A breezy account, with a special attraction for those who would rather not digest full-length biographies of Jobs, Branson...

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TEN STEPS AHEAD

WHAT SEPARATES SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS VISIONARIES FROM THE REST OF US

A journalist who has tried to understand visionary business entrepreneurs by hanging out with them adds a study of brain science to the mix.

Calonius (The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set Its Sails, 2006) interviewed Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and other famous business visionaries while reporting for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. Eventually, the author decided he needed to supplement what the visionaries told him about their successes with an intense study of neuroscience, including the field of cognitive psychology. The human brain recognizes patterns, and Calonius hoped to determine how the patterns recognized by his subjects led to success. The author looks at Branson at the Virgin group of businesses, Jobs at Apple computing, Berry Gordy Jr. at Motown records, Andy Grove at Intel and a few others (women entrepreneurs are nearly absent, except for second-tier attention to clothing designer Diane von Furstenberg). Although the path to success is littered with luck (treated in its own chapter), Calonius isolates human factors that he labels awakening, seeing, intuition and scaling up the vision. He explains each factor through a mixture of anecdotes and tutorials on brain functioning. Visionaries sometimes surprise family members, high-school classmates and others who knew them before they broke through, and they do not tend to be voted most popular in the class. However, if they do win that accolade at a young age, they are even less likely to be voted most likely to succeed. Although some of the author’s portrayals are infused with hero worship (especially regarding Branson), the personal narratives make the hagiography palatable. Through no fault of Calonius, some of the lessons are maddeningly vague. Intuition, after all, is tricky to describe in concrete language, especially when it seems like nothing more than “going with the gut.”

A breezy account, with a special attraction for those who would rather not digest full-length biographies of Jobs, Branson et al.

Pub Date: March 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59184-376-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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