SMUG Textbooks

Despite the decidedly social media nature of SMUG (“social media” is part of our name, after all), I’m still a big believer in books. They enable authors to make an extended argument and deal with a topic in more depth than the blog format allows.

I’ve written several book reviews here on SMUG, but it’s time for me to catch up, based on several more I’ve read or listened to via And I thought it would be helpful to develop a more comprehensive list of books that receive the SMUG Seal of Approval. As soon as I’ve finished adding related reviews and links to this post, I will be using it as the basis for a remodeled SMUG Bookstore.

Of course, everything about SMUG is voluntary, and tuition is free, so I can’t really say these are “required reading” for SMUGgles. As I get the reviews done, I will add links to the list of SMUG textbooks below. And if you have recommendations of books I’ve missed that you think would be helpful, please add them in the comments.

Personal Productivity

Social Media Theory and Philosophy

Business and Innovation

  • The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen
  • The Innovator’s Solution, by Clayton Christensen
  • Our Iceberg is Melting, by John Kotter
  • Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni
  • Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson. You can download this for free if you have an account.
  • Seeing What’s Next, by Clayton Christensen
  • Rules to Break and Laws to Follow, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers
  • The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki
  • Selling the Dream, by Guy Kawasaki

The Gladwell Grouping

Malcolm Gladwell’s books defy easy categorization, but he has a wonderful writing style and has a thought-provoking approach to all sorts of topics. If he wrote it, you should read it.

The Seth Section

Like Gladwell, Seth Godin deserves a section of his own. These are all somewhat related to marketing, particularly as it is understood as designing delivery of your products or services in a way that enhances customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth.

  • Tribes, by Seth Godin
  • Purple Cow, by Seth Godin
  • Free Prize Inside, by Seth Godin
  • Meatball Sundae, by Seth Godin
  • The Dip, by Seth Godin
  • Small is the New Big, by Seth Godin

SMUG Textbook: The Innovator’s Dilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christensen.

Clayton Christensen is amazing. I got to hear him speak in person at our Mayo Clinic Transform symposium in September, but I was a fan long before that. In The Innovator’s Dilemma he lays the groundwork for a way of understanding disruptive innovation and why successful incumbent businesses and market leaders are so bad at adopting disruptive technologies.

It’s not because they’re stupid, lazy or unwilling to take risks. Christensen argues that they’re simply making decisions in keeping with sound management practices, and focusing on their most profitable lines of business.

Here’s my simplified version of the product progression Christensen describes. I will illustrate it using video cameras as the example.

  1. Incumbents develop products that are “too good” for most customers. In the case of tape-based video cameras, companies like Sony continually add new features to distinguish their products from those of competitors and to keep from having to cut prices to compete. So they improve quality with Carl Zeiss® lenses, or add night vision infrared capabilities, or 60x optical zoom, or other features that are important to the most demanding customers.
  2. Disruptive technologies arise that are much lower in quality but also much cheaper. In the video camera examples, the disruptive innovation was a camera that uses a Flash memory card instead of a tape. This “not good enough” product didn’t meet the needs of Sony’s most demanding customers, but it did make video recording available to many people who previously couldn’t afford it. Instead of chasing the low end, incumbents like Sony reasonably chose to focus on their most profitable market segment.
  3. Low-end competitors improve their product to move “up market.” Pure Digital, maker of the Flip video camera, continued to improve quality and convenience, meeting the needs of an increasing portion of the market at a much lower price. By the time the incumbents like Sony respond, they’ve lost their market leadership position. The Flip is now the most popular video camera in the U.S., and it is even available in HD for $200 or less.

This is a simplified overview, so you should read the book for a fuller explanation. But It’s amazing when you see how this same model has played itself out in countless other industries.

The Innovator’s Dilemma sets the stage for Christensen’s other books, including The Innovator’s Solution, Seeing What’s Next and The Innovator’s Prescription. I recommend all of them as SMUG Textbooks, and hope to review them here in the future.

The Danger of “Core Competence”

Among the books I’ve been devouring recently is The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clayton Christensen. (I highly recommend it!) As I was listening to the unabridged audio version, the following statement — though read in the same measured tones as the rest of the tome — screamed its relevance:

Core competence, as it is used by many managers, is a dangerously inward-looking notion. Competitiveness is far more about doing what customers value than doing what you think you’re good at. And staying competitive as the basis of competition shifts necessarily requires a willingness and ability to learn new things rather than clinging hopefully to the sources of past glory.

The challenge for incumbent companies is to rebuild their ships while at sea, rather than dismantling themselves plank by plank while someone else builds a new, faster boat with what they cast overboard as detritus.

The context of the statement is a discussion of companies that outsource elements of their product or service that they perceive to be less important. For example, in developing its PC in the early 1980s, IBM outsourced both its microprocessor (to Intel) and its operating system (to Microsoft.) This enabled IBM to catch up with Apple, but in the process it handed over the two most significant revenue streams and sources of profit to others. Today Intel and Microsoft are still earning billions of dollars a year from the PC business, while IBM is no longer making PCs.

This is relevant not only for our organizations and employers as a whole but also for us as individuals, and now I’m speaking directly to those involved professionally in communications, public relations, marketing, advertising or related disciplines. 

I wish I had $82.43 for every time I’ve heard someone say, “All you need to do to use social media in your business is hire some young kids, just out of college. They really understand this stuff.” As the father of two relatively recent college graduates, I appreciate the job opportunities such a statement offers. But I offer a word of caution.

You need to understand social media yourself, and not dismiss them as being outside your “core competence.”

OK, that was 17 words. But the point is that as social media grow in importance over time, and as the audiences for mainstream media shrink, if you fail to adapt your “core competence” will become less relevant. That means less marketable.

By understanding social media, you will see how they can be applied to solve your business problems, or perhaps even as a whole new business model. Otherwise, as Christensen indicates, you will find yourself disrupted by low-end innovators.

To think more about the implications of disruptive innovation, get The Innovator’s Solution or anything else Christensen has written. I’m particularly looking forward to reading his books about health care and education.

To learn how to apply the sustaining (and in some cases disruptive) innovation of social media to your work, you’re at the right place already. Become a SMUGgle and we’ll learn and share applications together.