Sunday, August 28, 2022

Chorus (Rebecca Kauffman)

Rebecca Kauffman's Chorus follows the seven Shaw siblings (and their parents) through various time periods and events in their lives. I think this book could have been great, but it never really hits its mark.

Chorus goes back and forth through time from the early 1900s through the 1950s. There aren't really chapters, but vignettes about the family of various length. When something happens in an early time period (like their mother's death or a teenage pregnancy), it's brought up again later with a variety of recollections. Each sibling goes through a lot in their life, but the book is not really about anything. I've read many quiet stories about families, but there has to be a sense of connectedness throughout for it for it to be interesting. Chorus, to me, lacks that. 

Despite its shorter length, this book took me a very long time to read. It felt disjointed, and I never felt like I got to know any of the characters well. This was a big miss for me. 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original (Howard Bryant)

Rickey Henderson played in Major League Baseball for 25 years, playing for nine teams. Included in those teams were four separate terms playing for the Oakland Athletics, where many casual baseball fans remember him from. Growing up in the 1980’s, I liked watching Rickey play baseball despite his perceived cockyness and aloofness as presented to the media. Rickey could run for days on the basepaths and his keen batting eye helped him set a major league record for most walks over a career. 

Howard Bryant presents Rickey through a new lens in his book Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original. Bryant talks about Henderson not just from a biographical perspective but ties in his story to that of many Black baseball players in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s. Oakland was one of the nation’s baseball hotbeds during these years, fueled in part by The Great Migration of Blacks seeking a better life from America’s South out to California during and after World War II. Henderson and many other kids grew up in West Oakland, played sports together, and pursued professional sports as a livelihood. Many, like Henderson, were very successful in their career. But very few set records for longevity and success like Henderson did.

Bryant’s biography shows not just the aspect of place in fueling one’s life but how Rickey was often misunderstood and poorly characterized by sportswriters and many in the public for some of the ways he went about his business. Some of that, fueled by stereotypes, made Rickey out to look dumb or arrogant. In many cases, Bryant argues that Rickey was living true to keeping his public life and private lives very separate, living true to himself as a player, and fighting for his worth. Given the value of many baseball contracts today, Henderson’s arguing for an extra million per season looks like mere child’s play. However, he was among the pioneers in the free agent era that fought hard for what they perceived themselves to be worth.

I follow baseball much less now than I used to but I found it very refreshing to read back to a day when guys could hit for batting average, occasionally hitting for power, while not striking out 200 times a year. It was the baseball I remember as a kid and many people older than me would remember baseball at its best being played that way. Bryant’s book is not only a great reminder of what was arguably a more entertaining era of baseball but of a player that was very responsible for it being a show.


Friday, August 5, 2022

The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI (Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley)

Technology and information are driving vast, rapid changes in how businesses operate. Smart businesses are able to transform their operations and their procedures to account for the ever-evolving age of data that we’re now in.  Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley’s book The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI offers practical, thoughtful solutions that businesses can follow to thrive in this new era of work.

Technological innovations have been with us for centuries - from the physical in the form of wheels and tools to the industrial with the uses of water, coal, and other sources of energy to fuel faster creation of products. The current set of innovation involves the use of data and computer literacy to help fuel business productivity. The authors suggest that businesses need to become fluent in key technological concepts - either through self-training or hiring key personnel who can effectively lead internal innovation - to help build what they term a “digital mindset” inside an organization. The authors stress that it’s important for companies to collaborate internally to ensure that remote and non-remote workers are included in key decisions, as well as to ensure that any changes to a company’s operations are made with all the necessary players involved. The biggest piece that is stressed is that companies help encourage their personnel to be self-driven to embrace learning new technological concepts and that this change not be “forced” but guided through the use of early adapters, influencers, and others who can help shepherd the company through innovation.

The Digital Mindset is very effective in laying out technological terms and concepts at an easy-to-understand level. The arguments are clear and persuasive, but more importantly, delivered at a fair and balanced perspective that simply shows the importance of understanding technology and how it ultimately applies to a business’s success or failure.