I used to maintain another blog called Moving Into The Conceptual Age, started as a way to supplement my business administration studies at a local college in my hometown of Winnipeg.  Really though, it was inspired by author Dan Pink’s bestseller, “A Whole New Mind“, a book that delved into the future world of work and the skills that’ll be needed to be truly successful.  It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone of working age, and even those still in school.  It may help you make some choices that’ll greatly enrich your career options down the line.  Anyway, I imported all the posts from the old blog to here this morning.  There’s some neat stuff in there including an interview I conducted with Dan Pink as well as one with innovative retail entrepreneur Eric Reynolds.

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While we are on the topic of “must-reads”, here is the top 5 books for executives according to Todd Sattersten, vice president of 800-CEO-READ:

  1. “Competitive Strategy” by Michael Porter
  2. “Execution” by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck
  3. “In Search Of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman
  4. “Good To Great” by Jim Collins
  5. “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker

For some background on the picks, check out the original posting.

I talk about books fairly often on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that I’m an avid reader.  In fact I’ve been tinkering around with the “books” application for Facebook for the last 30 minutes.  WorldChanging.com published a list of books yesterday that their team of people has deemed “must-reads” over the past couple of years.  If you read Moving Into The Conceptual Age and find it at all interesting, check out this link to see what next up on your nightstand!

One of the unresolved economic arguments of the Conceptual Age is the cause of the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the early 1800s and why not all countries in the world evolved economically after that.  Even sub-Saharan Africa was on pretty even terms with the rest of the world economically as of 1800.

Economic historian Dr. Gregory Clark, from the University of California-Davis has proposed that changes in the nature of human populations were the main reasoning behind the revolution.

Interestingly the theory is strongly connected to Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The connection lies in a 1798 work by Thomas Malthus from which the theory of natural selection was inspired.  Malthus believed that every time a new technology was introduced to a human population, the overall population would increase thus offsetting any benefits of technological development relegating humanity to a perpetual subsistence economy.  Clark analyzed the wills of English men starting around the year 1600 and concluded that men with higher incomes tended to have more surviving children than men with lower incomes.  Apparently, as a wealthier upper class began to outpopulate the lower income population, violence decreases and literacy increased.  These changes, combined with an apparent willingness on the part of the new population to work long hours and save more, led to the Industrial Revolution as gains in production efficiency outpaced population growth for the first time.

 The connection to natural selection is quite apparent with the original Malthusian trap of being permanently in a subsistence economy due to population growth outpacing increases in production efficiency and then the gradual move toward the Industrial Revolution as the wealthier upper class began to overshadow the population of the lower income class due to the wealthier having more surviving children.  For a full write-up and explanation, read today’s NYTimes.com article by Nicolas Wade, “In Dusty Archives, A Theory of Affluence“.

My question is if Clark’s theory is too narrow-minded?  Is natural selection really the reason behind the suffering in some of the poorest nations in the world today.  There are many sound economic arguments that make much more sense than Clark’s, but none are widely accepted as being absolutely correct.

Read this CNNMoney article about Publix Super Market offering free antibiotics to any pharmacy customer with a prescription.  Amazing that we can give people antibiotics for free who have the financial means to pay for them, but charge people prices way beyond their means in developing countries.

I’m an avid reader.  I’ve been a lifelong fan of learning as much as I can everyday.  In fact, recently I’ve started a journal in which I aim to derive one life lesson or item of meaning from each day I live with the hope that once my unborn children reach adulthood I can hand them over as a compendium of approximately 8000 life lessons they may not have to learn if they accept the advice (assuming my wife and I have our first child in about 4 years, and I hand over the journals at age 18; more lessons for the younger children).  More about that little project later.  I mentioned my penchant for books as a preface to the my thoughts on this article published in the New York Times yesterday, CEO Libraries Reveal Keys To Success.

Journalist Harriet Rubin took an interesting slant on the libraries of the powerful by focusing on the fact that the libraries of the likes of bigwigs such as Michael Moritz and Phil Knight are stocked with books about “how to think, not how to compete“.

Nike founder Phil Knight apparently has a library full of tomes on Asian history, art, and poetry; Apple’s Steve Jobs at one time had an “inexhaustible interest” in the works of William Blake.  Chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division, David Blake has stocked an entire cabin with the collected works of Aristotle!  He also gives us this insightful advice:

“Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors”.

It may take a minute to process that, but when looking at the contents of these exec’s libraries, it begins to make sense.

Rarely do you find business books in the libraries of those at the top of the business world.  Instead you find a whole blend of literature, fiction and non-fiction alike, that tend to give new perspective and engender symphonic or systems thinking.  In many instances they also tend to be quite antiquated, hence the “mentors’ mentors” phrase in the quotation above.

Even the climate change literature which tends to be popular amongst corporate leaders these days (I would say that’s a positive sign) are not “Al Gore’s tomes but books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate”. 

Apparently poetry speaks to some CEO’s.  Sidney Harman of Harman Industries used to tell his HR people to find him poets for managers.  Why?  “Poets are our original systems thinkers…they look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand”.

Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvie & Mather “read(s) for pleasure and to find other perspectives on how to think or solve a problem“.

So how would we summarize the characteristics of CEOs, their personal libraries, and literary interests according to the NY Times article?

  1. Each book acquired has a permanent place in the CEOs life; they accumulate over time and many have huge personal collections.  This may be related to income however as bookseller Ken Lopez states in the article that it is almost impossible to put together a serious library on any one subject for less than a couple hundred grand!
  2. Many keep their personal libraries private.
  3. Interest in antiquated works of great thinkers and philosophers as opposed to business-related literature.
  4. Read widely, as much fiction as non-fiction.
  5. Controlled chaos in library organization. (This could make for an interesting article.)
  6. Books are used to find other perspectives when trying to solve problems; learn symphonic thinking skills.

Just finished a 61 minute run in preparation for a half-marathon I’m running next month, which itself is preparation for some of the health and fitness oriented goals I’ve listed on my Top 100 Goals posting.  Pretty tough run, I’m a little out of shape from a cardiovascular perspective.

I had a kind of revelation while out running though regarding the goals, so the suffering served a purpose:

The Top 100 Goals is definitely an efficient way to live and get the most out of life, but to be truly effective, goals in life must always have the characteristic of service to others in some way.  That definitely will make achieving the goals more difficult, but that is the only way to truly derive meaning from structuring a life in this way.

I recalled something I started a while back but unfortunately fell away from due to lack of time.  Manitoban Arvid Loewen has been on a crusade for a few years now to raise money for Mully Children’s Family, an orphanage in Kenya.  In fact, just a few days ago he finished a 15,000 symbolic journey all the way from Kenya by cycling the last 333 km around the outskirts of Winnipeg.  I came across Arvid’s mission near the beginning of 2007 and joined his website SpokeImpact.com in which you can pledge a certain amount of money per unit of physical activity, whether that be per hour, per kilometer, per mile, etc.  At the time I pledged $0.15/km since I was running quite a bit at the time.  So, I must continue my commitment to this cause.

How far did I run in that 61 minutes?  While according to Google Earth I ran 7.9 miles.  Since there are approximately 1.6 km in a mile, 12.64 km would be the rough equivalent.  By submitting this info to SpokeImpact, I record the amount donated for this run and then submit an overall donation each quarter.

I’m realizing that no matter what you do, there is an opportunity to serve in every situation, at almost every moment.  That is the way life should be lived, and that is where meaning lies for all of you suffering some sort of existential angst out there.

Just an endnote, I’m be away celebrating my first anniversary for the next couple of days and then the work on the blog begins!