I’m with the Band: Books For Project People Part 1

in the bandI am NOT a Project Manager. As a technology business strategist working primarily with emerging technology projects, I spend most of my time trying to understand why a customer would want to buy what you are building and ultimately hoping to sell. So, pathetically enough, I guess I am more like a PM groupie! I hang out with the folks who make the art, but you’ll never see my name on the credits. So why I am blogging here?

The short answer is because I was asked, but the longer answer is that I love to read and thought it would be fun to share some of the books that I have read recently as I try to keep up with the technology and the business side of our industry, and also mention some books that help us all to get along better on projects, as professionals and more importantly, as PEOPLE.

There is nothing sacred about any of my choices-they are either books that have come across my radar lately that I think project people may find interesting (and most likely not necessarily have run across) since they are busy either, A: not reading since they are too often overworked & harassed from all sides or B: not reading because their bookshelves are filled with the latest technical manuals or C: not reading because they may have a bit a skepticism about books written by dare I say the word, “marketing” people, or D: not reading, because “Hey, that’s why I chose a technical career, not English Lit.” But ever optimistic-I will slog, er: blog forward! As a groupie I do know, that on the whole, project people are always curious and love to learn-so maybe one of the books will call to you. So, here we go:

My vote for the “Industry Book With The Most Often Quoted “Concept” This Year In Silicon Valley” is:

long tailThe Long Tail: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More by Chris Anderson

Similar to the effect that Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm had when it came out many years ago now and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, I have sensed the same phenomenon with this book; it is hard to go to any event at the moment in the valley without hearing this concept uttered a lot either from the speaker or the participants. I think the jury is still out as to whether and how the concepts in the book will impact our business long term – like most concepts in business, only time will tell. But it is certainly being talked about at the moment.

The “Big Idea”: Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes. In general, this describes businesses using a distribution channel such as the internet. Specific examples most often cited are Netflix and Amazon. In the book, an Amazon employee describes the long tail phenomenon as, “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.” Or, said a different way, you may be able to make as much or more money by selling lots of obscure stuff as lots of sales of one big popular hit.

Most Appealing to: All you amateur economists will really like this book, and also anyone working with an extremely niched product, but in terms of technology business folks, this is probably most interesting if you or in one of 3 business areas of technology, which he describes as The Three Forces of The Long Tail:

Force 1: Democratization of the tools of production, so companies involved with technologies of creative production-PCs themselves, media technologies such as editing and entertainment-oriented software tools. These products enable the “little guy” to make more stuff, thereby lengthening the tail.

Force 2: Cutting the cost of consumption by democratizing distribution. The result of this force is that the tail fattens, because there is a place for more product to be sold. So even if your Aunt Susie’s Oompah music can’t sell on Walmart, if may find its customers on the Internet. So if you work in companies that whose primary business is selling on the internet like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, eBay, etc. then this book is worth a look.

Force 3: Connecting supply and demand. Long tail thinking impacts companies that work with helping customers find things they want to buy more easily, such as Google, blogs, digg.com, Rhapsody, and in general any “recommender” sites or technology companies. So if this describes your company or interests you will probably find many of the ideas in the book useful.

The Yawn-O-Meter (a very personal metric meant to reflect only how easy I found it to read based on a Harry Potter book being a 1 and War and Peace being a 10 or, if your prefer, a Guy Kawasaki book compared to an Edward Tufte): I would generally call this about a 4, although Chapter 8 on the Economics of the Long Tail got a bit weighty and boring to me personally.

Next up: How not to turn into the “vanilla” techie.

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