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Saturday, April 18th, 2009

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2:32p
Verrrrrry eeenteresting ... but Dated!
I wonder why it is that it took me pretty much till my late 40's and into my 50's to be interested in reading business books. Not that this is major focus of my reading over-all, but I find myself every now and again buried in a book about business, and not being bored out of my mind!

Of course, I've not been running out to the bookstore to pay retail for these ... I believe this one came from that "fill a shopping bag for $5" sale a year or so back, or might have shown up at the dollar store. However, I've been interested in how interesting some of the few books I've picked up along these lines have been. Rolling it around in my mind, I think that five or six years when I refused to read any fiction may have shifted my tastes away from what I'd previously found engaging.

Anyway, for some reason, out of the vast stacks of to-be-read books sitting around here, Larry Kahaner's Competitive Intelligence: How to Gather Analyze and Use Information to Move Your Business to the Top seemed the best bet for my "transit book" this week.

As regular readers of this space will be all too aware of, one of my on-going "challenges" in the recent necessity of my acquiring most of my books from used sources is that frequently the books I'm consuming are a bit dated. This one isn't particularly old, having come out in 1996, but for a book about amassing information, that's ancient (heck, that was the same year that I put up my first website, for my old publishing house, Eschaton Books). The author spends a non-insignificant number of pages early on in this "letting the reader know" about this amazing new thing that lets you get information through the computer ... you might have heard of it, the World Wide Web.

Needless to say, 13 years up that technology curve, much of what he talks about in terms of commercial and governmental databases seems rather quaint (not that some of the corporate by-subscription resources have lost their importance for serious research) in relation to what is available to any 8-year-old today ... so many of the activity details of the book need to be taken with a grain or two of salt.

I'm not sure where exactly, the Competitive Intelligence field is these days ... I've been out of the "big corporation" game for a long time, so I've not been in situations where I'd notice a department, but either they've become so common that they go unmentioned, or that the "intelligence" function has been so broadly distributed that it no longer exists as a free-standing group reporting to the CEO.

Perhaps the most interesting, and possibly least stale, part of this book is his analysis of how various other nations have these sorts of functions organized. Many, notably Japan and France, have companies working hand-in-hand with the government, where Corp. A can actually hire the equivalent of their CIA to go get a particular piece of information ... others, like many old Soviet-bloc 3rd world countries, use their training as Soviet stand-ins to free-lance intel to the highest bidder. Of course, writing in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of this was in flux ... and how could he know as he was writing this that the Clintons were actively colluding with the PRC to sell military tech for campaign contributions?

There are lots of fascinating snippets in here about places where bribery is so common (say, you're in line at the DMV, and can "tip" somebody to save an hour of waiting) that it's all a grey area when it comes to government resources, to the tales of the Japanese who'd send in 20 or so families into an Arabic-speaking nation for a 10-year posting just to get "the feel" of the culture, etc.

While most of his stories are of others stripping the USA bare, he does have some refreshing anecdotes of American companies very successfully using Competitive Intelligence in situations where they took it seriously, and were not hindered by the Government.

Given the above caveats, it's not surprising that Competitive Intelligence is no longer in print, however, it is available via the after-market, with Amazon's guys having "very good" copies for as little as 18¢ and "new" copies from $4.44 (plus shipping, of course, in both cases), should this sound like something you want to add to your mental file (and library).


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5:15p
Finally - a FABULOUS book!
Are you, the regular readers of this space, as tired of reading "disappointed" reviews as I am of writing them? I realize that out of the last couple of dozen books I've reviewed I've barely managed to get past a grunt as far as enthusiasm goes, which is why I'm doubly excited to be writing about Joan Parisi Wilcox's Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q'ero of Peru, which is a really fabulous book!

Now, I have to admit, I was very hesitant when I first picked this up, I've been "burned" so many times on books on Peruvian Shamanism (even by authors with whom I'm acquainted), finding woo-woo and wishful thinking in place of actual information and background. Admittedly, I'm a harsh critic, having studied "Incan" shamanic traditions for well over a decade back in the 80's and 90's, and having worked in Peru with Quechuan teachers, and in the US with visiting Q'ero (and "carrying lineages" from both traditions, along with a "mesa"). Needless to say, I was delighted to find the tone and approach of this book being very level-headed, yet "informed".

Frankly, I'm surprised that I hadn't encountered this book in its previous manifestation, having been published by Element as Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge in 1999, preceding this Inner Traditions "revised edition" paperback by five years.

It appears from the into section that Ms. Wilcox initially went to Peru on one of Alberto Villoldo's trips (as I had, perhaps a decade previously), due to a passing mention of him, and some "familiar" patterns of places/activities. She evidently became more connected with Peruvian teachers such as Américo Yábar and Juan Nuñez del Prado, and forged her own path through them towards interacting with the Q'ero.

The book is divided into four fairly logical sections ... The Kawsay Pacha: The World of Living Energy, where she discusses the over-all world-view of the Q'ero ... Walking the Sacred Path: Interviews with the Q'ero, which allows her to get into more detail of the Q'ero, without necessarily having to explain things ... Our Heart's Fire: The Mesa and Healing, this discusses more of the "systems" involved in the Q'ero's practices, and the nature of their training ... and The Flight of the Condor: Putting Andean Practices to Work in Your Life in which she presents several very useful exercises and lets in a little bit of the "mystical" aspect of the Q'ero teachings.

As I've noted, this is all very well done, but there are some things that could have been improved. First of all, there is a wonderful 9-page "Glossary of Andean Mystical Terms" in the back of the book which helps to define (and pronounce: would you have guessed that Kawsay was said COW-sigh?) various Quechuan/Q'ero words used in the book, but this is not comprehensive, there are many instances where a word is introduced in the text (and even italicized to hint that it's defined) but never adequately addressed. Her editors should be rapped across the knuckles with a wooden ruler for not adding those to the Glossary, and insisting that Ms. Wilcox come up with at least an approximate pronunciation and basic definition! The other irritating thing here is that she spends a not insignificant amount of verbiage explaining how the interviews with the Q'ero were limited in time and they didn't get to stuff she wanted to ask, etc. Now, I, obviously, don't have a clue about how "connected" she is to the various westernized teachers/shamen she works with, but it seems to me that if she had to limit the actual interview process, she could have made up for it with an on-going mail exchange with the likes of Americo, Juan, or Fredy "Puma" Quispe Singona (who even came to stay with her in the States), folks who have in-depth personal ties to the Q'ero who should have been able to fill in some of the gaps.

These quibbles aside, Masters of the Living Energy is a really excellent book, and one I'm happy that I actually paid (Amazon's discounted) retail for! In fact, if you're going to get this, that's likely your best bet, as the used vendors only have it for a buck or so off of Amazon's price, so double it up with another book and you'll be ahead with the free shipping.

Again, if you have any interest in the "Mystical Q'ero" (who had been thought of only as "legends" before their re-appearance in the late-50's!), this is probably the most legitimate over-view that's out there ... highly recommended!


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