Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Review: Thread Across The Ocean

Thread Across The Ocean, by John Steele Gordon, is the story of the laying of the first transatlantic cable. This telegraph link provided for the first fast transmission of data between the US and Europe.

Perhaps surprising, this book isn't really about the power of global communication. The value of that is more or less assumed. Nope, this book is all about dealing with failure. And I mean big failure.

In this case, you had a company that was dealing with the brand new technology of under sea cables and managed to have, and cope with, every setback possible.

From cable construction issues to simply having it snap while laying it across the bottom of the ocean, this was Murphy's law in practice. And when, in an instant, the cable snapped, so did any chance of success. Time to go back and face the investors, and raise yet another round of funding.

The fact that they never gave up is a testament to both their vision as well as their chutzpah.

The neat part is all that you can learn from their adventure. The project demonstrates first hand how iteration, testing, contingency planning, R & D and formal process can take a potentially impossible problem and make it realizable.

Without these aspects, as their first attempt showed, the project would never have succeeded. Contrast that to their final attempt to lay the cable, which made the exercise appear almost easy.

Next time you are on an tricky project, pick this book up - it'll be a fun read and might inspire you to try something a bit different to do the impossible.

I give it an 8.1/10.

--Ben

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