I Read A Book: Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization

Americans are often separated from the musical traditions of other countries and unaware of the cultural influence of American music, Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization covers one small corner of cross-cultural music that needs more explanation.

While many of the artist examples are dated in this 2006 book, as would be true with much cultural anthropology, overall the book includes discussions of the issues of perceptions of race, gender and music, and the influence of sales on the production of music. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in an academic view of the Japanese music industry, and there are some fascinating charts that discuss the interaction between fans, artists, record companies, and media.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t places where more discussion would have been appreciated (especially about cultural issues surrounding race and gender)  — and I am dismayed by yet another book that lumps together hip-hop music, rap, and hip-hop culture. But the biggest failing of the book is not actually of the book — it is that there is so little discussion of Asian music outside of small subcultures — whether it is Japanese hip-hop, K-pop, K-rap, etc.

And when there are discussions, they are not mainstreamed! — SXSW 2010 had a very interesting panel discussion of the global influence of Japanese music, with a large focus on visual kei. Unfortunately, the podcast has been pulled. I know that many pay lots of money to attend SXSW, but it would be nice if the podcasts would be available after, say, six months. And no matter how much the website says earlier podcasts are available–they aren’t “(Also be sure and check out our extensive list of full panel podcasts from 2009.)”

The video above is from Suite Chic, a one-album Japanese collaboration; the singer is Namie Amuro, one of the biggest Japanese pop stars, the self-professed Queen of Hip-Pop; and the rapper is AI, a Japanese-American Japanese rap/singer (known in these parts as Japanese DaBrat). And they aren’t mentioned in the book.

I Read A Book – Open Leadership : How Social Technologies Can Transform The Way You Lead

For organizations new to social media, venturing into this world can seem daunting and alien at times: new apps and tools to learn, lots of scary jargon, whatever goofy new change Facebook has unveiled this week.

But the fundamental change that drives social media is pretty simple to articulate, if no less daunting: it’s a shift in how individuals communicate with each other and with organizations. The tools that facilitate this communication (social networks, mobile, blogs) value sharing of content and information. Because individuals can share, they often do, and it’s become the new standard for many.

Like Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, Charlene Li’s earlier book Groundswell covers this ground adeptly, but in my experience as someone who worked in a large organization struggling to adapt its culture to social media’s culture of sharing and openness, there was still a missing link, a book that gave concrete strategies that a worker like me could take to her boss. (Or her boss’ boss).

However, Open Leadership is that missing link. It’s a book that speaks to organizational leaders directly, confronts their concerns – and yes, fears – about social media technologies and how they are used,  provides compelling case studies of large organizations that have adapted, and most importantly offers assessments and action strategies for organizations to use.

And trust me, it’s needed. Social media often scares executives and many communications professionals who devote much of their energies to crafting and controlling a particular message (internally and externally) on behalf of their organization, yet also see the opportunity it represents. Li is very clear about the importance of  top-down executive leadership in effective organizational social media practice. And by taking the emphasis off of tactics and even strategy, and placing it on organizational development and  leadership, she creates a compelling argument for social media practice that will speak to even the most resistant higher-up. Li says:

“No matter how compelling a technology or potential relationship might be in the face of an immovable mass called company culture, and without the right organization and leadership in place, any digital strategy will fail.”

So many of the popular social media “self help” books focus on small-nimble start-ups or former startups that have grown in the last five to ten years, and having worked for a number of large organizations with an entrenched company culture, I can say without a doubt it’s  a hard thing to change, and no amount of social media cheerleading can take the place of a compelling case study that says “hey there are other big companies who allow their employees to blog or respond publicly to negative feedback  – and they haven’t gone under!)”

Open Leadership uses examples from both for-profit and non-profit organizations to highlight best practices (and missteps). Li starts the book with a description of how the Red Cross’ first social media manager, Wendy Harnan, integrated social media practice into the organization through education and a clear policy. She explains how United Airlines turned a public relations nightmare around through their open response to the” United Hates Guitars” You Tube song, and she talks about the customer service approach that Comcast CEO Brian Robers adopted that propelled the companies use of social media. She outlines companies that have clear and open internal social media policies for their employees.

To bolster these case studies, Li devotes the rest of the book to laying out a strategy for Open Leadership within an organization and maintaining relationships under a more open management style. She suggests, using tried and true tactics like establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)  – and yes, as a web analytics geek this made me very happy – identifying organizational workflows, established social media policies (Li prefers to call them “covenants”). She encourages organizations to allow opportunities for employees to share in decision making and in leadership, and she uses case studies of companies (Cisco, Best Buy) who continue to evolve into a  more open organization

What I actually found most valuable about Open Leadership is the fact that  it has more in common with management books like Good to Great than the usual social media tomes that focus more on technology or case studies of campaigns. It  places the emphasis on the  leadership styles and organizational practices that make the most out social technologies rather focusing on social media as a  marketing tool.

So with that said, is Open Leadership a must-read for all managers/executives?  The optimist in me says “yes,” a committed, engaged leader who’s willing to take measured risk, possibly fail, and go back to the drawing board again and again will get a lot out of this book. But the cynic in me thinks that the executives that need this book the most would never bother to pick it up. I hope I’m wrong.

Thinking Out Loud: Is Reading Dead?

U.S. military using manga (comics) to teach Japanese children about security alliance.

So to get the answer out of the way — no, reading is not dead. Either as a communications tool or as a hobby.

While Wired recently declared that the Web is dead, reading is far from dead. How much of social media is written? Texting, Twittering, Facebooking, and Tumblring are all based on the written form. While Google has recently started a phone service, many people use their smart phones for written communications.

And there have been a wave of new reading devices — from the Kindle to the Nook to the IPad that are selling well. And the idea that Amazon is now selling more ebooks than hardcovers shows that people do want to have new ways of reading. (I use Stanza).

That isn’t to say that there aren’t drawbacks to many of the new ways of reading — both in terms of new hurdles for accessing information and ownership of information. At the heart of the Wired article is the idea that more and more information is being accessed from places that are not the open web anymore, whether they are through apps or behind paywalls or passwords. And I have many misgivings about the licensing terms that are placed on those that use ereaders — basically, the first sale doctrine, allowing a purchaser to sell a book to others doesn’t really apply for ereader books.

I think about all of the massivekid/teen/adult book crazes — Harry Potter, Twilight, and now potentially the Hunger Games series -that have been as big as Star Wars was, in terms of the overwhelming interest by fans. There hasn’t been a new non-book/comic tie-in movie,  band, television show (with the possible exception of Lost) or other mainstream media item with this level of sustained interest in years.

This isn’t to say that reading isn’t going to change. The ability to annotate and share will continue to grow in a way that will continue to morph our ideas of what a completed work is. But just as errata for books and corrections in newspapers hasn’t ended reading, these new ways of reading won’t either.