Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Never Split the Difference

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Voss, Christopher. Never split the difference : negotiating as if your life depended on it. HarperBusiness, 2016.

Never Split the DifferenceNever Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It (2016) by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz explores a wealth of negotiating techniques presented in a framework of topical chapters that are meant to build on and to inform one another.

Throughout the book, Voss shares stories about his work as an FBI negotiator, beginning each chapter with a dramatic kidnapping or hostage situation. These anecdotes make the book hard to put down. The reader’s attention is kidnapped as well until the situation is resolved – and each technique explained.

An over-arching theme of the book is that creating adversarial relationships, quid pro quo bargaining, and compromise – what could be considered aspects of traditional negotiation – aren’t the best techniques or outcomes. Voss instead advocates listening actively, creating empathy, becoming comfortable with “no,” and humanizing your counterpart as just some of the tools of successful negotiators.

Voss teases out each technique, explaining it, showing how it is used in the process and providing tips, tricks, and easily memorized phrases to use. He also points out that negotiation is not a 1-2-3 process but a fluid dynamic where the skilled negotiator uses these tools interchangeably, repeatedly, and with emotional insight to move toward resolution.

The book can be challenging as Voss pushes his reader to understand that negotiation will at times be an uncomfortable and self-conscious process. For example, mirroring – an active listening technique that involves repeating what your counterpart is saying – can seem transparently manipulative, but can also be an effective way to build empathy.

Voss’s success in engaging his reader does falter, especially when he moves away from the life and death FBI negotiations to more mundane negotiations where one party can simply walk away from a deal. Further, his writing is sometimes gratingly self-promoting, as he repeatedly reminds his reader of his prestigious titles and positions. The experiences he relates are already more than sufficient to cement his reputation.

If the reader chooses to set aside these weaknesses, they can enjoy Never Split the Difference, as it delivers the excitement of a thriller with its hostage negotiation stories and presents the practical techniques that made these negotiations successful.

Also available as an eBook or audiobook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

Book Review: Blue Ocean Shift

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Kim, W. Chan. Blue ocean shift : beyond competing : proven steps to inspire confidence and seize new growth. Hachette Books, 2017.

book cover imagesBlue Ocean Shift (2017) by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne is the follow-up volume to the bestselling Blue Ocean Strategy (2005), which presented the theory that businesses could successfully create both new markets and innovative products simultaneously in highly competitive spaces. In their new book, the authors provide a process for creating and executing the strategy. The first section of the book summarizes blue ocean strategy, emphasizing its distinctiveness and its value, while the second section presents five steps for making a blue ocean shift.

In the course of walking the reader through the five steps, Kim and Mauborgne fill the book with examples and tools to help the blue ocean team – assembled in Step 1 – think outside traditional, competitive business strategy. One of these tools is the Buyer Utility Map, which aids in seeing a product from an outsider perspective. Another is the Six Paths, which encourages the team to look at their product from different perspectives such as across alternative industries or across complementary products, as a way to discover new opportunities. A third is the Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create Grid which helps to parse out how an organization might transform a product to provide both innovation and cost savings, opening up the proverbial blue ocean market. These tools are just a few examples of the templates, grids and diagrams that Kim and Mauborgne write about to inspire creative thinking about products and markets.

That said, the book does have some weaknesses. First, the authors state that any size organization can execute a blue ocean shift; however, the five steps are heavily focused on implementation in a large organization. Second, the endnotes don’t extend beyond the first section, and the majority of bibliography cites the authors’ previous work. This sparse scholarship appears to indicate that few beyond the authors have studied the strategy in any systematic way in the twelve years since Blue Ocean Strategy was published. Third, while the authors provide real life examples of organizations that have executed the strategy with success, the five steps are generally presented in an idealized way where all the team members play nice together, they have all the support and resources they need, and they have decided the success of the company and of the blue ocean strategy is their highest good.

In sum, the book’s value lies in challenging readers to think differently about their products, their strategy, and their markets while providing a clear process and a number of resources to encourage that thinking.

Blue Ocean Shift is also available on Notable Business Books Kindles and as an OverDrive audiobook.

Book Review: Summer Reading

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Daniel Gross, Executive Editor of strategy+business, advocates looking beyond the quick, hot media on telephones to the slow content in books. In his article “Best Business Books 2017,” he says: “We value the longest forms of content because of books’ ability to take us deep – deep inside narratives and stories, deep inside carefully constructed paradigms and schemas, deep inside brilliantly constructed arguments backed by meticulously complied evidence… We respect and value the labor of gifted writers.”

Here is what authors and thought leaders are reading now:

James SurowieckiBusiness columnist at the New Yorker James Surowiecki recommends Machine, Platform, Crowd, a guidebook to the new world of innovation, “focusing concretely on how organizations can best leverage the new tools the digital age offers… not just innovations that bring new products and services to market, but also innovations in the way we make decisions and solve problems, in the way we collaborate and in the way we organize work.” Also available as an eBook on OverDrive.

Ken FavaroCorporate strategy advisor Ken Favaro nominates If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat by Leonard Sherman, who “argues that companies have to re-imagine what they are and thus what they are capable of… Instead of running faster, you break away from the pack by redefining one or more of the boundaries that historically constrained industry behaviors and by consistently renewing your product and service portfolios.” Also available as an eBook on OverDrive.

Bethany McLeanBethany McLean, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, commends Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, “the rollicking narrative of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan’s notorious efforts to create an album that, rather than being mass marketed, would be valued like a work of art – sold to only one buyer, who would be the only one who could every play it… (because) file sharing and streaming business models have rendered it nearly impossible for most musicians to make money from their work.”
Also available as an eBook on OverDrive.

Sally HelgesenLeadership development consultant and speaker Sally Helgesen nominates The Captain Class by Sam Walker. “This wonderfully written and wildly entertaining study of the most winning sports teams in history has more to say about leadership, engagement, and the chemistry that sparks and sustains extraordinary achievement than a decade’s worth of leadership books.”
Also available as an eBook or audiobook.

Ryan AventAt The Economist Ryan Avent calls The Great Leveler by Walter Scheidel a dark book, but the year’s best. Since the stone age, “societies that manage to create an economic surplus become economically and politically unequal… Over time, elites get better at rigging the system to divert resources toward themselves. Only catastrophe limits the march toward greater inequality – great plagues, state failure, revolution and mass-mobilization warfare.” Also available as an eBook or audiobook.

Catharine P. TaylorMedia thought leader Catharine P. Taylor recommends Superconsumers “for its brevity, its anthropological approach and its power. The book contains compelling examples of what makes the small minority of customers who buy more of, and have a current passion for, a particular product so vital for building businesses… The key is to uncover the larger reason that superconsumers are hiring your product, and use those insights to expand your market.”

Duff McDonaldDuff McDonald, author of the HBS critique The Golden Passport chose Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal as his 2017 WSJ best pick and he has not changed his mind. Kotler and Wheal “have gifted us with a thrilling tour through worldwide efforts to better harness flow, which is defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”
Also available as an eBook or audiobook.

View more books recommended by these business writers.

Book Review: The Captain Class

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Walker, Sam. The captain class : the hidden force that creates the world’s greatest teams. Random House, 2017.

book cover imageMike Krzyzewski, who has won more games than any basketball coach in the history of the NCAA Division I, once wrote that while talent and coaching are essential, the secret to greatness is something else: “The single most important ingredient after you get the talent is internal leadership. It’s not the coaches as much as one single person or people on the team who set higher standards than that team would normally set for itself.”

This quote comes from the new book, The Captain Class, by sports reporter and Wall Street Journal editor, Sam Walker. In 2005, Walker began researching elite sports teams with a goal of constructing an objective formula for creating turn-around performance. After a decade of analyzing world class teams, Walker came to the same conclusion as Coach K: the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.

Walker begins his book by explaining how he identified the world’s 16 greatest teams. Examining all 16 teams for the key to excellence, he concluded that it was not the coach, or the management, or the money or even the superstars. Each of the elite teams had one player (the captain) whose career book-ended the team’s period of excellence. The captain was the key.

The list of dominant teams and captains is international. American examples are Bill Russel of the Boston Celtics, Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees and Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Walker describes seven traits of elite captains, including aggressive play, emotional control and use of non-verbal communication. Alpha captains also exhibit reckless and self-defeating behaviors, but ironically, the negatives only serve to strengthen the team.

Lively stories of players and captains, coaches and moments in sports history make up most of The Captain Class. Sports fans and business leaders are sure to enjoy this book. Non-sport fans will be surprised that they like it too. Recommended for anyone interested in leadership psychology.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Review: Books on a Meaningful Life

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Something almost universally true: everyone wants to live a meaningful life. However, the good life does not happen by chance. Youthful decisions about how we spend our time and who we spend it with create the amount of meaning we experience in middle age. How we choose to spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Last month, The Startup posted contributor Thomas Oppong’s recommended books on how to live life meaningfully. Four of his selections were among my favorites, too. I have personally recommended these books to colleagues and reviewed them on this blog, some as long as a decade ago. No surprise: these books have become classics and remain “best sellers” in the Ford Library.

book cover imageChristensen, Clayton M., et al. How will you measure your life? Harper Business, 2012.

Clayton M. Christensen, renowned professor at the Harvard Business School, is among the world’s top experts on innovation and growth. Using examples from his work with prominent global companies, he applies lessons learned to the careers and personal lives of students. He encourages students to consider the long-term results of different decisions and actions that have an impact on interpersonal relationships, personal integrity and career success. Full review.

How Will You Measure Your Life? is also available on our Business Bestseller Kindles and as an audiobook or eBook on OverDrive.

book cover imageGrosz, Stephen. The examined life : how we lose and find ourselves. W.W. Norton, 2013.

In his day to day practice as a psychotherapist, Stephen Grosz helps his patients understand themselves, their masked motivations and complex feelings so they can live happier and more fulfilled lives. These touching stories from his patients teach about love and loss, intimacy and separation, change and acceptance. Full review.

The Examined Life is also available as an audiobook CD.

book cover imageBrafman, Ori, et al. Sway : the irresistible pull of irrational behavior. Doubleday, 2008.

This brief and entertaining book examines the hidden influences that sometimes derails even the most principled decision-maker. Psychological concepts like loss aversion, diagnosis bias and the power of commitment are explained using vibrant examples from real life. After revealing how these hidden forces drive irrational behavior and why we are vulnerable to them, the authors provide strategies for dealing with distorted thinking. Full review.

Sway is also available as an audiobook CD.

book cover imageTavris, Carol, et al. Mistakes were made (but not by me) : why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. Harcourt, 2007.

It is difficult to admit mistakes but easy to find a justification for them. This book illuminates the ways our brains resolve the stress of cognitive dissonance to preserve our feelings of self-worth. The unreliable nature of memory and effects of personal bias impair our judgment in insidious ways, which ultimately impacts personal relationships, the legal justice system and seemingly objective scientific research. Full review.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: The Future of Happiness

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Blankson, Amy. The future of happiness : five modern strategies for balancing productivity and well-being in the digital era. BenBella Books, 2017.

book cover imageAmy Blankson’s The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era presents an interesting and timely topic for readers who may wonder if there are better ways to manage their digital lives. Her author biography touts some impressive bona fides such as an Ivy League education and presidential Point of Light awards. While the topic is engaging, the book is not. Readers interested in this book may enjoy Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Braving the Wilderness, or How to Be Happy at Work.

The author chose to have her brother write the foreword, and his effusive praise immediately strikes the false note of over-selling. She relies on family as support for and evidence of the validity of her claims and assertions, which threads its way throughout the book and gives it an aura of an extended marketing campaign for her consulting firm and her brother’s books.

The book is divided into two parts: The Three Burning Questions and The Five Strategies. While the questions of where we are heading and what happiness might look like they are worth exploring, the question of whether we would be better off without technology seems dated and superfluous, especially given her central thesis of using technology wisely. This is a second pattern that repeats throughout; the good ideas are overshadowed by the tired and overused.

The Five Strategies section shares these weaknesses, and adds to them with a number of misstatements of fact. For example, in the Strategy #4 section, she states that the Cold War ended in 1963, that the Kennedy years were “pre-Vietnam,” and that Jimmy Carter founded Habitat for Humanity. These errors both distract from the main theme and undercut the author’s credibility. The strategies themselves aren’t particularly modern or innovative – stay grounded, know thyself, train your brain, create a habitat for happiness, and innovate consciously. Here again there are few worthwhile solutions, but many of her suggestions read more like the inevitable New Year’s resolutions article in the January issue of any number of lifestyle magazines.

Finally, the author points out another reason not to bother. She has a penchant for recommending specific apps that she likes. She even states, “I am keenly aware that by the time it [the book] is published, it will be somewhat outdated.” Interesting topic, poor execution.

Spring Break Reads

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

As 2017 drew to a close, Inc.’s contributing editor Jeff Haden published his list of the best books of the year, which are designed to help readers connect with ideas and perspectives that will help them make changes in their lives. Any one of these books would be an enjoyable read over Spring Break.

One Device by Brian Merchant. The iPhone is the bestselling and most profitable product of all time, but despite Steve Jobs’ claims, the smartphone is not solely Apple’s invention. Like any breakthrough, the smartphone is a collective achievement involving technologies no one heard of and innovators no one remembers. This is the story of the device, its history and worldwide impact.
Also available as an audiobook and eBook on OverDrive.

Superconsumers by Eddie Yoon. The most knowledgeable and emotionally connected buyers comprise only 10% of all customers, yet these highly fixated superconsumers generate up to 70% of sales and profit. Numerous case studies, anecdotes and data show how these consumers can be tapped to shape strategies and products.

High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. Six habits practiced consistently lead to exceptional long-term results across multiple domains of life. Perhaps most salient are the first and last habits. The first is to seek clarity — know yourself and what you want. And the last is to demonstrate courage — stand up for yourself, your ideas and others.
Also available as an eBook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

Principles by Ray Dalio. Reflections on life lessons learned from a long and successful career in investment management include a time-proven process for making choices and achieving goals. This book advises readers to be clear about what is wanted in life and to design a plan to attain it, and explains Dalio’s personal concepts of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency.
Also available as audiobook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. This book on resilience combines personal experiences and academic research to show how after a devastating loss, it is possible to recover and find deeper meaning in life. Those who develop compassion for themselves and draw on their own and others’ support can persevere over hardships such as illness, natural disasters and war.
Also available as an eBook and audiobook on OverDrive and on Notable Business Books Kindles.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Brown, Brené. Braving the wilderness : the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Random House, 2017.

book cover imageDivisions seem to define the current cultural moment for many of us. Instead of seeing each other’s similarities, we focus on the ways in which we are different. This skewed focus leads to loneliness and a lack of interpersonal connection. People are seeking answers in an effort to heal the pain caused by this unhappiness.

In her new book, Braving the Wilderness, author Brené Brown tackles this tough issue with clear advice and surprising suggestions. In this follow-up to her bestselling Rising Strong and Daring Greatly, Brown points to the idea of true belonging as the solution to creating lasting relationships with others. She defines true belonging as being consistently true to who you are, your values, and your beliefs, even when it is difficult to do so and you find yourself standing alone. She further describes this paradox using the framework of a Maya Angelou quote: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all.” Occupying this place of true belonging, in which you are authentic even when it creates discomfort, brings one into what Brown calls “the wilderness”: a place that is unforgiving yet sacred, dangerous yet breathtaking.

With the destination defined, Brown gives the reader the tools to reach the wilderness where true belonging lies through her BRAVING acronym: boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault, integrity, non-judgment, and generosity. These seven elements of trust are the keys for a person to find both true belonging with themselves and to foster authentic connection with others that can not only withstand, but dismantle, the barriers that make us feel isolated from one another.

Through clear writing, relatable personal anecdotes, and pertinent research data, Braving the Wilderness guides the reader through difficult terrain with grace. However, it stops short of diving into the underlying causes of our cultural divisions. Readers of Brown’s previous works will also find some data reused in this concise and approachable introduction to authenticity and self-trust in troubled times.

Braving the Wilderness is also available as an eBook on OverDrive, an audiobook on OverDrive, and on Notable Business Books Kindles at the Ford Library.

Book Review: Dollars and Sense

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Ariely, Dan, et al. Dollars and sense : how we misthink money and how to spend smarter. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.

book cover imageIn Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter, Dan Ariely, bestselling author and James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, teams up with Jeff Kreisler, attorney, author and comedian, to examine our irrational thinking and behavior with respect to money. While written for a general audience, the book references numerous scholarly studies and provides complete notes to undergird the authors’ observations and analysis. It is divided into three sections: how we define money, how we (mis)-assess value, and how we can think more clearly about money.

Part One lays out some basic characteristics of money and a couple of complicating factors in thinking wisely about it. The authors define money as a common good that is general, divisible, fungible and storable, and they remind their readers of the principles of opportunity costs and relative value. While these characteristics and principles are straightforward, they probably aren’t the first things we think of when we consider our finances.

Part Two is the bulk of the book and here the authors lay out the myriad ways in which human beings think unwisely about money — everything from avoiding the pain of paying, to overvaluing what we already have, to looking only at price to determine value. They also point out how much of our modern financial system has responded by doubling down on our unwise thinking to divide us from our hard-earned money in the easiest and most painless ways. This section is sobering and could be downright depressing, since, by being human, every reader will have fallen into one of more of these unwise thought processes. However, the saving grace of the book here and throughout is its humor, much of it self-deprecating. This humor provides the reader with a sense of common ground and with the comfort that even the experts are not immune from a slick sales pitch.

Part Three explores what we can do to mitigate the effects of our magical thinking about money. While we can never be — nor want to be — completely rational about money, there are things we can do to think more wisely about it. The authors point out what should matter in our decisions — opportunity cost, true benefit, and real pleasure — and what should not — sale prices or ease of payment among others. They provide suggestions for how we as individuals can think correctly and exercise forethought and self-control, and for how we as a society could transform our financial systems and use new technology to help us act more wisely.

In sum, Ariely and Kreisler present the sober truth about our irrational ways with money in a humorous and engaging book that is thought-provoking and hopefully, behavior-changing.

Dollars and Sense is also available as an audiobook on OverDrive, as an eBook on OverDrive, and on Notable Business Books Kindles at the Ford Library.

WSJ: Best Business Books 2017

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Every year, the Wall Street Journal asks writers, academics, business owners, athletes and assorted interesting people for their recommendations for the best books of the year. Here’s what the contributors said for 2017:
 
recommender image“It’s been a strong year for books on economics, business and technology, according to Mohamed A. El-Erian, author and chief economic advisor at Allianz. He recommends 7 books from 2017, including: Principles, “Ray Dalio’s illuminating discussions of what has driven his and Bridgewater’s success; Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella’s engaging discussion of both his personal journey and the opportunities facing tech as Microsoft successfully reboots; and The One Device, Brian Merchant’s detailed analysis of what has gone into the creation and proliferation of the iPhone.”
 

reviewer imageDuff McDonald, author of the HBS critique, The Golden Passport. “I generally can’t stand books about management. An exception: Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. This is a book about life, about finding flow, the state of peak performance that no spreadsheet can model.”

 
reviewer imageDenise Morrison, CEO of the Campbell Soup company recommends two books: Thank You for Being Late and The Fourth Industrial Revolution. “Disruption is the new normal across business, politics and culture … These books explore how the supernova speed of changing technology is outpacing human evolution and our ability to manage through the change.”

 
reviewer imageCo-founder and President of Lyft Inc, John Zimmer reflects that “the happiest moments in life are those when we feel most connected to family, friends and the community around us. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging does an excellent job highlighting how we need to reclaim our sense of true community.”
 

reviewer imageOf all the books she read in 2017, CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi felt that Radical Technologies stood out. “It describes some of the ways innovation is transforming our daily lives…It’s a fascinating glimpse at what we can achieve when we embrace the changes happening all around us and infuse our lives with the spirit of possibility.”
 
Duke users can read the Wall Street Journal article, “Books of the Year: 12 Months of Reading”, in ABI/Inform Complete. Duke username and password required.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.