Bookshelf | March / April 2014

A collection of reviewed books from the March / April 2014 print issue.


DOBSON DOESN’T WASTE time or mince words as she lays out her central premise: “The relationship between China and the United States is central to any strategic view of the world in the twenty-first century.” But the two countries have a complex relationship, freighted with history and marked by rivalry in the modern era. She analyzes the factors that will shape their relationship in the coming decade, from the deep interdependence between countries to China’s internal political and economic challenges. She then explains how these factors are affected by China’s view of itself as a great nation that has experienced periodic humiliations. Dobson hopes that, if they work hard to understand each other’s cultures and respect each other’s goals, China and the U.S. can avoid the “traditional Great Power competition.” She writes, “In a deeply connected world, the consequences of conflict as a result of misunderstanding, miscalculation, or accident are prohibitively high, and there is little place for zero-sum politics.” Wendy Dobson(University of Toronto Press)


WHILE WESTERN corporations invest in highly structured R&D that doesn’t always yield results, small-scale entrepreneurs in emerging nations solve wicked problems with inventions that are simple, creative, effective, and inexpensive. These entrepreneurs, say the authors, are embracing the spirit of jugaad, a Hindi word that means “an improvised solution born from ingenuity.” In other words, these entrepreneurs see adversity as an opportunity, not a setback. They do more with less; they’re flexible and quick to adapt; they seek out under-served customers; and they employ empathy and passion instead of market research and focus groups. The authors profile entrepreneurs from BRIC nations who have created inventions such as a refrigerator that needs no energy source and a cell phone for the blind. The authors— Radjou and Prabhu of the University of Cambridge and Ahuja, a consultant—believe Western corporations can integrate jugaad principles into their own cultures. In fact, Western organizations must if they are to deal with the realities of today’s complex world: “scarcity, diversity, inter-connectivity, velocity, and breakneck globalization.” Their book is both a sobering and exciting read. Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, Simone Ahuja (Jossey-Bass)


MOST BUSINESSES STRIVE for continuous improvement and additional growth, but how can leaders infuse enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence throughout the expanding organization? Sutton and Rao, both of Stanford, interview dozens of business leaders at Google, Pixar, IDEO, and other innovative companies to develop guidelines for proselytizing excellence. These include: Spread a mindset, not just a footprint; engage all the senses; link shortterm realities to long-term dreams; accelerate accountability; avoid the traps of impatience and incompetence; add and subtract protocols; and slow down when necessary. They’re quick to point out that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for success, and they acknowledge that scaling up excellence can be a messy process with occasional missteps. The task is also unending, they write: Organizations that sustain excellence are motivated by “that often uncomfortable urge for constant innovation, driven by the nagging feeling that things are never quite good enough.” Uncomfortable, maybe—but highly productive. Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao (Crown Business)


IT DOESN’T MATTER how great your product is or how efficiently you work; if you’re not competing in the right part of the market, you’ll fail. It’s all about setting priorities, insists Putsis, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill: “Companies need to make choices about allocating scarce resources. Not only must they decide in what part of the market they should compete, but they must also adopt the right tactics.” He emphasizes how important it is to understand the external business environment, which can’t be controlled by an individual company, and to exploit the value chain, which sometimes can. For instance, he examines Google Glass, a wearable wi-fi device that keeps users constantly updated about essential information. But it only works when there’s unbroken Internet access—which is one reason Google is providing ubiquitous high-speed broadband service in test markets. If Google owns the Internet connection, it has leverage at every other point “in the value chain and gives the company a complete solution no one else can offer,” Putsis writes. That might be an extreme example, but it’s certainly a convincing one. William Putsis (Wiley)


EVEN DISRUPTION HAS been disrupted. Old theories considered how innovators created new markets, targeted underserved markets, or focused on niche markets. But today’s innovators attack all markets, all at once, frequently using mobile cloud-based computing that enables them to create products with almost no investment of infrastructure or IT. These disruptors might not even be setting out to shake up the industry. “Usually, they’re just tossing something shiny in the direction of your customers, hoping to attract them to a business that’s completely different from yours,” write Downes, an Internet analyst and columnist, and Nunes of the Accenture Institute for High Performance. The authors offer 12 tips for surviving and creating Big Bang disruptions. These include staying hypervigilant, changing directions swiftly, abandoning old assets if necessary—and always looking for the next opportunity. Larry Downes and Paul Nunes (Portfolio/Penguin)