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InReview – Issue 1

Leadership Is an Art by Max DePree; New York, Doubleday; xxii, 136 pp.

DePree was a long-time chairman and CEO of the highly respected furniture company, Herman Miller, Inc. An easy and quick read that feels like a gentle and wise session listening to your grandfather.

Leadership is about empowering and valuing people, creating and tending the corporate culture, keeping communication fluid and two-directional, telling stories that reinforce the right priorities and values. DePree’s style is deceptively simple; this is a book worth several re-readings to fully absorb its deep wisdom.

Reviewed by David W. Gill

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Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy; New York, HarperBusiness, 1993; vi, 223 pp.

This is the book that defined the reengineering craze that has swept through business in the 90’s. While reengineering has been used to mean almost anything, the authors’ definition is really quite focused: “the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in contemporary measures of performance.” The book is well illustrated, and has an excellent chapter on the use of technology to avoid automation. It’s weakness, both in the text and in practice is the lack of attention paid to people issues, crucial to any reengineering.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995; viii, 43 pp.

Negroponte is the founding director of the Media Lab at MIT, and he writes a book that is both fun to read and insightful about key issues of the digital revolution. He is able to take a very complex subject, such as data compression, and convey understanding about it through the analogy of a wink between a husband and a wife at a party. He deals not just with computers, but the implication of the digital world to High Definition TV, the convergence of electronic devices, and regulatory issues. His enthusiasm for the subject does, however, gloss over any possible “downside” from the technology. As he talks of technology changing life for everyone on earth, he seems unaware that half of the people in the world have yet to receive their first phone call.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992; xii, 222 pp.

Postman is chair of the department Communication Arts at New York University. His intelligent, thoughtful book is the perfect response to Negroponte. He sees a caution for all technology, e.g. printing allows people to write things down and hence interferes with the exercise of memory. Like many critics of computing, he falls into the trap of shooting down grand schemes from the artificial intelligence community of the 60s that have long been technically discredited. On the other hand, he reminds us that when technology is added to a system we don’t get the old system plus technology but a new system. And he also reminds us that tools from technology can support human values, but they are tools after all and are not to be worshipped.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology by Don Tapscott and Art Caston; New York, McGraw-Hill, 1993; xvii, 337 pp.

Tapscott and Caston are business consultants based in Ontario, Canada. Paradigm Shift is one of the best and most comprehensive descriptions of how information technology is transforming business. The authors discuss in detail, and illustrate with many business examples, three critical shifts: (1) from personal to work-group computing in high performance teams, (2) from separate system islands to integrated systems in an integrated organization, and (3) from internal to interenterprise computing, recasting external relationships for an extended enterprise. A well-written, well-researched study. The authors close their book by saying: “An issue of values is raised . . . What will be the values and ethics driving the transformation? . . . Collectively we can determine the outcome, rather than abdicating responsibility and just letting things happen” (p. 312). Exactly!

Reviewed by David W. Gill

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Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences by Edward Tenner; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996; xiii, 346 pp.

Tenner is a historian of science and technology, a writer and editor, a professor at Princeton University. Why Things Bite Back is alternately entertaining and troubling as Tenner shows in painstaking detail how our technological changes always are accompanied by unforeseen, unpredictable, unintended, and often undesirable consequences. His chapters discuss technology and its “revenge effects” in medicine, agriculture, sports, environmental management, and the computerized office. Why does the “paperless computerized office” consume more paper than ever? Why does improved safety equipment lead to more injuries? And so on. This is a serious study, extremely well-documented. The answer, Tenner concludes, is not to abandon or oppose technology, but to have our eyes open, carefully consider our steps, and be more vigilant.

Reviewed by David W. Gill

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