By Steve Kelman

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Steve Kelman's summer reading list

FCW is doing a series asking various people what they are reading these days. I submitted the following, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Federal Computer Week:

“The Ambiguities of Experience”
By James March

March, an emeritus professor at Stanford, is probably the most-distinguished living organization theorist. This short book discusses why we often draw false conclusions from experience and makes at least some suggestions for how we might do a better job. March has an earlier book, “The Pursuit of Organizational Intelligence,” which is a classic, that discusses issues such as why change efforts are often cut off prematurely (they produce a temporary degradation in performance before people have gone down the learning curve in using them) and the tensions between "exploitative" learning (learning how to do current things better) and "exploratory" learning (learning about new things to do).

“Reputation and Power”
By Daniel Carpenter

Carpenter, a professor in the Harvard Government Department and perhaps the brightest young political scientist writing about government agencies, discusses how the Food and Drug Administration managed over the decades to become what he believes is the most powerful and influential regulatory agency in the world. March's book is under 150 pages long, with small pages, while Carpenter's is almost 900 large-sized pages.

“The Modern Firm”
By John Roberts.

Roberts, another Stanford professor, provides an accessible introduction to what economists have to say about how to design organizations to work better. The discussion includes issues such as design of incentives and decentralization vs. coordination. Despite its title, much of what the book discusses is relevant to government organizations.

“A Free Life”
By Ha Jin

At all times, I try to have a novel to read. This one is about a Chinese student who comes to the U.S. to get his Ph.D. and ends up opening a Chinese restaurant outside Atlanta. It is a beautiful novel about the contemporary immigrant experience, by no means sugar-coated but ultimately very affirming about the U.S.

Posted on Jul 15, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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