Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review - "Borrowing Brilliance" by David Kord Murray

Just finished reading "Borrowing Brillance" by David Kord Murray... which I heard about when it was reviewed here in BusinessWeek.

The overarching theme behind Murray's book is business ideas and where they come from... with that spot often not being one of "out of the blue" originality. That said, I found the guy himself as being almost as interesting as where the ideas come from.

The Guy

Murray seems quite the interesting fellow given his personal and business highs and lows described in the book. He first worked as a NASA engineer and then became an entrepreneur who was poised to sell his Lake Tahoe based financial company for $50 million, and would up with close to nothing. Through a combination of his past experience, lots of reading and a good contact made, Murray eventually found himself consulting with Intuit on the Turbo Tax direct mail program. This then led to a full time Innovation Exec role at Intuit, and then another entrepreneurial venture and now him writing this book and living back in Lake Tahoe.

Solid stuff and his story seems to be an interesting example of how speed bumps can come and you may not know where you'll wind up, but you just try to keep moving forward.

The Business Ideas

As stated previously, the book works with the concepts of ideas... and how to generate, repurpose and repackage them. Following up on this idea of pattern recognition and meaning making, Murray writes of how as a business society we're now out of the information age and onto the conceptual or innovation age.

The structure of the book is broken into 6 steps:

1. Defining - Define the problem and figure out the right one to work on. The idea here is on of scope and how small problems can both fit within and when solved, sometimes create other ones. Murray cited Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page as good people to think of when considering problem definition. The idea behind Google began when they were Stanford PhD students, each working on a separate data mining problem. This led to thinking about organizing information, which led to search. Now that the lower level problem of search has been worked (and of course, continues to be), Google has moved back to the high level problem they talk about of organizing the world's information.

Related to this idea, I also think of the information architect field and how it focuses on the presentation of data, facts and ideas... interesting stuff.

2. Borrowing - Take ideas from places near and far. This is tied to the third step, but focuses on looking for the answers to your problems from yes, your competitors, but also other fields of work entirely. Murray writes heavily about Hollywood and how the construction of movies into acts with emotional triggers and levels was something he thought about in relation to the Turbo Tax offering while at Intuit.

This is in many ways the concept of critical observation... just with a wide net.

3. Combining - Throw the ideas together and try lots of different iterations. Related to borrowing, Murray writes about Star Wars and how George Lucas spend years working on it until he had the perfect combination of science fiction and mythology (with the light saber as an example). Also discussed by Murray in relation to these borrowed combinations were Google utilizing page ranks, Disneyland being built to scale like a movie set and Facebook as a metaphor of a college yearbook.

Interesting concept... causes me to think about Social Networking and web publishing as done through various sources such as Facebook, blogs, Digg and Ning among others.

4. Incubating - allow the combinations to come together.
This step centers on the concept of the subconscious mind being the best source of creative ideas. Murray describes historical intellects like Einstein and Newton as being in touch with their subconscious, but also provides his thoughts (in the three bullets below) on how people can train themselves to get more in touch with their subconscious.

- Input: Think about what problems you want to solve.
- Incubation: Work on clearing the mind... whether it be throw daily walks, meditation or simply doing creative work immediately after a good night of sleep.
- Output: Be willing to let ideas in, but not be held captive by them. Sort of a duality concept of listening to ideas and emotional responses, but at the same time having doubts about them so as to not get led astray by something that is not a true belief.

I liked this concept as it made me think of how creativity doesn't always come, but when it does, you want to run with and get the most out of it. Most simple example of this would be people who jot down thoughts that come to them so that they're not lost in the ether...

5. Judging - Identify strengths and weaknesses... the throwing out of the bad parts of any idea and expanding of the best.

6. Enhancing - Eliminate the weak and enhance the strong. This sounds a lot like point five, but Murray describes it as in many ways being like a recycling of points one through five. Just continually cycle the process.

The conclusion of Murray's book contains his view of "the creative life"... and how one can view these steps as being part of a creative process around more than just business.

Solid stuff (with more details on Murray's book website) and it reminds me of some of the great John Gardner's writing that I linked to in this blog post.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blog Topics List: Redux Part Duex... Stuff of Interest & Authors Enjoyed

After doing a "blog inventory" post a few days ago (and thinking about the helpful comment made to said post), I wanted to follow up and look further at the topics covered... listed out as: business, sports, life, politics, writing and history.

Digging further into this, it looks to me that my postings don't really seem to be category driven, but rather just simply an amalgamation of stuff that I like. Sometimes it's due to the topic, less frequently from the writing quality and even less frequently from a combination of interesting topic well written about, but when I see it, I like to link to and write about it.

As to what it is about something I like, I have to piggyback on what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography in a 1964 written opinion, I know stuff I find of interest when I see it.

Looking back at what I've written led me to three different topics that could warrant further writing on... (1) the authors I always look to read when I see their byline, (2) the very best writing I've linked to in posts and (3) business as a topic area and what subsets of business I posted about.

To the first topic...

In terms of authors I look for stuff from, I can probably separate things into two categories... those who I've primarily seen in magazine print and those whose books I look for.

So... magazine authors I look for:
Lee Jenkins, S.L. Price, Austin Murphy - Sports Illustrated
David Von Drehle, Nancy Gibbs, Joel Stein, Joe Klein - Time Magazine

Chris Jones - Esquire

Susan Casey - Esquire & Sports Illustrated

In terms of book authors I look for, I'm setting aside the people like Ayn Rand and Jack London who are great writers, but aren't going to be putting anything new out soon.

Book authors I'm interested in what they write next (along with my favorite, and in some cases only, book of theirs I've read and with the hyperlinked blog post I've done on said book):

Business: Jeff Jarvis - "What Would Google Do?"


David Von Drehle - "Triangle: The Fire That Changed America"

Erik Larson - "Isaac's Storm"


Austin Murphy - "How Tough Could it Be?"

S.L. Price - "Heart of the Game"

General (or Varied):

Chris Jones - "Too Far From Home" (or "Out of Orbit" in paperback)

Eric Weiner - "The Geography of Bliss"

Susan Casey - "The Devil's Teeth"

John Grogan - "The Longest Trip Home"

Michael Lewis - "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Austin Murphy SI Story on South-Central Florida H.S. Football

Really good story from the latest issue of Sports Illustrated that I was surprised to come across.

What was of such interest to me wasn't necessarily the topic, but rather the author... Austin Murphy. Murphy is an excellent writer and I previously posted on two of his books I've read... "The Sweet Season" about small-school college football and "How Tough Could it Be?" about being (for a brief period of time) a stay at home Dad. Not very frequently, though, do I see his byline in SI.

In this piece titled "Muck Bowl", Murphy chronicles the football rivalry between Pahooke High School and Glades Central High. As he writes about, the two schools can be bitter enemies on the field, but also share much in common. Separated by some 12 miles in an economically depressed part of Central Florida, west of Palm Beach, the small town programs have sent 48 people to the NFL over the last four decades (including Santanio Holmes, Fred Taylor and Anquan Boldin).

Very compelling "slice of life" writing about how many live... including a sizable numbers of the players we watch on the NFL and major college football fields.

Out of curiosity, I did a Google Maps satellite view search of Pahooke and it's neighboring town Belle Glade, and yep... not very developed areas.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blog Topics List: Redux

I've posted several times previously with statistics about the blog posts done here, but I think with this post, I want to start to delve even further into what I've written about.

The question I keep coming back to is what's the purpose behind the blog (the blog being, you know... this blog). I write on the opening page this not so polemical (just felt like using a big word there) goal...

"The point is to write about stuff I find... well, interesting. If these efforts should help me transition from my current business program management type job to a business writing and creative type job then all the better. If not, then the original point of the blog holds true."

Yep, that still holds true. I do want to write about interesting things... and would be happy if that led to a job writing about interesting things. At the fundamental non-job related interesting things level, though, I like the idea of using language to help both figure out and document what things I find of note. Additionally, and even though I didn't start writing the blog for the kid, I think there's something to be said for leaving for your kid(s) a historical record of what you think about.

So... blog topics posted on... the last post I did in this area was this one in July 2009 and with the additional 50 posts since then, the current point in time topics posted on is something like this:

17 months / 230 or so posts... about 13 a month or just under one every other day

55 books posted on... 45 of which being non-fiction and 10 fiction

Of the 45 non-fiction... the main topics covered are as follows:
- Business: 3 books
- History: 7 books
- Life: 7 books
- Sports: 12 books
- Writing: 2 books
- Politics: 2 books
Well, 34 out of 45 books falling into one of six areas, with most of those really being in one of four areas... that's fairly focused.

The 185 or so non-book posts cover most heavily the following areas:
- Business: 63 posts
- Sports: 32 posts
- Politics: 26 posts
- Life: 27 posts
- Writing: 25 posts
With the remaining posts being a few on heath and a few on entertainment, the topics covered are even more focused than in the books.

The point of all this? I think it a jumping off point to delve further into what I like to write about. To whit... business, sports, life (yes, quite the broad topic), politics, writing and history. Perhaps the first three more than the last, but that will be a thing to figure out through further delving (quite possibly in additional blog topic posts)...

Monday, November 23, 2009

BusinessWeek Report on Startup Ventures

Interesting feature in the Nov 23 BusinessWeek issue.

Titled "World's Most Intriguing Startups", it details some of the companies that are poised for success during this downturn in business. Some of the startups contained within are Hunch... a "website that used the experiences of others to help people make decisions." The venture was started by Flickr founder Caterina Fake and is written about in the opening story from this BW report.

Another interesting startup report was "Augmenting Reality" on the Dutch startup Layar. Augmented reality is a very cool field in that it's about the overlay of digital data on a physical world... an example of which would be pointing your iPhone (via a now available free app) at something and pressing a button to then have information about that appear on the screen... example of which can be seen below:

Not part of the Startups Report, but also of interest from this issue was "Buddy, Can You E-Mail Me 100 Bucks?" about mobile to mobile phone transfers of money. Seems closely related to the topics in the blog post I did earlier this month on apps and m-commerce enabled websites.

Finally... neither part of the Startups Report nor this BW issue, "Gunning for an Elephant in Silicon Valley" was an interesting piece from the Oct 19 BusinessWeek on networking company, and Cisco rival, Arista. Founded by Silicon Valley pioneer Andreas Bechtolsheim, the venture appears to very much below in this post on hot new startups.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Helicopter Parenting Piece from Time

Might not appeal to all, but as a parent of two (man, that sounds wierd), I found intriguing the the cover story from the latest Time Magazine.

Written by Nancy Gibbs and titled "The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting" the feature examines the question of "how much is too much" in relation to parental involvement.

Two basic concepts the story could be boiled down to... (1) it's counterproductive for your kids to hover over them and (2) it's not healthy for you as the parent.

The idea behind letting kids figure stuff out for themselves, and fail at times, is not a new one. In fact, David Von Drehle wrote a Time cover story in November 2008 on the topic titled "The Myth About Boys" basically saying "the kids are alright." If you want to go further back, you could view Mark Twain's Huck Finn as a good example of detachment parenting appearing to work out fine. And, oh yeah, both the Von Drehle piece and Time's cover story on Twain are linked to in this blog post.

In terms of how overparenting impacts the parent themself, the Gibbs piece was likely inspired by (or at least related to) her Time commentary piece "Parenting Advice: What Moms Should Learn From Dads." The generalization contained within is that parents shouldn't be so hard on themselves... and that Dads in general seem to do a better job of this than do Moms.

Some interesting "additional reading" stuff from the Gibbs cover story would be on Lenore Skenazy... the Ivy League educated New York mom who let her 9 year old son ride the subway alone (and has now built quite the writing and speaking industry around that)... and parenting websites such as (with the heading "celebrating the imperfect journey of parenting).

It's not mentioned in the Gibbs story, but also of interest would be the wave of wilderness exploration programs for kids.


Also from this issue of Time was this short piece on the most excellent website which apparently now has a mobile app.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fort Hood Domestic Terrorist Piece from Time Magazine

Solid cover story in the latest Time Magazine on Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan.

Written by Nancy Gibbs, "Terrified or Terrorist?" investigates the life of Hasan... and both what appeared to lead him to his shooting rampage on the Texas Army base and how the military might have been able to prevent it.

To the question of what brought about his heinous act, signs seem to point to a severe disillusionment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hasan (who is a Muslim) viewing the US as waging a war against the religion. The interesting question that Gibbs looks at is whether Hasan's actions following up on his views make him basically a self-contained terrorist... operating outside any terrorist organization.

In terms of how this act could have been prevented, Gibbs details the various red flags about Hasan that were raised by members of the military, but with none of them thoroughly followed up upon. The reasoning put forward was that to voice questions about Hasan as a Muslim could be viewed as act of discrimination. Not good, but understandable.


Two other pieces from this issue of Time that stood out were a mention of comedian George Carlin's posthumously published autobiography "Last Words" and the "Technology Roundtable with Jay Adelson, Jeff Han, Philip Rosedale and Michael Arrington." Interesting stuff.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review - "Where Men Win Glory" by Jon Krakauer

I recently finished reading “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer and found it to be pretty powerful. The book is on former NFL standout and Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan, Pat Tillman and features much of the same great writing that Krakauer provided in two prior books of his I’ve read… “Into Thin Air” and “Into the Wild”.

Krakauer had access to Tillman’s diary and conducted numerous interviews with people tied to him. One of those was his mother, Mary Tillman, who authored the book “Boots on the Ground by Dusk”. There’s a lot of ground covered in the Krakauer book, but I think it could all be boiled down to two basic concepts… Tillman the man and Tillman the used object.

Tillman the man

There’s an interesting section at the end of the book where Krakauer writes of the archetype known as the “alpha male”… the strong character unafraid of danger who seeks out challenges. What’s interesting is that Tillman really seems to have had both this type of makeup (in spades) along with an introspective side who really wanted to do what he felt was the right thing.

Evidence of this was of course his decision to forgo NFL millions to join the Army after 9-11, but other signs also point to this sense of internal judgment leading his decisions. While with the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman turned down a qualifying off from the St Louis Rams that would have paid him $2.6M guaranteed… and took $512K instead.

Additionally, it comes out in the Krakauer book that Tillman could have left the military (and a war in Iraq he didn’t believe in) after a year and a half, but instead stayed in to finish his three year commitment… to what is now known as tragic consequences.

Tillman the used object

The story of Tillman and what he represented would by itself have made for a compelling narrative (and I’m sure there are other books out there devoted entirely to Tillman the man), but the Krakauer book also gets heavily into the other side of the story… the usage and manipulation of the Tillman story by his government.

Tillman was initially reported to have been killed by enemy combatants, but was known immediately at multiple levels of the military that Tillman’s death was caused by friendly fire… almost certainly at the hands of Ranger gunner Trevor Alders. The actual announcement of friendly fire was released later in a manner that would mitigate the amount of press coverage and couched in terms that it “possibly” could have been friendly fire.

This preceded the events of his actual death which involved what’s described as an unnecessarily risky splitting of the platoon… for the purpose of reaching an arbitrary goal set by military planners. Then immediately after his death, Tillman’s uniform, diary and notebook were all burned against Army regulations.

After this, Tillman was almost immediately awarded posthumous medals for his actions on the fateful night, with the witness statements for those medals leaving out any mention of how the actual events transpired. Then results of the mandatory investigation into the cause of death were disregarded, presumably because the outcome of it was negligence by Army personally eventually resulting in death by friendly fire. In fact, there would then be a second investigation with the results set aside… finally with a 3rd leading to still unsatisfactory information for the Tillman family.

Testifying before Congress, Pat’s brother (and fellow Army Ranger) Kevin Tillman said…

“The fact that the Army, and what appears to be others, attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific. The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who is responsible for his death, who lied and who covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them. Then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable. Pat and these soldiers volunteered to put their lives on the line for this country. Anything less than the truth is a betrayal of those values that all soldiers who have fought for this nation have sought to uphold.”

All of this is fairly sickening stuff about the internal response to the event of Pat Tillman’s death, but to the point of Tillman the man… it’s important to investigate the usage of his legacy, but also remember the legacy itself. Since his death, the Pat Tillman Foundation was formed and Leadership through Action scholarship program instituted at Pat’s alma matter of Arizona State University.

Really compelling stuff and short of reading the Krakauer book (or book by Tillman’s mother), this ESPN feature article also delves into the life and death of Pat Tillman.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Peyton & Other Stories from Sports Illustrated

Several pieces of note from the latest Sports Illustrated.

Leading into the annual epic battle between New England and Indianapolis, the cover story by Peter King is "Manning At His Best" about the approach to the game by the Colts QB. It's an interesting piece in that it really shows the combination of things usually required for excellence (I guess in any endeavor)... natural ability, intelligence and desire to work.


Two other short articles I found interesting were the "update" piece on Russian billionaire Shabtai von Karlmanovic and last page commentary "Burning To Play Again" by Selena Roberts (she of the A-Rod's steroid use story).

The Karlmanovic piece is a follow up to the Dec 2008 SI story "To Russia with Love" which I linked to in this blog post. The original story profiled the impact of Russian billionaires on sports and was now updated with the news that Karlmanovic was gunned down while sitting in his car. Just a different life some people live...

The Roberts commentary is a solid look at heralded college hoops player Elena Delle Donne... who after first arriving as a freshman phenom at powerhouse UConn, decided that family and being around her cerebral palsy afflicted sister mattered more and returned home. It's not really that Delle Donne made absolutely the right as opposed to wrong move in general , but rather that she appears to have made the right move for her. Pretty compelling stuff.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Employer / Employee Relationship BusinessWeek Pieces

Two brief interesting pieces around employees and the companies they work for from the November 16 issue of BusinessWeek.

The longer of the two is titled "The Return of the House Call" and details the Microsoft program that let's employees request an in-home doctor visit. From a financial perspective, it can actually reduce Microsoft expense in helping to bring down company costs for any unneeded emergency room visits by covered employees (should probably be noted that the Microsoft health care plan is apparently noted for being low-cost to it's employees).

The secondary, but still important impact of the program is in showing employees how valued they are by the company.
Very much tied to this latter concept, I thought the point raised in the extremely short "Are Your Employees Just Biding Their Time?" was a solid one. The concept is that there's a number of companies out there taking the current recession as an opportunity to squeeze employees and that could turn out to be counterproductive when the economy turns around. If an employee doesn't feel valued or treated fairly, it could well be a mass exodus of talent once other opportunities present themselves.

I find this whole idea of the employee / employer relationship to be a fascinating one and (keeping in mind things are always as they appear) it's interesting to read about and reflect upon the approaches taken by some large corporations.

I did a blog post in Oct 2008 titled Corporate Workplace Culture: the Good (Not the Bad or Ugly) which featured some positive employee treatment stories from companies such as Costco, Netflix, Google and yep... Microsoft and then another post in March of this year on People Management at IBM.

Just interesting... I think the point is that companies can squeeze employees under certain conditions, but I really question how sustainable the practice is over the long haul.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

BusinessWeek Cover Story on Apps

Interesting story on apps from the Nov 2 issue of BusinessWeek.

Titled "Inside the App Economy", this piece talks about the various plug in type applications being used either on mobile phones or as widgets in social networking sites such as Facebook.

Related to a story previously linked to about m-commerce over phones, the cover story provides a good look at a business type that didn't even exist a few years ago.


In the same vein of new businesses (and careers), this same issue of BusinessWeek also had an article about VC investments in the field of Clean Tech as well as one about former Boeing employees titled "When the Laid Off are Better Off."

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Andre Agassi Book Excerpt from Sports Illustrated

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated has quite the interesting book excerpt... taken from "Open", Andre Agassi's autobiography.

The excerpt is titled "I Hate Tennis" and covers a lot of ground from the book...

Sections begin with Agassi's early years first with the relentless pushing courtesy of his overbearing father and then his money match against football great Jim Brown at age 9. Later portions of the book here get into Agassi's Wimbledon championship at 22 and now much publicized (as a result of this book) Crystal Meth usage.

Finally, the excerpt wraps up with Agassi's final US Open... with both family and thoughts of family around him.

To this point of family, the section on Agassi's 60 something year old father meeting Steffi Graf's similarly aged father is so amazing you almost question if it happened as described. The gist was these two tyrant "sports father" types getting so competitive and worked up that they practically came to blows... with the argument between the two not having the benefit of a shared language.

Wild stuff and while the book itself is I imagine an interesting read throughout, this SI excerpt provides a good condensed view.