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The Art of War

Al­legedly by Sun Tzu

The War of Art

Steven Press­field, Black Ir­ish

Th­ese com­bine well and not just be­cause you might mis­take one for the other if you’re in a rush at the li­brary. They might have been writ­ten 1500 years apart but they both tackle the na­ture of war and both have pul­lable quotes.

The Art of War only be­came a best­seller when the star of The So­pra­nos ad­mit­ted to his ther­a­pist that he was read­ing it. Since then, a book that was con­sulted by many mil­i­tary lead­ers through the 20th cen­tury, has been used by busi­ness lead­ers, politi­cians and, no doubt, mob­sters. Some mem­o­rable quotes from The

Art of War in­clude: “Keep your friends close and your en­e­mies closer”; “ap­pear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak”; and “he will win whose army is an­i­mated by the same spirit through­out its ranks”. The War of

Art is a fit­ting 21st cen­tury book­end be­cause the enemy is more within the mind than out­side the walls. Steven Press­field fo­cuses on the artis­tic self. He, too, ex­cels in desk-diary quotes such as:“Fear is good. Fear tells us what we have to do” and “it’s bet­ter to be in the arena, get­ting stomped by the bull, than to be in the stands or out in the park­ing lot”.

The In­no­va­tor’s Dilemma

Clay­ton Chris­tensen, HarperCollins

This is the pi­o­neer­ing work for the age of dis­rup­tion. It was pub­lished in 1997 be­fore Google was a thing and be­fore most of us had email and yet it fore­shad­owed how dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies would cause havoc in the world of busi­ness. Chris­tensen’s work also over­turned many of the old mas­ters of busi­ness be­cause he posited that even the best busi­nesses with suc­cess­ful pro­cesses and top lead­ers would fall prey to out­liers. The tone of the book is mea­sured prob­a­bly be­cause it was dis­rupt­ing ex­ist­ing man­age­ment ex­per­tise and it has none of the breath­less­ness those more re­cent books on dis­rup­tion dis­play.

The Sec­ond Ma­chine Age

Erik Bryn­jolf­s­son and An­drew McAfee, WW Nor­ton

This is a book that has both ex­cited and ter­ri­fied busi­ness lead­ers. The MIT pro­fes­sors pro­pose that we are at the tip­ping point of an avalanche of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies that will change, well, ev­ery­thing. They ex­plain why it’s hap­pened, how it will un­fold and what it will mean to ana­logue work­ers. The ex­cite­ment down­town is around the op­por­tu­ni­ties, the pro­duc­tiv­ity gains, huge prof­its, life­style ben­e­fits and hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The ter­ri­fy­ing part is about jobs. The Lud­dites may be right, af­ter all.

Big Data Vik­tor Mayer-Schon­berger and Ken­neth Cukier, John Mur­ray

Big data has con­no­ta­tions of Big Brother. For good rea­son. Some­where out there in a desert is a stor­age unit that knows you’re read­ing this, what time, where and, per­haps, how you’re feel­ing about it. This is a read­able book (Cukier is a writer for The Econ­o­mist) about how data can tell us about how ’flu epi­demics spread; ways peo­ple lie on dat­ing sites; how po­lit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions can be pre­dicted and when work­ers slack off.

Pri­mal Lead­er­ship Daniel Goleman, Richard Boy­atzis and An­nie McKee, Har­vard Busi­ness School Pub­lish­ing

If you missed Daniel Goleman’s sem­i­nal work

Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence and its com­pan­ion, So­cial In­tel­li­gence, this is a handy catch-up. The premise of the ti­tle is that the emo­tional as­pect of lead­ing is both the most im­por­tant part and the orig­i­nal char­ac­ter­is­tic of lead­er­ship. Man­ag­ing emo­tions, recog­nis­ing them and ex­ploit­ing them is even more im­por­tant in an era when peeps are the most im­por­tant as­set to a busi­ness and, in­creas­ingly, teams are the tools of work.

The 4-Hour Work­week

Tim Fer­riss, Crown

This book has devo­tees and many of them are en­trepreneurs who as­pire to a four-hour work­ing week and a seven-fig­ure in­come. In a slightly manic tone, Fer­riss tells read­ers how to reimag­ine work, de­sign life­styles and en­gi­neer mini-re­tire­ments along the way. His great­est achieve­ment is to cut the link be­tween time and money – the equa­tion is no longer neat. Most peo­ple who read it adopt one tip for life; oth­ers change their lives to­tally.

The El­e­ment

Ken Robin­son, Pen­guin

Robin­son is a critic of stul­ti­fy­ing ed­u­ca­tion and this comes through in his book but, at core, this is a call to read­ers to dis­cover their pas­sion, work with their pas­sion, find out­lets for it and cel­e­brate it with oth­ers. It’s one of the least new-agey books in this genre and so it lacks a how-to ap­proach. It’s more about the cul­tural land­scape that stomps on in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity and, as such, might ex­plain why you didn’t do well in school and yet are nail­ing it at work/art/life.


Daniel Pink, Can­non­gate

Pink has been writ­ing about the work­force since the 90s with best sell­ers such as A Whole New

Mind and Free Agent Na­tion. Now he fo­cuses on the worker and, in par­tic­u­lar, what mo­ti­vates peo­ple to work. In short, he dis­cov­ers that our rea­sons for work­ing – the need to direct our own lives, to learn, cre­ate and im­prove the world and our­selves – are not the same rea­sons em­ploy­ers pay us. Even if com­pa­nies are slow to recog­nise the lim­its of car­rots and sticks, we can at least recog­nise it our­selves.

What Ev­ery Body is Say­ing

Joe Navarro, HarperCollins

You’ll feel like a spy read­ing this book on body lan­guage, not least be­cause it’s writ­ten by a for­mer FBI agent. If im­pres­sions are made in the first 10 sec­onds, it’s help­ful to know what your body is telling oth­ers about you and what other bod­ies are telling you are about the job/ date. It’s de­tailed, grounded in prac­tice but hope­fully your life won’t de­pend on get­ting it right. Clue: the most hon­est parts of the body are the feet and legs but don’t trust hand move­ments.

Think­ing Fast and Slow

Daniel Kah­ne­man, Pen­guin

Kah­ne­man is a psy­chol­o­gist who wins eco­nomics prizes so this book is a lit­tle dense with re­search but worth the trip. He ex­plains fast think­ing that is in­tu­itive and re­flex­ive, and slow think­ing that is con­scious, laboured and more cau­tious. He doesn’t say one way of think­ing is bet­ter than the other but he points out how we can use both sys­tems to get the best from the whole mind. En­livened with ex­per­i­ments and anec­dotes, the book will make you think twice about jump­ing to con­clu­sions, but that’s the point.

Pre­dictably Ir­ra­tional

Dan Ariely, HarperCollins

This is a chatty ex­plo­ration of be­havioural eco­nomics that ex­plains why most of us aren’t good at trad­ing, making com­mit­ments and pre­dict­ing out­comes. There’s a rea­son why you value your home more than the buy­ers troop­ing through the front door; there’s a rea­son why your di­ets fail; why wine in ex­pen­sive-look­ing bot­tles tastes bet­ter and why your mother-in­law won’t let you pay for her home-cooked din­ner. In short, you’re not homo-econo­mus. We knew that but econ­o­mists were slow to come to the ta­ble.


Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler,


Sunstein ended up ad­vis­ing Pres­i­dent Obama on the back of his idea that gov­ern­ment poli­cies are more ef­fec­tive if they nudge us to do the right thing rather than force us or rely on our own judge­ments. On other lev­els, the lessons from Nudge can be used to craft our own in­cen­tives or de­sign pro­grams for get­ting staff to do the right thing.

Flash Boys

Michael Lewis, Pen­guin

The lat­est book from one of the wit­ti­est writ­ers on the world of money. If you worry you no longer understand the share mar­ket, fear not, he doesn’t ei­ther but he sets our to dis­cover why. The an­swer, ba­si­cally, is a com­bi­na­tion of flash char­ac­ters and abu­sive al­go­rithms and the re­sult is that much trad­ing is be­ing done for the ben­e­fit of traders and not for in­vestors. Lewis con­cludes the prob­lem isn’t just with the rapid al­go­rithms and greedy traders but with the sys­tem it­self. Might be time, to re­bal­ance re­tire­ment sav­ings.

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