Last Friday, we ended 2010 at the First Friday Book Synopsis with synopses of Doing Both by Inder Sidhu and Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Attendance was terrific. And special thanks to Cathy Groos for filling in for Karl Krayer. (Cathy presented the synopsis of Doing Both).
As we near the completion of twelve complete years of the First Friday Book Synopsis, we begin 2011 with our January 7 meeting.
Karl Krayer will present the synopsis of buy*in — saving your good idea from getting shot down by John P. Kotter.
I (Randy Mayeux) will present the synopsis of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer.
If you are near the DFW area on January 7, come join us!
Books of the Year
Economics and business
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. By Michael Lewis. Norton; 266 pages; $27.95. Allen Lane; £25 The author of a 1989 bestseller, “Liar’s Poker”, exposes the greed and double-dealing that helped ignite the financial meltdown. One of the best books on the recent crisis.
More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of the New Elite. By Sebastian Mallaby. Penguin Press; 482 pages; $29.95. Bloomsbury; £25 A superbly researched history of hedge-fund heroes stretching back to the 1950s and a fascinating tale of the contrarian and cerebral misfits who created successful, flexible businesses in an otherwise conventional financial world, by a Washington-based British journalist who is married to our economics editor.
High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg. By Niall Ferguson. Penguin Press; 548 pages; $35. Allen Lane; £30 The story of the scrappy refugee from Hitler’s Germany who changed the City and did more than most to boost London’s standing, although his own firm lost its way and fell to a foreign rival after his death. The author is a British economic historian who teaches at Harvard and the London School of Economics.
Science and technology
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. By Steven Johnson. Riverhead; 326 pages; $26.95. Allen Lane; £20 In a crowded field, Steven Johnson, an American popular-science writer, finds new and original things to say about the nature of innovation, and the different forms it can take.
What Technology Wants. By Kevin Kelly. Viking; 416 pages; $27.95 A book that provides a new understanding of innovation, proving it to be more gradual, serendipitous, inevitable and evolutionary than we have hitherto given it credit for.
Of these five, I have presented The Big Short to a private client, and Where Good Ideas Come From just this morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis for December.
(You will soon be able to purchase my synopsis of both of these books, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Our monthly event, the First Friday Book Synopsis, is this Friday.
We meet at the Park City Club at 7:00 am, close to the intersection of Northwest Highway and the Tollway. Great networking, great food – and both books are definitely worth your time. Both Bob Morris and I have multiple blog posts prompted by Steven Johnsons’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Bob Morris just posted his review of Doing Both. Read it here.
Just click here to register for Friday. I hope you can join us.
I read this near the end of Steven Johnson’s book, Where Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. You can read the entire letter by Thomas Jefferson here. It was written to a Mr. Isaac McPherson, a Boston mill owner, in a patent dispute.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson
13 Aug. 1813
Where do ideas come from? – cities, and the conference table, reading books; and, oh yes, the long walk. This is the inescapable message of the terrific book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. I think it may be the best book I’ve read this year. (I may change my mind as I look back over the entire year). Last night, I found this blog post by Seth Godin: Where do ideas come from? He doesn’t reference the book by Johnson, but there is a lot of agreement between the two.
Here’s a great quote from the book:
The ground zero of innovation is not the microscope. It was the conference table… The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop.
As I read the book, I realized that the normal interaction between people, with as wide and diverse a circle as possible, with constant conversation and interaction, really does lead to the kinds of “slow hunches” that lead to great new ideas.
And therein lies the problem.
First, a personal comment. Though I once worked selling clothing at a J. C. Penney store (in my college days), I have never worked in a large company. I have taught at a few colleges, mainly in the Dallas Community College District. But always as an adjunct, which means I arrive just in time to teach, and leave pretty quickly after that. Which means that I have never had the opportunity to interact in the ways described in this book, within a big company.
Thus, I work, basically alone. I have a home office, I read and think and write alone, and then go speak. That’s about it. The conference table is practically a foreign experience for me. (I did spend more than a few years attending the equivalent of church board meetings – but they frequently felt like mild levels of inquisitions, not idea generating laboratories).
I suspect that I am not the only one. The number of independent workers is growing. And though we can network with gusto, attending networking events is not the same as the daily cross-pollination that is described in this book as so very valuable.
There is much being written about the USA slipping down the innovation rankings on the world stage. “The United States is losing its distinction as an innovation leader,” was the conclusion in The Innovation Imperative in Manufacturing: How the United States Can Restore Its Edge. (read the report here).
And there is much being written about the increasing number of “independent workers.” Here is an excerpt from Why Is Washington Ignoring the Freelance Economy?, from The Atlantic. Here’s a key excerpt:
The data speak for itself: between 1995 and 2005 (i.e. before the recession), the number of independent workers in this country grew by 27 percent. In New York City alone, from 1975 to 2007 (again, pre-recession), 2/3 of job growth was due to self-employment. And let’s look at Nebraska: the state boasts among the lowest unemployment rates in the country (4.8%!) by retaining a diverse employment pool with significant numbers of independent workers.
Thus, more and more people are working alone. And though there are many associated problems (health care; benefits…), there may be a “hidden” problem that is as great as any other. Does the independent worker face an innovation deficit?
More people working alone. Fewer conference tables. A decline in innovation. I wonder — is there a connection?
Good ideas come from everywhere – from “elsewhere” – over the long haul, in “slow hunch” ways. So says Steven Johnson, in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. But here is one place they come from, and here is our quote for the day:
Reading remains an unsurpassed vehicle for the transmission of interesting new ideas and perspectives.
(I am presenting my synopsis of this terrific book this Friday, December 3, at the First Friday Book Synopsis, in Dallas. Register here).