What Tom’s Reading

March 2002

The Mythical Man-Month. Essays on Software Engineering by Frederick Brooks.

Originally published in the mid-’70s, still highly recommended for software designers.

An idea what the book is like/about: “Large system programming has … been … a tar pit, and many great and powerful beasts have thrashed violently in it. Most have emerged with running systems — few have met goals, schedules, and budgets. Large and small, massive or wiry, team after team has become entangled in the tar.”

Tom’s quote: “A lean, elegant programming product must present to each of its users a coherent mental model of the application. … The most important action is the commissioning of some one mind to be the project’s architect, who is responsible for the conceptual integrity of all aspects of the product perceivable by the user. The architect forms and owns the mental model of the product that will be used to explain its use to the user.”

Biography of Frederick P. Brooks


Leading Change, John Kotter.


What Tom says: You must care. PEOPLE CAN SMELL A PHONY FROM A THOUSAND MILES AWAY. “What creates trust, in the end, is the leader’s manifest respect for the followers.”—John Kotter, Leading Change.

Book review of Leading Change


Education and Ecstasy, George Leonard.

Quote: “The most obvious barrier between our children and the kind of education that can free their enormous potential seems to be the educational system itself: a vast, suffocating web of people, practices and presumptions, kindly in intent, ponderous in reality.”


The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State, James Dale Davidson & William Rees-Mogg.

Quote: “The new organization of society implied by the triumph of individual autonomy and the true equalization of opportunity based upon merit will lead to very great rewards for merit and great individual autonomy. This will leave individuals far more responsible for themselves than they have been accustomed to being during the industrial period.”


Rules for Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life, Roger Rosenblatt.

What Tom says: I am not exaggerating when I claim that this is the Most Important Book I’ve read in 20 years. But there is a caveat. You can’t just read it, chuckle, and read a few passages to your spouse or significant other or dog. You must … MUST … reflect on “this stuff.” I imagine Mr. Rosenblatt wrote this with tongue slightly in cheek. No matter. He got it right. Very right. And I choose to take him very seriously. You’d do well to consider the same. I think.

Observation on tompeters.com


Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation, Richard Farson & Ralph Keyes.

What Tom says: Richard Farson, one of the most brilliant management thinkers of our time, has just written a book, with Ralph Keyes, that I dearly/desperately commend to your attention. The brilliant title (encompassing a brilliant book): Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation.


Hypercompetition: Managing the Dynamics of Strategic Maneuvering, Rich D’Aveni.

Quote: “Chivalry is dead. The new code of conduct is an active strategy of disrupting the status quo to create a series of unsustainable advantages. This is not an age of defensive castles, moats and armor. It is rather an age of cunning, speed and surprise. It may be hard for some to hang up the chain mail of ‘sustainable advantage’ after so many battles. But hypercompetition, a state in which sustainable advantages are no longer possible, is now the only level of competition.”


Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old, Ken Dychtwald.

Quote: ” ‘Age Power’ will rule the 21st century, and we are woefully unprepared.”

Visit the Ken Dychtwald website


The Elephant and the Flea, Charles Handy.

Quote: “Passion as the secret of learning is an odd solution to propose, but I believe that it works at all levels and all ages. Sadly, passion is not a word often heard in the elephant organizations, nor in schools, where it can seem disruptive.”


next: the future just happened, Michael Lewis.

Quote from Michael Lewis: “Parents, doctors, stockbrokers, even military leaders are starting to lose the authority they once had. There are all these roles premised on access to privileged information. … What we are witnessing is a collapse of that advantage, prestige and authority.”

Short bio of Michael Lewis


Lifting the Fog of War, Admiral Bill Owens.

What Tom says: TAKE THE MILITARY … still burdened, according to former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Bill Owens, by a military structure “invented by Napoleon.” “By combining computer technology and other modern information-based systems,” Owens writes in his brilliant, provocative Lifting the Fog of War, “we could make a revitalized, leaner military force that is designed to outsee, outmaneuver, and outfight any foe.”

Book review by Michael Schrage


Medicine & Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany, and France, Lynn Payer & Kerr White.

Quote: “Often all one must do to acquire a disease is to enter a country where the disease is recognized—leaving the country will either cure the malady or turn it into something else. … Blood pressure considered treatably high in the United States might be considered normal in England; and the low blood pressure treated with 85 drugs as well as hydrotherapy and spa treatments in Germany would entitle its sufferer to lower life insurance rates in the United States.”

Lynn Payer’s Medicine and Culture Update online


The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism Where All of Life is a Paid-for Experience, Jeremy Rifkin.

Tom’s slide: Markets to networks. Hierarchies to networks. Sellers and buyers to suppliers and users. Ownership to access. (Age of Access.) Marginalization of physical property. Weightless economy. Protean generation. Outsourcing of everything. Franchising of everything. (Business format franchising.) (Leasing DNA.) Everything is a service/platform for services delivery. (Give away the goods, charge for the services. VALUE = THE RELATIONSHIP. “Share of market” to “Share of customer.”) Every business is show business. Source: The Age of Access.


Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, Karl Weick & Kathleen Sutcliffe.

Tom’s slide: Winning By Acknowledging Failures: Wernher Von Braun, the Redstone missile engineer who “confessed” & the bottle of champagne. Award to the sailor on the Carl Vinson-for reporting the lost tool. Amy Edmondson & the successful nursing units with the highest reported adverse drug events. [Examples from Managing the Unexpected.]


Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation, Robert Sutton.

A sample: “(6) Reward success and failure, punish inaction. … (10) Don’t try to learn anything from people who seem to have solved the problems you face. … (11) Forget the past, particularly your company’s success.”


Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan.

Quote: “Active mutators in placid times tend to die off. They are selected against. Reluctant mutators in quickly changing times are also selected against.”



Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee.

What Tom says: I’ve read perhaps the most troubling book I’ve ever read. By the South African author J.M. Coetzee. The title … Disgrace. It’s about South Africa after apartheid. People coming to grips with new roles. As with all great fiction, consider James Joyce’s Ulysses, it’s about human beings exploring their limits.


The Falls, Ian Rankin.

What Tom says: Ian Rankin, to my mind, is the best mystery writer alive. All his books are terrific; and I love his very flawed detective-protagonist, John Rebus.

Visit ianrankin.com