Tag Archives: The Shallows
Innovation, Innovation Everywhere – and Not a Drop to Drink in so many companies/organizations
The jury came in long ago. No change, no innovation = real trouble for any and every organization.
From Gary Hamel, What Matters Now (notice the subtitle: How to win in a world of relentless change, ferocious competition, and unstoppable innovation):
Innovation isn’t a fad—it’s the real deal, the only deal. Right now, not everyone believes that, but they will…
“Change has changed” – truly, faster change; more change… Leaders must ask, “are we changing as fast as the world around us?”
Yet, the next jury is also coming in – we are slipping in the innovation department.
I have written so many times on this issue. And I think we do wrap a lot of different items under the overall umbrella of innovation. Creativity; constant improvement; updates; upgrades; version 2.0, 3.0. 10.0… the list is endless.
But it all boils down to this. If you have a perfect product, then leave it alone. (Are there any?). But if not, keep improving, keep tinkering, keep tweaking, keep innovating.
If you have a perfect process, then leave it alone. (There are even fewer of these!). If not, keep improving, keep tinkering, keep tweaking, keep innovating.
So, I write about this, I think about this, I present on this – and yet I (yes, me – Randy Mayeux) either forget to do it, or simply don’t want to do it. I don’t change, innovate, upgrade, update. I have my routines, my practices, my habits… and so I keep doing things in yesterday’s ways, and I could clearly do so much better. Laziness rears its ugly head again. As Scott Peck wrote years ago, laziness is our biggest enemy. It’s not that we don’t work. It’s that we work in the same old ways – we are too lazy to pursue the new, the different, the next better thing, the next better way. There is new software out there, new web-based tools to embrace, that would be really useful for me to use. I don’t want to take the time to learn how to use these. There are new skills to learn. I don’t want to take the time and effort to develop them. And so much more… the list is large, and growing, and goes on and on.
In other words, we (including me) really do like to do our work, and live our life, the way we have done our work and lived our life. And so, we fail to innovate. And, so many people in so many companies are just like us…
I read this on Andrew Sullivan’s blog: Is The Era Of Big Innovation Over?. It links to a couple of articles discussing whether or not the big innovations are over. (We don’t have colonies on Mars. We don’t fly around with Jetsons-like jetpacks). He links to Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows), and his article The hierarchy of innovation. Carr thinks we are now innovating more internally. He writes this:
As we move to the top level of the innovation hierarchy, the inventions have less visible, less transformative effects. We’re no longer changing the shape of the physical world or even of society, as it manifests itself in the physical world. We’re altering internal states, transforming the invisible self. Not surprisingly, when you step back and take a broad view, it looks like stagnation – it looks like nothing is changing very much.
And Carr proposes an “innovation-adapted Maslow’s hierarchy.” It’s pretty interesting Click on the image to take a look..
Think about the two worlds of innovation. There is the big, big world. The folks who will be coming up with mass-produced, inexpensive, driverless cars that will be fueled by garbage and fingernail clippings and thus keep the air cleaner and the planet more beautiful. Or the electricity that will be provided without the use of coal but with massively powerful solar panels built into our sunglasses. You know, the big, big innovations that will really change the world.
But there is also the small, more accessible world. My life, my job, the processes I follow… what am I doing to take the next big, big step in my small, small world?
It will be in the thousands of little innovations that we develop a true culture of innovation. And that is a culture we need to feed, applaud, and immerse ourselves in.
So – what about you? Is there a new software or web based-tool to learn, that would be really useful and make you more effective, more productive? (The answer is yes, by the way. This week, I’m working on learning how to use Trello effectively). Start today. Is there a process in your job to streamline? Start today. Is there a better way to respond to your own customers? So, learn it, do it…start today.
If you don’t join the innovation party, and keep at it, the world may simply pass you by.
The Never-Finished Book: Problems with Perpetual In-Progress Revising
One of the most popular books for our CCN on-site presentations last year was The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr (New York: Norton, 2010). In that book, he discusses how the Internet tinkers with the brain, reamps its neural circuitry, and reprograms the memory. While the mind does not go, it certainly changes, and deep reading and concentration become struggles.
I thought that Carr’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Books That Are Never Done Being Written” (December 31, 2011 – January 1, 2012, p. C3) took these thoughts further. In the essay that I reproduced in its entirety below, he argues that digital text ushers in an era where constant revision and updating is not only possible, but becoming normal, for better and for worse.
Have you ever thought about what can happen with this kind of access? Carr says, “School boards will be able to edit textbooks, and dictatorial governments will be able to meddle, too.” The never-ending story will become a reality.
Editable content strains credibility of sources. We already pooh-pooh Wikipedia for that reason. Even though there are controls within its system, they are not great, and people receive laughter when they cite it as a reference in professional and academic circles. I don’t think it’s entirely bad, but I caution people to use it only to get background information about a topic, and to then use its external source links for additional substantiation and elaboration.
For me, the simple addition of an “afterword” to a subsequent printing suffices. In fact, that is what you will find when you purchase Carr’s book. You will find an additional chapter where he provides reactions and updates to his premises from an earlier printing. The same is true of the famous Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz (New York: Hyperion, 2007). Between printings, he added a chapter with seven new “words that work.”
The difference between this approach and the massive digital editing approach is that these are author-controlled, and they are also refereed. Today, anyone can put up an e-Book, and no one has to review or approve its content. And, if it is open to massive external editing, the author will have lost control. Whose words are we really reading? And, how do we know that they are factual and accurate?
This essay by Carr is worth reading and contemplating. Before we just jump into the all-digital era, stop reviewing content for accuracy, cast away professional refereeing, and halt publishing of paper-versions of books, maybe we should all take a deep breath and be sure this is what we want to do.
Technological advances are good, but they are amoral. It all depends in whose hands the advances land, and how they use them.
Read the essay below. Then, tell me what you think! Let’s talk about it really soon!
BOOKS THAT ARE NEVER DONE BEING WRITTEN
By Nicholas Carr
Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2011 – January 1, 2012, p. C3
I recently got a glimpse into the future of books. A few months ago, I dug out a handful of old essays I’d written about innovation, combined them into a single document, and uploaded the file to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. Two days later, my little e-book was on sale at Amazon’s site. The whole process couldn’t have been simpler.
Then I got the urge to tweak a couple of sentences in one of the essays. I made the edits on my computer and sent the revised file back to Amazon. The company quickly swapped out the old version for the new one. I felt a little guilty about changing a book after it had been published, knowing that different readers would see different versions of what appeared to be the same edition. But I also knew that the readers would be oblivious to the alterations.
An e-book, I realized, is far different from an old-fashioned printed one. The words in the latter stay put. In the former, the words can keep changing, at the whim of the author or anyone else with access to the source file. The endless malleability of digital writing promises to overturn a whole lot of our assumptions about publishing.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type a half-millennium ago, he also gave us immovable text. Before Gutenberg, books were handwritten by scribes, and no two copies were exactly the same. Scribes weren’t machines; they made mistakes. With the arrival of the letterpress, thousands of identical copies could enter the marketplace simultaneously. The publication of a book, once a nebulous process, became an event.
A new set of literary workers coalesced in publishing houses, collaborating with writers to perfect texts before they went on press. The verb “to finalize” became common in literary circles, expressing the permanence of printed words. Different editions still had textual variations, introduced either intentionally as revisions or inadvertently through sloppy editing or typesetting, but books still came to be viewed, by writer and reader alike, as immutable objects. They were written for posterity.
Beyond giving writers a spur to eloquence, what the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein calls “typographical fixity” served as a cultural preservative. It helped to protect original documents from corruption, providing a more solid foundation for the writing of history. It established a reliable record of knowledge, aiding the spread of science. It accelerated the standardization of everything from language to law. The preservative qualities of printed books, Ms. Eisenstein argues, may be the most important legacy of Gutenberg’s invention.
Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change every time it’s refreshed on a screen. A book page turns into something like a Web page, able to be revised endlessly after its initial uploading. There’s no technological constraint on perpetual editing, and the cost of altering digital text is basically zero. As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text.
That’s an attractive development in many ways. It makes it easy for writers to correct errors and update facts. Guidebooks will no longer send travelers to restaurants that have closed or to once charming inns that have turned into fleabags. The instructions in manuals will always be accurate. Reference books need never go out of date.
Even literary authors will be tempted to keep their works fresh. Historians and biographers will be able to revise their narratives to account for recent events or newly discovered documents. Polemicists will be able to bolster their arguments with new evidence. Novelists will be able to scrub away the little anachronisms that can make even a recently published story feel dated.
But as is often the case with digitization, the boon carries a bane. The ability to alter the contents of a book will be easy to abuse. School boards may come to exert even greater influence over what students read. They’ll be able to edit textbooks that don’t fit with local biases. Authoritarian governments will be able to tweak books to suit their political interests. And the edits can ripple backward. Because e-readers connect to the Internet, the works they contain can be revised remotely, just as software programs are updated today. Movable text makes a lousy preservative.
Such abuses can be prevented through laws and software protocols. What may be more insidious is the pressure to fiddle with books for commercial reasons. Because e-readers gather enormously detailed information on the way people read, publishers may soon be awash in market research. They’ll know how quickly readers progress through different chapters, when they skip pages, and when they abandon a book.
The promise of stronger sales and profits will make it hard to resist tinkering with a book in response to such signals, adding a few choice words here, trimming a chapter there, maybe giving a key character a quick makeover. What will be lost, or at least diminished, is the sense of a book as a finished and complete object, a self-contained work of art.
Not long before he died, John Updike spoke eloquently of a book’s “edges,” the boundaries that give shape and integrity to a literary work and that for centuries have found their outward expression in the indelibility of printed pages. It’s those edges that give a book its solidity, allowing it to stand up to the vagaries of fashion and the erosions of time. And it’s those edges that seem fated to blur as the words of books go from being stamped permanently on sheets of paper to being rendered temporarily on flickering screens.
Blah, Blah, Blah & Demand – December Choices for the First Friday Book Synopsis
We had a terrific session yesterday at the November, 2011 First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Shallows, and I presented my synopsis of the new book by Jim Collins, Great by Choice. It was a valuable session. Both books were terrific, and I view Great by Choice as an important book for all leaders.
For December, we have selected two books. The first is Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam. Roam is the author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, which Karl presented back at the July, 2008 First Friday Book Synopsis. Though Roam is known for his creative use of simple drawings, it his clear thinking that makes him an especially valuable resource. You can read the review of this new book by Bob Morris on our blog here, and Bob’s most recent interview with Roam (it’s his send with this author), here.
The other selection is Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian Slywotzky and Karl Weber. I have not yet read much of this book, but Bob Morris speaks highly of it, so I look forward to diving into it. The title reminds me of the famous line by Steve Jobs: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” You can read the review of this book by Bob Morris on our blog here.
Speaking of Steve Jobs, I will present the new Walter Isaacson biography, Steve Jobs, at the January, 2012 First Friday Book Synopsis. I have read the first couple of chapters, and am utterly captivated. It is selling fairly well: #1 on practically every list, (overall and nonfiction) and its different versions are #s 1, 2, & 3, (Kindle Edition; Hardcover Edition; Audio edition) on the Amazon Business Best-Seller list at the hour I write this blog post. I look forward to every presentation I make at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but the Jobs books is one that I am unusually jazzed about.
You will be able to register through our home page for the December First Friday Book Synopsis, hopefully, by the middle of next week (around November 9).
The Productivity Challenge Of This Era
Important announcement from the Ministry of Gossip: THE GOSPEL ON CELEBRITY AND POP CULTURE
PREACH IT! Prince declares Internet ‘completely over,’ Web somehow continues to function
I’ve got a problem. I can’t get my work done. Or, at least, I’m not getting it done. It’s not that I am not “at work.” It is that while at work, I am not working. At least, not enough. I’m too busy doing other stuff. Stuff that helps me learn, think, ponder – but not necessarily the stuff of my actual work.
In the old days, that other stuff was standing around a water cooler, cleaning and organizing and straightening the desk, the stacks, the piles. Now, it’s reading and surfing and watching stuff on the web. I hate to disappoint Prince, but he is wrong – the Internet is not “completely over.” In fact, it has a death grip on our productivity.
Here is an example: at least three times, I have run the live stream of a World Cup game in the corner of my computer. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE SOCCER! That live feed was completely distracting.
So, yesterday, I took the bull by the horns. (I have no idea what that means…) I decided, enough is enough. I pulled out all of my old time management tools, and spent some time planning my work. By the day; day after day. Which book to read when, which project to tackle when, which task to do at a set time – you know, trying to become much more productive. (And, by the way, writing blog posts is part of my work).
I won’t bore you with the details. But they included actually printing out some sheets of paper (you remember paper, don’t you?), and pulling out my old high-tech tool: a clipboard. (It is an amazing tool!).
But the real test will be when I settle down in one of those blocks of time I have blocked out, and seeing if I can stay focused, truly on task. That’s when it will get scary.
In a column in the LA Times, Building One Big Brain, Robert Wright describes the battle between our loss of focus, reflecting on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and the ways that the Internet and all of these “social brain” activities change the way we function (referring to an upcoming book What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, a long-time tech-watcher who helped launch Wired magazine and was its executive editor back in its young, edgy days).
Here is how he starts his column:
For your own sake, focus on this column. Don’t think about your Facebook feed or your inbox. Don’t click on the ad above or the links to the right. Don’t even click on links within the column.
Failing to focus — succumbing to digital distraction — can make you lose your mind, fears Nicholas Carr, author of the much-discussed book “The Shallows.” At least, it can make you lose little parts of your mind. The Internet, Carr suspects, “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”
In other words, don’t just float/surf/fly around – sit down and do some work!
But then, he asks the next part of the question, referring to the soon available book by Kelly:
As for Kevin Kelly’s view: I’ll let Kelly speak for himself as the timely publication of his fascinating book approaches. But it’s safe to say that he’s upbeat. He writes of technology “stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves” and asks, “How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”
No doubt some of his critics will think of ways. But the question he’s asking strikes me as the right long-term question: Not so much how do we reconcile ourselves to technology, but how do we reconcile ourselves to — and help shape — the very big thing that technology seems devoted to building?
So – here is my thought. I have often blogged about the loss of focus problem. I have quoted fondly from Rework, in which the authors talk about the great value of chunks of alone time to get actual work done. They are right.
But, we also live in this social brain activity era.
Getting the balance – doing both well – that is the productivity challenge of this era.