Playing to Win, AM Lafley and Roger Martin, Harvard Business Review Press, €24.99
Pinpointing strategy to a few critically important choices dramatically improves chances of success. However, most firms settle for flawed approaches that often lead to irreversible blunders. This is a key message in this new book by two highly regarded authors in this field.
Lafley is a legendary former chair and chief executive of Procter Gamble and Martin is dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. He has written well-received titles such as The Design of Business and Fixing the Game.
The duo formed a partnership over 20 years ago when Lafley was a category manager at PG and Martin was employed as an outside consultant. Many of their key ideas were formed in that time.
They say strategy is a co-ordi- nated and integrated set of five choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities and management systems. Some organisations define strategy as benchmarking against the competition and then doing the same set of activities, but more effectively.
This is flawed as sameness is only a recipe for mediocrity. Strategy, they say, requires clear and hard thinking, creativity, real courage and personal leadership.
The Founders of Finance, Thomas K. McCraw. Belknap Press. €29.99
Published against the background of the ongoing challenge of the fiscal cliff in the US, this is a very timely book.
Its starting point is the near- bankrupt status of the US in the latter part of the 18th century. This book tells the story of how foreign-born financial specialists solved the fiscal crisis and established a firm basis for the long-term domination of the US in world economic affairs.
McCraw, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, analyses how immigrants, including Alexander Hamilton from the Danish Virgin islands and Albert Gallatin from Geneva, allowed the nation to pay its debts and fund the war of 1812, which preserved the nation’s independence from Britain.
McCraw notes the inventiveness and financial acumen of these immigrants whose expertise exceeded that of native-born leaders such as Washington, Jefferson and Madison, whose primary frame of reference was ownership of land rather than liquid capital.
The frequent compromises and fusions of Hamilton and Gallatin’s ideas have sometimes produced bizarre and even harmful results, the author notes. However, in the long run, they have yielded outcomes of immeasurable benefit to the United States.
The Locust and the Bee, Geoff Mulgan. Princeton University Press. €24.99
The recent economic crisis is a reminder that the capitalist system can both produce and destroy it. By its very nature, it encourages predators and creators, locusts and bees.
The challenge for society is how to rein in the too-powerful predators and support the creators and innovators. That is a key premise of this interesting and thought-provoking book by Geoff Mulgan, founder of the think-tank Demos and a former director of policy for Tony Blair.
Mulgan explores the history of capitalism to show its contradictions and possibilities. Drawing on examples from countries as diverse as the US, Sweden and Korea, he shows how new political settlements reshaped capitalism in the past and how they are likely to do so in the future.
He attempts to map out the future nature of the economy and how this will affect society. In his view it will be relational, involved in the maintenance of bodies and things. He points to the growth of jobs in care, health and green industries as well as the rise in social media.
The book predicts their share of the economy will increase considerably, prompting a significant change in thinking from that of an economy based on commodities.