Snippets from unreviewed books and other sources

Quick links to this page's content ∨ 

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

   In the main currents of psychological research, attention is treated as a resource—a person has only so much of it. Yet it does not occur to us to make a claim for our attentional resources on our own behalf. Nor do we yet have a political economy corresponding to this resource, one that would take into account the peculiar violations of the modern cognitive environment. Toward this end, I would like to offer the concept of an attentional commons.
   There are some resources that we hold in common, such as the air we breathe and the water we drink. We take them for granted, but their widespread availability makes everything else we do possible. I think the absence of noise is a resource of just this sort. More precisely, the valuable thing that we take for granted is the condition of not being addressed. Just as clean air makes respiration possible, silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think. We give it up willingly when we are in the company of other people with whom we have some relationship, and when we open ourselves to serendipitous encounters with strangers. To be addressed by mechanized means is an entirely different matter.

More >

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2015


Walter Mosley, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Performed very well by Dominic Hoffman

   Usually, almost always, people looked to him like someone he'd already met along the way. That was why he found it so hard to remember who someone was. Faces usually made him want to remember something that was lost.

Penguin, New York, 2010


Oded Shenkar, Copycats: how smart companies use imitation to gain a strategic edge

   [I]nnovation and imitation have a lot in common, and competitive advantage depends on our ability to bring them together

More >

Harvard Business Press, Boston, 2010


The Great Derangement by Matt TaibbiMatt Taibbi, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire

   Mainstream American society has never been designed to confront difficult or dangerous truths. In fact, our mass media has corrupted the idea of objective truth so badly in the past five or six decades that it is now hard to tell when anyone is being serious about anything—the news, the movies, commercials, anything.

   We all have such a limited time on earth, and here I am, spending another year in places like this, listening to the same drivel, day after miserable day. No matter which candidate you cover, it's almost always the same flag-and-slogan backdrop behind the lectern, the same canned question-and-answer exchanges, the same pundit-generated opinions bouncing back at you in the "man-on-the-street" interviews on the way out.

Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2008


William Gibson, Zero History

   Reading had likely been his first drug.

Putnam, New York, 2010


Snow Crash by Neal StephensonNeal Stephenson, Snow Crash

   Besides, interesting things happen along borders—transitions—not in the middle where everything is the same.

   "No surprises" is the motto of the franchise ghetto, its Good Housekeeping seal, subliminally blazoned on every sign and logo that makes up the curves and grids of light that outline the Basin.b
   The people of America, who live in the world's most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto. Follow the logo outward, to where the growth is enfolded into the valleys and the canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman's March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs, and bungee jumping. They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in identical computer-designed Burbclave street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks, vast house farms out in the loglo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture.

Bantam, New York, 1992


Nemesis by Jo NesbøJo Nesbø, Nemesis

   "My mother once said that there's only one thing worse than not satisfying a desire. And that is not to feel any desire."

   He liked to stand looking at the trees, wondering how long they had been there and feeling the thought calm him.

Harper, New York, 2008 (2002)


A fine line by Hartmut EsslingerHartmut Esslinger, A fine line: how design strategies are shaping the future of business

Hartmut Esslinger is the founder of frog design.

   In Leading the revolution, Gary Hamel describes the reluctance to change as a key challenge for business leaders trying to infuse their organizations with innovation: "…despite all the pro-innovation rhetoric that one encounters in annual reports and CEO speeches, most still hold the view that innovation is a rather dangerous diversion from the real work of wringing the last ounce of efficiency out of core business processes.… As change becomes ever less predictable, companies will pay an ever-escalating price for their lopsided love of incrementalism."
   Innovation isn't just the after-glow of a flash of insight. To create meaningful innovation, we have to inspire, mentor, and shepherd new ideas, and we have to be willing to pay the price of bold, up-front shifts that will help us avoid that "ever-escalating price" of incrementalism Hamel warns of.
   So how does a company become an engine of innovation? Although humans and the organizations they create are all unique and unpredictable in their strengths and shortcomings, most successful innovators follow some common steps in the innovation process. Here they are, in a broad and simple outline:
   Step 1 – Groundwork: Preparation and research require competence—knowing the business's goals and design's role in achieving them, and taking both very seriously—and selectivity—choosing the right teams, partners, clients, and projects.
   Step 2 – Creative Collaboration: Successful, results-driven teamwork involves rituals such as brainstorming or ideation workshops … that produce new ideas and opportunities: projection, in which all parties in the process envision how the innovation would change the company, the consumer, and the world; and management, that promotes group consensus and provides a plan for supporting and shepherding the innovation toward implementation.
   Step 3 – Marketing: Launching any product, both internally and externally, involves refining and proving the benefits of the innovation to the organization, optimizing the innovation's role in the business model, and providing the leadership tools necessary to take the innovation to market.

   If a company wants to establish a local identity advantage, it has to be smarter about the way it makes high-end products, and it has to manage them carefully through every step of the PLM (Product Lifecycle Model) chain. To succeed in a competitive marketplace loaded with large-scale manufacturers, small and mid-size companies need an adaptive business and sourcing strategy that I call home-sourcing. The home-sourcing strategy combines the advantages of local talent and its unique capabilities with those of globally available product components, to result in truly innovative, unique, and economically competitive products.
   Home-sourcing benefits companies and consumers, and it can provide job security to a local workforce. If a company's local executives, designers/developers, and workers produce something more original and profitable than the generic, mass-marketed dreck that clogs the marketplace, their jobs—in Germany or the United States or wherever—will be safe. In fact, their work may be in demand, because customers love well-made, well-designed products.

Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009

And a snippet from the magazine put out by frog design, Design Mind, issue 10:
I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.
– John Cage (1912 - 1992), American Composer


Michael Dibdin, Medusa

   Books were another form of fog, dipping down to infiltrate and insidiously undermine the authoritative, official version, showing it up for the sham it was. He knew stories were all made up, the characters puppets, the outcome predetermined, so why did they seem more real than reality? And why was no one else shocked by this gleeful scandal?

   In those days, the world had been hard but benign; now it was soft and malevolent.

Vintage Crime, New York, 2005


Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana

   'Haven't you any more loyalty than I have?'
   'You are loyal.'
   'Who to?'
   'To Milly. I don't care a damn about men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organizations.… I don't think even my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren't there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?'

Penguin, New York, 1958


Designing Web Navigation by James KalbachJames Kalbach, Designing Web Navigation

Although this is the most poorly edited O'Reilly book I've come across, the content itself is valuable enough to make overlooking the editor's sloppiness worthwhile. I didn't find part III as valuable as the first two section; it felt like the author had less to share in terms of best practices for navigation related to search, social tagging systems, and rich web applications.

More >

O'Reilly, Sebastapol, 2007


The Caliph's House by Tahir ShahTahir Shah, The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

   We had arrived in Casablanca frazzled by the island culture we had left [England]. We were paranoid, unhealthy, and overworked. In the West we are driven by an extreme form of guilt—if you are not seen working like a dog, you're perceived as being slothful. It was quite clear that things in Morocco were quite different. A mantle of levelheaded comfort enveloped life, even in Casablanca, one of the busiest of all North African cities. I found people rushed about only when they needed to, and not because they knew that others were watching them.

   As our first year in Morocco drew to a close, I found myself thinking a great deal about the move. The learning curve had been severe. I concluded that a life not filled with severe learning curves is not a life at all.

Bantam, New York, 2006


General Eric K. Shinseki

   You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance.


Zodiac by Neal StephensonNeal Stephenson, Zodiac

   Old hardware clerks have learned the hard way that nothing in a hardware store ever gets bought for its nominal purpose. You buy something that was designed to do one thing, and you use if for another.

   And finally we ran it through her fucking Singer. I just went to the other room and watched the static from the sewing machine tear across the screen of her television. I don't like sewing machines. I don't understand how a needle with a thread going through the tip of it can interlock the thread by jamming itself into a little goddamn spool. It's contrary to nature and it irritates me.

Grove Press, New York, 1998


Tribes by Seth GordonSeth Gordon, Tribes

Leadership Is Not Management
   In a classic I Love Lucy episode, Lucy and Ethel are working on a candy assembly line. As the candies come faster and faster, the two of them panic, stuffing truffles into their mouths to keep up with the onslaught.
   They had a management problem.
   Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Burger King franchises hire managers. They know exactly what they need to deliver and they are given resources to do it at low cost. Managers manage a process they've seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible.
   Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change….

   Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It's discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.
   In other words, if everyone could do it, they would, and it wouldn't be worth much.
   It's uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers.
   It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail.
   It's uncomfortable to challenge the status quo.
   It's uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle.
   When you identify the discomfort, you've found the place where a leader is needed.
   If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader.

Portfolio, New York, 2008