Category Archives: Books & Reviews


I don’t take a lot of vacation days.  Part of it is the nature of work… about the time I want time off, we are often short staffed.  The bigger issue is me.  I don’t enjoy vacations very much and it’s something that I have worked on more as I have gotten older.

This week Mark and I are up at the lake for a couple of days of male bonding before Wendy comes up this weekend with Oliver.  The weather has been hot but I don’t have a huge to do list.  Well I had a big to do list but I was reminded this summer but a friend of ours that he spent so much time finishing their family cabin, he didn’t enjoy it as much has he should have.  So Mark and I have cooked meals over an open fire, taken Maggi swimming a lot, and hung out reading.

Sergio: One Man's Fight to Save the World So far this week I have read Samantha Power’s captivating book, Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World about Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations diplomat who was described as being a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy.  His resume took him from Bangladesh to East Timor to eventually Iraq (where he was killed) in his attempts to bring about peace, alleviate human suffering, and bring hope and security to those that have none. 

What struck me as I read it is he was a flawed man (terrible womanizer), who made big compromises and mistakes (befriending more than one person accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his attempt to bring about peace), yet consistently learned from them and adapted to new challenges.  I was contrasting him to what I had been taught about leadership which says that it requires perfect character and looks down on compromise and has people scorning or ignoring their enemies.   There is also the aspect of how contextual what we have learned really is.  What works well in one situation won’t work well in another situation.

Finally, this is shown by Sergio Vleira de Mello’s life and Samantha Power’s worldview and writing but the world’s problems require nuance, understanding of complex factors, and a wider view of context than is often given (MacNamara’s description of the misunderstanding of the nature of the Vietnam War comes to mind as an overly narrow understanding of a conflict).

Now back to the vacation.  Mark was engrossed by The Hardy Boys and is looking forward to a late night session of playing his PSP.  We tried to go swimming today but the algae was so gross that Maggi is a bright green shade right now, despite having given her a shower (it was as bad as it sounds).

Other by Kester Brewin

Other by Kester BrewinKester Brewin released his latest book Other.  It’s only available in the U.K. right now but if you want to pay the Canadian government a lot of fees, you can get it shipped here (I paid more in taxes and fees for The Complex Christ than I did for the book but it was worth it).

I am pretty excited about this book because The Complex Christ forced me to rethink much of how I saw the world, looked at history, and read the Scriptures.  While Brewin writes theology, his writing extends my thinking beyond where it has gone before.  I rate him up with Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell, and Steven Johnson as people that have helped constantly reinvent my world view.  I can’t wait until my copy gets here (the fees alone should erase Canada’s deficit).

Jesus Manifesto

Jesus Manifesto Thomas Nelson is releasing a new book called Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. This book will be on special discount from on June 1st, the date of the release.

I got to know Frank Viola a little bit at Soularize in the Bahamas and I have long enjoyed and appreciated his writings since Spencer Burke started to go on and on about his writings almost a decade ago.  Of course over the years Leonard Sweet has influenced and formed my spiritual praxis as much as any theologian.

E vs. ink

My friend Karen posted some thoughts on Twitter about ebooks and readers.

Been thinking about how e-books/Ipad exclude poorer readers. Continued…. Folks with literacy/soc. justice concerns should keep zines/broadsheet etc. in mind. If medium is message, cost of readers excludes many.

It would easy to dismiss Karen’s thoughts because of her history with paper but she has a good point.  A Sony Reader ranges in price from $240 in Futureshop ($179 online) to $149 at Wal-MartChapters is promoting a new reader for $149.00 which isn’t that bad except you realize that a) that is all you can do with it and b) I am buying it so I can buy new books.  I am paying $199 (or $259 if I am looking for a Kindle) so I can spend even more money to use it.

Most of our gadgets are like that.

In our household right now, we have:

  • 2 Sony PSPs and games are anywhere from $15 to $40
  • 3 iPods and songs are $.99 to $1.29 but we can use our own CDs to rip music.  Apps range from free to $4.
  • 1 PS2 and games are $10 and $25
  • 1 Nintendo Wii and games are from $20 to $60 (yet all have come from Lee).

So what’s the difference.  Well I don’t think you can compare Backyard Football or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to books and education.  My quality of life is not reduced because I don’t have a PS3 at all but my quality of life is greatly reduced by lack of access to books and news media.  Low cost news media serves several important functions in our families life outside of the obvious.

While driving to the cabin a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in Watrous (at Pip’s Esso) for a snack and grabbed a copy of Popular Mechanics and tossed it the backseat for Mark to read on the way up there.  It opened up his mind to several things as he poured over both the articles and the ads.  How many times has all of our lives been enriched by someone doing something similar.  A lot of my spring reading was done by people wandering in to my office and tossing a book on my desk and saying, “you will like this”.  With publishers and their DRM restrictions, you can’t do that.  Even if Wendy and I both get Sony Readers, we can’t share a book.

Reader Store screen capture Everyone is touting Google Books as the answer.  Even Sony has a link to Google Books on the front of their Reader Store.  I have spent hours going through there looking for books to download.  Most of the books you can download in ePub format for free are in the public domain and therefore really cheap to get at Indigo/Chapters/used book store in paper.  Sadly even many of them are not available because of the edition they scanned it from has restrictions on use and you are left with a snippet of what is available.

So even if I do purchase it and really like it, how do I make sure Mark can read it other than giving him my reader.  Even if we bought a reader for him, I can’t transfer it to him there.  Everyone has been fawning over the new iPad app from Marvel and it is very cool but Cory Doctorow makes this point about the iPad but he could be talking about any ebook reader.

Marvel app for the iPad I mean, look at that Marvel app (just look at it). I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them. If there was ever a medium that relied on kids swapping their purchases around to build an audience, it was comics. And the used market for comics! It was — and is — huge, and vital. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone spelunking in the used comic-bins at a great and musty store to find back issues that I’d missed, or sample new titles on the cheap. (It’s part of a multigenerational tradition in my family — my mom’s father used to take her and her sibs down to Dragon Lady Comics on Queen Street in Toronto every weekend to swap their old comics for credit and get new ones).

So what does Marvel do to "enhance" its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvellous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites. Nice one, Misney.

That’s what I am realizing that we are losing.  Books, comics, and papers are part of the social ties that bind people together in communities.  Around work, the Star Phoenix is a communal paper.  It is read together, digested together, shared, it’s flyers are passed around and deals discussed.  Also, it gets treated as exactly as what Karen is talking about.

Well, we aren’t going to turn back time and to be honest, many publishers are banking everything on the iPad to save them (anyone else find it an odd coincidence that the financially struggling New York Times is features so prominently in Apple advertising)  As I was thinking seriously about buying a ebook reader this week, I took a step back from the side of the cliff and asked myself if what I am losing more than what I was getting and I had to admit it was.  From a design and an engineering point of view, the iPad/Kindle is a great piece of technology and a lot of fun (and yes I know the iPad comparison isn’t fair as it isn’t really designed as a book reader but rather a tablet computer).  Is it good enough to stop supporting a local bookstore (although Indigo/Chapters made those pretty rare in Canada) or lose the social element of reading and learning as an entire community.

So in the end, I continue to support print magazines.  For the record, those include National Geographic, Explore Magazine, Mountain Bike Action, Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic Monthly and The Walrus via subscription or purchasing one monthly at McNally Robinson.  While I only read The Star Phoenix online, we do subscribe at home (where Mark reads it with me every evening) and at work.

The Gamble

While at the cabin this week I finished off Chris Czajkowski’s book, Cabin at Singing River, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, and Thomas Rick’s The Gamble. It was a good day to spend with three of my favorite authors on some pretty diverse topics.

Thomas E. Ricks, The Gamble Here are some thoughts that I had while reading The Gamble, some of them may be more inflammatory than others.

  • Where was the U.S. media on reporting some of the murders and rape of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers?  Part of what makes a democracy work is a rigorous and independent press and either the media in Iraq failed miserably or the controls placed upon them by the Pentagon made it impossible for them to do their jobs.  From what I remember, the deteriorating security of Iraq made it very dangerous for media during 2005 and 2006 to leave the Green Zone which would have lead to very poor reporting.
  • The book talks a lot about General David Petraeus (with good reason) but are you telling me that he was the only American general who understood that they were waging a counter insurgency, especially after the American failure in Vietnam?  It was a little unreal to read that it was Petraeus that brought all of the military historians together for discussions at Fort Leavensworth about how to fight a counter insurgency war.  The book describes a rather disorganized and poorly lead general staff that is really slow to learn from it’s mistakes and adapt to new realities.  As I type this statement, I realize it’s not the first time I have thought this and I think back to Len Deighton’s excellent book, Blood, Sweat and Folly where he describes both Germany, Italy, and England in the first couple of years of World War II seemingly both wanting to lose WWII.  So maybe the American generals are just following in the proud traditions of generals for centuries.
  • Leopard II tank Watching some media reports the last couple of weeks about the Canadian efforts in Kandahar sound a lot like Fiasco and the early part of Fiasco.  Canadian troops riding around on Leopard tanks while heading back to their base at night doesn’t sound like a counter insurgency campaign.  It’s times like this where I would love to hear Scott Taylor’s insights on how the Canadian military strategy is working there.  (he has some good thoughts here).  This paper states that Canada has taken a combative rather than a counter insurgency role in Afghanistan.
  • I am always amazed by the U.S. Army’s leadership to learn from best practices from other units.  Here was Petraeus leading the 101st Airborne Division and having a lot of success with insurgents by not using tanks and artillery while you have other units suffering increasing casualties while using heavy equipment.  Once locked into a strategy, American commanders only seemed to be capable of escalating their strategy.
  • Why does America (and other countries) promote generals who were not successful.  As Lt. Col. Paul Yingling says "A private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."

So I am left with the idea that despite a very highly educated general corps, institutions like West Point, the Command and General Staff College, the National Defense University, National War College, U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, and the War College, which have all increased the professionalism in the military but I also wonder if it has contributed to an over reliance on what they know about past wars rather than adapting to present ones.  Of course another issue is that like a lot of institutions that demand conformity, free thinking is probably bad for your career in the Army and other services so by the time one was able to make a difference in strategy and tactics, perhaps the ability to do so has been lost.

The book also left with the uncomfortable question of what would happen if someone else had been promoted in Petraeus’ place to Fort Leavensworth and instead of re-evaluating and reimagining what needed to be done in Iraq, they had stayed the course of withdrawing and handling the conflict with big weapons and increased violence. 

This was kind of an open ended post.  Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

To e or not to e

I am trying to figure out if I want to purchase an e-book reader.  Actually I am trying to decide if I want to pressure Wendy to get me an e-book reader for my birthday.

The three main choices seem to be:

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is finally available and functional in Canada.  It’s has a six inch screen, I can read newspapers and magazines on it, and of course I can subscribe to some blogs on it.

Here are the highlights

  • Slim: Just over 1/3 of an inch, as thin as most magazines
  • Lightweight: At 10.2 ounces, lighter than a typical paperback
  • Books in Under 60 Seconds: Get books delivered wirelessly in less than 60 seconds; no PC required
  • 3G Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle; no annual contracts, no monthly fees, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Global Coverage: Enjoy 3G wireless coverage at home or abroad in over 100 countries. See details. Check wireless coverage map.
  • Paper-Like Display: Reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight
  • Carry Your Library: Holds up to 1,500 books
  • Longer Battery Life: Now read for up to 1 week on a single charge with wireless on, a significant improvement from the previous battery life of 4 days
  • Built-In PDF Reader: Your Kindle can now display PDF documents natively. Native PDF support allows you to carry and read all of your personal and professional documents on the go.
  • Read-to-Me: With the experimental Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable
  • Free Book Samples: Download and read first chapters for free before you decide to buy
  • Large Selection: Over 400,000 books, including 101 of 112 New York Times® Best Sellers, plus U.S. and international newspapers, magazines, and blogs. For non-U.S. customers, content availability and pricing will vary. Check your country.
  • Low Book Prices: New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are $9.99, unless marked otherwise. When traveling abroad, you can download books wirelessly from the Kindle Store or your Archived Items. U.S. customers will be charged a fee of $1.99 for international downloads.

Of course what has really gotten me excited about the Kindle is the apps that will be coming.  The ability to blog, Tweet, or do other things from this device would make it exponentially better.

The Sony Reader

I hadn’t really thought of the Sony Reader until Warren Kinsella talked about his Christmas gift on his blog.

I got Sony’s gadget for Christmas, and I haven’t put it down yet. Right now, I’m re-re-reading Vonnegut stuff, and plan to re-read The Great Gatsby.

The eReader lets you download books super-cheap – sometimes free, for the classics – and then upload them to the eReader through an iTunes-like interface.

It’s easy to read, and you can increase the font size if (like me) your eyes are getting a bit older. You can load music on it, and even photos (but they’ll be in a quaint black and white).

It’s gotten me reading fiction again, big time. I don’t know why. A gentleman spotted me using it this week, and we chatted about it, and I told him it makes reading funner. (I didn’t say funner, however, I said something else, which my sleep-deprived hockey Dad brain now forgets). It’s easy to carry around, among other things.

I don’t know anything about the Amazon Kindle, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool, too. There’s lots of AppleBuzz about Steve Job’s tablet thingie, per usual.

The old-fashioned way of reading books is swell, of course, and has the added advantage of being bathtub-friendly. They also don’t require re-charging.

I just wanted to opine that these new devices are pretty neat. And anything that makes reading easier is a good thing, no?

Sony Reader

The reviews talk about a two week battery life and there is a general consensus that the Sony ebook store is less expensive then the Amazon one.  When you purchase as many books as I do, that is a big deal.  They both have six inch screens and weigh about the same and in Canada I need to use Wifi to download books.  The Kindle has a keyboard but the Sony Reader has a tough screen.   Of course the Kindle has apps coming and Sony has never embraced the idea of apps for it’s PSP so I doubt it would for the Reader.  Of course one of the reasons I love to read a book is that it takes me away from technology so perhaps a Twitter free Sony Reader is a plus, not a negative.

Another big plus for the Sony Reader is that it has access to the entire Google Books library.  With the Kindle, you (or I) am locked into Amazon.  The Sony Reader has a bigger world.

Here is the feature summary

The Kindle 2 vs the Sony Reader

PC World thinks that the Sony Reader has the advantage over the Kindle.

Here is my dilemma.  Most of the books I read, I don’t care if I ever read them again.  While some of been lovingly published (the BLDGBlog Book comes to mind), much of them are poorly bound, edited and even written.  While I care as a book as piece of art, I don’t care that much for books as paper and ink. I read them and give them away.  For those books, I would love a ebook reader.

I have a small house and need to literally give away 600-700 books for the space they take up.  A device that allows me to store books internally or with a SD card is my friend.

Of course there is the iTablet but I find Apple stuff really overpriced at launch as you Apple nerds rush out to get them and when I want to read, I don’t want to watch a movie. So while Darryl Dash keeps the share price of Apple strong, I ask the question… Kindle or Sony Reader?

What did you read this summer?

I never read much this summer (compared to other summers at least) but I did get some reading done.  Here is the list. 

So what did you read?  Any recommendations for the fall?

Bill Kinnon on writing

Bill has a wonderful post on writing.  The entire thing is worth reading but this one got me thinking

In 2004, Nielsen BookScan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books and found that nine hundred and fifty thousand of them sold fewer than ninety-nine copies.

So we are looking at author royalties of a couple hundred bucks and a couple of conference speaking gigs.  In the end is it worth the effort?

Bill’s prescription to the cure is to write better stories and he is dead on correct (although writing stories is harder than it sounds, check out this editorial review from .  Like a lot of bloggers, I get a lot of books sent to me by almost every major publishing house.  In fact two came today and both of them look horrible.  In fact 99% of the books that I see coming my way, including many by friends are horrible.  They are poorly researched, not fact checked (if you are going to use history or science as an illustration, do your homework people!)  It’s one of the reasons why I no longer talk about theological titles here, so many of them aren’t worth my time to read and when I do read them, I am confronted by the fact that these are three hours I will never get back.  Do I keep wasting time on this or move on?  I generally find something by Michael Lewis or Steven Johnson and move on (which proves Bill’s point).

My suggestion for a lot of writers is not to bother writing a book period.  Forget the conferences, forget the interviews on Christian radio, forget the church basement book signings.  Instead throw your efforts into whatever it is that you are good at.  Chances are your ideas are intrinsically linked to your personality and your context and not as transferable as you would think.   That’s why even if I lost some weight and got a blond wig and a sailboat, I still couldn’t lead like Bill Hybels.  The reason isn’t that I didn’t mention his golf shirts (and let’s be honest, he has some nice golf shirts), it is that I am not Bill Hybels and I live in Saskatoon, not South Barrington.

Secondly, is the time away from doing what you do well or time away from learning something that you don’t do well, worth 1000 book sales and $5,000 in royalties?  Is the mini-book tour worth it?  Is the time spamming your friends worth it? What about moderating message boards on, and trying to get people to fan you on Facebook worth it? 

Thirdly, is giving the copyright of you idea to your publisher worth it?  Especially in the church I don’t know why we don’t see more writers open sourcing their content.  If you believe your idea came from the Holy Spirit, does turning that over to FOX (though Zondervan) seem to be the best course of action?  If you want to publish at least consider negotiating so your book is published under a Creative Commons license.

I have heard Michael Slaughter of Ginghamsburg talk about writing being the best way to influence people and in some ways he is right but as Bill Kinnon pointed out, is less then 100 copies influencing anyone other than your closest friends?

Would the time be better of spent writing a blog (and then doing what Guy Kawasaki did and put it out as a book), doing an excellent series of videos on YouTube which tell your story (great example of this here or here – what either of these stories be as compelling in book form?), or what about creating a world class webcast like what Spencer Burke did with or an excellent podcast?  If you are committed to writing, why not introduce your ideas to communities like TheOoze or Next-Wave

I like Rob Bell’s writing but if I was him and had to choose between writing and Nooma, I would choose Nooma. Also wouldn’t the time be better spent putting it into whatever made you think you should write about it.  I am not being flippant.  I remember the great line in Jim Collins’ book Built to Last where he talks about Lee Iacocca being distracted from running Chrysler because he was too busy being Lee Iacocca.

Finally, I know the church goes on and on about visionary leadership and visionary pastors and everyone including the pastors dog is a visionary (Maggi is visioning a piece of pizza as I type) but there have few game changing ideas that I have read in the last decade.  Most of it is regurgitated stuff and doesn’t need to see the light of day again.  Maybe the best use of our time would be coming up with some new ideas, instead of repackaging some old ones.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

I finally finished The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson last weekend.  I was 20 pages into it when it got left up at the cabin for a couple of weeks.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson The book is centered on the life of Joseph Priestley, the 18th-century British natural philosopher (or amateur scientist) who most people know as the discoverer of oxygen.  Back in 1771, he was the first person to realize that plants were creating oxygen. This places Priestley at the centre of the understanding about ecosystems: the air we breathe is not some inevitable fact of life on earth, but something manufactured as part of a wider system by other organisms on the planet.   Priestly wasn’t just a scientist but is a connecter.  He connects and build friendships with the American Founding Fathers in all sorts of ways: he was best friends with Franklin for the last ten years or so that Benjamin Franklin lived in London, and his writings on religion had the single most dramatic impact on Thomas Jefferson’s Christianity.

Priestley’s radicalism ends up provoking the Birmingham Riots of 1791, which ultimately drive him to emigrate to America, where he becomes a central figure in the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the falling out — and ultimate reconciliation — between John Adams and Jefferson.

To give you some sense of his role: in the final correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, starting in 1812, Priestley is mentioned 52 times, while Franklin is mentioned five times, and Washington only three.

I was also fascinated by the idea of leisure time in the book.  The people mentioned in it were able to dedicate time to science, writing, and big ideas because they had the time to do it.  Priestly was a pastor, Franklin was a deputy postmaster, and all of the Club of Honest Whigs had enough free time to experiment, read, and debate into the night at least one week at a local pub.

The results were spectacular.  Not only did Priestly, Franklin and others bring in the inventions and technology that helped fuel the industrial revolution in England, they shared that knowledge with the world.   Priestly was a searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory.

He had time to do so because of the freedom his church gave him and later he was supported by a wealthy benefactor who supported his experiments.  Later in his life he set up a network of private donors to pay small sums to support his work, an idea that was used by Ben Saunders as he raised money for his Scott Antarctic Expedition.

I think of my pastor/theologian/contemplative/activist friends and wonder what they could come up with if they had 50 hours a week to dedicate to study and learning rather than meetings, marking papers, and fielding complaints and instead dedicate that time to figuring out the problems of our time.

Now in the late 1700s, Priestly’s sermon was his only distraction from his research but I wonder what the impact would be if churches followed Google’s lead and offered a 80/20 solution where 20% of ones time could be spent pursuing other projects approved by the church. Is it going to lead to a scientific revolution?  I doubt it but it could lead to a revolution in film making, a new understanding about urban communities, an engagement with the contemplative life, or maybe the launch of a sports league or team for inner city youth.  Years ago I listened to Dr. Charles Nienkirchen give a talk about clergy and the spiritual journey in which he suggested taking once a month for pastors to take a “spiritual day” and retreat from the office and go find some silence in which to listen.  This is kind of similar but the difference would be the idea to go and create.  Not for your own good but the good of the greater community.

There are a lot of great ideas in the book, too many to explore here.  For those of you who are from south of the border, you will be interested in his influence on the Founding Fathers and there are some great stories on the spread of ideas long before copyright ruled the earth.  It also offers some insight into the early debates about the American experiment and those that were carrying it out.

Johnson paints Priestley as the sort of figure the world needs more than ever: A searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory.  Priestley, who survived riots, threats of prosecution and other hardships and yet never doubted that "the world was headed naturally toward an increase in liberty and understanding."  I am not sure some days if we are headed towards an increase of liberty and understanding or as Jane Jacobs suggests, a coming dark age but the book articulates the importance in striving towards something better.

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis I picked up Liar’s Poker on Friday while wandering through Indigo.  I was wandering through another section of the store and something went off in my head which said, “I wonder if they have a paperback of Liar’s Poker in here”.  They did and I read it last night.

The story is of Michael Lewis’ career at Salomon Brothers as a bond trader in London but it is also a biography of Salomon Brothers during the 1980s.

Mike Todd left a comment telling me, “I must have read Liar’s Poker 10 times”.  No word on whether or not Mike was a Big Swinging Dick during his time on Bay Street though.  I am nine times behind Mike but I could see myself catching up.  Of course I have read another book by Michael lewis, Moneyball at least a dozen times in case the Blue Jays finally get tired of J.P. Ricciardi and need my help in the General Manager’s office.

The book is interesting as it documents the planting of the seeds which would over two decades later become the foundation of the sub-prime meltdown.  In March 2008, Nobel Prize laureate in Economics Robert Mundell named one of the major character in the book inserted Lewis Ranieri among the "Five Goats Who Contributed to the Financial Crisis" of 2008.

What struck me is how do companies get this large when they are managed so poorly.  The book kind of answers that.  They get lucky for a time in attracting brilliant managers and leaders but eventually the ineptitude of the upper managers overcomes the brilliance of those underneath them and they slide back to their state before the hot streak.  As Lewis points out, they got into trading mortgage bonds at the right time combined with the problems with the Savings and Loans crisis and they won big.  There was no corporate brilliance, only capitalizing on luck, timing, and some foresight by middle managers.  When the timing, circumstances, or luck changed, Salomon Brothers seemed unable to be able to cope with them and the firm suffered a slow demise until later bought, sold and bought and sold again.  Now it is a division of Citi Group and what was once the most powerful firm on Wall Street, doesn’t even have a logo to be found by Google Images.  It’s gone.

In the end it reinforces the idea that we need to pay a lot more to the context in which success happens; on Wall Street, in a fast growing church, a fast expanding franchise… before we hold them up as an example of what to do or decide to wait and see and take a longer term view on what is going on.

The book has been re-released by Penguin and if you want to see where the crisis of 2008 started, Liar’s Poker is a good place to start.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin

I decided to pick up Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us.  I don’t generally read business or leadership books any more but I have enjoyed Seth Godin’s books in the past so I decided to grab a copy while I was in Indigo.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth GodinA tribe is a group of people connected around an idea, dream or a vision (it was also a great video game in it’s time but that’s off the topic).   Note that I didn’t say vision statement.  Everyone has a vision statement.  Marketing campaigns for Old Spice have vision statements.  Godin is talking about a group of true believers.  Think Apple fanatics or followers of Barack Obama.  The vision needs to be passionate and paint a picture of the future. Believing in that vision of the future is critical to getting things done and innovating.  Since the vision of the future is often different than what most people see it as (or hope it will be), it puts the members of the tribe out of the mainstream and at odds with the status quo.  Godin (and the western church) refers to them as heretics.   These heretics undermine established systems, question the way things are and constantly push everyone around them now towards into what they believe the future will be like and what’s needed in that future. 

In other words they are are pain to be around because in many organizations because they chafe against the established norms.  The heretics don’t appreciate most systems or established organizational procedures or structures.  In these ways the book echoes what Malcolm Gladwell is talking about in Outliers.  It is often harder for those inside organizations (and therefore harder to buck the system they are familiar with) to bring out (or even see) the change needed to innovate.

Apple Inc. logo Heretics don’t need the blessing of the sanctioning body (corporate headquarters or a denomination) to lead.  The vision of the future and passion for the community around it is what gives them permission to lead.  They care more about the idea than the market.  In many ways it reminded me of an article I read about Steve Wozniak talking about the Mac.  He took the lack of market penetration as a sign of the Mac’s supremacy.  Apple didn’t need the adoration of the market to make a computer, they needed the adoration of the tribe, those who got what a superior computer was all about.

Tribes are easier to start today because communication barriers have drop.  With the web it is easier to create a wider geographical tribe (Resonate, Emergent Village, or even something like what Robert Scoble is doing with Fast – he is a one person network).  The ease that it takes to spread an idea is exponentially easier than it was a generation or even a decade ago.  Not only that but if you look at something like Wikipedia, it is easier to bring people together around an idea irregardless of geography.  It’s more than communication, it’s also about the community that grows around the idea.  Nurturing that may well determine whether or not an idea thrives or dies. 

Software companies have slit their own throats but upsetting their developers (which are occasional competitors).  Sometimes the good of the idea may be at odds with the good of the tribe.  Learning to balance, resolve, or address this tension is a leaders hardest task at times.

I generally give away books on leadership but this one I plan to tuck away to read again another day.  My tribe deserves that.  That and I have something big to start.

Jared Diamond

Wendy, myself and about 1500 people went and saw Jared Diamond at TCU Place tonight.  He was what I expected.  Witty, gracious, concise, and profound.  He talked mostly of his work in Collapse but offered up some thoughts on the global economic collapse and global warming.  Sadly for a lot of defeated Liberal candidates, he offered up the best apologetic of the Green Shift that I have heard.  Too bad it came out now instead of prior to election day as it would have contributed greatly to the election debate.

I have some more thoughts on his talk and his book Collapse but that is for another night.  Tonight I need some sleep.