business news in context, analysis with attitude

I played my first round of golf – ever - yesterday, and walked off the course with what I think is a brilliant business idea.

RFID chips for golf balls.

Think about it. It seems like more than half the time spent playing golf is spent looking for the damn ball, and if each one had a unique sensor, and the golf carts were equipped with little screens attuned to the proper frequencies, it would save everybody a lot of time.

Not that I lost that many balls. I think about a half dozen balls went missing during the five hours or so that we played. Not bad, I gather. Never went into a sand trap or into the water. Just into high grass and brush or just so far off the course that I couldn’t find them. Also, I hit four trees … though I gather it is unorthodox to use tree trunks for bank shots like one would in pool. (I’m only marginally better at pool than I am at golf, so to say I was doing it on purpose would be a stretch at the very least.)

I still have trouble telling the difference between birdies and bogeys, though it didn’t really matter because I didn’t have either. What I did have, however, was a delightful afternoon – the people I was playing with were funny and nurturing, and they didn’t make me drop trou and run down the course half naked when at two points I teed off and couldn’t even get the ball past the women’s tee. (Strange tradition, that…unless, of course, they were pulling my leg.) We were playing something called “best ball scramble,” which I gather is a great way to break in since it takes a lot of the pressure off a newbie like me; the event was a tournament being played at the annual meeting of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, at Lake Okoboji, Iowa…a fine group of folks who were highly encouraging if a little amazed that anyone could live 54 years without playing golf.

I got to watch the people I was playing with make some terrific shots, including one in which Michael Sansolo teed off and got the ball about a foot from the hole. Another person we were playing with sank a 36-foot putt. I was- and am – awed.

Am I going right out to buy a set of clubs? Hard to say … five hours to play a round of golf just seems like an awfully long time, but on the other hand, it was enormously pleasurable. I suspect I will find myself going to the driving range on a semi-regular basis, and maybe taking a lesson. (I did hit the driving range three times before playing the round

And if I want to practice putting, there’s this great place near me to do that. It even has windmills and waterfalls on the course!

Whole on vacation last week, without the deadlines of MorningNewsBeat, I actually had some time to read a number of books that I’d like to recommend.

• “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell. This book has been around for a while, but I finally caught up to it and was extremely glad I did. Gladwell’s unique view of what makes people successful challenges conventional wisdom, and it occurred to me while reading that it puts a lot of responsibility on people to nurture their children, their students and their employees – how we do this, and how we put them in the position to succeed, often is what makes the difference.

• “Home Game,” by Michael Lewis (“Moneyball”), is a terrific little memoir of fatherhood…and while his kids are a lot younger than mine, I often laughed out loud or nodded with agreement when he described the challenges and pleasures of fatherhood.

• “10-10-10,” by Suzy Welch. This really isn’t my kind of book – I’m not much into self-help tomes – but I was intrigued after watching the author interviewed on “Morning Joe” and though it was worth a shot. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, and was glad I did. “10-10-10” has at its core the notion that when making virtually every decision, one should consider the impact it will have in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Welch applies it to both business and interpersonal situations and offers a ream of real-life examples…and I thought the was written with a generally light touch, which makes it go down easily. And, “10-10-10” has the advantage of a strong core idea…when you think about it, using this criteria as a decision-making tool makes a lot of sense.

Good stuff, all. I can recommend all of them.

There were also a couple of must-read magazine articles that I suggest you take a look at, both from the July issue of Fast Company.

One is the cover story, about what could be an epic battle between Amazon and Apple. The piece takes a look at Amazon’s development of the Kindle, and both the strategy and tactics that are behind a piece of technology that I find to be both revolutionary and one of the most useful things I own. And, it suggests how Apple might decide to go after this market, and how its strategies and tactics would differ from Amazon’s. It is an excellent piece of business writing, and two companies that I admire enormously.

The second is a great piece about Julie Roehm, who, you might remember, is the marketing genius hired by Walmart and “charged with fighting off Target's aggressive rise by transforming Wal-Mart's image from low-end merch peddler to temple of discount chic.” Roehm was a star, but she ran aground when she challenged an ingrained and change-resistant corporate culture … and she was quickly fired, making lots of headlines and leaving her with a blot on her resume and, among other things, a house in Bentonville, Arkansas, that she can’t sell. It is a fascinating read, and doesn’t pull any punches about Roehm’s culpability.

Maybe it is just me, but I thought that Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, had it absolutely right when he explained why he decided to leave “What To Read Now,” a feature about books and writers, on the cover last week when a lot of people would have bumped it for Michael Jackson.

“Jackson was an undeniably important cultural force,” Meacham wrote, “the kind of figure about whom I would like to read a piece or two on his -bizarre life and artistic legacy, but not much more than that. Since we edit the magazine on the assumption that our readers are like us, we moved quickly to produce just those pieces while preserving the books coverage.”

Precisely. I realize this seems callous, but the media overkill on this story has been truly depressing. There are a few other things happening in the world…and I just think the coverage has been way over the top.

I didn’t see many movies while off. There was my third viewing of “Star Trek,” which my wife and son wanted to see at the local iMax theater…and which I continue to like very, very much. And there was a movie called “The Proposal,” a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, which was okay…though I would suggest that if they’d had the courage of their convictions they could have made a much funnier comedy by resisting the urge to have a message or get touching every 20 minutes or so.

We also saw “Public Enemy,” which my son the actor worked on as an extra…and loved it. Johnny Depp is terrific as John Dillinger, and director Michael Mann does his customary great job creating a visual milieu that is distinct and helps drive the narrative. My only compliant might be that some of the themes promised in the beginning of the film – that Dillinger’s fall coincides both with the rise of organized crime and the creation of the FBI, which reflects a broader cultural shift in America – weren’t quite delivered on. But it is an excellent piece of moviemaking.

Thanks, by the way, to MNB user Mike Gantt…who turned me onto a 2006 album by JJ Cale and Eric Clapton called “The Road To Escondido,” which I downloaded to my iPod and have been listening to almost nonstop, except when I’ve been listening to Cale’s 1971 solo album “Naturally.” (Cale wrote and originally performed “After Midnight,” which is on “Naturally”…and the rendition is distinct and just perfect.)

My wine of the week: the 2008 Mar de Vinas Alabarino from Spain, which is the perfect summer white when served cold and accompanied by seafood or pasta.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: