Book Reviews

Shaping the Adaptive Organization: Landscapes, Learning, and Leadership in Volatile Times

By William E. Fulmer

Amacom, 2000, $47.95

If they want to succeed, companies need to walk a fine line between stability and change, what William E. Fulmer terms the “edge of chaos”. The reality, Fulmer says, is most companies are intensely uncomfortable being near that edge and are struggling in today’s complex environment, where change is rapid and success is uncertain. Fulmer asserts in his new book, Shaping the Adaptive Organization, companies must accept the paradox that the only permanent business reality is change.

How fit a company will be, in Fulmer’s view, depends on its adaptive skills in three areas. First, an adaptive organization understands its competitive space, or “landscape”, and measures that landscape’s risks and opportunities. Second, an adaptive organization is a learning organization, one that stays in touch with customers and rewards innovation. Third, an adaptive organization demonstrates it not only welcomes change but nurtures it. An organization with these three Ls — landscape, learning and leadership — will embrace change and function effectively in today’s exhilarating economy. — CIO staff

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

By Michael Lewis

W.W. Norton & Co., 1999, $36.99

Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing focuses on Jim Clark. In this slick, magazine-style profile, the founder of Silicon Graphics, the force behind Netscape, the man who gave us Healtheon, is presented as both a genius and a jerk. In Lewis’s view, it is precisely because Clark is uncomfortable in the world that he is driven to create new ones. And the world enables his whims and outrages because for the last two decades the surest way to get rich has been to follow Clark wherever his impulses lead him.

The Valley world that Lewis limns — full of sycophantic venture capitalists, dim-witted managers and alienated engineers, all held in thrall to Clark’s agitated depressions and devouring neuroses — is particularly distasteful. The New New Thing holds the reader like a car wreck holds gawkers on the highway. — David Rosenbaum

Future Wealth

By Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer

Harvard Business School Press, 2000, $43.95

In Future Wealth, Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer take a far-reaching look at how the Internet is changing the nature of wealth. Davis is a business futurist and author of 10 books, including another with Meyer, Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy; Meyer is director of the forward-looking Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation in Cambridge, Mass. This future-oriented duo foresees changes far beyond CDs and baseball cards being traded on-line.

Among those changes, Davis and Meyer envision a time when efficient markets are developed for just about everything, including the connected economy’s most scarce and precious resources: human talent and intellectual capital. In other words, one day we could be trading the talents and capabilities of CD collectors and sports memorabiliasts, even CIOs, on markets that have all the characteristics of capital markets for financial instruments, such as futures, derivatives and hedges. Davis and Meyer also expect individuals and businesses to adjust their attitudes toward risk: Rather than viewing risk as a problem to be avoided, they will begin to see it as a financial opportunity.

When there is a seismic shift in the foundation of the economy, there needs to be an equally radical shift in how we measure wealth — a shift that has huge implications for CIOs, the chief stewards of their organizations’ information. — Sari Kalin

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action

By Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Harvard Business School Press, 1999, $43.95

Companies pour billions of dollars into acquiring knowledge, but most of that money is wasted, according to the authors of The Knowing-Doing Gap, because of the disconnect in corporations between knowing what ought to be done and actually doing it. The book’s eight-point plan can help companies move from just talking the talk to actually walking the walk. Of course, even this book could end up on a dusty shelf of unused how-to’s. After all, a call to action is a very different thing from action itself. — Carol Hildebrand