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

What Tom’s Reading


First a book that I've re-visited: The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen.

Interview on BusinessWeek.com/eBiz

For more on innovation, read Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation, by James Utterback, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. (He uses the Christensen book in his classes.)

More innovation, via the Internet! I love David Stauffer's new book, D2D: Dynosaur to Dynamo. The cover blurb/sub-sub-title says it all: "How 20 old economy companies are winning the new economy."

"Ezzay" by David Stauffer

You've been asking about this book, which I've been quoting for a while. It was just published in May. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live, Daniel Pink.

Go to danpink.com

This one's not to be published until September '01, but I previewed it. I call it "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." It's Jump Start Your Business Brain, by "the man," Doug Hall, master of Eureka Ranch in greater Cincinnati.

Visit the Eureka Ranch website

Education. I was onto this subject, but I became PASSIONATE when I read this book: A Different Kind of Teacher: Reflections on the Bitter Lessons of American Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto.

More from Harvard prof Howard Gardner, he who gave us M.I.: the seven "Multiple Intelligences." The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think & How Schools Should Teach.

Tribute to Gardner

Frank Smith was onto the subject of education ten years ago! He wrote Insult to Intelligence: The Bureaucratic Invasion of Our Classrooms, in 1991.

The next "big thing" is Healthcare. Start with this memoir by Hamilton Jordan, former chief of staff under Jimmy Carter: No Such Thing as a Bad Day.

For more on healthcare, read Ian Morrison's Health Care in the New Millennium: Vision, Values, and Leadership.

Here's another book I'm quoting right now: Beyond Managed Care: How Consumers and Technology Are Changing the Future of Health Care by Dean Coddington, Elizabeth Fischer, Keith Moore & Richard Clarke.

Healthcare again: HealthCare.com: Rx for Reform, by David B. Friend.

Finally, a couple more books on the women thing. This one is by a recent "Cool Friend," Ronna Lichtenberg: It's Not Business, It's Personal.

Interview on tompeters.com

Harriet Rubin, another "Cool Friend," gave us this: The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women.

Interview on tompeters.com


David McCullough's John Adams yielded this great quote: "It is a glory to have broken such infamous orders."


My recommendation for summer reading is Thinks ... by David Lodge.

What Tom’s Reading


Michael Schrage is perhaps our #1 Innovation Guru. For the last half dozen years, he's been obsessed with the importance of prototyping. In fact, Schrage claims that innovation is how we react to the prototype. How we react when we see a test. What that leads us to conjure up ... for the next test. Schrage has taken it to a brilliant extreme in his utterly marvelous book ... Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate.

Interview on tompeters.com

YOU MUST READ in "The Old Print Version" The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual. There's a lot here I think is bullshit. But I love the baldly polemic nature of this treatise. So: read it, inhale it. If it pisses you off, GREAT! [The Website is a must, too!] By Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searles & David Weinberger.


My take on "standard" big acquisitions is perfectly captured by consultant and business professor Mark Sirower in The Synergy Trap: How Companies Lose the Acquisition Game. Quote: "When asked to name just one big merger that had lived up to expectations, Leon Cooperman [of Goldman Sachs] answered: 'I'm sure there are success stories out there, but at this moment I draw a blank.' "

Book Review

"The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it. They revel in the talent of others." A quote I use often, from Warren Bennis & Patricia Ward Biederman: Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration.

Another quote: "Even if executives of established businesses grasp the impact of new technologies ... they still face a massive competitive disadvantage precisely because they are incumbents. ... They do complex financial calculations and get bogged down in internal political debates. Insurgents have no such inhibitions." From Philip Evans & Thomas Wurster in Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy.

Book Review

Ken Dychtwald wrote Age Wave: How the Most Important Trend of Our Time Will Change Our Future, and, more recently, Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old. My quote from Age Wave: "At each stage of their lives, the needs and desires of the baby boomers have become the dominant concerns of American business and popular culture. If you can predict the moves of the baby-boom generation's life-span migration, you can see the future."

The Masters Forum on Ken Dychtwald

"Experiences," write Joseph Pine & James Gilmore in The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage, "are as distinct from services as services are from goods."

Visit their COOL website

This book is out of print, but it's worth searching out through your favorite online bookseller, based on the title alone! But its author, Ralph Caplan, is also a widely recognized authority on design. The title: By Design: Why There Are No Locks on the Bathroom Doors in the Hotel Louis XIV, and Other Object Lessons.

Another favorite quote is this: "Men and women don't think the same way, don't communicate the same way, don't buy for the same reasons ... He simply wants the transaction to take place. She's interested in creating a relationship. Every place women go, they make connections." It's from Clicking: 16 Trends To Future Fit Your Life, Your Work, and Your Business, by Faith Popcorn & Lys Marigold.

Visit Faith's website

Bringing us to my BIGGEST "thing" for 2001. Women! ... Here's an addendum to the list I started in March 2001.

First another book by Faith Popcorn & Lys Marigold: EVEolution: The Eight Truths of Marketing to Women. Is it a perfect book? No. None is, in my extensive experience. But I also think that my experience is extensive enough to be able to say ... unequivocally ... that this is a genuine original.

Interview on tompeters.com

I recommend this book by our latest Cool Friend, Deborah Tannen: You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.

Interview on tompeters.com

Then there's Harvard sociologist Carol Gilligan's classic study: In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development.

Book Review

Here are the latest books I've been reading:

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker Palmer.

success@life: How to Catch and Live your Dream, A Zentrepreneur's Guide, by Ron Rubin & Stuart Avery Gold.

Cisco Unauthorized: Inside the High-Stakes Race to Own the Future, by Jeffrey S. Young.

Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—And How to Successfully Transform Them, by Richard Foster & Sarah Kaplan.

The eProcess Edge: Creating Customer Value and Business Wealth in the Internet Era, by Peter Keen & Mark McDonald.


Two more books I've been quoting for quite a while are biographies.

Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March. Quote: "I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way."

John Buchan: Sick Heart River. Quote: Rabbi Zusya: "In the world to come I shall not be asked, 'Why were you not Moses?' I'll be asked, 'Why were you not Zusya?' "


Perhaps the first New Economy free-lancer is Travis McGee, who goes to work only when the pile of money in his hidey-hole gets uncomfortably low. A detective series by John D. MacDonald, from The Deep Blue Good-by in 1964 (re-released in 1995), to The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985. They're a tad misogynistic (consider the times!), but I promise that once you start, you'll plow through these books.

The complete list


What Tom’s Reading


There are only a small handful of books I read and reread. For example, I've "done" Karl Weick's SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF ORGANIZING at least 8 or 9 times, re-underlining each time.

This "vacation" it was my 4th heavily underlined rereading of Stephen Jay Gould's FULL HOUSE. I LOVE STATISTICS AND PROBABILITIES AND THE PROPERTIES OF VARIOUS DISTRIBUTIONS OF DATA. (There, I've said it.) Gould explains phenomena grand and trivial by examining the properties of variations in populations.

"All this" led me to the SUPER HOT "cloning thing." Consider another of my "light reads," Richard Lewontin's THE TRIPLE HELIX. Bottom line: Genetic Determinism is BULL. What matters: The INTERACTION of Genes and Environment and Random Shit that happens.

Book Review

For more vacation reading, see FICTION, below.

"All this" must be put in the context of a world that's changing at an unprecedented rate. David Schneider & Grady Means, MetaCAPITALISM.

Or, consider one of my favorite topics, The War for Talent. As Stan Davis & Christopher Meyer put it in futureWEALTH, "When land was the productive asset, nations battled over it. The same is happening now for talented people." Talent rules!

And diversity! "Diversity defines the health and wealth of nations in a new century."—G. Pascal Zachary, THE GLOBAL ME: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge: Picking Globalism's WINNERS AND LOSERS. READ THIS BOOK! The basic assertion is strong.

THE RISE OF THE VIRTUAL STATE, Richard Rosecrance. Solid book. Solid argument. So far ... no one is "in the lead" ... when it comes to creating EducationCentury21.

BANKER TO THE POOR, Muhammad Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank. Three hearty cheers to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank. Yunus' un-secret secret: LENDING TO WOMEN!!!!!!!!!!

Yunus' Bio

Bringing us to my BIGGEST "thing" for 2001. Women! What follows is my short list. There's much more.

I've added ... and added ... and added ... "women's stuff" to my seminars. Gotten more strident. FIRE ALL MALE SALES PEOPLE, I shout, only half in jest, following my interpretation of SELLING IS A WOMAN'S GAME: 15 Reasons Why Women Can Outsell Men, by Nicki Joy & Susan Kane-Benson.

Sally Helgesen, FEMALE ADVANTAGE. I WAS MEZMERIZED. Her logic was compelling.

tompeters.com Interview

Helen Fisher, THE FIRST SEX: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World. READ THIS BOOK! The premise is ... exactly ... right.


"It's time for U.S. organizations to act. No other country in the world has a comparable supply of professional women waiting to be called into action. This is America's competitive secret." Strong statement! Competitive secret #1!    I AGREE!    Judy Rosener, AMERICA'S COMPETITIVE SECRET.

Book Flap Comments

"Would Congress [the Boardroom] be a different place if half the members were women?"—Susan Estrich, SEX AND POWER. Who can resist this title?



THE DIAGNOSIS, by Alan Lightman. The main riff is about the fantastic (truest meaning of that word) 24/7 life many of us now lead. WHICH MAY WELL BE KILLING US.

My next thrilla was Caleb Carr's KILLING TIME. Set in 2023, it depicts a world where the once-benign Internet has made it impossible for any of us to discern truth from fiction. Again, this hit home.

Speaking of thrillas ... I have just found somebody truly as good as Le Carre ... somebody totally unknown to me. I've quickly devoured about 4 of Alan Furst's novels. Such as KINGDOM OF SHADOWS, DARK STAR, and THE POLISH OFFICER.

What Tom’s Reading


CORPORATE RELIGION, Jesper Kunde, Financial Times/Prentice Hall (UK). A totally fresh ... AND INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT ... look at brands: Brand Power in the "outside" market is a direct byproduct of the internal soul and personality of the Firm.

Kunde and Company Website


EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING: How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, Relate, Bernd Schmitt, Free Press. Beyond "service" to the Total Experience of Dealing with the Company. [Every airline CEO oughta memorize this, for starters.]


201 GREAT IDEAS FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS, Jane Applegate, Bloomberg. Fabulous "stuff" for all of us ... not just small business owners.


RADICAL MARKETING, by Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin. Cases of unconventional, passionate marketing ... from Harley to the NBA. [I'm re-reading this.]



Jakob Nielsen's Website—lots of web usability ideas


MACHINE BEAUTY: ELEGANCE AND THE HEART OF TECHNOLOGY, by David Gelernter, Basic. "Beauty" and "business" ... YES!


FUNKY BUSINESS, Kjell Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle, Bookhouse (Sweden). A "crazy" ... and brilliant ... book ... by two "straight" Swedish business-strategy profs. (I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!)



THE FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES, Virginia Postrel, Free Press. Extremely thoughtful analysis of why unvarnished competition and entrepreneurialism power economic growth. (The best thing since Hayek!)

Virginia Postrel's Website


THE ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF NEW BUSINESSES, Amar Bhide, Oxford. Thoroughly original research on the shape of entrepreneurialism.



Book Site


THE BEAK OF THE FINCH, Jonathan Weiner, Vintage. If this doesn't make you an "evolutionist," I don't know what will!


THE RISE AND FALL OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, Henry Mintzberg, Free Press. I called this "the book of the decade." I meant it. This is about my 5th close reading.


THE LOOK OF THE CENTURY: DESIGN ICONS OF THE 20TH CENTURY, Michael Tambini, DK. This is a wonderful catalog of the products that have shaped our lives.


THE PENCIL: A HISTORY OF DESIGN AND CIRCUMSTANCE, Henry Petroski, Knopf. 434 pages on the origin and evolution of the not-so-humble pencil! I love "sagas" like this; among other things, they reinforce one's [MY!!] views about the fascinating messiness of "progress."


BLIND MAN'S BLUFF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUBMARINE ESPIONAGE, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Public Affairs. Yes ... a page turner. But I also read it as a "management" story ... dealing with the "risk-reward tradeoff" ... when the stakes are the future of the world!


BETWEEN SILK AND CYANIDE: A CODEMAKER'S WAR 1941—1945, Leo Marks, Free Press. Even when the cause is clearly just—beating Hitler—WOW Projects must survive tortuous politics!!!


What Tom’s Reading


RULES FOR RADICALS, Saul Alinsky. The 1971 organizer's classic. The Bible on moving people to action. Hint: Applies to a Y2K finance project as much as to a 1960s union certification drive!

INFLUENCE: SCIENCE AND PRACTICE, Robert Cialdini. Best and best researched book ... ever(?) ... on this topic. He would have predicted 10 years ago the power of permission marketing on the Web!

THE POWER OF MINDFUL LEARNING, Ellen Langer. When we are deeply engaged, we soar. When we ain't, we don't! This is an incredibly readable, brilliantly researched tome.

DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: HOW TO DISCUSS WHAT MATTERS MOST, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen. I'm on my third reading. Half the pages are dog-eared. This is a mind-bogglingly (yech!) powerful book. For life. For getting things done in organizations. (From members of the renowned Harvard Negotiation Project.)

WHY WE BUY: THE SCIENCE OF SHOPPING, Paco Underhill. Goes very deep on this eternally relevant subject. (More relevant than ever, as we try to fathom the impact of the Web.)

WORLDLY GOODS: A NEW HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE, Lisa Jardine. I find that, paradoxically, reading history helps me feel my way through these mad times much more effectively. (This has long been Peter Drucker's secret weapon.)

THE VICTORIAN INTERNET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF THE TELEGRAPH AND THE NINETEENTH CENTURY'S ON-LINE PIONEERS, Tom Standage. The telegraph, relatively, was as big a deal as the Web! Great read!

THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES, Ray Kurzweil. If you only read one book in the next few months, make it this one. In short, we ain't seen nothin' yet! Speaking of ain't, Ray Kurzweil ain't no flake!


DAMASCUS GATE, Robert Stone.


What Tom's Reading.
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