We Are All Weird

I generally enjoy the observations, insights, and inspiration that Seth Godin offers daily on his blog, but We Are All Weird doesn’t feel like his strongest work. If you’ve been anywhere near Internet culture in the last few years, you can easily think of 10 trends that support his primary thesis: mass anything is becoming a thing of the past. The barriers of entry to a huge number of industries have dropped so low that anyone can form the beginnings of a successful business with a minimum of investment. Those businesses can be successful by creating products that cater to a narrow niche of customers rather than the broad masses. The definition of success might differ a bit in this world of weird, but in general this is a positive trend that offers enormous opportunity for those who seek it.

That said, Godin fails to explore the potential downsides of this new paradigm. Weird can be great but it also has dark sides and the lack of that discussion in Godin’s book weakens his argument. If it is ever-easier to find the positive things that interest us, surely it is also ever-easier to find the negative things that interest us. Mass had the great benefit of building consensus by decree. Weird has the potential to fragment consensus irreparably. As we become more invested in niche communities, we may find that we are exposed to fewer and fewer uncomfortable ideas. The result is an insular population caught up in their own weirdness and whose weirdness is only ever reinforced. Weird may be a boon for marketers, but for a society that requires consensus to progress, it has the potential to be a significant obstacle.


The Moral Landscape

Sam Harris makes a strong case for the use of science to vet and direct what would normally be called a moral judgement. Quite simply, he points out that just because the questions we have about morality are difficult to answer does not mean that there are not objective answers to those questions. And, in fact, if we frame moral judgements as answers to the question, “Does this promote human flourishing?” it becomes quite clear that science and all of its associated methods can be used to find objective, rational and meaningful results that will ultimately lead to improvements in the lives of conscious beings. Overall, the book is definitely worth reading, if a bit on the dense and dry end of the spectrum (not unexpected given that the book is based at least partially on his PHD thesis).


The Innovator's Solution

A great follow-on to The Innovator’s Dilemma, the author, Clayton Christensen, explores how the lessons from the first book can be used to create strategies that make starting a growth business practical and reliably successful. The authors form compelling arguments grounded in real world examples, despite, by their own admission, the lack of companies that have been able to reliably execute in the manner laid out in the book (though, at the risk of looking foolish in the near future, I think one could argue that Apple’s success in the last 10 years has been a direct result of their ability to create and recreate growth businesses). The authors’ argument that disruptive products and services compete best against non-consumption, resonated particularly well with my view of the world.

Skunk Works

As much as this book is about the incredible objects of military might produced by Lockheed’s Skunk Works, the core story is about the power of engineering and innovation. It’s the story of how a thermodynamicist can change the course of history with engine intakes that work efficiently at mach 3. It is the story of ideas from a single engineer becoming the spark that produces a plane invisible to radar and it is the story of a company that gave engineers and innovators free reign to develop the next great thing.

The Travels of a T-Shirt In The Global Economy

A great book to make you feel good about globalization and bad about most everything that inhibits free trade. In particular, the author’s explanation of how sweatshops have been key to improving the lives of the impoverished is truly eye-opening. And her descriptions of the incredible bureaucracy that governs the trade of apparel makes me wonder how stores have clothes to sell at all.