Bookshelf | July/August 2018

View a selection of reviewed books from the July/August 2018 print issue.
Unsafe Thinking

UNSAFE THINKING

“Innovation only comes from trying something new, but when challenged, most of us fall back on familiar routines. How can we become more open and creative? Jonah Sachs, co-founder of brand company Free Range Studios, believes “unsafe thinking” has six components—courage, motivation, learning, flexibility, morality, and leadership—and he explores each one. For instance, researchers have long believed that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation; that is, we are driven more by inherent passion than by promises of rewards. But can passion sustain us through the boring parts of any big project? Sachs shows that when we understand the two types of motivation, our external and internal motivators can work together to keep us more engaged. We’re also motivated when we attain “flow,” a psychological state where we’re absorbed in our tasks—a state best achieved when we’re working on a challenging project just above our skill level. Sachs explains how people can draw on this knowledge to achieve great performance. (Da Capo Press, US$27)

New Global Roadmap

THE NEW GLOBAL ROAD MAP

Is turbulence in the world market a sign that companies should abandon their globalization strategies in favor of more localized agendas? No, says Pankaj Ghemawat of New York University and IESE. In fact, companies and countries suffer from “the yo-yo effect” when they switch too radically from global to local business approaches, as Coca-Cola disastrously demonstrated over a period of 30 or so years. “Instead of simply succumbing to shifts in sentiment and yo-yoing between extremes as Coke did, companies should take a long, hard look at globalization before deciding how they are going to deal with it,” Ghemawat recommends. He first examines how to map globalization in times of uncertainty, then offers strategies for how businesses can succeed in both volatile and rapidly changing markets. These strategies include adaptation, or adjusting for differences between countries; aggregation, or exploiting intangible assets such as knowledge or technology that are not available across borders; and arbitrage, which finds advantages rather than constraints in the differences between countries. His goal is to “help firms manage their way through the turbulence and even profit from it.” (Harvard Business Review Press, US$35)

Leap

LEAP

In the late 1880s, the textile industry in South Carolina was thriving; 100 years later, as cheaper cloth was produced around the world, the region’s mill towns were practically abandoned. By contrast, the pharmaceutical companies of Switzerland have remained robust despite new competitors. What explains the difference? Howard Yu of IMD theorizes that incumbent companies often won’t make the leap from their known products and processes to new ones, either because they refuse to invest the necessary resources or they don’t want to undercut successful products. By contrast, new entrants—and nimble old-timers—are constantly looking for new knowledge and figuring out where the market will go next. Those Swiss pharmaceuticals, for instance, started life as dye manufacturers in the mid-1800s before transitioning to the organic chemistry that yielded pain relievers, then to the microbiology underpinning recent drugs, and now to the recombinant DNA on the medical horizon. “By leaping from one scientific discipline to another, [the pioneers] left latecomers scrambling to catch up,” writes Yu. He shows how that process works across all industries—and how any company can stay ahead of competition. (Public Affairs, US$28)

Leapfrog

LEAPFROG

Only 2.5 percent of venture capital goes to women, and only 0.2 percent goes to women of color. How can these often overlooked entrepreneurs accrue the funding, experience, and networks they need to build successful businesses? Nathalie Molina Niño is the founder of BRAVA, which invests in firms dedicated to benefiting women economically, and she wants to help female entrepreneurs “work around, leap over, or straight-up annihilate the seemingly intractable hurdles” that derail startups. Writing this book with editorial partner Sara Grace, Niño presents a list of forthright, unromanticized “hacks” designed to help women scale up their businesses. They range from motivational (“Don’t just survive failure. Love it, own it, learn from it”) to practical (“[Create] informal, short-term apprenticeships with people who are working in a space where you need to be”). Niño also exhorts entrepreneurs to talk about their business ideas with anyone who will listen, expand their peer groups with people who can help them, and take advantage of every opportunity afforded to women and minorities. Niño declares, “We’re here to share, borrow, and steal all the best hacks to move ourselves forward.” (TarcherPerigree, US$16)

Never Stop Learning

NEVER STOP LEARNING

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked workers between 1978 and 2012, it found that only 3.3 percent held the same job between the ages of 25 and 29; only 5.4 percent held the same job between the ages of 30 and 34. As the business world changes at an ever-faster rate, those numbers are going to drop. “To succeed in this new environment requires continued learning,” writes Bradley Staats of UNC Kenan Flagler. “If we fail to learn, we risk becoming irrelevant.” The problem is that we’re bad at learning, he says, often sabotaging ourselves before we begin. He has identified eight keys to learning: valuing failure, focusing on process rather than outcome, asking questions rather than rushing to answers, taking time to reflect and relax, being authentically ourselves, playing to strengths, embracing both specialization and variety, and learning from others. Drawing on his double background in operations and behavioral science, Staats explains how these eight keys can unlock the learning that will keep workers employable for the future. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$30)

Leading Matters

LEADING MATTERS

John Hennessy relies on decades of experience as a dean, provost, and president at Stanford, as well as his years as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, to compile this thoughtful look at what it takes to be a leader. Some of the traits he identifies—such as humility, authenticity, and courage—might seem familiar to those who have studied the topic, but Hennessy imbues his book with quiet conviction drawn from his own life stories. “Humility shows you where your weaknesses lie so you can compensate for them. Humility makes you earn your confidence,” he writes in one chapter. In another, he says, “It is not enough to understand how many people are depending upon you; it is just as important to realize how much you are depending on them.” Hennessy—who recently was named chairman of Alphabet—has the résumé to make all his insights valuable. (Stanford Business Books, US$24)

The Decline of America

THE DECLINE OF AMERICA

“If America were a corporation, and each voter were a member of the board of directors, would the board vote to keep [each] president based on the decisions he or she made?” asks David D. Schein of the University of St. Thomas-Houston in this survey of a century of American presidents. He grades the past 17 presidents on their leadership skills, assessing how well they did managing economic issues, international relations, and domestic challenges. Most of them receive failing marks, with only Truman (B-), Reagan (C+), Coolidge, (C-), and the elder Bush (C-) earning passing grades. While Schein aims for a nonpartisan approach, it’s clear he believes more conservative policies are called for, and he advocates for a renewed commitment to capitalism, steep reductions in federal spending, and a single term for the presidency. “The leadership of the most powerful country on earth must be defined differently than if someone were discussing the CEO of a major corporation,” he writes—but certainly lessons can be extrapolated to leaders everywhere. (PostHill Press, US$17.99)

 What Happens Now?

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

At some point in their careers, most leaders stall out—usually when their companies are expanding rapidly or reaching other key inflection points, according to George Mason’s John Hillen and executive coach Mark Nevins. It’s not the new complexity of the job that triggers stalls, they write, but the new sophistication, which requires leaders to de-emphasize technical and tactical skills and emaphasize strategic and interpersonal ones. “You’ll be obliged to master relationship management, raising outside funding, grooming new leaders, redefining purpose in times of wrenching change, handling reputational risk or ethical challenges, and much more,” Hillen and Nevins predict. Leaders are more likely to stall at seven critical points—for instance, when they can’t create an organizational story with meaning, when they can’t explain and lead change, or when they can’t develop their own leaders. The solution, say the authors, is to acquire leadership skills “too often seen as ‘nice to have’ rather than fundamental for success.” (SelectBooks Inc., US$24.95)