Bookshelf | March / April 2018

View a selection of reviewed books from the March/April 2018 print issue.


Dying for a PaycheckManagement practices are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, says Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer in this deeply researched and unflinching look at workplace stress. Said another way, about 120,000 deaths each year can be attributed to ten stressful workplace conditions, including being unemployed, not having health insurance, working shifts, and having little decision-making power. While many employers institute wellness programs designed to help workers lose weight or stop smoking, the corporate focus is usually on lowering healthcare costs, not improving the lives of employees. “We need to change the language routinely used in business,” he writes. “Leaders should ensure that at the end of the day, their employees return home in good shape, prepared to live fulfilled lives outside of work.” (Harper Business, US$29.99)


Big MindAs digital technologies become more pervasive, we’re seeing the rise of collective intelligence, in which technology enables and replaces human efforts. Geoff Mulgan—chief executive at Nesta, an innovation foundation in the U.K.—is concerned that we don’t have the right systems in place, in which case collective intelligence could harm humanity instead of helping it. He rejects the notion that a networked world is automatically smarter and more organized. Collective intelligence, he says, “often has to be consciously orchestrated, supported by specialist institutions and roles, and helped by common standards.” For some of society’s grandest challenges, that means international cooperation—and, he warns, “we are a long way short of a truly global collective intelligence suitable for solving global problems.” (Princeton University Press, US$29.95)


Great at WorkWhy did explorer Robert Scott and all his men perish on their journey to the South Pole while competitor Roald Amundsen and his expedition triumphed? One reason was Amundsen’s narrower scope. He traveled only with sled dogs—the very best ones, carefully chosen—while Scott brought dogs, ponies, skis, and other transport modes, which diluted his focus. Amundsen had discovered one of the most important keys to high achievement: Do less, then obsess. Morten Hansen of UC Berkeley isolates six additional principles that help individuals work smarter, not harder, which he defines as maximizing “the value of your work by selecting a few activities and applying intense targeted effort.” According to Hansen, work-smart practices account for two-thirds of the variation in worker performance—even more than luck and talent. (Simon & Schuster, US$29.99)


Survive and ThriveA business can be brought down by so many strategic threats: employee misdeeds, systems breakdowns, and disruptive innovations. In this collection edited by Joshua Gans and Sarah Kaplan of the University of Toronto, faculty at the school dissect high-profile disasters and propose measures companies can take to weather their own crises. For instance, Anita McGahan examines how healthcare costs led to bankruptcy at companies like GM, Kodak, and Xerox and advocates for a complete redesign of healthcare to mitigate risks for other companies. Gans and Kaplan sum up many of their authors’ recommendations: Through “structured anticipation,” they write, managers can understand their risks and build capabilities “to ensure that when threats materialize, action is possible.” (Dog Ear Publishing, US$25.99)


The Right and Wrong StuffAmbitious MBAs don’t always understand what personal characteristics might derail their careers, but Northwestern’s Carter Cast has a good idea. He describes five archetypes who are apt to self-sabotage on their way to the top, from the arrogant Captain Fantastic to the change-resistant Version 1.0 employee. “My research found that ‘a lack of self-awareness’ and ‘difficulty working with others’ were the top two reasons that … one hundred people experienced a career derailment event,” he writes. He experienced just such an event himself and is ready to show others how to avoid it. (PublicAffairs, US$28)