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Best Business Books 2009




from strategy+business issue 57, Winter 2009        reprint number 0940...
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best books 2009 best business books




    NO MATTER WHAT THE FUTURE                                                   ...
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David Wessel, In Fed We            John B. Taylor, Getting Off        Gillian Tett, Fool’s Gold: How   Richard A. Posner, ...
on the subject unsettled markets BOOKS
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     Here and What Must Be Done to Fix It, by Mark Zandi,           and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened t...
A Fly on the Wall
Fool’s Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P.
Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and
 ...
09
     businessman rationally ignores small probabilities that        Then, thanks partly to information technology, fina...
Kenneth Hopper and William      Warren Bennis, Daniel           Edgar H. Schein, Helping: How   C. Julia Huang, Charisma a...
09
                                                                       Leadership and Truth
     Financial Chaos may ha...
really know how to help each BOOKS
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      Leadership by Example                                         reveal the ranking of your values. He describes the...
is well known as a Buddhist peace activist. She was also
identified by Business Week as an entrepreneurial star.
     Chen...
Mark Blaxill and Ralph          David J. Teece, Dynamic         Malcolm S. Salter, Innovation
     Eckardt, The Invisible ...
form of protection, those companies will quickly copy
the innovations and drive the profits (for both the inno-
vator and ...
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      The Importance of What You Do
      tual premise but is aimed at a practitioner audience. If           Moreover, ...
Strategy Failed
The importance of managerial decisions in strategy
brings us to Innovation Corrupted: The Origins and
    ...
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      domains? How certain should we be before committing            1957 classic, Leadership in Administration: A Soci...
Ben Simpfendorfer, The New     Nandan Nilekani, Imagining      Ian Bremmer and Preston          Robert P. Smith, with Pete...
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  1. 1. strategy+business Best Business Books 2009 from strategy+business issue 57, Winter 2009 reprint number 09407 by Clive Crook, Charles Handy, Phil Rosenzweig, Ayesha Khanna and Parag Khanna, Judith F. Samuelson, Catharine P. Taylor, Steven Levy, and James O’Toole Reprint
  2. 2. 1 best books 2009 best business books NO MATTER WHAT THE FUTURE the changing topology of holds, the Great Recession of global business. They find 2008–09 has had a seismic changes in regional trading impact on the global business patterns and increasingly dy- landscape and has called into namic emerging economies question its philosophical and that will challenge any estab- systemic foundations. lished player — all evidence Certainly, it has been keenly felt among publishers of an ongoing shift in competitive power that is sure to and booksellers. In May 2009, year-to-date sales of accelerate if the U.S. economy remains stagnant. professional books in the U.S. were down 6.8 percent As one might expect, our management and leader- from the year before, according to the Association of ship essays are rife with recession links. In the former, American Publishers. The recession also colors the Judith F. Samuelson, the founder and executive direc- writing — and the reading — of this year’s s+b best tor of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society business books essays in ways both obvious and subtle. Program, searches out books that reveal the recession’s The most direct manifestation is evident in the silver lining: its challenges to outmoded ways of think- appraisal by Financial Times commentator Clive Crook ing about management and governance. In the leader- of the books that seek to make sense of the recession, ship essay, Charles Handy, whose memoir was one of its implications, and its ramifications. In barely more 2008’s Top Shelf selections, mines books on topics as than a year, the business section has become crowded diverse as America’s Puritan settlers and the Buddhist with such books, but with the story still unfolding, Tzu Chi movement for insights into how to begin none of them yet are comprehensive. Crook’s picks mending the torn fabric of leadership. strategy + business issue 57 provide the multiple levels of perspective needed to The University of Denver’s Daniels College of appreciate the recession’s many facets. Business professor James O’Toole grounds his review Ayesha Khanna, managing director of Hybrid of this year’s best biographies in a hefty tome about a Realities, and Parag Khanna, New America Founda- 19th-century prime mover, John Stuart Mill, whose tion senior research fellow, team up to review books on advocacy of free markets and private ownership res-
  3. 3. 2 best books 2009 best business books 3 13 23 32 onates amid the dramatic new books as the recession A Wealth of Explanations The Capable and In Search of the Disruption 2.0 Clive Crook the Failed Silver Lining Steven Levy government response to — as one of the leading Phil Rosenzweig Judith F. Samuelson this economic crisis. IMD technological mechanisms 8 Means to a Greater End 18 28 37 professor Phil Rosenzweig enabling this phenomenon. Charles Handy Western Dominance Branding Goes Viral Unconventional Lives returns for an encore per- Steven Levy, senior writer at in Decline Catharine P. Taylor James O’Toole formance in the strategy Wired and newcomer to our Ayesha Khanna and Parag Khanna category, pointing us to- pages, broadens the thesis by ward books on intellectual property and dynamic capa- reviewing books that explore the disruptive power of bilities in an effort to identify enduring strategic technology and what happens when companies such as advantage. Rosenzweig also recommends a new book MySpace don’t heed that power. on Enron that takes us back to the last recession and This year’s best business books help us understand explores the perils of stretching any strategy too far. current conditions and chart a secure course forward. Marketing maven Catharine P. Taylor is back as With luck, next year’s best books will offer similar well, with a proposition that should raise executive eye- insight into a recovery of historic proportions. brows: Branding is becoming an open source endeavor. — Theodore Kinni She calls out Twitter — the subject of almost as many THE MELTDOWN STRATEGY MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY Illustrations by Guy Billout LEADERSHIP GLOBALIZATION MARKETING BIOGRAPHY
  4. 4. David Wessel, In Fed We John B. Taylor, Getting Off Gillian Tett, Fool’s Gold: How Richard A. Posner, A Failure Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on Track: How Government the Bold Dream of a Small of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 the Great Panic (Crown Actions and Interventions Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was and the Descent into Business, 2009) Caused, Prolonged, and Corrupted by Wall Street Depression (Harvard Worsened the Financial Crisis Greed and Unleashed a University Press, 2009) Mark Zandi, Financial Shock: (Hoover Institution Press, 2009) Catastrophe (Free Press, 2009) Global Panic and Government Gerald F. Davis, Managed by Bailouts — How We Got Here William D. Cohan, House of the Markets: How Finance and What Must Be Done to Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Re-Shaped America (Oxford Fix It (2nd ed., FT Press, 2009) Wretched Excess on Wall University Press, 2009) Street (Doubleday, 2009) 3 A Wealth OF best books 2009 the meltdown Explanations by Clive Crook T HE DEFINITIVE ACCOUNT OF THE FINANCIAL meltdown of 2008–09 has not been written, and cannot be just yet because the story is unfinished. A degree of stability returned to financial markets this summer, but the system is still stressed and nobody can be sure what will happen next. The broader economy shows signs of recovery, but unemployment is high and likely to rise further, a prospect with political and economic implications still unknown. By the autumn of 2009, only a small part of the huge fiscal stimulus deployed against the downturn in the U.S. had made itself felt. In monetary policy, the Federal Reserve and its counterparts intervened to sup- port the banking and credit systems in new ways and on a wholly unprecedented scale. To call these interventions “unfinished business” would be putting it mildly. Meanwhile, not just the future is uncertain. The next surprise could change our understanding of what has happened so far, as earlier shocks already have. Never mind: A crop of new books on the subject has already come to market. All were written under strategy + business issue 57 the pressure of short deadlines and fast-changing cir- cumstances — and, as you might expect, many were worthless on arrival. But there are some splendid exceptions. The best books from this first crop are fine by any standard.
  5. 5. on the subject unsettled markets BOOKS BEST 09 The Fed’s-Eye View Among the successful books, the range of explana- recall that his rare interventions tions for the crisis is wide. Some focus on economic pol- icy, others on closely reported tales of greed and fallibil- more than calming them — that deer-caught-in-the- ity. One locates the root cause in the triumph of finance headlights affect was enough to panic anybody — you over manufacturing in the United States. Another asks might thank him for recusing himself as often as he did. whether capitalism itself stands condemned. Just as the It is hard to disagree with Wessel’s criticisms of Alan crisis had no single source, there is no single way to best Greenspan, Bernanke’s once-lionized predecessor at the tell what happened. This makes it hard to say which Fed. If any official should have acted to avert this crisis, book is best. Nonetheless, if forced to choose just one, I either by raising interest rates sooner to choke off the would pick David Wessel’s In Fed We Trust: Ben credit boom, or by bringing subprime mortgages under Bernanke’s War on the Panic — an excellent work on a stricter regulation, it is he. Again, though, one should 4 crucial aspect of the story, and one that addresses my remember that Greenspan was little criticized on either professional interest in economic policy. score while the bubble was inflating. As recently as 2007, the politicians and commentators now pillorying him were cheering him on. Wessel, the Wall Street Journal ’s economics editor, tells Many would say that Geithner faltered in his early the story from the point of view of days as Treasury secretary. He start- best books 2009 the meltdown policymakers in the Department of ed under a cloud because of his dif- the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, ficulties during confirmation; he and especially that of Ben Bernanke, was ridiculed for his first lamenta- the Fed’s chairman. The book is ble performance for the cameras; A Myriad of Causes beautifully written and a gripping and his previous position at the read throughout. Although Wessel New York Fed implicated him in provides enough context to make the the mess. Lately his stock has risen, crush of events intelligible, unravel- and he will not be displeased with ing causes is not his main concern. In Wessel’s essentially sound take on Fed We Trust is about how the key him. The book treats him kindly, officials coped, usually none too con- calling him calm and coherent, and fidently, with the torrent of disasters well prepared to lead by his experi- that began in 2008. The cast includes ence from earlier financial crises. Bernanke; Henry Paulson, who was Wessel touches on wider issues, Treasury secretary in the Bush but he keeps the focus on the Fed. administration when the crisis broke; Timothy Geithner, This emphasis guarantees the book an extended shelf president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when life, because the salience of the Fed is only going to the emergency started and now Barack Obama’s Treasury grow, not just in the domestic economy but interna- secretary; and many others in cameo roles. tionally as well. The awkward unwinding of the Fed’s Wessel’s telling arouses sympathy for all the main financial interventions, its role in managing the dollar players. Mistakes were made, to be sure, but they were and the external deficit, the new duties envisaged for it not obvious errors at the time. These leaders all did their in the Treasury’s blueprint for financial regulation, and best in extremely trying circumstances. Still, some of the the disenchantment of many in Congress with the way principals emerge looking better than others. it has performed — raising the possibility of stronger Wessel is not much impressed with Paulson, argu- external oversight, which Bernanke opposes strenuously ing that his trader mentality — instinctive more than — all put the Fed at the center. calculating, inclined to abrupt and unpredictable changes of position — was ill suited to the problem. Greater consistency was needed. No doubt, but was any- In Fed We Trust is superb, but if you want a brisk body inside or outside government supplying that at the overview of the whole story, Wessel’s book is not it. Here time? George W. Bush is also somewhat unfairly the honors go to the new edition of Financial Shock: impugned for choosing to take a backseat. When you Global Panic and Government Bailouts — How We Got
  6. 6. 09 Here and What Must Be Done to Fix It, by Mark Zandi, and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the the chief economist of Moody’s website Economy.com. Financial Crisis deserves honorable mention. It is as nar- As he finished work on the first version in the sum- row in its focus as Zandi’s is wide, concentrating almost BEST mer of 2008, Zandi wrote, “The worst of the crisis exclusively on interest rate policy before the crisis, and appears to be over.” Not long after, the authorities made arguing that this is where the critical mistake was made. their fateful decision to let Lehman Brothers go bank- Taylor disagrees, for instance, that the Lehman decision rupt. That decision, which most observers now regard as was the pivot on which everything turned. He is not even a terrible error, shut the credit system down and precip- very interested in subprime mortgages — they were a itated the full fury of the crisis. symptom, in his view, not the cause. Everything went This gives Zandi reason to argue — as he does, in wrong for one simple reason: the Fed abandoned its tried- this revised edition — that the Lehman decision “turned and-true rule for setting interest rates — a rule, it so hap- 5 a serious yet manageable financial crisis into an out-of- pens, that Taylor, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution control financial panic.” Yet in Zandi’s view, although and a Stanford University professor, first formulated. mistakes were made, they were not inexplicable or The Taylor rule was devised as a recommendation to downright stupid. His retelling of his own mistaken pre- central banks, and was later seen as a way to predict how diction seems to inoculate him against the 20/20 hind- the Fed actually will behave. It says that central banks BOOKS sight to which most authors on this subject fall prey. He should set interest rates equal to one and a half times the best books 2009 the meltdown writes with a keen sense of the complexities that con- inflation rate, plus half of the gap between actual and fronted policymakers. He is level-headed and fair. potential gross domestic product, plus 1. So if inflation is Of all the books in this review, Zandi’s ranges most 5 percent and the output gap is 3 percent, the rule says “Fix securitization, don’t scrap it,” Mark Zandi writes. Regulate the complex repackaging of assets more carefully, don’t regulate it out of existence. widely over the economic causes of the meltdown. He dis- to set the short-term interest rate at 10 percent: one and cusses the sources of the surge in subprime lending; the a half times 5, plus half of 3, plus 1. From the late 1980s American obsession with home ownership; the tax breaks onward, deliberately or otherwise, the Federal Reserve that promote borrowing of all kinds; the roles of financial followed the rule. Earlier this decade, it stopped. engineering, loan securitization, and exotic financial Aiming to speed the recovery from the previous instruments; attitudes toward risk; the role of the rating recession, the Fed cut interest rates in 2002 and kept agencies; monetary policy before and after the credit them low even when the Taylor rule said to raise them. crunch; fiscal policy; regulatory policy — you name it. Hence the boom in house prices, hence the boom in Lacking the flair of a David Wessel, Zandi nonethe- mortgage borrowing. Taylor presents a simulation that less writes clear, straightforward prose and puts this shows what would have happened with “normal” inter- bewildering mass of material in some kind of order. He est rates: no meltdown. ends with a 10-point checklist of actions we can take This mono-causal explanation is not altogether per- to avoid the next crisis. The seventh one is “Fix suasive. A once-in-a-half-century crisis, which this is, Securitization, Don’t Scrap It.” That is, regulate the must be a perfect storm of multiple forces. A lot has to go complex repackaging of assets more carefully, don’t reg- wrong at once; otherwise, such wrenching events would ulate it out of existence. This is characteristic of Zandi’s be commonplace. Yet Taylor believes in the one true calm approach. He does not hyperventilate. He recog- cause. Questionable as this approach may seem, in fact he strategy + business issue 57 nizes the benefits that modern finance has brought, as makes a powerful case. At the very least, he establishes the well as the damage done in this crisis. centrality of monetary policy earlier in the decade among Before we leave books that concentrate on causes, the various causes, a perspective that is lacking in many John B. Taylor’s Getting Off other accounts. Extra marks for brevity, too. The main Track: How Government Actions text runs just 60 pages. They are well worth reading.
  7. 7. A Fly on the Wall Fool’s Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and body. However, despite the BOOKS technology, not by gulling any- BEST 09 brains, the work, and the good intentions, the risk got Unleashed a Catastrophe, by Gillian Tett of the Financial out of control. Times, and House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and In House of Cards, Cohan does for the team at Bear Wretched Excess on Wall Street, by William D. Cohan, Stearns what Tett does for JPMorgan — but with a investment banker turned financial writer, zoom in, tighter focus on the instant of Bear’s demise and every- minutely reporting a fragment of the action, hoping to thing that brought the firm to that point, plus amped- Fundamental Systemic Flaws? clarify the bigger picture, ever in search of a ripping up disapproval of the principals. These characters might good yarn. not actually be evil, but, in Cohan’s telling, they are cer- Tett turns the microscope on the elite team of tainly disagreeable: brash, bullying, loudmouthed, foul- 6 bankers at JPMorgan that in the 1990s developed a fam- mouthed, and oozing testosterone — reminiscent of the ily of new financial instruments — credit default swaps, sociopaths described by Michael Lewis in Liar’s Poker: synthetic collateralized debt obligations, and other so- Rising through the Wreckage on Wall Street (Norton, called credit derivatives. These were seen as a way to 1989), the seminal work (forgive the expression) of this manage risk more effectively, and to spread it around. genre. Of course that book was a fabulous, irresistible Investors could fine-tune their expo- read, and so is House of Cards. best books 2009 the meltdown sure in more sophisticated ways, Cohan’s sourcing is especially diversifying their risk or concentrat- impressive. The book is richly ing it, according to what made sense detailed and brilliantly constructed. for them. Its only real flaw is that the Bear As these derivatives caught on, Stearns failure no longer seems as financial engineers at other firms significant as it did pre-Lehman. married them to recent innovations That is an odd thing to say, admit- in mortgage finance. Mortgage debt tedly. At any other time, the collapse could now be sliced and diced, and of a once-mighty investment bank the pieces traded every which way. would have been regarded as a mon- The breakthrough was combining strous shock in its own right. From debt securitization and credit deriva- where we stand now, it looks like a tives. Soon the traditional mortgage lesser part of the story. loan — lender, borrower, document- ed income and assets — was regarded as passé. The new technology encouraged the spread Moving to the opposite extreme, two books zoom out of much riskier arrangements, extending even to “ninja” wider even than Zandi’s encompassing perspective. They loans (no income, job, or assets) that came close to take in more than mere issues of economic manage- sanctifying fraud. But the risk was always under control, ment, and ask questions that are bigger still. you see, because those guys at JPMorgan really knew Richard A. Posner’s A Failure of Capitalism: The their stuff. Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression tries to say In a way, they did. Tett explains that despite coming what kind of calamity this really is — is it a breakdown up with the new techniques and selling them to others, caused by structural flaws in the market system, or the the firm consistently exposed itself much less to the dan- end result of an orgy of individual greed and irrational- gers, as they proved to be, than did more adventurous ity? One could always say it was both, but Posner takes outfits such as Bear Stearns and Lehman. Partly for this the more intriguing line of arguing it was the former and reason, she has been accused of being too sympathetic not the latter. The people involved were no more or less toward her sources at JPMorgan. That was not my feel- rational than usual, he says; on the whole, they acted ing. These people were not evil, and in a way, that is the in their own best interest. The problem is that an out- point. They worked insanely hard and had brains to right depression — for that is what we are in, according spare. They saw themselves as pioneers — getting rich, to Posner — is so rare an event that investors cannot to be sure, but doing it by inventing a marvelous new sensibly take account of it. “The profit-maximizing
  8. 8. 09 businessman rationally ignores small probabilities that Then, thanks partly to information technology, finan- his conduct in conjunction with that of his competitors cial services gradually gained the societal upper hand. may bring down the entire economy,” he writes. The sector made the most money, offered the highest BEST Through the systemic vulnerability of the market econ- salaries, and attracted the best talent — and prospered in omy, individual rationality conspires to cause a collective part by breaking down the traditional structures. nervous breakdown. Today, Davis argues, an individual’s prospects in It is an interesting argument, though not in my work and in retirement are tied less to the fate of one view a very convincing one. You can pick any of the long-lived company than to the vagaries of financial other books mentioned here for instances of outright markets. This is a shift as profound as the transition individual irrationality — ninja loans, for one; debt val- from farming to manufacturing, though as yet much less uation models that returned “cannot compute” when well understood. One consequence is economic insecu- 7 asked to contemplate a fall in house prices, for another; rity, a problem writ large in the current crisis (which is the list is long. A Failure of Capitalism is indispensable itself a product of the hegemony of finance). nonetheless, for Posner’s trademark intellectual vitality The book is too gloomy for my taste, although in and his tireless instinct to start a quarrel. And it is a this it conforms to the current mood. And Davis ex- they will no longer be able to stand aside. + pleasure to find that a public intellectual of Posner’s presses a faith in good government that strikes me as BOOKS amazing productivity — he seems to publish a book naive. But Managed by the Markets gave me more food best books 2009 the meltdown every six months — is still capable of surprising his read- for thought than any of the other books mentioned in ers. Despite his free-market instincts, his book confronts this review. In the past 20 years, finance did indeed tri- the limits of the market system. umph over other modes of enterprise in the U.S. and The most scholarly book of the bunch, with due elsewhere. This was, as Davis says, a momentous shift. respect to Posner, is Gerald F. Davis’s Managed by the To the victor went the spoils, with far-reaching social Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America. Davis is a and economic consequences. In contemplating the professor of management at the University of Michigan, wreckage of the crisis, one should follow Davis’s exam- with particular interest in sociology and finance. He ple, and ask whether this was either inevitable or desir- steps back farthest of all, and asks whether the crisis is a able, and what, if anything, we might learn from it. sign that finance has vastly outgrown its proper place in Because the crisis is not yet over, many of the lessons the U.S. social and economic system. must be tentative. But one certain casualty of the melt- Clive Crook (clive.crook@gmail.com) is a senior editor of the This is an excellent question, and Davis deserves down — as nearly all of these books, in their different Atlantic, a columnist for National Journal, and a commentator for great credit for trying to answer it in a serious way. His ways, confirm — is credulous faith in self-regulation. the Financial Times. He was formerly a deputy editor at the basic argument is that “twentieth century American This has been the principle underlying financial regula- society was organized around large corporations, partic- tion in recent years. Financial institutions need to be ularly manufacturers, and their way of doing things. It is supervised, went this credo, but what they do is so now increasingly organized around finance — not just complicated, and the regulator’s powers necessarily so particular Wall Street banks, but finance as a model of circumscribed, that firms must be trusted not to do how things are done.… The consequences of tying the things reckless or stupid enough to put themselves in well-being of society to financial markets have become jeopardy. What we have learned is that, as a group, starkly evident.” Even aside from the immediate crisis, financial institutions cannot be trusted even that far — in Davis’s view, those consequences are mostly grim. and when they put themselves in harm’s way, the rest of This is a valuable and novel perspective. Seen from us share in the consequences. high altitude, things look different. You see features of The credo was right about the difficulties of regulat- the economic and social landscape that escape your ing effectively. But that will no longer serve as an excuse. attention at ground level. Davis explains how many Governments will have to try harder. After this crisis, aspects of U.S. society shaped themselves around the strategy + business issue 57 traditional large corporation, and especially around manufacturing: a settled career pattern; lifetime employ- ment with a company pension to follow; the phenome- non of the company town; the company as welfare state, almost. Economist.
  9. 9. Kenneth Hopper and William Warren Bennis, Daniel Edgar H. Schein, Helping: How C. Julia Huang, Charisma and Hopper, The Puritan Gift: Goleman, and James O’Toole, to Offer, Give, and Receive Compassion: Cheng Yen and Reclaiming the American with Patricia Ward Biederman, Help (Berrett-Koehler, 2009) the Buddhist Tzu Chi Dream amidst Global Transparency: How Leaders Movement (Harvard University Financial Chaos (revised ed., Create a Culture of Candor Alan Deutschman, Walk the Press, 2009) I.B. Tauris, 2009) (Jossey-Bass, 2008) Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders (Portfolio, 2009) 8 Means TO A Greater End by Charles Handy best books 2009 leadership I F EVER THERE WAS A TIME WHEN LEADERSHIP Lesson from Our Forefathers was badly needed and sorely tested, it was during the 12 months after October 2008. The financial crash that almost became a catastrophe was a self-inflict- ed wound. It did not need to happen. There were warn- ings enough from concerned observers of troubles ahead, but those in positions of power in leading orga- nizations paid no heed until it was too late. As financial journalist Gillian Tett put it in her book Fool’s Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (Free Press, 2009; see “A Wealth of Explanations,” by Clive Crook, page 3), the “social silence” around the explosion of derivatives, and around the wealth and influence of the banking cadre, encour- aged financiers to regard their activities as detached from the rest of society, until they became “like the inhabi- tants of Plato’s cave, who could see shadows of outside reality flickering on the walls but rarely encountered that reality themselves.” Nor did they show interest in look- ing outside. Too many leaders, ensconced in their tall towers, insulated themselves from the world they were supposed to be serving and forgot what they were about. The best reminder of that underlying purpose comes from a book by brothers Kenneth and William Hopper — Kenneth, an engineer in business in the U.S.; William, an investment banker in London. The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Dream amidst Global
  10. 10. 09 Leadership and Truth Financial Chaos may have escaped notice when first selected for this review do not pretend to be as all-encom- published in 2007 because of its unusual title, but this passing as The Puritan Gift, but they provide insights into year’s paperback with a new preface by that wise man important aspects of the leader’s role. The first deals with BEST Russell Ackoff deserves rediscovery at this critical time. the need for truth (or candor, as the authors call it) in “Puritan gift” refers to what the authors describe as the organizations, something that has been badly missing of United States’ superb managerial culture as established late. The second is a primer on helping, a key facet of a by the descendants of the country’s early settlers. Those good leader’s work. The final two provide vivid and valu- settlers sought to create God’s kingdom on earth in New able examples of leadership in practice, largely but not England in the 17th century. As businessmen they also wholly drawn from business organizations. needed to earn a return on capital but saw no conflict between the two. Profit to them was the means to a 9 greater end. Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O’Toole The Puritan gift, therefore, is that rare ability to cre- are three of the most influential management thinkers ate and manage organizations that serve a useful purpose around. Accordingly, Transparency: How Leaders Create in society. As the authors note, it later inspired the cre- a Culture of Candor, their combined take on the key ation of a federal political culture that enabled 13 obscure challenges facing business today, has to be taken serious- BOOKS colonies at the edge of the civilized ly. The book takes the form of three best books 2009 leadership world to transform themselves, with individual essays, one by each of the the passage of time, into a great main authors. power. This managerial culture was Bennis looks at the conse- even successfully transplanted to quences of what Thomas Friedman Japan under the U.S. occupation after has described as the flattening of World War II and turned a poor organizations, made possible by country lacking natural resources into new technologies. As information, the second-richest in the world. and with it power, is shared more It was, the Hoppers suggest, the widely, communication across the United States’ gift to the world until organization as well as vertically sometime around 1970, when profit- becomes ever more crucial. and-loss accounting began to take Openness and honesty are essen- priority, a time they describe as “the tial. But being honest in an organi- years that the locust ate.” It was then zation is more difficult than it that the cult of the expert and the rise sounds. People hoard information, of the so-called professional manager shifted the focus of indulge in groupthink, tell their bosses only what they management to money as the measure that mattered, for think they want to hear, and ignore facts that are star- self and organization. The elevation of shareholder value ing them in the face. As Bennis points out, as the main criterion of business success mistook the “Technologies change. Human nature doesn’t.” The means for the ends, a classic category error for logicians, book, he says, is about “the things that have mattered but a calamitous strategic mistake for leaders. This error since the new technology was the flint and the long- was compounded when managerial reward was tied to bow — courage, integrity, candor, responsibility.” share value. In his eloquent and moving essay, O’Toole argues The Puritan Gift, this year’s best leadership book, is that “speaking truth to power is, perhaps, the oldest of partly a history of American business, but it is also a all ethical challenges.” To make his point, he refers the lament for the decline of the collegial style of leadership reader to classics of literature — to Sophocles’ Antigone, that drove what the authors call the “great engines of John Osborne’s Luther, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All strategy + business issue 57 growth and prosperity” and that was replaced by the Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More. O’Toole is at his “imperial” rule of the professional CEO in so many best in bringing these texts to illuminate our current companies. It is a reminder of what made the U.S. great condition, but he also cites contemporary organizations and a heartfelt plea for its recall. such as FedEx and Motorola. The prime responsibility The other four books I have of leaders, he argues, is to create “a culture of candor”
  11. 11. really know how to help each BOOKS BEST 09 Leadership as Helping in which they are constantly “willing to rethink even being a group of people who their most basic assumptions through a process of con- structive dissent.” The culture must be one in which other...yet that is precisely what good teamwork is — every individual is encouraged to speak the truth, successful reciprocal help,” he writes. Schein also lists 27 because only then can proper trust be established — synonyms for helping. One way or another, it seems, we trust that is the basis of all effective leadership but also are helping or being helped most days of the week. The the most elusive and fragile of things, so hard to estab- book is therefore a practical guide to everyday life, as lish, so easy to lose. well as an invaluable guide for all those who have some Transparency is a slight book, carefully crafted and responsibility for others, be they students, subordinates, easy to read. The messages may be as old as time, but or clients of one sort or another. they are no less important for that. Of course, those Schein’s main thesis is that all human relationships 10 messages are easier to deliver than to act on, and the are a mixture of economics and theater, because they all authors refrain from offering specific recommendations involve what sociologists call “status positioning” between for action. They don’t need to. To tell the truth is all that the parties involved in any social interaction, whether for- one has to adhere to, even when it hurts, and that ex- mal or informal. It is human to want to be granted the ample has to come from the top. status and position that we feel we deserve, no matter how low or high that is, and to want to do best books 2009 leadership what is appropriate to the situation Ed Schein knows a lot about organi- and the occasion. If we get it wrong, zations. He has been working with the relationship doesn’t work. A very them, advising them, studying them, simple example: If a child fails to say and, yes, helping them and many of thank you, a social expectation has their leaders for decades. Helping: not been met and the child is repri- How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help manded. We also intuitively and is a small book that is his reflective almost unconsciously measure inter- summary of what works in a helping actions by how much we have gained relationship and how to make it hap- or lost, compared to our expectations. pen. He is uniquely qualified to do Thus, for a helping interaction to this, combining, as he does, a knowl- work, each party needs to be clear edge of sociology, anthropology, and about the role each is playing, and all social psychology, as well as long parties’ expectations of the outcome years of teaching executives at the have to be similar. Sloan School of Management at MIT. (Schein was my After explaining the many pitfalls of helping — thesis supervisor 40 years ago, at MIT, and has been a why well-intentioned advice is perceived as criticism, good friend ever since, so I have firsthand experience of how the different social rules in individual cultures cre- his help.) ate unintended offense, how a tone of voice or form of Helping, Schein points out, takes many forms. He address can alter a relationship in an instant — Schein lists 30 helping situations, including a boss giving offers seven principles and 18 tips, because this is, above instructions to a subordinate, a stranger giving traffic all, a book of practical help. directions to a tourist, and a child showing a parent how These often sound obvious but, as the examples to play a computer game. Further, he draws heavily on demonstrate, we often ignore his principles amid the his experience helping his wife cope with breast cancer daily course of life, taking for granted relationships and over 25 years, involving periodic visits to hospitals and exchanges that may not be what they seem. We get lazy. home care, with all the different relationships involved. I found this little book a salutary reminder of too many And help, as Schein points out, is not limited to lapses on my part, while it also explained why some of one-on-one situations. Group effort and teamwork my well-intentioned attempts to help only led to wors- often hinge on the degree to which members perform ening relationships. Any aspiring leader would do well their roles properly in accomplishing the group’s task: to review his or her own behavior in the light of this very “We do not typically think of an effective team as useful guide.
  12. 12. 09 Leadership by Example reveal the ranking of your values. He describes the Alan Deutschman is a journalist, which is fortunate for response of Martin Luther King Jr. when he was us, the readers, because not only does he write fluently attacked by Roy James, a Nazi sympathizer, in BEST and vividly, but he tells stories, which is what all good Birmingham, Ala., in 1962. King staggered back under journalists do. Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real a rain of blows, but dropped his hands and refused to Inspired by Compassion Leaders is a compendium of stories taken from the inter- fight back. He turned the other cheek. He walked his views he has conducted with leaders over the past 20 walk, lived his teaching, and so demonstrated that oth- years, most of them in business but some, equally rele- ers, too, could live by his principles. Deutschman con- vant and revealing, from the worlds of sports and poli- trasts King’s behavior with stories of corporations and tics. Deutschman’s subjects range from Jeff Bezos of chief executives that have ignored their declared values Amazon.com to Barack Obama in the first week of his and principles when it suited them to so do or when 11 presidency, from FedEx to the Florida Gators, Nelson they went along with the prevailing customs of their indus- Mandela, and the Greensboro Four, whose lunchtime try, most flagrantly in the case of the airline compa- sit-ins in 1960 helped to jump-start the desegregation nies. Deutschman labels them lemmings, those who fol- movement in the United States. low the herd rather than setting their own standards. The stories make for compelling reading, par- Deutschman distills his long list of stories into a BOOKS ticularly because they are not all series of principles. Although these best books 2009 leadership paeans to the individuals profiled. are obvious, like so much in the lit- Deutschman is critical of quite a erature of leadership, it is the stories few leaders, including California that bring them to life. My recom- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger mendation would be to read the sto- for talking the talk about energy and ries and make a note of the ones that the environment but continuing to resonated most with your own situ- own a fleet of five Hummers. The ation, underline the simple message fact that, in response to criticism, that they contain, and then resolve Schwarzenegger got General Motors to act on it or, as Deutschman to retrofit one of the vehicles to would say, to walk your walk. run on hydrogen and another on biofuel was not helpful, suggests Deutschman, because neither fuel is There is only one story in C. Julia readily available to his constituents. Huang’s Charisma and Compassion: Obama, too, comes in for some mild Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi criticism for not leading enough by example in Movement, but it is a remarkable one and a vivid exam- the very early days, although he is praised for many of ple of Deutschman’s advice to live your values. Venerable his initiatives. Master Cheng Yen, now 72 years old, is an unassuming Deutschman uses his stories to make a point, or sev- Taiwanese Buddhist nun who founded a worldwide eral points. He starts with the statement that “the most social welfare movement with more than 10 million crucial role of a leader is establishing and instilling the devotees in more than 30 countries, 5 million of them one or two values that will be most important for an in Taiwan itself and the majority of the remainder in the organization or a movement or a community.” There are United States. This remarkable organization, the Tzu always a multitude of values that are important — the Chi Foundation, which started as a tiny grassroots hard part is making the trade-offs between them in women’s charitable group in 1966, now runs three state- order to focus on one or two. He castigates Coca-Cola of-the-art hospitals in Taiwan, a university, and a televi- for its list of six goals and seven values, many of which sion station, as well as an international relief organiza- strategy + business issue 57 are potentially contradictory: Were “people” more tion that provides money and provisions to those affect- important than “profit,” and where did “integrity” come ed by disasters, including the tsunami in Sri Lanka, in the pecking order? Hurricane Noel in the Dominican Republic, and floods It is, Deutschman says, only in Indonesia and the Midwestern United States. Cheng when you walk the walk that you Yen has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and
  13. 13. is well known as a Buddhist peace activist. She was also identified by Business Week as an entrepreneurial star. Cheng Yen’s leadership story started in 1966 when known as the Abode, where BOOKS in the original monastic building Cheng Yen resides. BEST 09 she was visiting a sick friend at a hospital and noticed a I once had the privilege of meeting Cheng Yen. This pool of blood on the floor. She was told that an tiny, wafer-thin woman was not one’s image of a charis- Aboriginal woman had miscarried because, after being matic leader, but it was clear from everyone I met that order to understand the true secrets of leadership. + carried for eight hours by her family to the hospital, she she was greatly revered. It was also plain that she was was refused treatment without the NT$8,000 deposit very much in control of the huge organization she (then about US$400). When Cheng Yen learned that had created. She follows all the precepts of Alan the woman had died, she resolved to start a mission to Deutschman, even literally walking the walk with defray medical costs for the poor. She began by mobiliz- monthly tours around the island of Taiwan to visit her 12 ing the resources of her disciples in her local Buddhist organizations. A well-staffed publicity organization, community, asking them to make baby shoes to sell and including the 24-hour television station, keeps the also to place NT$0.50 (about US$0.025) each morning membership attuned to her values and her thinking — in a bamboo container before doing the daily grocery vital for the finances of the whole venture. Of course, shopping. In one month the daily practice of “50 cents the challenge for any charismatic leader is, What hap- to save one human life” had started to spread, and an pens when he or she goes? Cheng Yen has attempted to best books 2009 leadership organization of sorts was born. answer that by institutionalizing her mission, but her It was a heart attack she suffered in 1978 that personal appeal may be hard to match. prompted Cheng Yen to create a hospital so her relief The story of how this frail woman could build such A Buddhist nun, with a following of monastic disciples, now had to raise money for a modern hospital and create the necessary organization to build and run it. Charles Handy (candehandy@aol.com) is a writer and social work would continue after her death. The organization a successful and far-reaching organization is an illustra- philosopher living in London. He is the author of many books on therefore had to change; a Buddhist nun, with a follow- tion of just how much a dedicated leader and an inspir- work, life, and organizations, the latest being a memoir, Myself ing of monastic disciples and laity, whose goal was to ing mission can accomplish. It is an apt illustration, and Other More Important Matters (AMACOM, 2008), which was a collect money to supplement the medical costs of the albeit from a far different belief system, of The Puritan Top Shelf selection in last year’s Best Business Books. needy, now had to raise money for a modern hospital Gift. The book itself is neither slim nor easy to read, and create the necessary organization to build and run written more for students of the Buddhist tradition than it. Task forces, boards of governance, coordination meet- for practicing managers, but it is worth the effort in ings, and organization charts began to appear. Cheng Yen was careful to enroll the time and talents of profes- sionals (not necessarily Buddhists), but she personally chaired all the important committees. By 1999, the organization had evolved into four basic missions — charity, medical care, education, and culture. The hospitals, university, and relief organiza- tions are set up as regular nonprofits, albeit with some distinguishing features — e.g., the hospital offers free care for Buddhist monastics and the poor, and the uni- versity requires a one-year foundation course in “Tzu Chi Humanity.” The whole organization is financed, in addition to the fees it charges, by tiny regular donations from its 10 million devotees, many of whom also work as volunteers. It is overseen by a small headquarters
  14. 14. Mark Blaxill and Ralph David J. Teece, Dynamic Malcolm S. Salter, Innovation Eckardt, The Invisible Edge: Capabilities and Strategic Corrupted: The Origins and Taking Your Strategy to the Management: Organizing for Legacy of Enron’s Collapse Next Level Using Intellectual Innovation and Growth (Oxford (Harvard University Press, Property (Portfolio, 2009) University Press, 2009) 2008) Legal Monopolies 13 know any company that was following its three-year strategic plan or even its one-year forecast; companies were operating strictly on a month-to-month basis. Yet if the current crisis affords us one thing, it’s the chance to stand back and reflect on eternal questions of strategy: How should we lead companies in competitive best books 2009 strategy arenas where success is relative, not absolute; where tech- nologies change rapidly; where profits attained in one time period are eroded in the next? What’s the best way to drive companies forward when they have to run faster just to stay in the same place (a phenomenon described by William P. Barnett in last year’s best book on strategy as “Red Queen competition”)? With these questions in mind, a few new strategy books stand out from the pack. They would be good in any year, but in the present environment they have the virtue of reminding us what it takes to achieve and sus- tain high performance. The year’s best strategy book is The Invisible Edge: Taking Your Strategy to the Next Level Using Intellectual Property, by Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckardt, formerly of Boston Consulting Group and now running their own THE Capable practice. Intellectual property (IP) often brings to mind patents and lawyers, but this notion is far too limited. In AND THE Failed fact, IP is about much more than patents; it also encom- passes trademarks, copyrights, and brands, as well as by Phil Rosenzweig trade secrets, which are aspects of knowledge kept safely away from the eyes of competitors. Seen this way, the entire field of knowledge management is essentially the management of intellectual property. IP isn’t a legal issue I N A YEAR WHEN THE MARKET VALUE OF THE FORTUNE 500 fell by 37 percent and profits plummeted by 85 but rather a business issue, and, as the authors point out, strategy + business issue 57 percent, conventional strategy books seem beside far too important to leave to the lawyers. the point. Keys to guaranteed success? If only there were Blaxill and Eckardt maintain that companies with such a thing. Delivering high performance? Not very the highest returns tend to have advantages that effec- likely. Effective strategic planning? JPMorgan Chase & tively limit competition. “As we know, when competi- Company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, said that he didn’t tors smell profits they come running, so without some
  15. 15. form of protection, those companies will quickly copy the innovations and drive the profits (for both the inno- vator and themselves) down to nothing.” The authors’ are protected by no fewer than BOOKS tion the most current examples, BEST 30 U.S. patents that cover the blade geometry, blade 09 thinking is linked closely to the industry analysis frame- coating, blade guard, pivot mechanism, trimming blade, work pioneered by Harvard Business School professor blade retaining clips, handle design, grip design, system Michael Porter, which emphasizes the importance of design, cartridge design, cartridge connection, cartridge differentiation as a defense against rivals. “Intellectual dispenser, and more. Several of these elements have mul- property,” Blaxill and Eckardt write, “represents small tiple patents. monopolies.” Beyond control, companies can capture the benefits If the authors left matters there, they would add lit- of IP through collaboration with others. The Toyota tle to earlier discussions. Much of this terrain was cov- Motor Corporation’s network of suppliers is a widely 14 ered by Hiroyuki Itami in Mobilizing Invisible Assets acknowledged source of competitive edge; less well (with Thomas W. Roehl; Harvard University Press, known is its extensive array of complementary patents 1987), and the ability to apply knowledge without loss and cross-licensing deals that make the idea of imitation was addressed by Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian back daunting to rivals. By dispersing IP among a network in Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network of firms with which it collaborates closely, Toyota gains Economy (Harvard Business Press, a competitive superiority that is best books 2009 strategy 1998). The Invisible Edge takes the even more difficult for others to discussion a step further by analyzing overcome. Far from yielding its IP how companies can protect knowl- advantage by working with other edge-based capabilities and retain the firms, Toyota cements its IP advan- benefits for themselves. tage through its network. The key argument is captured in Finally, since complexity adds to a refrain that echoes throughout the unwieldy coordination tasks, the book: Innovation without protection is third approach, simplify, emphasizes corporate philanthropy. All too often, the benefits of setting industry stan- Blaxill and Eckardt argue, managers dards. Here the authors explore the emphasize innovation without con- trade-offs between open and closed sidering how to capture its benefits. architectures, showing how open They essentially make a unilateral architectures can bestow benefits donation to others. The authors ex- on companies that set the rules for plain: “Simply put, when businesses the interfaces and interdependencies invest in intellectual assets they need to protect the fruits among components in a product design. As a prime of their investment in the form of intellectual property. example, Blaxill and Eckardt describe IBM’s success Only with the appropriation of ownership rights, and with the System/360, which set a standard that other not the creation of the asset itself, does an investment players in the industry were forced to follow. The provide competitive advantage.” paradox: Simplicity, far from leading to imitation and Blaxill and Eckardt identify three ways to secure the irrelevance, can lead to a profitable position of network benefits of IP: control, collaborate, and simplify. Control centrality. is the most obvious and easily understood. The success The Invisible Edge is not without shortcomings. The of the Gillette Company (a subsidiary of Procter & concept of IP can be made so broad as to explain any- Gamble) is often ascribed to its business model: Give thing that confers advantage, and any success can some- away the razors and make money on the blades. This how be attributed to IP. Furthermore, too much space is strategy sounds clever, until we realize that it affords lit- devoted to Facebook, perhaps an appealing example tle protection from rivals and can hardly explain given its recent success, but surely an atypical example Gillette’s high performance over so many years. Yes, given that it has yet to establish a clear business model Gillette has been a relentless innovator, but more impor- able to produce a stream of profits. Yet on balance, tantly, it has protected its innovations with a blizzard of Blaxill and Eckardt have produced a fine book that is patents. The Fusion and Fusion Power razors, to men- both insightful and timely. It sets forth a strong intellec-
  16. 16. 09 The Importance of What You Do tual premise but is aimed at a practitioner audience. If Moreover, in a competitive market economy, capa- anything, the authors’ subtitle sells their book a bit bilities must be constantly reinvented and reapplied if short. The Invisible Edge isn’t merely about taking strat- firms are to maintain high performance. Last year’s capa- BEST egy to the next level. Intellectual property is central to bilities are inadequate; new combinations are necessary. the formulation and execution of a successful strategy at Thus, writes Teece, dynamic capabilities form the foun- any level. And by the end of the book, it is hard to imag- dation of competitive advantage, for “the extent to ine a successful strategy that isn’t solidly backed up by which an enterprise develops and employs superior the protection of intellectual property. (nonimitable) dynamic capabilities will determine the nature and amount of intangible assets it will create.” How do managers renew their firm’s capabilities? What enables companies to develop the innovations First by sensing new opportunities in a shifting landscape 15 that are essential to protect? For that, we turn to a sec- of competition and technology, and then by seizing ond book, Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Man- opportunities through managerial initiatives, which in agement: Organizing for Innovation and Growth, by turn lead to reconfiguring capabilities. In all this, the David J. Teece, longtime professor at the University of manager plays a central role: Resources do not effortless- California at Berkeley. The book is not based on origi- ly combine and recombine to create new capabilities, BOOKS nal research or empirical findings, but are manipulated by the actions best books 2009 strategy and indeed has relatively few exam- of managers who function as in- ples of specific companies. It is more ternal entrepreneurs. Teece scolds a collection of articles, written over those who build models of strategy many years, capturing an evolution on theoretical foundations that in thinking by one of the most emphasize market structure but accomplished academics in the field overlook the importance of manage- of strategic management. rial behavior: “The cavalier treat- To Teece, “the field of strategic ment of entrepreneurship and man- management has been stranded for agement in economics stems in part some time with a framework that from a failure to understand the implicitly assumes that industry importance of managing organiza- structure (and product market tions and the absence of well- share), mediated by enterprise behav- developed and well-functioning ior, determines enterprise perfor- markets for intangibles and other mance.” The target of his concern is idiosyncratic assets.” clear. Michael Porter’s framework, anchored in industri- Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Management is a al organization economics, conceives of the firm as a succinct statement of what has come to be the prevail- black box and ignores its inner workings, neglecting the ing academic school of thought in the field of strategy. vital role of managerial decisions. Unsatisfied with this It’s not hard to see why. In a world where profits erode approach, Teece looks inside the firm and sees it as a thanks to increasingly intense competition, or so-called set of distinctive capabilities. Companies are notable not hypercompetition, only the ability to continually gener- for the positions they occupy in an industry landscape, ate distinctive capabilities is likely to lead to success. Yet but for the things they actually do: how they learn one of the criticisms that can be leveled against The from their environment, how they combine ideas as they Invisible Edge can be raised here, too. Viewed in retro- seek to develop new products, how they deliver services spect, successful companies can always be said to have to customers, how they develop the talents of employ- mastered dynamic capabilities, whereas failed companies ees, and more. Further, these many capabilities differ can always be said to have been unable to satisfactorily strategy + business issue 57 from company to company because of the deliberate sense, seize, or reconfigure. A second-order question of actions of managers. In Teece’s vision, understanding vital importance is not entirely resolved: What can be managers and the decisions they make is central to done to improve our ability to generate distinctive capa- understanding company strategy bilities, not just once, but over and over — and defy and performance. gravity as long as possible?
  17. 17. Strategy Failed The importance of managerial decisions in strategy brings us to Innovation Corrupted: The Origins and cess, Enron began to look for BOOKS Building on this early suc- BEST 09 areas where it could replicate its business model. One Legacy of Enron’s Collapse, by Malcolm S. Salter, the Enron executive claimed, “Anything we want to inter- James J. Hill Professor of Business Administration mediate, we can.” By that logic, the key to Enron’s suc- Emeritus at Harvard Business School. On a superficial cess was not its knowledge of the gas trading industry or level, the demise of Enron is a story of dishonesty and of any other particular industry, but rather a set of reckless behavior, made possible by a lack of internal and capabilities that could be applied in any trading domain external oversight. It’s tempting to blame Enron’s execu- — the more fluid and complex the better. As Enron tives for arrogance, greed, and hubris — the same expla- reported in its SEC filings, it believed “skills developed nations offered for so many Wall Street failures in the in merchant energy services could yield operating 16 past year. And to be sure, Jeffrey Skilling, Andy Fastow, efficiencies for Enron and other participants in the and the late Ken Lay make excellent villains. But Salter, developing bandwidth market.” Finding this argument a veteran observer of the world of management, looks persuasive, investors and bankers were eager to provide below the surface. abundant resources to finance Enron’s growth. The tale of Enron is not a story about them, he Over the next years, Enron made repeated attempts writes, but about us. “After decades to apply its business model of inter- best books 2009 strategy of studying the practice of manage- mediation in new domains, includ- ment, I am convinced that very ing electricity trading, broadband few of us who live in the world of trading, electricity generation, and competitive product markets and water. Yet every attempt to extend unforgiving capital markets have the model into new domains turned not encountered the management out to be a failure. Salter’s conclu- behavior and business policies that sion, based on an extensive reading became so toxic at Enron,” he of Enron finances, is that it is doubt- declares. “As self-interested individu- ful the company earned its cost of als, we are also all susceptible to capital in any of these new business- incentives that improve our eco- es. “In retrospect, both the strategic nomic well-being and tempt person- and economic logic of EES [Enron al opportunism....” Energy Services] look highly ques- Salter’s main interest is in prob- tionable,” he writes. “Neither funda- ing the failures of governance at mental economics nor managerial Enron, including the lack of strong board oversight and capabilities could support Skilling’s hopes of extending the dereliction of duty by watchdogs and auditors. Yet his energy-based business model down the value chain the collapse of Enron is also very much a story about from sales to utilities, to sales to consumers. Skilling’s big strategy. It offers an object lesson in the possibilities and bet on retail energy did not come close to being viable.” perils of extending success in one industry to others, and Yet with massive incentives to show ever-increasing top- how managers respond when their strategies go awry. line and bottom-line growth, Enron executives devised Salter wisely notes that the executives involved did questionable, and eventually illegal, ways to maintain an not set out to be dishonest or to defraud. In its early illusion of success. The end was inevitable, and it came years, Enron was innovative and successful by any objec- swiftly in 2001. tive standard. During the early 1990s, Ken Lay and With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to say that Jeffrey Skilling recognized the trading opportunity in trading electricity and broadband is fundamentally dif- the newly deregulated market for natural gas and ferent from trading natural gas, and that Enron’s busi- devised a business model that was insightful and novel. ness model could not bring value to new industries. But The key insight was that Enron could play an interme- that’s in retrospect. Whether the limitations should have diary role without owning physical assets, namely plants been visible at the time is by no means certain. For cor- and pipelines. The result was an “asset-light” model for porate strategists, the most difficult questions are, To trading natural gas. what extent can existing capabilities be applied in new
  18. 18. 09 domains? How certain should we be before committing 1957 classic, Leadership in Administration: A Sociological resources to move ahead? What are the warning signs Interpretation (Row, Peterson), and its emphasis on prin- that a strategy is not working successfully? And perhaps ciple and a sense of ultimate consequence. Perhaps, BEST most troubling, in the event of poor returns, what are despite our fondest hopes to engineer superior results under uncertainty. + the consequences — to the firm and to the manager — with strategic formulas, we are best off reading a 50- of admitting failure? year-old leadership book. Toward this end, Salter seeks to distinguish between Which brings us back to the current crisis. In the optimism, which can help performance and have “sur- financial meltdown, it’s tempting to search for books vival-enhancing effects in business,” and hubris, which that promise to create profits amid turbulence or turn has “survival-destroying effects.” But in our daily lives, adversity into advantage. The three books reviewed here optimism and hubris are terms we bestow after knowing remind us of timeless themes in strategy, yet each offers 17 the outcomes. If a firm performs well, we infer that something new. The Invisible Edge addresses IP as a core healthy optimism was present; in the event of failure, we issue of differentiation, but emphasizes the need to infer hubris. For the strategist, such ex post facto attri- protect what we create, whether through control, col- butions are insufficient. Salter tries to offer a few guide- laboration, or simplification. Dynamic Capabilities lines: “Certainly, investments in new gas pipelines, gas reminds us of the need to look within the firm and BOOKS trading, and even electricity trading — areas in which examine the ways that organizations sense changes, best books 2009 strategy Enron had operating experience — should be consid- seize opportunities, and reconfigure capabilities, all in ered intelligent gambles, which are well accepted as nor- response to the actions of managers. And the story of mal activities in business. However, investments pursued Enron in Innovation Corrupted makes clear how hard it Perhaps the most troubling question is, In the event of poor returns, what are the consequences — to the firm and to the manager — of admitting failure? Phil Rosenzweig (rosenzweig@imd.ch) is a professor at IMD in without relevant operating experience; without deep, is to know how far we can extend core capabilities and Lausanne, Switzerland, where he works with leading companies on specific knowledge on the part of project overseers at warns us that the impulse for high performance can be questions of strategy and organization. He is the author of The Halo corporate headquarters; and without effective risk con- perverted without proper oversight. Strategic decisions trols — such as the aforementioned electric power can never be reduced to exact formulas. They require Managers (Free Press, 2007). projects and the excursions into water and broadband a sense of balance and perspective to guide choices businesses — crossed the line into the zone of reckless gambles.” Fair enough, but perhaps it still prompts the deeper question, How much relevant experience and how much specific knowledge is needed before we undertake a new strategic initiative? Strategy always involves making commitments in conditions of uncer- tainty, and risks can never be fully obviated. One legacy of the Enron disaster is a spate of new rules concerning corporate oversight, governance, and the independence of auditors. Such rules are important, but Salter argues that “the irony of that legacy is that the new rules cannot — by themselves — prevent Enron- strategy + business issue 57 style debacles, because they do not address many of the causes of the company’s breakdown.” For a cure, he points us not in the direction of greater regulation, but to principles of responsible leader- Effect...and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive ship found in Philip Selznick’s
  19. 19. Ben Simpfendorfer, The New Nandan Nilekani, Imagining Ian Bremmer and Preston Robert P. Smith, with Peter Silk Road: How a Rising Arab India: The Idea of a Renewed Keat, The Fat Tail: The Power Zheutlin, Riches among the World Is Turning Away from Nation (Penguin Press, 2009) of Political Knowledge for Ruins: Adventures in the the West and Rediscovering Strategic Investing (Oxford Dark Corners of the Global China (Palgrave Macmillan, Nirmalya Kumar, with Pradipta University Press, 2009) Economy (AMACOM, 2009) 2009) K. Mohapatra and Suj Chandrasekhar, India’s Global Powerhouses: How They Are Taking On the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) 18 New Ties That Bind Western Dominance best books 2009 globalization IN Decline by Ayesha Khanna and Parag Khanna T HE BEST BOOKS ON GLOBALIZATION THIS YEAR offer insights into three directional trends that are changing the topology of global trade and influence: the deepening of regional ties across emerging markets; the continuing rise of powerful new global players; and, finally, the intractability of risk factors inherent in emerging markets and regional networks, and how best to analyze them. Indeed, as the United States loses its hegemony as the primary engine of glob- al growth, the new drivers of growth deserve intense examination. Traditionally, the West has myopically viewed globaliza- tion from the perspective of how its influence has spread eastward, but globalization also entails the deepening of economic, political, and demographic ties between any two regions, not just between the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop- ment (OECD) and the rest of the world. The simulta- neous rise of the economies of China and the Persian Gulf region, for example, is no coincidence. They are intimately connected and contributors to one another’s rising prosperity, as skillfully described in this year’s best book on globalization, Ben Simpfendorfer’s The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World Is Turning Away

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