William Easterly is a Senior Advisor in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. In his first book, he asks why trillion dollars of foreign aid to the countries of the "third world" since WWII have caused essentially no improvement in the quality of life for the people in these countries. I found the writing lucid and the many real stories of poverty and corruption both emotionally powerful and insightful.
Emphasizing a key mantra of economics -- people respond to incentives -- he details the long list of foreign aid tactics that have failed: capital investment (machines, factories, roads), education, birth control, loans, and loan forgiveness. Not that any of the tactics are bad, but rather they are ineffectual in a country lacking key social, political, and economic infrastructure.
Easterly then describes in detail the factors at play in driving growth: increasing returns (Leaks, Matches, Traps), creative destruction through technology, luck, governments kill growth, government corruption, and class and race conflicts.
Easterly shows that achieving economic growth is very difficult, but he does a great job of identifying the key systemic issues that poor countries must address.
Perhaps surprisingly, Easterly's model applies equally well to the economic disparities that exist within countries, even "rich" countries like the United States. The increasing returns model says that highly-skilled people will prefer to live and work with one another ("Matches"), as each of them will be more productive for being around other highly-skilled individuals. So this explains, for example, why areas like Silicon Valley, having once achieved critical mass, continue to grow. And why low-income inner-city and rural areas remain depressed ("Traps"). [econ]
Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future of Microsoft
ben: David Bank wrote about Microsoft for the Wall Street Journal. In this book he covers the period 1997-2000 at Microsoft as it coped with the success of Windows and Office and the threat of the Internet to the continuation of Microsoft's dominance. From e-mail snippets and interviews with many current and former Microsoft employees, he presents the "protect Windows" perspective of bill gates and jim allchin and contrasts that with the "do the new internet thing" perspective of people like brad silverberg and myself and others. Obviously Bill Gates prevailed and so a lot of people left. Overall I think a very balanced presentation -- you at least understand why Bill did what he did, even if you don't agree with his decision. Several juicy quotes from me. [msft;
Judo Strategy: Turning Your Competitors' Strength to Your Advantage
ben: Taking examples primarily from the high-technology business world of the past 7 years, Yoffie and Kwak use the sports of Judo and Sumo as metaphors to analyze small, new companies competing against large, entrenched companies. A brief introduction to the sport of Judo is followed by an overview of the Principles of Judo Strategy in business -- Movement, Balance, and Grip – with short examples of companies as varied as Amazon.com, Capital One, Charles Schwab, Dell, eBay, Frontier Airlines, Inktomi, Intuit, Juniper Networks, JVC, Netscape, People Express, Priceline.com, and Transmeta using these strategies (mostly) successfully. CNET Networks, Palm Computing, and Real Networks each get a chapter of their own discussing their use of Judo Strategy in detail.
Of course the upstart company does not always win, so the authors introduce the sport of Sumo and then describe how to apply Sumo Strategy to deal with a Judo strategist, using examples of behavior by AOL, Cisco, Coca Cola, Du Pont, Intel, Microsoft, and Texas Instruments.
I enjoyed the judo and sumo metaphors and especially all the stories about companies that had used these strategies successfully. The only suggestion for improvement I might offer the authors is to include more examples of companies (like Netscape) who violated these strategies and paid the price.
Judo Strategy winds down with a list of five rules for the Judo Strategist, which I will summarize as Focus, Execute, Be Nimble, Leverage Creatively, and Cut Your Losses Quickly. I was particularly impressed by the passion, energy, intellect and dogged determination required of a small company leader to compete successfully with a large company. The commitment over a long period of years by a single leader sets a very important tone for a company, and events like George Sheehan leaving WebVan or Peter Neupert kicking himself upstairs to Chairman at Drugstore.com should be seen as critical warning signs about the long-term viability of those companies. [bus;
Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World
ben: Protect, Detect, Respond. I really enjoyed Bruce's "Applied Cryptography", so I looked forward to reading what Bruce has learned from his computer security consulting company. Bruce explains that when he wrote Applied Cryptography he thought all that was necessary for foolproof computer security was great technology. But as he tried to help companies implement network security, he learned first-hand that a system is composed of people and computers, and it is only as strong as the weakest link.
With lots of (often colorful) examples of security failings, he illustrates very clearly the need for a three part strategy. You must first protect your system from obvious/easy attacks, then you must provide a means to defect incursions into your system, and finally you must have response mechanisms to deal with incursions.
Must read for anyone working in software today. [sw]
Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and Its Battle With Microsoft
ben: These two business school professors (Yoffie at www.hbs.edu, Cusumano at www.mit.edu) interviewed many people at Netscape and elsewhere. Though the conclusions do not come through as strongly in the book as they might, we learn that Netscape made three major mistakes: 1) it did not focus and execute on a long-term strategy, 2) it's software engineering practices were not as good as Microsoft's, and 3) it's software engineers were not as talented as Microsoft's. The biggest mistake was Netscape kept changing its mind about what business it was in. As a result, it was not able to execute hard enough and long enough to win. [ben]
Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed.
ben: The authors have twenty+ years of experience studying successful and unsuccessful software projects. With humour and charm and insight they explain all of the common mistakes and misunderstandings that occur in projects, and how to avoid them. The focus is on the people and the team and how to make them successful.
When I worked on OS/2 at Microsoft, Peter Neupert (at drugstore.com) had been newly put in charge of the OS/2 project, and he brought Tom DeMarco in to speak to us. The 1st edition of this book was published in 1987, so I think it was in 1987 or 1988. All the wisdom of DeMarco and Lister was no match for the fact that IBM and Microsoft had quite divergent goals for OS/2, so it was doomed to failure. When I skimmed through this second edition last year, I was very impressed by how closely their observations matched my experience from 14 years at Microsoft working on OS/2, MS-DOS, Windows 95, Internet Explorer, Java, and MSN.
A must-read for any software development manager! [sw]
The Forgetting Room: A Fiction
lisa: A beautiful story of someone who finally realized what he needed to do to make himself happy. Helped me realize that what I do makes me happy -- stop doing the "grass is greener" thing. [novel]
The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
ben: Prof. Christensen introduces the ideas of 'value network' and 'disruptive innovations'. Successful companies follow their customers up-market, eventually overshooting the needs of the bulk of their customers. When a disruptive innovation occurs, the value network of the leading company -- its profit margins, quality expectations, etc. -- do not permit it to embrace a solution which is inferior to its current offering. The disruptive innovation eventually blossoms into a better solution than what the established company offers. Microsoft has been very successful from its founding in 1975, but as the Internet rose to prominence in the mid-1990s and Windows and Office are aging not very gracefully at the start of the 21st century, Microsoft is absolutely caught in the innovator's dilemma that Christensen describes. [innov]
Seeing Systems : Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life
ben: If you have never been part of a larger organization, you probably won't get this book. But if you have, and have been frustrated, then there is a lot of good theory and perspective and advice here. I spent 4 days at "PowerLab" that gave me a lot of very valuable insights. [hrel]
Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C
ben: I read the 1st edition of this book in the fall of 1993 to get background for a special project. I enjoyed the thorough survey of modern cryptographic algorithms, including one-way hashes and various private-key and public key system, the applications of those to things like provable digital signatures, and the detailed explanations of the various kinds of "attacks" that such systems might be subjected to. I spent less time trying to understand the details of specific algorithms, but that's OK because the lasting value of this book is that it gives you a deep understanding of how to mix and match various cryptosystems to solve real-world problems.G9 [sw]
Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation
ben: Prof. Utterback spent over twenty years studying 20+f industries as they experienced dramatic technological change, trying to understand who were the market leaders before the change, who were the market leaders afterwards, and why? He studies markets as varied as cooling (the harvested ice industry in the late 1800s), lighting (gas lighting giving way to incandescent lighting giving way to fluorescent lighting), typewriters (manual typewrites giving way to electrics giving way to dedicated word processors giving way to PCs), and plate glass. He concludes that the market leaders prior to a technology change rarely are market leaders after the change, primarily because the entrepreneurs and innovators are squeezed out of older companies by "incrementalists". This gave me a lot of encouragement and insight into pushing hard on Internet Explorer back in 1994..1996. [innov]
Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility
ben: If you believe your job as a parent is to raise your child to be an independent, responsible adult, and that each day should take your child one step further on the path to independence of thought and action, then this is the book for you. [OTOH, if you are a "helicopter" parent, who hovers over your child to protect her and keep her safe, you should pass.]
The guidelines and ideas and techniques here are very valuable for parents, of course, but also for managers and leaders. The key is to set up learning experience the result in "natural" consequences. For example, if your child does not want to wear a coat to school (and it is not the middle of winter in Chicago), let her make that choice, and if she gets cold or wet that is her consequence. If she doesn't want to eat what you made for breakfast, you say "That's OK, lunch is coming soon enough." (She won't starve) Similarly, if a software developer is writing buggy code, make sure he has to support all of the customers of that code!
This book provides many excellent dialog snippets that help you get on the natural consequences track. Consider bedtime. Dad: It's time for bed. Susie: I don't want to go to bed. Dad: That's OK, stay up as late as you want and get as tired as you want. I hope you're not too tired tomorrow. Susie: I will! [Dad gave Susie the power, and ownership over the consequence. Even if she stays up too late this one night, over time she'll learn to connect staying up too late with being tired the next day.]
The key thing is to give your child choices, and let the *consequences* teach the lesson. Instead of lecturing and hectoring and "I told you so" -- which just focuses your daughter's anger at you -- empathize with her. "I'm sorry you were cold, I would have been cold, too." This way the child can focus on what she might have done differently, and learn to make better choices.
Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented Then Ignored the First Personal Computer
ben: Xerox had great foresight in creating it's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) -- PARC employees invented Ethernet, the laser printer, and the graphical operating system. But Xerox was unable to turn those ideas into successful, mass market products, whereas companies like 3Com and Apple and HP and Microsoft did. [innov]
Crunch Mode : Building Effective Systems on a Tight Schedule (Yourdon Press Computing Series)
ben: From the Preface: "The focus of this book is productivity…the ability to get working software 'out the door' in a hurry." Boddie focuses on incremental software development, a continual feedback look with the customer, and honest tradeoffs between features and schedule limitations. One of the best books on software engineering as a practical endeavor that I have ever read. [sw]
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
lisa: I read this in Operations Research in biz school. It provided excellent guidelines and motivation for how to analyze a process, identify the bottlenecks, and optimize the process. [hrel]
How to Win Friends and Influence People
ben: I knew of this book 20 years ago, but thought it was for "slimy salesmen". Instead, it provides succinct rules for relating to other people and provides lots of little stories to motivate and drive home these rules. If I had read this when I was 20, I wonder if most of it would not have sailed right past me. But with a lot of "life experience" (e.g., mistakes) under my belt, I can provide my own examples to support and explain all of his guidance. Must read for anyone who is not a hermit! [hrel]