Book Review: The Dragonfly Effect

by contributor on October 22, 2010 in Social Media

When was the last time you read a business book that made your eyes well up?  Probably never (unless, of course, you thought I meant tears of boredom – in which case, the answer is probably: often).  But The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith (Wiley, of course) will elicit an emotional response, despite being anything but boring.  In fact, in many ways, it’s anything but a business book — after all, it’s less about creating wealth through social channels than it is creating richness through them.  Richness of relationships, richness of experience, richness of life.  (I assure you, the book itself is far less hokey than the preceding sentence.)

Although I’d opened the book mindful of publishing a review on this blog, I abandoned that mindset on page 15.  It’s on that page that the scribbled notes in the margins shifted from “consider quote for lead” to “check if stuffworthsupporting.org is available for new blog” (it is) and “if I donated $25 per stuffworthsupporting post, would that look vapid?” (It would.)  In other words, I stopped imagining this review and instead began imagining ways I could implement the authors’ suggestions.

Ultimately, The Dragonfly Effect is about embracing disruptive technology to make a difference in the world, and, by extension, in one’s own life.  At the risk of oversimplifying the distinguished careers of the authors, Aaker is one of the world’s preeminent experts on our relationship with “happiness,” while Smith is a tech-industry A-lister.  Together they unwrap ways – immensely practical, do-able ways – for each of us to enrich our lives, and the lives of those around us, by employing the social Web to inspire others to support whatever it is we care most deeply about.

The Dragonfly Effect is an unconventional book inasmuch as it’s ostensibly about technology, but really it’s about humanity.  Technology, particularly social networks, is simply the connective tissue between people.  A corollary to the rule that the Internet provides a disproportionate advantage to emerging companies, Aaker and Smith argue that by harnessing the very design of social media, individuals, too, can have a disproportionate effect on the world around them.

Design?  Yes.  Design.  You see, the authors liken social media to the dragonfly’s physique.  (Does an insect have a “physique”?)  Apparently, according to the authors, thanks to the dragonfly’s unique four-winged design, it is the only insect that can move briskly in any direction.  This physical structure serves as an extended metaphor throughout the book.  Each chapter cleverly maps to an individual wing – Focus, Get Attention, Engage, Take Action – and, by exacting command over each, the reader can move his cause in any direction, with the power and dexterity of the dragonfly.

The writing itself is similarly unconventional.  It contains stories that are positively heartbreaking, and it tells them with a delicious combination of precision and emotion.  It also is speckled with “For Dummies”-like tidbits and how-to tips, making it feel more like a business title.  Meanwhile the helpful “voice,” charmingly simple flow charts and generous citations are reminiscent of a textbook.  There is even a dash of science (e.g., “And even the smallest act of kindness … can result in a surge in dopamine.”).  Honestly, I’ve never read a book quite like this.  It is absolutely fascinating in both substance and style.

Read it if you want to be smarter about social media; read it if you want to be smarter about sociology.  Read it if you want to learn something; read it if you want to feel something.  Read it if you want to change your organization; read it if you simply want change.  Just read it.  Because, I assure you, there’s nothing else quite like it.  (If your fall reading list is getting the better of you, there’s always the Dragonfly Effect Blog, which is a useful starting point.)

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