Developing a body of thought and building an organization requires constant learning and mental stimulation. Throughout my career I’ve read extensively and, in some cases, had the wonderful opportunity to explore the ideas contained in a book or an article in greater detail with the author. I am extremely grateful to the many thoughtful people who, through their research and insights, have helped shape my thinking.
During my tenure as President of Gensler, I shared a book or resource that I found particularly compelling with the firm each month. While I was reminded regularly by my colleagues that my voracious appetite for new ideas could be a bit overwhelming, I also know that many of them read much of what I recommended, creating some common vocabulary elements that got woven into the behavior, strategies and philosophies of the firm.
Books such as this often contain a bibliography referencing citations and sources but I never have a sense about whether I’d enjoy reading further in some area that really interested me. So rather than just passing along citations, I thought I’d provide an impression of several of the books and authors I’ve found compelling in case you’d like to explore some of the ideas I’ve shared with you in greater depth. While several of the sources are now a bit dated, many of them are classics offering ideas that are as current today as when they were written.
Leadership and Business
I came across a quote from Stephen Ambrose, who wrote Undaunted Courage: Meriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West which, by the way, is a fabulous book about one of the great adventures of all time. Any of you who have traveled through the west have seen trail markers commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition along with numerous High Schools, streets and parks named in their honor. There may even be more Lewis and Clark than Martin Luther King commemoratives. But most of us never knew much more about the importance and difficulties of this venture than the brief notes in our history books in primary school. It is historically accurate, based entirely on letters and journals still in existence (it’s remarkable that this much material from the early nineteenth century is still around).
I had an opportunity to meet and spend time with Steve just after he returned from a tour with Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks to promote the film “Saving Private Ryan” which is based on an episode from another of his books, Citizen Soldiers. Steve spoke extensively about the nature of friendship, which was so evident in the relationship between Lewis and Clark and clearly the element which gave them the strength to endure the hardships they faced as they worked together to cross this continent as the first explorers ever to do so. It made me appreciate the deep and lasting friendships which have been so much a part of my life, and to realize how important friendship has been in achieving the things people accomplish. I hope you find this passage from the book worthwhile and wish for you true friendships with the people with whom you share your work.
“Friendship is different from all other human relationships. Unlike acquaintanceship, friendship is based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples, friendship is free of jealousy. Unlike children and parents, friendship knows neither criticism nor resentment nor rebellion. Friendship has no status in law. Business partnerships are based on a contract, as is marriage. Parents are bound by the law as are children.
“But friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised. Friends never cheat on one another, or take advantage, or lie. Friends do not spy on one another, yet they have no secrets. Friends glory in each other’s successes and are downcast by their failures. Friends minister to each other. Friends give to each other, worry about each other, stand always ready to help. At its height, friendship is an ecstasy. For Lewis and Clark, it was an ecstasy and the critical factor in their success.”
Warren Benis & Patricia Ward Biederman
Organizing Genius by Warren Benis and Patricia Ward Biederman presents a marvelous case for why groups so dramatically outperform individuals and is one of the strongest testimonials I’ve found for why you invest in long-cycle strategies. Warren teaches at USC, writing extensively on leadership. I’ve met him several times and find his thoughts quite fascinating. Biederman writes thoughtfully and provocatively for the LA Times.
Benis and Biederman discuss how great stuff gets accomplished through “Great Groups,” using organizations like Disney, Xerox PARC, Apple Computers during the development of the MacIntosh, Lockheed’s Skunkworks, even the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb to illustrate their points. They focus on the dynamics between teams of people who accomplish great things. I found enormous resonance with teams I’ve worked with when everything is really “clicking.” So often over the years, I’ve heard every member of a team as they wrap up a project which has gone particularly well describe the experience as “the most fun they’ve ever had; like not working at all” even after they’ve committed incredible amounts of time and energy, putting forth the best work they’ve ever done.
Benis and Biederman use case studies to explore the dynamics which have yielded that sort of atmosphere. I found their analysis to be so consistent with my own observations. I’ve often wondered about what created the “magic” and wished I could find ways of recreating that environment over and over. To the degree we’re able to do this, we all have more fun, feel more fulfilled, grow and learn more richly.
One of the principles described is the value of finding meaning in the work the team is doing; a little like that old story about the three masons who were asked what they were doing. The first said, “I’m setting stones.” The second said, “I’m building a wall.” The third remarked, “I’m building a cathedral.” Guess who went home with a smile on his face? To quote from the book, “Without meaning, labor is time stolen from us. . . [Steve] Jobs and the others also understand that thought is play. Problem solving is the task we are evolved for. It gives us as much pleasure as sex.” Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far. They say, “What happens in a Great Group is always in Technicolor. What happens afterward may seem as drab as a black-and-white movie.” But his point is well illustrated in example after example describing teams that truly believe in the importance of what they’re doing and the impact that attitude has on both the quality of work accomplished and the excitement and satisfaction of the group members.
They note that a Great Group is made up of a few great people; not just good, but great; a group that thinks of itself as elite, for whom it’s an honor to have been chosen to participate. “Told he was the best to be had, each recruit tried to live up to [the leader’s] faith in him.” Leaders of great groups are not superstars. They tend to be the ones who are able to effectively recruit or select great and compatible team members, filtering out people who “don’t play well together.” They coach, they keep the big idea or great cause visible, they shield from bureaucracy and other destructive influences, they help the group avoid and excess perfection syndrome, recognizing that the group will only be successful if it “ships product,” and they create an environment where everyone can do their best. “Great groups tend to be non-hierarchical. Members make contributions based on talent, not on role.”
Optimism (a characteristic which for me has been a key filter when recruiting) turns out to be a strong factor in both individual achievement and success for Great Groups. A couple of quotes from the book: “the optimists, even when their good cheer is unwarranted, accomplish more. They do better in school, for example . . . the people most likely to succeed are those who combine reasonable talent with the ability to keep going in the face of defeat.” To cap it off, a quote from Henry Ford puts it nicely: “If you think you can’t, you’re right. And if you think you can, you’re right.”
Benis and Biederman use several examples to illustrate the benefit of a team feeling as if they are underdogs and mavericks acting outside restrictive corporate bounds. My favorite story revolves around Apple’s MacIntosh team: “Jobs promised them they were going to build a machine that would ‘put a dent in the universe.’ They were not engineers or marketers; they were buccaneers, cunning underdogs, going up against the Establishment in the name of excellence and innovation. ‘It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy [referring to IBM]!’ Jobs urged in one of his trademark epigrams, and they raised a skull and crossbones over Bandley [the team’s building].”
“The tendency of great things to be accomplished in dreadful spaces should give architects and decorators pause. There is something about the controlled chaos of a garage, the joyless interior of a Quonset hut that seems to spur the imagination. Perhaps the charmlessness of these places forces people who work in them to turn inward, where problem solving takes place. Certainly these environments offer few distractions, including comfort. For reasons still to be discovered, creative collaboration seems to be negatively correlated with the plushness of the office or the majesty of the view.” Now that’s provocative, suggesting an entirely new design approach to enhance the performance of work teams.
The final chapter lists the characteristics of Great Groups:
- Greatness starts with superb people.
- Great Groups and great leaders create each other.
- Every Great Group has a strong leader.
- The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it.
- Great Groups are full of talented people who can work together.
- Great Groups think they are on a mission from God.
- Every Great Group is an island – but an island with a bridge to the mainland.
- Great Groups see themselves as winning underdogs.
- Great Groups always have an enemy.
- People in Great Groups have blinders on.
- Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic.
- In Great Groups the right person has the right job.
- The leaders of Great Groups give them what they need and free them from the rest.
- Great Groups ship [they deliver a product or service on time and on budget].
- Great work is its own reward.
Ernest L. Boyer and Lee D. Mitgang
Building Community: a new future for architecture education and practice by Ernest L. Boyer and Lee D. Mitgang is a must read for anyone aspiring to be an Architect for the next millennium and the thoughts contained in it are a rich source of considerations for the future of any profession. Others will probably want to pass on this book unless you’re interested in comparing the introspections of the profession of architecture compared to your own professional field. While it was sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University as a research paper into the state of the profession and the educational system which supports it, Boyer and Mitgang are generous with their philosophy and recommendations for change and their thoughts are profound. They present Seven Essential Goals for the profession:
- An enriched mission setting forth the architect’s mission as building for beauty, building for human needs, building for urban spaces, and preserving the planet.
- Diversity with dignity proposes that true learning for this or any profession takes place through a range of methods and curricula; there is no one right process and we must sustain learning throughout the profession.
- Standards without standardization suggests that architectural schools are short changing students by not meeting the National Architectural Accreditation Board’s standards which may be too explicit anyway. Although it supports NAAB’s approach to evaluating curriculum, it proposes a mission of lifelong learning describing four headings for the accumulation of knowledge: discovery of knowledge, integration of knowledge, application of knowledge and sharing of knowledge.
- A connected curriculum discusses the need for architecture programs to break out of the isolation found in schools today and engages in a dialog with teaching in other disciplines.
- A climate for learning makes some healthy suggestions for change in atmosphere, at schools and in practice. It begins with: “Healthy learning communities share certain unmistakable characteristic–openness, fair play, clarity of communication, inclusiveness, tolerance, caring, joyfulness and commonly held purposes.”
- A unified profession calls for the development of a strong connection between the university, the internship process and the practice of architecture (this was echoed strongly by the deans of the architectural schools in Miami).
- Service to the nation speaks to the role of the architect as citizen.
It’s an impressive work and a thoughtful digest of the profession today. While academic, it creates a platform for the development of specific response and action from the universities and the profession. Read it and discuss it in the office. It’s a strong baseline of thought for the development of the profession and our practice.
In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t, Collins continues the research into themes explored in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. These are mandatory “reads” for anyone interested in the long-cycle ideas discussed in this book. His latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, written with Morten Hansen continues to explore why some companies succeed while others fail. It updates his notions to account for numerous changes in the world of business which have taken place since his earlier books.
Max Depree, former CEO of Herman Miller, provides a marvelous anecdotal primer on leadership entitled Leadership is an Art. It contains some wonderful stories of Max’s experiences over the years and will help you to understand what leading looks like, up close and personal. This is easy reading and I’ve given out many copies over the years to people on a quest to figure out how to be good leaders. This isn’t all there is to say on the subject, merely the first things that need to be understood. Give it to that young aspiring leader in your organization.
A book for that young, aspiring leader in your organization, Writing in the Information Age by Joe Florian, provides some of the best writing advice I’ve seen. Florian makes the case that succinct and compelling business writing is more important today than ever before. We are inundated with information that is so poorly written that material constructed in a crisp, compelling fashion can have a profound impact on readers. He also shows us that good writing is not rocket science and gives some excellent methods that you can apply right now to make your writing easier and better.
The Gallup Organization
Three books have come out of The Gallup Organization that I have found completely compelling in guiding an enterprise to high value. Each builds a case for a strengths based organization that treats people as individuals, capitalizing on their talents. All three merit your attention. The second and third provide a website for you to profile your own strengths and impact on your organization:
- First, Break All The Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
- Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.
- How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.
What is the sequence of events leading to major change in a business, a community or the world? The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference explores eloquently how change comes about and how minute the event might be that shifts a major system.
His new book, Blink, pursues the topic of intuition. Where do our quick, instinctive responses to situations and people come from, what value do they have and should we follow them? These are both “light” reads but filled with wonderful insights to why things happen the way they do.
I consider Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence to be a definitive book on how the human brain develops and learns. It helped me immensely years ago as I watched and tried as any parent does (without much of an operating manual) to help my two offspring to find their way in the world.
His recent book, Primal Leadership, is my new instruction manual on how leaders can learn to function effectively in organizations to build effective teams through working with emotions.
Charles Handy is prolific and one of my favorite authors on changing cultures in our society and the impact they’re having on our work lives. To understand what your employees are going to be like and what it’s going to take to attract and retain them, spend some time with Handy. Following his much acclaimed The Age of Unreason, he wrote The Age of Paradox. The First book took us through a transition in work life that radically shifted my thinking about who’s going to be occupying all this office space around the world in the coming decades – and it’s not conventional large corporations as we know them. He wrote of a new array of not-for-profit enterprises taking on the role of government services, of individual entrepreneurs replacing commitment for life relationships in large corporations and generally described a society which is in dramatic transition. In the second book, he wrote extensively of the dismemberment (downsizing) of large, vertically integrated companies and the creation of virtual enterprises where people rely on the talent, skill and knowledge they accumulate throughout a career to come together for a specific purpose then break apart and reconfigure for a new mission. At the end, we’re left with many mysteries about how to manage an organization under these circumstances.
Beyond Certainty is a collection of essays in which Handy explores “Federalism” where real power resides with individual work teams which still yield some authority to a central entity for better leverage and wiser long term decisions. This is a discussion of interdependence which he believes works for nations as well as organizations. For those of us who continue to try to understand how our world is going to feel and what paths our careers are likely to take, these books are a fine and provocative collection of thought.
Handy continues with The Hungry Spirit to be one of the most interesting speculators about the evolution of our society. The subtitle “Beyond Capitalism, a quest for purpose in the modern world,” is a good descriptor of Handy’s explorations. If you’re interested in value systems in work and family life, you’ll find this wonderfully thought provoking. This is a book you’ll want someone else you know to read as well. It deserves discussion. I certainly found myself wanting to talk to someone about the implications of Handy’s speculations. While perusing any of his works is provocative and filled with insight, reading these four in sequence helps you to see how he’s built his thoughts over the years.
Leapfrogging the Competition, Five Giant Steps to Market Leadership by Oren Harari, a professor of management at the University of San Francisco provides wonderful insight into how to lead quantum change in response to an ever-changing world. The book is filled with easily understood conceptual ideas about how to thrive in this era of staggering change (a quote from the book, “half of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1983 are no longer around”), backed up by pragmatic methods to structure your organization to excel. While the concepts are straightforward, the things you have to do are easier said than done. So, while it’s a great how-to book, it won’t be very easy for most enterprises to undertake enough of the “Giant Steps” to make a difference. Herein lays the opportunity.
Jerry teaches at USC and, long before his book Overcoming Resistance: A Practical Guide to Producing Change in the Workplace was published, spent time with Gensler leading workshops on why people resist change and how to overcome that resistance to build an organization with common purpose. Jerry’s techniques are easy to learn and apply. Many of his aphorisms became reminders for us when encountering objections to the direction we were headed. They also helped us to work more effectively with clients. Give this book to your managers to help them learn how to deal with organizational resisitance.
I’m often asked about leadership: What make a good one? Can I learn to be one? What can I read to help me understand leadership? An excellent source immediately comes to mind: A Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management by John Kotter explores a broad array of characteristic behaviors which distinguish leaders from managers in an organization.
More than any other book I’ve read, it discusses personal histories of leaders and how the personality and style of a leader is formed. It is profound in its endorsement that both management and leadership are part of an effectively functioning organization. Each is necessary and important; we need to celebrate and appreciate both roles as different career tracks. The “Peter Principle” of someone rising to their own level of incompetence is captured by the observations of great managers who think that they can only be successful if recognized as great leaders but never get there because this is not their strength.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team presents through a fable about a high-tech company the pitfalls of teams so common in business today. These dysfunctions may sound familiar:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
Sounds straightforward but you’ll find the insights and how to address these common team characteristics revealing and helpful in guiding your team to peak performance. The companion book, Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, A Field Guide is enormously helpful for leaders wanting to learn how to become effective coaches in overcoming problems in teams that just aren’t working. No single concept, if executed well, can deliver greater value in organizational performance.
I often assigned “homework” before a retreat as a platform for discussion of issues that formed the underlying agenda. True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients and Your Career by David Maister was one such assignment and is a “must” for anyone in a service enterprise. The term “One-Firm Firm” which we adopted to describe our goal for Gensler as a single integrated and collaborative enterprise across broad geographical and service boundaries was coined by Maister in an essay that was later republished in another terrific book entitled Managing the Professional Service Firm.
This book is entirely accessible and, while Maister’s work is generally thought to be most appropriate for law firms and accounting firms, this work might as well have been written for anyone in a service business. From designing your own career to be a “true professional” (believe passionately in what you do and never knowingly compromise your standards and values . . . aiming for true excellence), to the importance of having fun in what you do, to developing a personal career strategy, this book is extraordinarily important for everyone thinking through long-cycle strategies.
This book is certainly more appropriate for people in service businesses, particularly ones that have enduring relationships with their customers. But even product companies are migrating in this direction. So, if you find your relationship with your customer looking more and more like a consultative one or if your customer’s relationship with your product is going to last a long time, read this book.
Maister’s new book, The Trusted Advisor, continues and updates his themes.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie, a former creative director at Hallmark in Kansas City, MO is a simple collection of mini-essays about survival in the corporate world. The metaphor sounds strange but is actually a good one when I think of how often I’ve watched people (even in my own organization where we tried to dismantle the “hairball” of internal bureaucracy and politics on a daily basis) get tangled in that mess of corporate life that pours giant buckets of cold water on creativity and innovation, where the idea of actually having fun at what you do can seem like a distant memory connected only to the school play yard of our youth.
The concept of orbiting this hairball of entanglement and frustration is a good one – stay in the gravitational field of the organization, have fun and be creative without pushing the limits of propriety too far and flying away (getting fired or acting so much out of alignment with the organization that you lose your value or viability as a member of the enterprise).
The last two chapters are wonderful teachings for life. Don’t miss it if anyone has ever talked about your organization as being a bit too “corporate!”
I was having dinner a while back with a very good friend, Ava Abramovitz. The subject of how Architects interact with clients came up and we digressed to the subject of “selling.” She mentioned a body of research and a book by her husband, Neil Rackham, entitled Spin Selling (SPIN is an acronym for Situation-Problem-Implication-Need/Payoff), which sounded fascinating. She subsequently sent me a copy and I found it most worthwhile. Its dominant theme is the differentiation between selling small stuff and big stuff, between selling impulse items and complex services.
For better or worse (according to the book, much worse), the techniques which have been taught for qualifying a customer, discussing their problems and closing a sale are fine for small items but actually work against selling services to clients. Some of the advice in the book is pretty intuitive to design professionals, but much of it is completely contrary to the various tapes, books and seminars I’ve experienced in my career about how to sell something, whether it be selling services to a client or someone who has to say “yes” for your work to proceed after you’ve been hired
Don Miguel Ruiz
My wife gave me a book that I found compelling in its simplicity and message. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz calls itself “A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” exploring the wisdom of the Toltec, developed thousands of years ago in southern Mexico.
Briefly, the four agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word – speak with integrity, say only what you mean
- Don’t take anything personally – learn that nothing others do is because of you
- Don’t make assumptions – finding the courage to ask questions
- Always do your best – avoiding self-judgment, self-abuse and regret
Seems simple, maybe even simplistic, but Ruiz’ development of these ideas will change your life. I highly recommend you take a look. It’s a small book, accessible in form, easy to understand but frustratingly difficult to implement. I’ve read it three times now and have become a student.
Big Think Strategy: How to leverage bold ideas and leave small thinking behind through a series of wonderful anecdotes provides lessons and methodologies on how to open up your perspective on the business you’re in and the markets you serve. Schmitt offers some excellent tools to help you liberate your creativity and move your business boldly forward.
Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future carries all the strength and fear which Cadillac Desert delivered about our water system. Except it’s focused on our system of governance.
Schrag takes the position that where California goes, so goes the rest of the nation. We who live in California may be a little closer to the future than we’d like, but it’s pretty important for those of you from other parts of the country to see what’s happening. The book surveys the change in the way budgets have been determined since the advent of Proposition 13, the infamous Jarvis-Gann Tax Limitation initiative passed in the early 70’s. It takes us through the impact on government that has resulted from the increased use of the initiative process in California to severely limit the ability of legislative and executive branches of our government to function.
A case is made, illustrated by the fact that an initiative may be passed by a simple majority but takes a “super-majority” or two-thirds of the votes to overturn. Our governance system has been taken over by lobbyists who have made a business of dreaming up causes to fuel their enterprises. This removes legislative debate from the process of making laws and results in bad laws. Many initiatives voted on in California are admitted to be “probably unconstitutional.” The result has been expensive court challenges with the Judicial branch ultimately defining legislation. Judges making laws based on initiatives written by lobbyists was not what our founding fathers had in mind.
The Art of the Long View is the primer for anyone wanting to understand how to undertake scenario planning in their organization.
The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Paractice of the Learning Organization gave structure to a great deal of my thinking about how to implement and inspire programs that make your enterprise a “Learning Organization.” While the case for continuous learning has been thoroughly made in the last few years, few books deliver methodology as well as this.
Jack Welch wrote Jack – Straight from the Gut just after he retired as Chairman of General Electric. What is it about corporate leaders and intestines? Guts is the title of Bob Lutz’s book about his years at Chrysler – must be a male way of getting in touch with your intuitive side.
The story is as much about General Electric as it is about Welch. GE has been by far the most consistently successful company measured by growth of stock value, size, profits, quality and globalization over Jack Welch’s 20-year tenure. Known as the “People Factory,” GE has produced a steady flow of top-notch business leaders in the last 20 years, many of whom have gone on to lead other global companies. The book is a marvelous study of a truly remarkable business and businessman. His style is curt and to the point, consistent with stories about him as head of GE. The book includes an interesting insight into the transition to a new CEO, Jeff Immelt.
For those of you interested in different leadership styles, there is some sage advice. For those of you who want to know the real facts behind the headlines of issues and events involving GE, the book reads like Barbarians at the Gate. If you’re just interested in a fascinating personality who’s become an icon in management and leadership throughout the world, you’ll find Jack a unique study.
I got a good swift kick in the pants about some things I could have done faster and better. Even in stressful times, Jack cuts you no slack. He tells you how to stay focused and grow even when things are bad. Despite the recent discrediting of Jack in his retirement, the book remains a marvelous and instructive read.
In Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise, Ray Anderson, the former Chairman of Interface Carpets and a very dear friend (now deceased), discussed the epiphany that set him on a new course: to build a company that does not deplete natural resources and leaves no waste. It’s a daunting challenge for any enterprise to say nothing of a major carpet manufacturer dependent on petrochemicals, energy and water.
Ray was a good friend and an idol of mine for many years. His thoughts, concerns and ideas for sustainability are an inspiration. Since writing the book and embarking on this path, Interface has made astounding progress, dispelling the notion that being good stewards of our planet costs more. They remain highly competitive and have by and large paid for every new sustainable program with the cost savings from earlier initiatives.
I had the great pleasure of hearing Janine Benyus speak so I was excited to read her book, Biomimicry. The term, which Janine coined, is the man-made emulation of something that occurs in nature. Biomimetic refers to something that characterizes this property.
Biomimicry makes all of the efforts we’re making in sustainable design seem like Model “T” Ford stuff. While I’m enormously proud of the progress Gensler made in sustainability in its work (as proud as Henry Ford was of his “any color you want as long as it’s black” transportation revolution), the examples cited in Benyus’ book are like being transported onto the Starship Enterprise. I was inspired by the many strategies being undertaken throughout the world to model processes that nature has evolved over millenniums, from sustainable agriculture that imitates the natural prairie offering opportunities for equivalent crop yields from cultivated fields and without pesticides, topsoil loss or irrigation to adapting photosynthesis to the generation of electricity.
The book has some highly technical sections so to the non-scientific person can be a challenging read. But even if you skip over the some of the complex sections, I encourage you to visit this book. Biomimicry is the wave of the future and the path to true sustainability. I subsequently spent a weekend in a Biomimicry workshop with Janine and was amazed by the application not just of elements and constructions found in nature, but also processes and systems, including the management of an organization.
Curiosity is the most energizing human characteristic I know of and I’m blessed with an insatiable appetite (which is perhaps why I receive an occasional comment about having a high energy level). I’m always wondering why things are the way they are. I just finished a book that answered a whole array of questions I’d thought about from time to time and a few more that had never occurred to me.
Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs & Steel, The Fates of Human Societies, is a historian of a whole new dimension. As a professor of physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine, Diamond explores the development of human civilizations by synthesizing the work of archeologists, geologists, paleontologists, linguists, epidemiologists and others from the physical and social sciences to create a broad and sweeping history of the evolution of human societies.
Have you ever wondered why, how, when and where humans developed speech and writing? Why, when and where did man begin domesticating plants and animals? Why did such developments take place in some regions and not others? Why is the history of human invention so Euro-centric? Did you know that when the first Spaniards set foot in the Americas, there were as many people in North, Central and South America as there were in Eurasia (approximately 20 million)? How is it that within a few years, 95% of the inhabitants of the Americas were dead (hint: it wasn’t the Conquistadors who killed them)?
Diamond’s book lays to rest once and for all the grounds for racist theories of history by analyzing the development of human societies on different continents. He reveals the real reasons for the great differences in the speed and configuration with which human cultures and societies evolved over the last 13,000 years. Once you start reading it, you won’t be able to put it down.
And now, Diamond has written Collapse, a journey through a variety of civilizations who have confronted over-population, resource depletion and environmental abuse both successfully and unsuccessfully. The book is filled with lessons for our current civilization about the future we’re facing, what collapse looks like and what we’ll need to do to survive.
Hartmann’s profound book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, explores the way in which we’re using our hydrocarbon reserves – namely oil, gas and coal which he defines as ancient sunlight – although he makes a few references to other mineral and water resources and, of course, America’s largest export (topsoil) most of which continues its steady flow out the mouth of the Mississippi River. His case is strong for a true crisis in energy supplies within a very short period of time and for the need to change our point-of-view in the consumption of these resources now. You’ll find resonance between Hartmann’s research and findings, Jared Diamond’s Collapse and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert. You’ll find some encouragement in Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry.
Paul Hawkin’s The Ecology of Commerce is the book that inspired Ray Anderson’s epiphany about sustainable commerce and is the original manifesto for reorientation of our thinking about our businesses. This is not a tree-hugging radical-thinking call for a return to tribalism or nature, but a hard hitting and important (even today) treatise on why and how sustainable commerce makes good business sense.
There are many books out there about sustainability but most of them focus on applications. These books are about “why.” I can’t think of a less likely vehicle for a philosophy discussion than a gorilla as a teacher, communicating with a man who wants to learn how to change the world. But Daniel Quinn’s book, Ishmael, is a brilliant treatise on where our civilization is going, how we got this way and what we need to learn. This book had been around for a while by the time I read it (two sequels have been written, My Ishmael and Beyond Civilization) so several people at Gensler asked, “Where’ve you been?”
Ishmael is a brilliant essay, worthy of your time. I also recommended Biomimicry in this bibliography and only wish I’d read Ishmael first. For those of you who are interested in sustainability, how our civilization is evolving and what can be done about it, I recommend these two wonderful books. One will make you uncomfortable, the other will give you hope. If you are on the three week vacation plan instead of two this summer, take along a third book I recommended, Guns Germs and Steel, and read it before the other two. You’ll come back with a whole new perspective on life and the world around you. I guarantee it!
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water sent me into apoplexy. Having been a sustainable design advocate throughout most of my life, I’d always suspected that water (both fresh and waste) was going to be a serious problem in our lifetimes. Having grown up in California and watched the water debates between the Northern and Southern halves of the state and having lived through a few droughts, I thought I knew something about the subject. As old as this book is, it provides an important digest of the history of water policy and problems in the United States. Its projections aren’t far off and the problems described haven’t gone away. Today they’re simply closer to us.
If you’re about to embark on a building project for your organization, you must read this book. In How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand helps us look at the cycle of the use of buildings, describing “high road” buildings (those that are built for a unique purpose and that tend to remain intact over long periods of time, sometimes merely as shrines if the use for which they were built no longer exists) and “low road” buildings (those that are more generic in character and that adapt over and over as their uses change). There are clearly many more “low road” buildings on our planet than “high road,” yet most architects aspire to creating edifices that will remain unchanged by their users. In fact, many are offended if their work is modified in any way.
This is an excellent journal for anyone undertaking a construction project, providing terrific insights into the decisions you’ll be making about materials, systems and the character and quality of the spaces in and around the building you’re making. Every building has components that should be designed to survive differing life cycles. And the configuration of the space contained in the building as well as its connections to the community into which it’s integrated should be carefully considered with an eye to how easily it will be adapted to future, as yet unknown, uses.
Betty Cornfield & Owen Edwards
I refer often to Quintessence, The Quality of Having It by Betty Cornfield and Owen Edwards, a delightful, if a bit oblique, little book which I’ve had for years. This thin volume defines through a series of examples like a paper clip, a classic Coke bottle or a Mont Blanc pen, the quality of “quintessence,” that characteristic of an object when it is the perfect exemplar of what it is and does. We can do no more than to strive for quintessence in the work we do, to do projects which are so perfectly suited for the purpose for which they are designed, that everyone who experiences them finds them intuitively satisfying and perfect for their use. An example would be a Japanese tea house, so perfect in scale, proportion, detail and materiality that it brings serenity to anyone who uses it, consistent with the ceremony performed.
The quality of quintessence can also be applied to organizations and, in my opinion, is the highest achievement that one can ascribe to an enterprise: it is the perfect manifestation of what it needs to be for its vision and mission.
A friend gave me a great book the other day, The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley of IDEO. Tom’s brother, David, founded this renowned product design firm in Palo Alto, California, and remains the CEO. I have come to know David very well over the years and, through his stories about designing everything from the first computer mouse to the squeeze containers for Crest toothpaste, have great respect for the creativity and innovation that continually emerges from their firm.
Tom explores the organization and processes IDEO incorporates into their work. The descriptions of their brainstorming methods and theories about office design and planning are particularly compelling. It’s a fast and enjoyable read; I read most of the book on a flight home from the East Coast. It’s a “must” for all designers and most enjoyable for any enterprise as it thinks about how to stimulate and manage creativity.
Stephen R. Kellert & Edward O. Wilson
In The Biophilia Hypothesis Kellert and Wilson explore the affiliation humans have with nature, describing why we respond as we do and the implications to our lives. This is a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding about how to design for deeply resonant areas of the human subconscious. It will also help you understand people’s intuitive response to the natural (and man-made) environment around them.
Stephen Kieran & James Timberlake
Kieran and Timberlake, practitioners, researchers and professors of architecture have written about and practiced an industrialized approach to building things. Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies Are Poised to Transform Building Construction explores their research and experiences in great depth, giving concrete examples about how to extend industrial processes into the building trades and crafts. Their goal is revolution, driving cost out and quality in to the construction industry. No other part of business has remained so mired in historical trade and craft means and methods. No industry in contemporary society has seen productivity actually fall over the last 50 years. It’s truly time for change and these two are leading the charge.
Robert A. Lutz
Bob is a motorcycling buddy of mine and has been referred to as “the ultimate car guy” so I couldn’t wait to read his book when it came out. Guts: 8 Laws of Business from One of the Most Innovative Business Leaders of our Time didn’t disappoint, capturing his swashbuckling character as he recounts his history with Chrysler, BMW, and other automotive companies over the years. His insights on the importance of design and its connection to the emotional buying decisions we all make are tremendously insightful. I’ve long respected the automotive industry for the long-cycle issues in product development, marketing, sourcing and managing that it must grapple with on a global basis. This book will be interesting to anyone, car buff or not, who is interested in the career of a fascinating guy, his insights and frustrations in large corporate structures. Give this book to your product development team.
Bob’s latest book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business, while having less to do with design, is a fascinating insider’s look at the trials an tribulations of General Motors and how other businesses get caught in the same traps.
William J. Mitchell
Bill is currently Dean on Architecture at MIT and taught at UCLA for many years where I came to know him. He continues to be one of the profound thinkers about the effects of technology on our lives. His book, City of Bits: Space Place and the Infobahn, was, I believe, the first to be published simultaneously in hard copy and on the Internet. If you visit the Internet site, you’ll find a number of hot links between subjects mentioned in the book and more detailed information on the issue as well as comments from readers. Is this the future? It certainly makes this book much more robust.
The book explores the implications of various technological developments on architecture and the nature of communities. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by repeating anecdotes but urge you to read this text. It will rock your boat as you consider the likely lifespan of some of the things we’re designing into our buildings as our lives are changed through technology.
As a footnote, keep a dictionary by your side. Bill is British by birth and uses a vocabulary which is rich and often arcane.
George taught me How to See many years ago when he consulted to Gensler over a period of several years before his death. His book of this title has been republished in color (the original was black and white) and remains a classic in teaching designers and lay people how to look at the world around them, making each of us better consumers and purveyors of design. The sad visual illiteracy that has resulted from stripping away the arts from our education curriculum has made it imperative for our success to nurture a common vocabulary about our visual world.
I recommend Observations for Young Architects for architects of all ages or anyone interested in the process of making a building. Cesar explores the history of modern architecture in a thoughtful and comprehensible way. Having know him for many years, I found his comments on place making particularly appropriate. He spends some special time on a discussion of design in context and the making of cities. In discussing the importance of restraint and context in building design, he says: “When we first become architects, we are delighted to be given a piece of a city or a landscape to design – however small it may be. As we seek to create the best possible design, we face the sometimes conflicting goals of making the building relate to its place or to our favorite forms. I believe that cities and landscapes are more important than any building, and that the building is more important than any architect.
“In architecture, each building has a role to play, expressing its particular nature and its place in the city or the landscape. It may be helpful to keep in mind that the best actors, the artists of acting, are those who enhance the whole cast and most completely express each particular role, surmounting their own personalities, rather than those who steal the show and always play themselves.”
Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about your next building project.
Want to know where trust and other characteristics of relationships we used to enjoy have gone? The Ice Palace That Melted Away, subtitled “Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life” presents some wonderful thoughts about one of my favorite topics: civility (or what it is about the places we most enjoy or the behaviors of people we find most pleasurable to be with that is slowly disappearing from our world and what we should be doing to recapture it). You may recognize Bill Stumpf as the designer of some of the best chairs Herman Miller (or any other manufacturer) has made. He quotes Antoine de Courtin from his Rules of Civility, “Civility being nothing but certain Modesty and courteous disposition which is to accompany us in all our actions . . . Civility is a Science that teaches us to dispose our words and actions in their proper and just places.”
Bill is a designer. I found great resonance in his point of view. Bill defines design as “the process both physical and mental by which people give an order to objects, community, environments and behavior. It aims to make our existence more meaningful, connect us to natural realities, infuse serious work with playful humor, extend human capacity – physical, emotional and spiritual. Designers make ideas into things.” Great! And if you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve convinced you that being a designer is not a privilege granted to an anointed few. You have the capacity to attune your senses to take responsibility for the things and events in your life.
The book rambles a bit and most of the quotes which introduce each chapter are pretty oblique, but Bill synopsizes each section eloquently. An example is a chapter which describes an aspect of civility best exhibited by D. J. DePree, the founder of Herman Miller who had a penchant for always leaving any place he’d been a little better than he found it. He always cleaned up after himself (and others, too). Think about this the next time you walk away from the kitchen or pantry in your office, leaving dirty cups and glasses in the sink or spilled coffee on the counter, whether it’s yours or not. Bill’s close: “A caretaking relationship is necessary for us to survive, much less prosper. Nothing will change until we take personal responsibility for caretaking not just what we own, but what we all share.”
Bill also makes some choice comments about architecture. “Hugh Hardy once lamented to me a few years ago that the most disturbing characteristic of young graduate students applying for work was that they had more interest in designing a building than actually building it. This kind of thinking has given design a tinge of effete uselessness. Design is much more than talk or sketches or plans, which almost any person can engage in. Design, like music, offers up its true meaning and significance only in its performance.” I couldn’t agree more.
William H. Whyte
Holly Whyte’s 1980 journal, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and the film on which it was based, remain the definitive classic observations about how to make great places; places that people enjoy, take pride in, and return to again and again. The extensive detail about sun and shade, trees and plazas, places to sit and food make this a necessary staple for any designer or client focused on making great places that last. Don’t stop at the book; find the film – it will change your life and the way you look at the places around you forever.
Where will clients be?
Where, geographically should you be doing business and why? No book I’ve ever read has given me as many insights into the way cities and communities are going to evolve as The Rise of the Creative Class. Richard is a thoughtful researcher exploring how rapidly knowledge work is migrating to creative work, how important creative thinkers are becoming to organizations and how the psychology of these creative types is going to drive their location decisions, affecting entire regions either positively or negatively.
The book is filled with statistical data on specific communities throughout the United States analyzing why their culture is attracting or driving away those people who will be most important to every company’s future. If you’re thinking of locating a business, investing in a market that you’re currently not in merging with or acquiring another business, read this book first!
The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization describes the broad changes that are occurring in our world as barriers to trade, and particularly money flows dissolve. There is no better primer than this to help you understand why entire businesses and the jobs that go with them are migrating around the world. Tom Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, uses his broad perspective from covering stories around the globe to connect the impacts of this change to our day to day lives. I found his observations about the influence of Standard and Poors, the bond rating agency, on human rights to be of particular note, pointing out how much stronger the impact of the private sector is on governance and policy issues in countries than outside governments or the United Nations.
Tom’s new book, The World is Flat, continues his exploration of the global context in which all of us do business today.
B. Joseph Pine II & James H. Gilmore
Every business needs to understand the principles explored in this book. The Experience Economy, Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage examines our journey from a “goods” economy to a “service” economy, into an “information” economy and beyond to an “experience” economy. The premise is straightforward: goods are easily commoditized; a service can make the goods themselves more valuable. Information in itself is intangible but can assume a value far greater than the goods or services alone. An experience can have the most value as it is transformative. It can entertain, educate, and provide high emotional content esthetically or through escape from your current world. It’s participatory and involving.
The authors explore numerous examples of how companies have taken their offerings from commodity to customization, from undifferentiated to differentiated and from irrelevant to the needs of customers to intimately relevant. It’s a “must read” for all of us as we shape our own service offerings and the experience we deliver to our customers. Have you asked a customer lately how much they enjoyed the experience of working with you or going through the process of buying your product or service or getting something built? The future lies in reshaping our working methods to bring excitement, fulfillment and enrichment to our customers, not just through the built product, but through the experience they have while working with us, a tough challenge in any business.
P. J. O’Rourke
In Eat the Rich, P. J. O’Rourke explores economies and economic theory from around the world in a way that is wonderfully humorous, more than a little cynical but quite informative. You’ll understand a lot more about how different economies of the world function and why most of them are so completely screwed up. And, no, you don’t have to be an economist to understand this book. In fact, if you were an economist you’d probably have nightmares about how a newspaper columnist can make such enormously complex things, which you’ve spent your life taking way too seriously, so marvelously simple.
The book takes the reader through the US economy, explaining why unfettered capitalism and free markets don’t always work (Albania is the example). He then uses examples of socialism that work and don’t work (Sweden and Cuba), contrasts Hong Kong and Shanghai, tells all about Russia and finally explains what really works. It’s a lighter more digestible version of globalization than Tom Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree. You’ll have to read through to the very last paragraph to understand the title. And don’t jump ahead as it won’t mean anything to you until you’ve read the entire book. Have fun!
Michael J. Silverstein & Neil Fiske
If you’re selling anything in the retail world, Trading Up: The New American Luxury will give you a completely new insight into the buying patterns of today’s consumer. Silverstein and Fiske connected many dots for me, describing why people will pay so much for a BMW (making it the most profitable car company per unit in the world) or why a carpenter still making payments on his pick-up truck will pay out his entire discretionary budget on a full set of Calloway golf clubs. If you’re in the retail business, this book will help you find the emotional connection to your customer of today. And probably the foreseeable future as I think this trend is just beginning.
The third book I’ve recommended on globalization, Fortune Favors the Bold: What We Must Do to Build a New and Lasting Prosperity, will let you know how important I think this subject is to business today. While protestors continue to rail against globalization, the impacts as described by Thurow are, by and large, positive. I wish I could get anyone participating in such a rally to read this book.
Thurow carries the conversation deeper than Friedman or O’Rourke, discussing the deep concern among economists for our widening trade deficit. While politicians continue to put their heads in the sand, the magnitude of this problem, as of this writing in excess of $660 billion per year that we spend outside this country in excess of what others spend for American goods and services, is likely to come to a screeching halt at some point in time. Thurow describes why the impacts will be far greater for Third World countries than for the US, predicting a slide backward in the improvement of income and quality of life in the poorest nations. But there is hope in the form of some clear, if difficult, recommendations to our governments for actions to change this pattern.
On the future
What Will Be by Michael Dertouzos explores developments in technology, both hardware and software, in a fashion which is both accessible and grounded. He helps us understand what research is underway and which products and services are likely to impact our lives in the near future while debunking much of what is often presented as being “just around the corner.” One clear message: it’s no good being a Luddite, sticking your head in the sand and expecting that you can live your life ignoring the effects technology is having daily on our work, and home lives. More importantly (from the liner notes), he describes “what areas of our society will never be altered by technology and offers an inspiring blueprint for how new technologies could bridge the centuries old gaps between reason and the spirit.”
Larry Downes & Chunka Mai
Since Internet companies are here to stay, I refer you to a great book entitled Unleashing the Killer App by Larry Downes and Chunka Mui (sounds like a name out of Star Wars, doesn’t it). These two able authors deliver a twelve-step program for any company to build a “killer application,” a business strategy to kill the competition. It’s a wonderful digest for considering a new business start-up but its greatest value is for companies that find themselves competing on unstable ground in an ever changing marketplace. It will also help you understand what technology start-up companies in the 90s were trying to accomplish.
Michio Kaku stretches us very far into the future in Visions, taking us on a broad ranging tour of research underway as well as directions which are likely to be taken in three key areas: The Computer Revolution, The Biomolecular Revolution, and The Quantum Revolution. Kaku leads us on a carefully structured tour of worlds which none of us in our normal course of life would ever find, describing the most likely developments in each area between now and 2020, the most likely directions from 2020 to 2050, and then speculations from 2050 to 2100 and beyond. This is the most far reaching yet most plausible and thought provoking book on these issues I’ve ever read. The third segment of each chapter becomes quite spiritual and philosophical as it debates questions about the limits of technology (will humans become obsolete?), the genetics of a brave new world and the quantum potential of becoming masters of space and time.
For those of you who, like me, enjoy speculating about the future in order to create scenarios to help guide our lives today, this is a “must read.” If you just like to do a little old fashioned fantasizing, you’ll enjoy the speculations about a wild future, some of which you’re going to experience in your lifetime (although if you accept some of Kaku’s predictions, some of you younger folks are going to have some longer life times than we’ve known in the past).
One of the most remarkable and provocative aspects discussed is the incredible short time frames in which enormous change is going to happen. In the millenial scheme of things, a couple of hundred years isn’t even a blink of the eye, and 20 years is just around the corner.
In college while in a psychology class, I was inspired by Toward a Psychology of Being and Maslow’s pyramid model of human needs. Over the years I’ve used Maslow’s thinking to develop a number of business and market analogs, particularly in the retail sector. A testimony to the durability of this book is that, although it was originally published in 1968, it was reprinted with a marvelous new introduction in 1998. This is not an easy read and should only be undertaken by those that are prepared to dig deeply into psychology. The introduction in the new edition is all you’ll need to understand Maslow’s needs hierarchy. But it’s a powerful concept worth understanding as you seek to get closer to your customers’ and employees’ motivations.
I’m very fortunate to have a lot of friends who recommend books to me. I guess it helps to let people know that I read a lot. It saves me from reading bad books. Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Karry Mullis was such a referral. When I read Arthur C. Clarke’s (author of 2001:A Space Odyssey) liner note: “One of the most mind-stretching and inspirational books I’ve read for a long time. It is also very funny and, I hope that – before it gets banned – myriads of copies will infiltrate all the legislatures, colleges, and high schools of the United States,” I had to dive right in, setting another book aside. It was worth it. It is irreverent, entertaining and provides an insight into a person I would love to get to know personally. Mullis won the Nobel Prize in chemistry and is a surfer, not necessarily in that order. He debunks several myths about science and life in general while delivering a delightful look at a most unique personality and life-style. It’s not for everyone (his life-style that is; I don’t think I would have survived it and I’ve been out at the edge quite a bit), but you’ll enjoy reading about it and probably change a few of your preconceptions about the world around you. This book is just plain fun and a good thing to read simultaneously with your young teenaged kids.
Steven R. Quartz & Terrence J. Sejnowski
Liars, Lovers and Heroes – What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are takes us into the realm of brain science, bringing new clarity and scientific research to the age-old “nature vs. nurture” question. For any parent wondering how the infant mind forms intelligence to all of us wondering what happens to our brain and our intelligence as we age, this book is extraordinarily enlightening.
I found the discussions of intelligence gained through socialization particularly applicable to organizational design. My take is that organizations build real value through the ways in which the people in them interact and learn, further reinforcing my argument that you lose true intelligence and therefore organizational intelligence and value when people who have been nurtured by your enterprise leave. I can’t wait to track down the authors and discuss this with them further.