In Defense of Reading

Jeff expounds on a subject that he avoided in high school…

A few years back when The Wall Street Journal redesigned using color and added the Weekend Journal and Personal Journal, a colleague of mine thought it was going the way of USA Today. Personally, I thought the design was attractive and layout inviting. My concern was with the content and the length of the written work. That concern has only grown since.

In the past fifteen years, news and information has been beaten, shrunk, diced, and sliced into bite-sized easily digestible trifle. The masses accept headlines and “top ten lists” like they are gospel without a proper assessment of facts, logic, and argument. Nor do they examine the source. Once author credibility was sacrosanct but sadly is no longer. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2012

It is that time of year again when media is flooded with predictions for the coming year and retrospectives on the year ending. A related practice is to put together a ‘top ten’ or ‘best of category’ list.

Through the years, I have contributed “best” business and marketing book list for various websites and magazines. Those opportunities were flattering but I was never completely comfortable labelling any book “best”. So in recent years, I assemble my own annual list.

I call my book selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This tongue-in-cheek title is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Many are ones you may not have connected directly with business and that is the ultimate benefit of this list.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Last year 13 made the list while this year 12 did with one to look for that will be published on December 31. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections that follow in no particular order. Read more

Analyzing Mad Men

When Mad Men was in a long hiatus due to contract negotiations, I found substitute in a few of the books that have been written about the show. A standout is “Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series”. The book is comprised of twelve essays involving the context, politics, women, and nostalgia of Mad Men.

The series is the brainchild of Matthew Weiner and I learned it is based entirely on monitoring the effect of change. And though Mr. Weiner is clearly fascinated with the early sixties, the show is meant to parallel the changes experienced in this last decade. He is interested in knowing whether people in tumultuous times “recognize that change is going on?”

At its base level, the series centers on capitalism, clear roles regarding the sexes and races, and unchecked hedonism. Those topics make for a great soap opera but Mad Men’s appeal is in the search for deeper meaning and connection. All the struggles and conflicts that make up the storylines are predicated on a rejection of the status quo. Read more

A Mad Message

Professor Marshall McLuhan is an interesting chap. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform (and to prompt debate). Some argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. His ideas also covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in my hometown Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as the Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.” Read more

The Pursuit of Mediocrity

“Today, even critical books about ideas are expected to be prescriptive, to conclude with simple, step-by-step solutions to whatever crisis they discuss. Reading itself is becoming a way out of thinking.”

William Henry wrote this in 1994 in his book, In Defense of Elitism. I have to report that he was accurate but may have miscalculated how quickly and, to what extent, this has taken hold in society. One only has to see the headlines in once-respected newspapers and magazines or take in the astonishing range of poorly written blogs or view scrolling tweets of perpetuating nonsense to conclude that we are losing the ability to search for, develop, and discover knowledge. This morning I was greeted with the following headlines from various sources “7 Things You Need to Know About …”, “13 Do’s and Don’ts of …”, “The 9 Most Common …”, “Top 10 Tips for …”, “5 Ways to …”. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2011

Books are highly subjective – what appeals to some may not appeal to others. Business books specifically tend to resonate best when they address a pressing issue or interest and when they provide inspiration. In previous years, I have contributed lists of the “best” business and marketing books. I have assembled my own and conducted podcasts to share them. Those opportunities were cool but I was never completely comfortable labeling any book “best”.

So I opt to call my selections ‘Top-Drawer’. This slightly tongue-in-cheek honor is meant to describe books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. Life is too short to drink cheap scotch – equally so there is precious little time to tolerate books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. Thirteen make the list this year and are in no particular order. Enjoy and I look forward to feedback on the selections.

Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition by Stephen M. Shapiro

The author introduces a great premise … it’s time to innovate the way we innovate. Innovation tends to be episodic but Shapiro emphasizes the need to consistently produce fresh ideas and implement them with passion. He makes suggestions that are great in theory (a little harder in application but valuable) like hire people you don’t like, define challenges you want your employees to overcome, and create an environment that tolerates experimentation and failure. The bottom-line…reward success and failure equally, punish inactivity. Read more