Read Books; Read the Right Book at the Right Time — One Lesson from Isaacson’s The Innovators

The InnovatorsAndy Grove read Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management, which described the ideal chief executive as an outside person, an inside person, and a person of action. Grove realized that instead of being embodied in one person, such traits could exist in a leadership team.
(At Intel), Noyce was the outside guy, Moore the Inside, and Grove was the man of action.
Walter Isaacson, The Innovators


I’ve now finished my careful, much-underlined and heavily noted reading of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. What a book!

In one sense, this is a history book of the computer/digital age.
In another sense, it is a series of psychological profiles.
In yet another sense, it is a description of what works, and what doesn’t work, in organizations. (Some hints: bad leaders are bad. Sometimes, you have to wait of the technological breakthroughs to make things possible. Oh, and war really provides money and learning opportunities for breakthroughs…).
And, one more – most of the people who led this revolution were really smart, and had an almost unbelievable work ethic.

But, here was something that struck me. It was one of those, “these are just givens” insights, kind of hiding in plain sight. Books read – books read to build foundational understandings, and books read by key people at critical moments, can really make a difference. A big difference!

There are so many good books to read – too many. I know that – I get that. I’ve only read a bare sampling of the good books. And, in reading this book, I discovered titles – titles that mattered – that I have never heard of.

(By the way, quite a few of the “key players” were people I had never heard of; other key players, I simply knew their names, and did not know what they had brought to the process).

At one key moment, as the personal computer was in its true infancy, and computer clubs and organizers were shaping one vision of a future, one key player, Lee Felsenstein, received a critical book at a critical time – a book I had never heard of.

Tools for ConvivialityFelsenstein’s father sent him a book called Tools for Conviviality, by Ivan Illich, an Austrian-born, American raised philosopher and Catholic priest who criticized the role of technocratic elites. Part of Illich’s remedy was to create technology that would be intuitive, easy to learn, and “convivial.” The goal, he wrote, should be to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency.”

Here’s one lesson – books matter. Especially when the right person reads the right book at the right moment and learns what he/she needs to learn, and put into practice…

So, what book (books) are you reading right now? If you don’t have an answer to that question… well, you certainly should have an answer!


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