Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A few big names jump aboard the Maker Movement

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs is about a new book by Mark Hatch, the CEO of TechShop, who is betting that the new wave of high-tech DIY will bolster innovation and the growth of this nascent industry.

Seeking Scale in the Maker Movement

I cut my journalistic teeth during the heyday of total quality management, the improvement method that fostered a much-needed renaissance in the U.S. manufacturing sector in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Unfortunately, said renaissance was short-lived—globalization and offshoring made it more cost-effective to produce all manner of goods in developing nations, and the number of U.S.-made products dwindled. So it’s been something of a delight to watch the “maker” movement in its early stages of development.

We’ve covered this emerging trend in s+b several times. In 2011, Tom Igoe and Catarina Mota wrote about digital fabrication technology and the effect it might have on manufacturing. This past summer, Tom also reviewed Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (Crown Business, 2012), by former Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, which as the title suggests was highly optimistic in its assessment of the maker movement. On the flip side, the just-released Winter issue of s+b includes a warning from Tim Laseter and Jeremy Hutchinson-Krupat that we probably are not anywhere near a tipping point in at least one of the innovations that is enabling DIY manufacturing—3D printing.

This week, I’d add Mark Hatch’s new book, The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafter, Hackers, and Tinkerers (McGraw-Hill, 2013), to the mix...read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A kinder, gentler Machiavelli?

This week, my book post on s+b's blogs is about scholar Maurizio Viroli's new interpretation of Machiavelli and The Prince:

A Call for True Machiavellian Leadership

It’s been 500 years—half a millennium—since Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince, and for nearly as long, the man and the book have stimulated controversy and debate. The Catholic Church banned
Machiavelli’s works in 1559 (putting him in the company of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer). Since then, The Prince, a foundational text in statecraft that served as the basis for the realist school of politics, has been characterized as a “handbook for tyrants” and condemned for separating ethics and politics.

So I was understandably curious when a review copy of Redeeming The Prince: The Meaning of Machiavelli’s Masterpiece (Princeton University Press, 2013) arrived a couple of weeks ago. In it, Maurizio Viroli, a leading Machiavelli scholar and politics professor emeritus at Princeton who currently teaches at the University of Italian Switzerland, makes a strong argument for rethinking widely held assumptions about The Prince.

Viroli suggests that our understanding of the book has been skewed by misinterpretations of its historical setting and by a lack of attention to several of its key sections. As a result, we’ve unfairly demonized The Prince and its author. Machiavelli (1469–1527) was calling for a more unified and free Italy, Viroli says, and The Prince was intended to be a handbook for a leader who would undertake the task of restoring the republic—a redeemer, not a tyrant. 

Since The Prince has been widely read by business leaders, I asked Viroli if his new interpretation should prompt them to think differently of Machiavelli...read his response here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year is...

And the envelope, please. Cue drumroll. The winner of The Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for 2013 is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown), by Brad Stone.

I'd love to tell you all about the book, but I haven't read it. In fact, I passed it over in publisher's catalog
even though it was billed as "the definitive story of Amazon.com, one of the most successful companies in the world, and of its driven, brilliant founder, Jeff Bezos," and even though it was based on "unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon." 

The reason I passed on the book was that Stone, a senior reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek and a terrific writer, didn't have access to he who laughs loudest. To date, Jeff Bezos has refused participate in any book about Amazon, claiming that it is too soon to tell the story.

I've always thought this was a silly decision on Bezos's part. After all, we're not talking about Snapchat here: Amazon hauled in $60 billion in revenue in 2012 and is one of the planet's leading retailers. But maybe it's not as silly as it seems on the surface. Amazon did manage to lose $39 million on that $60 billion. It's also likely that Bezos's story is a long way from over (unlike Steve Jobs, whose cooperation with Walter Isaacson in the final year or so of his life yielded an amazing biography that was shortlisted by FT/Goldman last year and probably would have won the top prize in this year's not-quite-as-distinguished field).  

In any case, as "unprecedented" as Stone's access was, the head honcho himself is missing. As MacKenzie Bezos pointed out in her one-star Amazon review of the book, this forced Stone to make educated guesses as to what was going in her husband's mind (which he seems to have felt comfortable doing). So I'm not sure what distinguishes The Everything Store from the other books that have been written about a guy whose every move is already reported by the business press--or how we can justify calling it definitive. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ayn Rand revisited

I found an interesting reference to Ayn Rand in a new book, Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action (Berrett-Koehler), by Mark Pastin, the CEO of Council for Ethical Organizations. Pastin

Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand earned both a dedicated following and considerable scorn for asserting that selfishness--being self-interested--is a virtue. This was always a bit puzzling since Rand's novels feature heroic figures that are individualistic, but hardly selfish. Ms. Rand created a tempest in a teapot. While she talked about self-interest, she also believed that it is in a person's self-interest to be bold, original, generous, kind, [and] noble. She was not talking about hogging the mashed potatoes. If my (self) interest is in creating situations in which individuals and ideas can flourish, it is not surprising that some might think of pursuing this self-interest as virtuous. In truth, Ms. Rand attracted attention to herself and her ideas through the dramatic mechanism of calling a person's interest in being an exceptional person a selfish interest. Ms. Rand failed to recognize that what makes an interest virtuous, or not virtuous, is not to whom the interest belongs--oneself or others--but where the interest leads.
I'm right with Pastin up to the last sentence. Rand did indeed attract attention to herself, her books, and her philosophy of Objectivism through "dramatic mechanisms" that allowed her to make controversial assertions that really weren't so controversial. But based on the reading and research my wife and writing partner, Donna, and I did for Ayn Rand and Business, it's clear that Rand recognized "what makes an interest virtuous."

Rand created a well-defined system of ethics for Objectivism. If you could ask her "where the interest leads," she would tell you that it should lead to reason, purpose, and self-esteem--those are the three Objectivist values (or goals). She went on to define seven virtues (or behaviors) necessary to achieve to these goals: rationality, productiveness, pride, independence, integrity, honesty, and justice. These behaviors are what make the pursuit of self-interest virtuous.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Killer quotes #4

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” 

 ― Upton Sinclair

Friday, November 15, 2013

Three books that Jeff Bezos had Amazon's senior execs read

Jon Fortt of CNBC interviewed Jeff Bezos a while back, doing the whole PR thing about the new Kindle Fire models, which wasn't all that interesting. But in the process, Bezos mentioned that he had
hosted three all-day book clubs with Amazon's top executives.

Which books did they read? Bezos doesn't say, but Fortt does:

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
The Innovator's Solution by Clayton Christensen
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We are all creatives

My weekly post on s+b's blogs is about a new book that shows readers how to channel the creativity they never knew they had:

Tapping into Your Inner Creative

Once in a while, a book gets its hooks into you and, try as you might, you can’t shake it off. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All (Crown Business, 2013) is such a book.

I had high expectations for Creative Confidence, mainly because its authors, Tom Kelley and David Kelley, are the IDEO guys. IDEO is, of course, one of the best-known innovation and design firms on the planet, with an enviable client list that included the late Steve Jobs.David not only founded IDEO, he also launched Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the d. school. Tom is an IDEO partner and the author of a couple of previous books on IDEO’s approach to innovation. As I read Creative Confidence, however, I realized that aside from a story here and there, the book covers familiar ground—things I’ve read about creativity before. I set it aside with some disappointment.

But something about the book kept calling me back, and I picked it up several times after that. I shared an excerpt from it with my colleagues; it didn’t spark their interest. And yet, here I am telling you about it. Why?...read the rest here

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ship to Shelf

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs is about journalist and author Rose George's recounting of her voyage on a container ship, transporting goods across the globe:

From Halfway around the World to a Store Near You

Labels make for interesting reading in the era of globalization. For US$1, I can buy a pound of apples
from New Zealand or a pair of gym socks made in Honduras. How can goods like these be shipped thousands of miles and still be sold for a profit in my hometown of Williamsburg, Va.? Rose George’s new book, Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (Metropolitan Books, 2013), offers part of the answer: container ships, like the Maersk Kendal.

George shipped out on the Kendal for 39 days—“six ports, two oceans, five seas”—as part of her research, much like John McPhee did for his book on the U.S. Merchant Marine, Looking for a Ship (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990). Four stories high and three football fields long, the “midsized” Kendal holds 6,188 20-foot containers. Its owner, A.P. Møller-Maersk A/S, a Danish company with $60 billion in annual revenues, is currently financing the construction of a fleet of 20 “Triple-E” ships that are a third longer than the Kendal and hold three times as many containers—reducing the cost of shipping a container by 20 to 30 percent. Three Triple-Es are already in service. They are too big to enter any port in the U.S. or pass through the Panama Canal. Instead, they travel between Europe and Asia via the Suez Canal.

But ships alone, not matter how big, are not enough to supply us with apples, socks, and myriad other goods from around the world...read the rest here