A timely and provocative discussion of big business and its uncertain future.




Former BP chief executive Browne (Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery, 2014, etc.) teams with McKinsey & Company principal Nuttall and former McKinsey consultant Stadlen to call out some systematic failures of businesses, including the failure to learn from the past.

The authors interviewed more than 80 corporate leaders from companies around the world, and McKinsey's research and surveys back the work. High on the authors’ list is the absence of adequate corporate policies and methods to deal with potentially catastrophic issues involving the communities in which they operate. They prominently flag environmental issues, including climate change in general and specific events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Also significant are corporate corruption, scandals, and criminality. To demonstrate the convenient amnesia of corporate leaders, the authors pair recent developments—Europe's 2013 horsemeat scandal—with historical precedents such as the dreadful conditions of the meatpacking industry in early-20th-century Chicago. Browne believes that the community outreach programs known as Corporate Social Responsibility are ineffective because they are “disconnected from commercial activity and from the needs of real people.” What are the actual roles of corporations, ask the authors, “if they are no longer the drivers of employment in their industry or their local community?” Through their interviews, the authors portray a world in the midst of social upheaval and technological revolution; one result has been the large-scale loss of lesser-qualified and unqualified positions. Artificial intelligence technology, robots, and software-driven platforms—e.g., Uber, which is greatly disrupting the taxi industry—are likely here to stay. As the authors rightly note, government still has a role to play. The authors cogently argue that businesses must develop more focused “mapping” of their operations. Clearer, more precise conceptions of aims and purposes are also necessary, and outreach must be more finely honed at every level.

A timely and provocative discussion of big business and its uncertain future.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61039-697-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.


A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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