No Shirt, No Shoes, Great Service: Review of Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni

I’m a total book snob. The list of great books out there that I want to read is so long that, even if I spent twelve hours a day doing nothing but reading and lived another hundred years, it would be difficult to get through all of them. So I’m pretty protective of the few hours a week I actually have to devote to reading.

Given this, I was fairly skeptical when I dove into Patrick Lencioni’s Getting Naked last Saturday, because it was written as a fictional account of the takeover of a boutique consulting firm by a “big five” type firm.

I was ready for the worst that business books have to offer: hackneyed story line, wooden dialogue, obvious, Dr. Phil-esque “learnings” (just typing the word makes me cringe…when did “lesson” stop being good enough?)—and I was imagining all the books on my bucket list that I would never get to read because I chose to read Lencioni’s. Continue reading

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Review of The Information, by James Gleick

At long last, I’ve finished James Gleick’s The Information: A History. A Theory. A Flood. As those of you who are regulars here know, I’ve been on a bit of a Gleick kick over the last six months, so I had high expectations for his latest work.

I’m happy to say that The Information doesn’t disappoint. This book is a tour de force, even for Gleick, who specializes in tours de force. His scope is sweeping, from Plato to quantum computing, and, as we’ve come to expect from Gleick, he gets deep into the details of long-forgotten science and technology innovations.

The subject (not surprisingly) is information: Gleick is interested in how information became both a distinct concept as well as something that could be measured.

He begins the book with an overview of the fascinating story of Claude Shannon, a researcher at Bell Labs who pioneered the concept of the byte. With the stage set, he steps back to give readers the long view of the emergence of information in the West.

From the decoding of West African drumming by colonial powers, the invention of formal logic, Charles Babbage’s difference engine, and the history of the dictionary in English (all of which are interesting enough to be books in their own right but seemingly tangential to Shannon’s work) Gleick starts to more obviously hone in on his main subject.

Chapter by chapter, Gleick traces the ascendance of information in a range of scientific disciplines, from biology to electrical engineering and physics. And as these pursuits became less and less about processes or things and more and more about the information that structured things and processes, new disciplines almost wholly build on information began to arise, such as genetics.

The result is a challenging but eminently rewarding work of intellectual history that manages to both give readers almost overwhelming detail in conjunction with a solid grounding in the big picture—largely due to Gleick’s adept prose and narrative skills.

This book is essential reading, not only for information professionals across a range of fields but simply for anyone who wants a better appreciation for the historical roots of our current information-based society—neither will be disappointed.

Review of iPad in the Enterprise, by Nathan Clevenger

Disclosure: I received a  free review copy of this book to use in preparing for this post.

At every client these days, mobility is a big deal, whether because increasing numbers of employees are demanding that the enterprise support their personal smart phones and tablets or because the organization is looking to gain competitive advantage through the strategic use of mobility in its core business processes.

And although most of my clients have been enabling mobility since the advent of laptops, just about every one of those clients is in more or less uncharted territory when it comes to the new wave of mobility ushered in by smartphones and tablets. increasing numbers of employees are demanding that the enterprise support their personal smart phones and tablets or because the organization is looking to gain competitive advantage through the strategic use of mobility in its core business processes.

This makes a certain amount of sense: after all, laptops are essentially portable desktop computers, while smartphones and tablets are radically new form factors that demand a reimagination of the entire end user experience. On top of which, these devices are often consumer devices, owned by employees, that therefore exist outside the reach of IT control.

Given all the urgency and uncertainty around the enterprise use of mobile devices, iPad for the Enterprise is a welcome addition to the literature available on the topic.

Nathan Clevenger has been involved in the development of mobile strategies and applications for over a decade, and the book reflects it. He begins with a consideration of iPad strategy that’s a wonderful primer for anyone involved in mobility at their organization, from developers in the trenches to executive leadership.

It sets the stage through a consideration of how we reached the current state of mobility and introduces the concept of the consumerization of IT, i.e., IT changes being driven in a decentralized way by the “consumers” in the enterprise (the employees) rather than in a centralized way by IT.

From there, it moves to more practical considerations and presents an overview of how to build an enterprise mobile strategy and application roadmap. Both are somewhat general—it’s difficult to generalize meaningfully about either of these activities—but nonetheless useful, especially for folks who’ve never participated in creating enterprise strategy before.

With the groundwork in place, Clevenger moves through all the phases of iPad app development: architecture, design, development, and deployment. And while none of this is not intended as a detailed ho- to guide or instructional manual for app development, he manages to get in enough technical detail and code samples to make this a valuable first-stop for technical folks looking to better understand what’s happening under the hood of the iPad.

All in all, the book is a strong offering. Non-technical readers will benefit greatly not only from the first section on strategy, but also from the more technical sections, which they can read selectively to gain a better preliminary understanding of concepts like sandbox security or iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Technical readers will not be disappointed in Clevenger’s treatment of app development and will also benefit from a better understanding of the context and strategy of iPad app development.

Review of What Just Happened, by James Gleick

I’m on a bit of a James Gleick kick right now, and before I dig into reading The Information in earnest, I figured I’d step back and write up my thoughts on What Just Happened, a collection of his technology essays from 1990 – 2001.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gleick, he’s a fantastic science and technology writer, best known for his biographies of Isaac Newton and Richard Feynman…although when you’re a polymath like Gleick, “best known for” oversimplifies the breadth of your accomplishments.

During the nineties, he was at the forefront of those who understood just how profound the changes taking place to the information landscape were. He may not have been right 100% of the time (more on that in a minute), but he was always willing to see past the immediate wow factor of any given technological innovation to get at the larger implications for us as individuals, for our culture, and for society as a whole.

As you might expect, he covers a lot of ground in WJH, from the joys and frustrations of being a WinWord power user, to the radical transformation of telcos, the growth of Microsoft, the Internet and politics, the death of money, Y2K, and even the state of Internet porn circa 1995.

All the essays are excellent here, although some are more substantial than others. And while Gleick is always well-informed on his subject matter, you can definitely tell which topics he’s engaged with more deeply (especially the history of telephony, which is the starting point for The Information).

Continue reading

Review of Redefining Health Care, by Porter and Teisberg

Looking back through my records, it appears that I began Porter and Tesiberg’s Redefining Health Care last November, so it’s a bit embarrassing that I’ve only now, in March, managed to finish it. In my defense, about halfway through it, I left it on a plane, and that initiated a bit of an odyssey to get it back, but really it’s just a long book and I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked with other books over the last two months. But enough excuses…

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Review of Open Leadership, by Charlene Li

Just finished Open Leadership, by Charlene Li, which is a follow-up to her best-selling Groundswell. And whereas that book focused on the social media technologies that are transforming how companies do business, Open Leadership looks at how leaders need to transform themselves to allow their organizations to use social media effectively.

There’s a real glut of books out there on social media, and I find many of them lack real substance or staying power, whether because the social media domain is evolving so quickly or the books have been rushed to market (or both). Li’s book, in contrast, has a good bit of depth and will have quite a bit of staying power despite its timeliness. Continue reading

Review of Getting Health Reform Right

I was excited to read Getting Health Reform Right because it approached the problem of health care reform from an international, public policy perspective. The authors all have deep experience working internationally to address health care, and it shows throughout their analysis in the many real world examples of reforms gone right and wrong drawn from across the globe.

The book is meant as a hands on guide for those involved in reform on the ground, so it’s very much a practical, almost how-to guide. I say almost because, as they remind the reader throughout, there is no easy solution to the problem of health care reform, no one size fits all prescription. In every case, in every country, reformers need to take the specifics of the particular national situation into account if they want to have a chance to succeed.

The authors slice up the formidable challenge of health care reform into manageable chunks using the idea of control knobs, i.e., the big bucket categories of health care elements that reformers can address to affect change in the overall system.

They identify the following five control knobs (pp. 27-28):

  • Financing – all mechanisms, such as taxes, insurance premiums, and direct payments by patients, for raising the money that pays for activities in the health sector.
  • Payment – methods for transferring money to health care providers (doctors, hospitals, and public health care workers), such as fees, capitation, and budgets.
  • Organization – the mechanisms, such as measures affecting competition, decentralization, and direct control of government providers, that reformers use to affect the mix of providers in the health-care markets, their roles and functions, and how the providers operate internally.
  • Regulation – the use of coercion by the state to alter the behavior of actors in the health system.
  • Behavior – includes efforts to influence how individuals act in relation to health and health care.

The lion’s share of the book is spent addressing these five control knobs, and the authors do a solid job explaining them fully as well as illustrating how they affect a nation’s overall system of health care.

But as, if not more, valuable is the first section of the book that sets up their discussion of the control knobs with an analysis of health systems in general. Here they tackle the health reform cycle, how ethical theory intersects health care reform, political strategies for reformers, and strategies for selecting appropriate goals and performance measures for health system reform.

These chapters should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to better understand the current debates on health care reform in the U.S. The generalized, international (or better yet, multinational) perspective allows the authors to set health care reform in a larger context, one that I think makes it easier to see the contours of the U.S. debate than the noise coming from all sides through the media.

And as those of you who visit here regularly know, the book is also chock full of insights for leadership generally: the problem of health care reform is so large and so complex that what leaders need to do to address it will have wide applicability to more narrow corporate challenges.

As usual, would love to hear from folks out there who’ve read the work or who have thoughts about my take on it—jump in and let’s get the conversation started!