Business Books: The cover vs. the core

7 12 2009

For a person who deeply loves Biology and keeps blogging about Darwin, I have to confess: I never read The Origin of Species, only parts of it. There, I said it. I actually tried to go through it a few times, the last attempt being via Stanza on my iPhone:

Stanza for the iPhone: Origin of Species

Heck, I haven’t even skimmed Origin‘s Cliff’s Notes (that’s just a figure of speech: there’s none, actually) so you can say that my knowledge of what Darwin said or thought is like second-hand smoking or back-seat driving: mostly hear-say. Some saving grace are those 5 years spent at University studying Biology. Furthermore, I would guess that most Biology students (at least in Brazil) have never seen a copy of Origin either.

On a smaller scale, many of us have a similar approach with business books. We have not read most of them – well except maybe Sacha did :-) , but we often have an opinion about them, typically based on indirect evidence.

I usually don’t go through the same book twice – life is short and time is at a premium, but I recently made an exception with The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) and The Long Tail (2006), two books that have been much maligned by supposedly championing the advent of new business models that never materialized or that failed to deliver at the promise.

The Long Tail and The Wisdom of Crowds

The Long Tail and The Wisdom of Crowds

Their respective authors even had faceoffs of sorts with the excellent Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point and Blink fame, one friendly, the other not so much. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with Slate’s Book Club feature, you are in for a treat. It’s kind of The Next Supermodel for the written world. I know that doesn’t sound very enticing, but the series is really good.

The major problem I see with both books is not their content: it’s their covers. Both books are fairly balanced in their core and depict scenarios showing both supporting evidence and possible shortcomings for their arguments. But their covers are not as nuanced. Why the future of business is selling less of more and Why the many are smarter than the few, besides sounding like catch phrases written by the same marketing wiz, are hardly shy in the over-promising department.

My learning going through the re-reading process is that I have a much better appreciation for the content of these books now that they don’t have all the buzz around them. It’s like listening to popular songs from the past years after they fell in oblivion. You can more clearly see their actual merits and limitations, without being so influenced by the media. So, if you haven’t yet, give them a try, you may still learn a thing or two, no matter if you believe in their premises or not.

I can’t help but think that, if The Origin of Species was published today, instead of the dull sub-title The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, it would bring something like: Why everything you knew about life will change forever.

The Origin of Species, original cover

The Origin of Species, original cover (Darwin Online)





On being off-grid and Byline for your iPhone

26 07 2009

The first 7 weeks after I left IBM were a trip back to my pre-Internet days, as I had problems with both my Twitter account and my Bell Sympatico High-Speed connection at home, and didn’t spend much time in front of a computer at work. Not being connected has its bright side, especially during summer time, so I’m not complaining too much. There’s plenty to do in our non-virtual lives, and an excuse to stay away from the computer is welcome, especially in the sunny days of Toronto’s short summer – by the way, the only reason I’m writing this now is that the weather is pretty bad outside and my golf plans were ruined :-( .

In my case, Bell Sympatico High-Speed was a bit of a misnomer, especially in early July, when I was getting a download speed of 0.25 Mbits per second and learned from Bell that as far as my connection is up, they are charging for service. Last week I switched all my services to Rogers, and so far it’s been good. I’m typically getting very close to 10 Mbits, a 40 times improvement. Just in case, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as consumers typically don’t have the upper hand in a de-facto ISP duopoly landscape.

In those 7 weeks off-grid, my iPhone became my online lifeline, but while the small screen is good to consume content, it’s less so to create stuff. Going down the Social Technographics ladder led me to discover a great tool for my iPhone, one that I highly recommend: Byline, by Phantom Fish. Here’s what their website says about the app:

Read the latest news from your favorite sites and blogs on your iPhone or iPod Touch, even when you’re offline.
Simply use your free Google Reader account to subscribe to websites you’d like to keep track of. Byline will automatically bring you new content, putting thousands of RSS and Atom feeds at your fingertips.

Stay in sync
When you read an item, it stays read. The same goes for the items you star: Byline will let Google Reader know the next time you have an internet connection.

Browse offline
Even when you have no internet connection, Byline’s offline browsing feature gives you instant access to complete web pages.
Perfect for flights, subway journeys, and (if you’re an iPod Touch owner) those long dry spells between Wi-Fi zones.
Byline will cache the web pages linked to by your notes, starred items, and (optionally) new items. This allows you to save any news item you read and any website you visit for offline browsing.

Here are some screenshots:

The offline capability is great for consuming comics in the subway ride or during those long, boring flights:

Byline is now the most utilized 3rd party app on my iPhone. To save on the meager data plans available in Canada, you may want to turn the “Cache by Wi-Fi Only” on. I typically synch it a few times a day, just before leaving home in the morning and whenever I drop by a coffee shop during the day. If you work close to the CN Tower in Toronto, the Timothy’s store there now offers free Internet for patrons.








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