Bookshelf | May / June 2017

A collection of reviewed books from the May / June 2017 print issue.


Employees in high-trust organizations are substantially more productive, have more energy at work, stay with their employers longer… more effectively collaborate with coworkers, suffer less chronic stress, and are happier and healthier,” writes Paul J. Zak of Claremont Graduate University. He has the neuroscience to back up his claims, and he provides fascinating examples of what blood samples show about brain chemistry when trust is high. But he goes farther, demonstrating how organizations can systematically create high-trust cultures that boost employee satisfaction and promote smooth teamwork. He describes eight building blocks of organizational trust, such as celebrating successes and clarifying expectations, and offers suggestions for how to achieve them. “None of the management policies that influence trust are new,” he writes. “What is new is that neuroscience provides a framework to understand how culture impacts intrinsic motivation so that policy changes are not made willy-nilly.” (AMACOM, US$24)


When China first began allowing private enterprise in the late 1970s, the earliest entrepreneurs had no history of capitalism to draw on. They had to learn to run their businesses by trying and failing, by reading voraciously, and by visiting Western enterprises. And they had to do it all in a country that was still hostile to business, where political instability meant that an entrepreneur who was encouraged to launch a private company under one regime might be imprisoned for “disrupting the economic order of socialism” under the next one. Michael Useem, Harbir Singh, and Peter Cappelli of Wharton join with Neng Liang of CEIBS to follow the careers of some of the earliest and most successful Chinese business leaders, including those heading Alibaba and Lenovo. They identify seven distinctive features that characterize the “China Way” of doing business, including an emphasis on continuous improvement, an exceptional commitment to the top leader, and an overriding focus on constant growth. Because these leaders learned to thrive in a volatile market, the authors believe, they have much to teach today’s CEOs at MNCs: “The ways they operate may be better suited for the new global order.” (Public Affairs, US$27.99)


The century-old business model of building and selling auto- mobiles could be wholly disrupted once Google’s self-driving cars hit the market, offering customers entertainment and convenience options in addition to basic mobility.  “Google as a different mental model understanding of what a car represents,” explain Carsten Linz of SAP and Günter Müller-Stewens and Alexander Zimmermann of the University of St. Gallen. In fact, business models in nearly every sector are poised for disruption as two key trends converge: digitization, in which companies merge physical and digital offerings; and servitization, in which companies focus on selling integrated products and services. As these forces gain traction, the traditional business model is morphing along two dimensions—inclusiveness (more offerings in more integrated formats) and customization. The authors describe how companies from Apple to Rolls-Royce are changing the game or revamping their classic models, and they warn that companies that don’t adapt are likely to vanish within a decade. They write, “The key criterion for differentiation in the market is no longer better quality or lower prices, but a superior business model.” (Kogan Page, US$39.95)


It’s not complicated, its complex, writes Dalhousie’s Rick Nason, who explains the differences as he describes the growing field of complexity thinking. A complicated problem—say, writing a quarterly accounting report—can be broken into discrete parts and solved with reproducible formulas. But a complex challenge involves an unknown number of steps and is dependent on constantly changing outside factors. For instance, there is complexity involved in making a winning sales presentation to a valuable client who is also being wooed by competitors. But managers often fail to identify complexity. “The modern business community of consultants, experts, MBAs and media-savvy business leaders has created an expectation and a belief that, if only enough brainpower and critical thinking are applied to any business or economic problem, a perfectly implementable solution will eventually be found, ” Nason writes. This view leads to actions that are “counterproductive and ultimately harmful,” he believes. He offers strategies for managing complexity—and identifying it in the workplace. (University of Toronto Press, US$32.95)


In today’s tumultuous business climate, high-potential leaders, or “hipos,” are more crucial than ever, so they must be identified and developed as rapidly as possible. Accord- ing to consultant Ram Charan and writer Geri Willigan, hipos share three character- istics: They imagine on a large scale, they seek advice and input from any source, and they understand the complex ecosystem of business. They also perfect key skills, such as making the best use of their time in many ways: by delegating, especially to people who are better than they are; by constantly looking for responsibilities they can eliminate; and by customizing their data flow so they always see important information but aren’t bogged down by petty details. “Email is the AK-47 of commu- nications, and it can mow you down if you don’t take defensive measures,” the authors write. They aim much of the book at the hipos themselves, though they reserve the last chapter for advising managers on how to develop these individuals into leaders. That’s essential, they note, because “leadership talent should be seen as a resource to be managed and grown for the organization as a whole.” (Wiley, US$30)


The classic view of innovation is that it is driven by need; innovators seek solutions to existing problems. But when technology and crowdsourcing quickly provide dozens of solutions to almost any problem, Roberto Verganti of  Politecnico di Milano thinks innovation should be driven by the search for meaning: What do people love, and why? He points to candles as an example. In the past, people stocked candles as backup illumination in case of power failures, but ubiquitous smartphones all have flashlight apps that offer better lighting solutions. Yet, sales of candles have soared in recent years because innovators like Yankee Candle have focused on new meanings for the product: delivering scents and providing a sense of warmth to a house. Verganti believes innovation should be driven from the inside-out— that is, innovators should create new products based on what they themselves love—and honed by critiques from trusted “sparring partners.” Verganti writes, “The best metaphor for describing innovation of meaning is to think of it as a ‘gift’”—for both creator and customer. (The MIT Press, US$32.95)


This massive volume from Heidi Neck of Babson College, Christopher Neck of Arizona State, and writer Emma Murray serves as a comprehensive guide to teaching entrepreneurship. The authors reject popular myths about entrepreneurs—for instance, that they possess a special set of personality traits and that they succeed when they follow a precise plan. Instead, the authors believe entrepreneurship is a life skill that anyone can develop by focusing on the future, cultivating the right mindset, and connecting with an outside network to get feed- back. In every chapter, they offer case studies, interviews with successful entrepreneurs, updates on current research, and exercises in which readers imagine they are the entrepreneurs. Above all, they advocate for the advantages of developing an entrepreneurial mindset. They write, “Entrepreneurs are the drivers of positive change…the ones who will ultimately shape the world in which we live.” (Sage Publishing, US$120)


CEOs closely manage their capital but exercise much less control over the three assets—time, talent, and energy—that matter even more, argue consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton of Bain & Company. Take time, for example. “We typically find that 25 percent or more of the typical line supervisor’s time is wasted just in unnecessary meetings or e-communications,” the authors write. To offset this “organizational drag,” they offer several strategies: Be ruthless about setting priorities. Create a fixed time budget in which only so much time is allocated for meetings. Create a protocol for handling emails, which includes limiting the number of people who receive them in the first place. “Workplace productivity is primarily an organizational problem and so requires organizational solutions,” they believe. Time mismanagement is only the first problem their book aims to solve. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$32)