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NONSENSE

THE POWER OF NOT KNOWING

The author’s bright anecdotes and wide-ranging research stories are certain to please many readers.

New America Foundation Future Tense fellow Holmes, a former research coordinator in the department of economics at Harvard, debuts with a provocative analysis of the roots of uncertainty.

The need for closure is a mainstay of American life—and not only after mass shootings or other tragic events. Confronted by ambiguity in our personal or professional lives, we seek answers. In the face of perceived threats, we demand absolutes. “In an increasingly complex, unpredictable world,” writes the author, “what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.” In this well-written book based on the latest findings in social psychology and cognitive science, Holmes explains that we are all naturally ambivalent. When we are confused, our minds either snap shut (relying on preconceptions) or unlock (allowing us to innovate). Offering innumerable examples, the author describes instances in which we try to avoid uncertainty and have a dangerously high need for closure—a critical negotiation, inconclusive medical results, or a changing business environment—and others in which we try to maximize the benefits of harnessing ambiguity, whether to help students solve problems with no clear answers or to discover new ways to cope with failure and success. Holmes shows how people and organizations have dealt with ambiguity, from the FBI’s 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, to the fashion industry, where manufacturers and retailers tried to meet the perplexing uncertainty over changing skirt hemlines in the 1970s. Most telling are the author’s discussions of hostage negotiations, which demand the patient skills of professionals with a low need for certainty in confusing situations. Ambiguity can make medical problems more agonizing, make the pleasure of mystery novels more enjoyable, and lead to devastating prejudices in our social lives.

The author’s bright anecdotes and wide-ranging research stories are certain to please many readers.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-34837-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE CULTURE MAP

BREAKING THROUGH THE INVISIBLE BOUNDARIES OF GLOBAL BUSINESS

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

A helpful guide to working effectively with people from other cultures.

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work,” writes Meyer, a professor at INSEAD, an international business school. Yet they face a wider array of work styles than ever before in dealing with clients, suppliers and colleagues from around the world. When is it best to speak or stay quiet? What is the role of the leader in the room? When working with foreign business people, failing to take cultural differences into account can lead to frustration, misunderstanding or worse. Based on research and her experiences teaching cross-cultural behaviors to executive students, the author examines a handful of key areas. Among others, they include communicating (Anglo-Saxons are explicit; Asians communicate implicitly, requiring listeners to read between the lines), developing a sense of trust (Brazilians do it over long lunches), and decision-making (Germans rely on consensus, Americans on one decider). In each area, the author provides a “culture map scale” that positions behaviors in more than 20 countries along a continuum, allowing readers to anticipate the preferences of individuals from a particular country: Do they like direct or indirect negative feedback? Are they rigid or flexible regarding deadlines? Do they favor verbal or written commitments? And so on. Meyer discusses managers who have faced perplexing situations, such as knowledgeable team members who fail to speak up in meetings or Indians who offer a puzzling half-shake, half-nod of the head. Cultural differences—not personality quirks—are the motivating factors behind many behavioral styles. Depending on our cultures, we understand the world in a particular way, find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, and consider some ways of making decisions or measuring time natural and others quite strange.

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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