Technically, this isn’t on Joel’s list, but he knows Seth, and several of Godin’s other books are on the shelf in the Fog Creek Library, so I’m counting it under a technicality. I happened to pick up this particular book a year ago in San Francisco from the discount rack in a book store. Seth Godin has some interesting ideas about marketing, and this book promised to relate the ideas of memetics and evolutionary biology to the world of business. But after I bought it, I got distracted, so I put it on my shelf, and it stayed there, unloved, for a long time.
Until last weekend. I was looking for something to read, and my new Amazon order had not yet arrived, so I picked it up. It’s great. Really well-written and easy to read, and completely relevant to where I am right now in my thoughts. Another one of those right-time, right-place kind of reads.
Seth Godin’s main point of this book is that change happens. And it is happening more and more. Therefore any company or person has to learn to deal with change. You can create a viable winning strategy, but that strategy will get overtaken, much like the dinosaurs got overtaken by those pesky little mammals (my analogy, not his). He points out that nature has already come up with a mechanism for dealing with continuous change in natural selection: constant change via mutation, evaluated by sexual selection and natural selection. So he recommends learning from evolution to deal with the phenomenon of accelerating change.
It was good for me to read right now, because I’m the midst of trying to change my own outlook on a bunch of things. He basically endorses the idea of rapid prototyping in life, and encourages ever faster feedback loops. Change all the time, but evaluate all the time as well. The only quibble I have with the book is that he (deliberately?) does not discuss what a proper fitness metric should be for a company or a person in evaluating which changes to keep. I think this is because it varies so much from person to person and company to company, but it does make it harder to apply his advice – I could easily see a misguided company apply all of his advice, but use the fitness metric of “reinforcing the things we have always done”, which would subvert the whole point of his other strategies.
One other point that I liked as a generalist is that he counsels against becoming an expert, because investing the energy and resources in becoming an expert means that you (or your company) has committed itself to a specific path, and therefore will be unwilling to change later. This can work for a while, and sometimes pay off spectacularly, but since all winning strategies eventually fail, it’s a race against time. If you are changing all the time, then one can continually evolve new winning strategies, and therefore not worry about when the current one will fail. Plan for the obsolescence of your strategies. It was good for me to read this perspective after reading the opposite take last month in The Only Sustainable Edge, as mentioned in this post.
So I recommend it – it’s a quick read, with a couple good ideas. I’ll probably borrow a couple other of Godin’s books from work when I get a chance.
P.S. I know I’ve said this before, but perhaps I will endeavor this week to catch up on my backlog of book reviews. My brain has been fried from too much tech support at work (new product release a couple weeks ago), so I haven’t had much in the way of original thought, and most of my brain has been caught in a fugue-like state of trying to figure out where I want to focus my energy at work. Maybe writing about my thoughts from the books I’ve been reading will help remind me what I think is important.