Is always dangerous to do too much of the same thing at once. Such as, for example, reading the current ‘must-read’ book list of The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of Crowds, Freakonomics and now Blink, back to back. Doing so has led me to a whole number of potentially totally invalid conclusions, but which are interesting enough to write them down anyway. Not least, all three authors are based in New York. There’s a ‘so what’ there, until you take into account that all three are written (at least in part) by journalists or columnists, two of whom work for the New Yorker and one (the second Stephen) who has written for the New York Times. Now, good as these books are each in their own way, I can’t help wondering. Malcolm Gladwell (who was first with his Tipping) offers a glowing endorsement for his stable mate’s Wisdom, and another for the Freaks across the street. This latter is perhaps the most surprising, given that both the Tipping Point and Freakonomics write about exactly the same incident ‘ the falling crime rate in ‘ ahem ‘ New York, but give totally different reasons for the causes. In Gladwell’s case it is down to the broken window theory ‘ fix the window and people will know that such things aren’t tolerated, and therefore will be put off bigger crimes. However Levitt and his partner sets this theory as part of the process, and not the cause of the turnaround ‘ which is put down to the changes in abortion laws 15 years before. Despite these contradictory findings, the book is seen as thoroughly endorsable.
Don’t get me wrong, I think all of these books are valid, but I can’t help thinking of the foursome (or at least the three journalists) as guys in a bar, waxing lyrical and theorising about the events of the day. They sometimes agree, and sometimes disagree. One writes a book, and gets it published; so does his friend, and then so does the couple of guys that come in from time to time. Of course these hale chaps are not alone in writing books of this type ‘ a cursory glance around the shelves in Borders reveals that there are plenty more where these came from ‘ nor would I like to suggest that the authors acted in any way untoward. It does seem a bit weird however, that the authors of the books that are currently at the top of the pile, should all come from the same place. Cue a shrug. Perhaps its down to a shared writing style (the books are similar in this) that is piquing the interest of the reading public, or an example of the tipping point phenomenon itself. Who knows ‘ but it is the collective endorsement (as measured by sales) that validates each set of theories and their authors.
Something else has also struck me quite hard about these books – that they seem to be written all about me, or at least me as an analyst. Now then, now then, this isn’t a cue for some over-indulgent self-absorption by a narcissistic blogger. Or perhaps it is – but let me explain what I mean. The books actually all seem to be written about the IT analyst business, and how it actually serves the needs of the IT industry as a whole. For example: the Tipping Point describes the law of the few, and talks about connectors (people who know lots of people), mavens (saddo geek types that write articles such as this one, delving into the detail) and salespeople (those who present information so to inspire others to act). These are all analyst traits. Freakonomics is about looking for the real drivers behind the trends, delving deep in the data to help the bigger understanding of what’s going on. That’s an analyst job if ever I heard it. Blink concerns pattern-matching skills, and the ability to reach conclusions with only a handful of facts: an essential trait for any public-facing analyst. Finally ‘ and here’s the humzinger ‘ we have the Wisdom of Crowds. This is less about the analysts as individuals, as it recognises that everyone can be, and often is, wrong. The clincher is when an IT vendor takes a room full of analysts, pays for a hotel room and a nice meal, pitches to them and then asks for feedback. Ah, there’s the rub ‘ the collective feedback is probably as good as a vendor is ever going to get in terms of advice, which is food for thought if anyone’s worried about the analysts exploiting their position by getting the free meal. Its also a cautionary tale for vendors ‘ particularly those who are less structured about how they gauge feedback! TANSTAAFL of course, but while the cost may be low for each individual analyst, the combined value is maximised for the vendor.
Indeed, when asking what’s an analyst anyway, we can take some quite deep insights away from this. Are bloggers analysts? Perhaps. What about consultants, internal or external? Possibly. Marketeers? Maybe. From the analyst’s perspective, the real trick comes from deciding to treat one’s capabilities as a maven, connector and salesperson as a full time job ‘ I would argue that bloggers, marketeers and consultants can become analysts, if they choose to step up to the plate, to make themselves available for advice and to publish what they find. From then on, its up to their customers to endorse their role, by accepting them as part of the crowd that delivers the combined wisdom. Without this external validation, a bit like Malcolm, James, Stephen and Steven, we are all just guys in the bar.
… P.S. Its probably worth adding that this post was based on a discussion, over a beer, with one Larry Velez of Forrester. Hi Larry, QED!