Thursday, January 15, 2009

TED Book Club Selections

It's that time of year when I start getting excited about heading to TED - and when friends and relatives start dreading the bombardment of new ideas I'll spout after being there. As a warm-up for this year's blogging, here's a list of the latest books from the TED book club. I'd be delighted to start seeing some comments on this blog - perhaps people have read these books and would add their comments on the books?

Tribes, by Seth Godin
Godin is best known for his marketing book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. This proposes that to get your message across in today's world of message saturation, you have to make your products and services as remarkable as a purple cow in a field of Guernseys.
In Tribes, he proposes that anyone can be a leader, by leveraging the Internet to connect a passionate group of people to your idea and to you as a leader.
I've been fascinated by the story of how new media was used in the Obama campaign, in a presentation by Rahaf Harfoush, a young Canadian woman who worked there. The founder of Facebook led the development of tools that enabled any iPhone user to function as a field office, and any PC user to turn her house into a full campaign office. Rahaf said the campaign was successful in using these tools because Obama 'got it', because they were open and supportive in promoting good work by people outside the campaign (typified by the 27M views of's video published on YouTube), and the clarity and consistency of the campaign message which meant these outside collaborators' efforts were 'on' message. Too bad Godin's book was published too early to document this most spectacular of tribes.
Tribes is a very light book - small pages and not many of them. It's also a bit repetitive. But it does read like a breeze and it's a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Godin is speaking at TED this year, so I hope to add more on these ideas from TED.

The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone: Reflections on Idea, the Emerging 21st Century Power, by Shashi Tharoor

I'm anxious to read this book, both because I love TED's suggestions in general and because of my fascination with India. The book blurb says the book described the 'vast changes that have recently transformed this once sleeping giant into a world leader in the realms of science and technology, a nation once poverty stricken that now boasts a middle class of over 300 million people.' A review characterizes the many pieces in the book as 'quick, sketchy takes on Indian cultural touchstones, from political corruption to Bollywood to cricket.' They comment on his 'ready wit' - an Indian without a horoscope is like an American without a credit card!

McMafia: A Journey through the Global Criminal World, by Misha Glenny
Now here's a book I wouldn't have picked up if it weren't sent by TED. A review on Amazon, where it was picked as a Significant Seven for April last year writes that Glenny 'draws the dark map that lies on the other side of Tom Friedman's bright, flat world. That connected globe not only brings software coders and supply-chain outsourcers closer together; it's also opened the gates to a criminal network of unsettling vastness, complexity, and efficiency that represents a fifth of the earth's economy, trading in everything from untaxed cigarettes and uthe usual narcotics to human lives and nuclear material'.
Sounds as if this will be a real eye-opener - and not in a good way.


Rohan Jayasekera said...

Rahaf is currently expanding her presentation into a whole book, "Yes We Did", to be published in a few months as I recall.

The TED speaker who's currently having the most influence on how I see things evolving is Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody. His 2005 TED talk Institutions vs. collaboration (20 minutes) discussed a shift that I see very much in evidence today: the inability of traditional organizations to keep up with groups that are made up of individuals who have varying degrees of commitment but who can all contribute thanks to the Internet. His examples include Wikipedia and Linux. How democracies are governed will be affected too: we can expect traditional hierarchies to give way to more open and accountable government. Political parties as we currently know them may even cease to exist. On Saturday I'll be participating in the ChangeCamp unconference in Toronto, where we'll be discussing using the Internet to take back the government. (Politicians will be welcome to participate, but only as individual citizens, not as representatives of institutions.) And that's just government; all the institutions in our lives stand to be transformed or disappear. Through Kiva I'm an international bank!

The economic crunch is accelerating many of the forces of change. Disruptive innovations, for instance, usually target price-sensitive customers — whose numbers are now increasing dramatically. Shirky's talk resonates most strongly with me in the current economic climate because of the deflationary impact of collaborative projects. Much about the Internet is deflationary (e.g. eBay has depressed the going prices for many things), but collaborative projects tend to create things that aren't just cheap, but free. And an increasingly unemployed population has more time on its hands to contribute to such projects, a vicious cycle or virtuous cycle depending on one's point of view. I'm recently laid off myself and here I am looking to replace the government!

Lib Gibson said...

Even though I've been to lots of TEDs, and watched lots of TED talks, I'd missed the Shirky talk. It was most interesting. Thanks for the pointer, Rohan.