, please remember everything you are experiencing!  Let this be my stroke of insight into the disintegration of my own cognitive mind.

And this is what you will find in Dr. Taylors book:  My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey

The Event

The book “My Stroke of Insight” is a fascinating book.  It’s the personal story of Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained Brain neuroanatomist, as she experienced, recovered from, and analyzed her experience of having a stroke.

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Written by frrl

January 30, 2009 at 9:23 am

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

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