Mon, May 21, 2012, 01:00

Business thinking between the covers

Bank of Dave

by Dave Fishwick

Virgin Books €15.99

Frustrated by established financial institutions, Dave Fishwick, self- styled “ordinary bloke from Burnley” decides to set up a bank to provide a lifeline to small businesses in the Lancashire town.

The book, a tie-in to a Channel 4 series, follows Fishwick’s adventures as he tries to defy the odds to establish a savings and loan business and get it into profit in 180 days. The David and Goliath aspect to the story is played up for all its worth. Far from being a more ordinary northern bloke, however, Fishwick emerges as a canny operator. We learn that despite failing in school, he went on to become a highly successful and wealthy bus coach operator before embarking on this financial services adventure.

The book is as much a guide to the way our banks really operate, written from the perspective of the man in the street, as it is about the hero’s journey.

In one of the more interesting chapters, Fishwick goes to Wall Street and bets the bank’s cash reserves on a small number of trades, ignoring the advice of the expert market traders in the room who want him to short the market.

He is proved right, underlying his cynicism about high-flying traders and so-called financial experts. It is a good yarn with some salient observations along the way.

Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense

by Jules Goddard and Tony Eccles

Pearson €15.99

In this thoughtful book, Goddard and Eccles try to explain why some organisations consistently succeed better than others. Drawing inspiration from Michael Porter’s idea of competitive advantage – ie not being better at what you do but rather being different – they place a strong emphasis on what they call “asymmetric knowledge”.

This is the notion that success comes from knowing something that nobody else in the market knows and having the courage to act on that knowledge. The book’s thesis is that market-based competition is a discovery process, asymmetric knowledge is the object of the search and that good organisations spur intrepid explorers in this discovery process.

According to the authors, if there is a unifying characteristic of all great business strategies it is their counter-intuitive character when they are first executed. Writing generic prescriptions for business does a huge disservice to the true nature of enterprise and the work done by managers.

Driven by the web, a new set of management principles is coming to the fore that draws upon larger pools of talent than those who work full-time for corporations and which enable customers, user groups to co-create the products and services of the future.

Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus

by Tim Hindle

The Economist €18.99

In one of the better of the latest series of Economist guides, Hindle provides an overview of more than 100 management ideas ranging over subjects like benchmarking, business process re-engineering, competitive advantage, kaizen, mass customisation, six sigma and vertical integration.

The second part of the book looks at over 50 of the most influential management thinkers.

In his introduction, Hindle notes that the popularity of management ideas changes over time. Not long ago, the Japanese kaizen concept (slow gradual improvement) was being studied by managers in the West. Nowadays, the pace of change doesn’t allow for kaizen; even Toyota, once the epitome of kaizen, has declared allegiance to kakushin, the Japanese version of dramatic change.

While Americans have long dominated the world’s top management gurus, times are changing with many of the leading thinkers now coming from India – albeit Indians with one foot in the West, as Hindle puts it.

CK Prahalad, Sumantra Ghoshal and Rakesh Khurana are just three examples.

The next wave of top management thinkers, Hindle speculates, tongue in cheek, might be from China or Russia.