A recent cosmetic craze entails periodic injections of deadly botulism toxin (botox) to partially paralyze facial muscles—supposedly making the patient look younger, albeit vapid and expressionless as well. A parallel reading craze entails periodic interjections of smarmy TV-talk-show-host book recommendations that partially paralyze "brain muscles"—leaving the reader no smarter and certainly no younger. For those who prefer to think younger and get smarter about designing, building, and operating the man-made environment, here are six books you won't find recommended on TV.
I mentioned David H. Maister's Managing the Professional Service Firm
Managing the Professional Service Firm (Free Press, paperback ed. 1997) in Issues One and Two, and no doubt will do so many times more in future issues. Mandatory reading for professional service firm managers and for those who aspire to management. Also useful to anyone who works for or provides services to such firms, as well as to clients who procure and pay for professional services. Did I leave anyone out?
Every few decades a book comes along with such keen insight that its title gains a permanent place in our vocabularies. The Mythical Man-Month,
The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on... by Frederick P. Brooks (2nd Edition, Addison-Wesley, 1995) taught us that adding people to a team rarely speeds up a project and may actually slow it down. The reason? As head count grows in collaborative teams, ever more overhead time is required for internal communication and coordination. Originally written in 1974 to report lessons learned on an IBM mainframe software project, this book remains essential reading for anyone in any project-centered business.
It's almost impossible to discuss buying, selling, and using technological products and services without referring to terms and concepts coined or popularized by Geoffrey A. Moore and Regis McKenna in Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and... (HarperBusiness, rev.ed. 1999). Although the authors were not the first to write about technology adoption cycles, early adopters, and so on, they contributed profound insights into concepts such as "the chasm"—the market gap that new technologies, such as virtual building, must cross in order to reach widespread customer acceptance. Whether you're a technophile or a Luddite, you can't understand the 21st century global economy unless you've read this book.
The subtitle of Fred Moody's The Visionary Position
The Visionary Position: The Inside Story... (Times Books, 1999), says it all: "The Inside Story of the Digital Dreamers Who Are Making Virtual Reality a Reality." Although the author's voice occasionally is overcome by hyperventilation, especially when reporting the personality clashes among entrepreneurs, he does provide a good understanding of the concepts and techniques of virtualization.
Macarthur "genius award"-winning novelist Richard Powers crafts exquisitely intertwined tales of technological prowess and essential humanity. His latest effort, Plowing the Dark
Plowing the Dark (Picador USA, 2001) juxtaposes the maddening work of a team creating a virtual world in a "white room" in Seattle and a solitary hostage descending into madness in a bare room in Beirut. Powers masterfully and effortlessly explains the technology and its implications while delving deeply into both the real and virtual manifestations of the human psyche.