Writing You don't read

Shaking the Atoms

Acquiring video games prior to console domination and the modern Internet era went like this: I walked into Electonics Boutique or Egghead Software, went to the PC section, and began to physically pick up the games. I held them in my hand and I was looking for two things: did it have the right weight and did it have the right size?

Again, this is pre-Internet, so I can’t run off to GameSpot to see the community-based ranking of the game. It was me, Electronics Boutique, and instinct. I could tell from a quick shake whether the box contained just disks (or a CD) or whether it included the media, documentation, the map of Sosaria, and some useless mood-setting trinket. See, what I’d learned after many horrible purchases was that if the game maker chose to invest in accessorizing the game with useless crap, there was a high probability that the game was actually fun.

That’s right. Shaking the atoms to see if the bits are fun.

You Don’t Read

This is why, last week as I sat in the bar at the W Hotel, opening my box of author copies of Managing Humans, I was afraid of two things: did the book have the right weight and it did it have the right size?

I know what I think when a book sits limp in your hand, feeling pamphlet-like and unimportant. I know when the page size screams of a paperback, “Just rip the cover off and send it back!” I know that even though I’d spent the last 10 months writing, editing, and fretting about the words, I was still at the mercy of page layout, paper stock quality, and however the hell they measure the glossiness of the cover.

They nailed it. You want to hold this book in your hands, which increases the chance that you’ll want to read it. Here are three other reasons.

  1. Yes, Managing Humans is predominantly content that you can scrape together from the weblog. But there are brand new chapters. These are articles that have been sitting in the To Be Written folder, so I wrote them. Note: not publishing a completed article on the weblog is surprisingly hard.
  2. All of the existing chapters have been rewritten. There are two classifications for these rewrites, either “Tidying” or “Total Rewrite”. Some classic Rands chapters fell under the total rewrite knife, including N.A.D.D., which was a nerve-wracking process that involved alcohol. Other chapters simply needed a touch-up. And, yeah, everyone is still wondering what Malcolm Events is actually about.
  3. You can’t read on the web.

Did you catch that? I’ll type it again because there’s a good chance you’re scanning this article, which, incidentally, proves my point. You can’t read on the web.

Whether you believe that the 10 months of work constructing this book is worth it or not, you need to understand that reading these chapters on your couch is an entirely different experience from reading them on the weblog. Try it right now. Go pick your favorite Rands article and print it out. Now, read that article somewhere far away from your computer and then come back and tell me what you learned.

The absence of temptation, the lack of distractions, the comfort of that lounge chair on your deck, sitting in the sun, drinking that coffee, and reading a book. This is advanced relaxation and the manner in which your brain consumes information in this setting is different than when you’re reading this article whilst dodging the incessant Twitter flood of iPhone updates.

The Pitch

I haven’t worked out the elevator pitch for the book. When a random person asks, “What’s it about?” I still stupidly answer, “Uh, management?” One of the points of the book is to get you thinking about you and management. It’s a narrative, not a set of rules. There are very few charts ‘n’ graphs. My hope is that by reading these stories, you’ll think about how you deal with managers and think up your own management strategy.

Strategy doesn’t happen in front of the computer. It happens in the shower, on the couch, or during the drive to work. Strategy happens when you take time to think and my thought is that you’ll strategize better with atoms than with bits.

20 Responses

  1. Hehe so true. Not read the book yet, can’t afford it right now since I’m out of work (woe’s me!) but will do so when I can!

  2. Already ordered it. Amazon UK was out, but found it in the used/new section. Looking forward to it, just hoping it will arrive for the summer holiday. 🙂

  3. Peter Woods 17 years ago

    I got your book from Amazon this past week and made it through it in three nights. I agree, they absolutely nailed the feel and look of the book, and the time and effort you put into scrutinizing your previous articles made them a pleasure to read again, even when I’d read some just a few days prior.

    Now the hardest part is figuring out how many more to order to give to others I know—it’s easily among my favorite three books of all time.

  4. Jonathan Webb 17 years ago

    Charles Petzold would agree with you about reading away from the computer:

    How to read a book

  5. Eli Duke 17 years ago

    i’m new to you and rands; so far it’s really great. i’m exited to read the book.

  6. Ahhh..

    To have a moonstone was half the fun…..

    I absolutely agree, A book should only be a book and not have 10.000 other distracting uses besides being a book. So I will read your book in paper.

  7. My point is that there are many ways to consume information and while I am a huge fan of digital based consumption, I also know that reading far, far away from the computer is another means of gathering even more data.

    I read a book before I go to sleep. I don’t bring my portable to bed with me because, if i did, I’d never sleep.

    There is a time and place for both.

  8. I already ordered the book from Amazon and it’s on its way, but your reference to the map of Sosaria would have sold me if I had been undecided.

  9. Duncan 17 years ago

    Reading a book quiets my mind, lets me focus on one thing for a change, and it’s a great way to just relax while still doing something that’s “good for me.”

    Reading far away from the computer is my best way to avoid succumbing to distractions. Work can’t intrude, chats don’t pop up, and I can’t check the stock price or whatever website I’m currently enamored of. If the writer is any good, you can gradually sink into the mindset of the writer, enjoying their style and the information they want to impart.

  10. Andy Waschick 17 years ago

    I like to read on paper. I read a lot of books and yes yours is on the list now also. However I am puzzled by your statement that “you can’t read on the web”. As a fellow NADD afflictee with the big, bad Mac and the triple monitors, I was under the impression that drinking from the information fire hose, as it were, was one of the prime reasons to properly equip yourself with computing technology.

    So, I’m a little taken aback that for (what I suspect is) the sake of commerce, now not only have you revealed your true identity to the adoring legions, but you have implied that all that talk about achieving some state of fluidic transcendental grace where distractions and relevence unify into one bodhi-dharma-like flow should be set aside to truly appreciate the weight of your epic pronouncement. Only ink on wood pulp will do, in this case. How quaint!

  11. wibble without a pause 17 years ago

    Well, I succumbed and have now ordered my copy from Amazon (along with “Beautiful Code” and “Up The Organization”).

    Now all I have to do is wait the 11-20 days for the books to make their way to NZ.

    Only 11-20 sleeps to go!

  12. wibble without a pause 17 years ago

    I forgot to say you were right about reading on the web.

    I don’t.

    If anything is actually worth reading properly I print it out, staple it and read it away from my desk.

    Away from my desk has multiple meanings:

    1. Chair pushed back and turned at least 90 degrees away from the screen, so I can’t see anything to distract me and feed my N.A.D.D.

    2. In the company kitchen (approx. 10 metres and two doors away). I always make myself [yet] another coffee too. Double reward!

    3. Stuff it in my bag and read it at home later. The best of intentions don’t always work out so I often end up dragging the thing back in the next day and go with [1] or [2].

    FYI, with FinePrint, a double sided laser printer and a long-arm stapler you can turn that reading material into a dandy little booklet.

  13. Peter 17 years ago

    WTF, Amazon is now showing 4-7 weeks till shipping. Waah, I’m going on vacation Friday. Maybe I’ll have to go to a dreaded B&M store.

  14. Balaji 17 years ago

    Got my copy a few days ago, and you’re right, it does make a difference re-reading some largely familiar essays in print and not on my monitor at work.

    I have to say, when I read at home (fiction or otherwise), I do make an effort to put away the laptop and silence the cell phone. It makes quite a difference to be able to read in some peace and quiet from time to time.

  15. I’ve confirmed with the publisher that Amazon is getting a pile of copies shortly. Stay tuned.

  16. rev_matt_y 17 years ago

    I cannot wait to read it! And I agree with reading being something done best away from the computer. I read books on the computer all the time: reference books. The Safari service from O’Reilly, ebooks, how-to’s, etc make up a significant amount of my computer time. Casual reading (including blogs) accounts for less than 10% of my computer time.

  17. heronswift 17 years ago

    Well, just to be contrarian, I find it a whole hell of a lot easier to read on the computer, due to the failing eyesight of old age and the hateful crappiness of bifocals and the fact that on the computer I can bump the font size UP and twiddle with contrast and so on.

    Nevertheless, I have ordered a copy of the book, because I really enjoy your writing and have learned a lot from you over the years, and I’m about to step back into a managerial/supervisory role after a year away from all that, so I need all the help I can get.

  18. Mark Cianca 17 years ago

    I’ve read this book cover to cover and have recommended it to every IT manager at UC Santa Cruz. In fact, I had a staff member purchase enough copies to give out so that it’s now in the hands of folks who can really benefit from your no-nonsense content and approach.

    T’was a real delight to discover, on page 142, your discussions of “the view”. At an IT managers’ meeting yesterday we read the paragraph aloud, tapped the memories of our local historian, and were able to ID your former supervisor. You’ll be happy to know that he’s now retired and is a frequent denizen of Burning Man.

    Thanks for creating such a great management resource. Now, if I could get everyone to read this _and_ learn to play World of Warcraft for the management lessons it teaches, I’d have a complete managerial curriculum set to go…

  19. Aaron Haynes 17 years ago

    It’s on the wish list for now, as I am a comically poor college student soon to be drowning in debt, but I have a feeling this will save my life wherever it is I end up. Congrats getting it written, edited, published, and Out There.

  20. Got the book yesterday, excellent so far. thanks for the good read!