FT Business Books: November and December edition


“Awakened Capitalism: How Corporate Morality Sabotages Democracy”, by Carl Rhodes

The workplace has become more politicized than ever and companies are struggling to adapt to the demands of young consumers and employees who are more uncomfortable with issues like inequality and climate change. Capitalism is still there, but it is recognized that it has not kept its promises to many people.

Awakened capitalism, written by a professor of organizational studies, examines the history of this phenomenon – from corporate social responsibility to neoliberalism and debates on the subject – as well as the political causes it has adopted and the implications for all of us.

The book begins by illustrating the meaning of the term ‘awake’ by exploring the intractable irony it manifests when companies claim public purpose and social responsibility while profiting along the way.

Continuing, the author looks at specific corporate activities that embrace awakened capitalism in practice. Particular attention is paid to political activism, examining how businesses become representatives of social justice causes and how this integrates corporate and social power.

The chapters highlight examples of companies like Amazon, Nike and Gillette and how they are embracing awakened capitalism in different ways. For example, in 2019, Gillette ran a TV commercial using the slogan “The best men can be” to challenge toxic masculinity. The campaign went viral and sparked a debate on progressive visions of the most diverse possibilities of masculinity.

As Rhodes says: “Now is the time to wake up to wake up capitalism. It is time to realize its characteristics and its political effects. It is also time to take action to put the world on the path to equality and justice for all.

“Bias interrupted: creating inclusion for real and for good”, by Joan C Williams

Business leaders too often look to quick and dramatic solutions to diversity issues, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, which have seen many business leaders speak to their staff about the struggle against inequalities.

Joan C Williams has worked in this field for decades. She achieved rock star status after writing a popular article (which became a book) about the white working class after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. She said: “Class wins over gender, and it is the engine of American politics.”

In this new book, she argues that it takes a series of small steps to address diversity issues in the workforce, including the classroom. “The basic tools of the diversity industrial complex are not working,” she writes. “Employee resource groups and mentoring programs for women and people of color are helpful in creating a sense of community and support for those who feel isolated in organizations. But we need to stop focusing almost exclusively on helping people navigate systems that remain fundamentally unfair. We have to change the systems.

Organizations that recruit women or people of color to fill a gap often find that they lose them because “they can’t do their best or move forward at an equitable pace.”

While older bias training can be “ineffective or even counterproductive,” she says there are ways to encourage people to understand and correct bias without putting them on the defensive.

What he needs is a commitment. “Achieving both diversity and inclusion can be done with the tools we’ve forged for over a century to achieve any business goal: data, metrics and persistence. ”

“The Cold Start Problem: How to Start and Scale Network Effects”, by Andrew Chen

The term network effect has become a cliché for tech startup pitches, providing a practical answer to tough questions from venture capitalists about the viability of new digital businesses.

“What if your competition comes after you?” »Answer: network effects. “Why is this going to continue to grow as quickly as it has?” »Answer: network effects. “Why fund this instead of Company X?” »Answer (again): network effects.

The need to understand what people mean by those two words is what inspired this 400-page self-help book by Andrew Chen, a former product team leader at one of the world’s hottest tech startups. known to the world, Uber, and now a partner at venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz.

The cold start problem explains how founders can harness the power of a network when they are just starting out. He punctuates his text with stories drawn from interviews, conducted over the past three years, with founders and teams behind some leading tech start-ups, including Slack, LinkedIn, Zoom and Airbnb. Chen also draws on his background in venture capital, which has involved investing more than $ 400 million in more than two dozen start-ups.

This book attempts to answer a number of questions: how do you integrate network effects into your product? How do you know when network effects are triggered and if they are strong enough to create a defense? What product features are you building to amplify network effects? And more generally, how can we continue to develop a network that is already functioning, especially in the face of saturation, competition and other negative dynamics?

One thing is certain: the need to understand network effects does not go away. Network effects are essential for some of the biggest tech companies on the planet, which in turn are becoming the most valuable and important companies overall.

“Making it Happen: Lessons from the Frontline of Strategy Execution”, by Rebecca Stephens

This book deals with the implementation of strategy in increasingly complex organizations that operate in increasingly disruptive and difficult environments.

It’s written by Rebecca Stephens, author, journalist and the first British woman to climb Everest and the Seven Summits, but it’s the brainchild of Paul Heugh, whose CV includes military, strategy at GlaxoSmithKline and now the board.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the book focuses on a dual purpose: both on how companies can improve their strategy execution, but also on how individuals – who are at risk. both focused and engaged, yet bold, open-minded and agile – can make a real difference. to the people and organizations they serve.

Each chapter is the reflection of individuals evolving in very different environments. For example, in Chapter Two, readers learn how, as Commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sir Michael Rose found clarity in the “fog” of a “three-way civil war.” faces ”to save a peacekeeping mission from the brink of collapse.

Other examples explore the approaches taken by Sir Tim Brighouse and Sir Anthony Seldon to transform education in their respective public and private sectors. Designer Emma Bridgewater also contributes, sharing how her company has always been somewhere between business and family life, and the toll it has taken.

“It was exhausting,” says Bridgewater. “If you want to make a difference there isn’t two ways, you’re going to have to work really hard.”

Bringing together the voices and experiences of those featured in the different chapters, the book ends by drawing “common and enduring truths in strategy execution that transcend sector differences”. These include having a purpose, finding your vision through the fog, being agile, communicating well, planning and taking initiative.

It is inspiring and informative read. As the book notes: “A winning mindset can look to the distant horizon and choose to play a pivotal role in influencing and shaping the future. “

“Dark Social: Understanding the Dark Side of Work, Personality, and Social Media,” by Ian MacRae

As Ian MacRae points out, it has become essential in 2020 to understand how to motivate and engage people, and monitor their performance, when they are scattered around their bedrooms and kitchens.

It is therefore prescient that in Dark social, MacRae, a work psychologist, explored the darker sides of personality traits and how these manifest at work and in the digital world – especially as the two have become even more entangled through apps of hybrid work, such as Slack and Zoom.

MacRae carefully details different personality types and the use of business case studies – such as the extreme bullying of an COO at a tech company and the rise and fall of Carlos Ghosn – helps the reader understand personality and personality disorders specifically in the workplace, how they can be dysfunctional (in terms of failing leadership, for example) and how this translates into online environments.

He also recognizes that while remote working has its benefits, it also allows bullies to operate under the radar and gain even more access to their targets.

Dark social feels a bit too manual at times, and the author may have tried to cover too much ground – the parts seem disjointed and so bogged down in detail that the broader arguments made get lost a bit, but there is still a lot valuable information.

An interesting point is that the challenge for organizations is to translate their corporate culture online. “Culture as a shared understanding of acceptable behavior,” MacRae writes, does not emerge “automatically” or “naturally”. “If people and groups are not given any guidance on what types of behavior and communication are appropriate and encouraged, different people and groups will develop their own norms. ”

He points out that when people enter an unfamiliar environment – physical or virtual – they watch how others “interact, how they are dressed, listen to how they talk to each other and change their behavior accordingly.” Therefore, MacRae states that when the office moves to new spaces, the leaders of a company must clearly establish and reinforce the acceptable types of behavior. “Good behavior needs to be modeled in a new environment, and people need to be both trained on the new equipment and shown how they are supposed to behave and behave in that environment. “


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