What makes a good writer? It may start with being a good reader.
And what makes a good reader? It may start with a love of books.
And what creates a love of books? That’s tougher to answer… But for those who are lucky enough to love books, we have our champions. Like Barbara Tuchman.
Bob posted this earlier: Summer Reading Picks from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Eliot Spitzer, and More. It was written by William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical. Taylor asked Pink, Godin, Spitzer, and others about their favorites. And then he shared a couple of his own favorite books. This is about his second choice:
My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.
So, who is Barbara Tuchman? Tuchman twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, first for The Guns of August in 1963, and again for Stilwell and the American Experience in China in 1972. A renowned historian, she was first and foremost a lover of learning, which flowed from her love of books.
In the process of doing my own thesis – not for a Ph.D., because I never took a graduate degree, but just my undergraduate honors thesis — the single most formative experience in my career took place. It was not a tutor or a teacher or a fellow student or a great book or the shining example of some famous visiting lecturer – like Sir Charles Webster, for instance, brilliant as he was. It was the stacks at Widener. They were my Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush, my dish of mold where I found my personal penicillin. I was allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window, queerly called, as I have since learned, carrels, a word I never knew when I sat in one. Mine was deep in among the 9425 (British History, that is) and I could roam at liberty through the rich stacks, taking whatever I wanted. The experience was marvelous, a word I use in its exact sense meaning full of marvels. The happiest days of my intellectual life, until I began writing history again some fifteen years later, were spent in the stacks at Widener. My daughter Lucy, class of ’61, once said to me that she could not enter the labyrinth of Widener’s stacks without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle. I too was never altogether sure I could find the way out, but I was blissful as a cow put to graze in a field of fresh clover and would not have cared if I had been locked in for the night.
This is primarily a blog about business books, authors of business books, ideas found in business books, and general observations about business and life. But every now and then, we need to reconnect with the starting point – a pure love of books. Barbara Tuchman was captivated — won over — by the stacks at one of the world’s great libraries. It is a feeling I understand.
In recent years, there have been several outstanding books published on the general subject of business design and this is one of the best, worthy of inclusion with Tim Brown’s Change by Design, Hartmut Esslinger’s A Fine Line, Jay Greene’s Design Is How It Works, Thomas Kelley’s The Art of Innovation and then The Ten Faces of Innovation, Roger Martin’s The Design of Business, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and by Roberto Verganti’s Design Driven Innovation. All of them offer a wealth of insights but from different perspectives to serve different purposes. I highly recommend each.
In this volume, we have an anthology of essays by 31 contributors, including Thomas Lockwood who also served as editor. Although there is commendable variety and diversity among the essays, Lockwood suggests that there are “several key tenets of design thinking that seem to be common. The first is to develop a deep understanding of the consumer based on fieldwork research…Having the users involved early on also makes it possible to get user evaluations of a concept. Therefore, a second important aspect of design thinking is collaboration, both with the users and through forming multidisciplinary teams…The third part is to accelerate learning through visualization, hands-on experimentation, and creating quick prototypes, which are made as simple3 as possible in order to get usable feedback…The fifth and last aspect, which may not be on everyone’s list but which I endorse, is the importance of the concurrent business analysis integrated during the process rather than added on later or used to limit creative ideations. This can be a tricky balance, but the key is to enable integrative thinking by combining the creative ideas with more traditional strategic aspects in order to learn from a more complete and diverse point of view.”
In one of his books, The Opposable Mind, Roger Marin explains integrative thinking as being “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in one’s head and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” be able to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” For example, those involved in a major project that requires highly innovative thinking would introduce “multiple working hypotheses” when required to make especially complicated decisions. Those who have mastered integrative thinking would not merely tolerate contradictory points of view, they would encourage them. Only in this way could they and their associates “face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension [whatever its causes may be] in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.”
Lockwood duly acknowledges that, like many other design disciplines, “design thinking in services involves multidisciplinary teamwork, prototyping as a means of dialogue, open design architectures, and integration between functional and emotional connections. Yet designing for services does require a somewhat different mindset than for a more static product design. In essence, although people are at the center of each, product design is generally about the object whereas service design is about the journey…The innovation imperative celebrates nonlinear behavior and presents many challenges – not just for the product and services development, but also to inspire ideas for new initiatives.”
One way or another, the 31 contributors to this volume achieve (collectively) two immensely important objectives: they help to demystify traditional perspectives on design, and, they help to increase our understanding and appreciation of what design thinking can accomplish. More specifically, as Tim brown correctly asserts, it is a discipline “that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a variable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
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Last week, there was a wonderful essay in The New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/opinion/16davis.html] about a leadership program created by the old Bell System back in 1952. The all-powerful telephone company worried that its executives needed a broader perspective, not just on business but also on society, even life itself. “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions,” one sociologist explained. “An educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”
Working with the University of Pennsylvania, Bell launched the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives — a 10-month program in which businesspeople read and debated the Great Books, visited museums, and studied architecture. The “capstone” of the program was a series of eight three-hour seminars devoted to Ulysses. Can you imagine? Twenty-four hours devoted to the discussion of a single (and famously vexing) novel!
As I finished the Times piece, I lamented how little time any of us has to think deeper, look broader, and reflect on “what questions are worth asking.” Of course, as summer arrives, there’s the hope that we can carve out a bit of time to read one or two books that may leave a mark after we’ve returned to the grind. So, in the spirit of humanistic studies, I reached out to a diverse and intriguing collection of thinkers, writers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs and asked what non-business writing has had a big impact on them, and that they’d recommend others. They sent back a diverse and intriguing collection of fiction, science fiction, and history that is bound to stir the soul and challenge the mind.
My friend Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, told me his choice was easy, albeit not the easiest read. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, first published in 1946, explores Frankl’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and his quest for a reason to live. Why this book? “It’s a two-fer,” Dan says. “Part of it tells a gripping tale of surviving a concentration camp. Part of it elaborates Frankl’s theory that the quest for meaning is the essence of being human and that it can be pursued in any circumstance. His single-sentence guide to behavior is a gem: ‘Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.’”
The struggle to reckon with human behavior in its many dimensions was at the heart of many of the titles recommended by my informal book club. Len Schlesinger, president of Babson College, the country’s top-rated school for entrepreneurship, told me that he “regularly revisits” Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. “Sometimes I read the script, other times I watch a video of the play. It’s still the greatest work on the struggle to define success, and the struggle between success as an employee and success as a family leader.”
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As for my choices, I’d nominate two very different books on leadership. The first, When Pride Still Mattered, is a biography of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss. It’s one of the greatest biographies I’ve ever read, and it will soon be a Broadway musical. My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.
Here’s hoping you find time this summer to read a few of these selections. At the very least, find time now to suggest your favorite work to others. What’s your pick for a must-read book? Put it in a comment and we’ll generate our own list. See you on the beach!
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William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical. Follow him at twitter.com/practicallyrad.