23 8 / 2011

What we’re reading

People are our greatest asset. And PARC is often asked for expertise about its various domains — spanning physical, computational, social, and life sciences — as well as a “trend-setter’s” perspective on what’s next.

But what are WE paying attention to or learning about?

Well, here’s a “flash-sampling” of what some of the folks in our community happen to be reading just now — books, magazines, blogs — and why. (Would love to hear your reactions to these or about what you’re reading and why!)

Bo Begole, manager of PARC’s ubiquitous computing research –

  • The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer… because it tells you “how to create a productive and joyful workplace”.

Dave Biegelsen, PARC research fellow and uber-inventor –

  • Animal Eyes by Michael Land and Dan-Eric Nilsson… “A fascinating and very readable account of the many types of eyes which sprang into existence and became optimized during the Cambrian explosion. Every type of mechanism seems to have been discovered by natural selection and the remarkable capabilities still present excellent clues to potentially clever ‘new’ technologies.”

Sonal Chokshi, PARC writer and community manager –

  • opinion in NY Times on big ideas by Neal Gabler… “His commentary and questions resonate: ideas vs. observations, are we living in a post-ideas world, do we prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value, differences between profit-making innovations and intellectually challenging thoughts.”
  • Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel… because “It’s scientific prose into poetry! I love both the topic and narrative.”

Steve Hoover, CEO of PARC –

  • Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford…  because it “resonates really strongly with the notion that being good at innovation means being able to fail and learn from that failure, quickly and cheaply…”

Ashutosh Kole, researcher in PARC’s cleantech innovation program –

Teresa Lunt, VP and director of PARC’s computing science research organization –

  • article in GigaOm on big data by Stacey Higginbotham… because it just “demonstrates the conviction that big data is where the value will be. More than moving out new mobile devices and applications, it will become increasingly important to get your hands on an ever-growing pipeline of big data in order to grow and avoid being copied and commoditized. This makes it really important to try to get there first with services in terms of data already being generated today but also for new services that will generate and own whole new sources of data. Of course, getting your hands on the intelligence to really extract the key  knowledge from all this data will be key to all these efforts.”

Pete Pirolli, PARC research fellow and elected fellow of multiple professional societies –

  • Evolutionary Dynamics by Martin Nowak… because it’s “a book full of beautiful equations that capture insights about biology, cooperation, language, and social processes”.
  • Neighbor Networks: Competitive Advantage Local and Personal by Ronald Burt… because “Social capital is the advantage that accrues to individuals as a function of how they are embedded in social or organizational structures and processes. This book by a guru of social network analysis develops a nuanced theory of how much it matters to be well-connected (and what matters about those connections under different circumstances). The moral to the story is ‘Worry not that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing’ (Confucius)”.
  • Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine by Thomas Goetz… because it “provides a blueprint for a future in which massive data, data mining, social media, and radical personalization technology can be used to improve individual health and wellness”.

Mark Stefik, PARC research fellow and entrepreneur –

  • Little Bets by Peter Sims… “recommended to me by Frank Torres, I’m reading this book because I’m interested in getting at the small core of ideas in our research projects and drive those ahead rather than trying to change too much at once”
  • Venture Deals by Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson, and Dick Costolo… “recommended to me by Eric Ries, this book is a guide for newcomers looking for venture funding
  • Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur… “recommended to me by Walt Johnson, this book is almost a graphic arts book that goes through the fundamentals of channels, value propositions, and related concepts to create business models that fit the needs of modern and flexible new businesses”
  • The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Healthcare by Clayton Christenson, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwant… “recommended to me by Stu Card, this book examines the forces that are changing the shape of healthcare: not a prediction of exactly what and when the changes will take place, but the authors give good insights into the changes that are being driven by both economics and now politics”
  • Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Mind, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki… “he gave a public talk at Kepler’s in Menlo Park recently, and since he is a ‘serial evangelist’, I’m interested in what he has to say about practical ideas for creating buzz and enthusiasm about new ideas, technologies, and companies”.

Ying Zhang, principal investigator for PARC DARPA projects on physical intelligence and mobotic relay networks –

  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell… because it’s an “interesting book on social epidemics

09 8 / 2011

Venture capital professionals are probably (along with entrepreneurs) among the world’s biggest workaholics, logging endless hours strategizing, networking, listening to pitches and taking part in board meetings, not to mention massive amounts of time spent on planes, trains and automobiles. However, many of them also somehow manage to squeeze in time for some summer reading. Here are some of their recommended reading picks:

Getty Images
When beach season hits, even VCs take a break to immerse themselves in a good book.

Jeff Bussgang, general partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

“The Finkler Question,” by Howard Jacobson — “A wry fictional work about philo-Semitism (as opposed to anti-Semitism)”

“Delirious,” by Daniel Palmer — “A mystery novel about a start-up CEO gone mad, written by a former start-up executive”

Sandy Miller, general partner, Institutional Venture Partners

“Civilization: The West and the Rest,” by Niall Ferguson — “A fascinating sweep across global history. How the West ‘won’ and how we are losing now. Rich with amazing stats and facts and very readable. The best book for me in a long time.”

Jules Maltz, general partner, Institutional Venture Partners

“Rework,” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37Signals — “It is about simplifying your life and focusing on what really matters. It’s just as applicable for a start-up trying to launch its first product as it is for a venture capitalist trying to manage her meeting calendar.”

James Garvey, chairman, SV Life Sciences

“The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” by Leonard Mlodinow — “It’s an intriguing book that mixes baseball, war events and [other topics to examine] how accidents and random events rule things.”

John O’Farrell, general partner, Andreessen Horowitz

“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror And An American Family In Hitler’s Berlin,” by Erik Larson — “This book fed my fascination with Europe in the 1930s and the powerlessness of the liberal democracies to resist the rise of Nazism. It’s an excellent blend of personal dramas and massive societal change.”

“Rule 34,” by Charles Stross — “This one is the most relevant to the world I work in as a VC. Stross does an amazing job of describing the potential progression of many of the technologies we’re investing in, as well as the evolution of spamming and other nefarious future uses of technology.”

“Skippy Dies,” by Paul Murray — “This is a funny and sometimes sad novel set in a boarding school in my native Dublin. As a father of teenagers myself, I felt Murray captured the teenage psyche brilliantly, as well as evoking my own school days in Ireland.”

–Russell Garland and Deborah Gage contributed to this post