This Week in LIS - 17 January 2014

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Headline of the Week: What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

The book “What Have You Changed Your Mind About?” was received as a Christmas gift from my son. He explained to me about “the Edge” and their annual question. In this 2009 volume a set of “thinkers” were invited to share a case where time and information have led them to changing their mind about something. Perhaps my son has in mind some topics for which he feels I ought to be re-thinking my mental models and positions and thought this book might be a catalyst! It is challenging to read because I want to read it through, cover to cover. The before and after ideas are interesting and cover many compelling topics. However, as many reviewers of the book have suggested, including my son, I also want to pull up between essays and reflect on what has just been read before moving on.

I have also been reading Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows.”  This is part of preparing for Carr’s visit to Luther College.  In this book Carr explores how information technologies (IT), over history, have influenced human culture and he has specific concerns about the Internet. It is a compelling read. I look forward to his visit. I very much enjoy his research and the connections he makes and his writing style.

Carr is also the author of the Harvard Business Review article from May, 2003, “IT Doesn’t Matter.” You might imagine how excited one might get who is in the IT business with a title like that. Setting the title aside, much of the content of the article is good and resonates with experience. Essentially Carr says there is little or no role that IT can play in durable strategic advantage largely because IT can be copied and applied by competitors in cases where it does enable a competitive difference and therefore any advantage is fleeting. Further the cost to do so is much cheaper later in time than sooner. Despite being largely correct, he was creamed by reviewers offering counter examples. I think some of us were disappointed with an overly provocative title. Regardless, some continue to believe IT can matter as it relates to competitive advantage and it is clear that disregard of IT can quickly lead to competitive disadvantage. The timing of investments is important.

Carr’s point of view aligns to a fair degree with Luther’s default “fast follower” approach to IT investing where we intentionally invest when costs have fallen but early enough to enjoy the value an IT innovation provides. Cases of investing first are carefully selected.

It was interesting to discover an essay in the Edge book by Nicholas Carr called “The Internet and the Centralization of Power.” In the essay Carr confesses that he no longer believes that the Internet is an instrument for decentralizing of power – “…a technology of personal liberation, a force for freedom.” Rather a few large powerful firms are centralizing power and control and profits. He mentions Google specifically. He describes briefly how these firms have leveraged the nature of networks to tap into reinforcing feedback loops.

Might one say that these firms have leveraged IT for a competitive advantage? I was looking for those words in the confession. Perhaps when he visits.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Edited by John Brockman

The Shallows:  What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr


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