First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Protect, Develop, and Enhance Your Skills – Some Serious Advice for Those “In Transition”

You’ve got skills. 
Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) to June Havens (Cameron Diaz), Knight and Day


James Surowiecki has one of his really good and important essays up at the New Yorker.  This essay, No End in Sight, holds out little optimism for a quick lowering of the jobless rate.  And he includes some real warnings regarding the ongoing effects of being jobless on the long-term unemployed (people who do not get back to work within six months after a job loss).

Here are some key excerpts:

Being unemployed is even more disastrous for individuals than you’d expect. Aside from the obvious harm—poverty, difficulty paying off debts—it seems to directly affect people’s health, particularly that of older workers…

And the effects of unemployment linger. Many studies have shown that the lifetime earnings of workers who become unemployed during a recession are permanently reduced, and von Wachter and Sullivan found that mortality rates among laid-off workers were much higher than average even twenty years afterward.

The longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to find a job (even after you control for skills, education, and so on). Being out of a job can erode people’s confidence and their sense of possibility; and employers, often unfairly, tend to take long-term unemployment as a signal that something is wrong. A more insidious factor is that long-term unemployment can start to erode job skills, making people less employable. One extraordinary study of Swedish workers, for instance, found that there was a strong correlation between time out of work and declining skills: workers who had been out of work for a year saw their relative ability to do something as simple as process and use printed information drop by five percentile points.

Here’s the most alarming line of this essay to me:

A more insidious factor is that long-term unemployment can start to erode job skills, making people less employable.

We live in a world in which all workers are expected to develop new layers of skills, adding to what they know and can do already.  The increase for a wide array of skills just keeps rising.  “The more you know, the more you know; the more you can do, the more you can do.”  And a person who faces even a few months out of the work force can see other workers surpass this worker, even as the unemployed worker slips even further back.

And, maybe it’s not just the loss of skills, but also the failure to be in on the beginning of the next new demand, the introduction of new skills, processes, techniques….  Time off from work can be serious time off from development – development which keeps a worker competitive.

In other words, “use it, or lose it.”  And if you “lose” it, you keep falling further behind.

I suspect that this is why so many experts strongly recommend volunteering, in a serious, “show up as though it is work” way, when a person is “in transition.”  Because the challenge is the same for all:  You’ve got to keep your skills sharp, and keep adding new ones.

This really is a challenging time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert: An interview by Bob Morris

Carla O'Dell

Carla O’Dell is president of APQC and is considered one of the world’s leading experts in knowledge management (KM). In 1995 and under O’Dell’s direction, APQC launched its first KM best practices consortium study called Emerging Best Practices in Knowledge Management. Thirty-nine organizations sponsored the groundbreaking study. Since then, APQC has conducted over 25 consortium studies on topics related to KM, involving more than 300 participating organizations and producing the world’s largest body of actionable best practices in designing, implementing, and measuring KM.  APQC has led more than 150 custom KM projects. APQC was the first nonprofit organization to be awarded the Global Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) award, as well as the North America Award, a total of six times.

Cindy Hubert

In March 2011, O’Dell and Cindy Hubert, two leaders from APQC, released the definitive book on how to implement knowledge management (KM), The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business. The book is a follow up to O’Dell’s best selling business resource, If Only We Knew What We Know, co-authored by C. Jackson Grayson, that played an instrumental role in firmly establishing KM as an accepted and widely used management discipline.

Hubert is the executive director of APQC’s Delivery Services, which provides individualized and collaborative approaches to solve business problems and address strategic needs. Over the past 16 years, Hubert and her team have worked with more than 400 organizations to provide assessments, strategy development, project management, transfer of best practice design and implementation, and metric and best practices research engagements using APQC’s proven knowledge management methodologies.

Hubert has played instrumental roles in the innovation, development, and implementation of APQC’s Levels of Knowledge Management Maturity™ and Knowledge Management Capability Assessment Tool.  These best practice frameworks are used by organizations across the world to guide, develop, and execute their KM strategies and approaches.

Morris: Before discussing your book, The New Edge of Knowledge Management, a few general questions. First, for those who are unfamiliar with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), tell us a little bit about the APQC’s mission and history in KM.

O’Dell: APQC is a member-based nonprofit founded by C. Jackson Grayson to help organizations improve productivity and quality. We are known as a global resource for benchmarks and best practices in finance, supply chain, HR and many other disciplines.  We are one of the world’s leading proponents and advisors in knowledge management (KM), communities of practice, measurement, using social media and other related disciplines.

Working with more than 750 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC has spent more than 15 years studying what works—and what doesn’t—in the fast-moving arena called Knowledge Management (KM).

APQC is the leading source of trusted KM tools and information for both those just starting on their journey to KM excellence and those already advanced in their KM practices. Companies and governments use APQC’s KM implementation guides to quickly build an enterprise knowledge management strategy to span organizational silos, build a common way of working, and lead to more reuse of knowledge in new and innovative ways.

Morris: Why did you write this book?

O’Dell: Our first KM book, If Only We Knew What We Know, was published in 1998. A lot has changed since then. Many recent changes in the way we do business and communicate in general have exciting implications for KM. Even companies and governments with mature KM programs have adjusted their strategy for these game-changing trends.

  • The digital world has begun to reshape KM. Online social networking has shaken up traditional KM. Although new technologies always present new challenges, no KM function can ignore this opportunity. Enterprise 2.0 tools may be the best thing to happen to KM since the water cooler.
  • In their personal lives and on the job, employees have become digitally immersed. All ages of employees expect more engagement and access to information and want work processes that reflect the ease with which they communicate outside of work.
  • Smart phones and other mobile devices now allow us to communicate and share any place, any time, and with anyone. KM can take advantage of these always-on and always-on-you devices to make content available to employees at their most teachable moment.
  • A huge demographic is now leaving the work force. As baby boomers exit the playing field, their absence puts a greater need on incoming employees to get up to speed quickly.

These societal shifts have changed the power dynamics for how all organizations operate. An increasingly savvy work force is dictating how and when they need information, and organizations face tremendous opportunities to turn individual employees’ knowledge into organizational intellectual assets.

Employees need vivid, relevant examples and practical advice for everyday work. Executives need a tangible and substantial ROI. And organizations need to respond to the forces at work and create new approaches. In this new environment, KM is an absolutely necessary core business practice to face the competition. With it, employers can reasonably expect better knowledge-based decisions from their work force.

Morris: During the last decade, what has been the single most significant change in how knowledge is managed? What are its major implications? Please explain.

O’Dell: Organizations realize that you don’t “manage” knowledge, but you manage the processes that help knowledge flow.  Knowledge management professionals realize that a portfolio of approaches with supporting technologies is required opposed to “one way” to collect and disseminate knowledge.  For example, a community of practice can be foundational for other approaches, such as lessons learned, that allow knowledge to flow.  Communities also promote collaboration that can be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and blogs, that also provide interaction and documentation of critical knowledge.

Organizations operate more virtually than they have in the past, which reduces the face-to-face opportunities that are such a rich environment for creating and responding to teachable moments.

*     *     *

If you wish to read the complete interview, please click here.

APQC cordially invites you to visit its KM expertise and services:


Saturday, May 21, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maybe Some “Dictators” Are Wiser Than The Crowd – On The Limitations Of Open Source (Think Apple)

I’m a big fan of The Wisdom of Crowds, of Wikinomics, and Macrowikinomics.  I have read all three of these books (and presented synopses of them at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and lots of articles about related practices.

I am also a non-techie (a Luddite, or, if you prefer, an idiot).  I understand nothing about design, interface, user interface.  I’m just a guy who likes his iMac and his iPhone and, hopefully, after the second one comes out (I was told to wait for the second one by a brother who is a techie genius) an iPad.

Why do I like Apple so much?  Because an idiot like me can figure out learn to use the product very quickly.  It is easy to use.  Ease; simplicity…  these are the critical ingredients.

Here is an article that makes a case that I am “right” about Apple.  And maybe there are some realms where dictators really are wiser than the crowd.  It is written by a techie, someone who understands all this stuff.  The title says it all: Open User Interfaces Suck by Timothy B Lee.  Here are some key excerpts:

In short, if you want to create a company that builds great user interfaces, you should organize it like Apple does: as a hierarchy with a single guy who makes all the important decisions. User interfaces are simple enough that a single guy can thoroughly understand them, so bottom-up organization isn’t really necessary. Indeed, a single talented designer with dictatorial power will almost always design a simpler and more consistent user interface than a bottom-up process driven by consensus.

This strategy works best for products where the user interface is the most important feature. The iPod is a great example of this. From an engineering perspective, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about the iPod, and indeed many geeks sneered at it when it came out. What the geeks missed was that a portable music player is an extremely personal device whose customers are interacting with it constantly. Getting the UI right is much more important than improving the technical specs of adding features.

… In short, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the devices with the most elegant UIs come from a company with a top-down, almost cult-like, corporate culture.


Here’s a line from a former Apple employee, still a big, big fan (from here):

When working at Apple, you definitely feel like you’re a part of a group of people who will make a serious dent in the universe.

I’ll say this:  Apple made a serious dent in my universe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Geographic’s Peter Miller on “Extrapolating business lessons from nature”


Peter Miller


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Karen E. Klein for Bloomberg Businessweek. In his book The Smart Swarm and in the article, National Geographic‘s Peter Miller says ants and bees can teach a lot about making decisions and managing employees.

To read the complete article, please click here.

*     *     *

The ancient instincts of swarming animals and insects are evolutionarily adapted to facilitate collective intelligence, favoring colony survival. Peter Miller, senior editor at National Geographic, believes they can teach us valuable lessons about urban planning, military strategy, and even small business. The author of The Smart Swarm (Avery/Penguin, August 2010) spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Klein: What do ant colonies and schools of fish have to do with entrepreneurs?

Miller: I think—for a person in the terrifying but challenging position of having his own business—he must know it better than anybody else in the world. But he also has to be able to broaden his perspective and look outside his own area of expertise for tools to handle the unpredictable.

Individual ants, for instance, are not very bright. But an ant colony is very good at self-organizing and managing its resources without any boss being in charge. They figure out how to do tasks from taking care of the little ants to repairing the nest to taking out the garbage and getting food. The organism as a whole is very finely tuned and all the individuals are cross-trained so they can shift resources from one task to another as the need arises. That’s a great model to follow with a team of employees.

Klein: At one point you owned a small restaurant. How would you extrapolate the ants’ behavior into your experience?

Miller: In an ant colony or a bee hive, the workers are all sisters. They are all descended from the same queen and they are all female. Each individual is more dedicated to the survival of the hive than to their own survival.

When a restaurant is really humming and the customers are happy and everybody’s making money, it’s a joy. It’s rare when everybody is working in the same direction, especially in a restaurant. There’s always tension between the kitchen staff and the wait staff—or in manufacturing, between the sales team and the fulfillment people. I think if you can get employees pulling together, and keep reinforcing the idea that when the business thrives, they all thrive, that really helps.

Klein: When you write about bees, you focus on their decision-making and how it reflects the wisdom of crowds.

Miller: The notion that James Surowiecki writes about in his book The Wisdom of Crowds is that groups of people can be smarter and solve problems better than any one individual. That’s because a group pulls together different talents and backgrounds and experience.

Bees use their numbers to make crucial decisions, like where the swarm will relocate in the springtime. Hundreds of scouts go off to look for good real estate, where they’ll have room to grow, that faces south and has a small entrance hole. The scouts come back to report their findings using a little waggle dance. The quality of the site is judged by the enthusiasm of the dance.

Klein: So the more energetic dancers are reporting on the best hive sites?

Miller: Exactly. Other bees will go look at that site and if they like it, they also do the dance. Pretty soon you have twice as many bees dancing and there’s an exponential build up of bees flying between the potential nest site and
the swarm. The site that gets a critical quorum first is the one that gets picked.

Klein: What’s the lesson you take from that?

Miller: It’s interesting that a bee will not start dancing for a site unless she has seen it for herself. There’s no buy-in on the word of another scout. A chief executive officer making a crucial decision ought to get many options on the table, but then take her time making a conclusion. You don’t want to fall in love with a new idea before it has been proven objectively. We all love a good story like “this business is going to be just fine” or “this employee’s going to work out,” but we’d better verify that.

Klein: In your research, you also studied termites, locusts, schools of fish, and flocks of birds. Is there an overall principle that applies to the business world?

Miller: Depending on the type of problems you’re dealing with—and they never stop—you may discover that someone on your team knows how to solve it. In my restaurant I had about 10 employees. If I noticed that one of the wait staff was especially good at organizing, I might get her involved in the planning when we had a chance to do a banquet.

A restaurant is definitely not a democracy. But if you leave all the decision-making up to one person, you’re cheating that organization of the resources available to it. People on your staff know stuff that’s important to your business, but if they don’t feel that you’re welcoming their ideas or that you’re open to information from them, they won’t give it to you.

*     *     *

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

Monday, October 18, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Next? – Tomorrow is Next; and Coming Faster than Ever Before (insight from James Surowiecki)

When all is said and done, one leadership task that simply has to come from the leader, and only the leader, is the answer to this question:  “what about tomorrow?”

Verne Harnish put it this way (In Mastering the Rockefeller Habits): The two most important attributes of effective leaders are their abilities to predict and to delegate. It’s the “to predict” attribute that is critical.

Think of all the times, in movies, and in life, that someone has said, in one way or another, “what now, boss?”


"What's Next?" - "Tomorrow" is always "what's next..."


(Here comes my brief West Wing homage).  For example, the entire seven seasons of The West Wing can practically be summarized in one phrase:  “what’s next?”

When Jed Bartlet is in the early stages of his campaign, and his new young crew is laying out the terrain, he says: “What’s next?” – and then, When I ask, “What’s next?”, it means that I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?” When Josh Lyman is on his near-death bed at the end of “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen,” President Bartlet leans forward to hear Josh ask in a whisper “What’s next?’’ And when new President Santos, in his last scene of the show, finishes a quick meeting on his first day on the job, he says to Josh, his new Chief of staff, “What’s Next?”

And President Bartlett, when asked by Mrs. Bartlet what he is thinking about as he flies home no longer the President, says simply:  “Tomorrow.”

I thought of all of this as I read this article by James Surowiecki (a columnist for The New Yorker): The Next Level. Here are some lengthy excerpts.  (The entire article is worth a careful reading…)

Blockbuster’s demise, for one, was inextricably linked to the success of Netflix. But this raises a deeper question: why didn’t the category killers colonize the Web the way they colonized suburbia? That was what pundits expected. Companies like Blockbuster, the argument went, had customer expertise, sophisticated inventory management, and strong brands. And, unlike the new Internet companies, they’d be able to offer customers both e-commerce and physical stores—“clicks and mortar.” It seemed like the perfect combination.

The problem—in Blockbuster’s case, at least—was that the very features that people thought were strengths turned out to be weaknesses. Blockbuster’s huge investment, both literally and psychologically, in traditional stores made it slow to recognize the Web’s importance: in 2002, it was still calling the Net a “niche” market. And it wasn’t just the Net. Blockbuster was late on everything—online rentals, Redbox-style kiosks, streaming video. There was a time when customers had few alternatives, so they tolerated the chain’s limited stock, exorbitant late fees (Blockbuster collected about half a billion dollars a year in late fees), and absence of good advice about what to watch. But, once Netflix came along, it became clear that you could have tremendous variety, keep movies as long as you liked, and, thanks to the Netflix recommendation engine, actually get some serviceable advice. (Places like Netflix and Amazon have demonstrated the great irony that computer algorithms can provide a more personalized and engaging customer experience than many physical stores.) Then Redbox delivered the coup de grâce, offering new Hollywood releases for just a dollar.

Why didn’t Blockbuster evolve more quickly? In part, it was because of what you could call the “internal constituency” problem: the company was full of people who had been there when bricks-and-mortar stores were hugely profitable, and who couldn’t believe that those days were gone for good. Blockbuster treated its thousands of stores as if they were a protective moat, when in fact they were the business equivalent of the Maginot Line. The familiar sunk-cost fallacy made things worse. Myriad studies have shown that, once decision-makers invest in a project, they’re likely to keep doing so, because of the money already at stake. Rather than dramatically shrinking both the size and the number of its stores, Blockbuster just kept throwing good money after bad.

Netflix isn’t going to have decades in which to bask in its success. Its domination of the DVD-rental market comes just as people are moving toward streaming and downloadable video. As has already happened with music, the business of renting and selling movies will soon be about moving digital files rather than physical objects. Streaming is already a big part of Netflix’s business, and it has signed up partnerships to let consumers get movies via video-game machines, Blu-Ray players, and so on. But this is a market in which Netflix’s expertise in shipping red envelopes as quickly and efficiently as possible will no longer be a competitive advantage. It’s a market that’s already quite crowded—with Amazon, Apple, the cable companies, and now Google (which just rolled out its own TV product) all competing. And it’s a market that remains wide open technologically—no one really knows how, or on what devices, most people will watch movies in the future. In this environment, it would be easy for Netflix to fall back on its safety cushion, milk the existing DVD business for all it’s worth, and try to slow down customers’ migration into streaming, particularly since a customer who streams movies is less lucrative than one who rents three DVDs a month. But then, a decade from now, we’d be writing Netflix obituaries that sounded just like the ones for Blockbuster. Sometimes you have to destroy your business in order to save it.

This is a nice and to-the-point description of the changing terrain in one industry.  But it is an object lesson for most other business arenas.

What will tomorrow be like?  What’s next? Getting there early, and then being willing to jettison what got us there to get to the next tomorrow, the next new, new thing, is quite a challenge in this ever-shifting world.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Quote for the Day from James Surowiecki – on Customer Service

Are You Being Served? is a really good article on the abysmal state of customer service, from James Surowiecki, from The New Yorker.  Here is the closing paragraph:

The real problem may be that companies have a roving eye: they’re always more interested in the customers they don’t have. So they pour money into sales and marketing to lure new customers while giving their existing ones short shrift, in an effort to minimize costs and maximize revenue. The consultant Lior Arussy calls this the “efficient relationship paradox”: it’s only once you’ve actually become a customer that companies put efficiency ahead of attention, with the result that a company’s current customers are often the ones who experience its worst service. Economically, this makes little sense; it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to hold on to an old one, and, these days, annoyed customers are quick to take their business elsewhere. But, because most companies are set up to focus on the first sale rather than on all the ones that might follow, they end up devoting all their energies to courting us, promising wonderful products and excellent service. Then, once they’ve got us, their attention wanders—and Dave Carroll’s guitar gets tossed across the tarmac.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , | Leave a comment

Never Aim for the Middle — Wisdom from James Surowiecki

News item: Apple Sells Out iPad Pre-Order Inventory As Launch Nears.


James Surowiecki is the author of the influential book, The Wisdom Of Crowds (one of the books I have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and a regular columnist for The New Yorker.  He is an astute observer of the trends and changes in our culture.  Here’s his latest.

In a big-picture scheme of things, we have two groups that are healthy, and one that is in real trouble.  The two healthy groups are the “very best,” and the “good enough.” It is the “middle” that is in real danger.  This is the premise behind his article SOFT IN THE MIDDLE. Here’s part of his opening paragraph:

Starting at five hundred dollars, the iPad is significantly more expensive than its competitors. But Apple’s assumption is that, if the iPad is also significantly better, people will happily shell out for it (as they already do for iPods, iPhones, and Macs). That’s why when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad he said that, if a product wasn’t “far better” than what was already out there, it had “no reason for being.

At the other end of the spectrum is the “good enough — adequate.”  Here’s a paragraph about this group:

On the contrary, companies like Ikea, H. & M., and the makers of the Flip video camera are flourishing not by selling products or services that are “far better” than anyone else’s but by selling things that aren’t bad and cost a lot less. These products are much better than the cheap stuff you used to buy at Woolworth, and they tend to be appealingly styled, but, unlike Apple, the companies aren’t trying to build the best mousetrap out there. Instead, they’re engaged in what Wired recently christened the “good-enough revolution.” For them, the key to success isn’t excellence. It’s well-priced adequacy.

And though these two examples are about different ends of the consumer world, they have something in common:

These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market.

Surowiecki concludes with this:

According to one estimate, Nokia has nearly twenty times Apple’s market share, but the iPhone alone makes almost as much money as all Nokia’s phones combined. But making money by selling moderately good products that are moderately expensive isn’t going to get any easier, which suggests a slight rewrite of the old Highland ballad. You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and we’ll both be in Scotland afore the guy in the middle.

Here’s my take.  A while back, I read (and presented) the Robert Bloom book, The Inside Advantage.  In it, he spoke of the importance of these two questions

• Who is my core customer?
• What is my uncommon offering?

From the Surowiecki article, we learn that it may be much easier to answer these questions for the upper and the lower end of markets, and a whole lot harder to target the “amorphous middle.”

Monday, March 29, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who controls the conch shell?

The Wisdom of Crowds

In William Golding’s allegorical novel, Lord of the Flies, after a plane crash, only several boys survive and find themselves alone on an island. Whoever controls the conch shell (i.e. the natural device that serves as a megaphone) controls the situation. I thought of that as I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point in which he discusses “The Law of the Few,” observing that “in a given process or system, some people matter more than do others.”

In all communities, including those that have developed online, some members seem to be more involved, articulate, and productive than others. They wield a disproportionate influence if only because they have more to say and the means by which to say it. In other words, they control their community’s equivalent of a conch shell.

Consider this brief excerpt from James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds:

“Talkativeness may seem like an add thing to worry about, but in fact talkativeness has a major impact on the kinds of decisions small groups reach. If you talk a lot in a group, people will tend to think of you as influential almost by default. Talkative people are not necessarily well liked by other members of the group, but they are listened to. And talkativeness feeds on itself. Studies of group dynamics almost always show that the more someone talks, the more he is talked to by others in the group. So people at the center of the group tend to be more important over the course of the discussion. In a market or even a democracy, champions are far less important because of the sheer number of potential decision makers. But in a small group, having a strong advocate for an idea, no matter how good it is, is essential.”

Monday, December 21, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Everybody” Knows More than “Anybody” — Netflix Awards a Prize in the Era of Wikinomics

NetflixNews Item – Netflix awards $1 Million Prize for innovation from outside the company

The contest was to help with the most basic of promises of Netflix:  “If you like this movie, we’ll help you find the next movie you will like – even though you had no idea you would like it.”  From the NY Times article: The payoff for Netflix? “Accurately predicting the movies Netflix members will love is a key component of our service,” explained Neil Hunt, chief product officer. The prize went to a seven-person winning team of statisticians, machine-learning experts and computer engineers from the United States, Austria, Canada and Israel, called BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos.

Two of the Winning Team Members, Robert Bell & Chris Volinsky

Two of the Winning Team Members Robert Bell & Chris Volinsky

This story about Netflix demonstrates the truth behind two best-selling business books.   The basic premise of the two books, The Wisdom of Crowds, and Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, is simple.  Everybody knows more than anybody.  And when you add the amazing ability of technology for people to collaborate with what they know and what they learn, separately and together, the result and payoff can be beyond amazing.

Here are a few quotes to remind you of the authors contentions.

The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds

From The Wisdom of Crowds:
Corporate strategy is all about collecting information from many different sources, evaluating the probabilities of potential outcomes, and making decisions in the face of an uncertain future.  These are tasks for which decision makers are tailor-made.  Yet companies have remained, for the most part, indifferent to this source of potentially excellent information, and have been surprisingly unwilling to improve their decision making by tapping into the collective wisdom of their employees.
The smartest groups are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other.  Independence doesn’t imply rationality or impartiality, though.  You can be biased and irrational, but as long as you’re independent, you won’t make the group any dumber.
The solutions to cooperation and coordination problems are real in the sense that they work.  They are not imposed from above, but emerge from the crowd.
The decisions that democracies make may not demonstrate the wisdom of the crowd.  The decision to make them democratically does.

From Wikinomics:
“No company today, no matter how large or how global, can innovate fast enough or big enough by itself…  Wikinomics reveals the next historic step – the art and science of mass collaboration where companies open up to the world.  It is an important book.”  (A. G. Laffey).
In the past, collaboration was mostly small scale…  Never before, however, have individuals had the power or opportunity to link up in loose networks of peers to produce goods and services in a very tangible and ongoing way.
Whether designing an airplane, assembling a motorcycle, of analyzing the human genome, the ability to integrate the talents of dispersed individuals and organizations is becoming the defining competency for managers and firms.
In-house innovation alone will not be enough to survive in a fast-changing and intensely competitive economy.  The days when companies divided the national pie in a wading pool or well-mannered rivalry are long gone.  Today’s global firms sink or swim in an ocean roiling with cutthroat competition.  And plummeting collaboration costs enable them to reach outside their boundaries for talent.

The new age of mass collaboration will no doubt seem complex and uncertain, and it’s true that collaboration and openness are more art than science.  Capabilities to develop new kinds of relationships, sense important developments, add value, and turn nascent networked knowledge into compelling value are becoming the bread and butter of wealth creation and success.  Is your mind wired for Wikinomics?

Wikinomics:  Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Wikinomics: Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

The Netflix story shows us that from the earlier book, The Wisdom of Crowds, companies have now moved from innovation within/by their own employees to innovation from the “outside masses.”  Technology makes it happen.  And the idea of the contest enables a company to “hire” an army of innovators with the promise of a big financial award.  And, I suspect that the losers of the contest may very well find their efforts pay off in other ways in other endeavors.

The age of Wikinomics, based on the Wisdom of Crowds, has surely arrived.


My synopsis of both books, The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikinomics, with audio+ handout, are available at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.

Monday, September 21, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Really Don’t Want to Change, says James Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Surowiecki

The subject matter is the health care debate.  But the underlying premise is about a much, much bigger issue.

That issue:  everyone’s opposition to change.  The author of the article is James Surowiecki, and his book The Wisdom of Crowds was one of the most memorable books I ever read.  He is thoughtful, thorough, and provocative.  Any company or organization that wants to understand how to pull and pool the wisdom from your people — your workers, your colleagues, your customers, your entire “tribe” — should read The Wisdom of Crowds.  (To take the next step, also check out Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).

But in this article in the New Yorker, Status-Quo Anxiety, Surowiecki reminds us just how difficult it is to implement change.  Here are a couple of key quotes:
• the public’s skittishness about overhauling the system also reflects something else: the deep-seated psychological biases that make people resistant to change.
• when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.

He argues that we are intensely protective of the status quo; we love it, we cherish it, we protect it, we overvalue it.  Even a culture that wants to change rallies to protect the status quo when change begins to look actually possible.


This is the message about change from Surowiecki, and it does not matter if the change is in the corporate world or in public policy.

I’ve posted before about the constant need to change.  You might want to read my post, (The Woes of MySpace)  The Future is Utterly Predictable – it is a Future of Constant Innovation.  But Surowiecki reminds us just how hard it is build and sustain a culture of constant innovation.

Read the article by Surowiecki.  Don’t think about the subject matter of the article (alone) – think about its implications for business, for innovation.  It is enlightening.

And think about all the ways that you are resistant to change.  I promise you, it is a long list.  It is for me.


• You can order my synopses of both The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikinomics, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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