What You Can Do to Nurture and Protect Ideas

I just finished a “FreshTech Friday” post for AustinStartup, one of the blogs where I contribute from time to time. Entitled “Q: Is it fake? A: Who cares? (You should!),” I talk about the perils to creativity and originality that are popping up, and what citizens who care about innovation ought to do about it.

Since my focus is unapologetically grounded in the issues of my hometown-for-life, Austin, Texas, my thoughts on the topic of what one “ought to do” have a Central Texas flavor. But, they can certainly be personalized to your own region of the country, even with the obvious differences in people and institutions.

1. One of the victims of the No Child Left Behind era in American public education has been the death by a thousand cuts of critical thinking. Data and information is being “learned,” but the processing of it, via critical thinking, into knowledge and (ultimately) wisdom that produce new authentically original thoughts and new ideas, has suffered mightily on the standard K-12 curriculum.

From fine arts classes to “gifted and talented” programs, kids lack the choices (and schools lack the budget and incentives) to practice critical thinking. Attend a neighborhood school’s open house. Find out how you can help out in the classroom or through diverse non-profit programs, from Communities in Schools to Destination ImagiNation.

2. While some improvements have been made, the velocity of patent approval is still far shy (and the expense of the process, still too high) in the U. S. Interestingly, Congressman Lamar Smith, who has represented a large swath of south Austin for several years, is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary committee.

And, when the Republican party regains a majority in the House again, which it someday will (the pendulum swings are inevitable, no matter what your party affiliation or political persuasion), it’s quite possible that Congressman Smith could have in his future the highly influential Chairman role for the Judiciary Committee.

If you haven’t boned up on your congressional committee assignment responsibilities recently, you’ll see that the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over copyright, patent and trademark law, and information technology, among other things. So Austin-ites, get to know your Congressman Smith and let him know what you think about these subjects, like the Patent Reform Act which he co-sponsored in 2005 and passed in the House, but since then has been something of a political hot potato.

3. Lastly, one of the more distressing international side effects of the “great recession” over the past two years has been the increased protectionism between countries and the reassertion of trade barriers, via tariffs, bans, and other penalties or impediments. This affects IP, because one of the real engines of global prosperity is the free-flow of intellectual property, given its appropriate protection and valuation.

Indeed, one of the chief exports the U.S. has retained is our knowledge capital – both intellectual property and the expertise to operate a knowledge worker economy. With other countries that have been slow to adopt international legal frameworks and enforcement regimes, promoted by bodies like the WTO, the retreat to a more protectionist environment has made the free flow of ideas harder.

On the other hand, one of the more promising side effects of the open source movement over the past two decades has been the development of the commons approach to IP. Indeed, Creative Commons has been aggressively developing licenses and other legal frameworks for promoting the sharing of patents and other IP beyond software, into areas like life sciences and sustainability, through efforts like the GreenXchange.

For Austin, with assets like the Clean Energy Incubator at the University of Texas and the city’s smart-grid effort, the Pecan Street Project, this opportunity to acquire the sustainability-oriented patents from organizations like Best Buy, Nike, and Yahoo, for low or no cost, may be a real boon. The hope is that such efforts will help to accelerate the time-to-market for innovative products and services that can make an impact on climate change.

My advice? Learn more about commons, in relation to all of the other options. And think long and hard about what is worth protecting completely (via patents and trademarks), versus partially and/or pre-approved with certain restrictions (via a commons approach), versus not at all.

I have no doubt this topic will continue to be a hot one for years to come. Let me know what you think.

Seven amazing business books: Part 3

This is the last post in my series of seven amazing business books that you probably haven’t read. If you’ve been following me, you’ve caught the wistful but inevitable nod I have to give to the decline of the printed word. Yet, just because printed books are disappearing, our population’s hunger for content isn’t.

For example, according to a January 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report, the total amount of mobile, digital connectivity is up for kids – to over 7.5 hours per day. The study’s authors didn’t believe this result would be possible, because of the large amount of content that kids were already consuming a few years earlier, during the previous survey.  The report goes on to say that they actually pack over 10 hours of content into the day, but it’s consumed in less time than that, because of multiple screens or feeds running at the same time.

So, my hope is that the great content in these favorites of mine and the other great books of the past and future will continue to live on, providing the answer to our search for knowledge in videos, rap mp3s, and who knows what else. There certainly seems to be a hunger for it. With that, I offer the final two books.

The Entrepreneur’s Manual, by Richard White (Chilton Book Company, 1977) – you can take your Tom Peters, your Jim Collins, your Gary Hamels – all tremendous thought leaders in their own right – and line them up on your desk to read “what it takes” to be a successful entrepreneur. Or, you can take White’s straight-talking, unconventional, pre-IBM PC/Apple II tome and have the most comprehensive, single guide written in the past 33 years and counting on starting and/or running an entrepreneurial enterprise.

I actually first got this book on loan from colleague and mentor, Steve Papermaster, a long time ago and kept it on “indefinite loan” for many years. Then, I found a copy through one of Amazon’s bargain/rare books sources and released Steve’s copy back to him. Are the technology, global economy, and other time-bound references in it dated? Of course they are. Heck, if you are 30 years old or younger and reading this blog post, you weren’t even around when the book was published.

But, I love the spirit and timeless truths that White captures in his chapters about purpose, team, finances, customers, etc., etc. It’s a real treasure and highly recommended.

Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler (Prentice Hall, 2008) – Last but not least, this one is kind of a trick, for a couple of reasons. First, while it’s likely that you’ve never read this book during your professional career, it’s very possible that you read this book if you’ve ever taken any graduate classes in business (and possibly even undergraduate). Because it is, far and away, the most widely used graduate-level textbook for marketing in the world.

Second, it’s actually the most recently updated book, in its 13th edition now, revised and printed in 2008. However, the first edition was published by Professor Kotler in 1967 and set the course for what is the bible of American (and arguably global) marketing.

In terms of pure, true reference use – i.e., reaching over to grab a book, flipping through the index or table of contents, and re-reading a section of explanation, instruction, or commentary – I have gone back to this book more than any other on the list.

So, that’s my list of seven amazing books you’ve probably never read. I hope you enjoyed it and, perhaps, even looked one or more of them up to see if you might want to read them too. Cheers!

Seven amazing business books: Part 2

In my post yesterday, I started my personal list of seven amazing books that I’m betting you’ve probably never read. I offer the list, despite the Steve Jobs-ian claim that no one reads books anymore. With the recent release in February 2010 of Pew Research Center project’s findings, citing the 50% drop in blogging among teens and young adults in just three years, there is certainly evidence out there supporting Jobs’ position.

But, we forge ahead – in the spirit of “great ideas win out,” regardless of the medium – and present the next three in the list of seven. Remember, these are in the order of newer to older. Enjoy.

Managing at the Speed of Change, by Daryl Conner (Villard Books, 1994) – In 2008, I became a big fan of the model described in Influencer, by Kerry Patterson, Joe Grenny, and the VitalSmarts team (McGraw-Hill, 2007). It is the freshest work done in the broad field of change management that I’ve seen in quite some time.

But, until Influencer came along, my opinion is that Conner’s Speed of Change was one of the great, overlooked books on change management. I still ascribe to the resilience model that he promotes, valuing certain key attributes – positive, proactive, flexible, focused, and organized – as the ingredients that make for the ideal, resilient team member.

Corporate Culture and Performance, by John P. Kotter (The Free Press, 1992) – Through the ups and downs of business cycles since the days of President Jimmy Carter, I have found myself in a position of needing to persuade everyone from first-time CEOs to spreadsheet-obsessive CFOs, time and again, about the value of committing to targeted, meaningful culture-building programs in the company’s budget. If you have found yourself in the same position, look no further. This book is “Exhibit A” in the case of why spending on forming and reinforcing corporate culture pays big dividends.

I cite Page 11 (in my copy of the book): “Corporate culture can have a significant impact on a firm’s long-term economic performance. We found that firms with cultures that emphasized all the key managerial constituencies (customers, stockholders, and employees) and leadership from managers at all levels out performed firms that did not have those cultural traits by a huge margin.

Over an eleven-year period [NOTE: I added the bullet points, to make for easier reading]:

  • the former increased revenues by an average of 682 percent, versus 166 percent for the latter;
  • expanded their work forces by 282 percent, versus 36 percent;
  • grew their stock prices by 901 percent, versus 74 percent; and,
  • improved their net incomes by 756 percent, versus 1 percent!” [NOTE: I also added the exclamation point]

I’ll bet that I have faxed that paragraph, e-mailed those words, or shoved that page of the book in front of people at least once a year on average. And every time, even if the budget gets cut somewhat (although sometimes it goes up!), management’s commitment is renewed.

Capitalism and Socialism, A Theological Inquiry, edited by Michael Novak (American Enterprise Institute, 1979) – This book changed my life. In it are essays by American Enterprise Institute fellows like Irving Kristol, Seymour Martin Lipset, Peter Berger, Michael Novak, Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, Ben Wattenburg, and Penn Kemble. Essay titles range from “The Spiritual Roots of Capitalism and Socialism” to “The Islamic Doctrine of Economics and Contemporary Economic Thought.” Just read it. Whether you agree with it or not, the book deals with God and Mammon like none I’ve ever read.

Tomorrow, the last of my seven amazing business books. Let me hear your favorite unknowns!

Seven amazing business books: Part 1

A little over two years ago, Steve Jobs famously said “the fact is that people don’t read anymore” in remarks he made critiquing what he believed to be the flawed, digital book business model of the Amazon Kindle.

That may be true, but it doesn’t make the power of the ideas that we consume from the content of a “book” (be it a bound set of printed paper, eInk on a Kindle, or an audio recording narrated to you by the author) any less transformative.  So, with that little bit of personal inspiration, I felt the need to write this post.  With a little more room in the header, I would better entitle it “Seven amazing business books you’ve probably never read.”  You will see why in a moment.

I’ve read many, many books over these past 50 years. Over the past 30, since entering the working world, I’ve read, skimmed, or tossed pretty much every one of the major business books du jour, along with hundreds of others, ranging from Soundview book summary to freebie, author-signed copy at conferences.

In recent years, with the Google-ization of all information, plus a really darn fine community library just up the road from my home, I’ve found myself thinning down my personal library of bookcases full of these business books accumulated over time. (Thank you Half Price Books!)

But, in the process, I’ve culled down to a single bookcase what is my essential personal reference library, including what are, in my opinion, some of the truly undiscovered jewels of business writing. Without further adieu, let me share seven of the most amazing books that I’m betting you’ve probably never read, starting with the first two today and going in the order of most recent to oldest.

Persuasive Technology, by BJ Fogg (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003) – This modest, unassuming soft cover book, by a Stanford professor, is one of the absolute best references for how human cognition works in relation to (and is influenced by) technology. But, with our increasingly digital society, I would expand the reach of this book to more than technology and say that its relevance is to how one wields persuasion in business, in general.

For example, his section on the attributes making a website more credible or less credible to users is a must read. But, I have found myself going back repeatedly to Professor Fogg’s research and findings on the subjects of credibility, trust, expertise, and different modalities of persuasion, to apply them to other areas of conducting business, beyond technology. I highly recommend it.

The Drucker Self-Assessment Tool: Participant Workbook, by Peter F. Drucker (Jossey-Bass, 1999) – Alfred Sloan may have invented the principles of 20th century management in his work at GM, as we came to learn it, but Peter Drucker literally “wrote the book” on modern management, by codifying those principles.

However, as great a thinker, writer and teacher on business as Drucker was, I have found his Self-Assessment Tool for non-profit organizations (NPO) to be required reading for any NPO manager, board member, or funding providers. In typical Drucker style, it is simple, logical, and unwaveringly precise in its objective, towards making modern NPOs stronger in every way through critical inspection of mission and data-based, public scrutiny of results.

More amazing, never read books to come in the next post.  In the meantime, tell me about your favorites.