Bookshelf | September / October 2014

A collection of reviewed books from the September / October 2014 print issue.


“HOW DO YOU make an accountant seem interesting? Should we put him next to an economist?” The 29 contributors to this book—mostly economics professors—think the way to disprove that joke is to improve economics education. Wayne Geerling and G. Dirk Mateer point out that most economics classes are dry, boring, math-intensive, and seemingly immune to innovations in education. The writers propose bringing in video clips from movies and TV shows or showing student-made films—such as “Car Parking at La Trobe University: Is This a Case of Market Failure?”—that illuminate real-world economics in an understandable and enjoyable fashion. Other contributors outline games and simulations they’ve used in the classroom to help students learn how interest rates are set or how bargaining works in the marketplace. Yoram Bauman offers excerpts from the surprisingly extensive trove of economics humor. This fun and practical book could enrich any econ curriculum. Franklin G. Mixon Jr. and Richard J. Cebula (Edward Elgar, US$125)


WHEN AN MNC locates operations in an emerging nation, what role should the corporation play in the governance and prosperity of that country? Should that role be expanded if the corporation is an extractor of natural resources such as oil or metal? “The extent of a corporation’s responsibility in countries of weak government or effectively no government is one of the most difficult dilemmas faced by corporations,” writes former Shell executive Moody-Stuart. When government leaders engage in violent and corrupt behavior, he says,“it is clearly in the interests of a company, let alone society, to prevent it.” He paints unflinching portraits of his experiences in places like Oman, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Turkey, detailing both the systems that worked and the situations that went horribly wrong. Ultimately he concludes that the company has a societal obligation to work for improved conditions—but he is adamant that such involvement must be multilaterally achieved with the input of NGOs and local leaders. It’s a personal, powerful, and timely read. Mark Moody-Stuart (Greenleaf Publishing, US$35)


“LEADERS WHO truly seek to foster innovation must start by abandoning the ‘Follow me! I know the way!’ approach…[and] replace it with a different mindset about how leaders foster innovation from everyone in their organization.” So say Hill of Harvard, Brandeau of Pixar, Truelove of MIT, and Lineback, an executive and consultant. One key is for leaders to provide spaces that encourage creativity while controlling chaos. This system of “unleash and harness,” the authors admit, is a “fundamental paradox,” but essential to stimulating and profiting from innovation. They support their theories with detailed looks at executives in 12 companies, from Pixar to IBM. It’s worth the whole book to read about Vineet Nayar, who transformed HCL Technologies from a monolithic hardware/software company to an IT services firm of engaged employees. Among Nayar’s tools: an online portal called “My Problems,” where he asks employees to help him solve his own dilemmas. The book is practical, intriguing, and stuffed with ideas. Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback (Harvard Business Review Press, US$28)


THREE ECONOMICS professors take a series of road trips to discover how their classroom lessons play out in real-world small businesses. The result is both entertaining and informative as they present idiosyncratic individual case studies that illustrate basic business concepts. For instance, when the principle is establish barriers to entry, they visit an Arkansas purveyor of children’s furniture (where the market isn’t big enough to sustain two players); an Alabama fire-hose manufacturer (who knows that the high cost of investing in equipment will discourage rivals); and a Georgia company that makes supermarket misting systems (and has locked up most of the customers by creating an unbeatable price point). The authors—Mazzeo of Northwestern, Oyer of Stanford, and Schaefer of the University of Utah—display both charm and enthusiasm as they seek to answer the eternal questions: “Does this business have what it takes to succeed?...What does successful growth depend on?” The book offers an easy way to master hard lessons. Michael Mazzeo, Paul Oyer, and Scott Schaefer (Business Plus, US$27)


UP TO 90 percent of the time, when businesses attempt to implement change, they fail. Nickerson of Washington University in St. Louis hopes to improve those odds with a framework that helps middle managers achieve change. He writes, “Their basic task is to figure out how to get stakeholders up and down as well as across the organization to change their behaviors, routines, and activities so as to implement an initial (and often fuzzy) vision, conception, or design specified by higher-ups.” His framework requires first identifying who the stakeholders are, then developing appropriate approaches for each one. For instance, “complementers/ blockers” are stakeholders who aren’t directly involved in the project but possess some decision rights nonetheless. Nickerson suggests several “allow-in” strategies, such as inviting them to join the team or treating them as customers whose preferences will be considered. Following this framework, he believes, will “build extraordinary capabilities… that increase the likelihood of successfully achieving change from the middle.” Jackson Nickerson (Brookings Institution Press, US$29.95)