Monday, November 2, 2009

David Carr In the Breakdown Lane

If you read David Carr in the NYT this morning, you were treated to a snarky interpretation of what's wrong with business journalism today. According to Carr, the "collapse" of business journalism has been caused by one simple development: business isn't heroic any more. The way Carr sees it, business journalism is about larger-than-life heroes of capitalism making huge financial bets that result in enormous personal gains. Inspired by glossy coverage of epic corporate chiefs, readers flock to business magazines, hoping to learn how to do what their out-sized heroes have done.
But Carr's column tells us less what is really wrong with business journalism and more about what's wrong with too much time spent in New York, drinking the same kool-aid as every other journalist in Gotham. When everybody sees it the same way, you can be sure that nobody really sees what's going on.
There's a reason why the magazines that Carr writes about have lost their way--and it isn't because business is any less interesting, dynamic, or important than it was 5 or 10 or even 2 years ago. Let's go through the failures and then talk about some of the successes and see what we learn.
Why did BusinessWeek get sold for $2 million? Because the idea of a weekly news magazine that thinks its job is to report "news" is preposterous on the face of it. That said, BusinessWeek is far from worthless: it has a terrific web site and with serious re-work, could be converted into a valuable property. But not if it thinks its in the news business.
What happened to Portfolio, the $40 million business bust launched and then killed by Conde Nast? Early in Portfolio's development, I asked one of its top people what the mission of the magazine was--what was its definition of victory? The answer I got was telling: "This is Conde Nast," I was told. "The mission of the magazine is to make money." And how does that relate to the reader? And to why a reader should bother to subscribe?
What about Fortune? In 1929, when Fortune was launched, it was a magazine of business sociology, telling the story of the growth of the new-to-the-world American corporation. Eighty years later, Fortune has lost its editorial purpose. In the 1980s and 1990s Fortune wrote about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch. It had covers devoted to "the 10 toughest bosses in business," as if being tough were a postive definition of leadership. In the early 2000s, Fortune picked Enron as America's most innovative company--several years in a row! This is a magazine that needs to re-think, not its frequency, but its way of writing about business and the service it provides its readers.
Now let's look at The Economist, a publication that is writing about business, writing about the ideas behind business, writing about the changes going on in business--a publication pointedly ignored by David Carr. Why is The Economist doing so well? Because it has a clear idea of its mission. It understands what it does for its readers. It presents, not news, but a lens on the news. It offers a seasoned, experienced, intelligent eye on business, economics, and the mixture of the two. It has no by-lined articles. But it has a very consistent editorial voice--a slightly right-of-center British economist's interpretation not only of what is news-worthy, but also what the news actually means.
And what of my old magazine, Fast Company? It has never been guilty of the description offered by Carr. From the beginning, Fast Company has focused on a different idea of what is important about business. When Bill Taylor and I started the magazine, we went so far as to say, "We're not a magazine--we're a movement." What did that mean? It meant that we had an agenda for business--a different definition of leadership, a different idea of how business could and should be done. We didn't focus on the same old CEOs--we wrote about "people before they're famous, ideas before they're safe." That's still what Fast Company writes about: innovation, change, new ideas, best practices, new thinking, and new business models.
Business magazines aren't in trouble because business is less interesting than before the big crash.
Business magazines are in trouble because the crash revealed a fundamental fault that existed before the crash: Most of them had lost their reason for existing. They no longer understood what their mission was; or their mission had lost its relevance and they had failed to adapt.
But business today is more, not less, important than ever. It needs smart, thoughtful journalists who can wrestle, not with celebrities and heroes, as Carr suggests, but with new ideas and fresh ways of creating value.
If David Carr doesn't understand this fundamental point, he'd do well to talk with his colleague at the Times, Joe Nocera, who not only understands what business journalism is about--he practices it with every column he writes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rule #5 Change Is a Math Formula

Sorry for the long stretch between blogs! I've been traveling non-stop since my last posting--and if it weren't for a piece on the front page of today's New York Times on zero-waste, I would have waited until I got back to Santa Fe on Friday to weigh in with a report of an amazing month-plus of travel!
What did the Times report?
Here's the key paragraph about a news story describing the rise of the zero-waste movement, a movement that is replacing old-fashioned recycling with an even more ambitious approach that eliminates waste. The Times' Leslie Kaufman writes, "Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth's atmosphere."
Change is a math formula! Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change. When it comes to the corporate costs of doing business and the social costs of dealing with waste, economic pragmatism is forcing real change. It is cheaper and more reasonable to eliminate waste than to pay the rising costs of burying it or even of trying to recycle it.
Here's the thing: most innovators want to focus on coming up with cool ideas that make risk look more attractive because the new solutions are so appealing.
But it turns out that it's ultimately more effective to drive up the cost of the status quo--if you want to be a change agent, learn how to make the real economics of existing systems become more transparent! Showcase the real costs of doing business the way we've done business for years! When the cost of the status quo goes up, the risk of change looks a lot more attractive!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rule #52 Lives in Washington, DC

Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere!
You'd think that, having written Rules of Thumb, I'd know about my own rules, wouldn't you? Except that, as one of the Rules says, "Knowin' it ain't the same as doin' it." (A rule taught me by Larry Smith, who was gracious enough to host me at his lovely Capitol Hill home.)
But the rule that I end the book with is, perhaps, the rule that deserves constant reminders: there are teachers everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open, pay attention, and ask questions.
For example, I spent a very interesting hour with Beth Rhyne of the Center for Financial inclusion, a department of ACCION. In addition to briefing me on the work of the Center, which focuses on moving micro-finance into the mainstream and help it reach more people with opportunity and protect more people from bad financial practices, Beth gave me a heads up on ain interesting piece of financial/political news: a number of Latin American governments are buying micro-finance operations to make sure that micro-finance serves their political interests. Check out what has happened with Prodem as an example. To be accurate, Beth wasn't commenting on these purchases--she was just reporting that people with an interest in micro-finance need to look outside of the ordinary boundaries of micro-finance to see how it has become a part of the global political competition for the minds and hearts of people all over the world.
Another teacher: Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. Connie is fresh to Washington, having moved from Chicago. Earlier in her career Connie started the first micro-enterprise project for women in the US: the Women's Self-Improvement Project. In her new job Connie is determined to bring micro-enterprise to the US, where, she says, there are 10-18 million potential micro-enterprise entrepreneurs. Another interesting point raised by Connie: each micro-enterprise creates 2 to 3 new jobs--but the Labor Department doesn't count jobs created by micro-enterprise!
And then there's Neil Shah. As a 21-year old at Georgetown, Neil is operating Compass Partners, a brilliant, fascinating dynamic training program to teach fellow students how to be social entrepreneurs. Compass Partners operates a consulting firm and 9 student-run enterprises, all of which are social businesses, serving a social purpose and generating operating revenues! There are 163 Georgetown students in the program and each student goes through 5 levels as they learn more, contribute more, and undertake more in the field of social entrepreneurship. It's a fascinating program and Neil is a remarkable young social entrepreneur whose vision is both far-reaching and highly disciplined.
From there I went to a day-long conference sponsored by the University of Maryland. Seth Goldman kicked it off with the story behind Honest Tea--and left the audience with an old Chinese proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it."
And when you get to hear a Nobel prize winning scientist discuss climate change, well, that's a real teacher! Thomas Schelling gave a key note address in which he said that climate change is real and the science is well-accepted. The question is what to do and who will do it. The heart of the matter, said Schelling, is for rich countries to help developing countries transition to renewable energy sources. It's wrong to insist that developing countries slow down their energy use--they need to use energy to develop, which is how they'll be able to survive climate change! Schelling cited the Marshall Plan as one of the last times in modern history where major powers found a way to cooperate to help countries rebuild. But at a time when China is building 1 coal plant per week--1 coal plant per week!--the challenge is for rich nations to come together and cooperate in putting up money to help developing countries; for developing countries to figure out how they would divide the money; and perhaps an intermediary to negotiate between the two, so the transfer of wealth doesn't resemble extortion or black mail.
The last word goes to Paul Light, who spoke about his research on social entrepreneurship. He ended his talk by saying, regardless of your definition of social entrepreneurship or the sector in which you work, "We are all public servants now."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Washington, DC

Even though I worked here at DOT in the last two years of the Carter Administration, I'd forgotten how humid Washington, DC is--it's like working and living in a cloud (in more ways than one). But it is a city that stimulates thinking; it's hard to be here without reflecting on the state of the nation and what it means to be an American.
Last night I had dinner with my old friend and mentor, Larry Smith (he's the man behind "knowin' it ain't the same as doing' it). We talked about a speech he'll be giving to a group of foreign journalists in a week or so. Larry is expert at explaining the American political system, so I'm sure he'll do a fantastic job of bringing context to the current scene.
But our conversation turned to other matters: Larry has always insisted that the American character is uniquely pragmatic. But the current temper seems less pragmatic and more bent on rage and irrational anger--the dark side of the American character. Larry said that we've always had this division in our "national soul"--a battle between our instinct to do the right thing, to make good things happen, versus a seething undercurrent that manifests itself in demagogues and destroyers. Harry Truman famously once observed that it takes a skilled carpenter to build a house, but any jackass can knock one down.
Larry told the story of one US Senator who has always been able to work across the aisle, even though he's a principled conservative Republican. When he went back to his state over the summer, he was confronted with angry crowds who threatened to unseat him if he worked with the Democrats to pass any health care bill. He's now officially against health care reform.
My comment: He's a double-loser. He's not only not standing up against the tide of irrational hate and anger, he's also caving in as a leader and not doing his job as a Senator. The excuse,"If I vote for this it will cost me my job" is not a defense for doing the wrong thing.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Jim Collins about CEOs who cave in to pressure to amp up the company's stock price, even though they know it's not the right thing to do. They do it because, like the Senator, they're afraid they'll lose their jobs. But keeping the job by doing the wrong thing isn't the point of the exercise! It's not an admissible defense! Why did you do the wrong thing? "Because otherwise they'd fire me." Sorry! Not admissible!
If you look closely at the issues on the front page of the paper--from the economic melt down to health care reform to what to do in Afghanistan--they are all in one way or another moral issues.
What does it mean to be an American today?
It means having the courage of our convictions--but first it means having convictions.
Too many politicians, too many business leaders lack not only courage, but also moral convictions. Without moral convictions, it's impossible to make sound business decisions. And when you make unsound business decisions, you forfeit the right to be a leader, and, ultimately, you help drive the company and the economy into the ditch.
Fundamentally that's the story behind this global financial crisis.
And it's why we need to look hard at fixing the systems, including executive compensation, that fueled bad decisions and rewarded people who lacked moral courage.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On The Road Again!

The Rules Tour Hits the Road Again--starting tomorrow! First stop: Washington, DC for a series of meetings with social entrepreneurs and an all-day event at the Reagan Center sponsored by the University of Maryland: Leadership for a Better World--Creating Social Value Through Innovation.
From there it's up to NYC on Saturday, more social entrepreneurship, more Rules of Thumb!
Then off to Sweden, arriving September 29th for the official launch of the Swedish version of Rules of Thumb. Jan Lapidoth (father and son) have put together a fantastic series of meetings, interviews, conversations, and a big public launch to get Rules introduced to the Swedish community of change agents.
Next stop, Vienna! Usually at this time of the year, it'd be for the Waldzell gatherings, which I describe in several of the Rules--but the economy has taken its toll and there is no Waldzell this year. Instead, a reunion of sorts with some of the friends Waldzell helped make and a chance to connect with Austrian social innovators and their backers.
Then a brief overnight in Stockholm before heading to Providence, RI, arriving Oct 6 for the Vusiness Innovation Factory's 5th annual gathering, co-hosted by my partner-in-crime at Fast Company, Bill Taylor. It's a festival of story-telling and innovation, and should be great fun--the line up is unrivaled at any conference I know of.
October 8 I'm off to Toronto--for a long long weekend with my brother--if you read Rules you know him for the incident with the East German border guards! Then a series of talks on October 13 at the Centre for Social Innovation and on October 14 at the University of Toronto's Rotman School--which Roger Martin and team have turned into one of the most creative business schools in the world! Richard Florida will be there, as will Uffe Ulbaek, on loan from Copenhagen--should be a great visit!
October 15 has me flying to Boston, the birthplace of Fast Company, and scene of many lessons learned in the making of Rules. I'll be at Babson on October 15 and then at a gathering on design and change sponsored by DMI at the Marriott in Kendall Square on the 18th.
October 21 the Rules Road Show moves to NYC--just in time for a talk on the 22nd on the changing shape of the law business. Rules for the Law? That is sustained!
Finally, October 23, I'll be flying back to Santa Fe (along with the band) for a brief stop and some home cookin'!
Hope to see you somewhere along the journey!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Which Side Are You On, Part 2

"How did you go bankrupt?"
"Two ways, gradually and then suddenly."
The quote is from The Sun Also Rises, and it's worth remembering that before he was a novelist, Hemingway was a very careful reporter. He took notes and he remembered everything and everybody he met. His dialog on bankruptcy isn't something he made up; it's something he heard--it has the unmistakable ring of authenticity.
If you ask the people at GM how they went bankrupt, my guess is they'd say much the same thing. Or ask the higher-ups at Lehman Brothers what it felt like to vanish. Gradually, they'd say, and then suddenly.
What's true for companies is true for ideas as well.
How do ideas go bankrupt? Gradually and then suddenly.
These days when you hear the old refrain that "greed is good," you have to shake your head. Did we ever actually fall for that? When you hear someone describe the promises Madoff gave to his investors, the notion that year after year he'd deliver double-digit returns without a single year of failure or falter--did people actually fall for that?
What's next?
In a few years, will we look back at the notion that the job of a corporate manager is to create value for the shareholders and ask, did we ever really believe that?
Will we look at CEO compensation and shake our heads, as if it were just another version of a Ponzi scheme?
How do ideas go bankrupt?
Gradually and then suddenly.
But by the time they go bankrupt, it's too late.
The time to start writing your own new rules is before the old ones are officially bankrupt. Don't wait until the bankruptcy proceedings have gone from gradual to sudden.
Do it now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Which Side Are You On?

Here's where we are:
It looks now as if the economy has bottomed out. What appeared as a possible melt-down of capitalism has turned into a disastrous global financial crisis--as if averting the melt-down is enough reason to declare victory. And there are even some indicators that suggest that maybe, just maybe, things are starting to turn around. It may be a jobless recovery. It may be a long and slow recovery. But the collective sighs of recovery are enough for a world that is willing to take recovery on almost any terms.
At the same time, with recovery comes a new question--and how you answer the question tells you which side you're on.
Here's the question: Was the downturn just cyclical, and with recovery will come a return to business as usual?
Or was the downturn a sectoral change, the kind that happens when tectonic plates shift, the kind that signals a fundamental alteration of how business works, how organizations run, how careers develop, how we all behave as workers, consumers, and citizens?
Over the last month or so, I've heard voices on both sides of this divide. In the magazine industry, there are business leaders who're convinced that, once the recovery takes hold, we're all going back to the way it was before. Advertising will come back; readers will come back; the old business model will re-assert itself.
In the world of big-time corporate lawyers, there are many who see it the same way. Prior to the financial melt-down, law firms in the U.S. enjoyed 7 straight years of booming profits and lucrative earnings. Why shouldn't it all be that way again?
Leaders at ad agencies are making the same argument, as are people at the top of retailing, entertainment--even some at the U.S. Post Office.
And then there are those of us on the other side of the great divide.
We say the changes are deep, lasting, and unrelenting. We agree that there will be a recovery, and recovery always brings back some of the business-as-usual practices that worked before.
But the cracks that have emerged, the ruptures that have split old business and old industries--those will never be sealed, never be repaired.
We're seeing a whole generation of business leaders, government leaders, non-profit leaders who have been seared by this economic crisis. Old assumptions have been proven not to work. Even Alan Greenspan was forced to admit in front of Congress that business leaders made decisions that were not part of his old economic philosophy, that didn't fit his academic model.
But it's not just philosophy or academic models that need re-thinking. It's practices and methodologies, mental maps and personal values that need to undergo a deep and serious re-think.
It would be great if we had time to re-calibrate the teachings in the business schools across America--I'd welcome a longer conversation about what a new curriculum needs to look like.
But right now, we need to make our own changes, learn our own lessons, and come to new practices without the luxury of an MBA re-education camp. We need to ask new questions, sponsor new conversations, and challenge each other to new answers that respond to the new circumstances we're in today, circumstances that will last for the foreseeable future.
That's the reason I wrote Rules of Thumb. It's a field book for leaders who are being minted in the crucible of today's challenges. It's a work book that you can use to take your own notes, generate your own rules, and share them with me, your colleagues, and everyone else who's on our side of the great divide.
Here's the question: Which side are you on?
If you agree with me that things are not going back to the way they were, if you agree with me that we need to re-think, re-work, and re-write the rules of work, business, and life so this crisis is the last one we ever have to confront, let me hear from you.
Go to and give me your view, your insight, and your own Rule of Thumb.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chris Brogan Meets Red Auerbach

I woke up at 6 am today to get ready for a 6:30 am radio interview. That's early for me. But it meant that I was at my computer at 6:15 am checking my email. The in-box was exploding with messages filled with exclamation points! (Like that one.)
The basic message was, Have you seen what Chris Brogan said about your book! Chris Brogan just wrote the most amazing post about your book! Chris Brogan absolutely hit a home run for your book!
So I went to see what Chris said. It was amazing. It was generous. It was off the charts. (I've put a link to Chris's blog at the bottom of this piece.) You can read it by clicking (here)
But what's really amazing is that Chris is in the throes of his own white-hot book launch. His book, "Trust Agents" is busting to the top of the charts, #1 on every relevant Amazon list, blasting onto the NYT best seller list, rocketing in demand in every market.
And he's got the time to write about my book?
Never mind the fact that we've never met. Never mind the fact that he's already reviewed it when it first came out. Here's a writer, thinker, speaker, blogger, you-name-it-he-does-it guy who has the mental and emotional bandwidth to reach out to me while he's at one of the hottest moments in his already hot career.
It makes me think of Rule #53, the Red Auerbach management principle: Loyalty is a two-way street.
We live in a world where trust, respect and reciprocity are all the coin of the realm.
We need to create an economy of increasing returns, an economy of gifts, as Lewis Hyde writes in his amazing book, "The Gift."
We need to look out for each other, build on each other, contribute to each other.
That's the way Red Auerbach built the Boston Celtics in their glory days. Loyalty, Red told me, is a two way street. If you want your team to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to them. You have to reward contribution, not just the highest scorer.
The same thing applies to the message Chris is sending out--a message that's bigger and more important than anything he says specifically about my book. It's the way he is building his own work life, his career, and even more important, his community of friends, fans, and supporters.
I woke up this morning to learn a lesson from Chris that I'd already written in my own book.
It's always better when someone reads what you've written, and then plays it back to you.
Thanks, Chris! You not only wrote Trust Agents, you are one.
You can read Chris's post by clicking (here)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Even In Japan, Change is a Math Formula

No one would ever accuse the Japanese of sudden, thoughtless, knee-jerk political change. Most experienced Japan watchers in the US would agree that throughout its post-war history while Japan has been a democracy, it's been a democracy with only one party, the LDP. Year after year, election after election, the question wasn't whether the LDP would maintain its rule--it's been in power for 53 out of the last 54 years. The only question was, which faction within the LDP would emerge on top.
Until now.
Sunday, Japan's voters go to the polls and if the reports play out as expected, the LDP will suffer a massive, unprecedented loss to something called the Democratic party of Japan, the DPJ. According to The Guardian newspaper of Britain, "Despite its dominance at the polls, the DPJ remains an unknown quantity." The party has made ambitious promises to the voters, raising spending on social programs while cutting taxes--without explaining how it intends to do any of it.
So why is Japan poised to take this momentous step?
Here's what The Guardian says: "As Japan grapples with rising unemployment, population decline and a creaking state pension, the certainties of the postwar era have disappeared, and with them the LDP's sense of entitlement as the natural party of government."
In other words, the cost of the status quo has gone up so much, that the Japanese electorate is ready to embrace the risk of change.
Rule #5 works, even in Japan.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health Care, Homelessness, and 2 Rules of Thumb

I was listening to NPR the other day as I drove to my favorite coffee shop to pick up the New York Times. The report was yet another sad description of the seemingly endless loop we're stuck in these days, debating the question of health care--or actually not debating, but instead posturing and hurling angry accusations at each other.
But this report made a special connection: health care and the homeless. As a small back-story, I've been tracking the issue of homelessness for about 6 years now, ever since my friend Rosanne Haggerty, whom I admire enormously and wrote about in Rules, introduced me to her work in New York to end homelessness through Common Ground. Under her tutelage, I've served as moderator for a number of national gatherings of mayors and homeless advocates who are seeking not just to make a dent in the problem, but to end chronic homelessness in America's big cities.
So when the NPR turned to homeless and health care, I listened a little more carefully. What I heard was distressing and depressing.
A U.S. Senator was explaining in a town hall meeting why it made sense for us to extend Medicare benefits to homeless Americans--there's a bill before Congress right now to do this, and he was describing why it was good public policy and good human services. The angry crowd was booing and shouting him down.
Never mind the facts that 1 out of every 4 homeless Americans is a veteran and that there are almost 200,000 homeless veterans--men and women who we take care to honor in our words, but then neglect when they need help the most.
Think instead about the obvious benefits that would accrue to all of us if we also did the right thing for these homeless Americans.
Think first about the link between health and homelessness. It seems obvious that homeless people are likely to suffer serious health problems. What is less obvious is that often serious health problems are what make people homeless in the first place. Because they are sick and lack adequate health care coverage, many Americans who are working poor find they lose their jobs, lose their income, and then lose their homes--that's how they end up on the street in the first place.
Once they are homeless, living without shelter, they are more likely to suffer even worse health care problems, problems that land them in emergency rooms. The treatment there isn't designed to cure them--it's often just good enough to get them back out on the street.
We end up paying for the treatment, which isn't really adequate, and then we pay again when they're back out on the street but still sick. It's a depressing and expensive circle that Malcolm Gladwell chronicled a few years ago in a brilliant New Yorker article on homelessness called "Million-Dollar Murray." Malcolm explained how the good taxpayers of Arizona spent $1 million on a single homeless man--Murray--by paying for a system that only worked to keep Murray homeless!
There are two Rules of Thumb that I immediately thought of as I listened to NPR: Rule #4 says "Don't implement solutions. Prevent problems." How much money could we save and how much suffering could we avoid if we treated health care as a way of keeping people healthy rather than treating them after they get sick?
And Rule #7 says "The system is the solution." Health care and homelessness is so obviously an issue that needs to be addressed in a systemic way. The only way health care reform makes sense is to see it as a system, not a series of disaggregated choices or random unconnected episodes. Systems thinking saves money, devises solutions that are internally consistent, and avoids unintended consequences. Which is what the Senator was trying to explain to his voters.
If only we could find a way to listen to each other and learn from experience. We'd actually come up with compassionate solutions that make economic sense! Which takes me to Rule#52: "Stay alert! There are teachers everywhere."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rule #28: Good design is table stakes. Great design wins.

I stopped by the office of one of my favorite consulting firms yesterday just for a quick check in. Sitting with one of the principals, I exchanged a little bit of chit-chat--favorite airlines, favorite hotels, favorite restaurants, the kinds of things consultants deal with on a day-to-day basis. In the middle of our visit, he stopped to offer a piece of mother-in-law research.
"I was on a plane last week," he said, "and I had to walk all the way from the front of the plane to the back to get to the rest room. As I walked down the aisle I looked at the people on the plane, row by row. I'm guessing that more than 60% of the people on that plane were using an Apple product! They had a MacBook or an iPod or an iPhone--something by Apple. And even if a lot of them were just iPods, that's a lot of iPods!"
Another consultant chimed in, "I still get people who tell me Apple is a challenger brand. Not any more!"
Go into any Apple store and you'll see what both of them were talking about. We're in the middle of a recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Just don't tell that to the people working in the Apple stores or the people there to buy things!
What is it that Apple is selling?
It isn't price. Microsoft has made that pointedly clear in the series of ads they've run challenging shoppers to stretch their dollars and get a computer that does all the things they want it to do. Apple has even objected to these ads--with good reason.
No, what Apple is selling is great design. Great design with a capital "D".
It's not just good looks--although Apple has always had products that look great to the eye and feel great in the hand. And back when Steve Jobs briefly amazed the world with fruit-colored monitors, Apple had products that you imagined would taste great in the mouth!
But great design is more than look and feel. It's a sensibility, a way of looking at the product and the user and creating something that is fun to use, delightful to experience, and satisfying to own. Great design comes when you anticipate user's desires, and then give them something they never even thought to ask for. It comes with a cool factor that you really can't fake. It comes with a combination of icon thinking and flawlessly practical execution.
That's why more than 60% of the people on that plane were using an Apple product. And it's why my very sharp-eyed consultant friend noticed. Great design wins--and we all notice winners.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What's the Big Idea?

It's in "Rules of Thumb": if you want to write a business plan, start by asking yourself, "What's the big idea?" It's a question that's come back to me as I've tried over the last few months to explain to people what the big idea is that's at the heart of Rules. What's the message?
Asking the question of myself has proved to be a useful exercise. Now that the book has been out for four months, now that I've done countless radio interviews, given speeches in front of audiences from New York to Seattle, from Vienna to Copenhagen, from Washington, DC to San Francisco, what exactly is the message that I embedded in those 52 rules? When you step back from what Seth Godin delightfully described as "nuggets" and Dan Pink compared to a batch of espressos, what's the take away?
You'd think an author would knew intuitively, instinctively what his book's message is. These days, you'd think an author would have mastered the answer to the question to sell the book in the first place. But my experience is a little different; I've found that usually the audience, readers, and fans tell you what your book is about, if you listen carefully enough.
That said, my first move wasn't to the comments that readers have shared on the Rule #53 space or on the comments readers have left or on the comments on the Amazon page, or even in the emails that have come to me from readers.
Instead, I went back to the foreward that Jim Collins wrote a few years ago for a collection of articles published in book form as "Fast Company's Greatest Hits"--the first 10 years of innovative business thinking in the magazine that Bill Taylor and I started.
What did Jim say about the early days of Fast Company?
Jim found 5 basic premises embedded in the magazine:
1. Work is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself.
2. If your competitive scorecard is money, you will always lose.
3. Business is a mechanism for social change--for good and ill.
4. Entrepreneurship is a life concept, not just a business concept.
5. Performance is the fundamental requirement.
Certainly those 5 premises are also baked into Rules of Thumb; no surprise there--I'm the same guy who was baking them in.
But there's something else, an overarching theme or premise that relates to the immediacy of the moment of now.
And for that I went back to the original business plan for Fast Company, to the first letter from the editors that laid out the magazine's philosophy. In it, we wrote, "The world is changing, and business is changing the world."
Only today, the circumstances are different. Look at the front page of the paper today and you'll find a story about a money manager who stands to make a $100 million bonus at the very moment that the financially driven economy is still stalled, at the very moment when the lives of millions of people around the world have been ruined by money speculation. The New York Times article raises the question of whether or not it makes sense for the man to get his $100 million; it doesn't ask the question of whether or not the system that produced the bonus in the first place is suffering from a fundamental flaw.
Ultimately the overarching message of Rules is a re-write of that business plan sentence from Fast Company. Today, the sentence reads, "The world needs to change, and business needs to change to make that larger change possible." We need a mental model for how we do business in the first place. The old play book keeps landing our economy, our companies, our social fabric, and the lives of too many of our citizens in the ditch. Every decade since I've been tracking business, management, and work, we've had at least one, and often more than one, serious crackup--a bubble, a scandal, a government-organized rescue. And at the same time, over those same decades, we've seen the beginnings of new practices and new principles that guide business people and companies in new and exciting directions. We are writing new Rules of Thumb because we desperately need them to create the future we want.
The Big Idea at the heart of Rules of Thumb?
The world needs us to change it, and we need new rules to change business to change the world.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Rule #32: Content isn't king. Context is king.

Case in point: the New York Times, yesterday and today, on the way bankers have handled the economic recovery and their own just (or unjust) self-awarded rewards. The front page of the Times yesterday (July 31) has a lead story on the right hand column with the headline: "Bankers Reaped Lavish Bonuses During Bailouts/Cuomo Issues a Report/About 5,000 Got Over $1 Million--A Spur to Debate on Pay." That headline pretty much says what Louise Story and Eric Dash go on to report in the story. Banks were battered; bankers still go huge bonuses. That's the "news." But how should I think about it? What is the correlation between the behavior of the bankers and, say, the larger narrative of the national and global economic crisis?
For that you have to turn to the business section and read Floyd Norris' column. And there the headline tells you a different tale: "It May Be Outrageous, but Wall Street Pay Didn't Cause This Crisis." Norris' column is all about the context of the news. He brings in interesting connections, including one study that shows that the more CEOs held stock in their own companies, the worse the bank performed. Norris quotes the study: "Bank C.E.O. incentives cannot be blamed for the credit crisis or for the performance of banks during the crisis."
Then in today's paper, Joe Nocera takes the contextual discussion another step. In a column headed, "'Nice' Wasn't Part of the Deal," Nocera raises the question of whether banks and bankers should even be expected to behave differently than they have. "To ask them to put aside the profit motive, even temporarily, for the good of the country-it's not even in their frame of reference," he writes.I would have been ecstatic if Joe had taken another step, and questioned the unquestioned rule of publicly traded companies--that their one allegiance is to create shareholder value. But as always Joe is asking good questions, digging into the story behind the story, and challenging the easy emotional reaction that the first front page story in the Times could elicit.
But beyond the specifics of the banking pay argument, here's the point: If the New York Times were to disappear tomorrow, I wouldn't miss the front page; I'd miss Floyd Norris and Joe Nocera. I'd miss their informed point of view, their capacity to ask the right questions, their willingness to dig deeper and bring new insights into the conversation.
Content is a commodity. Context creates value.
It's not only true for newspapers, magazines, and the media industry; it's how each of us add value at work, every day. Information may be free, but knowledge, insight, and perspective are all things you can charge for.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rule #19: Memo to leaders: Focus on the signal to noise ratio

The Beer Summit Meets Rules of Thumb
I picked up the paper this morning and there was a photo of President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Henry Gates, and James Crowley having a beer together, eating some pretzels, and talking things over. To the media, it was "the beer summit." To me, it was another example of how this President gets the essential act of leadership. By bringing together the principles in a national story about police and race in America, and demonstrating that there is more to learn than what happened that night in Cambridge, Massachusetts, President Obama is focusing all of our attention on the signal and not the noise. Imagine if he had done otherwise; imagine if he had simply let things stand with a comment that the police in Cambridge acted "stupidly"--or he had said and done nothing at all. The noise would continue to rage. Radio talk shows would generate great heat and little light. The Daily Show would generate great laughs and little teaching. As President and leader, President Obama used the bully pulpit to make a larger point--and to add more signal and less noise. That one photo of the four men sitting together, two black, two white, showed that the ugly event in Cambridge could find a more peaceful and understanding resolution. The signal that President Obama sent said that we can and should always be able to sit down together and reason about things, that it's not over until we do that, in fact. If all we do is retreat to opposite corners and insist that we were right and the other person wrong--or that we were wronged and our rights abused--then we have nothing positive to show for the emotions that were spent. But by bring signal to the noise, President Obama has demonstrated at least two important lessons: he's showed us what real leadership looks like, and he's found a way to bring something constructive out of an otherwise unhappy moment. And he's illustrated how a rule of thumb can serve as a guide in even the most difficult situation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Health Care Reform Needs Rule #5!

Change is a Math Formula

If President Obama succeeds in his quest to reform America’s health care system—an “if” that gets if-ier every day—it will be because the administration finally embraces the fundamental rule of change: Change is a math formula—C=Co(SQ)>R(C). The formula reads: Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change. The way to win the debate on health care reform is to drive up the perceived cost of the status quo.
It may be that the Administration is starting to do the math. In his recent health care reform press conference President Obama embraced the change formula. “If somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that’s guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that,” President Obama said. “Well, that’s the status quo.”
It was a nod in the right direction, but no more than a nod. As soon as the President was done with that passage, he went back to explaining how his health care plan would work. Back, in other words, to the wrong side of the equation. As long as the debate focuses on the perceived risk of change, change loses. For change to win, every answer to every question about health care has to begin with a precise calculation of the high cost of the status quo.
The simple reason for that is that, for the most part, Americans with health care coverage operating within the accepted norms of the existing system don’t feel that system failing. If there is a “health care crisis” it isn’t their health care crisis. What they need—what we all need—is a detailed, understandable explanation of the high cost of the status quo. We need it in economic terms, and we need it in human terms. Then and only then, after we’ve come to appreciate the high cost of the status quo will we be ready to accept the risk of change. In fact, if the President and his team do their jobs right, we’ll welcome the risk of change as an improvement over the current unworkable system. We’ll finally be confronted by its unsustainable economic costs and its unimaginable human costs.
Take the economic side of the status quo first. There’s a simple reason why corporate America has embraced health care reform: companies are tired of bearing the high cost of a system that saps their ability to compete in the marketplace. At GM, the sick joke used to be that the company made and sold cars to be able to pay for its employees’ health care costs. Starbucks, long regarded an exemplary employer in the convenience food and beverage industry, routinely pays more for health care benefits for its workers than it spends on coffee beans. Anyone who’s worried that health care reform could cost American jobs needs to take a hard look at the jobs we routinely lose now because our companies have to absorb health care costs that our global competitors simply don’t have to pay.
At the individual level, the economic burden of the U.S. health system is also untenable: Americans spend about $6,500 per person per year on a health care system that now takes up 16% of the U.S. economy. But when it comes to results, all that spending doesn’t measure up. The United States ranks #41 in the world in life expectancy, below Cuba, Costa Rica, the U.K., and Germany, among others. When it comes to the category of child well-being, the U.S. ranks #20 in the world, behind such nations as Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic. We’re paying a lot and we’re not getting much for our money. And it’s only going to get worse.
At the same time, we need to hear stories of the human costs. Americans will listen to their wallets and pocketbooks first, but as a people we’re not immune to chilling stories of human tragedy. Take the story of a 12-year old boy named Deamonte Driver who lived in Prince George’s Country, Maryland, a few miles from the nation’s capitol. As reported in the Washington Post by Mary Otto, in 2007 Deamonte Driver died of a toothache. Here’s what she wrote: “A routine $80 tooth extraction might have saved him. If his mother had been insured. If his family had not lost its Medicaid. If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find. If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.”
Instead the bacteria from the abscess in Deamonte’s tooth spread to his brain and killed him. That’s just one human story about the high costs of the status quo. It makes the same point as the economic data. The current system is broken. It is only getting worse. It costs too much and delivers too little. It undermines our nation’s companies. It allows 12-year olds to die of tooth disease. It is a national crisis.
All of a sudden the risk of change looks a lot better.

Thanks, Slalom Consulting

One of the best parts of what happens after you write a book is that it becomes an excuse to go out and meet people. The book, as my friend Seth Godin reminds me, is simply an occasion--it's what provides the opportunity for the interaction. What's always fun and surprising are the people you meet and the experiences that happen as a consequence of the book. Last week my friends at Kim Ricketts Book Events in Seattle arranged a chance for me to speak at the quarterly meeting of Slalom Consulting. I had a phone call to chat before I went to Seattle, a chance to sit down before the talk and visit with the leaders of the firm, and then I gave a talk to about 200+ very bright, very talented, very energetic consultants from Slalom. This is a firm that is out to do consulting differently: they get the idea that "the soft stuff is the hard stuff." By making work-life conditions for the consultants a top priority, the firm attracts talented men and women who want to do good work and have a good life--and don't see why they have to give up one to get the other. I spoke for about 40 minutes, talking about some of the lessons from Rules of Thumb, answered questions for another 20 minutes or so, and then signed books--and got to chat with Slalom folks as they brought up their books for me to sign.
I had a fantastic time, met great people, and came away thinking that there are places where the sub-title of Rules is already being practiced: they know how to win at business without losing themselves!
Thanks, Slalom!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"If I had a bottomless piggybank . . ."

says the most generous Laurel Delaney in her comments on Rules of Thumb, "I would gift this book to everyone I know . . ." Wow! What a review! Laurel has instructed me to "go tear up the Web with the news" of her take on Rules--so this is where I'm starting! Please do read her comments, and then pass along what she has to say. You can find her take (here):

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Tom Peters Re-Mix"?

File it under "you can't win'em all." Since Rules came out, I've been gratified by the feedback I've gotten (This is a good time to say "thank you" to the bloggers, tweeters, emailers, and others who've gotten in touch to tell me that they really like the book. Consider yourselves thanked!) In fact, the response has been so uniform that I began to take it for granted--big mistake! Yesterday I got a review of the book that is, at best, luke-warm. It's a "Tom Peters re-mix" and only worth a handful of yellow stickies marking new and interesting points raised in the book. Not enough aha's, said the review. And the writing, well, it's far from brilliant--mostly serviceable.
Fair enough. I appreciate the time spent reading it, even if it wasn't this reviewers cup of tea. And since I posted all the positive reviews, I figured, fair is fair, I'll post this one. You can read it (here):

Friday, July 10, 2009

Generations and Leadership

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of spending a good hour on the phone with my old friend and mentor, Warren Bennis. Warren, as most folks in the world of management know, is the pre-eminent voice on issues of leadership, having practically invented the field as one worthy of study. The reason for the call was a brief exchange on this blog about the changing nature of leadership over the years: Did an earlier generation of leaders have a different set of values than those currently occupying positions of responsibility? Were business leaders 50 or 60 years ago more likely to take responsibility for their decisions and their actions; did they hold themselves and their organizations more accountable; did they have a greater sense of commitment to the community? Warren, as you might expect, had a list of leaders from "the old days"--but at the end of our phone call we left the question still open. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Malcolm in the Muddle

If you’re as big a Malcolm Gladwell fan as I am, then his recent essay/review of Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free,” in The New Yorker probably left you as confused as me. What I’ve always admired most about Malcolm is his ability—his gift, really—for decoding our time. He tells us a story with great specificity, detail, and charm, and then, after we think we know what the story is about, he tells us what it’s really about. Like a journalist/semiotician, he looks through the facts as they appear to see what is behind them, what is more true than the facts themselves. Or at least that’s what he does in his own essays in The New Yorker and in his three best-selling books.
But his review of Chris Anderson’s book is almost the opposite: he is stunningly, stubbornly literal. He takes Chris to task for his writing style, calling him out for paragraphs that offer a “. . . reassuring arc from ‘bloodbath’ to ‘salvation.’” He makes fun of the fact that Chris capitalizes the word “Free”—saying parenthetically “(Anderson honors it with a capital”) as if that were a cheap writerly trick Chris is trying to pull. And perhaps strangest of all, he argues against the notion of free by pointing out that electrical utilities will always have “plants and power lines.” Information doesn’t want to be free, Malcolm argues: look at the success that the Wall Street Journal is having charging for its online version--as if that were the defining case in the rapidly failing world of newspapers. All in all, Malcolm concludes, there’s not much of value in a book called “Free.”
Now unlike my friend Seth Godin, I can’t say categorically that Malcolm is “wrong.” For one thing, I haven’t read Chris’ book; for another, I don’t think the debate we’re in right now between the emerging economy of the web and ideas, and the mainstream economy of print and things is about right or wrong. I think it’s more of a Rubik’s Cube of a puzzle that challenges us to think creatively about business, management, value creation, risk, reward, and a host of questions we used to think we knew the answers to. As we think outloud, we're looking for a new way to click these pieces together so companies can make money and consumers can have delightful products and services--without clinging to the rapidly failing models of the past. The game is afoot,and it's up to nimble-minded writers and thinkers to try to figure it out.
Which is what troubles me about Malcolm’s review. He doesn’t seem to be dealing with a very interesting question in an interesting way—and that seems very un-Malcolm-like.
A few elements of Chris’ argument, as presented by Malcolm (since I confess again that I haven’t yet read the book) seem hard to deny. We are dealing with an economy in which it is now commonplace to charge, not for the thing itself, but for the ideas or attributes that surround the thing—whether it’s an experience, a relationship, an ancillary product, or a memory. We are witnessing a transition from a business environment where there was a clear link between price and value to one where that linkage is much more tenuous and open to negotiation. We are seeing a de-coupling of what used to be a clear connection between the price of something and the true cost of something--not to mention the real value of the thing. It seems almost obtuse not to recognize that the old time-honored relationships are eroding and something new, different, and as yet not completely formed is emerging. To hear Malcolm think out loud about that in the form of a review of Chris’ book would be worth, well, a lot more than free. There are serious questions that need grappling with:
Where are we in this transition? Who’s managing it well, and who poorly? Where are there signs of more evolved economic creatures that give us a sense of the shape of the future? What will happen to the magazines, newspapers, radio stations, music producers, banks, airlines, retailers, that fail to make the necessary adaptive moves? How soon and how inevitably will it happen--and what, if anything, needs to be done in anticipation? Where’s the line for consumers: if “free” goes away once the old enterprises go away, will we see consumers agree to pay for what used to be free? Or will we end up in an economy of cross-subsidies and transfer payments? Who will create the next version of transactions—consumers or producers? And how will that negotiation be structured? Rather than simply denying its existence, where can we catch of glimpse of this future as it emerges, and what rules can we imagine that will help make the transition more manageable?
Finding the deep questions that lie behind the facts in any situation is what Malcolm does better than anyone. Fads aren’t just fads, he tells us—they happen because phenomena have tipping points, and we can learn how to manipulate them. So it is with “Blink” and “Outliers”: things aren’t what they seem—there’s a deeper, smarter, more fascinating way to look at things than what appears on the surface. I think that’s also Chris’ message: price points, transactions, economic and business principles aren’t what’s happening when money does or doesn’t change hands. Something else is changing, and it goes even deeper than the price point: “free” isn’t a price—it’s a way of thinking. "Free" isn't a number--it's an emerging economic concept. It’s actually a very Malcolm-like argument, or so it would seem.
So why the literal-minded review?
Maybe Chris has simply written a not-very-good book. I don’t know. Malcolm didn’t care much for it; neither did the New York Times reviewer. So maybe Malcolm’s literal-minded review is just a polite way of saying, “Sorry, this book didn’t work for me.”
Or maybe Malcolm’s just getting tired of other writers doing less well what he does so well: after all, he did pioneer a whole genre of sociological business books that have catchy one-word titles (I think if he had it to do again, he’d have named “The Tipping Point” simply “Tip!”). But as a recent piece in The New York Times pointed out, successful book titles inevitably spawn imitators, and we’ve seen a spate of one word titles in the business/sociology category. And Malcolm is a master—if not the master—at catching the moment in a bottle and then deciphering it for us. If his review is simply a way of firing a warning shot at others who want to play on this field, a signal that he’s going to maintain his position and enforce his standards, well, that’s fair enough for me.
I just wish he’d given us a more Malcolm-like take on the whole category of the emerging threads of business and the economy. For my money, the debate over how the Web will shake out across industries and businesses is still one of the most interesting ones around; what we will do to hang on to what works of the old rule book while writing a new one is a huge unknown; how we will manage to step out of the "either/or" past into the "both/and" future is a new category for business discussion. Right now, the field is open and the thoughts are, well, free.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ideas Without Borders

In the last few days I've gotten postings from two places I never particularly expected to hear from. The first came from a teacher in Canada (followed by a second teacher in Pennsylvania) describing to me how he thought Rules could be used as a template for reform of the public education system. In a follow-up email he told me that, unlike many in his field, he loves to read books that aren't, strictly speaking, about education. Reading across boundaries, he said, opens up his mind to new ideas and new possibilities that wouldn't occur to him if he stayed inside the boundaries of traditional books written by fellow educators. Then today I got a link to a post written by a doctor. He was using Rules to make a point that he found inside his profession--the growing disparity between those in medicine who know it, and those who do it. When I wrote that rule, having learned it from my friend and mentor Larry Smith, I was thinking of its application to business and politics, where experts often make pronouncements that are at great odds from the actual experience of practitioners on the ground. But once I read the good doctor's post, I knew that, just as there are physicians without borders, there are ideas without borders--and that Rules is apparently traveling quite well, finding readers in education, medicine, and other parts and places in the world where change is the everyday diagnosis and new rules the only reasonable prescription. You can read the doctor's post (here).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Art of Reframing--Right Church, Wrong Pew

Newspapers and the blogosphere are full of reports and comments criticizing the Washington Post; the publisher of the Post, trying to come up with a new answer to the question "what business are you in?" came up with a fresh answer: the salon business. So far so good. She then proceeded (or someone on her behalf, it's a little unclear who did what exactly) to offer access to Washington Post reporters and editorialists at her home over dinner--for a very high price: the kind of price that suggests that lobbyists, for example, would be the ones who'd pony up the bucks and then seek to peddle their stories and points of view over the steaming plates of food.
Ouch! All of a sudden the publisher starts to look like just another influence peddler. And the Washington Post gets a black eye.
It didn't have to be this way. The publisher was in the right church, just the wrong pew. If she'd opened up a new category for any and all readers of the Post--call it "members" rather than "subscribers"--and then held a lottery for a series of informal gatherings, not a full-blown linen table cloth dinner, but a wine and cheese reception, say, with a Q&A session with Post writers, starting, say, with the sports section, just for fun (a section with some amazingly talented writers, it should be said), she could have eased into the experiment. The Post would have gotten some practice reframing its business model, the whole thing could have been fun and entertaining, with a populist flavor, and a new revenue model could have been tested.
Now the whole thing looks cheesy.
Reminds me of another Rule of Thumb: Knowing it ain't the same as doing it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rules for Schools

Over the past few days, I've gotten two emails from readers of Rules of Thumb who come from the world of education, looking to apply the idea of rules to the world of schools.
One of the things I'm most troubled about and most interested in is the state of public education in America--I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for instance, where 50% of the kids who enter high school do not graduate from high school. Could a new set of "rules of thumb" provide guidelines and templates for new thinking about what really does work in public education? Here's one blog that got me thinking--see if it kick-starts your own ideas on public education and new rules. You can find it (here).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Best Business Book This Year?

If you believe Justin R. Levy, that's exactly what Rules of Thumb is! He's a devoted blogger and a serious reader of business books--for reasons that escape me, he took Rules with him on his honeymoon to St. Maarten. (Memo to Justin: did you check with your bride before making this choice? Oh, well!) When he got back, he filed a video book review that puts Rules at the top of his book chart. Many thanks, Justin! You can watch his review (here).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Scenes from the Core of the Big Apple

I'm just back in Santa Fe after a 5-day tour of New York City, with some impressions from the scene of the crime. I'm sure if you live in New York and stay inside the bubble, it's hard to see what is immediately transparent and obvious to someone who comes in from the outside: the game is over--at least this game is. Here are a few quick moments of truth; I'm not going to link them back to Rules of Thumb, but I'm sure if you have the book and you want to take a quick look through the index of rules at the back, you can make the connections.
The New York Times, aka Dead Man Walking. It used to be everywhere and it used to be the medium of conversation: "Hey did you see the great piece in the Times today?" was a standard greeting at work, over lunch, at parties. Not any more. The news is ubiquitous--no need to get the Times or even to read it. It wasn't even on display in my hotel lobby, much less offered as something they hotel would deliver to my door first thing in the morning at my request. The news is in the air, on your mobile device, on screens in the back of cabs (as Kevin Roberts observed a few years ago, we now live in Screen World) on on giant screens in Times Square (soon to be re-named I-Square?). When I got back to Santa Fe late Saturday night, I made the conscious decision not to buy the Sunday New York Times--and for me, that is a major decision. But $6 to read what is no longer the medium of exchange in the world of information, opinion, and insight? Why bother?
Which leads me to the second thing I learned in NYC: the economy doesn't just run on money. More important, it runs on momentum, on energy, on conversation. Nobody is talking about magazines and newspapers; the air is out of the balloon; the energy has moved on. Mid-town Manhattan is home to large and impressive looking buildings with the logos of once-important companies affixed to their roofs and front doors. But nothing is happening inside those once-dominant domains. The game has moved on. People who want to be in the conversation are making their own conversations. People who want to connect with their "tribe" (thank you, Seth Godin!) can do so on Triibes--without the permission or assistance of the old gate-keepers. As I told a friend at one of the once-great magazine companies, "If you want to see the future of magazining, get in a car and take a road trip! It's out there, in lofts in Boulder and Austin, in Portland and in DesMoines, but it sure isn't here in 42-story glass monuments in the heart of New York City."
The next great reality show isn't Desperate Housewives of New Jersey; it's Desperate CEOs of New York. Watching Jeff Immelt on Charlie Rose is a study in corporate shock. I didn't write down Immelt's actual quotes, but among the more ridiculous things he said were: what's ailing is the United States is our sudden inability to find the will to do things (what he wants to do is to build "clean coal" plants--an oxymoron to begin with); and the contention that within 10 years, GE will be "America's most admired corporation." A few short years ago, Fortune magazine put Countrywide on its list of most admired corporations--why would someone as smart as Immelt even mention this as an aspiration? (By the way, after Fortune gave Enron its "most innovative" company award for several years in a row and added Countrywide to its admired company list, why does anyone listen to anything Fortune says about anything?) The look on Immelt's face was one of false hope tinged with sadness and confusion: When did things get so messed up? Did I do this or is this happening to me? What's going to happen next? And so he was reduced to silly expressions of frustration that America is not living up to his expectations, and the promise that GE will regain our admiration--both dubious definitions of either the real problem or the real point of the exercise.
What's exciting is all the amazing new fresh admirable stuff that's struggling to be born. But it's happening in lofts and in coffee shops, not in corporate suites and demoralized company headquarters buildings. There is enormous energy behind social media and social missions, behind people helping each other and new forms of capitalism that bring more people into the game.
It's gonna be ok: we can say goodbye to old friends at the same time as we welcome a whole host of new ones. Can you say, "Hello, future!"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rules of Thumb for Investors? Sure!

My good friend Chris Versace and I collaborated on a Q&A for his column for The Washington Times. It turns out that what's true for entrepreneurs, managers, CEOS, innovators is just as true for people trying to make sense out of the market and investment strategies. You can read it by clicking (here).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can Business Be Business-Like and Better?

One of the underlying themes of Rules of Thumb (as it was for Fast Company) is a question: Is there a way to do business that is both business-like and also humane? Can we create a blend of capitalism that encourages entrepreneurship, innovation, profit-making, and also rewards people when they actively do the right thing in the marketplace? It seems clear that you can't regulate morality--but you can regulate against immorality. And you can spread ideas and practices that not only work in the world of business but also work in the affairs of people. Here's a column I just wrote for the web site that offers a point of departure for thinking about this perplexing and vitally important issue: (Click Here).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The First Less-Than-100-Days!

Rules of Thumb has been out less than 100 days--a good time to report in on places I've been, people I've met, lessons I've learned. The headlines so far: Rules is getting a great response; reviews, tweets, blog posts, email traffic, you name it. The general response is: this book is smart, fun, helpful, timely, wise--I wish I'd read it a long time ago! I've gotten great feedback with people adding their own Rule #53, which is always fun and gives me new insights and fresh perspective; it turns Rules into a conversation among people trying to create a new way of working and doing business, a handbook for how to play the game now, after the world has changed--which is what I hoped it would be.
On the travel front, it's been a blast. We kicked off the Endless Global Tour in New York City with a great night of fun at the Japan Society, where Polly LaBarre and I reprised our old on-stage act from Fast Company days of yore (Click here for that video); had a great book party in Santa Fe that went late into the night; did the same in San Francisco at Book Passage. Then we got serious: on a trip to Europe I spoke in Vienna to a group of very bright, talented, and interested business leaders, then went to Budapest and had a long talk/discussion session with Eastern European bankers. Remember the rule: context is king? They brought that home to me by describing how "change" in Europe doesn't mean the same thing as "change"in the U.S.: change in Europe, they said, usually translates into either Fascists or Communists. A good lesson learned.
Then back to the U.S.--and a great Rules of Thumb breakfast session in Washington, DC with the always-brilliant Dan Pink followed by a cross-country flight to Seattle and talks at Microsoft and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
What have a learned?
Everywhere I go, people are trying their best to do two things at once: survive the current economic collapse, and make sense of it. At the same time, there's an interesting resistance to asking questions that seem too hard to reckon with: What if the problem is more systemic than we'd like to believe? What if it reflects on the lessons we're teaching in business school and the business-as-usual practices that we've come to accept as normal?
In some ways, Rules may be too polite, too nice, too pleasant a book.
The deep message that's in it should be clear: We need new rules. Period. If we think we're going to get change by tweaking the old way of working, we're kidding ourselves. Sure, we'll make it through the current economic crisis--that much is clear.
But what will we learn? What are we willing to do differently? How far are we willing to go to embrace a new operating system that requires us to keep score differently, define leadership differently, fashion a new definition of leadership, and a new definition of victory?
I'm hoping that as the book spreads, as more people read it and recommend it to their friends and colleagues, as more comments begin to surface and the conversation begins to ripen and develop, we'll get into some of these tougher issues.
Sure Rules is fun to read; sure the rules are provocative and can help you today and tomorrow to think clearer and work smarter.
But there's even more: there's a challenge there about how we need to reconsider our way of doing business if we want to do business for the long haul.
I'm looking forward to that discussion, and to your comments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He Does Know Jack! And More!

Jack Covert of 800ceoread is a man who knows his business--and his business books. 800ceoread has a ton of features, benefits, shortcuts, and goodies for book buyers, book lovers, authors, readers, and just plain old interested folks. One feature is Jack's selections--books he picks out as worthy of attention. And (drum roll please) this month he's selected (cymbals crash please) Rules of Thumb! With some mighty nice words to go along with the selection. You can read it (and buy the book!) by clicking (here).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rules of Thumb makes the list of...

...10 New Business Books Every Job Seeker Should Read
Click (here) for the book list.

Here's what they are saying about ROT:
"We live in a world of dramatic, tumultuous, and unpredictable change—change that is wiping out time-honored businesses and long-standing institutions and ushering in unprecedented opportunities for creative individuals and entrepreneurial organizations. So pervasive is change today that it has redefined our first task: The job is no longer figuring out how to win at the game of work and life; the job is figuring out the new rules of the game.

That’s the context for Alan M. Webber’s Rules of Thumb, a guide for individuals in every walk of life who want to make sense out of these confusing, challenging, and compelling times. Drawing from his own experiences as cofounding editor of Fast Company magazine and a wide range of interactions with some of the world’s leading thinkers and highest achievers, including Nobel Prize winners and global change agents, Webber has produced 52 “rules of thumb”—a collection that is as wise as it is useful and as honest as it is helpful. The rules come from real-life lessons learned and recorded on three-by-five cards, a trick borrowed from one of the many mentors whose teachings Webber captures and catalogues in this book.

If you’re looking for practical advice on how to win at work without losing your self, if you want to change your life to meet the challenge of change, or if you want to learn from some of the world’s most interesting and creative people, let Alan M. Webber take you on a remarkable journey toward greater personal understanding and, ultimately, greater personal success.
If you have other career or job search books you would like to add to this post, please do so in the comments section below."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Teaching the Rules

Britt Watwood is at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence; he's passionate about using technology for learning. He's also a committed tire-kicker--in this case, he's kicking the tires of Rules of Thumb to see how they actually apply to his world. Can the rules I've written about be ported into the world of teaching excellence and promote a new way of looking at the work, a new take on learning? You can read Britt's very thoughtful comments by clicking (here) and more (here).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Trevor Gay at Simplicity Says

Rules of Thumb jumps the pond! And lands in the hands of Trevor Gay, blogging at Simplicity, one of the top 100 leadership blogs. Calling Rules "a must read," Trevor very generously finds much to like in the book--and it sounds like he read it the right way, with a yellow marker to underline passages that connect with him. You can read his review here: If you agree, feel free to spread the word--Rules is building a terrific community of readers who "get it." Now we've got to get the book into the hands of those who haven't yet discovered it! Remember to add your own Rule #53, and post your review of Rules on amazon!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Laurel Delaney says...

There are endorsements and then there are ENDORSEMENTS! This one is simple, clear, straightforward, and right to the point: "If there is one business book you must read before you die, make it this one!" Not that I'm wishing for anyone to die any time soon, but I'd hurry up and buy it, especially if she's right. (Read Laurel Delaney's, author of "Escape From Corporate America!", review of Rules Of Thumb by clicking here)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Best practices in the world of work, business, & government

I'm sitting in my hotel room in Our Nation's Capital--resting from a full day of Rules of Thumbing! One of the high points yesterday was a full hour of radio with Francis Rose, whose show, legitimately called "In Depth" actually does what rarely happens on talk radio--offers a chance for serious discussion of ideas and best practices in the world of work, business, and government. Here's the link to our in-depth conversation: (Click Here)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Action Plan for GM

Now that General Motors has officially entered into bankruptcy, and as U.S. taxpayers we're becoming majority owners of one of the icons of American capitalism, it's time for us to go to work to fix our car company! As one of the new co-CEOs of GM (along with you), I've got a few ideas about what we need to do. You can read my action plan on the Huffington Post,
(Click Here)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Personal Branding Interview

Personal branding, in a way, is a notion that Fast Company helped launch with Tom Peters' legendary essay, "The Brand Called You." Now the game has come full circle: I get my personal brand explored in the context of Rules of Thumb by the champion of personal branding, Dan Schawbel.

Here is a short excerpt from the interview. (You can read the full interview here)

In a time of economic struggle, how can people thrive and survive, without losing everything they’ve already worked hard for?

Well, I don’t think anyone can guarantee that any of us won’t lose what we worked hard to create or earn; those kinds of guarantees never existed and don’t exist now. I think the best way for all of us to deal with this period of great uncertainty is to focus on what really matters. Several of my Rules of Thumb are designed to help people do that.

Rule #23: Keep two lists. What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night? In other words, pay attention to what excites you the most about your work and life, and pay equal attention to what you feel passionate about changing in the world around you.

Rule #3: Ask the last question first. The last question is, what’s the point of the exercise? Why do you do what you do? What’s your definition of victory?

Rule #4: Don’t implement solutions. Prevent problems. The point here is, the least expensive, most effective way to get results is to prevent a problem from happening, rather than waiting and then having to clean it up. In some way, this current economic mess is an invitation for all of us to think freshly about how we want to work and live, how we want to do business and pursue our own path.

Rules of Thumb is a reminder, in some cases, of things we all know but may have forgotten. It’s a set of core principles that can guide leaders, entrepreneurs, kids just starting in business, or old-timers trying to make sense out of so much change.

(You can read the full interview here)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The New York Times on ROT

The New York Times is still, for most people, the newspaper of record. It not only prints all the news that's fit to print, it casts its discerning journalistic eye on all the books that are fit to read. Which makes it very gratifying, indeed, that today's NYT saw fit to say nice things about Rules of Thumb, a business book for small business people, entrepreneurs, and others too numerous to name! You can read what Paul Brown had to say right (here)

Huffington Post Contribution

It's hard to think of a site that gets more passionate and interested (and interesting) readers than the HuffPo, which is why I'm delighted to get my thoughts added to the roll call there. Here's my most recent contribution:

The Real Stress Test: What Does Leadership Look Like?
The eyes of the punditocracy are fixed on the banks and their performance under the Obama administration's stress tests -- and whether the tests to determine the banks' financial stability were tough enough. Meanwhile, the real story is, as usual, hiding in plain sight. We're watching America learn a new definition of leadership, one that, interestingly, finally gets us past the test of toughness.

For as long as I can remember, Americans have adopted a one-size fits all definition of leadership. Whether in politics or business, we wanted leaders who were tough enough to make the hard decisions. Sure, as vice president, Dick Cheney was a glowering, mean SOB -- but he was our glowering, mean SOB! His scowl was enough to keep the terrorists at bay. On Wall Street, Jimmy Cayne, Bear Stearns ex-CEO, and his ilk were famous -- or notorious -- for lacking any visible sign of weakness... or humanity. Leaders, real leaders, we thought, not only never let the other side see them sweat; they never admit a mistake, never acknowledge any doubt, and never, never apologize. Because, as George W. Bush famously demonstrated when asked the question during one of the presidential debates, real leaders never make a mistake.

(Click Here) for the rest of the article.

Terri Lonier Review of Rules

Terri Lonier was one of the early adopters of Fast Company. When the magazine first came out, she got it--she knew it would help people who were "soloists"--people working as entrepreneurs, as "free agents", as independent contractors in the world of work, which was changing to rely more and more on people who wanted to be able to call their own shots and define their own career path. Terri became their advocate and guide, a trusted source of ideas and practical tips on how to navigate in the rapidly evolving world of soloists. Well, it's been a few years (ok, more than a few) and the good news is, she's stuck with it, held true to her own star, and is still the trusted source of information for millions of free agents. Now she's turned her discerning eye to Rules of Thumb; you can read her review by Clicking Here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Great Book Review

Steve Roesler has a blog that focuses on "all things workplace." His most recent post is a rave review of Rules of Thumb--a very generous, genuine, and thoughtful take that you can read by clicking (here).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rules of Google!

A few weeks ago I was invited to come to the Google-plex and give a talk as part of Google's program to bring authors on to the campus. The hardest part was actually finding the right building: I googled the address, but got bad results. Go figure. But once I was there, the Google folks couldn't have been nicer, more welcoming, more friendly, or more interesting. Brian Rose, who helped organize the visit, just sent me the link to the talk, which is now posted, and also paid me a generous compliment: He said he'd just finished reading Rules and it was "like finding a mentor-in-a-box." So now I can claim as an endorsement: "Like a mentor-in-a-box"! Google says!
How's that for marketing by extrapolation! Hope you enjoy the video!
(Click here to watch the video)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Kind of Review Every Writer Wants!

Ross Hollman remembers the first issue of Fast Company--which makes him a stark raving fan, in the words of Tom Peters. But more than that he's a careful and discerning reader of business journalism and business books, the kind of reader who's always on the look out for the good, new stuff and looking to avoid the same old predictable stuff. I won't tell you exactly what he wrote about RULES, except to say, it's the kind of comments any author hopes to read about their book! So here's a big thank you to Ross--and a link to his review.

(Click here for Ross' review)

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Column today in the Harvard Business Review

Three Rules for These Times
Most economists agree that the worst of this financial meltdown is now behind us. Unemployment is at a 25-year high, it's true, but at least the pace of lay-offs has slowed. If there was a doubt before, it seems safe to conclude that we're going to make it through this mess. There will be enormous social costs. People have lost their livelihoods and their life savings. Seniors have seen their retirement nest eggs disappear; young people have seen their employment hopes vanish. But we're going to make it.

The question is, what, if anything will we learn from this disaster? Already economists are subjecting their field to a long overdo critical review. In their thoughtful book, "Animal Spirits," George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, suggest that economics has left out the human factor--the emotional components that drive economic behavior. Alan Greenspan has publicly acknowledged that his mental model of the economy clearly did not match reality. It seems clear that we'll soon see new regulations put in place, new oversight and legislation designed to change the way the public sector referees the behavior of the private sector in economic matters.

(Click here for the rest of the column)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Video Book Review by Chris Brogan

Here's a great review by Chris,

"Rarely do I get so into a book that I have to write all over it. Rules of Thumb by Alan Webber is one of those books. I started it on the plane, and ended up getting it consumed in only a few hours. I read it again taking feverish notes (you’ll see some in the video). It’s not that the book is utterly brilliant, but rather that it makes you think about how you’re doing business. I challenge you to read Rules of Thumb without finding yourself taking notes and thinking about things."

(Click here for Chris's video review)

A Rule Of Thumb with a German Ring

While in Europe someone said to me, "The old boss has to go," it says in German. What I was trying to say was, it's awfully hard for the old boss, who created the organization and built the team, to have the courage and vision to take it apart and transform it. This much is clear: there is an international appetite for a serious discussion of how we got into this mess, what it's going to take to get out of it and, what, if anything, we're going to learn from the experience. I keep repeating Rule #5: change is a math formula. Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great Review in The Washington Times

BOOK REVIEW: 'Learn to take No as a question'
(Click Here for the article in The Washington Times)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A ride with Tim Ferriss author of The Four Hour Work Week

(The following is from Tim's Blog: Click Here) Tim writes...

Several weeks ago, I found myself in the passenger seat of a car going nowhere fast.

My friend, Peter Sims, who had earlier introduced me to the Stanford D.School, was leading the charge into the unknown, hurtling us (hopefully) towards dinner in exotic Burlingame, where people from SF and Palo Alto compromise to break bread.

The “us” included Alan M. Webber, whom I’d never met. He sat behind me, and — as getting lost tends to promote — we ended up talking about nothing in particular and everything in general: publishing, the game of business, Mr. T, you name it. I didn’t know Alan, but it soon became clear that I should listen as much as possible.

(Click Here for the rest of Tim's blog post)
Tim has a great community conversation going on over at his blog.

Rules of Thumb Visits Big Think. That said, the more I think about Rules of Thumb, the more I think the ideas in it aren't so much big as useful, insightful, and derived from real experience. Not sure if that qualifies as "big"--in fact, I'm not sure I trust "big ideas" these days, if "big" means "one size fits all," or "silver bullet," or "this is the next big thing." Maybe one of the lessons of the Big Meltdown is that we need a series of smaller ideas that have been road-tested and reality-driven before we apply them to work, finance, and personal affairs. Any way, it's another way to think about thinking big versus thinking real.

How can we conceive of alternatives to work?

When will we have web 3.0?

How can Americans be more globally minded?

What do we need to be talking about as people?

(Click here for more videos at the

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rick Levinson Interview @Bloomberg News

May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and author of “Rules of Thumb, 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self”, says a lifetime of meeting and listening to people helped him become a successful innovator and leader.

To make sure you remember what folks tell you, in his book he suggests carrying a stack of 3x5 cards so you can write it all down and create your own 52 rules for succeeding in business and, Webber says, life.
(Click here for the rest of the interview)

800-CEO-READ Interview

Todd Sattersten talks with author Alan Webber about what it takes to figure out the new rules of business. In his book Rules of Thumb, Webber talks about how quickly things are changing and how to look at these changes as opportunities.
(Click here to listen to the interview)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Column in The Huffington Post

Why 2009 College Graduates Will Win Big
On campuses all across America you can practically feel the fear. But despite schools closing with sick students, kids and parents aren't afraid of the swine flu. In the wake of the economic crash, they're afraid that the jobs flew.
If you scratch below the surface of this recession-triggered fear, you quickly discover two key realities. First, what really has graduates most disturbed is not the scarcity of jobs--it's the disappearance of business-as-usual jobs. Gone are the big-ticket positions on Wall Street; the blue-chip jobs at management consulting firms have dried up; the high-end jobs at old and storied companies and sexy technology startups aren't there for the picking. In other words, the cool jobs that top students effortlessly slid into in the past, complete with signing bonuses and ego strokes, aren't in the cards for the Great Class of 2009.
The second reality is that the Great Class of 2009 is better off because those jobs aren't waiting for them. This year's graduates dodged a bullet. It's the bullet that nailed the CEOs of America's car companies when they mindlessly flew to Washington, D.C. in their private jets to ask Congress for a bailout. It's the bullet that hit the Wall Street bankers who mindlessly handed out bonuses to their bailed-out executives using money from the public treasury.
(Click Here) For the rest of the Column

Andy Nulman's Book Review

Below is a link to Andy Nulman's very nice blog review of Rules Of Thumb. Thanks Andy.

World-Wide Webber
Have to say that I’ve been enjoying the romp through Alan Webber’s book “Rules of Thumb.” Ostensibly, the co-founder of Fast Company sliced up his reams of real-life wisdom (or “Truths,” as he calls ‘em) into 52 segments so that they can be digested one-per-week for a year, but paraphrasing that classic Lay’s Potato Chips challenge, betcha can’t read just one. I defy you to put the book down without plowing through six or seven of said “Truths” at one sitting.
(Click Here for the rest of Andy's review)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Column in USAToday, today

Hey, grads, it's time to write new rules.
If you listen to conventional wisdom, it's a tough time to be graduating from college or getting your MBA: Unemployment is at a 25-year high and, according to experts, employers expect to hire 22% fewer graduates this year than last year.

Now that commencement season is upon us, I've been thinking about what I'd say to this group that's coming of age at a time of national questioning. I've drafted this all-purpose address as my answer to that challenge.

If you know a graduate, forward this on to him or her. If you're the one getting the diploma, carry it with you and read it at your ceremony instead of listening to that boring speaker who's still talking on stage:
(click here for the rest of the Column)

Video interview with JaffeJuice

Here is a funny interview with Jaffe. (Click Here)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Radio Chat with Jim Blasingame on Rules & Small Business

As part of my recent Radio Tour of America on behalf of Rules, I did a fun radio show with Jim Blasingame--not only a smart and experienced voice for small business but also a relative of former Cardinal Second Baseman Don Blasingame! How cool is that? Click to listen!

The 3 x 5 Card: The Next Big Thing

Last week I did a Conversation Starter for my old friends at the Harvard Business Review--looking to make a big claim for a small card: the 3 x 5 card--a trick that I learned when I ran HBR under the aegis of the brilliant Ted Levitt. To read what I had to say about Ted's big idea, and how it helped create Rules of Thumb, go here.

Polly and Alan Talk Rules of Thumb at Japan Society

Last week, former Fast Company super-star Polly LaBarre and I reunited for an evening on stage at the Japan Society of New York. A raucous crowd of more than 100 friends and colleagues gathered for give and take on Rules of Thumb! Check it out!

So, you ask, how do you know a Rule of Thumb when you hear one?

(Well, actually you didn't ask; actually I asked, but it's an interesting question, and I'm sure you meant to ask it.) The way I think about it, there are 5 criteria worth considering--at least as starting points:
1. A Rule of Thumb is succinct. It usually consists of a few well-chosen words that are absolutely spot on. Not long ago, I was talking with a friend about emotions and relationships. He said to me, "The opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference." Bam! Short. Succinct. To the point. Spot on. The words were well-chosen and perfectly placed. It was as if he'd invented an insight or an aphorism on the spot.
2. A Rule of Thumb captures something you've been fumbling around in your own head trying to figure out. Someone can say something that is succinct and to the point, but if it isn't something that you've been working on yourself (even if you don't know you're working on it) it isn't going to connect with you. But if you've been thinking about work or entrepreneurship, family or career, and then someone unexpectedly nails your quest for insight with a simple observation, it's like taking a 2 x 4 on the forehead.
3. A Rule of Thumb opens up a new line of sight for you. I call the practice of capturing Rules "mental chiropracty." You know it when it happens because all of a sudden your brain snaps into alignment.
4. A Rule of Thumb helps you make sense. It puts words to a way of seeing or thinking. It opens your eyes to something that was right there in front of you, but you hadn't had the lenses to see it yet.
5. A Rule of Thumb gets you thinking. If it doesn't make you thirst for the next logical application of that kind of insight, then it's not really a rule; it's just a good line. But when you start to think about things with a fresh mind, and it applies to a number of areas that regularly come into your work or life, then you're putting a rule of thumb to very good use.
That's it for me, in a nutshell.
What would you add?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Books Out

Rules of Thumb (the book) officially hits the book stores on April 21, so the last few days have been chock full of activity designed to get the book off to a fast start. (Apparently books and movies now play by similar rules: the moguls pay attention to the opening weekend box office results to predict how the audience will respond. This despite my deep conviction--and I suspect proven fact--that nobody really knows why or how a book or a movie finds its audience--or the audience finds the book or movie.
But I digress. If you want to see an example of a guest blog that I've written, check out:
It's my first guest blog and I'm told it will be up over the week end. Let me know what you think--I hope it not only presents the book well, but also has merit on its own as a short piece of writing.
In other news: a few months ago I contributed the introductory essay to a collection of pieces on the U.S.-Cuba relationship. It was clear to me, just from reading the official documents and reports that have been drafted over the years that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a monumental failure. A failure and in many respects a self-defeating piece of pretzel logic.
Today comes news that the U.S.-Cuba relationship is moving from thaw to full-fledged melt. There may even be diplomacy happening between the two in a matter of a week.
All of which leads to today's rule of thumb, or quote of thumb, borrowed from Ernest Hemingway, whose writing digs are preserved in Cuba as a museum. In a memorable line, one of Papa's characters describes how he went broke: "First gradually, then suddenly."
It's an apt description--a rule of thumb--of how change comes, once it comes.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb