Review: The Monk and the Riddle–The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living

6 Star Top 10%, Best Practices in Management, Change & Innovation, Economics, Information Operations, Information Society, Information Technology, Philosophy, Priorities, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
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5.0 out of 5 stars Down to Earth, Absorbing, Perfectly Presented, “Must Read”

October 10, 2010

Randy Komisar with Kent Lineback

I'm putting this book into the 6 Star and Beyond category at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, for two reasons: it has a proper definition of what business should be about–creativity and humanity; and it strives to focus the innovator on passion versus drive, life versus “the kill.”

The book was first published in 2000, and I only get to it now because it was explicitly recommended to me by a Hackers Conference colleague to help me in grappling with my “what next” explorations.

The book impresses from the first page, the opening quote from Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (Oxford World's Classics) which I might have to read next. It took an enormous amount of creative focus to find this quote, I will just provide the first half here:

Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irrestibly real and attractive to us–for that moment only. Not the fruit of the experience, but experience itself, is the end.

For me, this was perfect prologue, and a have a note shortly into the book, “the zen of advanced information technology leadership.

This is a carefully crafted and elegantly presented book with exactly the right amount of white space, integrated emails, and real-life annecdote, and the bottom line is clear: bet on the vision and take the risk. Go for the big idea that changes the world or at least tries to change the world, do NOT “do” the web play as a path to being rich or anywhere other than being “there.”

Early on the author summarizes both the three key questions that venture capitalists will ask:

01 Big market?
02 Big share of that market?
03 Capable team that can execute?

He also identifies the three generic “plays” that most bring to the table:

01 Rocket ship–great idea that must be executed fast or lose to a better-funded big dog
02 Faster-better-cheaper web displacement of bricks and mortar
03 Brave New World–never done before, will be chaos, could change everything about something

The author talks about building brand and this inspires me to think about Microsoft, and wonder why they are not spending brand, co-opting brand, and building new brand. In other words, it might be time for them to dump the piggy code and do a clean-sheet fresh start of, by, and for the cloud of clouds.

The author, with his own successes behind him, emphasizes that venture capitalists invest in specific individuals and their ability to execute, and that the venture capitalists merit more credit than they may garner, precisely because they are not Wall Street skimming the cream from phantom wealth (my words) but are actually creating real new value, building a new economy.

QUOTE (51) Ultimately being right, or better positioned, may be more important than being first.”

QUOTE (53) You have to be able to survive mistakes in order to learn, and you have to learn in order to create sustainable success.

QUOTE (55) It comes down to my realization over the years that business isn't primarily a financial institution, it's a creative institution…business is about change.

IDEA (55) Both the Church and City Hall have been compromised and no longer lead change–it is up to business to lead change.

IDEA (99) It's not about the technology, it's about what the technology enables. The value is in what is delivered, not in the HOW it is delivered. I have a Zen note to myself, “BE the game,” that oddly enough is directly connected to my recollection of the Gandhi quote, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

QUOTE (107-108) The big idea is the glue that connects with their passion and binds them to the mission of an organization. For people to be great, to accomplish the impossible, they need inspiration more than financial incentive.

HISTORY (108-110) Most of us know that Bill Gates got his first big break when IBM blew off their first stop that wanted a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), and ended up with their second choice. What I did not know until I read this book was that Bill Gate's second big break came when John Sculley folded at the last minute and did not go forward with licensing the MacIntosh operating system.

IDEA (122) First and foremost business is about people–employees, suppliers, clients, stakeholders.

IDEA (136) Focus on the intersections of mutual interests rather than on “the kill.” This resonates with me as others have pointed out that we spent 80% of our time arguing over the 20% we do not agree on, rather than leveraging the shared 80%.

The author described three different CEO's needed at different stages of a start-up's life:

— Retriever CEO–pulls the team together from the muck (of Silicon Valley?)
— Bloodhound CEO–sniffs the path through the chaos of trial and error and learning
— Husky CEO–pulls the focused team forward


— Lose the suit
— Vision over management in the early days or management will kill the vision and lose the passion

QUOTE (156) Apply your most precious asset–time–to what is most meaningful to you.

Below are nine additional links within my Amazon “allowance,” you can find the other 1,600 non-fiction reviews grouped into 98 categories including Information Society at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog

The Soul of A New Machine
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story
The exemplar: The exemplary performer in the age of productivity
Radical Man
The Knowledge Executive
Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World
Information Payoff: The Transformation of Work in the Electronic Age
The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century

Added to this review at Phi Beta Iota are links to the following briefings or keynote speeches I have given:
Hacking Humanity (Denmark, British Columbia, Hackers on Planet Earth)
Open Everything (GNOMEDEX Seattle 2007)
Amazon as the Hub of the World Brain (Amazon Developers Conference, Seattle, 2007)

Also there are all my books free online (all are for sale here at Amazon) and four links to my passion: creating the World Brain and Global Game–smart cities as IBM tries so hard to represent them are no where at all near what I envision, in which we connect every human to all information in all languages and we ARE the game. See also at Phi Beta Iota:

Who's Who in Collective Intelligence: Jane McGonigal
Who's Who in Collective Intelligence: Medard Gabel

This was an inspiring book highly relevant to my thinking at this time (58 years old). It is certainly an essential reference, and what appeals to me most about the book is that it places the emphasis squarely on the side of human creativity rather than automation for the sake of profit. Only 10% of my reviews go to 6 Stars and Beyond, this book, this author (and his helper Kent Lineback), are in that “Top Gun” category.

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