Author: Robert Spector
Title: The mom & pop store : how the unsung heroes of the American economy are surviving and thriving
Publication Info: New York : Walker Pub. Co., c2009.
This Library Thing Early Reviewers free advance review book is a tribute to independent business. Through historical discussion – including the business of the author’s own family – and through case studies of independent shops around the country the author tells the story of the success and importance of “mom & pop stores.” Spector’s writing is an unabashed booster but despite his unbiased approach it remains convincing. Spector also isn’t the best writer, but many of the stories of the individuals, families, and groups who go into business on their own are inspiring.
Recommended books: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann
Author: Dan Heath & Chip Heath
Title: Made To Stick
Publication Info: Santa Ana, CA : Books on Tape, p2007.
This book is basically a guide for people who want to get their ideas across to other people and will be a useful managers, teachers, advertisers, and anyone else with a good idea who doesn’t know how to share it. The Heaths discuss factors such as the Curse of Knowledge where experts know their field so well that they can’t explain it to outsiders. There are also tips on creating stories, often with surprise elements, to capture the attention of your audience. The best parts are the many examples such as teacher Jane Elliot’s “Eye of the Storm” method to teach children about prejudice, urban legends, Subway sandwich shops’ Jared campaign, the “Don’t Mess With Texas” effort to reduce littering and the best car commercial ever. It’s a good, quick, and intstructional read for anyone needing to learn how to better communicate their ideas.
Recommended books: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex by Jeffrey Kluger, and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
Author: Chris Anderson
Title:FREE: the future of a radical price
Publication Info: New York : Hyperion, 2009.
Previously read by same author: The Long Tail
I downloaded Chris Anderson’s latest book as an audiobook from iTunes. The price I paid was … FREE! The entire book is based on the concept that in an era when much content is cheaply reproduced, that Free is a good idea for many producers, marketers, and business. In fact, Anderson argues that it is a good way to make a lot of money. Not everything is free of course, Anderson proposes many models most avidly the Freemium model where a basic service or product is given away in hopes of luring customers to the premium version. Anderson calls on historical examples and current practice to support his theory.
It was an interesting book and a good follow-up to The Long Tail. I’m said to say that I misplaced my notes, otherwise I’d have more to say about this book. It’s already stirring up some good debtate. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s review and Anderson’s response for starters.
Recommended books: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (ironically), Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger (for a more in-depth story of the dawn of the information age).
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2004) is Malcolm Gladwell‘s psychological and sociological investigation into the human ability to make quick decisions. This power – which he calls thin-slicing – can be both advantageous and dangerous. For good or for ill, Gladwell contends that we humans make snap judgments all the time and this book is way of becoming conscious of this quick process.
While I find some of Gladwell’s conclusions hard to swallow, I do enjoy many of his stories and anecdotes. Examples of what stands out in my memory include:
- The Warren Harding problem – totally unqualified candidate becomes President because he looks “presidential” to many voters
- Coca Cola executives changed the formula of Coke because it was losing in blind sip tests to Pepsi, but it turns out that sip tests are a poor judge of the full sensory experience of drinking an entire serving of Coke from the famous bottles or its red cans.
- Consumers often hate new products because they are unfamiliar (examples include the Aeron chair and All in the Family) and thus it can be tricky to make judgments on a product from consumer testing
- Project Implicit is a test which shows the associations positive and negative that are made of people due to their race. (I took a test and got the result “Your data suggest no difference in your automatic preferences for White people vs. Black people” of which I feel rather sanctimonious about).
- In improvisational theater, improvisation arises entirely out of how steadfastly the participants adhere to the rule that no suggestion can be denied
- Comparisons between autistic people and the overstimulated brain of a police officer in hot pursuit of a suspect both lack the ability to interpret facial and behavioral cues. Gladwell takes us into the failures of judgment that led to the killing of Amadou Diallo and how officers following proper police procedures can protect themselves from this “temporary autism.”
All in all this was an interesting book, definitely entertaining to listen to while working on mundane tasks.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Hachette Audio (2005), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
The recent hullabaloo over CitiGroup’s 20-year contract to name the New York Mets new ballpark has reminded me of some ideas regarding stadium naming rights. Corporate naming of venues is a trend already unpopular with sports’ fans but not really all that new. After all, the oldest surviving ballpark in baseball was named to promote the owner’s Fenway Realty Company. So I’ve put together a list of guidelines for stadium naming rights that may help future sports franchise, building management, and potential sponsors.
- First, if the company owns the team and/or stadium, then naming is a no-brainer. It may even pay off in the long run as fans in Chicago would be aghast if Wrigley Field ever changed names while in St. Louis, the Busch name transferred over to a new ballpark even though the chewing gum and beer companies are no longer tied to these franchises.
- If the company doesn’t actually own the team, they should at least be a major employer with a long history in the city or region where the stadium is built. Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts are good examples. Although if your company processes nuclear waste you may want to consider other options of advertisement.
- If a stadium has been known by a certain name for years, fans will still call it by that name regardless of your attempts to rebrand it. San Francisco’s Candlestick Park has been labeled numerous ghastly corporate names over the years but fans still call it Candlestick Park, and it is once again officially so. A better approach is portmanteau renaming like Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver or the classy callback of TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, although those names fail on other grounds. Specifically:
- Companies in the banking, telecommunications, and energy industries are right out. These industries are too unstable for the long-term naming that sporting venues deserve with their frequent mergers, failures, and often ridiculous renaming of these companies. I’d also rule out any company with .com in their name since they should know by now how to distinguish between what’s a proper name for a company and that company’s url.
So that’s my take a sensible approach for stadium naming rights. As for CitiField, despite what some congress members have to say, I do believe that despite the support of taxpayer money, CitiGroup has the right to spend their advertising dollars for as long as they remain a company. If the deal does fall through though, I think Gil Hodges Field has a nice ring to it.
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006) by Chris Anderson has been so discussed, cited, and praised the past few years that listening to the first few chapters I almost felt that I knew it all already. The basic gist is that businesses can profit from selling just a few units of lots and lots and lots of different products instead of just focusing on selling lots and lots and lots of units of a few “hit” products. On a graph, the traditional hit economy appears as a short head, while the niche economy appears as a long tail, thus the origins of the term. Anderson’s original article on The Long Tail is still online at Wired (Issue 12.10 – October 2004) and is worth reading for a summary of the theory behind this book.
Anderson contends that the Hit Economy is actually unusual in economic history. Examples of the hit economy include Casey Casem’s American Top 40 (which I listened to devotedly as child), television programing dominated by three networks, and blockbuster films. All were designed to appeal to a lowest common denominator to attract as many people as possible with the outlets for production controlled by a few. Prior to mass broadcasting culture was regional, and thus the things people bought as well. Today, internet communities are gathering around common interests in niches similar to the old regional cultures although the people using them are geographically disparate.
While Anderson credits the internet with providing the resources that allow the Long Tail to flourish, he also provides a history of the Long Tail dating back to Sear, Roebuck’s Wish Book in 1897 and 1-800 numbers in the 1960’s. The internet allowed the democritization of the tools of production and distribution and allowing enterpreneurs like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia to find success. The economics of scarcity were replaced by the economics of abundance. It turns out that customers really like lots of choice contrary to the earlier conventional wisdom. The difference is that consumers need filters like recommendations and reviews.
I like the examples Anderson cites such as the history of house music, the study of jams, and the punk rock revolution. He makes a very compelling argument of the advantages of niche markets for the future of business. On the other hand, I wonder how permanent this change is. Anderson makes a point of the last big blockbuster pop album being an N*Sync record from 2001, their success in sales not repeated since. Yet this is a very short period of time. Despite the influence of the internet on exposing niche bands to communities who’ll support them, whose to say that commercial forces won’t co-opt these new tools of distribution and production to recreate the Hit Culture? I’ve read bloggers who are already complaining that blogs are no longer successful unless they have a staff of multiple writers with commercial support behind them. Another example was the success of the internet phenemom Lonely Island conquering Saturday Night Live with their “Lazy Sunday” skit. But is that the case? Could it not be said that the SNL’s of the world will just keep swallowing up the Lonely Islands?
||Anderson, Chris, 1961-
||The long tail [sound recording] : [why the future of business is selling less of more] / Chris Anderson.
||New York : Hyperion Audiobooks, c2006.
||7 sound discs (approx. 8 hrs.) : digital, 4 3/4 in.
Great Fortune : The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003) by Daniel Okrent is a lively and engaging popular history of the origins of the most famous urban development in the world. It’s chock-full of facts that I never knew.
For example, the land Rockefeller Center is built upon was originally the “Upper Estate” of Columbia University, something of an albatross on the university’s neck especially after it moved further uptown. The university collected rent from the Rockefellers into the 1980’s. The plan for Rockefeller Center was originally to construct a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera, a plan that fell through as the greater plan for a commercial development stormed through into the Great Depression. There were scandals of the Communist Diego Rivera painting a mural in the RCA building, and the Facist Benito Mussolini giving his blessing to a building for Italian commerce. The most famous element of Rockefeller Center – the skating rink – was something of an afterthought to bail out a failed plan for a shopping plaza. The opening of Radio City Music Hall was an overlong, over-the-top bomb that resulted in the venue being used as a movie theater for the next four decades.
Okrent also weaves in the biographies of the various characters involved in creating Rockefeller Center. Most obvious of course are the Rockefeller family including the introspective John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who spent his life trying to atone for Senior’s greedy excess, and Nelson Rockefeller a steamroller of a personality who took charge of the Center in the later years of development. Architects, designers, artists, corporate executives & businessmen all get their fair share as well. Okrent writes of these people sympathetically without being adulatory, and shows their warts (not to mention having a few laughs at their expense) without it being a hatchet piece.
This is a very enjoyable historical work which I believe does a good job of capturing an era through the myriad people who worked on and at Rockefeller Center.
Great fortune : the epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent. New York : Viking, 2003.
Trawler (2003) by Redmond O’Hanlon is one of those books where a novice goes on board a commercial fishing boat to see how hard life is for the trawlermen and finds it hard in ways one never imagined. No big surprise there, but what O’Hanlon does in this book is write almost entirely in dialogue rather than description. This means that O’Hanlon either brought on board a recording device or has a photographic memory for conversation. Either way it’s remarkable considering that O’Hanlon spends much of the journey seasick, sleep-deprived, and unable to stay on his feet as the trawler Norlantean heads into a Force 12 hurricane.
Much of O’Hanlon’s conversation is with Luke the marine biologist conducting field studies on board the trawler. But there is also the captain Jason, revered by his crew, and cast of tough fishermen, sometimes tight-lipped and sometimes revelatory in an almost hallucinatory way. The discussion varies from oceanography to ichthyology, superstition and religion, masculinity to mortality, and sometimes just plain crudity. O’Hanlon seems to make a pest of himself and gets a good bit of jibing in return.
This book not quite what I’d imagined it would be but it’s a good, solid book.
Here are some better reviews than mine:
Author O’Hanlon, Redmond, 1947-
Title Trawler / Redmond O’Hanlon.
Publication Info. New York : Vintage Books, 2006..
Edition 1st Vintage Departures ed.
Description 339 p.,  p. of plates : ill., map ; 21 cm.
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008) by Clay Shirky is yet another book about the effect of social networking on the internet. And a pretty good one at that, kind of like Groundswell without the business management emphasis. Shirky’s main point is not so much that new technologies are changing the world, but that they are allowing people to collaborate in ways that weren’t possible before so that they can change societal and cultural norms (and by extension the world). It’s a good and highly-readable summary of what’s going on in the world today.
I found in a Library Thing review this great webibliography of resources related to the book: http://mymindonbooks.com/?page_id=562.
Here comes everybody : the power of organizing without organizations / Clay Shirky.
New York : Penguin Press, 2008.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a difficult book to review. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t really understand all that this book is about but have hopes that reading it may have broadened my knowledge some and will be an incremental step in understanding similar works in the future. Not that I can predict the future, that appears to be something that NNT feels strongly about.
Here are a few other things that Nassim Nicholas Taleb doesn’t like:
- ludic fallacy
- pompous academics
- the bell curve (this won big points with me)
- the narrative fallacy
- financial consultants
- and, putting things into categories (oops)
The idea of the black swan is that there are events that are rare & hard-to-predict with huge impact in just about every endeavour including science, finance, and mathematics. The name comes from the belief among Europeans in past centuries that all swans are white because all the swans ever observed were white, a theory busted by the discovery of black swans in Australia. Black swans may be beneficial or disasterous but have in common that people will generally ignore theses outliers until they happen and then try to create a reason for their happening.
NNT (he calls himself by these intials, btw) writes in a style mixing an essay-style discourse with narrative stories, often rather silly. He also has kind of an arrogant, sarcastic tone that can be off-putting, but mostly I liked it since what he writes is pretty interesting.
The black swan : the impact of the highly improbable / Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
New York : Random House, c2007.