Bookshelf | July / August 2016

A collection of reviewed books from the July / August 2016 print issue.


After studying more than 170 successful startups, entrepreneur Bobby Martin concludes that they all follow a growth pattern that mimics the shape of a hockey stick. At the tip of the blade is the tinkering phase, where the founders develop their ideas; next comes the flat blade phase, where they commit to founding the company; then they angle into the inflection point, where sales begin to take off; finally, they enjoy the upward phase of surging growth. Each stage comes with its challenges, and Martin provides examples of entrepreneurs who handled them well or poorly. Even the period of surging growth can be dicey, as entrepreneurs learn that the skills they needed to launch a company aren’t the same ones they need to keep it growing. He peppers the text with 92 “hockey stick principles” that often run counter to conventional wisdom—including “You don’t need a good idea” and “Your time and cost estimates will always be wrong.” It’s a fast, engaging, and helpful read. (Flatiron Books, US$27.99)


America Online co-founder Steve Case presents a rollicking ride through the early days of the Internet and AOL. But he’s offering more than history here; he’s looking at the future. The first wave of the Internet was about infrastructure, he says, while the second one has been about mobility and social networking. “The Third Wave of the Internet will be defined not by the Internet of Things; it will be defined by the Internet of Everything…[and] every industry in every economic sector is at risk of being disrupted.” While brash young second-wave entrepreneurs were able to launch ideas first and monetize later, Case believes third-wave leaders will need old-school business skills to succeed. They’ll have to build partnerships across sectors, know how to navigate the policy landscape, and overcome barriers to entry. And they’ll need to do it soon. As he puts it, “The Third Wave is cresting. And whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to embrace it or a corporation trying to brace for it, this is not an event you can afford to ignore.” (Simon & Schuster, US$26.95)


As the buying public grows more interested in sustainable design, more companies promote their green products and processes—and more companies lie about how environmentally conscious they really are. “The bottom line is that greenwashing has become yet another strategy that has emerged in order to adapt to changes in consumer demands and external expectations,” writes Pascual Berrone of IESE in this self-published book. After tracing the history of the environmental movement, he takes a look at the steps companies take to present themselves as green. He finds that purely symbolic actions, such as community development and environmental reporting, are not nearly as useful to a company’s reputation as substantive actions such as investing in responsible resource management. In fact, he writes, “symbolic procedures negatively impact reputation, which in turn takes its toll on the market, damaging a firm’s market capitalization.” His overall conclusion: “Greenwashing is not a viable strategy as the risks are too great; short-term gains cannot thwart long-term necessities.” (CreateSpace, US$29.95)


In the factory-driven Industrial Age, conformity was the key to success in the workplace, but “fitting in” is not the best strategy in today’s era of innovation. In fact, the best leaders are those who have personality quirks that set them apart, that make them seem distinct—and, yes, that make them appear authentic. Karissa Thacker, a management consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of Delaware, challenges readers to identify their own “signature contributions” and harness them for the workplace. She asks, “What is the unique combination of skills and perspectives that only you can bring?” She draws on recent research in psychology to show that we all have multiple facets to our personalities and that, more than self-awareness, we need “selves awareness” to understand why we react differently in different situations. It is the manager’s job, she argues, to create an environment where people can bring their best—i.e., their authentic—selves to work. “People are always calculating how much they can trust their leaders,” she writes. “It is the leader’s responsibility to create a climate in which people are safe to tell the truth.” (Wiley, US$25)


If you looked at U.S. Steel’s first annual report in 1902 and compared it to the company’s 2012 version, you’d see structurally identical presentations of balance sheets and income statements. The fact that data reporting seems “frozen in time” is a serious problem for the accounting field, according to Baruch Lev of NYU and Feng Gu of SUNY Buffalo. They write, “We grade the ubiquitous corporate financial report information as largely unfit for twenty-first century investment and lending decisions.” They propose a new type of report that includes information about “patents, brands, technology, natural resources, operating licenses, customers, business platforms…and unique enterprise relationships.” This sharp, smart book takes a new look at an old discipline. (Wiley, US$49.95)


Many of us believe we’re living in a time of unprecedented change, but Jim Dewald of the University of Calgary doesn’t agree. Today’s corporations are only improving efficiency and streamlining costs; they aren’t developing true inventions that can cause paradigm shifts along the lines of the automobile or distributed electricity. In fact, present-day companies strive to be too much like their competitors, he believes, which is causing commoditization of products and ultimately the failure of the firm. What’s needed in corporations today, he argues, is an innovative mindset—an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages companies to experiment with new ideas. While corporations have “the money, the ideas, the brainpower, the leadership capabilities, the sales channels, the suppliers, the research facilities, the customers, the status” to be entrepreneurial, he writes, they lack the will to take risks. But if they don’t take risks, they won’t survive. He offers a framework to help corporations overcome barriers to innovation in their quest to achieve longevity. (University of Toronto Press, US$32.95)


We all believe we know our own minds when it comes to picking a college, a car, or a spouse. But the truth is, we all constantly take into account the opinions of others before we make our own decisions. In fact, according to Wharton’s Jonah Berger, “Ninety-nine percent of all decisions are shaped by others.” This pervasive “social influence” has deep implications for the business world. For instance, social influence causes people to publicly subscribe to the opinions other people have expressed, even if they don’t agree; however, if even one other person presents an opposing view, everyone else feels freer to speak up. Thus, company leaders who want diverse input should solicit it privately or encourage that lone dissenting voice. Social influence also leads us to trust others who look or act like us; therefore, negotiators who mimic the behavior of their counterparts are five times more likely to close the deal. What’s even more interesting is that most people aren’t aware that social influence occurs—until they read books like this. (Simon & Schuster, US$26.99)