Bookshelf | January / February 2015

A collection of reviewed books from the January / February 2015 print issue.

The Innovator's Method

It used to be standard for an entrepreneur to write a business plan before launching a new venture, say Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer. But such a plan is useless when the product is so new or different that the entrepreneur can’t predict demand or be sure the technology will be adopted. In that case, Furr and Dyer recommend a fourstep process that begins with customer insight and ends with a working model. The two BYU professors provide case studies that show this process works for all kinds of companies, from one-person ventures to 8,000-person behemoths. (Harvard Business Press Review, US$30)

From Great to Gone

Established companies selling fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) are rapidly failing in today’s economy. Why? They’re not innovating fast enough, according to Peter Lorange and Jimmi Rembiszewski of the Lorange Institute. They note that these struggling companies haven’t realized that they constantly have to offer something new to restless, hyperconnected early adopters. And sometimes when they do innovate, they guess wrong. For instance, during the early days of mobile phones, Nokia “focused on better phone functionality and smaller phones at a time when Apple chose ease of use combined with a multitude of novel functions.” We all know how that scenario ended. (Gower, US$85.45)

Teaching Entrepreneurship

Babson professors Heidi Neck, Patricia Greene, and Candida Brush emphasize that students need to be developed in five key areas: play, empathy, creation, experimentation, and reflection. Then they describe classroom exercises that build skills in these areas. For instance, students can practice play by building a structure out of spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallows, which helps them understand that entrepreneurs “rely on experimentation and iterative learning.” The book is both fun and useful. (Edward Elgar, US$145)

Anticipate

How can someone develop “vision,” always listed as a key component of leadership? Rob-Jan de Jong, who teaches in Wharton’s exec ed program, provides practical advice to wouldbe visionaries. For instance, they need to take a fresh look at their situations— perhaps by using the Random Entry Idea Generation Tool, which encourages them to connect an unexpected noun with their current situation. While “pizza slicer” might not immediately seem relevant, creative brainstorming opens up connections, which lead to ideas, which lead to new ways to see problems and think about the future. (Amacom, US$27.95)

The Social Life of Money

What is money? How did it originate? What part did it play in the global financial meltdown, and how will it evolve? Nigel Dodd of the London School of Economics addresses these questions and more in his exhaustively researched book. He first seeks to pin down the exact nature of money—“Is it a commodity or a social relation? … In what sense is it a claim upon society?”— and then he examines it from various historical and sociological standpoints. For instance, today’s debtors are often viewed as lazy and morally corrupt, but historically creditors have often been viewed as the greater evil. Unexpected and fascinating. (Princeton University Press, US$39.50)

Leading with Sense

When managing complex teams in chaotic environments, Valérie Gauthier advocates a leadership style she calls savoir-relier, defined as relational intelligence. “It helps managers find common ground between all sorts of things: employees of different races and ages, workers in different functional units, teams in different regions.” Gauthier details how she employed savoir-relier techniques to lead a turnaround of a troubled MBA program at HEC Paris. The result is a warm, practical, and thoughtful book. (Stanford Business Books, US$29.95)

The Leadership Shadow

Top executives are often supercharged with their successes, but the resulting hubris comes with a dark side, say Erik de Haan and Anthony Kasozi of Ashridge. Leaders won’t be effective for long unless they deal with the physical and psychological challenges of pride, anger, stress, impatience, and fear. The answer, the authors write, is “an ever better understanding of what drives us, what informs our responses at the most visceral level, and where our limitations lie when adapting to change.” (KoganPage, US$29.95)