Bookshelf | July / August 2017

View a selection of reviewed books from the July/August 2017 print issue.

As of January 2016, Starbucks had about 2,000 stores in China—a remarkable achievement for a company that sells coffee in a country that has idolized tea for 2,500 years. “That’s what global brands do: they influence culture,” writes Jan-Benedict Steenkamp of the University of North Carolina. He examines how branding has skyrocketed in tandem with the digital revolution and global connectivity. He also explores the ways in which global brands deliver value, from creating organizational benefits (promoting a single identity that all employees can rally around) to driving innovation (allowing companies to exploit knowledge gained from markets around the world). One of the most interesting benefits of global branding is that it influences customer preferences—people might buy a product because they think a global brand signals high quality or because they want to be associated with the country where that brand originated. Above all, a brand lets consumers know exactly what they’re buying. Writes Steenkamp, “Imagine selecting a car…in a world without brands!” (Palgrave Macmillan, US$29)

“HR is not about HR. HR begins and ends with the business,” write Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank of the University of Michigan, David Kryscynski of Brigham Young University, and Mike Ulrich of Utah State University. The authors have developed their insights about HR professionals by conducting seven rounds of their Human Resources Competency Study in the past 30 years. In this book, they examine the four forces reshaping business—including the context in which it operates, the velocity of the changes it faces, the expectations of the stakeholders it must satisfy, and the effects of changing societal standards on its workers. One conclusion: The “war for talent” is leading companies astray. “Having great people is critical and wonderful, but if HR departments are not organized appropriately to do something with them, they are missing a major opportunity,” the authors write. “The critical issue is not the individual talent that you have; the competitive advantage is what you do with the talent once you have it. And that is an organizational issue.” (McGraw Hill, US$35)

“Every source of competitive advantage carries with it the seeds of its own destruction,” write Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School and Jonas Ridderstråle of Ashridge. “The attribute or capability that makes companies successful in one era makes them susceptible to failure in the next era.” While they believe we are still deep in the Information Age, they point out that data is so freely available that it offers less and less of a competitive advantage. What’s needed are  managers who can act quickly on gut instincts when information isn’t enough. Birkinshaw and Ridderstråle quote a Fast Company article in which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos calls fact-based decisions “the best kinds of decisions! … Unfortunately, there’s this whole other set of decisions that you can’t ultimately boil down to a math problem.” To thrive in whatever era follows the Information Age, firms will need to move quickly, most often by blending decisive action with emotional conviction. That’s because, according to Birkinshaw and Ridderstråle, “To be effective, action needs adrenaline—in sports, in ballet, and in business.” (Stanford Business Books, US$29.95)

Speaking directly to idealists who have always wanted to make a difference, author and entrepreneur Nilofer Merchant has crafted a book that is part blueprint, part motivational speech designed to turn dreamers into doers. Her main message is that technology and the power of crowdsourcing have made it possible for anyone to bring an idea to fruition. “Even wild ideas now have a chance to flourish because networks allow anyone to bypass the standard gatekeepers and the frameworks they hold as true,” she writes. She believes that everyone has something unique to offer, drawn from personal experience and deep-seated passion—the elements that make up each individual’s “onlyness.” But Merchant underpins her theories with solid business research and provides a host of inspiring examples, from Kim Bryant’s launch of Black Girls Code to André Delbecq’s creation of a spirituality course for Santa Clara’s MBA program. By the end of the book, most readers will be thinking, “What’s my big idea—and how can I make it happen?” (Viking, US$27)

“Higher education still needs significant reform,” writes East Carolina University’s Aneil K. Mishra, who edited this collection of essays. In the opening chapter, Mishra points to high tuition, mounting student debt, large class sizes, and decreased completion rates as factors eroding the public’s trust in higher education. The 14 essays that follow offer ideas designed to reverse this trend. Kellie Sauls of the University of Texas at Austin suggests that institutions partner with struggling K-12 schools to give disadvantaged students a better start. Spring Hill College’s Christopher Puto, a former business school dean, advises students to rely less on a school’s marketing message and more on whether its core values suit their goals. In the final essay, Aneil Mishra and Karen Mishra, also of East Carolina, argue that universities must focus on rebuilding the “ROCC of Trust”—that is, they must be “reliable, open and honest, competent, and compassionate.” Stakeholders can disrupt the status quo, the Mishras add, but only if they “vote with their feet and their pocketbooks so that these efforts can be scalable and sustainable.” (Praeger, US$48)

When is a video game more than a video game? When it becomes an instrument for social change, say Asi Burak, executive director of the nonprofit Games for Change and a former member of the Israeli military, and journalist Laura Parker. The authors look at how games have evolved beyond the frivolity of Angry Birds to the likes of Peace-Maker, the brainchild of Burak and Ross Popoff-Walker, Burak’s former classmate at Carnegie Mellon University. Set amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peace-Maker helps players build negotiation and conflict resolution skills. The book explores the impact of games such as Macon Money, meant to ease racial tensions in Macon, Georgia; 9 minutes, which teaches pregnant women in developing countries about proper prenatal care; and the virtual reality games developed by the Be Another Lab, which help individuals experience the world as if they are different ages or genders. “Understanding someone else’s point of view has the potential to have an impact on every aspect of everyday life,” says lab member Philippe Bertrand. The book offers a compelling look at how video games can be a serious force for good in today’s world. (St. Martin’s Press, US$27.99)

Dave Stangis of Campbell Soup Company and Katherine Valvoda Smith of Boston College have crafted a how-to guide for anyone handling environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues at their organizations. The authors first provide research showing how ESG and financial performance are closely linked, then offer step-by-step advice on working with every stakeholder, from company directors to outside activists. They note that many activists, for instance, care about a single issue: “They wake up in the morning and it’s deforestation; they go to bed at night and the issue is still deforestation.” The key is to work with them, learn from them, and use that knowledge to improve the firm. Every brand-name company in the world deals with ESG issues, write Stangis and Valvoda: “They do it either because they’re forced to do it, because they want to do it, or because it gives them a competitive advantage.” (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, US$46.50)

“People who engage with public life tend to enjoy longer, healthier lives,” notes Alberto Alemanno of HEC Paris. Yet even in today’s democracies, it’s difficult for the ordinary individual’s voice to be heard. “The most powerful players in the policy game are the wealthy, the educated and the well-connected,” Alemanno points out. As he advocates for every citizen to get involved in lobbying efforts that affect public policy, Alemanno offers research, case studies, and suggestions for bringing about change. While this isn’t precisely a management book, business themes weave throughout the text. For instance, Alemanno describes citizen lobbying efforts that resulted in new regulations on corporations; he also makes it clear that businesses already are deep in the game, representing close to 90 percent of lobbying interests in the U.K. and the U.S. He calls on universities to teach students how they can make a difference, writing, “By reconnecting with the real world, education can empower each of us, not as spectators but as world actors.” (Icon Books, US$14.95)