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 / Autumn 2006 / Issue 44(originally published by Booz & Company)


Books in Brief

The authors contend that, at all costs, you must avoid walking into the new job on Day One and doing what the incumbent leaders say you must do. By working hard during the “fuzzy front end,” you can ensure that the risks of taking the new position are assessed from three vantage points: those of the organization, your role in it, and you personally. Much of this work is best done even while considering the opportunity, as it’s much easier to walk away before you’ve accepted an offer. Once the job is yours, further work is required to ensure that you “take control of Day One” and make a powerful first impression with actions that support your agenda. This is where the thoughtful choice of locations (e.g., which of your division’s offices you visit), signs (e.g., how you dress), and symbols (e.g., who you talk to) counts; bear in mind that acts of omission may speak louder than actions taken. Of course, if you haven’t done your homework before Day One, you won’t have an agenda and your actions may be only distantly related to what will become the organizational priorities.

The ideas in The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan will be familiar to most managers, and the book is probably best suited to young managers taking a leadership role for the first time. More seasoned veterans, however, might find it a helpful aide-mémoire.

Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change
By Bob Seidensticker
Berrett-Koehler, 2006
272 pages, $15.95

Software expert Bob Seidensticker began his research into technology change during an eight-year stint at Microsoft. In Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change, he offers a balanced, historical perspective that is a useful antidote to the widespread, often uncritical hype about the pace of and prospects for such change.

Of the nine myths he debunks, the first two are the inevitability of exponential change — with change always increasing at progressively greater rates — and the predetermined success of new technologies. He makes it clear that, even for successful innovations, the rate of change usually follows the S-shaped logistics curve, with long lags between invention and takeoff and with extended bursts of growth followed by declines. Markets may become saturated, consumers may be unable to make use of additional features, there may be social resistance to the new technology, or innovations may fail for many other reasons. Although an exponential process — Moore’s Law — governs the rate at which the power of the microprocessor grows, doubling every 18 months, improvements in the functionality of computers have not advanced correspondingly. Ten years from now, with supercomputer equivalents on our desktops, it’s likely we’ll still be coping with spam in our e-mail inboxes.

Even successful technology is rarely an unalloyed benefit. It usually performs some features of the required job at the expense of others, it may have unintended consequences — think software bugs and viruses — and the technology itself often requires substantial maintenance. The Internet hasn’t “changed everything,” Mr. Seidensticker asserts, pointing out that, for at least the past few centuries, important information has always had an outlet and much of the new information is less valuable than the old. As he puts it, “Some Internet applications are important, such as e-mail, research, company Web sites, and e-commerce. Some are new, such as connecting members of obscure hobbies or finding buyers for used goods. But the important applications aren’t new and the new ones aren’t important.”

The fact is that humankind has long used technology to satisfy its essential physical needs — clothing, shelter, heat, safe food and water, health, and safety — and the latest technologies cater to higher-level but less critical needs. The author illustrates this with a helpful pyramidal diagram based on Abraham Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of human needs. Although many of the individual observations about technological change have been made in the past by others (which simply reinforces the author’s point about the value of old information), it is helpful to have all that curmudgeonly skepticism combined here into a coherent single book.

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