16 July 2008

Blogging the AMA Conference: Shirky

I have a confession to make: I think business books are useless crap. I know that's a strong statement, and everyone always has some favorite they're sure will change my mind. "Oh, you'd love Good to Great!" I didn't. "First Break All the Rules really changed my life." Not mine. "Now Discover Your Strengths will deepen your understanding of yourself and others." Not really. "The World Is Flat is groundbreaking!" It's not. "The Tipping Point is brilliant!" Not so much. Call me a curmudgeon (or, more realistically, someone who spent way too much time in grad school), but they were a universal waste of my time.

The latest book to go all fanboy over is, of course, Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. And I have to tell you, it's NOT on my summer reading list. But I'm reconsidering (heresy, I know) for one simple reason: "The old systems get broken long before the new ones are stable."


Now that is pretty profound.

Let's face it: social networking is the wild west, much like the Internet itself was 15 years ago. And organizations, particularly associations that have the completely justified reputation of not always being right at the cutting edge on new technologies, are nervous about adopting this new, unstable system. Think about the objections you hear when you try to promote this in your own organization: "There are too many options - which platform should we use?" "People are organizing without us!" "What if someone writes something we don't like or - even worse - something critical of our association?"

"We can't control it!"

No, Sherlock, you can't. And you shouldn't try. It's scary out here trying to figure things out as you go and devoting resources to projects you aren't sure are going to work, but it's also reality.

The train is pulling out of the station as I type this. Are you on? It's time be become part of the revolution.

For more on Clay Shirky, check out Matt Baehr's BlogClump.

Edited July 16 at 2:46 pm to add: Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation interviewed Shirky in April 2008. Check out the podcast.


Jeff De Cagna said...

Elizabeth, I advise you not to lump all business and management titles into the "useless crap" bin. You could make the same argument about other genres of writing, but it wouldn't be anymore true. Some biz books are worthwhile, and others aren't. Determining the difference makes crap detection an integral 21st century leadership skill.

As for Shirky, I agree with your assessment, and I'm pleased to see others in our space following my lead on Here Comes Everybody. I did a podcast with Clay back in April before anybody else in associations was talking about the book. Here is a link to the podcast:


I think your readers might enjoy listening to it. Let me know what you think.

Matt Baehr said...

I did way to much grad school too, but Biz books are ALL I read. I don't get all the way through each one I get, but I try them out. I always find at least one nugget or thought provoking statement. True, many rehash the same obvious things over and over, but some don't. I also read Inc and Fast Company.

You won't see me with a fiction book. Life is non-fiction.

Whoa, how is that for profound?

Jeff De Cagna said...

Elizabeth, thanks for adding a link to the podcast in your post. One request: can you insert the space in my last name? It is De Cagna and not DeCagna. Thanks!

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...