Bookshelf | September / October 2016

A collection of reviewed books from the September / October 2016 print issue.

BEYOND COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Most business leaders believe they will enjoy competitive advantage if they find and occupy a specific position in the marketplace, but Todd Zenger of the University of Utah insists that market position is just the beginning. Leaders need a “corporate theory” that will guide them in their ongoing quest for value creation; without it, their businesses will stagnate. According to Zenger, corporate theory consists of three parts: the foresight to predict how an industry will evolve; the insight to determine which company assets and resources create unique value for the firm; and the cross-sight to realize which company assets can yield complementary value. Walt Disney was one of the best corporate theorists, says Zenger, who includes a copy of Disney’s hand-drawn chart showing how the company’s movies, TV show, books, and theme parks would all reinforce each other’s power. Every business needs such a corporate theory, says Zenger, to act as “a narrative, an explanation, or even an image that reveals how a particular company can accumulate value or compose competitive advantages over time.” (Harvard Business Review Press, US$35)

THE 100-YEAR LIFE

“A child born in the West today has a more than 50 percent chance of living to be over 105, while by contrast, a child born over a century ago had a less than 1 percent chance of living to that age,” write Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott of the London Business School. While extended longevity has profound effects on all components of our lives, from health to happiness, one of its most critical aspects will be the way it makes us rethink our finances. Gratton and Scott are convinced that we are nearing the end of the “three-stage life,” in which people segue from education to work to retirement. Instead, individuals will need to develop multistage lives, where they take breaks and sabbaticals as they learn new skills and embark on new careers. The authors also believe that people will be working longer—into their 80s—or they simply will not have enough money to live. These employment patterns will force corporations to retool their own hiring and retirement practices, a shift that will probably be slow and messy, the authors predict. Even so, they’re excited about the future. They write, “With foresight and planning, a long life is a gift, not a curse.” (Bloomsbury, US$28)

 

BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Dorothée Baumann-Pauly and Justine Nolan, both affiliated with the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, edited this collection of essays that considers what role corporations should play in safeguarding human rights. Must they make a business case for ethical behavior and sustainable practices? What is their responsibility for protecting workers if a corrupt government does not enforce lax regulations? Contributors include academics from business, law, and political science, as well as leaders from businesses and NGOs. They recount details of workplace tragedies that occurred in Bhopal and Bangladesh and how these events led to changes in corporate policies. They explore the attitudes of top CEOs, such as Apple leader Tim Cook, who declares, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.” The authors tend to see hopeful progress, but many obstacles ahead and few clear paths around them. “For sustained improvements to occur, a multiplicity of stakeholders must be involved,” writes Nolan. “The focus should be both on implementing practical industry-specific standards as well as refining an improved regulatory framework that may operate across sectors.” (Routledge, US$170)

Startup Checklist

THE STARTUP CHECKLIST

Author and investor David Rose provides a comprehensive, common-sense, and easy-to-understand handbook on everything new entrepreneurs need to know to launch startups with the potential for high growth. He covers the basics, such as writing a business plan or creating a “business canvas,” but he also gets into the details of finding financing, dividing equity, and working with lawyers. He’s not shy with his opinions: While he outlines the various possible business structures, he adds that launching a C corporation is the only serious option in the real world. He notes that entrepreneurs could find out if anyone would buy their minimum viable product by advertising it online with a “buy now” button and seeing how many people click on it—even if there isn’t a product ready for sale. It’s an entertaining and helpful read. (Wiley, US$32)

 

 

Managing in the Gray

MANAGING IN THE GRAY

Difficult, messy problems with no clear answers are the ones that commonly fall on the desks of top managers. To solve them, leaders must do more than gather facts and perform analyses; they must draw on their “intelligence, feelings, imagination, life experience, and…sense of what really matters, at work and in life.” Harvard’s Joseph L. Badaracco proposes five essential questions that leaders can ask about any situation to help them determine what they must do: What are the net, net consequences? What are my core obligations? What will work in the world as it is? Who are we? What can I live with? He explores each question in turn, examining how it has been used by great philosophers and thinkers of the past and how it illuminates dilemmas and tragedies of the present. For instance, he notes that “the first great humanist question asks you to look directly at the ugly consequences. In particular, you have to look at outcomes that impose hardship and serious risk on innocent people.” It’s an outlook that is simultaneously sobering and uplifting. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$35)

 

Streaming Sharing Stealing

STREAMING, SHARING, STEALING

For 100 years, despite changes in technology and delivery methods, the entertainment fields of books, movies, and music each have been dominated by three to six major players who controlled both talent and distribution. But even though they’ve demonstrated their ability to weather intermittent upheavals, they’ve never faced concentrated concurrent assaults from multiple sources—until now, say Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang, both of Carnegie Mellon. The authors list the range of changes ushered in by digital technologies: distribution channels with nearly unlimited capacity, global digital piracy networks, new low-cost production techniques that enable anyone to produce content, new powerful distributors such as Amazon and Apple, and advanced computing and storage facilities. This “converging set of technological and economic changes…together are altering the nature of scarcity in these markets, and therefore threatening to shift the foundations of power and profit in these important industries,” write Smith and Telang. The answer? “If the entertainment industries hope to prosper in the rapidly changing business landscape of the digital age, they will have to harness the power of detailed customer-level data and embrace a culture of data-driven decision making.” The rest of the book explains how. (MIT Press, US$29.95)

 

Pre-suasion

PRE-SUASION

If you want to convince people to buy a product or join an activity, the first thing you must do is create a “privileged moment” that predisposes them in your favor. For instance, scientists who asked shoppers to participate in a survey only successfully engaged 29 percent of those they approached—until they first led off with the question, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Nearly everyone answered yes. When the next question was, “Will you participate in this survey?” 77.3 percent said yes, because they wanted to stay aligned with their “helpful” personas. Arizona State’s Robert Cialdini presents this and dozens of other examples of the preparatory work marketers, advertisers, and bosses can employ to persuade others to agree to a plan of action or behave in a certain way. He knows there are strong ethical questions to consider, and he devotes a chapter to them. But he also presents a fascinating and engaging glimpse into the world of persuasion, and it’s a lot more pervasive and evanescent than we might think. To get someone to consider your product or your proposal, he notes, “it’s not necessary to alter a person’s beliefs or attitudes or experiences. It’s not necessary to alter anything at all except what’s prominent in that person’s mind at the moment of decision.” (Simon & Schuster, US$28)

Emotional Agility

EMOTIONAL AGILITY

What holds you back from achieving your dreams both at work and at home? Most likely, it’s you: your self-doubting thoughts, your habitual behaviors, your negative attitudes. Harvard’s Susan David—a psychologist, coach, and consultant—presents evidence that people need to understand and work with their negative emotions while not letting old patterns dominate their lives. When they master that skill, which she calls emotional agility, “they are able to tolerate high levels of stress and to endure setbacks, while remaining engaged, open, and receptive.” She explores the four “essential movements” of emotional agility: showing up, stepping out, “walking your why,” and moving on. She backs each one with current behavioral research and field examples that include exercises she’s led for high-level executives. “Our raw feelings can be the messengers we need to teach us things about ourselves and can prompt insights into important life directions,” she writes. They’re not always welcome messengers, but they’re essential. (Avery, US$27)