Turn off all your electronic devices and enrich your mind with a good book over the holiday season.
INTHEBLACK reviewer Derek Parker picks the top titles, including a critical look at what makes Amazon, Google and Facebook so dominant, new ways of marketing to women, and a searing analysis of the failings of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 pitch for president. They’re great food for thought, and could be the perfect gift.
It says much that the name Satya Nadella does not automatically ring bells. He is the chief executive officer of Microsoft, and Hit Refresh (HarperCollins, A$55) sets out his strategy to restore the company to its former glory. In three years Nadella has changed the culture from knee-jerk defensiveness to optimistic purpose, with a focus on artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and quantum computing. Even though he has made some mistakes – which he readily admits – and even though the company has a long way to go in its reinvention project, there is the feeling that Nadella is the right guy for a tough job.
Scott Galloway takes a more cynical look at the tech sector in The Four: Or, how to build a trillion dollar company (PenguinRandom, A$35). He makes little attempt to hide his dislike for the tactics and cultures of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, although there is also grudging admiration for their drive and vision. He links their success to deep-seated human instincts: hunting and gathering (Amazon), the need for divine authority (Google), the desire for luxury (Apple) and the quest for love (Facebook). It is an entertaining account, with plenty of insights on how success is won, and sometimes lost, in the digital era.
In Blind Spots (Wiley, A$28) Bec Brideson, an expert on gender-based marketing, argues that many companies are not seeing the opportunities of the burgeoning female market. Employing more women is good but not enough; the real key is to understand women as consumers, using detailed research and modelling, preferably designed and interpreted by women. Due to increasing standards of education, women have a huge pool of money to spend, and the women’s market now covers everything from travel to houses. Building relationships requires investment but “womenomics”, says Brideson, offers solid returns.
For more on this book, with advice on how to reach the women’s market from the author, see the CPA Australia podcast.
The Power of Moments
In The Power of Moments (Bantam, A$35), Chip Heath and Dan Heath examine why certain incidents can have a lasting impact. They look at a wide range of real-life situations to identify the common denominators, such as pride in achievement and unique connections with others. They believe that understanding the dynamics can shape and improve the peaks in a person’s experiences, although it is not something that can be forced or faked. The authors also translate the lessons into practical business situations, especially in managing others and retaining a sense of humility.
The Square and the Tower
If Moments is about the impact of the small, The Square and the Tower (Allen Lane, A$35) is about the Big Picture. Niall Ferguson has written several books romping through the past, often aiming to upset conventional wisdom. Here, he argues that history can be construed as networks, or layers of intellectual groupings and ideas, rather than as conflicts between tower-like states and the elites who run them. Ferguson uses this framework to examine border-jumping networks ranging from the Enlightenment to Al-Qaeda.
Interesting stuff, although he sometimes wanders too far in his efforts to link things together. Nevertheless, he offers a wealth of issues to think about, and plenty of fun along the way.
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Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign
The work of two journalists, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, who closely followed the US presidential battle, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign (Crown, A$45) is an unforgiving, insightful book.
Clinton, for better or worse, just didn’t get it. She thought the election campaign was an extended policy debate when it was really a revolution looking for a place to happen. She thought that her résumé was unbeatable. She thought that the maths added up. Wrong on all counts, say Allen and Parnes.
Aside from these massive strategic blunders, the campaign itself was disorganised and incoherent. The lessons are clear: know who is leading, stay connected to the marketplace, understand your message and don’t underestimate the opposition.
Destined for War
Harvard academic Graham Allison brings together a huge amount of information in his disturbing book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? (Scribe, A$35). He studies 16 cases where a rising power challenged an established power, beginning with the Sparta-Athens conflict in ancient Greece. This was the original “Thucydides’s trap”, when both sides sought to avoid war but were driven to it by forces beyond their control. There are plenty of ways in which China and the US could stumble into conflict, most of them stemming from a basic misunderstanding of the other. Allison doubts that conflict can be avoided but let us hope that he is wrong.
As it is very easy to take oneself too seriously, two comedians and a management academic (Marks, Marks and Spillane) have given us Funny Business (Goko, A$20), a fake dictionary of business terms that actually makes sense. Anyone in corporate life will get the jokes, even if some have a certain dark edge to them. So keep it on your bookshelf for when things go sideways. Personal favourite: reputation – suffers when one is promoted, destroyed when one becomes CEO.
Why you should be wary of business biographies