On my trip to UCSD, I caught up with some reading of (chiefly) business abstracts. I read an awful lot for work, so sometimes these pile up. I think it’s important to always be challenging your mind, and I hope that it helps round me out to read more books about business, sales, and new ideas (new to me, anyway). I’ll be adding these to my book list with a brief takeaway (summary of an abstract – hmmm). For some, I may add a blog entry if it stirs much thought.
The first: The People’s Tycoon.
Clearly not a Ford fan, the author seems to delight in shining light on the "other side" of Ford’s past.
I’m not sure I learned anything practical here, although there’s plenty to think about. Some of Ford’s failings (is that useful?). It’s briefly interesting to consider – although a certain amount of it would certainly come from his nature and upbringing, I wonder how much of it can be ascribed to the pressures of success (and pressure for continued success) on the successful – as it says in the Bible "it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle, than to get into heaven."
I mostly found myself thinking about the author (consider the source, as they say). As with any history, I wonder how much is true, how much is a matter of perspective, and how I can expect to understand which is which well enough to come to my own conclusions. (Centralized media doesn’t do anything to help me in this plight, although blogging has shown that decentralized media isn’t exactly a cure, either… I think information’s power to enable those that provide either it, authority or notoriety will always lead to issues.) Here’s an example – while in France, I was friends with a lovely old lady (Mme. Bâtard) whose husband was a reporter – she had entirely stopped reading the news because what she read was so different from what she witnessed. I would never recommend that approach, but it is telling. What made her (an insider of sorts) feel so strongly – was it reporters’ different perspective that left out points she found critical and/or focused on what she found meaningless/misleading? Was it different exposure to those populations (e.g.. Perhaps a reporter commented on character in business or political dealings while she observed character in personal dealings)? Deliberate bias? Probably a mixture as the differences in perspective and exposure are inescapable, and manipulating a bias seems to be the nature of those in power. This is even a point in the book – talking about how Ford used his power to expertly maneuver media. ("History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it" – Winston Churchill)
I also wonder what the author got from the book – he probably needed something with visceral enough details to sell the book, advance some issue, gain reputation and notoriety and to sell enough copies to satisfy some economic goal. These pressures would have led to certain predictable outcomes. An example of this is how (I’m told) many articles come from press releases written by companies – easy copy, which is adopted because it’s easy. Eye-catching if slightly misleading headlines (ahem – msn.com). Or, if there isn’t clarity between two possible histories, wouldn’t authors tend to choose those which would sell more books, or which advance their cause? Anyway, those sorts of basic pressures impact history (past, present, and future).
I wonder how those natural principles also apply to the internet – I’ll watch with interest, but I don’t pretend to understand it: As a programmer I’m more focused on producing sound bits than deeply understanding sound bites; as someone making use of what seems to be increasingly biased (persuasive?) information, I feel obliged to spend at least some time trying.