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Books in 2013 - Part 2

Alcatel-Lucent's President of Bell Labs and CTO, Marcus Weldon, on the history and future of Bell Labs, and titles for Christmas; Steve Alexander, CTO of Ciena, on underdogs, connectedness, and deep-sea diving; and Dave Welch, President of Infinera on how people think, and an extraordinary WWII tale: the second part of Books 2013.  


Steve Alexander, CTO of Ciena

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve enjoyed some of Gladwell’s earlier works such as The Tipping Point and Outliers: The Story of Success. You often have to read his material with a bit of a skeptic's eye since he usually deals with people and events that are at least a standard deviation or two away from whatever is usually termed “normal.”  In this case he makes the point that overcoming an adversity (and it can be in many forms) is helpful in achieving extraordinary results.  It also reminded me of the many people who were skeptical about Ciena’s initial prospects back in the middle '90s when we first came to market as a “David” in a land of giant competitors. We clearly managed to prosper and have now outlived some of the giants of the day.

Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet by William Davidow. 

I downloaded this to my iPad a while back and finally got to read it on a flight back from South America. On my trip what had I been discussing with customers? Improving network connections of course. I enjoyed it quite a bit because I see some of his observations within my own family. The desire to “connect” whenever something happens and the “positive feedback” that can result from an over-rich set of connections can be both quite amusing as well as a little scary! I don’t believe that all of the events that the author attributes to being overconnected are really as cause-and-effect driven as he may portray, but I found the possibilities for fads, market bubbles, and market collapses entertaining. 

For another insight into such extremes see Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay, first published in the 1840s. We, as a species, have been a bit wacky for a long time.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II  by Robert Kurson. 

Having grown up in the New York / New Jersey area and having listened to stories from my parents about the fear of sabotage in World War II (Google Operation Pastorius for some background) and grandparents, who had experienced the Black Tom Explosion during WW1,  this book was a “don’t put it down till done” for me. I found it by accident when browsing a used book store. It’s available on Kindle and is apparently somewhat controversial because another diver has written a rebuttal to at least some of what was described. It is a great example of what it takes to both dive deep and solve a mystery.


David Welch, President, Infinera

Here is my cut.  The first three books offer a perspective on how people think and I apply it to business.

My non-work related book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Unfortunately, I rarely get time to read books, so the picking can be thin at times.


Marcus Weldon, President of Bell Labs and CTO, Alcatel-Lucent

I am currently re-reading Jon Gertner's history of Bell labs, called The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation which should be no surprise as I have just inherited the leadership of this phenomenal place, and much  of what he observes is still highly relevant today and will inform the future that I am planning.  

I joined Bell Labs in 1995 as a post-doctoral researcher in the famous, Nobel-prize winning Physics Division (Div111, as it was known) and so experienced much of this first hand.  In particular, I recall being surrounded by the most brilliant, opinionated, odd, inspired, collaborative, competitive, driven, relaxed, set of people I had ever met.  And with the shared goal of solving the biggest problems in information and telecommunications.  

Having recently returned back to the 'bosom of bell', I find that, remarkably, much of that environment and pool of talent still remains.  And that is hugely exciting as it means that we still have the raw ingredients for the next great era of Bell Labs.  My hope is that 10 years from now Gertner will write a second edition or updated version of the tale that includes the renewed success of Bell Labs, and not just the historical successes.

On the personal front, I am reading whatever my kids ask me to read them.  Two of the current favourites are: Turkey Claus, about a turkey trying to avoid becoming the centrepiece of a Christmas feast by adapting and trying various guises, and Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, about a world of an ailing feline Claus, requiring average cat, Pete, to save the big day.  

I am not sure there is a big message here, but perhaps it is that 'any one of us can be called to perform great acts, and can achieve them, and that adaptability is key to success'.  And of course, there is some connection in this to the Bell Labs story above, so I will leave it there!


Books in 2013: Part 1, click here

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