Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Gladwell Book - Outliers

After seeing Malcolm Gladwell speak at a conference earlier this month, I was eagerly awaiting the release of his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (amazon link). I tore through this book in a manner of hours - Gladwell is so good at pulling the reader in with interesting anecdotes, then illuminating his observations. The style of this book is similar to previous bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink. Outliers takes us on an examination of successful people in our modern world. It challenges the idea that we, as a culture, are "good" at finding and fostering human potential. In fact, there are so many barriers - both accidental and intentional - that it is surprising to find highly successful individuals in our society at all.

Gladwell observes that in the cases of these exceptionally successful people, there were both a set of circumstances and people in their lives that enabled their success. To some degree, he discards the notion of inate "talent" being the key to success. In fact, less "talented" people who are in an environment where they can work and be rewarded are more likely to succeed.

The big takeaway that I see (and that Gladwell highlighted in his live speech), is that in order to move forward and have a sense of fulfillment in life, people must have an opportunity to do "meaningful work." Environmental and economic barriers that prevent people from feeling that control and satisfaction will indeed prevent them from having success. Whether the meaning in their work is simple personal achievement, or part of a larger effort to improve the world - it does not matter - a person can become exceptional when they put their mind and soul into something.

The part of this book that impacted me most profoundly was the last section about educational opportunity. It made me want to go open a school - really. Untapped academic potential in the youngest members of our society, particularly in the poorer communities of the U.S., is an unbelievably rich resource. Here is an opportunity to improve the lives of young people, and ultimately the world. These are very big ideas, indeed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An historic day.

I'm writing after viewing election results for our soon-to-be 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. I am so proud to be an American this night. It is the beginning of a new era.

This afternoon I heard a speech by Malcolm Gladwell. An author I have long respected, but never actually heard speak in person. His speech focused on an unusual idea. In a nutshell, Gladwell says that primarily through ignorance and attitude, our modern culture is wasting vast amounts of human potential. Whether it be in sports or business or any area, we may think we have excellence - but in reality we are quite limited. The most interesting thing about that state of limitation being that it is partially self-imposed. It turns out we are pretty bad at creating a culture of opportunity and success for all.

The secret, Gladwell says, to unlocking the true capabilities of people, is what he calls "meaningful work". That is to say, when people work on something with their full mind and soul, they can do extraordinary things. Not because of some innate talent or lucky position - but simply because they decide to do something, and they work and work until it is done.

I love this idea. I believe it. And tonight, I saw it happen with my own eyes.

PS: Thanks to Tom for the photo of this car driving by Grant Park tonight right before Obama gave his speech.

Head in the cloud(s).

This week I am in San Francisco for the user conference they call Dreamforce. Over the past few years I have really seen this organization scale in amazing ways. This year's conference is focused on "cloud computing" - an idea that removes some of the burden of technical infrastructure from enterprises. This is a particularly good idea for companies that experience elastic technical demands. So if you need a lot of technological heavy lifting one day, and light use the next, it's a really good idea.

Another concept that's being highlighted is about personal connectivity. Everyone seems to be struggling to monetize social networks like Facebook - which has about 120 million users today (gasp). is providing a platform for launching apps on Facebook (example: helping HR find good candidates through social networking).

So from a marketing perspective, what's right about this?

Well - since good online marketing has long been about being found, rather than trying to interrupt someone doing something else online, there's an attraction to being visible and viral in a huge ecosystem like Facebook. There are an awful lot of eyeballs there. Next, pushing repetitive yet important services (like hosting or databases) out to the "cloud" sounds like a good idea.

Now from a marketing perspective, what's missing with this?

B2B Apps on Facebook: If my Facebook page is all about my personal life (i.e. photos of my kids, my pet projects, the social organizations I like, etc.), do I really want it to cross over into my professional world (i.e. the HR application example)?

Computing in the Cloud: It has to be a good idea to start with. All the on-demand servers or platforms in the world are not going to successfully launch a flawed concept. How does the ability to launch an application quickly change the way we think about startups? Do ideas become more disposable when they are aggregated by the thousands on Starbucks customer idea page? Does the cloud complicate my life, or simplify it?

I'll be contemplating all of this tomorrow and issuing another post. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, is speaking tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned.