April 05, 2015

Influential Books

When you begin your career, you gobble up information ... everything is new and interesting and you are a sponge, soaking up knowledge.

If your career is measured in fifteen year thirds, then there is a point somewhere in the latter half of the first third of your career where you realize you have to find your own identity. You stop doing things the way everybody else does them, and you chart your own course (or not).

There are six books that influenced my path.
  1. Statistical Methods / Snedecor and Cochrane (click here). I have a version from 1938. The book talks about the kind of tests that modern online marketers claim to have invented. Without Snedecor and Cochrane, Google wouldn't be what Google is. Did I mention that these folks wrote about stuff back in 1938 ... stuff that digital gurus love talking about today? Maybe everything new is old.
  2. Correspondence Analysis in the Social Sciences / Greenacre and Blasius (click here). The book illustrates ways to take a simple cross-tab table in Excel and map the relationships between the rows and columns. There is no better lesson than one where you learn that complex information can be reduced to simplified information.
  3. Modelling Biological Populations in Space and Time / Renshaw (click here). The most influential book of my career. The book explains how species interact with each other ... how wolves need/eat rabbits until there are no rabbits and the wolves starve, for instance. Everything in this book relates to modern channel interactions. You learn that e-commerce needs stores, but stores don't need e-commerce ... you learn that e-commerce preys on stores, driving store performance down, causing stores to close ... stores are rabbits and e-commerce is a wolf (and by the way ... e-commerce will be a rabbit to the mobile wolf, it's coming, and e-commerce folks choose to not recognize this, to their detriment). Once you draw the comparison, your view of the world changes - you are able to see the future clearly.
  4. Permission Marketing / Seth Godin (click here). You may have noticed that everything about my business model has roots in this book. The book offered a blue print for building a small business. Still does. Mr. Godin was a beloved guru - then he refused to play the social media game of engagement (like he could engage with 400,000 readers on a one-to-one basis) and so many marketers abandoned him ... but that's their loss.
  5. The Demography of Corporations and Industries / Carroll and Hannan (click here). This book parallels "Modelling Biological Populations in Space and Time", but looks instead at how industries evolve. For me, the "ah ha" moment was how you start with a ton of small businesses ... the small businesses eventually coalesce around a handful of winners who become huge ... and those winners are then defeated by a ton of small businesses who capitalize on a new technology or change in the system ... and then those small businesses coalesce around a handful of winners who become huge. This pattern repeats ... and is in the process of happening once again (mobile).
  6. Moneyball / Michael Lewis (click here). I don't like this book because of the metrics. This book is important because of how it discusses culture. You can have all the metrics in the world, but if the culture isn't aligned, well, tough, you're not going to make progress. And here's a hint for the analytics community - you need an evangelist at a high level - people don't just accept your arguments and do what you say - the world doesn't work that way. Best of all - the book outlines how you can do everything right, and in the end, you don't succeed - and somebody with more resources steals your ideas and gets all the glory.
I think it is really important to have your own "system", your own set of beliefs that you implement where you work, and then you experience success, success that you use to further build upon your own, unique system. You need to have your own way of doing things. Of what possible good is it to be a "Google Analytics" expert or an "omnichannel expert" when you are doing things that ten thousand people can do equally well? Craft your own way of doing things, provide value, and you'll go places.