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Published: May 29, 2007

 
 

Chronicling the Future

The Power of Possibility
Perhaps because tech entrepreneurs tend to be idealists (whereas Wall Street machers tend to be cynics), some of the most influential writings about the modern technology business are paeans to opportunity and possibility, rather than dramatic accounts of mendacity and hubris. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger and distributed online (and later as a book), is a set of 95 theses that suggest how businesses need to adapt to an interconnected world. Deliberately cast in revolutionary terms, it’s perhaps the best exemplar of a certain way of thinking about the larger business meaning of the rise of the Web, and it remains influential today. In a similar spirit, an essay called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” by Eric S. Raymond, published in 2001 in a collection with the same name, serves as a manifesto for the open source software movement and why it’s often a better way of doing things. (See “The Ignorance of Crowds,” by Nicholas G. Carr, s+b Summer 2007.) Open source was a fringe movement when the piece was written, in 1997; however, it’s anything but that today.

Although the inspirational literature tends to deride big, established companies for their conservatism, an influential 1997 book called The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, takes a somewhat different view. The financial mechanics of large corporations essentially make it impossible for them to fundamentally change their products and strategies — or rather, those mechanics render such changes unwise. The chance that a new business will be as successful and profitable as a successful and profitable existing business is very small, and therefore capital expended on such new initiatives is not being used in an optimal fashion. Thus the dilemma is created, and it’s one that corporate managers will face for the rest of their days.

There is a huge corpus of management literature about technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation. If you want to read just one book of this type, I recommend Andrew S. Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career. The former Intel CEO is a gifted writer; his memoir, Swimming Across, has nothing to do with technology but is a wonderful book, and his management theories come from frontline experience. As an entrepreneur, I don’t have much use for advice from people who have never been entrepreneurs. But I’ll listen to Andy Grove any day.

Best of the Blogs
Now that you have all that history under your belt, what should you have on your daily reading list? For starters, you should read a handful of blogs, if for no other reason than everyone else in the tech business is reading them. Michael Arrington’s Techcrunch has become the dominant referee of what’s hot among new tech companies, and Rafat Ali’s Paid Content is the comprehensive source for what’s happening today in the most dynamic sector, the Internet media business. BuzzMachine, by Jeff Jarvis, is my favorite read among the new media blogs: A veteran editor and journalist, Jarvis has drunk the Kool-Aid in a serious way and campaigns hard against business-as-usual in the journalism business and in favor of newfangled forms of “people media.” If telecom’s your thing, read Om Malik’s GigaOM or the trade journal Light Reading. For all things search-related, there’s John Battelle’s Searchblog (his 2005 book about Google and the search economy, The Search, is the best of that breed), and Danny Sullivan’s SearchEngineWatch.

 
 
 
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Silicon Valley Resources
Works mentioned in this review.

  1. Tom Wolfe, “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce,” Esquire, December 1983. Click here.
  2. Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer (1984; McGraw-Hill, 1999), 488 pages
  3. John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (Viking, 2005), 336 pages
  4. Douglas Smith and Robert Alexander, Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer (W. Morrow, 1988), 274 pages
  5. Michael Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (HarperBusiness, 2000), 480 pages
  6. David Owen, Copies in Seconds: Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machine (Simon and Schuster, 2004), 306 pages
  7. Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine (Back Bay Books, 1981), 320 pages
  8. Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (Simon and Schuster, 1996), 304 pages
  9. Michael Wolff, Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet (Simon and Schuster, 1998), 268 pages
  10. Charles H. Ferguson, High Stakes, No Prisoners: A Winner’s Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars (Time Business, 1999), 400 pages
  11. John Walker, editor, The Autodesk File: Bits of History, Words of Experience (New Riders, 1989), 538 pages
  12. Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual (Perseus, 2000), 212 pages
  13. Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (O’Reilly Media, 2001), 256 pages
  14. Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Harvard Business School Press, 1997), 276 pages
  15. Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company and Career (Currency Doubleday, 1996), 222 pages
 
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