Solid reading for the business set though no substitute for books by Twyla Tharp, Daniel Dennett, and other creative...




Of innovation and its great enemy, inertia.

We face huge problems, not least of them, writes social psychologist Mueller (Management/Univ. of San Diego), the fact that the end-of-the-world clock that ticked so loudly during the Cold War has now landed on “three minutes to midnight.” Huge problems require huge solutions, and huge solutions require creativity. But how does creativity flourish in cultures that are unused or even hostile to it? Some of our inability to leverage creativity can be linked to familiar human risk-averse behavior—and because she’s a psychologist, Mueller goes straight to Ellsberg, Tversky, and other textbook examples—and some to the odd fact that while current corporate jargon places a high value on innovation, innovation is not really what the vaunted “continuous improvement” mantra really entails. Mueller looks at models for disrupting the chain of inertia and breaking some of the barriers to good ideas. She observes that certain problem-coping methods encode different requirements for structure and offer different levels of uncertainty and risk, for good and bad; institutions particularly crave structure because it yields measurable outcomes, while softer approaches may not net immediately quantifiable results. This is puzzling given that most CEOs identify creativity as “the number-one leadership competency to win in the future.” Even so, the wheels turn slowly: one noteworthy innovation in measuring customer satisfaction took two years to run through the necessary channels, and this from the company’s chief innovation officer. Suggesting a host of mindset-altering exercises for organizations, Mueller ventures the thought that maybe metrics aren’t everything in arriving at a culture that is more conducive to creative thinking. As she notes in conclusion, “once we accept that our metrics are not themselves the answers but rather that they are the path to the answers, we are no longer limited by fear.”

Solid reading for the business set though no substitute for books by Twyla Tharp, Daniel Dennett, and other creative thinkers.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-70309-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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


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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