Listening rather than reading affords me the opportunity to read lots.

Over the last 18 months or so I have become an avid user of  This has been a great experience – I am back enjoying stories which stretch the imagination, bring me somewhere else, stimulate ideas, provide an escape.  Over the previous several years had found that books were simply piling up – work and family life resulted in efforts to read books when sleep was the order of the day.  I’d pick up a book at 9 or 9.30 in the evening and five minutes later fall asleep.

And, always there was the distraction of this online world – hyperlinking from link to link and not resting in one spot for the time it would take to enjoy a good book.

As a management consultant I continue to read lots of business books – be the subject strategy, lean manufacturing, cloud computing, leadership, whatever. For the most part I read these in hard copy – and potentially 20% online.   But I have reserved my listening time (audible time) for literature.

When growing up we were strongly encouraged to read.  The expectation was that the two books borrowed from the library would be read by the time they were returned a fortnight later.  And many fortnights of this meant that many books were read – notwithstanding other distractions such as football, cricket, Hawaii-Five-O (the real one!).  So getting back to book consumption feels familiar – even if this time I am listening more than reading.

The other main benefit of audible has been that it has supported and, indeed, encouraged me to take more exercise.  A walk in the evening for 60 minutes listening to a good novel is a great way to relax and get/stay fit.

I have not read any analysis yet on the relative merits of listening to versus reading books.  Certain books are possibly more suited to one or the other activity.  And some books, when listened to in the first instance, leave me wanting to read them afterwards.  This is the opposite to the movie experience – when most times after I have seen a movie I am not tempted to read the book.

I have a number of history books slated for reading this year – which I intend reading rather than listening to via audible.  In general I find myself looking to cross reference, to look at maps, etc., when reading history and this just seems to be easier when reading rather than listening.  But the challenge remains to find time when sleep does not beckon.

One other possible down side – walking time previously spend listening to music has now been presold to books.  Still working on a way to stretch the day to more than 24 hours.







Is the CIO the person to take IT forward?

Are companies well served by their CIOs? In many cases senior executives and boards are sceptical, at best, as to what is being delivered off the back of significant investment in Information Technology.  Is the CIO part of the problem or part of the solution?

Where businesses have a strategy – against which they are executing – chances are the IT has a role to play.  Perhaps there are opportunities in the supply chain or ways to better serve customers or ways to solve design problems more efficiently or in different ways?  Perhaps greater collaboration is required – internally, with partners, with customers?

But does business need a CIO to achieve this?

A CEO or divisional head may need to be aware of some new possibilities in the areas of collaboration or quality control or data analysis.  But does she need a CIO to make this happen? Perhaps she needs better informed executives – with better support within their divisions/ functions/ business units  – to drive these initiatives forward.  More importantly she needs support at Board level to support the required upfront investment (including any required interruptions) or additional monthly payments.

Does the CIO really belong to an era of building internal IT departments with significant inhouse technical capability?

And where there is a CIO we end up with the inevitable handoff from the business to the CIO – and potentially the CIO never succeeds in obtaining the required focus/ support from the business which uis actually seeking the solution in the first instance.

Good CIOs have not stood still.  They understand their own environments, they are familiar with the emerging technologies and they are seeking to involve themselves more closely in the management of the companies in which they work. In some cases they are ruffling feathers by asking some tough questions of business leaders.

Companies still need to understand IT costs, project complexity, requirements/ benefits of integration, data security – where does all of this end up if there is no CIO? And who has the expertise to manage/ broker a number of providers of managed services?

If we accept that there is a challenge (evidenced by recent flatlining/ reductions in IT budgets) then looking to see how more effective leadership can be provided has to be part of the analysis.  Businesses (who have effective strategies) need everything available to them to enable them to execute.  And that includes the best of IT.  Businesses lacking effective strategies will waste money on IT and many other expenses headings.


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UK – gathering momentum for electronic health records

Good to see that US push on electronic health records has not gone unnoticed elsewhere.

UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, seems to be push adoption of electronic records and alluding to the nonsense which is the current situation.  Will be interesting to see whether UK government seeks to push some real pounds sterling behind the initiative.

There have been a lot of scare stories about confidentiality of personal data – privacy of personal health records.  The key point is that the records belong to the patient.  Must be possible for patients to get better service by having up to date, comprehensive, electronic patient records which they can choose to share with any healthcare provider.

Some interesting debate taking place in the US now that we are in the ‘meaningful use’ phase of adoption – where providers need to demonstrate that the solutions are being used between providers and between providers and patients in a meaningful way.

We should not underestimate the potential complexity of moving this forward – and some of the likely blockers to change.  But this should be about improving quality of patient care and making it more efficient for everyone.  Should enable providers to provide an improved service.


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Ongoing challenges for traditional retail businesses

Today we read about appointment of Deloitte as administrator to HMV.  As I see my kids charging my credit card, again, last night for downloading songs to their ipods.

This is the reality.  My kids do not need to go to a HMV store to buy music.  In fact over Christmas we were in a HMV store looking for ipod covers and we could not find what we wanted.  Got online the same day and ordered them from Amazon.

And how many people received or gave Amazon (and the like) vouchers over Christmas?

Our own newspapers this weekend featured more articles about the challenges facing retailers in terms of upward only rental reviews in Ireland. There are lots of challenges – including the economy.

Notwithstanding this I think book shops can still  be attractive – with the risk that at all times the buyer is aware of the best on-line price.  Would not claim to be a retailing expert but not sure that the current HMV store in Grafton Street, Dublin,  presents a very attractive buying experience (it needs to be something different and more attractive than the online experience).




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EU and US continue to have different perspectives on Google

Interesting to read Mr Almunia’s (EU Commissioner responsible for competition) comments re Google and any apparent bias in the results of their search engine – as against the recent findings of the FTC.

Ed Black’s recent piece in Forbes makes the case for the FTC decision.

I suspect this has some way to run.  Competitors clearly unhappy that Google is exploiting its position.  Not unfair for Mr Black or Google to point out that others are not without sin either.  But I guess the real concern is the sheer size, dominance, influence of one player and the standards that must be seen to operate for such a player.

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Fathers and Sons – Turgenev

English: Russian writer Ivan Turgenev late in ...
English: Russian writer Ivan Turgenev late in his life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saw a reference to ‘Fathers and Sons‘ on facebook a few weeks ago.  Just finished listening to Turgenev‘s Classic this week.  What a wonderful book.

Strikes me that the novelists of bygone days could say so much without saying very much.    We often speak of ‘reading between the lines’ in a modern context – but far too often there is no subtlety in much of what is written.

The account of the two friends, Arkady and Bazarov, of their relationships with their own fathers and of their individual romances (one successful, one failed) makes for a great book.  Arkady seems to be in awe of his friend Bazarov (the nihilist) and yet, when Bazarov oversteps the mark, we see Arkady’s great respect for his father.  We even have the subplot of Arkady’s father (a widower), his new love (Fenichka) and the interference by his father’s brother (Pavel).  The ‘pistols at dawn’ is almost comical.

The backdrop to the novel is mid 19th Century Russia and ‘peasants’ beginning to asset their rights – posing lots of challenges for the landed gentry.  Bazarov, the nihilist, seems equally critical of all social forms.  Nikolai Petrovich, Arkady’s father, is wrestling with the changes on a day to day basis.

Fate in unkind to Bazarov.  His mother worships the ground upon which he walks, his father not much less.  His friendship with Anna Sergeevna Odintsova reamins just that – although he would have it differently.  He removes homself from the company of Arkady’s family – as a logical consequence of his falling out with Pavel.  And finally he succumbs to illness – really not through his own fault.

All in all well worth a read (or a listen).  Turgenev’s characters come alive – through their interactions and their struggles with their emotions.




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The Hunger Games

Just finished listening to ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins (downloaded via  The book it reminded me of was WIlliam Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’.

I did not think it was nearly as good a book.  But I thought it created some of the same uneasiness/ tension about behaviour of young people in extraordinary situations.

I thought the plot was weak, the characterisation very limited and all in all found the book very disappointing – given the hype.  But perhaps that is the issue – the hype has taken over.  I look forward to watching the movie – but am not very optimistic.




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High Output Management – Andrew S. Grove

One of the best business books I’ve read in a long time.  Short book, common sense and to the point.  Written by Andrew Grove former CEO of Intel.

I would challenge anyone to review their own workplace, their own work practices using some of Grove’s ideas.

Liked the simple idea on the manager’s preparation for decision making:

  1. What decision needs to be made?

    English: Portrait of Andrew Grove.
    English: Portrait of Andrew Grove. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  2. When does it have to be made?
  3. Who will decide?
  4. Who will need to be consulted prior to making the decision?
  5. Who will ratify or veto the dcision
  6. Who will need to be informed of the decision?
Pity it does not happen more often.
On meetings I think he is right: two types.  Are we talking of a process oriented meeting (one-on-one, staff meetings, operations reviews) or a mission-oriented meeting?
The discussion of hybrid organisations and dual reporting is straightforward and recognises the reality of how many businesses need to be structured.
Liked the honesty of his section on performance appraisal. And his clarity on the importance of this process, the need for preparation and the rationale for the process in the first instance.
Not sure I fully agreed with him on his views on trying to retain people who say they are going to leave.
Finally – he is very clear on the manager’s role and responsibility for training – including preparation and delivery of training. I would see this as a major failing with many managers in industry.  And a major missed opportunity.



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Test cricket

Have not been following this test series between England and South Africa very closely.  But today happened to have an hour or so and tuned in on Skye.  Great ‘leg pulling’ between Atherton and ‘Bumble’ in the commentary box (about bell ringing).

After all the excitement of the Olympics great to focus in on the struggle that so often is cricket.  South Africa took the new ball, batsman (Prior) throws his wicket away first ball and then we watch as Jonny Bairstow works his way toward a maiden Test century – only to come unstuck at 95.

So much to occupy your attention – swinging ball, round the wicket to left handers, changing fields, outstanding fast bowling (Steyn).

And a beautiful, sunny day for cricket.


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The girl who fell from the sky – Simon Mawer

Just finished listening to Simon Mawer‘s recent novel: ‘The Girl who fell from the sky’. Most enjoyable thriller set in World War 2. Girl recruited in England to work with the Resistance in France. Deals with the recruitment process, the training, the preparation for France and her experience in France. Mixed in with this dealing with the girl’s various relationships and her growing independence.

Very much enjoyed the book – the pace, the tension, the development of the character and her interaction with others involved in the Resistance. Some of the scenes described capture a level of tension, fear, terror that cinema directors would struggle to re enact.

Would be tempted to read another Mawer novel after this one.


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