Bookshelf | September 2020

stack of books balanced on one finger

WHEN MORE IS NOT BETTER

America’s model of democratic capitalism is in danger of failing, says Roger Martin, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and former director of the Martin Prosperity Institute. Since 1976, he calculates, economic growth in the U.S. has grown so stagnant that it would take the median family of that era 100 years to double its real income; at the same time, the economic growth that does occur disproportionately flows to the top 1 percent. While many average Americans have become disengaged from politics, Martin warns, that could change as they grow increasingly disenchanted with democratic capitalism—and they might cast their next votes for differing extremes of fascism or socialism. Martin lays out a case for redesigning capitalism as a “complex, adaptive system,” rather than a “perfectible” one that drives incessantly toward efficiency. For instance, he argues that business leaders should include slack within any business operation as a way to keep both machines and humans functioning at optimal capacity. He also explains that monopolies are bad for businesses, because when companies destroy competitors, they stop listening to customers—and stop adapting. “The marriage of democracy and capitalism has been arguably the greatest force for good in history,” he writes. “History also shows, however, that its continued survival cannot be guaranteed.” (Harvard Business Press Review, US$30)

 


THE COLLEGE CONVERSATION

As tuition costs rise and the pandemic complicates the logistics of attending college, how do students and their parents decide which institution makes the most sense for their situations? That question is addressed by Eric J. Furda, who has headed up admissions offices at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, and Jacques Steinberg, a former education reporter for The New York Times who now leads an educational nonprofit. In this practical, in-depth guide, they discuss how parents and students can work together to determine their best postsecondary options and how they can craft their applications. Along the way, the authors touch on high school curricula, community colleges, financial considerations, standardized testing, and other critical topics. They point out that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that people who attain bachelor’s degrees will outearn high school graduates by about US$1 million over their lifetimes—but they stress that this isn’t the only reason anyone should go to college. The authors hope that their book provides “a neon-green road sign reminder of the ultimate goal” of postsecondary education: to prepare young people for adulthoods that are “successful, engaging, fulfilling, balanced, empathetic, generous, and in the end … happy.” (Viking, US$28)

 


THE ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE TO RISK AND DECISIONS

In this short, useful handbook, Thomas G. Pittz of the University of Tampa and Eric W. Liguori of Rowan University provide an overview of everything the fledgling entrepreneur needs to know. “The goal of any entrepreneur should be to identify a customer problem and innovate a solution,” they write. “This can only be achieved by gathering information from customers, which is perhaps the most valuable skill that an entrepreneur can practice.” The book covers a range of topics, from developing a business model to bringing in partners to understanding legal considerations. A chapter on sales includes tips from seasoned pros, such as “ethics are everything” and “build up to the ‘yes’ by soliciting a series of smaller ‘yesses.’” But the authors offer more advice: Make the customer the protagonist in your story, utilize artifacts to make your analogy tangible, differentiate, and challenge the status quo. Above all, the book emphasizes the need for entrepreneurs to pivot when necessary. Such a change in course “requires a complete reversal of the stubbornness that got your business this far,” Pittz and Liguori acknowledge. But a failure to pivot “is probably the greatest reason for failure of businesses both large and small.” (Emerald Publishing Limited, US$32.99)

 


THE END OF JOBS

As AI and automation threaten to reshape the future workplace, Jeff Wald takes a look at three great disruptions that previously changed the world—mechanization, electrification, and computerization. Each disruption shifted the relationship between employers and employees, generally allowing companies to accumulate more power until counterbalancing forces such as regulations, unions, and social safety nets gained momentum. Wald, founder of the enterprise software platform Work Market, believes automation and AI “will predominately impact how services are delivered, and thus we will call it the First Services Revolution.” Despite the title of his book, he does not expect jobs to disappear, but merely to change radically from “the ‘in-the-office, one-manager, nine-to-five’” model. Employees will be deployed into fluid, interdependent teams; they will be able to work from anywhere and have primary responsibility for their own benefits, training, and development. Wald predicts a future where most of the workforce is employed and everyone enjoys higher standards of living. However, getting there will be tough, as unions have been weakened, the social safety net is heavily burdened, and government debt is at historic levels. Wald admits, “Not a great place to start this revolution. But it’s not really the start. The age of robots and AI has already begun.” (Post Hill Press, US$26)

 


BETTER BUSINESS

While business can have an enormously positive impact on society, that’s less likely to be true when shareholder value is the primary consideration. In 2006, three friends set out to address the ills of capitalism by creating B Lab, which launched the B Corps movement. In essence, writes Cornell’s Christopher Marquis, the benefit corporation became “a new form of incorporation that legally places social benefits and the rights of workers, the community, and the environment on an equal footing with the interests of stakeholders.” Marquis not only recounts the first decade of the B Corps movement, but also explores how capitalism got to the point where it would even need such an intervention. “The B Corp movement is, in large part, a direct response to the toxic workplace cultures, poor environmental standards, and profit-centered mindsets that have long dominated the corporate world,” he writes. There are currently thousands of B Corps—half in the U.S., and half elsewhere in the world—and the numbers keep growing. Marquis expects that growth only to continue as younger generations exercise more of their power, both as employees and consumers. For instance, he notes, recent surveys show that 50 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 reject capitalism, while 90 percent of millennials are more likely to buy from companies that support social issues. It’s a detailed look at why business should be a force for good—and how to make that happen. (Yale University Press, US$28.50)

 


STEP BACK

“Reflection is stepping back to grasp what really matters—about what you are experiencing, trying to understand, or doing,” writes Harvard’s Joseph L. Badaracco. While a hyper busy world makes quiet time scarce, Badaracco suggests that people practice mosaic reflection during “the cracks and crevices of their everyday lives.” People should follow four principles during these sessions: Aim for good enough, not ideal; pause occasionally to shift “mental machinery” into a lower gear; ponder hard issues; and, when decisions must be made, focus on the depth of their impact. He knows that obstacles abound. People have too many time commitments, or they’re addicted to being productive, or they don’t want to deal with the issues that will surface during reflection—or they’re simply at the mercy of the human brain, which has evolved to skip from thought to thought. Badaracco offers thoughtful solutions to all these difficulties because he feels that the resulting benefit is so powerful. “Reflection is a way of grappling with the enduring human questions of how to live, what to really care about, and what counts as a good life.” (Harvard Business Review Press, US$18)

 


 

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