Book Review – Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

This very readable book has impeccable academic credentials:  Fraser and Dutta are on the faculty at INSEAD but they wear their scholarship lightly. They consider the effects of Web 2.0 on business and society, and their case studies include FaceBook’s patchy relationship with its users and their employers, the destruction of the music business by the internet, and the 2008 US presidential election. It’s comprehensive and accessible and has a superb bibliography, what more can you want?

Occasionally I disagreed with Fraser and Dutta’s arguments.  They use examples from medieval France and the Knights Templar to illustrate the fracturing of hierarchical power structures.  Now colour me cynical, but would they have done that if it weren’t for Dan Brown?

More seriously, they are naive about the height of the barriers of entry to online fame and pin a lot of the first section of the book on the unsupportable assumption that online fame is open to all. They talk breathlessly (well, breathlessly for academics) about Joe Nobody from Nowhere obtaining online fame. But that doesn’t mean it’s replicable: the fact that they cannot see how it happened doesn’t mean that there weren’t reasons for it happening.  I mean, haven’t they read Outliers?  Online fame doesn’t come for wishing as Sandi Thom’s publicists discovered.  Exactly the same astonishment was expressed about the working class rock heros of the 60s, but for every Lennon and McCartney there were …. well there weren’t any other Lennons and McCartneys.  Which is my point.

They are balanced in their reporting of Web 2.0 evangelists and Web 2.0 apostates. This makes a refreshing change.  In fact, they aren’t just balanced on the subject, they delve deeply into why and how corporate and governmental organisations resist Web 2.0.  This is the nub of the book, and no-one else is saying just these things in quite this way.  But even so, they are reluctant to admit that there are some serious Orwellian implications for all our futures.

So I am not sure why I’m not raving about it.  Perhaps because I like books that give me epiphanies.  This one was rich and informative but didn’t shift any of my paradigms. They close their arguments down in a rather authoritarian way, which doesn’t set the brain fizzing with ideas. It may just be that their usual ‘voice’ is  the de-personalised style of academia.  Don’t be dis-heartened by my faint praise: it is much better than I make it sound.

Definitely a must-read, though possibly in paperback, for anyone considering the role of Web 2.0 in any kind of organisation, or who has an interest in the recent history of the internet or in how technology affects individuals and society.   Worth it for the case studies and the bibliography alone – everything else is a bonus.

PS – I thought I’d reviewed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – turns out I hadn’t. That’s easily remedied.

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11 responses to “Book Review – Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

  1. “the same astonishment was expressed about the working class rock heros of the 60s, but for every Lennon and McCartney”

    Lennon and McCartney were working class?

  2. Well, yeah. I wondered if anyone would spot that. Though they weren’t debs delights either. And I would draw the attention of the court to Exhibits A and B, M’Lud.


  3. Hmm, sounds interesting. We’re still waiting for the Internet and Web 2.0 to blow the hierarchical corporation apart.. I think a better analogy is the Borg.. assimilation. From what I see, the big corporate entity is pretty safe for at least a few more decades..

    I’m reluctant to read Gladwell’s Outliers after I waded my way through Blink. I’m looking forward to your review of this!

  4. Will the corporation assimilate Web 2.0 or will Web 2.0 assimilate the corporation Colm?

    What I might do – one day – when I have time – is a review of the predictions in my mid-1990s WIRED magazines and by Negroponte and Esther Dyson and see what has come about and what they failed to predict.

    We were all so excited, way back when.

    I’ve not read Blink, though I liked the Tipping Point and I like some of Gladwell’s journalism.



  5. My feeling tends very much towards the former. Breaking down organisational hierarchies is hard – very hard. Organisations tend to be very conservative in terms of technology adoption, a point made by Geoff Moore in his book the Chasm. Even the newer organisations, like Google, Ebay or Facebook tend to adopt very standard models once they get big enough., OK, maybe they embrace matrix structures, but matrix organisations themselves have been around for a long time now. I’m waiting to see something more radical on a large scale, if such a structure exists at all.

    I remember Douglas Adams talking about the future, circa 1995 and he made an interesting point. All the predictions of the 1960’s concerned space, flying cars, eating pills etc, but they totally failed to predict arguably the two biggest trends of the late part of the 20th century, namely the miniaturisation of computer processing, and the environmental movement.

    As for Blink, I didn’t like it. He conflated two distinct brain functions, implying that function A (call it gut feel or instinct or spacial awareness, whatever), was superior to brain function B (deliberate, purposeful, analytical thought). Perhaps he has a point when it comes to expertise (you don’t know that you know), but in general I finished the books feeling somewhat cheated.

    I wrote a speech on the Future myself around 1995. Hmm. I wonder if I still have a copy. Very, very unlikely.

  6. I wrote a poem about the fact that we do now live in the future but have lost it. I can however remember one couplet

    The future always used to gleam
    And burnished steel was a constant theme

    I think I was driving at the idea that life is pretty mundane despite all the cool shiny things. I can’t beleive I was writing about dystopias, even though I was in Bracknell at the time.

    Cheers Colm.


  7. “They talk breathlessly (well, breathlessly for academics) about Joe Nobody from Nowhere obtaining online fame. ”

    I lurk the mommy blogging crowd at the moment, and what I find amusing about this is that a) by mommy blogging, what we mean, apparently is blogging for profit, b) by rofit we mean actual direct money and c) the people who do this and proclaim it as a mommy revolution are, at least in the uk, mostly former marketing people. Oh and d) by people I actually mean mommies.

  8. Because the men who do it are mostly writers. Which is, of course, why they’re at home with the baby.

  9. Quite.

    What I’d like to check is the professional demographic and take-up of the various platforms. FB was students first, blogging started with tech-heads, but I think twitterati are the litterati pontificating to each other in a new bar.

    Cheers, Sol.


  10. Sounds interesting!The writers have wrote about their own experiences.

  11. Can social networking transform people’s life?

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