The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age ($24.95, Random House) is heavy on spirit and light on ethics. What the hacker ethic is, by book’s end, remains a mystery. The ethic can probably be best summed up by the “theorem of life” as attributed to Steve Wozniak: food, friends, and fun.
Much is also made of distinguishing the book’s subject as the classically defined “hacker”-one who writes and shares software – not the criminal cracking databases and websites who’s portrayed in hysterical movies or hyperventilating articles.
Ethic author Pekka Himanen (with prolog by Linus Torvalds and epilog by Manuel Castells) tries desperately to intellectualize the three F’s, bringing in Socrates, Homer, and the medieval notions of “Office Hours.”
Yet, for all the philosophical shrapnel whizzing by, the book doesn’t hit its stride until the final third – called “The Nethic” – which tells how hacker behavior over networked computers essentially standardized etiquette for users of email, websites, newsgroups, bulletin board systems, and instant messaging.
There’s not much to take away from this ambitious book. Castells’ rather long epilog is fascinating but out of place, and the tacked-on “brief history of computer hackerism” is a joke, although not meant that way. Proceed with caution, there are so many possible errors…
Why Stop at CEO?
Jeffrey E. Garten has the kind of access that most business journalists dream about. As dean of the Yale School of Management and a former Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade, Garten regularly knocks shoulders with the world’s top business leaders. In The Mind of the C.E.O. ($26, Basic Books & Perseus Publishing), Garten draws on interviews with this “elite class” at “the top of the pyramid,” including Rupert Murdoch, Michael Dell, Nokia’s Jorma Ollila, and more than 30 others.
Unfortunately, the CEOs don’t offer anything particularly insightful. Garten’s call for them to take a more active role in shaping society is far more interesting. “They should be corporate chief executives, but also business statesmen,” he writes. “The wider mission…includes helping to define the role big corporations ought to play in solving many of our social problems before they become too severe to handle and before multinational companies become scapegoats for causing the problems in the first place.”
Garten is quick to make clear that executives aren’t in the business of replacing governments. But his call for corporate chiefs to exert greater influence is probably welcome advice for those who want governments to be run more like businesses.
It’s a troubling recommendation for anyone concerned about the already considerable power of corporations.
Profit From the Core: Growth Strategies in an Era of Turbulence
A book such as Profit From the Core: Growth Strategies in an Era of Turbulence ($27.50, Harvard Business School Press) comes at the right time. Authors and Bain & Co. strategists Chris Zook and James Allen have written a kind of manual that cuts to the core if you will. Just as online and offline businesses expanded while riding the stock market bubble, now with correction comes contemplation. Profit offers thinking points to stimulate re-evaluation. What’s at your core? If you’re Coke, is it just beverages, or additionally promotions, apparel, luxury goods, toys?
If you’re on Amazon.com, how do you justify the kind of diversification your company has seen in the last three years? Can it work? If redefinition is what your company – big or small – needs, a third of the book explores what real businesses – Charles Schwab, Corning, Nokia, Monsanto – have done to stay in the game. Analyzed, too, are some of the pitfalls of transformation: computer seller Egghead closing its 250 stores for a solely online presence. The lesson: Is your growth a logical extension of what you sell or are you just entering a “hot” market?
Mindful of Business
Throwing fistfuls of cash at every startup or business opportunity might technically make you an entrepreneur. It won’t make you a successful one. Careful planning, diligence, and discipline help, but to be a success you need to change more than your work habits – you need to change everything, including the way you think.
The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty ($29.95, Harvard Business School Press) provides some tools and resources for tomorrow’s success stories, but also proves to be a lesson in responsibility. Authors Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan suggest steps to take toward responsible action: Research, planning, creating a business culture, and changing a model if necessary. The quizzes and checklists provided help organize and categorize thoughts and motives. Although they may seem elementary, they are powerful learning tools. This book seems specifically written for business leaders who are risk-takers, and the authors provide a framework to stimulate creativity and leadership.