Cognitive Surplus

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
This book was recommended by Kantar CEO Eric Salama in a corporate email from September(ish) of 2011.
It took me forever to get through. The ramblings of this author seem to run the gamut. It wasn’t until chapter 7 that he seemed to try to tie any of it together. Had the book been written in a different order, I probably would have been more into it and it would have made more sense.

This book had the potential to be inspirational and world-changing as he points out all the potential good that could be done if we would come together as a society and use social media for more than cats with funny captions. He points out some fantastic examples and talks about how they came to be, why they survive and what makes them truly special. I wish I would have taken notes as I read this book because it would make it easier to write this review. Unfortunately, I did not. I’m not going to go back and re-read it in order to assemble this review, either. You can’t make me. I don’t want to.

If you are aware of sites like donorschoose.org and ted.com then you’re aware of the positive potential of society when we act together. If you’re older than 30, then you’re aware of how the internet grew to be what it is today. If you’re a geek, like me, then you’re familiar with how we went from AOL to individual web pages to geo-cities to myspace and then to facebook. We clearly don’t know what’s in store for the future and we can’t predict how people will use technology and thankfully, Mr. Shirky doesn’t make any attempts to predict what might be on the horizon.

If, on the other hand, you’re not familiar with man’s ability to create a greater good and you think that the best the internet has to offer is /b/tards (oh, wait… you probably don’t get the 4chan reference) then you’re likely to get something out of this book. If you’re under 30 or over 70, then you may learn something from reading this book.

There weren’t any take-aways in this book that I could apply to my daily life.
There weren’t any inspirational quotes that I could pull from it.
There weren’t business practices that will make me a better leader.
There were no dog-eared pages when I finished.
There were no markings in the margins.
There were no highlights.
I never sent an email to my friends telling them they needed to pick up this book… now.
About the only take-away from this book is: Next time, take notes as you read that way you can do a proper job ripping a book you don’t like.

The simple fact of the matter is, this book bored me.

Empowered

Empowered by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler is a great book.

The book starts out by answering the question “Why?” Then, they go on to answer “What?” Finally, they give detail what’s possible when you’ve empowered HEROS in your organization.

Why? Why do you need empowered employees? The story of Dooce and Maytag or David vs. United (United breaks guitars) are just two examples of why you need empowered employees. The old days of having very few people with the ability to influence a large audience are long gone. Just about anyone who has reached the end of their rope has the ability to influence the masses. Doubt that? Check out the reviews on Amazon.com. Sure, some of those are professionally written, paid-for reviews. Most, however, are just written by your average consumer who was either so pleased with a product that they had to tell someone, or they were so disappointed that they had to voice their frustrations to as many people as possible.

Real world example that came up as I was reading this:
Papa John’s Example

What? What is an empowered employee? The short answer is that they’re customer focused and motivated to find or create the tools that they need to make the customer happy. The empowered employee isn’t locked down by rules and regulations. No; instead, they’re likely to be the ones out there bending the rules trying to find ways to gather the tools they need or access those web sites that are blocked by the company’s firewall. They’re using their own tools and their own personal technology (cell phone/tablet/laptop) gadgets etc to get the job done. In an empowered workplace, these employees are supported by IT and management. They help to shape the tools, processes and ways that employees interact with the customer and client.

This book made me realize just how handcuffed I am at work and I’m a HERO! Hell, my department’s mission is to build the tools needed by HERO employees. From a typical employee standpoint, I have access to tons more tools and resources than the average employee at my company because I’m one of the few who have admin rights on my pc and I have the know-how to get around blocked web sites. They must feel completely hamstrung. I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be.

I recently said (several times) – in regards to a multi-million-dollar project for which I manage the online data collection, “Imagine how cool this project could be today if they’d have given me free reign to implement my ideas on this project over the past 4 years.” Instead, I’m unable to serve the customer (survey taker) or improve the quality of the product that the client is paying for. It’s frustrating.

Since I’m in IT and I’m a HERO (by this book’s definition) I have the greatest opportunity to make a significant impact. I’m going to do just that. This company needs to be shaken and if that shaking has to come from the bottom up, then that’s what I’ll do. The book goes a long way to pointing me in the right direction as to how I can make a difference and implement change and create an environment that empowers each HERO in the organization. My next step is to open the eyes of those who hold the keys that have everyone locked down. I’ll do that.

  • If you are an IT manager at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
  • If you’re a manager at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
  • If you’re an executive at a company that locks down employees laptops and restricts web sites, you need this book.
  • If you’re an excitable employee who’s constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience and you’ve had a hard time getting management to listen to you, you need this book.
  • If you’re someone concerned with the direction of your company and you’re watching missed opportunities to make social media work on the company’s behalf you need this book.

The Power of Who

The Power of Who was a quick read. I think it took me about 4 hours to read it. There are some nice parallels between Good to Great (GtG) and The Power of Who.

They both talk about the importance of “Who”. With GtG, it was about ‘who’ is on the bus and getting the right people on the bus. In TPoW, it’s about who you already know – as suggested by the title – and how you can tap those resources.

The hedgehog strategy is detailed in GtG and mentioned in a round-about way in TPoW. I think the hedgehog strategy is as good of a strategy for your own personal development as it is for a business. In short, the hedgehog strategy is to reduce the noise around you by figuring out what you’re passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and where your money comes from. The intersection of those three things is where you should put your efforts.

The author of TPoW doesn’t give enough credit to the quality of the people in his inner circles. As an executive recruiter for 29 years, he has amassed quite a list of A-List individuals in his circles. That leads to a lot of his successes. He makes mention of this once, near the end of the book. However, as I mentioned, he doesn’t give it much weight.

The book also makes mention of the need to nurture your relationships – not just everybody that you come in contact with, but the important people in your inner circles… friends, acquaintances.
If you’re taking the Eat Like a Bird/Sh*t Like an Elephant approach to absorbing things about how to move your career forward – this is worth picking up at the library. It’s a quick read and easy. There are some motivational ideas within, and overall, I came away with a bright outlook on how I can make the most out of the people around me.

Good To Great

I recently read Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s an easy read and it contains some identifiable and possibly repeatable business strategies. The overarching them was the hedgehog strategy wherein the author suggest that businesses identify these three things and where they intersect; 1) What are you passionate about? 2) What can you be the best in the world at? and 3) Where are your revenues coming from?

I think most companies are working toward that goal and I think that the strategies that the book suggests are being implemented by most companies. There is still an element of luck that can’t be ignored.

So, good: Overall strategies that are mentioned. There was something in each chapter that I circled or underlined or highlighted as a good take-away.
Bad: The book ignores those companies that have implemented the exact same strategies and tactics, but came up snake-eyes. I’m quite sure there are many.

I’m not convinced that the companies that he picked are good examples of success stories, either. Many of them are average – at best – today. Two of them aren’t even around as they were when the book was written (Circuit City & Fanny Mae.)