For some readers, there won’t be much news here, but for others—particularly those down the chain from Dempsey—there’s much...

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THE CHAOS IMPERATIVE

HOW CHANCE AND DISRUPTION INCREASE INNOVATION, EFFECTIVENESS, AND SUCCESS

Pop psych meets pop business in Brafman’s (co-author: Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, 2011, etc.) latest outing in the land of counterintuition, written with the assistance of leadership expert Pollack.

Business types live and breathe for data, analysis and endless planning. Yet, as Joseph Schumpeter observed, there’s something irresistibly compelling about cleaning house, resetting priorities and otherwise changing course by means of what he called “creative destruction.” Brafman doesn’t quite counsel burning down the house, but he isn’t shy of introducing a little bubonic plague into the equation, either. Drawing on the results of a three-year consultancy with Martin Dempsey, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brafman urges that we consider the bright side of chaos and calamity: The Black Death may have brought about all manner of death and destruction, but “it was actually instrumental in bringing about Europe’s ascent to greatness.” Post–James Gleick, the word “chaos” has been applied and misapplied in all sorts of half-baked, Gladwell-ian ways, and Brafman plays it a little loose at times. Nonetheless, this book has value in encouraging a rethinking of how things get done, particularly in heavily institutionalized cultures. For instance, in the military, there’s a manual for everything, including one on the proper way to change a tire on a tuck. But why read a manual when a YouTube video would do? Such useful ideas come from what the author calls “casual downtime,” the thinking time that institutions too often don’t budget for. And what situation wouldn’t benefit from more thinking about it, as long as it’s not perfectly unbroken?

For some readers, there won’t be much news here, but for others—particularly those down the chain from Dempsey—there’s much good food for thought in Brafman’s sometimes-brash assertions.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-88667-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Crown Business

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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