Conceptual Blockbusting

I recently finished reading Conceptual Blockbusting (James L. Adams, 5th edition, 309 pages), and I like the book quite a lot.

To be fair, perhaps I should have read it about 15 years ago, to maximize the effects it could have in the earlier days of my professional career as an engineer. Because I think I ended up grasping different concepts the book deals with by either experience or other readings.

However, what is still unique in this book, in my opinion, is the practical approach to problem solving, with real problem enunciations, and some guidance on why they are difficult to solve depending on the biases or types of languages it may be approached with.

Biases are indeed a major issue that has deep effects on our thinking. Much self-reflection is required on this area, not only because they may be hard to identify – since some biases are very well camouflaged – but also difficult to consistently overcome via conscious control over mental processes.

And, to mention another area I enjoyed reflecting over, alongside this book, is the use of different languages when thinking about problems, which can greatly improve interconnections between different knowledge domains, and increase the chances of creative problem solving.

By the way, creativity is probably the main thread behind it all, for this book. And it is never enough to read and reflect on what can be done to try and simply be more creative.

The most recent edition is reviewed and looks quite fresh, even if the initial text dates back to about 50 years ago. The main topics remain very relevant, though. And this is a great reading to help reflecting over them.


The Innovator's Dilemma

This book is a classic one, and I have known its core arguments for a long time. But just now I’ve gone through it all consistently. And The Innovator's Dilemma (Clayton M. Christensen, 2011, 336 pages) does not disappoint.

The main dilemma in the book revolves around the question as of why well-managed firms, with lots of available resources and know-how, fail in the marketplace. It may not seem so, but many companies in this category indeed fail.

When looking at the data for companies and market distribution over a few decades, comprising a period in which several generations of products (and companies) had entered (and left) the disk-drive market, from around the 1960’s to the 1990’s, Clayton found information that did not fit any previous explanatory models.

At the core, the most intriguing fact was that most companies that failed actually had great management, which did apparently a great job. They listened carefully to their customers, invested in improving the quality of their products on the precise metrics that their customers required, and even invested on new generations of products that in some cases were perfectly compatible with the new generation of technology that eventually put them out of business.

The problem is that their organizations grew accustomed with their marked situation. They got used to deliver on market segments that were the most lucrative, and typically their clients never asked for new generation of products until it was too late.

The dilemma here is that “disruptive innovations” are not a technological challenge to incumbents. They are a marketing challenge. Firstly, because the marked leaders grow used to good margins in their operations, and natually search for even higher (premium) tiers of the market, whenever possible. While technologically disruptive products typically start on lower tiers, and typically do not satisfy the main requirements of the majority of users. Often, however, despite being initially simpler and cheaper, they eventually catch-up on different quality metrics to be “good enough” to conquer new market segments.

Secondly, and related, it is organizationally almost impossible to get collaborators excited around new ideas when they seem to point to currently smaller or inexistent market segments, with lower potential revenue. Even when mid-managers get a mandate to invest on the “new wave”, resources in practice are sucked up into those parts of operations that “pay the bills”.

The solution to the dilemma? In short, creating a separate organization, with a cost structure that matches the new market, and whose people can get excited with the lower monetary value of orders they can obtain. The challenge here is to find new markets that also get excited with at least one of the new properties of this new product that is not yet good enough to serve the majority of the users in existing markets.

One of the aspects I like the most in the book is that it dialogues with my preferred book on innovative products: Crossing the Chasm. The chasm approaches the same problem from the perspective of the new users' profiles for a new product (innovators, early adopters, early majority, etc.), while here the same market evolution is seen from the perspective of existing companies serving current clients before and during the unfolding of a new technology wave.


The 48 Laws of Power

I’ve recently concluded the book The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene, 452 pages). It was an interesting reading, and one can easily see why it is a bestseller.

To start with, this is not an average book, in the sense that it does not appeal to good moral principles and politically correct arguments. It’s almost the opposite. The author argues that power struggle is an essential part of the human experience. No way around it. Therefore, one must study examples of the past, in situations that can allow us to understand how some people acquired and maintained positions of power over their pairs.

Of course, the main assumption behind the book – that power struggle is always innevitable – can be discussed. Since most of the examples used draw on historical figures and events happening typically centuries ago, one must argue that we currently are much better than that, in our (mostly) democratic world, where old courts almost ceased to exist, or do not exert much power anymore, for those that survived.

However, it is also true that there is a multitude of organizations out there nowadays which, being for profit or not, are mostly controlled by a small number of persons. So that the courtisan experience is still a valid source of inspiration for those aiming at raising the ranks inside different organizations.

In any case, I enjoyed the book because of its historical examples, which I found mostly entertaining. In addition, it is clear that one cannot make «laws» out from few examples. At least not when we think rationally about it. And it is also the case that some of the book «laws» actually contradict others. Nevertheless, I still found the text convincing and interesting to follow.

To conclude, this is a recommendable book, that can be amusing either you take it seriously or just as anecdotal way of looking at some human interactions and disputes we all can relate to.


Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

I concluded recently Why Nations Fail (Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson). And it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

To be fair, I didn’t like much the beginning of the book. The contrasts presented between two cities across the boarder between the US and Mexico seemed more like a caricature of the reality, and perhaps a bit exaggerated, although certainly factually correct.

After that, though, the authors go through several other countries and regions of the world, with a plethora of interesting facts and historical pieces of information that just make their points very clear and their explicative model very plausible.

In short, the book claims that the degree of development of a nation corresponds to the levels of political and economic openness and general participation. And here the institutions of a country play an important role. There are namely inflection historical points that can change the structures of governing, and there is organizational drift that makes institutions “float” on the direction of more openness and development, or more concentration of power and inequalities.

Although the main argument may seem not very original, the book is very solid in giving various examples of how this dynamic took place in reality. And it also convincingly explains how development under concentrated pollical and economical institutions is actually possible, although not sustainable, when for example resources in society are reorganized from activities with lower productivity to others with high higher added value.

In short, this book is really interesting and it can be an important piece in composing the mosaic of knowledge we all should have about the reasons behind the levels of success in different parts of the world today.