Bookshelf | January / February 2014

A collection of reviewed books from the January / February 2014 print issue.

Absolute Value

The internet has changed everything, including marketing. In the past, marketers believed that customers made purchases based on factors like loyalty, brand awareness, and a certain amount of irrationality; in addition, marketers could craftily line up cheaper or costlier options to guide buyers toward specific mid-range products. But today, when search engines and smartphones allow consumers to instantly access reams of data about a product—including its price point, its technical specs, and its latest reviews—marketers have far less power. Simonson of Stanford and Rosen, a former marketing executive, identify three components of the Influence Mix, their framework for determining how customers make buying decisions: a customer’s prior experience, the marketer’s skill, and the data that can be acquired through information services and other people’s opinions. Today, customers rely on outside data for more and more purchases—that’s a sign, say the authors, that “marketing is changing forever.”Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen January 1, 2014 (Harper Business)

The Business School in the Twenty First Century

Is management education at a tipping point—or perhaps a tripping point, on the way to falling—as these authors suggest? They summarize how the industry got to the point where it is now, tracing the evolution of management education in Europe, the U.S., and Asia. And, like other critics, they decry the homogenization of programming, the emphasis on shareholder value, and the commitment to theoretical research, particularly in the U.S. As they encourage business schools to reinvent themselves, they examine diverse models offered by institutions such as UC Berkeley, the University of Toronto, Open University, and others. The authors—Thomas of Singapore Management University, Lorange of the Lorange Institute of Business, and Sheth of Emory—suggest various strategies schools can follow to stay viable, from reworking the curriculum to forming tighter corporate partnerships to designing new financial models. They’re not sure deans “have the stomach and expertise to drive through reforms.” But they’re sure reform is needed. Howard Thomas, Peter Lorange, and Jagdish Sheth January 1, 2014 (Cambridge University Press)

Can China Lead?

Many business and political observers believe China is poised to lead the world, but Abrami, Kirby, and McFarlan are doubtful. Unless the Chinese Communist Party loosens its hold over everything from education to government, they write, “the China ‘miracle’ as we have known it is coming to an end.” Although all three authors are from Harvard, they bring different perspectives: Kirby is a historian, Abrami a political economist, and McFarlan a general management expert. They insist that anyone wanting to do business in China first must study its long and complex history to understand its myths, its realities, and its current political structure. Only then will it be clear what China might—or might not— achieve in the future. The authors write, “In the absence of change in the political arena, we believe that China will remain a formidable competitor in global markets for both goods and ideas, but not the dominant one.” Regina M. Abrami, William C. Kirby, and F. Warren McFarlan January 1, 2014 (Harvard Business Review Press)

No Excuses

In a previous book, the authors explored the best ways to create a great workplace. In this follow-up, they examine why many business leaders believe their own organizations can’t achieve that kind of greatness—and then they demolish the excuses. For instance, they write, some leaders are convinced that all great workplaces offer specific benefits, such as healthcare coverage, that their own companies can’t afford. But it’s not true, they say: Only 14 percent of companies on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list offer fully paid health benefits. These companies are great because they craft their own unique approaches to employee satisfaction. Robin teaches at Bradley University and both authors are affiliated with the Great Place to Work Institute—and both of them believe leaders have a real incentive to make their organizations tremendous workplaces. They write, “There is no more certain avenue of increasing productivity, managing employee engagement, or creating the conditions for collaborative creativity than to create a great place to work.” Jennifer Robin and Michael Burchell January 1, 2014 (Jossey-Bass)