Bookshelf | January / February 2019

View a selection of reviewed books from the January/February 2019 print issue.


Futurist Roy Amara stated that people tend to overestimate the effects of technology in the short run and underestimate them in the long run, and artificial intelligence embodies the truth of his observation. Babson’s Thomas Davenport reports on what AI has accomplished so far, where it has failed, and where it might soon spectacularly succeed. While AI clearly offers value already, “much of that value isn’t terribly sexy or visible,” he says. He explains the different types of tech that commonly fall under the AI umbrella, explores the ways businesses are incorporating AI into their processes, and examines the ethical considerations of this powerful new technology. For instance, he says, “A new social credit system in China, which will be mandatory by 2020, is likely to punish consumers for political dissent.” Still, most predictions for the future are still guesswork, he admits. “All we know for sure is that people won’t do all the work in the future, and machines won’t either.” (MIT Press, US$29.95)



Learning Analytics in Education


Changes in the way education is delivered, particularly online, have produced extraordinary amounts of data, but there is still much to discover about how analytics can improve the learning experience. Those issues are explored in this collection of essays edited by David Niemi of Kaplan Inc., Roy Pea of Stanford, Bror Saxberg of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Richard Clark of the University of Southern California. So far, there’s little proof that access to data significantly improves education, write Niemi, Pea, and Philip Piety of the University of Maryland. “Simply because analytics can predict that certain groups of students are more likely than others to drop out of school, for example, doesn’t mean that teachers or anyone else will know what to do about that.” They believe that learning analytics must become a unified field that draws on insights from computer scientists, cognitive scientists, educational experts, and other groups. Contributors address topics that range from how learning analytics differs from other kinds of education data and how it can be used to improve academic persistence. A timely look at a topic of growing importance to higher education. (Information Age Publishing, US$45.99)




“Transformation may be one of the hardest things leaders are called on to do,” note Nathan Furr of INSEAD, Kyle Nel of Uncommon Partners and formerly of Lowe’s, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy of Copenhagen Business School. They describe how they transformed Lowe’s from a second-place hardware retailer to a futuristic home renovation company that lets customers use 3-D and augmented reality tools to envision remodeling projects. While the authors relied on radical approaches—such as asking science fiction writers to imagine the company’s future and presenting the information to executives in comic-book form—they offer three steps all business leaders can take to achieve transformation. They must develop a strategic narrative that tells a story about a reimagined future; they must break the bottlenecks, such as fear and resistance, that derail change; and they must design key performance indicators that let them know they are on the right track. “The future, as a fixed destination to be reached at some impending date, does not actually exist,” they write. “The future only happens when someone takes action and creates it.” (Harvard Business Press Review, US$32)




Linda Ginzel of the University of Chicago has created a practical workbook built around a core tenet: Leadership is a choice. “You make choices that will change the future, create better outcomes, generate more meaning, and help shape your future self.” Her goal is to help people “unfreeze” from current limited views to more expansive and useful approaches that will allow them to continue to grow. She takes readers through a variety of thought-provoking exercises in which, for instance, they write their personal definitions of leadership, describe their earliest experiences as leaders, or compose a commencement speech full of their own earned wisdom. In one exercise, she asks readers to articulate their foundational beliefs in a brief essay. “Understanding and communicating are key leadership skills,” she explains. “When leading, you need to be able to recognize the gist of something and then be able to communicate that gist to your peers.” The book is slim but full of powerful ideas. (B2Books, US$24.95)



How to Wash a ChickenHOW TO WASH A CHICKEN

Despite the fact that Tim Calkins does, in fact, open with an account of how to spruce up a chicken, his book is less about poultry and more about presentation. His goal is to help everyone, from student to business executive, become better at standing in front of people and delivering information. Calkins, a clinical professor at Northwestern, briskly lists the critical elements every presentation must have—such as a cover page, a purpose, an agenda, an executive summary, and a conclusion—but he also offers insights on the external factors that will affect a presentation’s success. For instance, who is the intended audience—the CEO or the marketing staff? What do those people care about? When he worked for a manager who valued fresh thinking, he framed every suggestion as an innovation. “I was innovating on promotions, advertising, packaging design, and customer service. I had the most innovative team in the company.” With both brevity and humor, Calkins shows anyone how to present in public. (Page Two Books, US$19.95)





Because technology is critical for almost all innovation, write Heather Smith and James McKeen of Queen’s University, “IT must reorient itself into a forward-thinking, business- oriented unit capable of marshaling forces to produce innovative business models.” Smith and McKeen interviewed a focus group of senior IT executives and managers in the U.S. and Canada to discover how these CIOs believe IT can drive innovation in organizations. They identified three stages of IT innovation: opportunity, defined as developing an understanding of the specific technologies that could be disruptive; discovery, the process of determining how these technologies can be integrated into a strategy; and delivery, or the development of management practices to govern the new IT. Along the way, they consider everything from the possibilities and limitations of artificial intelligence to the challenges faced by IT leaders when their organizations resist new technologies. “IT is moving into a brave new world where creativity, innovation, and new ways to deliver value are the norm,” they write. Therefore, they say, just like businesses, IT itself must continually adapt. (Prospect Press, US$24.50)



Unlocking the Customer Value ChainUNLOCKING THE CUSTOMER VALUE CHAIN

“Disruption has become a permanent condition of modern markets,” writes Harvard’s Thales Teixeira. Most executives believe they must counter disruption with digital innovations, but Teixeira has a different theory: He thinks they need to innovate their business models, particularly by decoupling one part of the customer experience from another. This requires them to turn their attention away from their own products and services to focus on what Teixeira calls the customer value chain, or “the series of activities that customers perform in order to fulfill their needs and wants. These activities include searching for, evaluating, purchasing, using, and disposing of products.” For instance, Amazon’s price checking app allowed customers to visit Best Buy to perform one task (evaluating merchandise), while they performed another task (purchasing) online. After trying many unsuccessful tactics to discourage this practice, Best Buy decided to benefit from the decoupling behavior by renting showroom kiosks to Samsung, LG, and other retailers, a business model innovation that has been highly profitable. Teixeira advises other company leaders to figure out where decoupling is happening in their industries—and innovate around it. (Currency, US$28)




“The most important breakthroughs rarely follow blaring trumpets and a red carpet, with central authorities offering overflowing pots of tools and money,” writes biotech entrepreneur Safi Bahcall. “They are surprisingly fragile. They pass through long dark tunnels of skepticism and uncertainty, crushed or neglected, their champions often dismissed as crazy.” Moreover, inventions such as radar, cancer-fighting drugs, and smartphones can’t be developed without the financial backing and personnel resources of large corporations or governmental agencies, which rarely want to underwrite wild ideas. How can big organizations become open to radical innovation? Bahcall turns to physics and the concept of phase transition—the moment when, for instance, water turns to ice. In that transitional phase, the molecules are malleable enough to be fluid but rigid enough to hold a shape. Bahcall thinks that, with a few small changes in structure, even mature and conservative organizations can find the sweet spot of transition where innovation is both permitted and supported. (St. Martin’s Press, US$28.99)