Profile for Dan Wallace > Reviews

Browse

Dan Wallace's Profile

Customer Reviews: 36
Top Reviewer Ranking: 180,986
Helpful Votes: 324




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Dan Wallace RSS Feed (Minneapolis, MN)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
pixel
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.39
462 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Leader For The Times, July 24, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is the best biography I've read to date. My colleague J Forrest told me this is the top book on leadership. My words that follow are more a report on Lincoln the leader than a critique of Doris Kearns Goodwin the author. That said, Goodwin has written a volume with the texture of a novel, filled with scenic details and perceptive insights into the complex interrelationships among Lincoln's family, friends, cabinet and generals. The 757 pages passed with ease. This is a great book.

Lincoln seems an improbable president. Born in poverty and confronted with multiple miseries, setbacks and failures, he came to reunite a divided nation. Using stealth and skill to engineer an upset Republican nomination, Lincoln persuaded the emotionally bruised rivals he bested (William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates) to take key cabinet positions after he won the election of 1860. He later placed Edwin Stanton, a man who humiliated Lincoln when he was an Illinois lawyer, into the key position of Secretary of War. These actions were misinterpreted by some Easterners as the folly of an inept Western rube, but in time the nation and his fractious cabinet came to see that Lincoln was the indispensable person.

Critics point out that Lincoln made political and military mistakes and openly displayed prejudice and racism during the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1850s. These counts are true. Lincoln also bent the truth at times. The author clearly idealizes Lincoln and gives short shrift to his faults. At the same time, a skilled historical biographer looks at a person within the context of their times and does not judge them through the lens of the current age. Additionally, all leaders make mistakes, particularly in times of crisis.

From what I read in this book, Lincoln seems to be a proto-pragmatists, the distinctive American philosophy that is well rendered in "The Metaphysical Club." Lincoln was able to balance Idealism with what could be done and what he knew at the time. As facts and conditions changed, Lincoln changed. His signature talent seemed to be an ability to learn, create and grow. His virtues were many, including: integrity, wisdom, empathy, forgiveness, friendliness, storytelling, logic and the long view.

The question of why Lincoln became such a great leader is the most intriguing issue in my mind. Team of Rivals gives hints. Overcoming traumatic early life can give some people the skills to deal with great difficulties later on, and Goodwin paints a bleak early life for Lincoln. He transformed himself through books, contemplation of higher ideals, work, friendship and humor. Lincoln's time as a lawyer riding the circuit seems important as well, providing experiences that displayed a full range of human nature. Lincoln's circuit riding days also put him in daily contact with the best and brightest in Illinois, attorneys he would argue against during the day and share stories, jokes and philosophies with at night. Lincoln abstained from tobacco and alcohol, indicating self control and independence of mind. The most interesting clue to his leadership ability was Lincoln's belief, contrary to the popular opinion of the times, that there is no afterlife, and that the only way a person can live on is through great deeds that earn the respect and memory of future generations. Lincoln sought a great struggle to give meaning and purpose to his life. The Civil War provided the great act he was seeking and it also ended his life. But Lincoln's memory lives on.

When I visited the Hart Senate Building in DC, a painting of Lincoln hung in then Senator Obama's reception area. History connects these two men. Team of Rivals also gives new meaning to my visits to Springfield, The Lincoln Memorial, Gettysburg, Jefferson's Monticello and the Southern White House in Richmond. The legacy of the Civil War still reverberates in American society and this book helps explain why.

Team Of Rivals is instructive and inspiring. It provides insight into America, democracy, politics, military strategy and the Civil War. Most of all Team Of Rivals illuminates the amazing leadership of Abraham Lincoln.

Here are some other biographical works I've enjoyed . . .

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
Edison - A Biography
Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company
Andrew Carnegie


Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
by Simon Sinek
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.07
124 used & new from $4.51

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WHY + HOW + WHAT = Simple & Catalytic, August 6, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Simon Sinek put evidence behind a simple and powerful model everyone can use; in particular, leaders, entrepreneurs, marketers and strategists. Three questions are implicitly asked:

-- WHY do you do what you do and why should anyone care?
-- HOW will you get there?
-- WHAT specifically will you do?

Employees, customers and other stakeholders become more focused and motivated when you start with "why." Yet most companies focus on "what."

Sinek's primary contribution is to tie this framework to brain structure. He explains that before embarking on any new course of action, the limbic brain wants to know the WHY; and only after "why" is settled do our higher functions look at HOW and WHAT. Essentially, our higher functions cannot logically compare all the attributes of a decision, so we default to emotion and then justify with facts.

WHY > HOW > WHAT aligns with the military model of OBJECTIVE > STRATEGY > TACTICS, which is standard fare at business schools. I believe the model in this book is more useful for strategy development because it is simple, inquisitive and non-combative.

The behavioral insight behind this model has significant implications for those who labor to craft vision, mission and value statements. Most often these statement are externally focused, intellectually minded and packed with abstract language. Mission statements seem to be tailored for board meetings and Wall Street, not employees or customers. Few are memorable.

Starting with why drills right down to intent and emotion, which connects with the human desire to find meaning and purpose. The case is made that people are more likely to buy products and follow leaders who are driven by a compelling why.

Senik argues that leadership charisma comes from nothing more than passion for a higher purpose. He also points out that leaders who are driven by "why" need to have partners who attend to "how." For example, Walt Disney had the vision and his brother Roy made it work. Same with Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger.

Unfortunately, success tends to make companies focus on "what" at the expense of "why." Senik calls this the spit, and points to Walmart after Sam Walton, Starbucks after Howard Schultz, and growth problems at the Gap, Microsoft and Dell.

To me, WHY statements are inspiring, vivid and simple. Here are a few examples I like:

Google: "organize the world`s information and make it universally accessible and useful"
United States: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
Early Apple: "empower the individual to challenge the status quo"
LEGO: "invent the future of play"
Chipotle: "food with integrity"
Amazon: "be the earth's most customer-centric company"
Twitter: "To instantly connect people everywhere to what's most important to them."
Starbucks: "inspire and nurture the human spirit"
Skillshare: "transforming education by empowering teachers and democratizing learning"
Kickstarter: "worlds largest platform for creative projects"
Silk Road: "creating the finest employee experience"
Kahn Academy: "A free world-class education for anyone anywhere."
Costco: "quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices"
General Motors: "a car for every purse and purpose"

As a marketer, I work with some clients to focus on WHY rather than the traditional marketing focus on brand positioning. Not all companies or leaders can do this, but when they do, it is powerful.

In some ways, this book begin and ends with why. "How" and "what" are given short shrift, and perhaps that's all for the best, since these areas of inquiry are far more complex. At the same time, working through the how and what is where the hard work begins.

On the whole, "Start With Why" succeeds because it brings a useful model to the forefront and ties it to what we know about human behavior. The practical application could have been more clear, and the text rambles around too much.

For an excellent video overview, go online to watch Simon's TED talk.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies
Man's Search for Meaning
It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose


Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences
Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences
by Jon Elster
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.41
71 used & new from $16.63

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Choice Book, May 29, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Jon Elster says, "Choice remains the core concept in the social sciences." In this book he proceeds to describe the complexity behind our many choices. If you are looking for a light, breezy read that simplifies human behavior, veer away from this one. But if you want a grand sweep of human behavior, this could be the ticket.

The pages work to synthesize psychology, sociology and neuroscience with folk wisdom and literature. It is refreshing that the author does not carry a chip on his shoulder like so many social scientists do, nor does he ape the language of hard science. One of his controversial arguments is that qualitative social science is actually more useful than quantitative social science. Yet at the same time he is a loyal reductionist.

One commonality that Explaining Social Behavior has with contemporary pop psychology is that it outlines emotion as being more central than logic. What the book does not do is reduce human emotion to simple axiomatic truths. Instead, Elster presents emotion as the messy business it really is.

Predicting social behavior is challenging since our emotions are guided by the context of situations, perceptual and cognitive limitations and the shifting circumstances and opportunities of each individual. The author says, "It is easier to change a persons' circumstances and opportunities than to change their minds." A key insight.

From this base of circumstances and opportunities leading to emotion, Elster suggests that we form desires and beliefs that lead to information gathering and action. This model of human behavior makes intuitive sense, and it is the closest thing to a central theory in the book. He calls this the desire-belief model.

As someone involved with both marketing and learning, I was eager to hear the author's take on motivation. In short, he sees motivation as a competing array of forces including the visceral and the rational, the shortsighted and farsighted, the selfish and altruistic . . . all amid wants to wishes that are subject to the desire-belief model.

Elster's views on motivation can be contrasted with the view of Daniel Pink in Drive, where Pink argues that people want autonomy, mastery and purpose. Of course, there are many other theories on motivation as well, from carrots and sticks to Theory X & Y. The authors ideas about motivation seem to align with mine -- in that there are many ways to motivate or be motivated; the challenge is fit the context of each situation.

I was particularly interested in Chapter 23 on Collective Belief Formation, Chapter 24 on Collective Action, Chapter 25 on Collective Decision Making, and Chapter 26 on Organizations and Institutions. Eichten shows how collective belief starts with a few individuals and gains steam through motivations ranging from self-interest to peer pressure, guilt, personal growth and the desire for raw adventure. Collective decision making is made through a combination of arguing, bargaining and voting.

Organizations are defined by their capacity for centralized decision making. These bodies may have members or employees, with rights governed by constitutions which need to balance power. Key organizational challenges include constructing proper incentives and aligning principals and agents with the needs of the organization.

This book is filled with insights into human nature and nurture. It is a great read. I found out about Explaining Social Behavior from a Twitter link with the favorite books of Nicolas Taleb. As with Taleb's book, The Black Swan, this book is filled with aphorisms, keen insights and clever turns of phrase. I leave you with some of my favorites:

* The good social scientist has to consistently think against oneself -- to make matters as difficult for oneself as one can.
* To excel at anything is to deviate, and deviation is the object of universal disapproval.
* The invention of game theory may come to be seen as the most important single advance of the social sciences in the twentieth century. Games illuminate the structure of the two central issues of social interaction -- cooperation and coordination.
* Behavior is often no more stable than the situations that shape it.
* It is simply not true that people are aggressive, impatient, extroverted, or talkative across the board.
* The ratio of fear of loss to the desire for gain is empirically about 2.5 to 1.
* Delay strategies might seem to hold out the best promise for dealing with emotion-based irrationality.
* To understand a work of art is to explain it in terms of the antecedent mental states of its creator.
* Whereas too much rationality can be unintelligible, irrationality can be perfectly intelligible.
* As misunderstandings are dissipated, felicity ensues; as ignorance is lifted, disaster occurs.
* If debates are held in public, the quality of argument will suffer. If they take place behind closed doors, arguing may degenerate into bargaining.
* Reciprocal altruism is not a plausible mechanism for generating cooperation in larger groups.
* Egoism, said Tocqueville, is "the rust of society." Similarly, is is often said that trust is "the lubricant of society."
* An autocratic government is unable to make itself unable to interfere.
* Rational choice theory is subjective through and through.
* The brain is a natural conspiracy theorist.
* All explanation is causal explanation.

The Black Swan
Status Anxiety
Man's Search for Meaning
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America


Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
by Clay Shirky
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.22
208 used & new from $0.08

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep Thoughts on Social Media and The Internet, May 30, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The subtitle of this book is "Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors." Nice tag line, and a good entry point into this penetrating examination of how the Internet and Social Media are transforming the world we live in. Shirky covers complex content with humility, humanity and skill.

Here Comes Everybody is a remarkable book. Shirky states that the Internet is the biggest disruptive force since the telephone, television, transistor and the birth control pill combined. I've heard others say the printing press, and a blog I read recently compared the Internet to the invention of alphabet. In any event, it's a watershed event.

In this book's well-edited pages Shirky says, "Philosophers sometimes make a distinction between difference in degree (more of the same) and difference in kind (something new)." Social Media and the Internet represent something new. He adds, "When society is changing, we want to know whether the change is good or bad, but that kind of judgment becomes meaningless with transformations this large."

Central to this book is Coase's theorem. Coase won a Nobel Prize studying the economic factors of production inside of firms, a radical departure from traditional macroeconomic focus. Coase looked at transaction costs within and between firms (Contracting, Cooperating, Control) as a key unit of economic study. What he found is that three transaction activities have historically required significant cost and energy:

1. Sharing
2. Cooperation
3. Collective Action

The Internet makes these activities much less expensive. Shirky sees the cost of sharing plummeting to zero, creating bargains for shoppers, and new challenges and opportunities for business. The Internet is also reducing the cost of categorization, digital reproduction and distribution. All of this is creating significant disruption for newspapers, advertisers, the post office, encyclopedias, the music industry, etc.

Shirky also sees disruption for attorneys, doctors, journalists, consultants and management professionals because of the readily available knowledge on the Internet. He says, "Professional self-conception and self-defense, so valuable in ordinary times, become a disadvantage in revolutionary ones, because professionals are always concerned with threats to the profession." And further, "Novices make mistakes from a lack of experience. They overestimate user fads, see revolution everywhere, and they make this kind of error a thousand times before they learn better. In times of revolution, though, the experienced among us make the opposite mistake. When a real, once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we are at risk of regarding it as a fad"

Shirky sees cooperation as more difficult than sharing because it requires behavior synchronization -- and collective action harder still because it requires the commitment to the group and group governance, "or, put another way, rules for losing." He states that as a group grows arithmetically the complexity grows logarithmically. More people, more potential problems.

One potential solution to cooperation is shared awareness. He states that shared awareness in collective action has three levels: 1) When everybody knows something; 2) When somebody knows what everybody knows; 3) When everybody knows that everybody knows. For example, he talked about how radios transformed German Panzer tanks from military hardware into a new form of coordinated weapon, while the French saw tanks as accessories to infantry units. And today Internet apps are more pervasive and powerful than Walkie Talkies.

On a human level, Shirky shows how Social Media and the Internet is changing the way we interact, and how reciprocity, altruism, and even love are central in this new world. He even says that the Internet is making the physical world and relationships more important than ever. For these values to succeed, however, he states the need for social density and continuity, factors present in social media and in big cities. Shirky also tips his hat to Gladwell's work in the Tipping Point, which points to the value of mavens, connectors and salespeople (a hypothesis recently contested, however, through a research by Duncan J Watts PhD that indicates good ideas are actually the keys to memes going viral).

Following along on the human trail, Shirky explains Dunbar research indicating that human beings can only have about 150 meaningful relationships, and that the way these dense interrelationships interact can enhance or slow progress. Dunbar sets the stage for Metcalfe's Law, which says, "The value of the network grows with the square of its users" so when you double the size of the network, you quadruple the number of potential connections. Metcalfe's Law is the topped by David Reed's Law, which says that the value of the group actually grows exponentially since groups can splinter into numerous subgroups. As a category these theories are related to Power Laws, which include Zipps Law and the 80/20 Rule. All of this is seriously academic stuff, but when you think about it these theories explain the growth of Google, The Huffington Post and Facebook -- and why big established companies are valuable but have a hard time innovating.

Given the theoretical fixed limit of 150 meaningful human relationships, one of Shirky's solutions for the problem of Collective Action is to use connectors as ambassadors to different small groups. This is what cross-functional leaders and managers traditionally do, so it would be good to hear more about the behavioral nuances he sees. If you know of such work, send it to me @ideafood on Twitter.

This book has also made me curious about what new interpersonal behaviors this technology is creating and requiring on an individual level. How will the Internet, Social Media and Games lead to new behaviors at home work and school? What new behaviors are needed? He hints at this with his most recent book, Cognitive Surplus, which envisions could happen if people stopped watching mind-numbing TV and started doing things like write Wikipedia pages or Amazon book reviews.

And Here Comes Everybody does have interesting thoughts about business operations. Shirky says, "All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing information for two audiences -- employees and the world." He adds further, " In economic terms, capital is a store of wealth and assets; social capital is that store of behaviors and norms in any large group that lets its members support one another." Once old costs are shed, time and money can be applied to different things.

He also talks about innovation, with the value of networks as a foundation: "It's not how many people you know, it's how many kinds," and then he extols the advantages of cognitive diversity for innovation. At the same time, organizations have a difficult time innovating, because creative people are harder to manage, disruptive, and difficult to compensate, and they often don't scale well. And then there is the natural human tendency to destroy things, which Shirky believes is because destruction is easier than construction. As he says, "Anything that increases the cost of doing something reduces what gets done," and doing nothing is always easiest. The cherry on top is the personal interests and rivalries at play with regard to new ideas. Little wonder that Machiavelli advised against doing new things! Yet the world requires it more than ever.

One buried solution for innovation is simplicity. He says, "Communication tools don't become socially interesting until they become technologically boring." I love this line.

What Here Comes Everybody did not predict is that Twitter and Facebook would be used as tools to overthrow despots in Arab lands. Although Shirky did lay-out the theoretical groundwork for the multi-billion dollar valuations of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon and Zenga. Now Flipboard and Zite are putting further pressure on traditional media. A lot has happened since this book came out three years ago in 2009.

It makes me wonder, "Where things will be three years from now in 2014?"

Maybe Clay Shirky will tell us on another book. In the meantime, here are some other books on the Internet worth reading:

Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace (Helix Books)
Neuromancer
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 2nd Edition


The Chaos Scenario
The Chaos Scenario
by Bob Garfield
Edition: Paperback
108 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and Chaotic, March 21, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Chaos Scenario (Paperback)
I first came across media critic Bob Garfield in 2005 when I read his Ad Age essay, also titled "The Chaos Scenario. His argument was that mass media is dying and that the Internet will never become a mass medium -- resulting in a period of chaos for the media, brands, marketers, and advertisers. That's my abridged version. Garfield's essay can be Googled. It is prescient and compelling.

Version One of The Chaos Scenario changed my mind. I bought the premise, and moved deeper into cyberspace. As of this writing, in 2011, I believe we have entering the marketing chaos Mr. Garfield predicted. I've seen it first hand with my clients. Almost all of my marketing consulting work is now focused on the Internet.

The book "The Chaos Scenario" expands on Garfield's Ad Age essays and combines ideas from his blog, The Bobosphere. My criticism of the book is that it feels more like a collection of essays and blogposts than a coherent whole, but since his title hinges on the word "chaos," perhaps this ad hoc approach simply delivers on the brand promise. In the prologue Garfield does admit "writing a book about the digital world is like trying to sketch the Kentucky Derby."

Criticisms aside, this book is packed with useful perspectives and real world examples. Garfield persuasively expands his case that mass media is dying due to high overhead, new technologies that bypass commercials, audience fragmentation brought on my more choice, and steadily declining reach. And he points to the need for the transition from telling and selling to building relationships through the social capabilities of the Internet.

Garfield's recommended start is for brand managers to listen to what people are saying online. The book proceeds to show how the power of brand voice is shifting from the advertising overlords to individuals and groups. People trust ads less and rely on each other more through online search, blogposts, and reviews on Amazon, eBay, and social media. A study by Adidas and Electronic arts showed that 70% of ROI was attributable to customer-to-customer proliferation. So he sees listening and surveying this new landscape as a necessary first step.

The Chaos Scenario also provides many case studies of successful engagement on the Internet. LEGO and Dell have engaged online with customers to develop new products. Office Max succeeded with a fun and interactive promotion called Elf Yourself. Churchlife.tv succeeded in creating a virtual congregation. And along the way Barrack Obama was elected President of the United States partly due to the power of Social Media.

Not surprisingly, as a media critic, Garfield does an excellent job charting the dark side of the Internet. Starting with his own crusade against COMCAST, moving onto his experience with an Internet hater, and ending with sad stories of kid's being bullied into suicide, The Chaos Scenario provides pointed reminders that everything posted online is public and permanent. If people hate you or your brand and Google ranks nasty diatribes about you on the first page there is nothing you can do about it. As Garfield says, "Never mind what Andy Warhol said. In the future everybody will be slandered in perpetuity.'

The dark insight is balanced with a relatively positive assessment of the Internet's ultimate impact on journalism. While Garfield clearly predicts more gloom and doom for mass media, he sees the advantage of democratized journalism. "Now instead of thousands of reporters there are millions." (I heartily agree with the last insight by Garfield. My FlipBoard feed of my Twitter lists on the iPad has become one of my favorite news sources.)

What this book does not do, and what no book can do, is chart a clear course for marketers on this new road. For the first time since the advent of mass media, marketing is in a period of fundamental creativity and innovation. The power balance in marketing has shifted from the manufacturer, to the mass media, to the retailer, to you and I.

Engage, Revised and Updated: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 2nd Edition


The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" (Incerto)
The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" (Incerto)
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.63
253 used & new from $1.66

98 of 104 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Skepticism in a New Age, February 28, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Taleb's central premise is that we delude ourselves with popular stories, false knowledge, myths, overvalued facts, and the appearance of science. He calls this the narrative fallacy, and counsels, "The way to avoid the ills of the narrative fallacy is to favor experimentation over storytelling, experience over history, and clinical knowledge over theories." Good advice.

Given this push for what David Brooks calls "epistemological modesty," you may expect a humble book, -- and if so, you would be disappointed. Taleb lambasts the hubris of Wall Street, yet he is a product of this culture; and the book shows it. His belief in uncertainty combined with his sharp views is broadly ironic. Some reviewers call it arrogant.

I put the bravado aside, and even found it entertaining at times, for Taleb's case is well put, and the book is brisling with thoughtful aphorisms and vivid stories. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

- Luck is more important than skill.
- Risk is the most when you feel the safest.
- Look for evidence that proves your ideas wrong.
- There are no experts of things that move.
- Too much information becomes toxic.
- The wise plead ignorance to world events.
- We cannot compare current reality with an alternative.
- Our highest currency is respect.
- "Randomness" is unknowledge.
- Be prepared for multiple contingencies.
- "I don't know," is a sign of intelligence.
- We are swayed by the sensational.
- Seize every opportunity, for they are rare.
- Go to parties -- chitchat leads to breakthroughs.

These are thoughtful nuggets to consider. And despite the pride that occasionally dances on the pages, Taleb is a good writer and an even better philosopher. The book is part memoir, part postmodern treatise on skepticism, part rant. It is an idiosyncratic, fresh and fascinating narrative.

This book is also a full frontal assault on the Wall Street establishment that uses statistics, bell curves and Black-Scholes theory to sell portfolio allocation. For investors, Taleb advocates a "barbell strategy" where you put 85-90% of your money in cash or equivalents, and the remainder in extremely risky investments that are scalable. He goes on at some length to talk about the dynamics of scalable investments and scalable careers such as sales, venture capital, and entrepreneurial ventures. In the end, he recommends against entering scalable professions due to the many risks involved. More irony.

For those who do hit it big and make what Taleb calls FU money, he recommends a dedication to scholarship, for he sees the pursuit of money and material goods as a nightmare. And he warns that scalable success may not come for a long time, or it may never come, and sojourners in scalable professions will have to endure the cruelty of critics. This line of thinking feels balanced and wise.

I was fascinated when I read this book in the winter of 2008, partly because Taleb had correctly forecast a major stock market crash, and partly because I had recent experience working as a marketing consultant for a large Wall Street investment firm (which no longer exists). That consulting experience and this book have left an imprint on my mind.

I have not studied Edmond Burke or David Hume, so currently, Nassim Nicholas Taleb my favorite skeptic, and The Black Swan is one of my favorite books.

When Taleb was Tweeting, he praised "Straw Dogs" by the contemporary British philosopher, David Gray. Gray's book takes skepticism to new and brilliant heights, and in my option it flies over the top. Perhaps some day I will review Straw Dogs as well, but for now I'll stick with Black Swans.

Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals


The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
by David Meerman Scott
Edition: Paperback
220 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Introduction to Internet Marketing, March 17, 2010
"Before the Web came along, there were only three ways to get noticed: buy expensive advertising, beg the mainstream media to tell your story for you, or hire a huge sales staff to bug people one at a time about your products." -- says David Meerman Scott in the introduction to "The New Rules of Marketing and PR." This book is an excellent overview of web marketing principles. I recommend this text to anyone who wants to become a better web marketer.

The New Rules became a best seller through online marketing. After a successful career in PR, Scott created a blog, gave away 250,000 ebooks, and mailed advance copies of his printed books to prominent bloggers. The old way of launching a book would have been exclusively through sales, press releases, advertising and a book tour. Early on Scott describes how the old ways are becoming increasingly inefficient, ineffective, and often insulting.

Scott's essential message is that you can now bypass the traditional marketing channels and reach out directly to customers, provided you have a worthwhile offering and message. To do this, you must philosophically move from monologue to dialog and from propaganda to participation. These necessary changes in marketing approach are the result of the Internet's expansion of communication channels from one-to-many . . . to many-to-one . . . to many-to-many . . . to one-to-one. These four communication modalities combined with the ability to bypass land-based distribution channels and transact commerce online represents a sea change in marketing.

Scott recommends that contemporary marketers think like a publisher. "Publishers consider all the following questions: Who are my readers? How do I reach them? What are their motivations? What are the problems I can help them solve? How can I entertain them and inform them at the same time? What content will compel them to purchase what I have to offer?" -- says Scott. He goes on to say content is not only King, it is also the Pope.

The book also describes a vivid metaphor for the Internet and Social Media. Scott compares the Internet to a city, where Craigslist has a bulletin board at the entrance to the corner store, eBay is holding a garage sale, and Amazon is full of customers who want to share their buying experiences. Social media participants hold forth in cocktail parties and pubs all across the city. Spam and adult entertainment gird the underbelly of the city. You have to learn your way around this new world.

Success in this "online city" is measured through buzz, search engine rankings and direct response. For those who cannot afford to boil the sea with traditional marketing, this online world is an attractive alternative. Central to this strategy is providing useful content that earns back-links to your website from other respected websites. This need for back-links is a direct result of Google's PageRank indexing algorithm, which ranks search results largely by relevant and authoritative back-links.

Useful content is central to Scott's strategy, because content attracts links from other sites, and content provides value to visitors. Content can arrive through blogs, PDF white papers and ebooks, polls, research studies, cartoons, graphs and charts, games, contests, video, wikis, emails, text messages, forums, podcasts and slideshows. To succeed with a content strategy you need an editorial plan that keeps content fresh. Once you start creating content you can spread the word through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It also helps to post comments on other blogger's posts, which you can find through Technorati or Google Blog Search.

With regard to website design, Scott recommends that you start by profiling buyer personas -- a more personal way of orienting strategists and creatives than the traditional demographic statistics. Personas can be expressed through lifestyle descriptors, imaginary dialogs, and pictorial collages. Once the personas are complete, Scott suggests focusing on content strategy first, then technology and design. Scott also suggests having widgets on your site for Delicious and Digg because these tags lead to back-links. A pressroom can also be helpful. On launch day your site should be organized and written from the buyers' perspective and not feel like an online brochure.

Chapter 12 on writing for the web is one of the best. Scott opens by saying, "Your buyers (and the media that covers your company) want to know what specific problems your product solves, and they want proof that it works -- in plain language. Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers and to drive action (such as generating sales leads), which requires a focus on buyer problems." The chapter goes on to pillory world class business jargon and innovative gobbledygook. It is a good read.

Chapters 13-21 delve into the nuts and bolts of making your strategy work. There is specific advice on the Internet sales cycle, Social Media Marketing, blogging, video and podcast production, news releases, media rooms, press outreach, and search engine optimization. Each chapter provides a good overview.

The book is peppered with examples of people and companies who have succeeded using the New Rules. Scott does not say that traditional marketing no longer works; he just says it is getting more costly and less effective every day. I like this balanced perspective.

A central case study for effective use of The New Rules of Marketing and PR is the political campaign of Barrack Obama. Without taking sides, Scott describes how the Obama campaign secured an email list of 13 million people, reached 5 million Facebook friends, generated PR by announcing VP Biden through Twitter, and raised $640 million from 3 million online donors.

My personal experience is that used properly, online marketing can be much more effective than traditional marketing. The challenge is that online marketing is neither easy nor free. Success requires knowledge, imagination, experimentation, and the right technical skills. It also takes time and patience to succeed. And any campaign needs to be backed by the traditional marketing concepts of segmentation, positioning, branding and communication strategy.

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies)


The Painted Word
The Painted Word
by Tom Wolfe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.04
136 used & new from $2.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satire Paints On Top Of Irony, November 30, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Painted Word (Paperback)
This send-up of contemporary art is one sided, unfair, perceptive, and entirely funny. Tom Wolfe exposes the art worlds' tangled intersections of irony and criticism, politics and painting, ego and eccentricity. Specifically, Wolfe's satire covers the dawn of Picasso and Modernism through the rise of Conceptual Art. This is a fascinating little satire, and Tom Wolfe at his best.

Art critic Clement Greenberg is identified as the leading critic and theorist; the center of a coloful cast of characters. "The Painted Word" peers into the inscrutiable relationships between artists, critics, patrons, fashionistas and curators. Wolfe sees contemporary art as an outgrowth of this cloistered social system.

If you are interested in contemporary art, read Wolfe's book along with "But Is It Art?" by Cynthia Freeland. Consider reading Freeland's book first, for it is a sympathetic history of art theory. Both books are incisive and enjoyable, and they make nice bookends for each other. An explicit theme of " But Is It Art?" and implicit criticism in "The Painted Word" is that the guiding theory for contemporary art is "criticism of life." This conception of art as a form a criticism is a source of Wolfe's satire, and some believe this meme has led art to a dead end.

As someone who enjoys, produces and collects conceptual art, I appreciate Wolfe's satire and agknowledge the problems he identifies. "Art for arts' sake," new for the sake of new, art as criticism, academic art, and the root-bound nature of the artworld are creating a chasm between art and viewers. And in a double irony, while contemporary art lampoons the conventions of conservative society, the art world itself is resistant to critical introspection.

There are exceptions. The Walker Art Center in my own back yard frequently explores new ground. There are fresh advances in the digital domain. Takashi Murakami is creating popular new aesthetic sensibilities and Matthew Barney is extending conceptual art into surreal mythic narrative. There is also a profusion of excelent new artwork in the world today. In fact, supply of new art far exceeds demand.

An underlying problem Wolfe circles around is that there are few compelling new theories for the role of contemporary art as a cultural force. A key question is: "What purpose and meaning does contemporary art offer?"

Professor E.O. Wislon offers some ideas in his book, Concilience. Wislon believes that all knowledge disciplines need more cross-disciplinary collaboration -- that the humanities need to feed science, and science needs to feed the humanities. Of course, this utilitarian viewpoint is open to rebuke as well.

Perhaps Wolfe has the last laugh in any event. Once the bonds between art and representation were severed, art became open to interpretation -- and criticism. Now, according to Wolfe, art itself has become a form of criticism, or "The Painted Word."

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory


The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
by Jonathan Haidt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.52
142 used & new from $5.01

178 of 181 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enjoyable Read!, October 15, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I saw Chris Anderson (Wired Editor and TED co-founder) asked by Charlie Rose to name his favorite book of the last few years. "The Happiness Hypothesis" was the immediate response. Now this book is one of my favorites, too. The Happiness Hypothesis compares traditional philisohpical traditions with the lastest scientific discoveries, and the two ends meet well in the center. The author's own experiences provide narrative glue.

A major finding is that happiness is a set point for us, and that after good times and bad, we tend to return to our general level of happiness. At the same time, we can do things that help or hurt our happiness, and we can understand better how our minds and emotions work.

Factors that decrease happiness include persistent noise, lack of control, shame, dysfunctional relationships, and long commutes. Strong marriages, physical touch, meaningful relationships and religious affiliation tend to improve happiness. Activities with others enhance our happiness; status objects tend to separate us from others.

In terms of parenting, Haidt finds that secure children are well supported by parents who are nearby, providing safety and security. Avoidant children are neglected by their parents. And resistant children have parents who alternate between support and neglect. Haidt also shows how moral relativism is not good for children.

I was also fascinated by Haidt's observation that modernity and commercial culture slowly replaced the ideal of character with the idea personality, leading to a focus on individual preferences and personal fulfillment. This movement reached a height during the "values clarification" movement of the 1960s which taught no morality at all. The result of this is "anomie," a lost sense of self and right or wrong and feeling of being detached from other people and the world.

One of the most hopeful sections of the book talks about Martin Seligman's work on positive psychology, and the rediscovery of virtue. Seligman and Chris Peterson researched wisdom traditions and found that these six virtues are common across almost all cultures: (1) Wisdom; (2) Courage; (3) Humanity; (4) Justice; (5) Temperance; (6) Transcendence. These six categories serve to organize 24 character traits. (You can find the complete list on Wikipedia.) The conclusion is that you should work to cultivate your strengths, not your weaknesses. This area of study is a great breakthrough after 100 years of the psychological study of mental illness.

There were also many insightful nuggets I found in the excellent book, including:

- How oxytocin, cortisols and endorphins effect health and behavior.
- Haidt's belief that the chief causes of evil are moral idealism and high self-esteem.
- Letting off steam makes you angrier, not calmer.
- Wisdom is the ability to adapt, shape the environment, and know when to move to new environments.
- Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.
- Social constraints enhance happiness; total freedom decreases happiness (an insight seconded in "The Paradox of Choice").
- Trauma has benefits in that it shows how much adversity you can cope with. It also filters out false friends and changes priorities and philosophies toward the present.
- Passionate love cannot last; companionate love is what lasts.
- Haidt sees two types of diversity, demographic and moral.
- The three major dimensions of social relationships are liking, status and morality/ transcendence. Coherence across these spectrums leads to happiness.
- The six basic emotions that can be read on the face include joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise.
- Happiness often results from the collective elevation in a church or political rally.
- The three levels of work are a job, a career and a calling. The more autonomy at work, the more happiness.
- Vital engagement in the world leads to love made visible, which is a sign of deep happiness.
- Work that does good for others and leads to income and recognition will enhance happiness.
- Apostates who try to leave a group and traitors who undermine a group are subject to atrocities.
- Group chanting can lead to mystical experiences, which provide a sense of spiritual connection that leads to happiness.
- Eastern views and conservative politics focus on the collective, while Western views and liberal politics tend to focus on the individual.
- Volunteerism increases happiness, and service learning in schools reduces dropout rates.

This is a brilliant and sweeping narrative, and well worth the read. The cross-disciplinary nature of this work reminds me of EO Wilson's seminal work, Consilience. And parts of this book remind me of one of my favorite books of contemporary philosophy: Status
Anxiety, by Alex de Bouten.

Status Anxiety
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 16, 2014 11:15 AM PDT


Lucky or Smart?: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life
Lucky or Smart?: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life
by Bo Peabody
Edition: Hardcover
83 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fortunate Find, October 5, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The premise of Bo Peabody's book is the smart people don't become entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs can be smart if they can recognize when they have been lucky. This loopy but wise premise is the entry point for many keen observations, including my favorites:

- "Lucky things happen to entrepreneurs who start fundamentally innovative, morally compelling, and philosophically positive companies."
- The entrepreneur has two tasks: 1) Create an innovative environment where smart people will gather; 2) Be smart enough to get out of the way and let luck happen."

Disarming humility, offbeat humor, and frank assessments are woven into this fast-moving narrative. I have read many books, web posts and articles on entrepreneurship; heard dozens of speakers; and I've have had the good fortune to work with many smart, and lucky, entrepreneurs. Among all of these influences, Lucky or Smart is one of the best. Recommended reading for anyone contemplating an entrepreneurial adventure, or for anyone who works, loves, or is friends with an entrepreneur.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4