Bookshelf | January / February 2016

A collection of reviewed books from the January / February 2016 print issue.

The Industries of the Future

Because of Japan’s aging population, the country doesn’t have enough young caregivers to look after its elderly—and one solution might be robots. Powerhouses Honda and Toyota are designing mechanical creations that can communicate, do household tasks, and even provide entertainment. And these robots are built to be humanoid companions that fit into the home. “Just as the Japanese companies reinvented cars in the 1970s and consumer electronics in the 1980s, they are now reinventing the family,” writes Alec Ross, visiting professor at Johns Hopkins and Hillary Clinton’s former senior advisor on innovation. Ross believes the robotics field is one of five that will drive the next 20 years of change; the other four are advanced life sciences, cybersecurity, big data, and the application of computer code to commerce. While he expects that many of these breakthroughs will bring wealth to a few and higher standards of living to many, other changes will devastate existing industries and the people who work within them. As he notes, “Innovation brings both promise and peril.” (Simon & Schuster, US$28)

Vaporized

"Whatever can be vaporized, will be,”asserts digital pioneer Robert Tercek.“That means any part of your business or product that can be replaced by pure digital information almost certainly will be.” That might be old news for the printing and music fields, but it’s an unwelcome prediction for other long-established industries. Digital entrepreneurs have stopped selling the packaging of information, Tercek explains—the book, the CD, the map—and are simply selling the information itself, digitally, instantly, wirelessly, directly, and simultaneously to an audience of millions. To survive, he warns, companies must surrender their allegiance to legacy products and embrace the possibilities of the digital model. For instance, Mergenthaler Linotype Company weathered the implosion of the century-old typesetting business by licensing its most popular fonts to upstart Adobe. Leaders in other fields must look for similar opportunities. Says Tercek, “There’s really no excuse for companies that don’t see what is coming next.” (LifeTree Media, US$26.99)

Phishing for Phools

The free market system is a powerful economic engine—but it’s not necessarily a benign one, suggest Georgetown’s George Akerlof and Yale’s Robert Shiller. “The economic system is filled with trickery, and everyone needs to know that,” they write. They take their title from the verb for impersonating a legitimate company over the Internet in order to glean personal information, but they expand it to cover almost any kind of financial transaction, from buying a candy bar to playing the stock market. They draw on psychology to explore how humans often crave what’s bad for them, show how those cravings warp the perfect equilibrium of the free market—and explain how unscrupulous marketers play on those cravings. They offer some ideas for how populations can be protected from predators but their key message is clear: We’re all susceptible to phishing. We all must be on guard. (Princeton University Press, US$24.95)

The Process Matters

If you’re laid off but your boss isn’t a jerk about it, you’re much less likely to sue the company for wrongful termination. That insight is only one of the many offered by Columbia Business School’s Joel Brockner as he shows that how people perceive an event matters almost as much as the event itself. In particular, they’re more accepting of negative outcomes if they believe the process of deciding those outcomes has been fair. For instance, if half the workforce has been downsized, but managers carefully and authentically explain the financial reasons behind their actions, the surviving employees are less likely to complain, lose motivation, or look for other jobs. Employees care less about fair process when the results are to their liking. But, as Brockner points out, “It is typically much easier for managers to achieve high process fairness than it is for them to deliver favorable outcomes.” Thus, he suggests ways managers can include employees in the process while maintaining trust—and keeping the best workers. (Princeton University Press, US$27.95)

The Silo Effect

Academics are no strangers to the disadvantages of working in silos—or the challenges of breaking out of them. But Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett goes far beyond the ivory tower to examine the obstructive effects of silos and the astonishing results that can be achieved when organizations break down barriers between units. For example, she describes how a youthful squad of data geeks in Michael Bloomberg’s New York City administration predicted where deadly building fires might occur by collating data from tax, fraud, and historical records. She mixes success stories about organizations that shared data (Facebook, the Cleveland Clinic) with cautionary tales about companies that didn’t (Sony, financial institutions before the crash of 2008). While she admits that silos of teams with specialized knowledge can “tidy up the world,” she is adamant that they also can be damaging. “Silos can create tunnel vision, or mental blindness, which causes people to do stupid things.” (Simon & Shuster, US$28)

Research to Review

As entrepreneurship becomes established on more university campuses, greater numbers of faculty are inventing and launching new products backed by university technology transfer offices (TTOs). Since 1980, when the Bayh-Dole Act laid out the rights and responsibilities of universities commercializing any inventions supported by federal funds, the number of TTOs in the U.S. has grown from fewer than ten to more than 100. Don Rose of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Cam Patterson of New York-Presbyterian Hospital explore the unique facets of university entrepreneurship, from recognizing when theoretical research can result in practical products to managing conflicts of interest between faculty and administrations. A complex and timely topic. (The University of North Carolina Press, US$35)

Evolving Entrepreneurial Education

What does it take to teach entrepreneurial thinkers? Perhaps a more innovative, cross-disciplinary approach to education. Representing fields ranging from marketing to the humanities, 45 contributors delve into strategies they’ve honed at Babson College, where “Entrepreneurial Thinking and Action” is the driving force. One chapter describing the school’s math and science curriculum explains why Babson students must take four courses in these topics, while another explains the use of “Quickfire” challenges—such as those on reality show Top Chef—to immerse students in time-constrained competitions where they must solve real-world problems. To graduate creative, fearless, responsible entrepreneurs, business schools “need to strike a balance between problem and mystery, abstraction and concreteness, analysis and intuition, simplification and diversity,” write co-authors Nathaniel Karst, from math and science, and Rosa Slegers, from arts and humanities. Co-edited by Karst, Slegers, Victoria Crittenden from marketing, and Kathryn Esper from the school’s Center for Engaged Learning & Teaching, this is a book written by professors for professors—who all share a passion for teaching entrepreneurs. (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, US$55)