Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Better, Simpler Strategy: A Value-Based Guide to Exceptional Performance (Felix Oberholzer-Gee)

Businesses often succeed when they can create and effectively execute a strategy and plan. Felix Oberholzer-Gee’s Better, Simpler Strategy: A Value-Based Guide to Exceptional Performance establishes a framework to help businesses rethink and rework how they operate.

Oberholzer-Gee’s method to madness centers around value-based strategy. The author advocates two metrics: The first being the most someone would pay for a product or service; the second is the minimum compensation that employees and suppliers (in manufacturing) would require. The difference in these two metrics is the value that a business creates and, according to the author, where businesses should focus their efforts. The author talks at length about this being represented by a “value stick” and then provides examples where either of the metrics (willingness to pay or willingness to sell) is changed and how those changes transformed the performance of the company.

Better, Simpler Strategy is a valuable resource for any business executive who is thinking about how their organization’s performance can be transformed. Given the fast change of pace in today’s world, keeping the strategy simple and focused on value will help not only the business but also the employees.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract for a Better Society (Minouche Shafik)

Minouche Shafik's What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract for a Better Society advocates for a rethinking of how societies can support each other to help improve economic and societal conditions for all. The book is written with an eye to thinking about how tweaking (and improving) parts of the social contract between government and citizens can result in better outcomes for all.

Shafik covers all stages of life - raising children, education, health, and retirement - and talks about how improving conditions for all through providing stronger social safety nets will yield improved economic, health, and educational performances in countries. While her audience is directed globally, the author is adept at utilizing examples from Europe and “Western” societies and those from elsewhere around the globe to show various models that work and how these models can be adapted in other places if necessary. Shafik spends a relatively short amount of time talking about how those improvements to the safety net can be properly financed - this is an area that could have used additional focus. 

What We Owe Each Other is organized and thoughtful and offers a fresh perspective on how governments should organize social contracts with its citizens. While some of the ideas proposed may be very difficult to see implemented and get financed, the discussion of how to improve benefits and support systems for people is worth having.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Hidden History of Coined Words (Ralph Keyes)

Examples of coined words include "blog", "quark", and "buttonhole"; all of which were created either in jest or through misprints (in the case of "quark"). Those who are responsible for coining some of English’s more unique words come from diverse backgrounds - a humorist, a botanist, a cartoonist, and even politicians have all contributed words that have had staying power to our discourse over centuries.

Ralph Keyes’s The Hidden History of Coined Words dives head-first into a treasure trove of word origins, outlining in great detail how terms came into existence, whether those terms had staying power or were mere fads, and how they may have evolved over the years. Did you know that "hipster" is not a recent word invention, despite the current term identifying many craft beer aficionados and fans of indie rock? Or that "spread’s" meaning today is not necessarily the same as it was in an earlier time? Keyes closes with a tutorial on how to coin words and what letters coined words should start with. He also expresses hope that a number of expressions that we struggle with can find better meaning.

The Hidden History of Coined Words an enjoyable book, one well-suited for linguists and wordsmiths who are curious to gain further insight into ever-evolving language.


Monday, April 26, 2021

The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism (Hubert Joly)

Hubert Joly is a former executive at several businesses. While at Best Buy, he helped engineer a turnaround of the electronics retailer and guided it out of a period of declining sales and uncertainty about its future into a stronger, more profitable place. The Heart of Business is his recipe for how business leaders should operate and how capitalism should be rethought in order to better serve our world.

Joly’s philosophy is interspersed with anecdotes from his career. He shares his beliefs that putting people at the center of the business and treating profit as an outcome are better than pursuing the classic strategy of maximizing profit. He cites increased employee engagement, lower turnover, and better customer service metrics as reasons to pursue these objectives.

The Heart of Business also advocates a position that business leaders need to speak out and take a more active role in political matters. Whether you agree with that position personally or not, Joly’s idea of advocating a more humane approach to business is very sound and valuable in today’s environment. I wish he had devoted more energy to his chapter on “the purposeful leader”, where he advocates five “be’s” as strategies for leaders to better themselves. Only seeing these strategies take up a few pages, given they were the strength of the book, was a bit of a letdown. That said, I appreciated Joly’s approach to leadership and articulating his vision for businesses to operate and execute differently.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Hour of the Witch (Chris Bohjalian)

What happens when a Puritan woman in New England wants to leave her abusive husband? Chris Bohjalian's historical fiction novel Hour of the Witch deftly answers this unique question in the heart-pounding first part but then fizzles a bit after that.

In 1662, Mary Deerfield is living with her husband, Thomas, and their servant girl, Catherine. Thomas is terribly violent toward Mary and rather than tolerating it, she decides to take matters into her own hands and file for divorce. Back then, one needed to get government approval to divorce. Not only that, but Mary soon finds herself the target of suspicion of witchcraft.

This book is divided into a few parts. The part leading up to Mary's divorce hearing is absolutely compelling. After that, Hour of the Witch loses a little luster and becomes predictable. But I admire Bohjalian for taking the topic of divorce on at a time period when it was almost unheard of. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Broken: In the Best Possible Way (Jenny Lawson)

As the author of an ultra-popular blog and multiple best-selling books, Jenny Lawson (AKA "The Bloggess") certainly has a devoted following. I've never read anything by Lawson before, so I was excited to pick up her latest, Broken (In the Best Possible Way).

Broken is made up of many different chapters about Lawson's life, some of which are more successful than others. The problem for me as a new reader of Lawson's was that I couldn't really tell what this book was trying to be. Some chapters were laugh-out-loud funny, others were poignant vignettes about Lawson's mental illness, and a few were just odd (like Lawson's Shark Tank ideas). At times, the author's writing seemed forced, like she was just trying to fill up the pages.

But of course, my opinion is in the minority. I'm still giving Broken a 3 out of 5 because there were quite a few parts I genuinely either enjoyed or found affecting. 


Saturday, April 10, 2021

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (Cal Newport)

Many people's hours at work are spent triaging cluttered email inboxes, trying desperately to get it under control. “Work” for some has become synonymous with the number of emails that are sent out over the course of a day. Emails fly around at all hours of day and night in an attempt to keep up with customer inquiries, internal questions from colleagues, and simply reading the latest memo from the CEO.

Author Cal Newport argues that your work shouldn’t be defined by your inbox but that it should be simplified, diversified, and process-oriented. His book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Word in an Age of Communication Overload, addresses his philosophy for better, more productive, and more meaningful work. The book is broken down into two parts: The first focuses on the problem of workplace communication and the second on solutions to fix and improve office work and productivity.  Newport argues that part of the shift in how we work starts with us and part of it also lies with the team that we work with. He suggests ideas such as dedicated email response time, “deep work”, and more focused meetings as three solutions that can be incorporated.

People in office life and knowledge economy jobs would do well to read this book and hopefully adopt some of Newport’s suggestions to make their work life better and more efficient.