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Book Review of: Anywhere

How global connectivity is revolutionizing the way we do business

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Review of Anywhere, by Emily Nagle Green (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book hits the pluses and provides an optimistic view of emerging connectivity, but it's weak on addressing the downsides and reality of it. So, I'll begin by pointing out a few things this book overlooks. Then I'll sum up what it addresses.

What the author doesn't tell you

First, there's the productivity cost. It's huge. I used to carry a cell phone everywhere. Now, I don't use one. In fact, I rarely answer my regular telephone. Sometimes, I unplug it for hours at a time.

I don't like being interrupted, especially when I'm trying to do something productive. A business that inflicts constant connectivity on its employees has a highly distracted workforce. Ms. Green makes it sound as though the Twitter-averse among us are like the e-mail-averse of times past. But this is an apples to oranges comparison.

Second, there's the attention cost. E-mail is asynchronous. Texting and tweeting are "immediate response" activities. Can anyone who's chained to a frequently-interrupting device really pay attention to any worthwhile activity? Any technology that interrupts you simply because it can is just too costly, unless you aren't the kind of person who does anything that matters.

Third, there's the subscription cost. If you have a mobile data plan, ask yourself what you are really getting for all that money. If it's just interruptions and the ability to send/receive throwaway photos, then it might not be all that good. For a business, a mobile data plan may be essential. But how many people are paying $99 a month or more for something that they probably would not miss if they stopped using it? If you have one of these plans, is it making your life better or is it an addiction?

A fourth problem is the devices are insanely small. It's not convenient to carry around a pair of reading glasses just so you can take a phone call. I have a PocketPC that I don't use because I can't read the screen in daylight at all, and indoors I need reading glasses to read it. The manufacturer's solution to this problem was to make the next generation even smaller.

Ms. Green also indicates that older folks just don't get it and will eventually be replaced by their hipper, more tech-savvy younger counterparts through retirement. What she overlooks is the reason older people are far less adoptive of this technology than younger people is presbyopia. We have reams of data showing that humans need larger fonts as we age. That's just the way it is. When the devices are explicitly designed for people under 25 and consequently exclude people beyond a certain age, the adoption rates by age are quite predictable.

So, we have some huge barriers to "anywhere" connectivity. For the vast majority of us, it just isn't workable. Does that mean we aren't going to see vastly increased connectivity that is far more mobile than today? No. But it does mean the connectivity needs to serve the users rather than make them servile to it, and it must not rely on unreadable screens or gadgets that seem designed expressly to annoy the users. Until those requirements are met, connectivity will fall far short of its potential.

What the author does tell you

Ms. Green addresses this topic of ubiquitous connectivity in 250 pages. The book consists of four Parts:

Part I: Welcome to Anywhere. This consists of three chapters, and in these she outlines and describes the "Anywhere Revolution." I think these three chapters give the reader a good feel for where we're eventually heading and why.

Part II: The Anywhere Consumer. This consists of three chapters, and in these she presents four basic category of consumer. I'm not sure about these categories. I have fit into three of them at one time or another, and don't see where I fit presently.

I don't have her research data, but it seems to me there is a fifth category that has a higher population than the other four combined. I call it "Annoyed Consumer." We get tired of Windows memory problems, crap that pops up when you're trying to type, screens we can't read, interruptions we don't want, high bills from service providers, and just a host of usability issues. We are not amused.

Part III: The Anywhere Enterprise. This consists of two chapters. I think it needs a third. Ask hiring managers about what bugs them today, and you are going to hear "Kids texting during interviews." There is a difference between productive connectivity and counterproductive connectivity. The author doesn't explore this, at all. A chapter on how businesses can properly address this difference seems essential to me.

For example, do you really want your sales people texting during a sales call instead of focusing on that customer? Of course not. But at the same time, it would be wonderful for a sales person to be able to answer a question for the customer to close the sale. Shortening the sales cycle can accelerate revenue, and that's generally a good thing. Insulting a customer through rude behavior, however, is generally not advantageous. The rudeness factor is a big problem with today's so-called "hip generation" and it's something business needs to be able to rechannel into positive behaviors.

Part IV: Profiting from Anywhere consists of four chapters. In these chapters, the author basically says you need to max out your anywhere quotient as fast as you can. This isn't quite the way things really are. Companies that still operate on paper processes and/or have very low connectivity do need to modernize. And some companies that are current with technology, processes, and connectivity do need to be working on upgrading as the bar rises. But these are the outliers on the bell curve.

Most of us would do well to assess, based on the information presented here, and plan for staying reasonably current. I think this book is helpful toward this purpose, because it gives a good view of what is coming. But the real challenge for profit-minded businesses is going to be properly restraining connectivity to the scope of the business.

A couple of years ago, we were in the midst of blogomania. The big advice was that businesses must blog or die. Following this advice has proven to be a colossal waste of resources for most businesses, and in 2010 this realization even dawned on some business journalists. Blogs and banality have come to be synonymous, with few exceptions.

Facebook appears to have peaked out and to now be declining in its influence and popularity. People can take only so much blather, meaningless detail, and banality before wanting to have a life.

Similarly, companies can divert only so many resources to nonproductive activities before seeing their customer service, productivity, and profitability slide. The issue isn't one of having enough connectivity. It's one of having the right connectivity.

A solution seeking a problem generally does more harm than good to a business. If a business has a problem that specific types of connectivity can solve, then it needs to look at adopting those kinds of connectivity. And quickly, before the problems metastasize. But a business must also look at the potential risks involved with that adoption and develop a plan that properly addresses those risks. Otherwise, the cure might be worse than the disease.

The SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is a core business tool for evaluating new ventures, proposed projects, and other things a business might wish to evaluate. I think if the author had used this framework for Part III and Part IV, the book would have been far more useful.

An important point the author drives at again and again is every business must look at the connectivity issues that are here now and the ones that are emerging. I think this book definitely helps identify and define many key issues in that arena.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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