Free Book Downloads and Vicarious Curiosity

Chris Anderson is writing a new book called FREE (you can click the link to learn more and vote on the subtitles; my favorite is “How $0.00 changed the world.”) In a subsequent post he includes a link to the site where large excerpts of his best-seller, The Long Tail, are available for free. His publisher will be offering his new book as a free downloadable audiobook, and is exploring some ad-supported free book options for people who prefer print.

Here are some other examples of the free phenomenon, and one in particular that is an interesting analysis of how word-of-mouth works.

I stumbled upon Greg Stielstra’s Pyromarketing blog the other day, and signed up for the RSS feed because it Greg’s content seemed interesting and fresh. Check out this take on Vicarious Curiosity as the key to word-of-mouth:

Last Friday night my fifteen-year-old son went to see Pirates of the Caribbean III . The next morning he teased his younger sister Shelby. “You won’t believe what happens to Will,” he said. Upon hearing those words Shelby absolutely had to know what happened to Will and pestered Dominic until he divulged his secret.

Moments later Shelby came into the living room where Amy and I were enjoying our morning coffee. “Can I tell you what happened to Will in Pirates of the Caribbean,” she asked? She squirmed back and forth on the couch awaiting our answer. “Please, please, please,” she said.

What curious behavior. Why would Shelby care about the fate of a character in a movie she hadn’t yet seen. Stranger still, why would Shelby be so eager to tell me and Amy? We hadn’t even expressed any interest in knowing, yet she was desperate to tell. The answer, I think, sheds some light on the forces that power word-of-mouth.

Hopefully I’ve created the curiosity that makes you want to read the rest of his analysis here. And, of course, it made me curious to read some of his other posts.

Like this one about Scott Ginsberg, and his book “Make a Name for Yourself,” which he is giving away for free as a PDF download from blog. Scott’s story: one day after leaving a meeting, he left his “Hello, My Name Is…” nametag on, and it changed his life. You can subscribe to Scott’s RSS feed here. Or download the book for free here. I did. I hope to read it in the next few days and post a review.

Meanwhile, back at Greg’s blog, I clicked around some more and found that his book, Pyromarketing, was available as a free download audio book. I’m looking forward to listening to it as I do some yardwork.

Oh, and here’s another value…not quite free…but a great deal. has a special right now, that gives you the first three months of its Gold level (1 credit/book per month) for half price: $7.49. I used it last night to get Wikinomics for about $10 less than I can get the hardcover version on Amazon.

But let’s get back to FREE. Here’s a site that’s a directory of the web’s best free stuff.

So, I guess Greg was right about Vicarious Curiosity. It worked to get me to write this post. I just had to tell you!

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Snap Judgment on Gladwell

In an earlier post, I did a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, about social epidemics and how they spread. If you’re looking for provocative thinking that will challenge how you view reality, particularly in the social sciences, you could do a lot worse than reading Gladwell, either on his blog or in one of his books.

Fast Company has a good profile, including one of the best lines about market research that I’ve read: “I think we would all be better off if focus groups ceased to exist.” (That point is substantiated in Blink by the story of All in the Family and the Mary Tyler Moore show, which the focus groups hated.)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking looks at rapid cognition, both in its positive and negative manifestations, and how sometimes too much data gives the illusion of a better choice, when in reality the essential information is much simpler and often comes by way of the unconscious. His stories include:

  • How art experts sensed a fraudulent statue almost instantaneously, when scientists examining it for months with sophisticated technology were fooled.
  • How a “love lab” expert can analyze an hour of a couple’s interaction and predict with 95 percent accuracy which ones will divorce within 15 years (and with 90 percent accuracy based on just 15 minutes of tape.)
  • How the immense planning of the US military was defeated in a war simulation by a shoot-from-the-hip sparring partner in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

I’m going to focus on a couple of medical applications, though:

  • How listening to snippets of surgeons’ interaction with patients can predict which ones will be sued for malpractice (Hint: those who weren’t sued spent, on average, 3 minutes more in conversation with patients…and their tone of voice was more pleasant and engaging). The skill level or training of the surgeon had nothing to do with it…and this difference was spotted by listening to just 40 seconds of conversation for each surgeon.
  • How Cook County Hospital improved service and survival among ED patients with chest pain by boiling the factors to be considered in determining whether to admit the patient down to four:
  1. Is the ECG abnormal?
  2. Is the patient having unstable angina?
  3. Is there fluid in the patient’s lungs?
  4. Is the systolic blood pressure below 100?

The Goldman algorithm using these four factors was tested against physicians doing their best by using all of the tests and data available, and the algorithm was 70 percent better at spotting people who weren’t having a heart attack. It was also better at identifying those who were having a hear attack. The doctors left to their own devices guessed right between 75 and 89 percent of the time; the algorithm was 95 percent accurate.

Sometimes more information gives the illusion of a better decision, when the reality is there are a few factors that really matter. The extra information may just be clutter.

And, to tie the two together, if you can make the judgment that a patient isn’t having a heart attack based on just a few questions and one test, that frees up time for deeper interactions with the patient about what is wrong. Then maybe you will be less likely to get sued.

I Dare You!

…to read this book by William Danforth (1870-1956), founder of the Ralston Purina Company, and grandfather of former U.S. Sen. John Danforth. I’ve just had the delight of finishing it after my assistant, Laurie Mona, passed it along to me last week. She had found it quite interesting and challenging, so have I, and I think you will, too.

Mr. Danforth attributed much of his direction and success in life to a challenge from one of his teachers, when he was a sickly young boy: “I dare you to be the healthiest boy in the class.” Through this experience he learned the power of a dare to create courage and single-minded focus, to get people out of their ruts. As he summarizes it:

My practical experience has convinced me that inner growth and broadening personality come from daring and sharing. You dare to use the talents you have. You find yourself growing stronger — physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. You multiply your daring a hundredfold by sharing its fruits. You give your life away and, behold! a richer life comes back to you. This principle works through all of life:

Our most valuable possessions are those which can be shared without lessening: those which, when shared, multiply. Our least valuable possessions are those which when divided are diminished.

So, in keeping with that philosophy, I’m sharing a bit with you, as Laurie did with me.
Danforth dares the reader to adventure and action, starting with his four-square checkerboard philosophy of a balanced life (which explains the checkerboard motif on all those Purina dog-food bags.) The four sides of his checker are the physical, mental, social and spiritual, and he says when they are out of proportion we cannot become our best. And so he dares us to grow in each of these dimensions.

Here’s just one example — from “I DARE YOU TO THINK CREATIVELY” — that highlights what is compelling about this book, which was written in 1931, in the early years of the Great Depression:

 The Edisons and the Marconis were the long range thinkers of yesterday. Wanted–some long range thinkers today. Where yesterday a hundred new inventions were made, a thousand new ones will be made tomorrow and some of you who read this message will dare to make them. I read an article not long ago where sombody prophesied conditions twenty years from now. Our homes would be artificially cooled in the summer just as they are artificially heated in the winter. Transportation will be just as different from today as today is from the gay ’90’s. People will dress differently, think differently, live differently. Are you leaders going to sit back and wait for yourselves to be adapted to these conditions? Or are you going to be one of those who help bring about these changes?

How amazed would Mr. Danforth be if he had lived to see today? As one who dreamed of air conditioning, how would he react to video cameras, DVDs, cell phones, PDAs and the internet? One thing I can confidently predict: he would issue the same challenge, but updated for our time. “Who will be the next Gates or Jobs? Who will develop the next Google?”

You’ll also find his language somewhat dated, hopefully in an amusing sort of way. In addition to his admonition to walk a mile a day in the fresh air, he advises daily calisthenics to “squeeze that liver.” But until you’ve had the success of a Danforth, it’s probably best not to laugh too quickly, but instead see what you can learn from him.

In I Dare You! you’ll also find some nuggets of practical wisdom I’ve noted in more contemporary books. Like David Allen in Getting Things Done, Danforth advises continually carrying a small notebook to capture creative ideas, even keeping one by his nightstand. Like Jim Collins in Good to Great, he extols the value of a “Magnificant Obsession” – or what Collins calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

You can get the book on Amazon, or from the foundation established by Mr. Danforth.

I Dare You!

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Book Review: The Tipping Point

Yesterday I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

I enthusiastically recommend this interesting look at how epidemics reach epidemic proportions, and how it sometimes just takes a little nudge at the right point to immensely change the results. The book is full of real-life case studies that illustrate what Gladwell calls the three rules of epidemics: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context.

The Tipping Point

The Law of the Few: Certain kinds of people — Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen — play an immensely disproportionate role in spreading a social “virus.” Mavens identify what’s hot or cool, and are the ones who are “in the know.” As Gladwell puts it, they’re not just the kind of people read Consumer Reports; they’re the ones who write to Consumer Reports to correct what they see as errors in product evaluation. Connectors just know more people than the rest of us, often several times more than average, and so when they adopt an idea they will communicate it much more rapidly than others. Salesmen “persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”

The Stickiness Factor: Is the message memorable? Does it engage people? The classic example is the Gold Box in Columbia Record Club’s print advertising, which enabled new members to get any record of their choice free. This simple addition to the membership form in Parade and TV Guide increased sales by four times as much as a simultaneous test that used traditional prime time “awareness” advertising. The Gold Box team won in a rout, even though they spent a quarter of the amount on broadcast ad time as the team using traditional methods.

The Power of Context: The classic example of this is the precipitous decline in crime rates in New York City, which was far more rapid than could be attributed to demographics, crime rates or any other trends that would have pointed to a gradual decline. The key that “tipped” the positive epidemic, and ended the negative one, was zero-tolerance of fare beating or graffiti in the subway system.

The Tipping Point is, in essence, an epidemic that has already tipped; it’s been a #1 national bestseller. I know I’m not an early adopter, but if this post helps to play a Salesman role for you, encouraging you to check it out, I will consider it “mission accomplished.” You also may want to check out and subscribe to his blog.

The book gives a thought-provoking framework for people interested in starting word-of-mouth epidemics or attacking harmful epidemics. It’s interesting, though, that Gladwell doesn’t seem to think the context creation approach used in making subways safe is applicable to drug abuse or teen smoking. For instance, he notes a Baltimore needle exchange program for heroin addicts and apparently doesn’t see that as creating a more permissive/lawless environment similar to the fare-beating or graffiti. Likewise, smoking bans in restaurants and bars create contexts in which smoking is not socially acceptable, and the research on that seems to indicate it significantly reduces smoking. But maybe Gladwell sees drug addictions as just too “sticky” for context to matter as much.

For more on this book, you can check out Gladwell’s overview. I know that because of The Tipping Point, I’m going to be checking out his other book, Blink.


8 Steps to Successful Change

I just read a really good new book. Today. Twice. It’s about a 45-minute read.

It’s by John Kotter of Harvard Business School (with Holger Rathgeber), and it’s called Our Iceberg is Melting. In it they use a fable based on the Emporer Penguins of Antarctica to communicate the change-management principles outlined in Kotter’s previous book, Leading Change. I’ve just ordered that on Amazon, and look forward to reading it, too. I understand it will give some of the research and background for the 8-step process outlined in Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions:

1. Create a Sense of Urgency
2. Pull Together the Guiding Team
3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy
4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy In
5. Empower Others to Act
6. Produce Short-Term Wins
7. Don’t Let Up
8. Create a New Culture

They also talk about how thinking differently can help change behavior and lead to better results, but feeling differently can change behavior MORE and lead to even better results.

The authors have a companion web site that has helpful information, too.

The site, and the book’s dust jacket, also have several testimonials that are interesting, such as this one:

“As a result of the book and my sharing it with a few people in the organization, we have moved quickly on several fronts. We are galvanized to go ahead instead of further studying, more organizing, and so on. It is making a difference for us.”
— Tom Curley, President and CEO, Associated Press

Apparently the AP doesn’t have the aversion to change that the former editor of the LA Times, does. I guess he would be NoNo. If ever there was a melting iceberg, it would be the newspaper business.

Several other organizations are using the fable to lead change efforts, having many if not all employees read the book and using it as a launching pad for discussion. I know I will be reading this again and recommending it to others as we confront our own melting icebergs at work.

Getting Things Done is about personal change. Our Iceberg Is Melting is about how organizations can change successfully. I think there will be lots of synergy, if you’ll pardon the buzzword, between the two.

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