Whether it’s arguing over the federal debt ceiling, corporate policy or family feuds, dissension often devolves into rhetorical confrontations between good and evil. Each side accuses the other of greed, power-hunger or sheer orneriness. But in his perceptive, Kirkus-starred book, Good vs. Good: Deciding Who We Are and What We Want to Become, John C. Beck argues that beneath the polarized invective lies more common ground than we think. What fuels seemingly intractable conflicts, he contends, is a core set of “goods” that we all desire but prioritize differently.

Beck, a senior research fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and president of North Star Leadership Group, surveyed thousands of people in various countries and drew on his experience advising businesses, charities and government leaders to identify the universal goals that motivate decision-making. “I’ve been a business school professor my whole life, and the greatest good taught in business school is [economic] growth,” Beck says. “I started thinking, ‘What are the other really important things in life besides growth—and are they important to organizations?’ ”

In its glowing review of Good vs. Good, Kirkus praised a conversational writing style that’s “easy to understand without becoming too simplistic,” along with Beck’s program of “plausible, practicable steps…that require little more than a fresh perspective and a willingness to try something new.” His research zeroed in on “Eight Great Goods”—life, growth (mainly material success), stability, equality, individuality, relationships, religious or ethical beliefs, and joy. Everyone wants these things, yet they’re often in tension: A drug addict’s joyous high may jeopardize his life; a lesbian’s relationships may run afoul of her religious tradition; a CEO’s quest for growth through acquisitions may undermine the company’s stability. Beck’s fascinating discussion of these goods and how we value them delves into everything from brain science to national legal systems. For instance, while advising the government of Bhutan, Beck discovered that the kingdom had enshrined joy as its highest good, as measured in an official index of Gross National Happiness.

Beck brings his practical approach to bear on divisive issues such as Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Exploring the topic in a contentious focus group, he helped participants parse it as a clash between the competing goods of equality and economic growth for immigrants and stability for established communities. The results, he says, were shocking; as people reframed their opponents’ views in terms they could relate to, antagonisms cooled, and “the temperature in the room dropped by 30 degrees.” In his consulting practice, Beck has applied his framework to business as well as politics, using it to analyze new product launches, CEO recruitment and the fit between employee expectations and corporate culture.

Departing from his previous mainstream publishers, Beck published this book through his own North Star Books, which he describes as a satisfying improvement: “I got to choose the title, I got to choose the artwork—it was a lot happier process!” Critics and readers have been happy, too. Bookwire.com toasted the book’s “step-by-step game plan for [bridging] the gulf between the Goods,” and IBM included Good vs. Good as a textbook in its leadership and development program. Sales have been brisk, triggering lucrative lecture engagements. “With the speeches,” he says, “I may have made more money on this one than I’ve made on any other single book”—thus yielding the goods of individuality, joy and growth, if you’re keeping track.


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