Book Review: The Ultimate Entrepreneur by Glen Rifkin and George Harrar


Author: Glen Rifkin and George Harrar
Title: The Ultimate Entrepreneur
Publication Info: Rocklin, CA : Prima Pub., c1990.
Summary/Review:

This is a book I read for research at work.  It is part biography, part business management book focusing on the career of Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).  Digital was a post-WWII start-up that took advantage of new computing technology from MIT and the military and brought it to the commercial market.  DEC basically invented the minicomputer in the 1960s.  Minicomputers are huge compared to microcomputers (aka – personal computers), about the size of a refrigerator, but they provided users with real-time interactive capabilities they could not get with the massive IBM mainframes.  DEC’s minicomputers sold like hot cakes to corporate and research clients, and by the 1980s the company was the second largest computer company after IBM.  Olsen promoted participatory management at the company which made a lot of engineers loyal to the company because of the creative freedom, although working at DEC also involved heated arguments to defend one’s ideas.  It was a Massachusetts company, part of the Route 128 Tech Corridor that was the center of the computing industry before Silicon Valley took over.  Sadly, Digital didn’t survive the transition to personal computers but this interesting book tells of an innovative company that made great products through unique management strategies.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 3


Household Name :: Sears: There Was More For Your Life

The story of the demise of the legendary store, Sears.  Turns out it is owned by an Ayn Rand devotee whose investments make a profit when stores close.  Go figure!

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Seriously Seeking Sasquatch

You won’t find anything about Sasquatch, a.k.a. Bigfoot, at the Smithsonian museums, but you will find the skeleton a scientist who dedicated his life to researching Bigfoot. Find out why in this podcast.

30 for 30 :: Six Who Sat

The story of the women who fought for equality to participate in running events in the 1970s.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Theater of the Mind

The history of radio dramas from the War of the Worlds to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to NPR’s foray into adapting Star Wars.

 

Book Review: A Life in Leadership by John C. Whitehead


Author: John C. Whitehead
Title: A Life in Leadership: From D-Day to Ground Zero
Publication Info: Basic Books (2005)
Summary/Review:

I read this book for research at work.  Whitehead tells his life story which involves commanding landing vehicles on D-Day, rising to Co-Chair of Goldman Sachs, serving as Deputy Secretary of State to George Shultz, leading numerous nonprofit organizations, and guiding the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan after the September 11th attacks.  His style of writing has a bit of a humblebrag to it, but I suppose he’s earned it he spins the yarns of the many significant historical events and trends of the 20th and 21st century he was directly involved in.

Rating: ***

Podcasts of the Week: Planet Money & Decode DC


Two podcasts this week with a shared theme:  the people who work to sell you food (that’s largely bad for you).

The first is Planet Money (Episode 700: Peanuts and Cracker Jack) which spent a night at Fenway Park to learn of the economy of concessions vendors at a Red Sox game.  There’s a draft for products and sections of the ballpark and then it’s up to each individual to use their skills to sell as much as they can.  The mystical Jose wears #1 on his back for his marketing skill.  Surprisingly, vendors don’t seem to make much money for their efforts (although I supposed no one would have a job that’s only about 4 hours 81 times per year as their sole source of income).

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2016/05/06/477082513/episode-700-peanuts-and-cracker-jack

More sinister is this week’s Decode DC episode (Episode 139: Big Sugar’s Secret Playbook) where tobacco industry marketing and legal tactics are used to get you eating (and paying for) more sugar in your diet.

Book Review: Ninety percent of everything by Rose George


AuthorRose George
Title: Ninety percent of everything : inside shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate by
Publication Info: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2013.
Summary/Review:

As the title implies, freight shipping is important, but overlooked.  The author looks into the industry which appears to be impossible to regulate and awfully dreary at best for the sailors, yet surprisingly compelling.  The heart of the book is George’s journey on the giant container ship Maersk Kendal from Rotterdam to Singapore by way of Suez. Apart from her own journey, George explores the hardship of the sailor’s life and those who depends on them, shipwrecks, the effect of shipping on whales, the merchant marine during war, and Somali pirates.  It’s an interesting glimpse into a vital part of human life that can be beyond the brain’s capability to comprehend.

Recommended books: Trawler by Redmond O’Hanlon and The Invisible Hook by Peter T. Leeson,

Rating: ***

Book Review: The mom & pop store by Robert Spector


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.
ISBN: 9780802716057

Summary/Review:

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
Rating: ***

Book Review: Made To Stick


Author: Dan Heath & Chip Heath
Title: Made To Stick
Publication Info: Santa Ana, CA : Books on Tape, p2007.
ISBN: 141593553X

Summary/Review:

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
Rating: ***

Book Review: FREE: the future of a radical price by Chris Anderson


Author: Chris Anderson
Title:FREE: the future of a radical price
Publication Info: New York : Hyperion, 2009.
ISBN: 9781401322908

Previously read by same author: The Long Tail

Summary/Review:

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).
Rating: ***

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell


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

Stadium Naming Rights


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.