The CIO Reading List: Thank You for Being Late
The first book to make it onto my reading list for 2018 is a big one—in every sense of the world. Thomas L Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations is a wide-ranging meditation on the constant, accelerating change that is coming to define our times.
The title refers to a moment when the New York Times columnist found himself thanking an associate who had turned up late to a business meal—because it had given him a moment to sit and think. A rare gift in this world of constant activity.
Of course, the primary propellant in this accelerating age is technology. As a CIO, I felt like I already had a ringside seat to the change Friedman describes. But that’s not to say his work doesn’t contain great insight.
A narrative for change
The sheer ambition and scope of the book is impressive. With vision, authority and wit, Friedman describes how, along with rapid technological progress, the forces of globalization and climate change are transforming what it means to live in these times. Among the tech transformations: Only 45 years after the cell phone was invented, climbers atop Mount Everest now enjoy excellent cell-phone service, and we’re now seeing self-driving cars take to the roads.
And I have to say, I emerged from his analysis with a sense of clarity and purpose.
Often our job as CIOs is to simplify problems, work out a vision, and then pursue success with determination and optimism. While Friedman’s bold simplification of issues almost feels like a lesson in itself, there’s something about his accessible, optimistic narrative that seems to motivate and build resolve.
In another book that made my reading list last year, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz talks about the need to rise above uncertainty when leading digital transformations. Friedman’s writing shows us how to rise above uncertainty and plot a course.
This isn’t a book full of dramatic business revelations. Rather, there are many helpful reminders: how decency and community can help us feel anchored during intense change; how consensus is needed now more than ever; how disruption is “what happens when someone does something clever that makes you or your company look obsolete.”
Friedman’s interviews with a plethora of technology pioneers—from Hadoop’s Doug Cutting to Linkedin Founder Reid Hoffman—yield interesting insights. I particularly liked Friedman’s account of a chat with an 85-year-old Gordon Moore. The former Intel leader still seemed a little bemused that a prediction about transistors he made in a 1965 electronics magazine article became a famous law that is still relevant today.
Expect a wealth of stories about the recent data-driven transitions of companies like AT&T and IBM and enjoyment from the forays into important corners of the tech universe—such as the worlds of GitHub and data lakes. And look out for a clever explanation on how microchips work.
Friedman concludes that nations and individuals must learn to be fast (innovative and quick to adapt), fair (prepared to help the casualties of change), and slow (adept at shutting out the noise and accessing their deepest values).
Anyone who reads this book will immediately become a better dinner party guest. In fact, this is a book I’d like all of my friends to pick up—both CIOs and tech novices.
Be sure to let me know what you think, and which parts you’re working into cocktail conversation, in the comments here, or find me on Twitter.