Prezi is a Map

I’ve always been struck by how hamstrung PowerPoint is due to its design being modeled on a physical slide projector. Prezi has abandoned this for a new metaphor: a map. When Prezi was released a few years back, it was clunky and buggy. It has become incrementally better with each release. Most impressively, while it has improved, it has managed to avoid feature creep. There are lots of things I wish it would do, but if it did all the things I and the rest of the world wants, it would quickly become as cumbersome as Photoshop. Keep on keeping it simple, Prezi.

Bell Curve Distribution

In our organizations, and in our lives, there is constant inertia toward the central tendency. I’ve always been a fan of hanging out in the tails. I’m not alone. That’s where the action is. We tend to favor the right tail, as we should. I’m a big believer in the adage that a cynic is a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again, so it has always been a priority for me to hang out on the left tail as well, but boy it ain’t easy.

Career Changes

I recently reconnected with a friend I lost touch with roughly ten years ago when he moved to a different state. We had a brief email exchange providing each other updates on our family and professional circumstances. When I mentioned that I was still with the same company, he replied “I would have lost that bet. I had you pegged as someone on the move.” Implicit to this statement was an undercurrent of disappointment. Dan Pink writes about how we live in a “free agent nation.” If you work for the same firm for too long, the inescapable conclusion is you must be on a stifling, dead-end path.

It got me thinking a bit about my personal career and experience at ZS. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs and on two different occasions thought of leaving. On both occasions, I asked myself what needed to change to reinvigorate my passion. Both times, I sought to redefine my career within ZS and found that the organization promptly bended to accommodate my aspirations. In fact, I feel that I was ultimately able to exert a firmwide impact on our culture and practices as a result of my new personal ambitions.

I agree with the sentiment that corporations are abstractions that can no longer command our loyalty. But hasty departures and transient commitments are also problematic. It is a lot harder to influence large scale change than it is to simply bail ship for smoother sailing. Circumstances will often warrant a move, but when done out of simple convenience may also reflect a lack of personal accountability and courage. While I have no idea what my future holds, for the time being I’m pretty energized by the excitement of influence.


A number of folks have asked me about recent books I’ve read which have influenced my thinking. Below is a quick summary. I’ve tried to limit the list to books from the last year or so to keep it fresh, but I couldn’t resist slipping in a few oldies.

Communication and Vision

Presentation Zen

How to create and deliver effective visuals that support the presenter (versus compete with or substitute for.)


Duarte Design’s bible for creating and delivering effective presentations

The Non-Designer’s Design Book

Fundamentals of design for written material. A must read for design illiterates like myself. Elementary for others.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

Pictures are far more effective than words in communicating complex or new ideas.

Made to Stick

An amazing book on how to create and communicate ideas that stick.

A Whole New Mind

The corporate world greatly favors left hemisphere orientation. This book opened my eyes to the importance of the other half.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

You probably know all about these two already. I love Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers is coming up on my list soon.

Self-Improvement and Productivity

The Art of Possibility

Gave me a whole new perspective on life and work. There are dozens of similar cheesy, inspirational books like this. Different ones strike a cord with different folks.


I highly recommend listening to this on audio. Jack Welch narrating with his thick Boston accent brings entertainment to a commute.

Tao Te Ching

You’ve all heard of it. It’s amazing and timeless. I only recently made the time for it and glad I did.

The Paradox of Choice

An eye-opening book for those of us with OCD. I think the diagnoses are sound, but the prescriptions now are a bit dated for digital media consumption given ongoing filtering improvements.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

I’m sure most of you are familiar with this one too. A bit overengineered, but an awesome productivity book. Written for the pen and paper era, but plenty of online resources have sprung from it.

Bit Literacy

A bit didactic and dogmatic, but nevertheless great advice for information consumption.

Four Hour Workeek

Tim Ferris strikes me as arrogant, egocentric, and hedonistic and I found myself really disliking the book yet reading it anyway. It is written as a “how to” guide to get rich fast. Don’t read it that way. If you read with a learning lens and try to ignore the the obnoxiousness, it makes some great points and serves as a reminder to accept no personal limits.

Creativity and Innovation

Lateral Thinking

This is one of those short, simple books that took me a very long time to read as I constantly paused and reflected on the profound insight. This book changed the way I think about problems. It’s old, but timeless.

A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative

Another oldie. A quick read for ideas on how to get the creative juices flowing.

Welcome to the Creative Age

I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it is extremely thought provoking. A must read for anyone who works in marketing. I bought his follow-up book Herd but haven’t made time for it yet.

The Innovator’s Dilemma

A bit ivory tower at times, but I think Clay Christensen really nails drivers of disruptive innovation and why incumbents are virtually destined to fall. I’m halfway through his latest – The Innovator’s Prescription – which I highly recommend for anyone who works in health care. My personal point of view is that his health care prophecies are not “ifs” but “whens” and “hows”.

The Ten Faces of Innovation, The Art of Innovation

I’m enamored with everything IDEO. Great principles for innovation.

The Myths of Innovation

Very insightful work on innovation.

Offices at Work

I’m obsessed with the abundance of industrial vestiges in our companies. This book sheds light on the notion from a physical space perspective.

Management and Business

Scenarios, The Art of the Long View

Two great books with the same theme – enhancing organizational perception and learning through the creation of future memories.

The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage
Authenticity: What Comsumers Want

Pine and Gilmore have groundbreaking insights on the new world order. Required reading for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Business Process Change

A book related to ZS consulting practice. A strong underpinning to our expansion into capability building and outsourcing. Very dry and cumbersome, but valuable for those of us who are weak on operations.

Rethinking the Sales Force

Another book which has influenced ZS thinking on sales force consulting. Elementary reading for those in the trade.

Leading the Revolution

If you can get past Gary Hamel’s blowhard tendencies, this book sheds light on how the world is changing and implications for business.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization

This is an oldie, but new to me. I gained a greater appreciation for systems thinking and organizational learning. Has shaped my perspective on the financial crisis.

Managing The Professional Service Firm

This book has had a strong influence on the management of my firm. Valuable for those who work in professional services.


The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

The Design of Everyday Things

Our head of software development, Jes Sherborne turned me on to these books. Great books for appreciating good design and experience.

Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages

A fun book that provides good historical context for information management.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

A phenomenal book on how and why the web / interactive media is changing the world.

Meatball Sundae

Some light reading on new marketing. Did I mention the world is changing? I recommend this book to our clients a lot, despite the title.

The Long Tail

You all know about this one. Some of his predictions were wrong, but still extremely insightful.


Every month or so I get the itch to get out and participate in something interesting that in no way is related to what I feel I am “supposed” to be doing. Something random and interesting, but with no clear relationship to any critical path in my life. In short, something I most certainly don’t have time for. Given my line of work, I always pay a subsequent penalty of sleep deprivation working all night to catch up, but it’s almost always worth it. I took one of these small excursions on Tuesday afternoon.
I went to Ideo’s offices in Palo Alto to watch Jacqueline Novogratz speak. More than anything, it was an excuse to see Ideo, a company which has become a minor obsession of mine. The speaker was secondary. Ideo didn’t disappoint – the physical space screamed out creativity and the passion and energy of its people felt authentic. I even crossed paths with Tom Kelley which was quite the treat, but little did I know what was in store. The surprise for me was Jacqueline Novogratz, a person I knew nothing about. What an amazing woman. It was one of those rare moments when I was struck by being in the presence of greatness. Her talk focused on the work she is doing with the Acumen fund. She talked about having the audacity to change the world and the humility to do so effectively. As I read this last sentence it looks trite and cliché, but to hear it from someone who is living it was inspirational. I aspire to leadership, but in her presence found myself wanting to follow. She exuded compassion, but also demonstrated a keen sense of realism and discipline. She had the bleeding heart of a liberal, but the grounded accountability and tough love of the far right.
Jolted me out of a short spell of boredom. Thanks, Jacqueline.

Industrial Artifacts – Physical Space

As many of you know, I’m obsessed with organizational learning and innovation. I’ve been ranting for a while now on how artifacts of the Industrial Revolution serve as barriers to these ends. I thought it might be worth jotting a few down. For this post, I’ll focus on physical space. In particular, my contention is that modern office design has numerous vestiges of the factories that came to symbolize the industrial era. I came across a great quote recently that nicely captures a belief I’ve held for some time now:

“Workspace design can convey, more clearly than we might desire, just what we value. The physical cues of the office send environmental messages … We pay attention to physical cues precisely because they seem less consciously controlled than verbal expressions such as a mission statement or corporate values statement.”

In other words, actions speak louder than words and how we manage physical office space is an action more telling than any spoken pronouncement. Here are a two dated notions that I think are implicitly embraced in how we design and manage our offices (and by association reflect how we think about “work”):

* Hierarchy and status. With tenure comes rank. With rank comes privilege. Real estate is a privilege. Is it really the case that senior people have a greater need for space and privacy? Perhaps to some extent, but certainly not to the degree we accord. Hierarchy was critical to managing industrial processes where human “resources” truly could be thought of as cogs in a machine. We all recognize the importance of being flat to thrive in the knowledge era, but we don’t manage our space accordingly.

* Personal productivity. We tend to think of work as putting our heads down and focusing. This certainly is one aspect, but increasingly diminishing in relative importance. We will always need time for thoughtful reflection and focused individual effort, but thriving learning organizations are highly interactive. Innovation flourishes in team-oriented, collaborative environments. Instead of building team-focused space, we build up walls on cubicles and define personal territory. Knowledge work is all about learning and learning is an inherently social process. While personal productivity remains important, the pre-eminence it commanded on the assembly line has diminished. I’m fascinated by innovations at companies like IDEO where space is designed around activities, not individual real estate.

More on other artifacts and innovation barriers to come…