Book Bits | 4.19.14

Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions
By Gerd Gigerenzer
Summary via publisher, Viking
In the age of Big Data we often believe that our predictions about the future are better than ever before. But as risk expert Gerd Gigerenzer shows, the surprising truth is that in the real world, we often get better results by using simple rules and considering less information. In Risk Savvy, Gigerenzer reveals that most of us, including doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, and elected officials, misunderstand statistics much more often than we think, leaving us not only misinformed, but vulnerable to exploitation. Yet there is hope. Anyone can learn to make better decisions for their health, finances, family, and business without needing to consult an expert or a super computer, and Gigerenzer shows us how.

Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated
By Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman
Summary via publisher, Harvard Business Press Books
Does your organization manage complexity by making things more complicated? If so, you are not alone. According to The Boston Consulting Group’s fascinating Complexity Index, business complexity has increased sixfold during the past sixty years. And, all the while, organizational complicatedness–that is, the number of structures, processes, decision-making, and systems–has increased by a factor of thirty-five. In their attempt to respond to the increasingly complex performance requirements they face, company leaders have created an organizational labyrinth that makes it more and more difficult to improve productivity and to pursue innovation. Clearly it’s time for leaders to stop trying to manage complexity with their traditional tools and instead better leverage employees’ intelligence. This book shows you how and explains the implications for designing and leading organizations. The way to manage complexity, the authors argue, is neither with the hard solutions of another era nor with the soft solutions that often follow in their wake. Based on social sciences (notably economics, game theory, and organizational sociology) and The Boston Consulting Group’s work with more than five hundred companies in more than forty countries and in various industries, authors Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman recommend six simple rules to manage complexity without getting complicated.

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown
By Philip Mirowski
Summary via publisher, Verso Books
At the onset of the Great Recession, as house prices sank and joblessness soared, many commentators concluded that the economic convictions behind the disaster would now be consigned to history. And yet, in the harsh light of a new day, we’ve awoken to a second nightmare more ghastly than the first: a political class still blaming government intervention, a global drive for austerity, stagflation, and an international sovereign debt crisis. Philip Mirowski finds an apt comparison to this situation in classic studies of cognitive dissonance. He concludes that neoliberal thought has become so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince disciples of its ultimate truth. Once neoliberalism became a Theory of Everything, providing a revolutionary account of self, knowledge, information, markets, and government, it could no longer be falsified by anything as trifling as data from the “real” economy.

Uncle Sam Can’t Count: A History of Failed Government Investments, from Beaver Pelts to Green Energy
By Burton W. Folsom Jr. and Anita Folsom
Summary via publisher, HarperCollins
Drawing on examples from the nation’s past and present—the fur trade to railroads, cars and chemicals, aviation to Solyndra—Uncle Sam Can’t Count a sweeping work of conservative economic history that explains why the federal government cannot and should not pick winners and losers in the private sector, including the Obama administration. From the days of George Washington through World War II to today, government subsidies have failed dismally argue Burt and Anita Folsom. Draining the Treasury of cash, they impede economic growth, and hurt the very companies receiving aid.

The Struggle for America’s Promise: Equal Opportunity at the Dawn of Corporate Capital
By Claire Goldstene
Summary via publisher, University Press of Mississippi
In The Struggle for America’s Promise, Claire Goldstene seeks to untangle one of the enduring ideals in American history, that of economic opportunity. She explores the varied discourses about its meaning during the upheavals and corporate consolidations of the Gilded Age. Some proponents of equal opportunity seek to promote upward financial mobility by permitting more people to participate in the economic sphere thereby rewarding merit over inherited wealth. Others use opportunity as a mechanism to maintain economic inequality. This tension, embedded with the idea of equal opportunity itself and continually reaffirmed by immigrant populations, animated social dissent among urban workers while simultaneously serving efforts by business elites to counter such dissent.

The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World
By Andrew Winston
Summary via publisher, Harvard Business Press Books
We live in a fundamentally changed world. It’s time for your approach to strategy to change, too. The evidence is all around us. Extreme weather, driven by climate change, is shattering records all over the planet. Our natural resources are in greater demand than ever before as a billion more people enter the global middle class, wanting more of everything. Radical transparency is opening up company operations and supply chains to public scrutiny. This is not some futuristic scenario or model to debate, but today’s reality. We’ve passed an economic tipping point. A weakening of the foundations of our planetary infrastructure is costing businesses dearly and putting our society at risk. The mega challenges of climate change, scarcity, and radical transparency threaten our ability to run an expanding global economy and are profoundly changing “business as usual.” But they also offer unprecedented opportunities: multi-trillion-dollar markets are in play, and the winners of this new game will profit mightily. According to Andrew Winston, bestselling author (“Green to Gold”) and globally recognized business strategist, the way companies currently operate will not allow them to keep up with the current–and future–rate of change. They need to make the “Big Pivot.”

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