Top critical review
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Important, though long-winded
on August 17, 2009
This is an important book that talks about the potential that global webs of collaboration, global platforms, and global manufacturing plant forms have to unleash creativity and profit.
Here are the pluses and minuses.
First, the book is too long. A good technical editor could easily pare 1/3 out, and the authors would still make the same point.
Second, somewhere along the line Penguin abandoned most uses of the comma. You can see it in most of their recent books, and this is a problem. It makes sentence mechanics less precise and sentences much harder to read. Again, a technical editor could go through this book and make it more readable.
Third, some sections are unnecessarily dense. Some of the nomanilized verbs (ex. verbs turned into nouns using "tion") are priceless. I have no doubt they will end up in the Hall of Fame at the Society for Technical Communication.
Fourth, some sections repeat earlier material ad nauseum.
Fifth, the authors bury each chapter thesis at the end of the chapter. If you are writing technical text, please do not do this. Tell me your thesis up front. Then, I may decide whether or not I want to wade through your following arguments. Imagine how much easier would our reading lives be if everybody built written arguments like this.
The authors present important thinking on the present transformation of business through interactive communication. People working without global barriers may lead to positive economies of scale, with high levels of creativity never seen before.
The Bottom Line:
Read this book. Despite its density, the points are important. You can knock out the book in a few weeks of casual reading. Yes it is dense, and some sections simply restate earlier material to death, but this may be because we now live in uncharted waters. Maybe some points bear repeating.
My biggest concern is this book does not present a balanced picture. It talks only in glowing, positive terms about the reality of webs of collaboration. It never addresses the negative externalities that result. And as the late neo-Luddite Neil Postman wrote, every new technology solves old problems while creating new problems. What new problems will result from all this technology based collaboration?
For example, were all module suppliers for the Boeing 787 able to deliver on their contracts, especially in the wake of our current global economic recession-depression?
Who bears the costs of negative externalities? For example, how much pollution do Boeing's suppliers create when shipping modules from Australia or Japan to Washington state? Who pays these costs? How much fuel is burned up moving modules from one place to another? Wouldn't it be less polluting and more efficient for these companies to build plants in Washington state?
What are the negative effects of such profound economies of scale (EOS) during economic downturns, like now? We saw similar EOS almost wipe out whole industries. Herbert Spencer, the early sociologist, would tell us to ignore it, that it's a cycle of nature that leads to stronger human institutions. Maybe so. But, it also can and does lead to real human suffering. I don't know about others, but I do not feel consoled by being able to Facebook or Twitter about environmental and human devastation wrought by global EOS.
Finally, what is the potential for one supplier in a chain of modules to hold out for ransom before delivery? With such a duck soup of global contractual law, I think a very real potential exists for this. It's not like you can run down to the Home Depot or the next competitor to replace the module. Remember, as Tapscott and Williams write that suppliers continually re-engineer the modules. A sponsoring company like Boeing may hold no proprietary rights, or may not have the core information that lets it re-create the module.
This is all dicey to say the lest; yet, none of it is remotely approached in the first edition of the book. If not in the second edition, the third edition must also contain critiques or, minimally, questions about the potential negatives.