The author claims that his method will increase profits—and they likely will—but changes in corporate culture will be...

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HOW EXCELLENT COMPANIES AVOID DUMB THINGS

BREAKING THE 8 HIDDEN BARRIERS THAT PLAGUE EVEN THE BEST BUSINESSES

Assisted by veteran business and leadership writer O’Connell, Smith (CEO of Promontory Growth and Innovation) offers his recipe for business success.

The author’s “secret sauce” is consensus building. This idea, along with many of the other ingredients in his concoction, is well known by now. The names might change, but the staples remain the same—reductions in the cost of running a business through layoffs and what used to be called speed-up. The author claims that his process is designed to encourage the emergence of ideas from all layers and participants. He uses the word “ideas” in a specific technical way that is quite different than its usual meaning. “Every idea will have a value—that is, the costs it saves or the revenues it generates,” writes Smith. In this conception, ideas have a concrete financial value that can be quantified based on the risk level assumed in achieving payback of the costs of their implementation over time. Smith bases his system on the importance of undermining inertia and resistance to change; he claims to do this by identifying behavioral and structural “barriers” that have their roots in human nature. Preplanning and staffing is critical. Exposing the identified barriers and changing the burden of proof in internal discussions are among the ingredients that go into the preparation of the “secret sauce.” Smith illustrates his ideas with a variety of interesting examples—e.g., a candy company saved money by reducing the types of chocolate it used; a shipping company eliminated left turns on truck routes and reduced accidents. Sometimes his methods can be painful but beneficial to a company—for example, he contends that the bottom five percent of programmers in tech companies can be considered a cost and usually let go.

The author claims that his method will increase profits—and they likely will—but changes in corporate culture will be required to realize them.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-137-00306-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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