Disruptive technologies bring us full circle to Nicholas Carr. Before the publication of his current volume, Carr generated controversy with Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). In it Carr suggested that IT was well on its way to becoming a “commodity technology.” The idea that IT had become merely an ante in the game of business, rather than a winning hand, understandably outraged many denizens within this sector. They were, after all, still reeling from the tech-led recession in 2001 and 2002 when the book arrived.
When Steve Lohr, a technology reporter for the New York Times, looked at the book in his Knowledge Review in the Summer 2004 issue, he found flaws, saying that “Carr’s desire to fit everything neatly into his thesis leads him astray” and his “thesis is often the same kind of straitjacket of standardization that packaged software, as he says, is for companies.” But Lohr found Carr’s indictment of “faith-based investment in technology” spot on. “The value is not in the bits and bytes,” concluded Lohr, “but up a few levels in the minds of the skilled businesspeople using the tools. Large chunks of the technology may be commoditizing, but how you use it isn’t. That is where competitive advantage resides.”
The same can be said for books. Books probably won’t disappear anytime soon, but their real value is not in their pages. It is in the minds of managers and how they put what they read to use. The best insights being codified in the best business books and then deployed thoughtfully is the way that management knowledge develops these days — and books are therefore one of the great vehicles of progress in our world.
- Theodore Kinni is senior editor for books at strategy+business. He has written or collaborated on 13 business books.