Association Executive Book Shelf

Book reviews by Raphael Badagliacca

Blockchain Revolution:  How the Technology behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the WorldBlockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World
by Dan Tapscott and Alex Tapscott (Published by Penguin Random House LLC, 2016)

If you’re like me, when there’s a lot of talk about something you don’t quite understand, especially something being presented as a game-changer, it becomes time to start doing a little research.

Just looking at this collection of 2017 book reviews, several arcs become apparent. One of them goes this way: Sapiens made us aware of the importance of storytelling, not just as entertainment, but as the very thing that separates us from other forms of life, including previous human species. It is strategic and the basis of civilization. Without agreed-upon, shared fictions, there is no civilization, and the biggest of those fictions is money.

A second arc goes this way: The Mobile Wave made it clear to us that the continued proliferation of smart phones would catalyze the internet and further at an increasingly rapid pace the dematerialization of virtually everything, especially money. The history of money as told in The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson traces a path we all know well, from precious metals to paper money to credit cards to electronic transfers. Beginning with paper money, all of these transactions require an intermediary – a bank, or a credit card company, or an entity like PayPal. Blockchain technology removes the middleman from financial transactions in more disruptive fashion than Uber and Airbnb do to their exchange of services, because with Uber and Airbnb you still have Uber and Airbnb.

Blockchain Technology in its purest expression is a true peer-to-peer network with no intermediaries. Ironically, it returns us to a time when there were local currencies before central banks, or banks of any kind. This is what has the banks scrambling to set up their own private blockchain networks, which would, of course, upend the idea. It’s also what has certain governments outlawing cryptocurrencies, buying time while they figure out how to control them.

In this book, you will explore with new eyes concepts like the distributed ledger, provenance, and privacy. At times, the authors become evangelical about how blockchain can fix the inequities of the internet. Despite bad actors who have tarnished the image of cryptocurrencies, that has not seemed to slow down the activity, the interest of traditional institutions, or the millions of dollars being invested. Blockchain will change something. Whether that change is as pervasive as these authors think it can be, it is certainly worth your time to understand something about it.

I also recommend the documentary, Banking on Bitcoin, for anyone who has Netflix.

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: the Astounding Interconnectedness of the UniverseDark Matter and the Dinosaurs: the Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
by Lisa Randall (Published by HarperCollins, 2015)

What can a book with this title possibly have to do with your role as the leader of an association? At its most basic, this is a book about perspective – about the remarkable amount we do know and the much greater amount that we do not know about the forces that affect us. On nearly every page, the author reinforces this dual reminder, impressed by how far we have come but even more impressed by the frontiers of knowledge still out there to conquer.

Without getting too much into the science, “dark matter” in the author’s view is a misnomer with inadvertent negative connotations. The term “transparent matter” would be more accurate because it is invisible to us. But just because it is invisible and has a weak gravitational pull – we can’t see it or feel it – does not mean it’s not there. No one knows yet the exact proportions, but the latest thinking is that 85% of the matter in the universe is dark matter.

The author is not shy about presenting merely as a theory the proposed link in the title. She theorizes that under certain conditions and in great concentrations, dark matter plays a major role as in the big bang and the mysterious disappearance of the dinosaurs. But that’s not really what matters (pun intended).

What matters is that the recent remarkable advance of knowledge involves the awareness and understanding of factors not evident to the narrow bandwidth of our sensory experience: quantum physics, microbiology, the infinite distances of outer space, dark matter, to name a handful.

To keep your association the primary source of information for your constituency, whatever the focus of your organization, leadership means fostering an attitude of curiosity and continuous learning. This attitude requires constant openness to understanding among your staff and your membership what is not apparent. That’s what keeps you in the forefront.