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Tech leaders tell of books offering insight, wisdom

Posted by iMark - 2005-12-27

Business leaders are often big readers, and many have a book or two that affected their thinking. USA TODAY's Kevin Maney has begun regularly asking tech industry leaders to write about two favorite books - one old and one newer. Some entries appear on Thursdays in Maney's blog. Here are books from some top people at Lenovo, Linden Lab and Red Hat, and from tech author Larry Downes.
Yang Yuanqing,

chairman of Lenovo, the Chinese PC maker that bought IBM's PC division earlier this year:

Old book: Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Lenovo is now just over two decades old. However, inside the company, we have always said that we want to build Lenovo "to last 100 years." That's one of the reasons I was attracted to Built to Last; the title appealed to me right away. The book examines the dynamics of companies that have been consistently successful for the long term, through good times and bad. Of the dozen key themes in the book, quite a few apply to Lenovo, particularly ensuring that our company is a great place to work, built on core values and competitive. I didn't agree with everything in the book, but it's one of the better business and strategy books available.

New book:The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman. Friedman's insights into how the world has "flattened" and the fundamental shifts in business dynamics, from supply chain to manufacturing to customer behavior, is important reading for any global businessperson. Friedman takes a lot of information we already know and presents it in an entirely new way, with outstanding insights on how these trends are affecting us today - as private citizens and as businesspeople - and how they will affect us in the future.

Of course, once we found out that Lenovo had been discussed in the book, everyone on our management team read it right away! However, even if we hadn't been referenced, I'd recommend this book to managers in any global company.

Philip Rosedale,

founder and CEO of Linden Lab, which created the avatar-filled online world of Second Life.

Old book: The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto. Early in the design of Second Life, one of our teammates implored us all to read this book. I thought the title and cover art looked really boring, but I agreed to read it. I think de Soto will get the Nobel prize for the insights in this book (unless he is slowed by the fact that when you Google his name, you have to wade through 1,000 references to the Spanish explorer).

What it basically says is that successful countries always start by making sure that people can freely own, resell and mortgage the real estate on which they live.

This is a Very Big Idea, because it says that "technological" innovations like stock markets and banking aren't the key to countries becoming prosperous, which is what people have traditionally thought. Rather, the key is that each individual be empowered with the ability to be entrepreneurial in their own backyard. Look at eBay or the early United States, and it really makes sense.

There is something here for every tech entrepreneur to study. This was one of the key things that drove our ideas around land ownership also being key to the growth of a 3-D online world.

New book:On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee. Finished this book recently, and it is a mind-altering lay summary of what lots of research has been leaning toward - that the nature of human thought and consciousness is far simpler than we had thought, and will be easy to replicate with computers once they are fast enough.

As shown by things like the Copernican Revolution, we humans have a really hard time letting go of the idea that we are somehow very, very special. The last thing we seem unwilling to admit is that the way we think and the experience of feeling alive and conscious might somehow be replicable and not a result of God or the pineal gland.

What Jeff says in this book in a delightfully dry and straightforward way (which makes it all the more spine-tingling) is, "Well, I'm an engineer, and I've been looking at this brain thing for 20 years, and I've figured out the wiring diagram, I know why it works, and I know how to build a duplicate with a computer." Check this one out.

Matthew Szulik,

CEO of open-source software company Red Hat:

Old book: On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis. (I) read the book at a time when I lacked clarity in how to transition from managing to leading people. On Becoming a Leader is not a "how-to" book. Instead, (it) revealed to me and set me on a course to develop those characteristics within myself to become an effective communicator and leader.

New book:Massive Change, Bruce Mau and the Institute Without Boundaries. Collection of vignettes about ideas, beliefs and the brilliant minds of individuals that utilize design as the foundation to make quantum impact through their work to improve the lives of others.

Reading it makes me realize how much work we have to do to really galvanize the human spirit to improve the human condition.

Larry Downes,

associate dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Information Management & Systems and author of Unleashing the Killer App and The Strategy Machine:

Old book: I keep coming back to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. First published in 1962, Kuhn's study of the process by which major changes in scientific thinking are accepted led to the startling conclusion that breakthrough ideas always came from young minds, and that scientific establishments don't so much accept them as they do simply die off over time.

The unintended echoes to current events made Kuhn a kind of accidental cult figure during the social revolutions of the '60s. To me, these stories help explain why it is so hard for executives to "get it," even when the reality of disruptive technologies in their industries can no longer be denied.

New book: I greatly admired William Landes and Richard Posner's book The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law. The book isn't really written for a lay audience, but these days, I'm increasingly interested in the intersection of innovation and regulation.

The economic approach of Landes and Posner provides a relatively neutral starting point to evaluate topics that include spam, privacy, open-source software and file sharing, to name a few.

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