Andrew McAfee Answers The Proust Questionnaire

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Brian Halligan
Brian Halligan



Andrew McAfee is a professor at Harvard Business school, a top blogger, and the coiner of the term Enterprise 2.0 which is used to describe the application of web2.0 technology (i.e. blogs, wikis, social media, etc) in the business world.


Device you would never give up?

My  espresso machine . It was designed by  Richard Sapper  and  Alessi  for  Nespresso , and is a gorgeous workhorse. I've used it every morning I'm in Cambridge for almost a decade now. It uses cartridges; I know this is a bit of a copout, but I don't care. It gets my day off to a consistently excellent start.

Your Favorite Software Application?

Anything that doesn't give me agita by crashing my machine, requiring my attention, or otherwise slowing me down. I'm moving a lot of my work to  the cloud  at present, and I wonder if we'll look back on the era in which we kept a lot of applications and data on our desktops as a relic of insufficient bandwidth and irrational exuberance about PCs.

Blog you read most fr equently?

Talking Points Memo  by Josh Marshall was the first blog to show me the power of the medium; it's not much of an overstatement to say that it brought down Trent Lott. It's opinionated, thoughtful, fact-based, and tenacious. I respect what he's done a lot.

Social Media Tool you actually use?

Facebook. I haven't yet come across a better technology for helping me stay on top of  my network  of  weak ties . It may well be eclipsed by something ‘better' at some point, but its lesson will remain: technology gives us new capabilities -- it lets us do things we simply couldn't do before. I'm not a technology determinist ("technology alone defines the course of history") but I am a strong technology optimist. It makes our lives better.

Favorite Business Book(s)?

Edward Tufte's   books  on data display, envisioning information, and visual storytelling. A big part of business is effective communication using numbers and data, and Tufte shows us how to do it cleanly, effectively, and with great style. Read his books and you'll swear off ‘chartjunk' forever.

Favorite Newspaper(s)?

The New York Times. Duh.

Person that inspires you?

I wish I were more like the writer  Christopher Hitchens  in many ways: more productive, more widely read, a better prose stylist, and above all more courageous about airing my views no matter how unpopular they might be or what kind of hot water they might land me in. I don't admire everything about him or agree with all his positions, but so what?

Also Thomas Jefferson, another flawed polymath and humanist. I reach for his words often, starting with "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform them by education."

One more. The person (in addition to my parents) that most often summons my better angels is the poet Mary Oliver. She reminds me that the natural world is a sufficiency -- it contains everything we need to be complete, happy, and healed - and she asks the single most important question: "tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Who Was Your Best Manager? Why?

The former Dean of Harvard Business School, Kim Clark, was the best leader I've worked under. He was an idealist, but savvy about how people and organizations really work. He exhorted us as colleagues to put other people's work ahead of our own (for academics, this is a tough sell) and as teachers to trust our students enough to get out of their way and let good stuff emerge in the classroom.

Your first "real" job?:

My brother and I were paperboys in our hometown in Indiana for many years. And if we didn't deliver the papers every day, they didn't get delivered. I can't think of a better way for a kid to learn about responsibility.

Where Do You Do Your Best Thinking?

I don't know when I do my best thinking; ideas can come from many sources and at all times of the day and night. But I do know that I do my best working in the morning, so I try to leave my calendar open before lunch, caffeinate, and chain myself to my desk first thing.

What Do You Most Value In Employees/Colleagues?

A sharp, critical mind and a sense of humor. I want colleagues who can bang hard on ideas while being lighthearted about it.

What I'd like To Be The World's Best At?

Squash or poker, both of which are well outside the realm of probability. So a much more frightening goal is to be the world's best teacher, writer, or researcher about IT's impact on business. I'm sure I don't have what it takes, but that's no reason not to strive.

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