David Chappell


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Late Summer Books  
# Monday, August 29, 2005
The end of summer is a great time to catch up on reading. Some of these books I first read a while ago and decided to revisit, others were first-timers. In either case, they were all well worth my time.

If you work in software and haven’t yet read Michael Cusumano’s The Business of Software, stop what you’re doing and order it right now. His take on how the enterprise software industry works should be part of everybody’s perspective. For my money, he’s the most consistently interesting academic (he’s a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management) focused on the software business. I’ll read anything he writes.

One of the few books from the bubble years (dot-com, not housing) that still has more than historical interest is Information Rules by Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian. In part, I suppose, because I began my professional career in economics, the basic principles of information economics the authors lay out struck me as memorable and valuable. (I also admit to a bias toward books that quote articles I've written.) A more recent book by the same authors on this topic is The Economics of Information Technology: An Introduction. This one is targeted at graduate students and advanced undergrads, so it’s somewhat heavier reading than Information Rules. The upside is that it was published last year, so the authors provide a more recent perspective. It’s also short: just over a hundred pages.

I like big pictures, and Daniel Pink paints one of the biggest in A Whole New Mind. Arguing that three A’s—Abundance, Asia, and Automation—have radically reshaped an information worker’s world, Pink says that the value of raw knowledge is rapidly declining. Instead, he asserts, we need to improve our skills at things like the ability to convey facts in an emotional context (which he calls “Story”), to synthesize big pictures (“Symphony”), and to see from the perspective of others (“Empathy”). It’s a touchy-feely book, not one rooted in objective research, but it certainly inspired me to think new thoughts about how to be in a changing world.

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