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Attitude Adjustment

So what is Net attitude — and how do you get it?

Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can't Survive Without It, by John R. Patrick (Perseus, 2001)

As the Internet Revolution has given way to the Internet Inquisition, most of the attitude coming from Net-centric executives has been confessional — mea culpas for the irrational exuberance and media hype. Don't expect that attitude in the new book from John Patrick, IBM's vice president of Internet technology, who remains upbeat about the transforming power of digital technologies. Patrick has been a savvy and tireless shepherd of digital innovations inside IBM, and Net Attitude is a lot like Patrick himself: accessible, immediately credible, infused with unabashed curiosity, profound and practical at the same time.

So what is Net attitude — and how do you get it? At its most basic, Patrick argues, Net attitude is "extroverted" and "people-oriented." You get it by moving from "inside-out" to "outside-in" when it comes to planning strategy, designing new products, and organizing your work. It requires the ability to think big, the restraint to start simple, and the capacity to grow fast. As obvious as all this is to Patrick, he understands how deeply it cuts against the grain of most businesspeople. That's why he leaves his readers with a robust checklist of the most profound and the most mundane things they can do to get the right attitude. But the best take-away by far is Patrick's exhortation to keep "moving out a bit closer to the edge — where things are somewhat uncertain, where you don't have the control you would like to have, but where innovation is happening continuously."

FC Shortlist

1. Talk about an attitude. Christopher Locke's latest book, Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices (Perseus, 2001), is full of it. Locke's rant is mostly against big business and its cluelessness. He's tortured by the fact that marketers and mass media do not get the concept that "micro-audiences" and "micro-markets" are the new unit of growth and competitive advantage. Locke offers some solid ideas about forging new relationships — and plenty of attitude to go with them. He describes his prescriptions as a "hip-hop cover of boring old best practices played backwards and burned into a bad-ass MP3 dance remix." If you say so.

2. One executive with a less grating attitude — and someone who really understands the impact of technology on business — is Barbara Waugh, worldwide change manager at Hewlett-Packard and cofounder of HP's World e-Inclusion unit. The Soul in the Computer: The Story of a Corporate Revolutionary (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2001) is her breathtaking tale of the deep changes set off by a few individuals scattered around a vast global organization. Waugh's gift is her compulsion to ask, What could make a difference here? In fact, she says, all change starts with questions. Asking, How can HP Labs become the best in the world? led to the question, Why don't we try to be the best for the world? That question resulted in a major HP initiative centered around developing sustainable technologies and business models for the 4 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Waugh doesn't stop at recounting her adventures as HP's in-house revolutionary. She encourages readers to ask their own questions, and she assembles a garden shed of tools to outfit the aspiring change agent.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.