Bookshelf

November/December 2014

THE FOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE

AUTHOR: Shiri M. Breznitz
PUBLISHER: Stanford Business Books, 60 USD

In 1993, the biotech industry in New Haven, Connecticut, consisted of six companies; in 2013, there were 70. Most of those new companies spun out of Yale University, which in 1993 saw a changeover to leaders who promoted investments in technology transfer and local economic growth. Breznitz of the University of Toronto presents two case studies—one on Yale, and one on Cambridge University in the U.K.—to learn what role the university can play in the economic development of a region and what factors shape the university’s pursuit of that goal. “When we examine some of the most economically successful regions in the world…we find a university,” she notes. But she also raises one of the key questions in the perennial debate between rigor and relevance. “Should universities, which were created to support the unbounded world of ideas, focus on applied research?” She believes universities can choose to commercialize inventions in a way that benefits their regions—but warns that not all strategies will have positive outcomes.


THE SMALL BIG

AUTHORS: Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein, and Robert B. Cialdini
PUBLISHER: Business Plus, 28 USD

Doctors, hair stylists, and restaurateurs lose billions of dollars every year from clients who miss appointments. Business owners can improve the odds of people showing up as scheduled by asking for verbal commitments, even if that just means having clients repeat the times and dates of their appointments, and by asking clients to write down the appointment details, rather than handing them completed cards. These simple strategies can have huge consequences, write the authors—Martin, a business columnist; Goldstein, a business and psychology professor at UCLA; and Cialdini, a psychology and marketing professor at Arizona State—because they encourage the use of “persuasion science” to influence people. “A small change in the setting, framing, timing or context of how information is conveyed can dramatically alter how it is received and acted upon,” they write. Not only can “breathtakingly slight” changes in a message spawn enormous effects, they add, but these changes rarely “require large investments in time, effort, or money.”


THE ZERO MARGINAL COST SOCIETY

AUTHOR: Jeremy Rifkin
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan, 28 USD

Is the capitalist system almost obsolete? Thought leader and Wharton lecturer Rifkin thinks it will largely disappear by 2050. Continuous product upgrades and the swift peer-to-peer communication enabled by the Internet have driven production costs down to almost zero in fields like music and publishing, and virtually every other industry is being radically overhauled. On the rise is the Collaborative Commons, where networks of individuals share goods, food, and intellectual property—all at low or no cost—with the goal of improving the lives of everyone. Rifkin points out that “social commons” communities have existed from feudal times onward, and that today’s nonprofits and NGOs are part of the long tradition. He’s thrilled with the possibilities: “Markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, the pursuit of self-interest is being tempered by the pull of collaborative interests, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of sustainable quality of life.” Stay tuned.

LEADING DIGITAL

AUTHORS: George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee
PUBLISHER: Harvard Business Review Press, 30 USD

Starbucks is a Digital Master. It’s launched proprietary apps that allow customers to find the nearest store and pay for purchases with mobile phones; it’s also created a website where customers can post ideas for improving the company and other customers can vote the ideas up or down. The authors—Westerman and McAfee of MIT and Bonnet, a consultant—note that Digital Masters don’t just adopt flashy new technology. They deploy tech to improve the customer experience, upgrade processes, and gain competitive advantage. In fact, according to the authors, Digital Masters “are 26 percent more profitable than their average industry competitors.” And a company doesn’t need to be Google or Apple to succeed in this arena. As the authors researched how technology is used “in the 90-plus percent of the economy that doesn’t do technology for a living,” they found that the main requirements for digital mastery are “time, tenacity, and leadership.” They provide role models who invested all three.


LOCATION IS (STILL) EVERYTHING

AUTHOR: David R. Bell
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 26 USD

Internet shopping has created a boundaryless market of buyers and sellers who can complete transactions from anywhere. Or has it? Bell, a Wharton professor, discovers surprising correlations in our physical lives and our virtual preferences. For instance, online retailers are likely to see concentrations of customers in certain markets as opposed to an equal smattering of buyers from across the globe. That’s because people tend to cluster in neighborhoods where the other residents have preferences and income levels similar to their own, and they share information about online sellers just as they’d share information about local ones. Their physical locations influence their online buying patterns in other ways: For instance, they’re less likely to buy items at a virtual store if those items are readily available nearby. Bell concludes, “The real world imposes gravitylike forces and other frictions on all of us as we search, shop, and sell.”


Don’t Miss

Leaders who are Overworked and Overwhelmed will improve their health and their professional lives by adopting mindfulness techniques, according to leadership coach Scott Eblin. He’s a former high-powered executive himself, so he understands the siren call of work, but he makes a strong case for managers to identify and eliminate the stressors in their lives. Yes, he advocates meditation, breathing, and yoga, but he also offers interviews with dozens of leaders whose performance and productivity were boosted by such simple methods. It’s a refreshing book that offers hope for positive change. (Wiley, 28 USD)

Lifetime employment at a single company is a relic of the past; what works in today’s fluid job market is The Alliance between employers and employees. Today’s optimum model of employment is a “tour of duty,” say Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, both writers and entrepreneurs. “The manager can speak openly and honestly about the investment the company is willing to make in the employee and what it expects in return. The employee can speak openly and honestly about the type of growth he seeks…and what he will invest in the company in return for the effort.” This way, the authors argue, everybody gets and gives their best. (Harvard Business Review Press, 25 USD)

Resilient leadership demands gumption, guts, and determination, which all add up to MOXIE, according to leadership consultant John Baldoni. More specifically, MOXIE is built on mindfulness, opportunity, X-factors (individual strengths), innovation, and engagement. Baldoni illustrates his points with tales about leaders as diverse as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Campbell Soup Company’s Doug Conant. He also notes that opportunity can be viewed as the flip side of a setback: “Inherent in adversity is a willingness to look beyond the immediate problem to see possibilities over the horizon.” (Bibliomotion, 26.95 USD)