Porter quotes

As a result of this comment, I was reading Managing IT as an Investment and I noticed a quote from Michael Porter that was from a Harvard Business Review article. So what? Well just the other day I noticed that ITIL V3's Service Strategy quoted Porter from a Harvard Business Review article - not the same one.[BTW Service Strategy has a great set of book references - it is just the Porter thing that I noticed.]

Now I know ground-breaking stuff gets published in periodicals like the Review, but I'm thinking to myself "Does anybody actually read Porter's books, or are they all bluffing like me?"

I went looking for Porter references. I check out Peters and Waterman In Search of Excellence, who don't seem to quote him at all but they sure like HBR and Business Week and Fortune and Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. A few of the citations are from books (including a personal inspiration and the hardest-going book I ever finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), but the vast majority are from magazines. Very few are from reviewed journals.

A random sampling of my business library (it got tedious after a while):

  • De Bono in Lateral Thinking quotes no-one
  • Stephen Covey in 7 Habits doesn't reference either
  • Fred Brooks in the Mythical Man Month quotes many periodicals and few books, though he manages an extensive extract from a Robert Heinlin book which is impressive for a programming text
  • back in the fifties Drucker referenced one or two periodicals but mostly books in The Practice of Management and in the seventies in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices it was all books (lots of 'em)
  • Maister's The Trusted Advisor (my consulting bible) is about 50/50 periodicals and books
  • Levvit and Dubner's Freakonomics is very heavy on periodicals and...
  • The new Web 2.0 book The Cult of the Amateur quotes heaps of periodicals and webpages and almost no books

So where am I going with this meandering post? Not sure - it would be a better post if I could have found more references to Porter :-D

The zeitgeist books are all skittering across the periodicals and web because they have to in otder to take the pulse. The more sober analytical books tends to quote other books more. I'm still left with this suspicion that a lot more contemporary writers quote some of these classic references than have actually read them. I'm left wondering how much learning comes from periodicals without the deep diving a book requires. Especially about Porter.

I wrote this before the Nicholas Carr article came out [I've been trying to make a coherent point from this post - I give up and publish], but it all links up. Magazines and journals supplant books. Google supplants everything. I notice I've been on a book-reading binge lately - I think I'm compensating. Still haven't read Porter though.



Perhaps I am too trusting, but I do tend tyo give more credibility to anything published in HBR rather than the average mag, notwithstanding the American bias.

no problem with HBR

I have no problem with HBR - a very reliable shortcut to avoid reading the book :-D

Why we don't read books

As others have said, googling a subject reveals a multitude of web articles, published periodical material and references to book material. Today, we also have an abundance of books which are not grounded in quantitative or qualitative research, but instead spell out opinion, only sometimes drawn from experience. These types of books often become best-sellers perhaps because they tell a story and we like to believe in stories. My opinion is that the web enables many more people to express their thoughts and opinions publically, sometimes using established texts to quote from, but usually only adapting those quotes to re-enforce a badly concluded point. A bit like "How to lie with quotes". As more and more material becomes globally available the real skill we will all need is how to find good accurate content versus garbage.

Incidentally, I quote Porter here: http://www.tideway.com/community/blog/ in a piece which builds on Porter's acknowledged strategy principles to support strategic thinking in IT.

the books are less worth referencing

Charles, that's an interesting different angle on it i had missed: perhaps the books are less worth referencing.

it fits: books tend to be fizzier, trendier and more opinionated - only way to get readers these days. You end up with light-weight personal viewpoints like Introduction to Real ITSM. They are not built to last any more than the mags and webpages are.

Not true of all of them of course, just a sweeping generalisation (this site's forté). The ITIL V3 books are built to last many years. So too are the works of a number of contributors here (e.g. Charles Betz's Shoes for the Cobbler's Children). But a number of books I have read in the past couple of years fit that: Freakonomics, Blink, Richistan, the Four Hour Work Week, The Dip [...is crap], Cult of the Amateur...

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