Archive for the ‘best-of’ Category

Best Songs of the Year 2011

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

1. White Denim, “Drug.” It could’ve been any song from their new release, “D.” But the video for this one seals it. Papier mache forever!

2. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep.” It doesn’t matter that you’ve already heard this song a million of times already (182 million views on YouTube!). It’s still one of the great songs of the year, and we’ll be singing along with it 20, 30, 40 years from now.

3. Macklemore, “Can’t Hold Us.” Go on, listen to this song without moving, without dancing. Without smiling. Go on. I defy you.

4. Aloe Blacc, “I Need a Dollar.” The normal song is great; the a capella version from the Blogotheque “Take Away Concert” is sublime… see below (skip to 3:15 of the video):

5. Vetiver, “Wonder Why.” The best guitar arpeggios this side of Peter Buck.

Honorable mention: Black Keys, “Lonely Boy.” If I’m all alone, and no one is watching, I am the guy in this video. Please believe me.

Best Books of the Year 2011

Monday, December 5th, 2011

It has been a spectacular year for books about mistakes and learning from them. Here’s the list of must-haves:

1. Brilliant Mistakes, Paul Schoemaker. Five years after publishing a terrific HBR article on the subject, Schoemaker celebrates mistakes as, in Joyce’s words, “portals of discovery,” a way of navigating through a largely unpredictable world. And he presents a compelling case for making “deliberate mistakes”–creating projects that go against the conventional wisdom in a strategic way, in order to uncover invalid assumptions and shifts in the environment. From Schoemaker: Companies strive for error elimination, hiring advisers and relying on sophisticated management tools such as Six Sigma. It’s little wonder, then, that most decision-making books follow suit, encouraging you to focus narrowly on mistake avoidance today rather than provoking you to plan for the stream of decisions that you will face tomorrow.

2. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. A mammoth research project that tracked the activity and temperament of dozens of workers and managers on a daily basis brought forth a simple, startling insight: workers are happier and more productive when they make continual progress toward meaningful goals, and unhappy/unmotivated when obstacles are put in their way. The application of this insight improves both managers’ effectiveness and workers’ self-regard. Why is this book on the Mistake Bank list? Because the authors urge managers and workers to face reality, even if it’s unpleasant, and handle setbacks with grace and persistence. From the book: By its very nature, meaningful work is hard; people often get the greatest satisfaction from overcoming the most difficult challenges. Failure is inevitable along the path to innovation. Though you should try to minimize obstacles and setbacks under your control, you can never create a problem-free bubble for your people. You can’t nourish inner work life if you drive yourself and your team crazy trying to avoid all problems. Rather, focus on providing people with the catalysts and nourishers they need to overcome the obstacles they will inevitably face.

3. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman. One of the fathers of behavioral economics and a Nobel Prize winner, Kahneman sums up the lessons he’s learned in his decades of studying human nature – and is not above using himself as a subject. Kahneman writes: One of [my] themes is that people who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, without realizing it. We were required to predict a soldier’s performance in officer training and in combat, but we did so by evaluating his behavior over one hour in an artificial situation. This was a perfect instance of a general rule that I call WYSIATI, “What you see is all there is.” We had made up a story from the little we knew but had no way to allow for what we did not know about the individual’s future, which was almost everything that would actually matter.

4. Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others, Justin Menkes. A book that illustrates what corporate senior leaders need to do to succeed. Menkes describes great executives’ understanding of their own fallibility and their willingness to take responsibility for mistakes (”owning their missteps”) as keys to flourishing in the pressure-cooker of corporate leadership. From Menkes: Leaders adjusting to a significant increase in responsibility invariably make many mistakes. Those who ultimately excel recognize and own these missteps quickly and use the experiences to grow into their positions of elevated authority and increased complexity. But for this learning curve to occur, it is absolutely crucial that they accept their role in these mistakes. If they have a low sense of agency, they cannot, and will fail.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck. I’m cheating here – “Mindset” was published in 2006. But I didn’t read it till this year, and without a doubt Dweck’s research and writing are among the most influential in the learning field, especially among other academics. She was referenced in more of my reading than any other scholar (Kahneman was #2).

From Dweck: Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, describes the elite military pilots who eagerly embrace the fixed mindset. Having passed one rigorous test after another, they think of themselves as special, as people who were born smarter and braver than other people. But Chuck Yeager, the hero of The Right Stuff, begged to differ. “There is no such thing as a natural-born pilot. Whatever my aptitude or talents, becoming a proficient pilot was hard work, really a lifetime’s learning experience.… The best pilots fly more than the others; that’s why they’re the best.”

What were the best business books you read this year? Weigh in below in the comments section.

Favorite blog posts of 2009

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

This year, I think, is finally the year we can stop talking about whether blogging is as good as “real” journalism. At its best, it’s as good as anything out there. And, with blogging’s ability to micro-segment, you can find in a few search engine clicks an expert on the overheated mortgage market or music industry royalties who is far more informed and authoritative than anyone writing for a newspaper. The tipping point has been reached.

Here are the best blog posts I read this year:

1. Doc Searls, “Advertising in Reverse,” Project VRM Blog, and Scott Adams, “Hunter Becomes The Prey,” The Scott Adams Blog. [Related posts.] One of the most amazing results of blogging is one post inspiring and strengthening another. In this case, two ideas, separately conceived, merged in these paired posts and created a new concept, Broadcast Shopping, which combined each idea and was superior to either.

2. Cynthia Kurtz, “Eight Observations – 4th – Telling,” Story-Colored Glasses. Is the best way to tell a story not, in fact, to tell the story, but to communicate it in some other way?

3. Andrew McAfee, “When Information is NOT the Answer,” The Business Impact of IT. The author of “Enterprise 2.0″ is an excellent blogger; in this case, he takes on the presumption that, when making decisions, the more data the better.

4. Bob Sutton, “Wal-Mart and Girl Scout Cookies: Thin-Minty Gate,” Work Matters. Sutton, author of “The No Asshole Rule,” has a great blog that tweaks large corporations and their management practices. Wal-Mart’s ill-advised decision to sell a knockoff of Girl Scout cookies provided a notable story to underpin his thesis that overly-disciplined adherence to corporate strategies can cause dysfunctional decisionmaking.

5. Fred Wilson, “Hacking Education – Continued,” A VC. Fred’s blog has, hands down, the best comment section of any blog I’ve read. You shouldn’t read a post without taking in all the comments below it.

6. Felix Salmon, “How to Succeed In Customer Service,” Felix Salmon: Sailing the Rough Rude Sea. One of the most amazing bloggers in cyberspace takes up one of my favorite topics. Magic.

7. David Pogue, “Take Back the Beep,” Pogue’s Posts. Imagine a blog post so timely, on-target and well-written that it causes the FCC to take action? This one did.

8. Terry Miller, “Low Tech and On the Ground,” Cognitive Edge Guest Blog. A well-reasoned explanation for why in certain circumstances stories and low-tech interventions are far more suitable than data mining and large-scale initiatives.

Customers Are Talking Most-read posts of the year

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

A bit of year-end horn tooting. Check in tomorrow for a list of the 5 best blog posts that I read this year. Happy New Year!

5. “Design-Driven Innovation”: The Powerful Advantage That Comes From Changing The Meaning of a Product – the review of my favorite business book of 2009.

4. P&G, Moving Into Services, Can Learn Lessons From Disney – Procter & Gamble is the world’s preeminent packaged goods company. But can they pull off a chain of car-washes? They might want to look to Disney, which successfully balances a content business (movies, television, etc.) with a service-intensive theme park business.

3. Kindle Illuminates the Skim-Pricing Strategy in Tech – Kindle’s fairly high initial price ($359) didn’t deter voracious readers, who were the product’s early adopters. I hope those who read that post also read this reconsideration: Re-Examining Kindle Pricing.

2. Another Kind of Value Proposition – a discussion of the importance of deep values customer unconsciously reference when buying/recommending products and services. These values can be identified by asking customers for stories about their experiences with a product.

1. The 5 Archetypal Business Twitter Strategies – 2009 will go down as the year when any post with “Twitter” in the title was read by lots of folks. I’d be surprised if that continued.

Best music of the year 2009

Monday, December 21st, 2009

wolfgang amadeus phoenix1. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The music is exuberant dance pop, which you can’t help but tap your foot to, or move in your seat to. But what sets this band and this record apart is the work of vocalist Thomas Mars, whose offbeat phrasing and use of unusual intervals makes them sound totally unique. It’s hard to find a “best” song on this record, as there are six that are worthy of that title.

Song: “Girlfriend”

mayer hawthorne2. Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement. Retro soul from a white guy from Detroit. Great song after great song – ballads, upbeat R&B tracks. Like a reincarnation of Gamble & Huff.

Song: “Maybe So, Maybe No”

jason isbell3. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Isbell, a member of Drive-By Truckers, explores Southern rock, country, Stax soul, swamp music, and other styles on this fantastic record. The songwriting is great, too.

Song: “Cigarettes & Wine”

alpinisms4. School of Seven BellsAlpinisms. Combining the sonic creations of Ben Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, with the intertwined vocals of sisters Alehandra and Claudia Deheza, makes Alpinisms perhaps the most hypnotic record of the year.

Song: “Half Asleep”

fanfarlo5. Fanfarlo – Reservoir. Great folk-pop. Vocalist Simon Balthazar sometimes sounds like Zach Condon from Beirut, sometimes like David Byrne. Another album loaded with great songs.

Song: “Harold T. Wilkins”

My music resources – These are the sites where I learn about and sample new music:

I Guess I’m Floating
KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic
KEXP Live Performances & Music That Matters Podcasts
La Blogotheque
NPR All Songs Considered
NPR A Blog Supreme (Jazz)

Related post:
Best music of the year 2008

The Best Business Books of 2009

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

In the wake of the worst US economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, everybody realized this: Making money is harder than we thought. So, this year, books on innovation had special resonance. Luckily, there were some great ones out there. So many, in fact, that this year’s best-of list includes two “companion volumes”–other good books from this year that cover similar material from another perspective.

These are the best books I read this year:

design-driven innovation1. Design-Driven Innovation – Roberto Verganti. A fascinating book that looks at companies that don’t merely create new products, but develop products and services that create new meaning for customers. Is that important? Well, companies that do it well avoid commoditization and generate outsized profits for long periods of time. Think Apple.

(companion volume: The Design of Business by Roger Martin)

Discovery-Driven Growth2. Discovery-Driven Growth – Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan. Verganti’s book covers the more creative side of innovation, while McGrath and MacMillan discuss the process that established companies should use to improve their innovation efficiency–that is, bringing more successful products to market and spending less on the failures. The central lesson: do more work on paper, and scrupulously document & validate assumptions as you go.

(companion volume: Innovation Tournaments by Christian Terweisch and Karl Ulrich)


3. Enterprise 2.0 – Andrew McAfee. A clear description for the general business audience of how web 2.0 products, like social network software, wikis, messaging services, and the like, can be deployed to help corporations work more effectively. Excellent combination of case studies, theoretical models, and a clear-eyed assessment of the obstacles in the way of wide adoption.

4. Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You – Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead and Andrew Campbell. A timely book that shows how smart, experienced people can make terrible decisions, and what safeguards companies can use to improve their decisionmaking. Illuminates the many cognitive biases at work during the decision process, which helps the reader to understand why so many decisions that look atrocious in hindsight were considered reasonable and logical at the time.

Collaboration by Morten Hansen5. Collaboration – Morten Hansen. Discusses how collaboration in business works, and when it doesn’t work, then provides a map for companies to improve their collaborative behavior – including unifying your workforce, nurturing “T-shaped” management and using networks intelligently. Key message: collaboration has a cost, and you need to make sure the payoff of collaboration outweighs it.

Related posts:
Podcast: Sydney Finkelstein on “Think Again”
On “Discovery-Driven Growth”
Podcast: Roberto Verganti on “Design-Driven Innovation”
On “Collaboration”
Video Review of “Enterprise 2.0″

Best business books of 2008 (so far)

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

It’s been a great year for business books, in my estimation, so rather than hold off till the end of the year, here’s a first-half “best of” list for your perusal:

The Opposable Mind” – Roger Martin. How the greatest business innovators can resolve paradoxes and therefore create new markets.

Presentation Zen” – Garr Reynolds. Radical rules for creating and delivering powerful business presentations.

Rain Making” (2nd edition) – Ford Harding. Finally, a book about selling that doesn’t shout, but quietly gives commonsense, useful advice on every page.

Groundswell” – Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Describes the business impact of social media technologies like blogs, social networks, forums, etc. It would be important just for the subject matter. Delightfully, it’s also very well researched, documented, and written.

Senior Leadership Teams” – Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burruss, Richard Hackman. Illuminating a hidden corner of company dysfunction–the leadership team that can’t work together–and demonstrating the practices that can overcome it.

Brain Rules” – John Medina. A delightful, story-filled book that illuminates how the brain works, and how we can change our behaviors to be nicer to our brain and to others’.

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Best CD of the half-year

Monday, July 21st, 2008

My favorite album, by far, of 2008 is Nomo’s Ghost Rock. A concoction of dance-funk, electronica and horns, it’s strong from start to finish–from “Brainwave,” where the lead instrument is a bleep-bleeping analog synthesizer and the other instruments provide weird backup, to “Nova,” a plinky dance track. And in between, the title track and “All The Stars” are standouts.

Great rhythms, improvisation, funky beats that will make you move your body. They’re all here. But don’t look for vocals, because there aren’t any.

The band, nine strong, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their earlier albums, “Nomo” and “New Tones” are also excellent. I had a chance to see some of their live show when they were in Philadelphia last week, and they absolutely rocked.

The best way to check out some of their music and see tour dates is to go to their Myspace page.