Required reading for those that work on the web: Connect! by Anne Zelenka

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I have been meaning to write a review of this book for a long time.  It has sat in my coveted spot by the bathtub, and as a result, has water stains on key chapters. Once I spill coffee on it, it will join my short stack of truly great reference books.

Connect!  A Guide to a New Way of Working from GigaOM’s Web Worker Daily by Anne Zelenka with Judy Sohn is a really mind-opening book about  working through the web.  Much more than a collection of "lifehacking" tips and tools, it frames the fundamental shift in the world of work as a result of pervasive internet access.

The book introduces concepts like the difference between busy work and bursty work:

  • Busy work uses step-by-step progress towards established and crystallized goals using top-down command and control management processes.  It focuses on face time, standard working hours, and adherence to organizational standards.  Busy work tends to focus on creating information goods and components mainly from scratch.
  • Bursty work achieves discontinuous productivity and finds new opportunities for success by connecting with a distributed network of humans and computers that make up today’s web.  it emphasizes results rather than attendance or face time, openness to new possibilities rather than following only traditional pathways, provisional rather than fixed goals, and experimentation rather than prediction of the future.

In my experience, this is where the dissonance exists in corporations who bristle at offering flexibility to their workers, for fear that if they don’t see their butt in a chair that they are not working (which I elaborated in point #8 of my Open Letter to CXOs).

I immediately saw myself in the bursty workstyle description and felt like someone finally understood me!  For years I thought that my  wandering mind, inability to follow a structured plan and interest at putting great people and ideas together instead of creating all my own from scratch was a character flaw.  Now, thanks to Anne, I see that it positions me perfectly for an open source world where the ability to dream, imagine and connect is rewarded.

There are so many interesting things discussed in the book that I can’t do it justice.  But one concept that really got me thinking was the discussion of Mind in the head vs. Connected and extended mind.  Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers suggested in 1998 that the mind extends outside our head and onto the devices and tools that participate in its thinking action.  Details are in their paper The Extended Mind or more accessibly in the Wikipedia version.

In a nutshell, if you consider that your mind extends outside of your head, you no longer need to cram as many facts in your head as possible to be a "learned" person.  Instead, you just have to know where the information lives "out there" for future reference.  Search engines facilitate easy access.  I feel less stressed already, just thinking about it!

Connect strikes a really nice balance between explaining conceptual ideas simply and clearly and providing specific examples of tools and resources you can use to implement the ideas immediately.  Practical advice includes:

  • Preparing for Web Work
  • Productivity tips using a bursty style
  • Rethinking your relationship with email (lots of examples of alternative tools)
  • How to surf better (the web, not the waves)
  • Blending your personal and work life (which can be a challenge in the "always on" mode of web working

I will be so bold as to say that this book should be required reading for anyone who works.  Even if you choose to work in a more traditional manner as an employee, you will learn ways to be more productive and creative with techniques and approaches discussed in the book.

And it provides how-to guidance and structure for entrepreneurs who agree with Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae premise that you can’t put hot new marketing and social media tools on top of an old school business structure.  This book will help you to structure your new company so that it takes full advantage of the tremendous opportunities provided by working through the internet.

Great job, Anne and Judy!  I will definitely be using some of the material in my book (with due credit) since I think any new entrepreneur today is crazy not to take advantage web work, regardless of their business.

And as an added resource that arrived in my email box serendipitously last night, here is a list of 100 Niche Job Boards for Web Workers.

Filed Under: Book Review

5 Responses to “Required reading for those that work on the web: Connect! by Anne Zelenka”

  1. Mark says:

    For those interested in the “extended mind” idea, in my field (human-computer interaction) the idea has been around a bit longer, and is called “external cognition.” For a very academic paper on the topic, see http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/yrogers/papers/externalcognition.pdf

  2. Hi Pam,

    You’ve convinced me to buy it! I made the leap from a 20 year corporate career to being a stay-at-home dad and starting a small business 2 1/2 years ago.

    Even though I’ve had telecommute jobs I found that now instead of filling my time with busy work like I used to do in office jobs I do exactly what the authors describe with bursty work (like you identified with).

    I recognize now that if I can get 2-3 hours of ‘dailed-in’ work done (because with my kids that’s all I get) it’s easily equivalent to 8 hours or more of traditional office work.

    We’re all redefining what ‘work’ is and I like that it’s about the value we’re creating and not “butts in chairs.”

  3. Peter says:

    You’ve convinced me. I’ve ordered a copy.

  4. Barbara Saunders says:

    I’m a burster myself, but I don’t think the busy/bursty distinction described in those paragraphs is entirely fair. There is some real work that does involve creating standardized things from scratch by a set process. Whether or not that leads to cultural practices like “face time” is a separate issue.

    Agreed Barbara — but if you read the book, you will see this more simplistic example expanded to some really interesting, practical applications.

    -Pam

  5. Ellen Besso says:

    Hi Pam: Thanks for letting us know about this book. I’m ordering it asap.

    I too have a ‘bursty’ style of working. Although I can go with the ‘busy work’, I am much more the real me in bursty mode.

    I love the concept of our brains being also outside & I look forward to getting additional help with dealing with e-mails.

    Ellen Besso
    Navigate Your Mid-life Maze
    http://www.ellenbesso.com
    http://www.ellenbesso.com/midlifemaze

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