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The Book on Business: Tech stocks were all the rage, but not the best stories of 2000

Sunday, May 20, 2001

By Carnegie Library's Business Librarians

"The Best Business Stories of the Year, 2001 Edition" edited by Andrew Leckey and Marshall Loeb. Vintage Books, 2001.

With the finance media's attention riveted on the high-tech industry and seemingly little else for the better part of last year, it's good to have a volume like "The Best Business Stories of the Year" on hand to remind us that something other than dot.com disasters happened in 2000.

High tech was undoubtedly the most compelling drama of the year. But editors Leckey and Loeb do an impressive job of compiling a wide variety of stories in this anthology of business stories.

The book opens with "The Stock that Ate Cincinnati," a piece on Procter & Gamble which drives home the point that while failed dot.coms make for a trendier story, tanking blue-chip stocks still wreak the most havoc.

"Maid to Order" analyzes the maid service industry and details its author's three-month stint as an undercover maid.

"How to Become a Top Banana" looks at the devastating consequences of political lobbying on small businesses and exposes the arbitrary cruelty of a political system run by special interest lobbyists.

"How Much is that Doggy in the Vitro?" profiles U.S. Savings and Clone, a pet cloning enterprise. There are excellent investigative stories as well.

"Past Due" exposes the Southern insurance industry practice of charging older blacks higher premiums out of compliance with old Jim Crow policy.

"A Killer in Our Food" traces the source of a bacterial outbreak in Michigan (do not read if you enjoy hot dogs) while raising important questions about food regulation and consumer protection.

The appeal of this anthology is not limited to its showcase of different writing styles, or even the many colorful business stories told within its pages.

Equally fascinating is the occasional juxtaposition of writers with clashing ideologies. This fascinating friction is best exemplified in back-to-back articles by Michael Lewis, master yarn spinner of the New Economy, and Thomas Frank, its grouchy and hilarious naysayer.

This diverse anthology has a little something for everyone interested in business, and is perfect for anyone in search of a good story.

"The Art of Innovation" by Tom Kelley. Doubleday, 2001.

On ABC's "Nightline" last year, a team from Tom Kelley's design firm -- the legendary Ideo -- demonstrated how to convert the mundane shopping cart into a gorgeous and streamlined vehicle that transforms the whole shopping experience.

His book, "The Art of Innovation," analyzes the creative processes and working conditions behind such transformations, which have produced such revolutionary products as Apple's original mouse and the handheld Palm V organizer.

Simply, teamwork is the key to the process. Kelley believes that the best innovation must evolve from group interaction, and makes the point that even Thomas Edison had 14 assistants.

He calls brainstorming "practically a religion" at the company, and explains how to inspire the best. He tells in detail how Ideo manages to create "hot groups" around their projects, and how to infuse them with passion, urgency and incentive.

Amazingly productive teams need appropriate conditions, and Kelley suggests ways to make a work space inspiring, fun and tailored to the real needs of the company.

The book also speaks to the outside world: He believes in "a company's office space as a kind of body language for the organization."

A prime example he gives is the design of the new Alcoa building on Pittsburgh's North Side, which eliminates hierarchy and literally gives all workers a room with a view.

The partner of innovation is risk; you cannot have one with out the other. Ideo has a saying, "Fail often to succeed sooner."

An established company such as Charles Schwab made so many mistakes along the way that it coined the term "noble failures." Kelley also offers fascinating advice about skirting barriers and overcoming obstacles.

He thinks of innovation in terms of action: The goal is not an improved product but a memorable experience.

Nordstrom customers rave about the music and the friendly atmosphere, Starbucks offers a momentary "good life" refuge, and Disney World is a prototype.

But delightful experiences for customers also can occur outside the major retail and entertainment venues. The opportunity to create excitement is possible in almost every workplace endeavor, as in the case of a caterer that crafted a marvelous box to contain its picnic lunch. Air travel passengers, hospital patients, hotel guests, and most likely, your customers are just waiting for this kind of attention.

With its generous sharing of hundreds of Ideo's own techniques, this book perfectly represents the upfront, outrageous, fast-moving New Economy, in which, ideally, the best work is "serious fun."


Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money and work, at 412-281-7141 or at http://carnegielibrary.org/clp/libctr/business.



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