Bookshelf | March / April 2016

A collection of reviewed books from the March / April 2016 print issue.

SMALL DATA

More business experts are analyzing massive amounts of aggregated data to uncover trends and consumer buying patterns, but brand consultant Martin Lindstrom thinks that big data obscures the big picture. As someone who interviews consumers, examines household refrigerators, and goes through trash seeking minute clues about how people live, Lindstrom believes that the individual experience can provide marketers with crucial information about customer preferences. For instance, he relates how studies relying on big data predicted that LEGO would be left behind as young digital natives preferred to design virtual mansions online instead of building structures with toy bricks. But interactions with children who enjoyed mastering complex physical challenges convinced Lindstrom and LEGO executives to invest even more heavily in their core product—leading LEGO sales to exceed US$2 billion. Through these and other stories, Lindstrom provides convincing evidence that small data is just as crucial as big. (St. Martin’s Press, US$25.99)

THE STORYTELLER’S SECRET

A great idea will only prosper if the person who has it can inspire others to believe in it. Journalist and communications coach Carmine Gallo believes there’s one sure way to do that: Tell a compelling story. Gallo does just that, spinning tales about successful businesspeople from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, before sifting through the tales for the useful lessons. For instance, he analyzes the career of TV producer Mark Burnett, who launched such megahits as “Survivor” and “The Voice,” and concludes that Burnett exhibits the essential trait of optimism. Gallo goes on to quote neuroscientist Solomon Snyder, who discovered that scientists who have made the greatest breakthrough discoveries all possessed an optimism so great it qualified as audacity. “Successful storytellers believe in the strength of their ideas,” he concludes. And they persuade others to do the same. (St. Martin’s Press, US$15.99)

DRIVEN BY DIFFERENCE

While many studies show that diverse teams lead to greater innovation, the benefits of that diversity can be squandered if leaders don’t have the “cultural intelligence” (CQ) to ensure that all voices are heard, writes David Livermore of the Cultural Intelligence Center. Livermore identifies four capabilities that people with CQ possess: the drive to adapt cross-culturally; the knowledge to understand intercultural norms and differences; the strategy skills to plan around different cultural expectations; and the ability to act appropriately. Why is CQ so important? If a team has low CQ, Livermore says, it doesn’t matter if it’s diverse; the minority members won’t speak up to offer their insights. Only when diverse teams have high cultural intelligence—when all members feel their opinions are valued—will businesses reap the rewards of diversity. (AMACOM, US$27.95)/pr>

CONNECT

Throughout the long history of commerce, business often has been at odds with society, as unscrupulous robber barons and profiteers exploited workers and devastated environments. Lord John Browne, former CEO of BP, believes that, to avoid the abuses of the past, companies have to “engage radically” with stakeholders by “being brave enough to embrace genuine openness, farsighted enough to make friends before they need them and to communicate in a language that exudes authenticity rather than propaganda.” Browne and his two co-authors—Robin Nuttall of McKinsey and Tommy Stadlen of Polaroid—first offer a historical perspective, relating hair-raising tales about bloody clashes between workers and business owners in sites as diverse as Zimbabwe and Pennsylvania. But they also share stories about companies such as Cadbury and Hershey, who made worker satisfaction a central tenet of their operations, and BP, which succeeded in volatile markets when it engaged with indigenous populations. (That was long before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred after Browne’s time at the helm and which he references in the book.) The authors admit that the relationship between business and society has been “intermittently dysfunctional for over 2,000 years”—but with this book, they show that they think it can be fixed. (Public Affairs, US$27.99)

SPRINT

Have a new product you want to test or a tough problem you want to solve? Try the fast, focused, five-day “sprint” outlined by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures. They lay out a precise blueprint for how to assemble a team and how to progress from Monday’s discussion of the challenge at hand to Friday’s test of a prototype in the presence of real consumers. The authors recommend the compressed format because the looming deadline forces team members to solve a single, critical challenge and “shortcut the endless-debate cycle” companies often fall into as they try to determine where to pour their resources. The book is full of fun but instructive stories about service robots and coffee obsessives, as well as a wealth of details about running a successful sprint. For instance, the ideal team has seven members; iPhones and other devices should be banned from the room; and the best snacks to have on hand are apples, yogurt, and nuts. The book will make you want to prototype a new offering even if you don’t already have one in mind. (Simon & Schuster, US$28)

PLATFORM REVOLUTION

The business Goliaths of the future won’t be those that launch a new product or efficiently streamline a production process. They’ll be the companies that excel at bringing together communities of people with ideas or services to exchange. In other words, they will be masters of the platforms that enable people to interact. For instance, Facebook produces no content and Airbnb owns no real estate; but because they help people communicate and find places to sleep, they’re worth billions. Exploring what platforms are and how they can fail are co-authors Geoffrey Parker, who will leave Tulane for Dartmouth this summer; Marshall Van Alstyne of Boston University; and industry analyst Paul Choudary. For instance, they explain that platforms rely on positive network effects—the more users there are, the more value there is for each user; the more value there is, the more users join. But this virtuous cycle can quickly turn vicious if value evaporates and users flee. Not surprisingly, the authors predict that platforms can be designed to disrupt any industry—including education—that relies on a flow of information between parties. They write, “Digital connectivity and the platform model it makes possible are changing the world forever.” (W.W. Norton, US$26.95)

THE MARKETING REVOLUTION IN POLITICS

Since Dwight Eisenhower’s successful run for the U.S. presidency in 1952, politicians have been borrowing marketing tactics from big business. But the politician who has really changed the game is Barack Obama, who engaged in “the most advanced use of micro-targeting techniques that had ever been witnessed in a political campaign,” writes Bruce Newman of DePaul University. Newman explores the similarities between marketing a product and marketing a candidate—for instance, both types of campaigns need to retain loyalists while attracting new believers. They also must create a marketing concept, use technology strategically, and develop a unique brand identity. Of course, there are key differences as well. A president has to react almost daily to highly volatile and changing market conditions, while product marketers might face crises once or twice a year. But the two spheres have been studying each other for decades now, and Newman shows what business can learn from the master strategist currently in the White House. Timely and intriguing. (University of Toronto Press, US$32.95)


TECHNOLOGY AND THE DISRUPTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION

Henry Lucas of the University of Maryland isn’t the first to point out that universities are as vulnerable to wholesale disruption as the music and publishing industries, but he certainly lays out the case in a pretty convincing fashion in this self-published book. He also considers the potential disruption within the context of a whole continuum of pressures facing higher education, from rising tuition rates to shrinking state support to changing faculty roles. He believes that MOOCs, hybrid courses, and other technology-enabled learning systems are generally great for students: They push students to take more responsibility for their learning, help them develop critical thinking skills, are less expensive, and fit seamlessly into their schedules. But disruptive technology is a mixed bag for universities themselves. While it will prove transformational for the universities that successfully adopt it, he predicts, those who resist incorporating it into their long-term strategies could fail completely. And soon. (Create Space, US$18.94)