The best business magazines you're not reading, secrets for finding almost anything online, building a great workforce by promoting individuality, and the Web's future.
Corporate librarians act as filters and resource consultants for companies that are struggling to manage information overload. A crack team of these experts -- dubbed the InfoPosse -- reports to Inc each month on the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of business publications. Posse members' biographies appear at the end of this article.
Classics: "Can anyone live without Across the Board?" asks librarian Christine Klein, referring to the Conference Board's bimonthly journal of ideas and opinions ( www.conferenceboard.org/atb/atbindex.cfm). The publication's target audience is Fortune 500 executives, but small-company owners are advised to sneak in after the lights go down for an impressive show. In what InfoPosse member Lisa Guedea CarreÑo calls "highly digestible" prose, Across the Board offers answers to questions that are tough (Why do companies continue to chase mergers and acquisitions when 75% of them fail?), provocative (Can nations have a brand?), and pragmatic (Do performance reviews demoralize "average" employees?). Like Klein, Genevieve Foskett labors in a small private company, but she too finds plenty to love about Across the Board, particularly the meeting of marquee minds. (A recent issue, for example, featured Peters Senge and Drucker back-and-forthing about such subjects as the decline of youth culture and the rise of aquaculture.) Foskett is also grateful for the magazine's rundown of useful management tips culled from disparate sources. "I love it when a trustworthy source scans and filters business information for me," she says. Guedea CarreÑo agrees: "I know it's meant for large companies, but the material is relevant to anyone trying to manage in a complex organization. And small companies are nothing if not complex organizations."
If Across the Board is a microscope on management, The Futurist is a kaleidoscope. The bimonthly publication, included in the price of membership in the 34-year-old World Future Society ( www.wfs.org/futurist.htm), has published everyone from Vaclav Havel to Al Gore to Arthur C. Clarke. Forward focused by definition, The Futurist teases the mind with possibilities: what telecommuting will look like in years to come, the impact of man's expansionist designs on the universe, how health care will move to the mall. As for management topics, it's business as very unusual. Where else can readers learn about organizational innovation by studying such "creative hothouses" as ancient Greece, Renaissance Florence, and Parisian cafÉ society? "My reactions to the articles range from 'Yeah, right' to 'Hmm ...' to 'I have to send this to five people right away!" says Foskett.
"We can say with certainty -- or 90% probability -- that the new industries that are about to be born will have nothing to do with information."
Classics.com: Corporate librarians use publications like Across the Board and The Futurist to help executives frame big pictures. But when those librarians are charged with nosing out choice nuggets of information, they know that some soil is more data rich than others. That's particularly true on the Web, where sites ultimately are as good as their owners' willingness to update, correct, and expand them, which is why Lisa Zwickey's most dog-eared Web page is Price's List of Lists ( http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/listof.htm). The site originates from the Gelman Library at George Washington University and is compiled by librarian Gary Price. It provides links to hundreds of lists that rank companies, industries, people, and organizations, as well as lists of statistics and demographics. "I use it when our salespeople call wanting to know the top 100 chemical distributors, the 100 largest transportation companies, or the top 300 construction companies," says Zwickey. "It's also great if you need to know the fastest-growing metro areas or the World Health Report or catfish consumption by state. It even has a link to the most popular baby names of 2000. Lisa came in at number 298, by the way."
Just as there are cat people and there are dog people, so too, in the online reference world, there are Price people and there are Scout people. For a place to begin research, Klein much prefers The Scout Report ( http://scout.wisc.edu/report/sr/), which comes out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's been around since the Ice Age and is all the better for it," says Klein. A free weekly publication that maintains a first-rate archive of site descriptions, The Scout Report appeals to Klein because it's "useful, honest, and relatively bias-free at a time when Web sites and search engines accept money for favorable placement."
"The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation."
New listing: Zwickey is passionate in her contempt for books with cute titles and fablelike formats. Exclamation points make her fume. So she was thrilled by the grounded, practical, case-study-driven approach of Peak Performance: Aligning the Hearts and Minds of Your Employees, by Jon R. Katzenbach (Harvard Business School Press, 2000). Drawing from organizations as diverse as the Home Depot and the U.S. Marines, the book explains how to build an extraordinary workforce by promoting individuality and entrepreneurship. It's about hearts and minds instead of hearts and flowers, says Zwickey. "Upper management should be looking at this," she notes.
Al Gore explored "information super-highways" for The Futurist in 1991 -- years before the idea became conventional wisdom.
New thinking: Discussions of the Web's future tend to swirl around a few glossy applications: full-length movies delivered in minutes, refrigerators that call for replenishment when the cottage cheese is running low. Jean Mayhew recommends that anyone who wants a more thoughtful discussion of the Internet's imminent transformation -- and of its transformational effect on our daily lives -- should read "The Semantic Web," in the May issue of Scientific American. (The piece also appears on the magazine's Web site: www.sciam.com.) No less a light than Tim Berners-Lee, generally considered the father of the Web, is one of three authors who describe a not-too-distant future in which computers are "much better able to process and 'understand' the data that they merely display at present." Their vision is both expansive and eminently practical. And while there's some intellectual heavy lifting around concepts like knowledge representation and ontologies, "The Semantic Web" is an accessible -- and potentially important -- read.
The InfoPosse members are Genevieve Foskett, corporate librarian at Highsmith Inc.; Lisa Guedea CarreÑo, library director at Goshen College; Christine Klein, director of knowledge and information management at LifeCare Inc.; Jean Mayhew, director of information and learning at United Technologies Research Center; and Lisa Zwickey, senior research specialist at J. J. Keller & Associates.
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