Book Bits | 24 March 2018

Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It
By Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik
Excerpt via Big Think
We can’t turn back the clock and return to a simpler world. Airlines shouldn’t switch back to paper tickets and traders shouldn’t abandon computers. Instead, we need to figure out how to manage these new systems. Fortunately, an emerging body of research reveals how we can overcome these challenges.
The first step is to recognize that the world has changed. But that’s a surprisingly hard thing to do, even in an era where businesses seem to celebrate new technologies like blockchain and AI. When we interviewed the former CEO of Knight Capital years after the firm’s technological meltdown, he said, “We weren’t a technology company—we were a broker that used technology.” Thinking of technology as a support function, rather than the core of a company, has worked for years. But it doesn’t anymore.

Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI
By Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson
Summary via publisher (Harvard Business Review Press)
AI is radically transforming business. Are you ready? Look around you. Artificial intelligence is no longer just a futuristic notion. It’s here right now–in software that senses what we need, supply chains that “think” in real time, and robots that respond to changes in their environment. Twenty-first-century pioneer companies are already using AI to innovate and grow fast. The bottom line is this: Businesses that understand how to harness AI can surge ahead. Those that neglect it will fall behind. Which side are you on? In “Human + Machine,” Accenture leaders Paul R. Daugherty and H. James (Jim) Wilson show that the essence of the AI paradigm shift is the transformation of all business processes within an organization–whether related to breakthrough innovation, everyday customer service, or personal productivity habits.

Microtrends Squared: The New Small Forces Driving the Big Disruptions Today
By Mark Penn with Meredith Fineman
Summary via publisher (Simon & Schuster)
Mark Penn has boldly argued that the future is not shaped by society’s broad forces but by quiet changes within narrow slices of the population. Ten years ago, he showed how the behavior of one small group can exert an outsized influence over the whole of America. His bestselling Microtrends highlighted dozens of tiny, counterintuitive trends that have since come to fruition, from the explosion of internet dating to the recent split within the Republican Party. Today, the world is in perplexing upheaval, and microtrends are more influential than ever. In this environment, Penn offers a necessary perspective.

Risk and Ruin: Enron and the Culture of American Capitalism
By Gavin Benke
Summary via publisher ( University of Pennsylvania Press)
At the time of its collapse in 2001, Enron was one of the largest companies in the world, boasting revenue of over $100 billion. During the 1990s economic boom, the Houston, Texas-based energy company had diversified into commodities and derivatives trading and many other ventures—some more legal than others. In the lead-up to Enron’s demise, it was revealed that the company’s financial success was sustained by a creatively planned and well-orchestrated accounting fraud. The story of Enron and its disastrous aftermath has since become a symbol of corporate excess and negligence, framed as an exceptional event in the annals of American business. With Risk and Ruin, Gavin Benke places Enron’s fall within the larger history and culture of late twentieth-century American capitalism.

Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change
By Leonard Mlodinow
Summary via publisher (Pantheon)
From the best-selling author of Subliminal and The Drunkard’s Walk comes a groundbreaking look at the psychology and neuroscience of change, and at how tapping into elastic thinking will help us thrive in the modern world. Drawing on cutting-edge research, Leonard Mlodinow takes us on an illuminating journey through the mechanics of our minds as we navigate the rapidly changing landscapes around us. Out of the exploratory instincts that allowed our ancestors to prosper hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans developed a cognitive style that Mlodinow terms elastic thinking, a unique set of talents that include neophilia (an affinity for novelty), schizotypy (a tendency toward unusual perception), imagination and idea generation, and divergent and integrative thinking. These are the qualities that enabled innovators from MaryShelley to Miles Davis, from the inventor of jumbo-sized popcorn to the creators of Pokémon Go, to effect paradigm shifts in our culture and society.

Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance — and What We Can Do About It
By Jeffrey Pfeffer
Summary via publisher (HarperBusiness)
In one survey, 61 percent of employees said that workplace stress had made them sick and 7 percent said they had actually been hospitalized. Job stress costs US employers more than $300 billion annually and may cause 120,000 excess deaths each year. In China, 1 million people a year may be dying from overwork. People are literally dying for a paycheck. And it needs to stop. In this timely, provocative book, Jeffrey Pfeffer contends that many modern management commonalities such as long work hours, work-family conflict, and economic insecurity are toxic to employees—hurting engagement, increasing turnover, and destroying people’s physical and emotional health—and also inimical to company performance.

The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos
By Christian Davenport
Review via Kirkus Review
The United States no longer has a manned space program, and the government has not shown any immediate plans to fund another. However, a quartet of billionaires has stepped in to fill the void, writes Washington Post space and defense staff writer Davenport (As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard, 2009) in this well-researched account of the efforts of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Paul Allen. “If NASA, or Congress, or any president wouldn’t stand up as John F. Kennedy did in 1961 when he promised to send a man to the moon within a decade,” writes the author, “then this class of entrepreneurs would attempt it.”

Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race
By Tim Fernholz
Summary via publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Tim Fernholz’s fly-on-the-wall reporting captures an industry in the midst of disruption, as NASA seeks to preserve its ambitious space exploration program, traditional aerospace firms like Boeing and Lockheed Martin scramble to adapt to new competitors, lobbyists tussle over public funds and lawmakers try to prevent this new space race from sparking global conflict. With privileged access to top executives at SpaceX, including Musk himself, as well as at Blue Origin, NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Virgin Galactic, Fernholz spins this high-stakes marathon into a riveting tale of rivalry and survival.

Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy
By William A. Galston
Summary via Yale University Press
The Great Recession, institutional dysfunction, a growing divide between urban and rural prospects, and failed efforts to effectively address immigration have paved the way for a populist backlash that disrupts the postwar bargain between political elites and citizens. Whether today’s populism represents a corrective to unfair and obsolete policies or a threat to liberal democracy itself remains up for debate. Yet this much is clear: these challenges indict the triumphalism that accompanied liberal democratic consolidation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. To respond to today’s crisis, good leaders must strive for inclusive economic growth while addressing fraught social and cultural issues, including demographic anxiety, with frank attention. Although reforms may stem the populist tide, liberal democratic life will always leave some citizens unsatisfied. This is a permanent source of vulnerability, but liberal democracy will endure so long as citizens believe it is worth fighting for.

2 thoughts on “Book Bits | 24 March 2018

  1. Pingback: The Capital Spectator: Book Bits | 24 March 2018 - H. James Wilson

  2. Pingback: The Capital Spectator: Book Bits | 24 March 2018 - Paul Daugherty

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