Monday, July 6, 2009

Posts for writers; Free is taken to task

I've read a couple of blog posts in the past week or so that are worth considering if you're a writer:

David Pogue, posting on the New York Times blog, answers a reader's question: "When will you share your productivity tips with us? Not everyone can write five books a year, file two columns a week, churn out a daily blog, speak 40 times a year and film a video every Thursday. What are your secrets?" Hint: long work hours, speech recognition, and typing short cuts.

In his blog, Wordwork, journalist Dan Baum calls for the elimination of the nut graph. He says having a paragraph that sums up the writer's thesis is a useful convention for news reporters and newspaper readers, but that it's counterproductive in longer works. I tend to agree.

In the business book world, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson's new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion) is attracting plenty of criticism. First, a blogger named Waldo Jaquith at Virginia Quarterly Review discovered that Anderson had lifted passages in the book from Wikipedia without attribution and Anderson apologized, blaming sloppy editing. Then, Malcolm Gladwell, another popular writer in the one-idea-per-book genre, criticized Free for its sloppy thinking in a New Yorker review. And today, Janet Maslin criticized Free as just plain sloppy in the New York Times' Books of the Times column. Hmmm...seems like a theme is developing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The French are lovin' it

It wasn't all that long ago that the French were up in arms that their nation was being invaded by McDonald's, the poster company for fast food and poor nutrition. Now, there are approximately 1200 McDonald's in France, including a location a block from the Louvre, and that nation is the company's second most profitable market.

Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger's story, How McDonald's Conquered France, is a fascinating look at how the global QSR giant accomplished this feat. For instance, McDonald's overcame farmer-driven protests by making the French aware that 70 percent of its ingredients were purchased domestically. It took the time to learn French dining habits (eating is a social event; they prefer to dine in rather than take-out) and designed its locations accordingly. It also acknowledged the food preferences of the French by introducing a host of sandwiches and other products designed especially for their tastes. The end result: McDonalds is serving more than a million customers a day in France.

Steinberger sees the success of McDo, as the French call it, as an indicator of the nation's cultural decline, at least in terms of cuisine, and has written a new book about it, titled Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France. But there is also a bigger business story or a case study here and somebody ought to write that, too. It sounds like McDonald's has figured out how to go global by acting local...for better or worse.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Leading authors on notable books

I've been helping to launch and edit a new book feature on the strategy+business website called Author's Choice. It's a neat concept: we ask leading business book authors to introduce excerpts that catch their eye from works other than their own. The short excerpts, under 1000 words, are self-encompassed and offer a lesson or insight for managers. We've already got a great pipeline in development and the first installment, announced below, is online. Check it out, and if you're a business book author whose found a pithy excerpt that you'd like to introduce, shoot me a line.

The Statistician Who Ate Humble Pie

New York, N.Y., June 30, 2009 - Why are business and economic forecasts so often wrong, and why can't they be improved? In a new feature from s+b -- Author's Choice -- leading writers select and introduce passages from notable books. In this piece, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, introduces an engaging lesson in business forecasting from Dance with Chance: Making Luck Work for You, by Spyros Makridakis, Robin Hogarth, and Anil Gaba.

To read it, click here.