Shortly before Thanksgiving, John Drake of Try Reason posted the following comment on William E. Perry’s post How Free Is Speech?:
Yes advocacy is essential. But as with anything, understanding reality is essential. If your goal is cultural change, it is important to understand how ideas are adopted by individuals in society. Are there any over-arching trends that might help guide your efforts into a more efficient programs of advocacy? For a partial answer to this question,
I recommend the book Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers. In Rogers terms, innovations can be technology OR ideas (including philosophic ideas). After 1000s of research projects over many decades looking at many different innovations, some overarching trends are observed as to how ideas and technologies spread through society. Like much research today, the work tends to be highly descriptive, not normative. But there are a few practical applications, such as on page 361, where he very briefly discusses “Strategies for Getting to Critical Mass”. I will note that [the Ayn Rand Institute] is explicitly pursuing 3 of the 4 strategies.
A couple years ago, I wrote a few notes on Objectivism in relation to Diffusion of Innovation theory: see here. (As a disclaimer, I no longer associate with some groups or websites listed in that post…many thanks to Diana for helping me see the light). There is much more I would add today if I could find the time to write about it.
I ordered the book John recommended, then wrote in reply: “Thanks for the book recommendation. Do you have any other books on business management that you think those of us interested in spreading ideas should definitely read?” I also e-mailed John privately to tell him that I’d be interested in posting anything that he might write up as a NoodleFood post. Here it is, with links added. You can also find it on his blog here.
Although my initial recommendation was from the perspective of how best to spread ideas, I thought it might be useful to suggest books about management that may be helpful when speaking or writing to/for businessmen and women. I also thought it might be useful to suggest books on how to run activism campaigns as a business. I’ve mixed each perspective, but hopefully you can find what you need.
In all honesty, there really are not a lot of management books I would recommend for the express purpose of spreading ideas. I had a seminar in strategic management where we read many of the classic management books. Except for the one by Peter Drucker, they were a cesspool of bad philosophy propagated as intelligent thought. Peter Selzinck, in Leadership in Administration, gives explicit credit to the pragmatists, Dewey and James. Herbert Simon (Nobel prize winner in economics) has a chapter in Administrative Behavior titled “Fact and Value in Decision-making” that would probably make Peikoff’s head explode. It was pure philosophic torture getting through that seminar. Interesting enough, most of the authors were Harvard professors of business. According to the professor of our seminar (who was himself a DBA from Harvard’s school of business), these books were all part of a seminar required of all Harvard DBAs back then. I’m not sure if these books are still taught at Harvard, but the influence of these authors is felt in the business schools and business research studies throughout the U.S. today. The Harvard influence over the business research has lead to few useful books, in my opinion.
I mentioned Drucker’s above as the exception. Pretty much anything he has written I would recommend. His first book, The Practice of Management, is superbly written and the one best books on management and decision-making that I have ever read. While written in the 50s, it largely defined how business evolved over the next 30 years and the best at describing businesses as they are run today. I would recommend it to any Objectivist activist that plans on speaking to business executives and/or business professionals.
I would also recommend a newer book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman. This book is about globalization and the role technology has played in changing the world workforce, particularly in the past 10 years. While not as essentialized as it could be, it does offer a good view of the changing nature of information exchange and how its effecting businesses, cultures, and personal experiences. I use parts of this book in my Introduction to Information Systems class.
For running your activism as a business, I would recommend Drucker’s book as well as The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (Chapter 1). The E-Myth (entrepreneurial myth) posits that most entrepreneurs fail because they get into business for the wrong reasons. Its been quite a few years since I read it, but my take-away was that many entrepreneurs fail because they are good technicians, but poor businessmen. They think that just because they know the skill or subject (for [Objectivists], read philosophy), they can be effective entrepreneurs (read activists). This book offers various ways to overcome these common failures. For example, think turn-key when designing your activism. Also, use metrics to measure effectiveness.
I don’t know much about marketing, but I imagine a good introductory book on marketing may be useful to activists as well.
From other fields:
I’ve already mentioned Diffusion of Innovations, which is actually from the field of sociology.
Another book from sociology and psychology fields that uses many of the ideas from Diffusion of Innovations without giving it much due is a recent best seller called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. The focus again is on how ideas spread through society, from cool shoes to Sesame Street. It isn’t a great book (not as good as Diffusion of Innovations), but it may be of some value.
I give a very limited recommendation of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. If you have ever heard the phrase “paradigm shift”, Kuhn is the one who invented it. Philosophically, the book is way off base. Essentially, Kuhn claims scientists fail to integrate new facts of realty due to their adoption of inbred intrinsicist thinking. The only way to overcome this inbred intrinsicism is with outsiders who come up with new ideas and create scientific revolutions. This leads Kuhn to suggest the cure for intrinicism is subjectivism. That being said, the book contains a number of interesting historic examples about how radical new ideas are rejected and/or adopted by a community. If you can ignore Kuhn’s philosophy and focus on the facts illustrated in the book, you may be able to take away something of value.
I’ve also read a number of other good business books, but I’m not sure how useful they’d be for [Objectivist activists]. And I’m sure there are plenty I haven’t read.
Thank you, John! That’s a very helpful bit of sources and commentary. Anyone else want to add their own recommendations? As always, the comments are open!