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Who am I?

You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.

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Sat, 14 Jun 2003

Real Change Leaders, by Jon Katzenbach and the RCL team
Picked this up while browsing through the management section of the local library. It's the result of a team at McKinsey researching (to quote the book jacket) "why some companies were able to change and gro wto higher performance levels while most others got bogged down. Their extensive research led to a surprising conclusion: the make-or-break factor is not top management but a new breed in the middle: Real Change Leaders." The book details what they consider to be an RCL, different strategies for achieving meaningful change, and how one can improve one's own status as an RCL.

I think the main thing I got out of this book was that people can make a difference despite not necessarily having a position in the org chart of power and responsibility. A lot of the examples they gave included middle managers reaching across divisions and responsibilities to bring people together to make things happen. Of course, in a lot of these cases, people were rewarded for taking those chances rather than punished. So it requires developing the good will of the people at the top as well.

One of the other qualities that they emphasized is illustrated by the following quote describing "the best RCLs, who leverage the leadership potential of their people - and thus obtain far greater amounts of personal initiative and innovation, as well as productivity." (p. 291) This ties into thoughts I had as far back as 1994 on how to build teams successfully in business. A true leader figures out how to get everybody thinking and participating on their own - you get more out of everybody that way. It requires shepherding to keep everybody on the right track (this book dedicates a chapter to the importance of a "working vision" to keep people aligned), but the more involvement, the better.

All in all, a decent read. Kind of business-y, lots of hand-waving and case studies of questionable relevance, but that's pretty standard. I liked the overall philosophy guiding the book, though, and that counts for a lot.

Several quotes that I found interesting:

posted at: 11:03 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/nonfiction/management | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Smart Business: How Knowledge Communities Can Revolutionize Your Company, by Dr. Jim Botkin
I got this from the library, because I'm interested in communities and how they might relate to business, but it turned out to be incredibly lame. I can't really say that I read it - I just skimmed through it because it was so badly written that I couldn't take it. It seems to be a lame attempt at applying Etienne Wenger's theories on communities of practice to business. But Wenger's writings are much more convincing. I should have figured out that any book where the author insists on listing himself as "Dr. Jim Botkin" was probably lame. Plus any book without a bibliography is also lame. Waste of time. Don't bother.

posted at: 08:18 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/nonfiction/management | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

21 Dog Years, by Mike Daisey
Subtitled "doing time @", this is a memoir of Daisey's two years at Amazon. It's an entertaining account, starting with his being interviewed at Amazon because he fit their profile of being a freak (or as he more charitably describes himself, a dilettante). He suffers through life in customer service, figuring out how to game the system to make himself look better (to keep his time/call average down, he would just hang up immediately on every third or fourth caller). He eventually manages to talk his way into a position in business development, which he admits he still can't define. Along the way, he contemplates the "Cult of Jeff" (Bezos, founder and grand poobah of Amazon), the hell of Christmas season, mission statements, the rules that made Amazon work (e.g. The Heisenberg Happiness Principle, "As the uncertainty about what is rises, so rises Amazon's stock price."), the joys of One-Click ordering when stuff will get delivered right to your desk, etc. Daisey eventually manages to extricate himself from Amazon (turning down a bunch of job offers from other dot-coms who latch onto his status as a bizdev person from Amazon) and start to try to make his life real again. It's a quick read, so I'm glad I got it from the library.

posted at: 08:14 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/nonfiction/fun | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal