Bookshelf | July / August 2019

View a selection of reviewed books from the July/August 2019 print issue.
Connected Strategy


Subway riders in South Korea can browse virtual offerings from grocery retailer Tesco by looking at life-size posters of stocked shelves and using smartphones to scan the QR codes of items they want; items might be delivered by the time they’re home. This is only one example of today’s new connection strategies that use technology to create interactions between suppliers and consumers. These strategies both improve the customer experience (in this case, by eliminating the time buyers spend driving to the store and walking the aisles) and lower a company’s production costs (allowing it to expand the customer base without building more stores). Wharton’s Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch examine how such strategies can create competitive advantage if companies develop deep bonds of trust through repeated customer interactions. They write, “We are convinced that not creating a connected strategy is a road to eventual extinction for most firms.” (Harvard Business Review Press, US$32)




In this collection of essays edited by Northwestern’s Alice Tybout and Tim Calkins, marketing professors from Kellogg break down the challenges of creating and sustaining a brand in today’s frenetic environment. The book is divided into sections on strategy, implementation, methods, and practical applications that feature case studies about successful brands. Tybout considers the four elements of brand positioning: “a target, a frame of reference, a point of difference, and a reason to believe.” Moran Cerf discusses the ways neuroscientists are studying consumers and their reactions to brands. For instance, when subjects are shown images related to companies such as Gucci and McDonald’s, nonoverlapping parts of their brains react, which allows researchers to create comparisons between types of products. And Calkins focuses on the way branding has changed in the digital era. “Ensuring that thousands and thousands of brand moments all work together is perhaps the greatest challenge,” he writes. “In our hyper-connected world, consistency matters more than ever.” (Wiley, US$35)



How to Be Human in the Digital EconomyHOW TO BE HUMAN IN THE DIGITAL ECONOMY

Nicholas Agar is not optimistic about the future. A professor of ethics at Victoria University of Wellington, Agar predicts that the Digital Revolution will not only eliminate jobs for humans, but take away their opportunities for social interaction. He advocates the creation of a “social-digital economy,” where machines perform complex, efficient tasks and people take on the jobs that revolve around human contact. But he doesn’t think it will happen. He writes, “The path of least resistance directs our species toward a dystopia in which the members of a small elite own all the machines and hence almost all the wealth. The rest of us are subject to a poverty void of meaning.” He also believes that today’s tech titans might claim they want to make the world a better place, but, like the old robber barons, they’re more interested in making money—and that the tech industry needs regulations today like the oil industry did in 1920. He writes, “My aim here is certainly not to stop the Digital Revolution, but rather to influence how it unfolds. Decisions that we take now set powerful precedents for the Digital Age.” (The MIT Press, US$26.95)




Bring Your Brain to WorkBRING YOUR BRAIN TO WORK

Cognitive science can help people find jobs, excel in them, and move on to the next one, suggests Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. For instance, he notes that you feel good at work “when you are deeply invested in what you’re doing and you believe that you’re making progress toward your goals.” For that reason, you’d expect that people who heed the advice to follow their passion would be most satisfied in their careers. But it turns out that people who take jobs and learn to love them over time end up just as happy over the long haul. This is especially true if at least part of their work life aligns with their personal values. Markman writes, “If you believe in the mission of the organization you work for, you can often find ways to achieve that mission by doing specific aspects of your job that also bring you satisfaction.” The book is aimed at job-seekers or job-changers, but it has resonance for anyone thinking about a long-term career. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$30)




Bubbles and CrashedBUBBLES AND CRASHES

When might an ordinary boom-and-bust cycle turn into a “bubble”—a stock market fluctuation associated with irrational investor behavior? Brent Goldfarb and David Kirsch of the University of Maryland are particularly intrigued by this question when it comes to technology. They examine 58 major inventions that appeared between 1850 and 1970 to determine which ones created frenzied bubble investing and which ones did not. They found tech bubbles were likely to occur when there was a great deal of uncertainty about how inventions might be monetized, when there were conflicting “narratives” about the value those inventions could possess in the future, when there were companies whose fortunes were closely tied to the success of the inventions, and when a lot of novices had the opportunity to invest. “Novices make mistakes, and these mistakes impact markets,” write Goldfarb and Kirsch. They identify distinct historical periods that saw an influx of novice investors and analyze how their presence contributed to bubbles—and they consider how we might use that information to guard against bubbles in the future. (Stanford University Press, US$35)




You're ItYOU’RE IT

Whether they’re responding to a hurricane or a terrorist attack, leaders must act in the midst of crisis, and preparing them is the goal of Leonard Marcus, Eric McNulty, Joseph Henderson, and Barry Dorn. They’re all part of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, established shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. By studying events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and Superstorm Sandy, the authors have examined the behavior of “meta-leaders”—those who understand their own roles, can see the big picture in their particular crisis, and realize how all the pieces connect. For instance, civic responders to the Boston marathon bombing instinctively practiced “swarm intelligence.” They displayed unity of effort, generosity of spirit, an ability to stay in their own lanes, and an attitude of “no ego, no blame,” all while relying on trust-based relationships they’d built in the past. The authors urge readers to ask themselves, “When everything is on the line, how will I be? What will I do?”—and they show leaders how to prepare themselves in advance. (Public Affairs, US$28)



360 CorporationTHE 360° CORPORATION

Today’s corporations must consider the stakeholders that surround them from all sides, writes the University of Toronto’s Sarah Kaplan—and to serve them, companies will need to follow one of four modes of operation. In Mode 1, corporations realize that every business model involves tradeoffs; for instance, just-in-time delivery creates efficiencies but might increase pollution and fuel use. In Mode 2, companies implement win-win tradeoffs, such as installing LED lighting that is both less costly to the company and more beneficial to the planet. In Mode 3, when companies see no easy win-win solutions, they innovate to find some, perhaps by designing new packaging. In Mode 4, companies learn to exist with intractable tradeoffs where no solution is currently possible, though they continue interacting with stakeholders as they search for answers. Kaplan looks closely at Walmart and Nike, two companies “that—though far from perfect—have transformed substantial parts of their business through their engagement with the trade-offs created by the interests of different stakeholders.” It’s a new way to view corporate responsibility. (Stanford Business Books, US$28)




The Disruptive Power of Online EducationTHE DISRUPTIVE POWER OF ONLINE EDUCATION

Ten essays by 20 contributors consider online education in this collection edited by Andreas Altmann of MCI Management Center, Bernd Ebersberger of the University of Hohenheim, and MCI’s Claudia Mössenlechner and Desiree Wieser. Contributors address everything from how MOOCs might work in the Middle East to the role of serious games. For instance, Kathy Bishop, Catherine Etmanski, and M. Beth Page of Royal Roads University outline ways to develop student engagement, whether by maintaining multiple online forums or creating opportunities for students to lead the learning. As an example, Etmanski asks students to lead online discussion groups and engage their peers in creative ways—maybe by posting photographs or writing tweets that summarize the week’s reading assignment. As Bishop, Etmanski, and Page write, “Online learning has the potential to disrupt traditional educational approaches through creatively cultivating engagement online.” (Emerald Publishing, US$100)