Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley

Top of the List
The crowded marketplace and high competition in today’s commercial world have driven the quality of innovation to the top of the list of required core competencies needed for most jobs. This adds weight to the importance of Tom Kelley’s book, The Art of Innovation.

Some people are blessed with bright ideas in their genes and like Alice in Wonderland, they have that uncanny ability to believe or dream up six impossible things before breakfast. Author and General Manager of IDEO, Tom Kelley, ardently embraces the conviction that innovation and creativity can be learned and mastered.

Innovation IDEO Style
The Art of Innovation studies the innovative practices of IDEO, America’s leading design firm, the company that invented stand-up toothpaste tubes, all-in-one fishing kits, high-tech blood analysers, flexible office shelves and self-sealing sports bottles.

At times one reads about IDEO ad nauseam as it seems like the book is written as a promotional tool but Kelley alludes to scores of other industries and products that illumine and provide insight—like this story about the golfing legend, Tiger Woods.

Textbook on Creativity
This is an interesting and comprehensive text for individuals who want to grow their creative muscles. Kelley writes about developing the keenness of the eye, careful observation (check out this example of what Larry Miller produced when he did this), getting close to the action and playing dumb so you ask lots of elementary questions.

This is not a book with rigid prescriptions of how things must be done for the hundreds of examples highlight the different approaches that can take people to the same destination.

You might think that you brainstorm ideas effectively, either alone or with your team, but Kelley’s ‘Seven Secrets for Better brainstorming’ will make you think you have not mastered the art or plumbed the depths of what can be dredged from a bevy of stimulated brains.

The Art of Innovation is a book that CEOs must read, as Kelley writes of the futility of hierarchical organizations and illustrates the beauty of flat staffing structures where every worker is valued.

While Kelley recognises the need for creative people to have thinking time and solitude he torpedoes the myth of the lone genius, believing that “great projects are achieved by great teams.” He elaborates on how to build a team, getting the right mix, identifying the characters that all good teams need, how to build and maintain morale and suggestions for team empowerment. To get more of a taste, read this story on the great football coach, Lou Holz or discover the way conductor Benjamin Zander gets the best out of his Philharmonic Orchestra.

Does Your Office Need an Overhaul?
Kelley examines not only the innovative individual and the creative team but the positive environment and how a leader sets the tone and cultivates a climate for discovery.

The IDEO work place was dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as “imagination’s playground.” Kelley has much to say about creating the right spaces, colours and other items that offices require to spawn innovation.

Creative Potpourri
The Art of Innovation is a potpourri of stories and ideas. It is written in an enthusiastic and an energetic style. One needs to pick it up and read it every so often, especially when you need to be fired up.

Whatever field of endeavour you are working in, this book will connect and give you the principles to take and transform your work.

Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, The Art of Innovation: Lessons and Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm (London: Profile Books, 2001).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 70.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Art of Innovation; Tom Kelley.

Further Stories from this Book:
Get on your bike: Success Breeds Complacency, Stories for Speakers
Snowboarding: Fear Doesn’t Get You Down the Mountain, Stories for Speakers.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pistache by Sebastian Faulks

Thomas Hardy writes a football report
Dan Brown’s visit to the cash dispenser
Philip Larkin’s In celebration of the Queen Mother’s 115th birthday
Samuel Beckett writes a monologue for Ronnie Corbett
Ernest Hemingway writes of a girl on a ‘gap’ year
Franz Kafka tries to keep up with Bill gates and desktop icons
D H Lawrence writes a brochure for 18-30 holidays
William Shakespeare writes a speech for Basil Fawlty
Dylan Thomas writes a cereal advertisement
Virginia Woolf goes to a hen-party
William Wordsworth does a Lucy poem for a rapper
W B Yeats reports on the Rider Cup at Kildare

Pistache from the noun, pis-tash, meaning a friendly spoof and derived from a cross between pastiche and p**stake) is according to the sub-title, ‘A collection of fanciful, satirical and surprising parodies, squibs and pastiches’.

Notes about the author are similarly fabricated with wit: “The author was born in Vilnius in 1969 and educated by Russian monks. He learned English while working as a deckhand in Odessa…. He is married to his work.” Sebastian Faulks has been one of the captains on Radio 4’s The Write Stuff in England and Pistache is his collection of parodies that were written for the show.

Here is his send-up of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ in the form of advice to a would-be journo:

If you can't write but don't let that deter you;
If you can't spell and know by now you never will;
If once you know the facts but still prefer to
Tell lies for fear the truth won't fit the bill;
If you can sub a piece about a women's college
And think it's fine to call it ‘Girls on Top’;
If the apogee of all your gather'd knowledge
Is the size of Beckham's shorts and Jordan's top;
If ‘Whose—Is it Anyway’ is your ambition
To shepherd into print day after day;
If you have once applied for a position -
And found they all would hire you straight away;
If you can mix with crowds and learn their mores
If you can meet with kings and break their trust,
If you can cheat your wife while off on foreign stories
But at ‘love cheats’ still feign profound disgust;
If you can never fail to write a headline
And cap it off with some moronic pun
Yours is the Earth when comes the final deadline
And - which is more - you'll be ‘iconic’, son.

These are fifty-seven fragments to savour that often bite or raise a belly laugh. From Amis to Yeats, from Enid Blyton to Franz Kafka, this is a diverse literary canon. Whether or not readers are familiar with an author’s style and the in-jokes, Pistache is an amusing read that is illustrated with delightful sketches.

Sebastian Faulks, Pistache (London: Hutchinson, 2006).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 25.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Pistache; George Orwell confronting the real 1984.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Don’t they Know it’s Friday? by Jeremy Williams

For anyone traveling to the Gulf to do business Don’t they Know it’s Friday? should be the first thing to put into the suitcase.

The fact that this book is into its eighth edition is testimony to the book’s authority and usefulness. Since 1998 it has been updated by its author, Jeremy Williams, who has two decades of work experience in the region and whose resume includes service as the British Defence Attaché to the UAE and Bahrain.

While this book is written to advise business people, with its chapters on basic Arabic expressions, arranging a marketing visit, entertaining clients and Shariah banking, it has a wealth of insights for travelers and residents working in other spheres.

Williams draws back the veil on revealing how expatriates are viewed, the process of getting a driver’s licence, appropriate and inappropriate touching, exposure of flesh, understanding the different parts of a man’s name, driving in the Gulf, attending and/or arranging a meal, food etiquette and determining who pays the bill.

Don’t they Know it’s Friday? is studded with anecdotes like this one to illustrate the Arab sport of bargaining:

A young Arab boy was asked the question:
“What is 2 and 2, Mohammed?”
He replied, “Am I buying or am I selling?”

Some of the insights in this book are fascinating. Others are of paramount importance especially if you are seeking to do business. The author adds emphasis for items in this category such as in the section on 'Business Behaviour' when he says, “The ___________ is probably the single most important activity for any company new to the Gulf.”

Jeremy William’s thirty-five years of army experience is evident in this book. His preparation is extensive, the topics are well organized, the information is marshaled effectively, the table of contents is clear, the Arabic terms are conveyed with precision and the maps and pictures illustrate with decorum and flair.

Information is given firmly but not patronizingly. The chapter on ‘Understanding Time in the Gulf’ (see the author’s insights at this link) reveals the way Williams wants his readers to understand why Arab thinking is different from western perspectives and how the Arab approach to time is shaped by such things as history and religion.

While many of the cross-cultural considerations for business and life relate to all Gulf countries, the author is attentive to national differences and he backs these contrasts with well-referenced examples.

It is difficult for visitors and residents to ferret out information quickly on what to do and not do but the beauty of Don’t they Know it’s Friday? is that it brings together masses of essential information into one volume, presents it in a form that is easily readable, adds a comprehensive index and tops it off with a bibliography and list of web sites if and when one needs to know more.

Jeremy Williams, Don’t they Know it’s Friday? Cross-cultural Considerations for Business and Life in the Gulf (Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1998, 2008.

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 75.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Don’t they Know it’s Friday?

Jeremy Williams runs seminars for business people visiting the Gulf countries. More information can be found at Handshaikh which offers this test to see if you are ready to visit the Gulf:

1. When is Ramadan this year?
2. Doesn't Ramadan mean 'fasting' in Arabic?
3. What does 1427AH mean?
4. Arabs are all the same, aren't they?
5. All Arabs are Muslims, surely?
6. We need to book an appointment in three days' time, don't we?
7. What is an Eid?
8. What should I wear?
9. They all speak such good English the proposal can be in English, can't it?
10. Excuse me Mr Abdullah, but what is your Christian name?
11. Iranians are Arabs, aren't they?
12. He seems to be very nice so shall we have him as our Agent/Sponsor?

SPEAK TO HANDSHAIKH LTD FIRST (especially the last three!).
(Or at least read the book).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book is first and foremost about Elizabeth Gilbert. It chronicles an important period in the author’s life following a painful marriage breakup and divorce in which she wisely set aside time to recuperate and find new bearings. One can understand how a writer generally thinks about what is going on with a pen in their hand but one wonders about her self-consciousness, knowing that a book was in the making, and the extent to which it affected Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey and healing.

Gilbert is an outspoken New Yorker who writes with candor but in Eat Pray Love she often appears vulnerable, especially in writing about her lowest periods. She admits that she is a ‘yakker’ with a ‘cocktail-party-like-vibe’ about her and sometimes this talkativeness grates. Sometimes Gilbert borders on self-indulgence and the element of reticence is lacking. Readers will be glad to know that her hormones haven’t fossilized after her self-imposed celibacy but do they all want to know every probe and thrust, the strength of her Brazilian partner’s ‘banana’, the dynamics of their sexual gyrations and the words muttered on the pillow?

Eat Pray Love is one person’s story of working through a divorce and as the sub-title expansively states, ‘one woman’s search for everything’. It is not penned as a prescription for all in this state but Gilbert’s honesty and the verbal graphing of her confidence levels will resonate with thousands of readers who are members of the same fellowship of suffering. While she plumbs the depths of divorce and is mangled by the messy legal proceedings, Gilbert’s humor (which is usually witty and sometimes corny) and her turn of phrase, give the book some light with the shade. Skillfully, this blend is often in the same sentence. For instance, diagnosing her divorce, Gilbert writes about being in a “murky hole of bottomless grief” and ‘I was despondent and dependant, needing more care than an armful of premature, infant triplets.”

The structure of the book derives from the organizing image of the Indian prayer beads (japa mala) with its 108 beads and three dividers. Consequently Gilbert’s book has 108 tales (not tips) and three sections, dividing her journey between Italy (where she explored the art of pleasure), India (where she concentrated on devotion) and Indonesia (where she focused on finding balance).

The prayer beads are a colorful and fitting image but one wonders whether the 108 beads stretched the book too long and caused it to drag at certain points. Gilbert recognizes that “sincere, spiritual investigation is, and always has been an endeavor of methodological discipline” but apart from the reference to the beads and her times of meditation, there is little discipline about her journey and the writing of her story. Perhaps coming from a demanding New York lifestyle and possessing a ‘super conscientious’ personality Elizabeth Gilbert finds that spontaneity, serendipity and ‘the beauty of doing nothing’ are just what the doctor ordered and after all, how much discipline is possible or preferable in Italy, India and Bali?

This book might be placed in the ‘travel’ section of the bookshop and library but if readers think Eat Pray Love will offer a host of travel tips on what to see in Italy, what to avoid in India and where the best nightclub is in Kuta, they will be disappointed. The book, however, is loaded with rich cultural insights from this trio of travel destinations.

Gilbert goes to Italy but she doesn’t set foot within a museum or art gallery! This could be viewed as Philistine tourism of the highest degree yet Gilbert is a tourist or better still, a pilgrim, who is making an inner journey. The level of permission is a liberating gift that she gives to herself and her readers who would love to be asked Elizabeth’s frequent question, “What would you enjoy doing today, Liz?

The title of the book points to a religious section and Gilbert charts her quest, especially in the Indian experience of devotion and in the phase of Bali balance. The author writes about ‘God’ and even though ‘culturally’ she comes from a Christian heritage her journey involves the sampling of many religious offerings. She is not motivated by theological curiosity as Gilbert is desperately looking for the ‘saving’ of her life from a ‘state of hopelessness and life-threatening despair.’ Her framing of questions are helpful in understanding the practice of prayer. The deliberate seeking of the divine, the peace in silence, the rhythm of meditation and the importance of a guide are valuable steps to learn in any journey of the soul.

Gilbert encounters some quaint religious representatives who color the pages as they offer everything from palm reading to potions. While the author acknowledges the value of scholarly study in matters of faith this book lacks constructive criticism that might help seekers to discern the truth and give ways to evaluate all that is served on the religious smorgasbord. While not being explicit, Elizabeth Gilbert tends to accept the popular idea expressed by Ketut, a Balinese medicine man, who believes that most religions are “same-same” and he prescribes that in the midst of different approaches one should “pray what you want.”

If this book encourages the flowering of the human personality in every dimension and attaining this in a relaxed balance, a further element that is missing is the aspect of service or doing something about the injustice and suffering in the world. Gilbert asks the question of Ketut: “So what can we do about the craziness of the world?” To which he replies, “Nothing…Worry about your craziness only—make you [sic] in peace.” One can appreciate that in the preliminary stages of Gilbert’s rebuilding, especially when she is in Italy exploring the art of pleasure, she would not be caring for the poor like Francis of Assisi or Catherine of Siena. As her recovery progresses in Bali, Gilbert very generously raises money to buy a house for Wayan, a Balinese single mother who has the care of two orphans. This theme does not appear to be sustained. This gesture could have been the catalyst for finding deliverance from the egocentricity and selfishness of so much religion and discovering that true love extends beyond the bedroom and into the slums, among the poor and destitute.

This book is a story of healing and hope. It concludes with an epilogue which notes that Gilbert seems happy and fulfilled in her present relationship and work. To take time out to concentrate on such essential parts of life as eating, praying and loving makes for a wonderful journey. How one puts it all together in the ordinary, everyday, common things of life is another challenge. Hopefully Elizabeth Gilbert might write a follow up story on living an integrated life, not as a traveler but in the humdrum and familiar existence of home.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything (London: Bloomsbury, 2006).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 45.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Eat Pray Love; Japa Mala; Elizabeth Gilbert.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s web site offers this information:

Eat Pray Love is a #1 New York Times bestselling memoir … The book has been a worldwide success, now published in over thirty languages. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2006, and chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best ten non-fiction books of the year. There are now over one million copies of this paperback in print.”