Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reset and Reading - Into the Mainstream

Before we start, two news bulletins: Starting Tuesday, April 13, our firm will have a regular weekly feature on the home page of the Washington Post's On Leadership website. It's called Leadership House Call. The idea is that you - and yes, I mean you, will send us a current leadership challenge, and we will comment on it and stimulate a wider conversation on the issue. PLEASE send your dilemmas to: We will need a small framing title and a way to identify you. Thanks.

And news bulletin number two: my colleague Alexander Grashow and I published a piece on Reset on the Huffington Post last week. Here's the URL if you want to take a look:

Did you notice the cover of the April 6 issue of Time Magazine? A big red Reset Button. And a terrific cover story by Kurt Anderson called The End of Excess. As Anderson wrote, "This is the end of the world as we've known it. But it isn't the end of the world." Read Anderson's Time essay. It is the best statement of apocalyptic optimism I have seen.

William Safire throws a little cold water on Reset in his weekly On Language essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. He describes it as plebeian and quotes the NY Times technology Q&A columnist as describing Reset as "the magic button" to make everything all right again.

But to me Reset is a lot scarier than that. The way we - and Anderson - have been using the word, Reset is about starting from scratch, questioning assumptions, and deep systemic change. Nothing easy about that because Reset is about risk and loss.

That is why having Joel Klein as Chancellor of the New York City School system with Michael Bloomberg as Mayor is the best chance we have for transforming public schools. Both of them have had fabulously successful careers before their current roles. Both are willing to take risks because they are well off enough financially and reputationally that they have nothing to lose. And both are willing to sacrifice other priorities, including popularity, in order to try some experiments to unlock a system that is the shame of America. It is what makes me nervous about the economic team of Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Summers is trying to resurrect his reputation, which floundered in the wake of a failed Harvard Presidency and in his contributions to the deregulation of the financial industry which contributed mightily to the current collapse. Geithner, of course, was presiding at the NY Fed when it all fell apart. They have too much personally at sake to take the kind of risks and heat that the present crisis requires.

Reset ideas are everywhere, in public, private and non-profit sectors. Anderson has a whole raft of them in his piece. I have seen big examples this week in education, the practice of law, medicine and philanthropy. Keep your eyes and ears open and send me what seems to fit.

Speaking of eyes and ears, Reset in reading had already set in before the economy collapsed, and the financial turmoil only has accelerated a process that has been well underway.

I remember a scene nearly a year ago at our family Sunday morning breakfast table, with my wife, Lynn Staley, our son Max, and his wonderful girlfriend Meredith Jacks. An audiotape of the conversation would have revealed nothing out of the ordinary: a family in New york City sitting around reading the New York Times and engaging in conversation about what was interesting to us. But a videotape would have told a very different story: Max and Meredith were reading the newspaper on their computers while us old folks were doing the hard copy thing.

Max and Meredith's generation is already getting most of their reading done online and I, like many of my generation, could not imagine not having the crinkle of a newspaper in my hands.....until I got my Kindle, that is.

Now, we have bookshelves in almost every room of our house. Most are overflowing. I love to read, to curl up with a book before going to bed, to plow through the carton of books I take with me on vacation, or to sit with on a lazy Sunday in our apartment or in Central Park reading and sharing the mood and the space.

In our consulting work, we often talk about how the pain has to be palpable enough for individuals and organizations to take on deep change. Well, the pain in my right leg from stenosis in my back, was sending me a signal that lugging a handful of books on my business trips - most of which I was too tired from work to read - was not so smart. My colleagues at Cambridge Leadership Associates bought me a Kindle from Amazon last summer. Better to shell out $350 than have the old man collapse, they must have reasoned.

The Kindle has changed my life. I never thought I could live without turning the pages. I can. I never thought I could live without sticking Post-its on pages, or making notes to myself on the inside cover. I can. I never thought I could live without the satisfaction of turning that last page in a book. This too, I can. It is the size and weight of a typical paperback. It can hold 1500 books. And I could get magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, delivered to the device as well. (No, I haven't yet succumbed to reading the Times on my Kindle.)

It is less and less likely that I will ever buy another book in the traditional format. I will certainly buy a lot less of them than I have done in the past. Now, I buy the book I want on Amazon (from the 250,000 that are available) at the computer in my home office and by the time I walk across the hall to me bedroom where the Kindle is plugged in, the book is already downloaded. At $9.99 or less.

The Kindle is not perfect. But it is close. And the Kindle 2 is even closer, at least according to the New York Times guru on personal technology, David Pogue.

Since 2006, Sony has its own device, the Sony Reader. Sony has also just created a strategic alliance with Google to meet the Kindle challenge. Google has finally worked out an agreement with authors and publishers to provide access to its huge digitized inventory on line, although Microsoft and others are trying to get in the way of the agreement every being implemented. The war for our virtual book, magazine and newspaper business is in full swing.

Google "newspaper closes". You'll get 3.8 million hits. Two weeks ago, it was one of my old favorites, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, that went web-only. And the New York times reported this weekend that it has threatened the union with closing the Boston Globe where both my wife and I were gainfully employed some time ago.

As a former newspaper journalist I am not one to mourn the loss of newspapers. I have more information, more good information, at my fingertips than I ever did before. slowly, I am getting comfortable with getting information virtually, spurred on by friends, family and colleagues for whom this is second nature. It is Reset, and it is happening right before my eyes.


Unknown said...

Compelling concepts here, Marty. It's funny to think, but I may be one of the members of Max's generation who actually is more hesitant to embrace new technology (particularly the Kindle) than yourself! I STILL can't imagine reading books on a digital screen. Maybe I'll wise up if my back starts killing me. Who knows.

richard grenell said...

i like your points about geitner and sumners. i think they need to take some risks rights now....and i think risks are actually just political risks that we all know would work. the only risk is in re-election for obama. will he tell the unions that we can't pay for healthcare forever and have retirement packages that are not realistic for their peeps? will obama tell the crazies in his party that he can't talk his way out of global crisis'? bush didn't take on his party when the religious right wanted more social issues in the 2004 reelect. what we need are politicians who take on their own party more often (see bloomberg and as much as i hate to admit it bill clinton). i am a party guy but there is strength in telling your party that you are taking them in a different direction.

Rodrigo Silva Ortúzar said...

Is there any chance I might send a "Chilean" leadership challenge?



Marty Linsky said...

absolutly, Rodrigo

Rodrigo Silva Ortúzar said...

OK! Thanks Marty.

Anonymous said...

Because my husband Bain, like you, travels constantly and carries at least 5 books at at time - I just gave him a Kindle. His back just could not take it anymore. He, like you, could never imagine reading on a mini computer. And he, like you absolutely loves it. Just proof that us old timers can, in fact, learn new tricks. I'm enjoying your "Reset" pieces and finding them useful as we reset here at HKS,

Marty Linsky said...

What does Reset look like at a place like Harvard? What questions are people asking?

Katherine said...

I'm not sure people are asking the tough questions at Harvard. I sense more of the "hunker down" approach.

Franklincovey said...

one of the best post i saw here. Keep it going! Thank you.