Book Reviews: Leading-Edge, Macro- and Meta-Thinking

Business Feel: From the Science of Management to the Philosophy of Leadership, by Steven Segal. Palgrave Macmillan (St. Martin's Press).
Drawing upon the thinking, style and actions of such top executives as Jack Welch and Andy Grove, the author examines the role of emotion and philosophy in making critical decisions. The book examines the process of moving beyond the scientific approach to management. The author explores philosophic conceptions of management, shows how some trends in management theory imply a philosophical rather than scientific framework, and develops a concept of education appropriate for the transition from a tradition analytical to a philosophical view of management. The book challenges conventional management thinking and spotlights a more existential mindset that is seen as in harmony with the radical changes that challenge today's leaders. A highly original and thoughtful work. 208 pp. 2004.

The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think, by Robert Aunger. The Free Press.
The author presents a theory of how memes actually work, and has made the concept a testable proposition. A meme is an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Aunger shows the relationships between memes and the brain, behavior, and artifacts. He explores a mechanism by which memes might replicate themselves in the brain. The book also discusses how memes first arose and evolved into their present multitude of lifestyles. Enormously interesting and filled with insights and stimulating thought. Highly recommended. 392 pp. 2002.

The Interaction of Complexity and Management, by Michael R. Lissack, ed. Quorum Books.
A key theme is for managers to find coherence in a complex world. The book offers 29 essays written by gurus, academicians and managers. These are clustered into four main sections: management perspectives on complexity theories; managerial insight from complexity science; complexity science in practice; and complexity and management—fad or frontier? The essays present a vast array of ideas, insights and guidance for managers seeking to understand the organizations and environments they must contend with to be successful. The book, as a whole, presents an enormous amount of knowledge but, more importantly, aims to affect how managers think—impacting their perspective and the lens (paradigm) through which they understand and take action. The subject areas covered, and depth of thought, make this a unique, very valuable, and absorbing work. Very highly recommended. 324 pp. 2002. (8/05)

Just Around The Corner: The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery, by Stanley Aronowitz. Temple University Press.
This book presents the author's assessment of how our economy today, while generating wealth and capable of recovery from recession, is not generating a commensurate expansion in job opportunities. Advances in technology accounts for this situation, according to Aronomwitz. His analysis and insights boldly and brilliantly challenge the conventional wisdom that technology changes produces more jobs than it destroys. He also explores the "price of neoliberal globalization." But the author is not technophobic. He believes what is needed is a reality-based perspective on our economy; one that employs a "tight safety net," creates labor-intensive jobs that expand the "public good," promotes alternative energy resources, and most importantly, revises our paradigm of "full employment" and the "full-time job." The book offers a compelling, concise case for seeing the U.S. economy in a new light, based on solid evidence. This is well-reasoned and robust challenge to 'business-as-usual' economic thinking! It casts a bright light on what may be the 800 pound economic guerilla on the 21st century. 163 pp. 2005.

The Knowledge Web: From Electronic Agents to Stonehenge and Back - and other Journeys Through Knowledge, by James Burke.Simon & Schuster.
Describes a single, complex journey through time and space (or the great web of knowledge) that connects all people in all places at all times. This book provides a glimpse of the future's interconnected learning experience. While a fascinating exploration of history, technology, science and more, this book gives the reader a sense of the 21st Century information infrastructures which is a more relevant way of understanding. An excellent mental exercise for those trying to escape the linearity of traditional thought. Highly recommended. 285 pp.

Linked: The New Science of Networks, by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Perseus Books.
The author reveals the nature and universal role of networks in understanding every aspect of reality, from the cell to business, the economy, and society as a whole. The book is an eye-opening trip across disciplines that challenge you to step out of the box of reductionism and explore, link by link, the new scientific revolution: the new science of networks. This is cutting-edge scientific thinking. It will be fascinating reading for anyone interested in complexity science and the latest thinking is systems. 2002.

Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World, by Yaneer Bar-Yam. Knowledge Press (NECSI).
This book is bound to please anyone who wants to grapple with the complexity of today's world and organizations, and is interested in the truly big picture and issues. Part I explains concepts central to complex systems, such as: parts, wholes and relationships; patterns; networks and collective memory; possibilities; and evolution. The second and major part of the book focuses on how we can apply complex systems ideas to help solve such major real-world challenges as: military warfare and conflict; health care (the system and errors); learning and the educational system; international development; enlightened evolutionary engineering; and global control, ethnic violence and terrorism. The first hurdle is to comprehend these problems using our knowledge of complex systems and then begin to address them using a complex systems framework. The book is intellectually refreshing and bold. Its content is expansive, enlightening, and mind-stimulating. 308 pp. 2005.

The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, by Richard Florida. BasicBooks (HarperCollins).
People who use their creativity as a key factor in their work form the creative class (over 30 percent of the workforce). The book chronicles the rise and nature of this new class, and explores how it impacts every aspect of society--from the economy, careers and the nature of work, to lifestyles, community and values. The book is enormously expansive and absorbing in its portrayal of this new class and how it is shaping our world.It delves into the deep and enduring changes of our age that are not technological but social and cultural. Very highly recommended. 350 pp. 2002.

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, by Howard Rheingold. Perseus Books.
This book is about how wireless communication devices are combining with the human talent for cooperation to create smart mobs (groups of people who, using cell phones and the like, are able to act in concert even if they don't know each other). The author shows how smart mob technology is permeating and transforming every aspect of our social, economic, political and personal lives, heralding a techno-cultural shift of historically enormous importance. The book is a penetrating survey of this new phenomenon, showing both its promises and threats, and the many ways it is (and can) impact our lives. 166 pp. 2002."

Techno-Human Mesh: The Growing Power of Information Technology, by Cynthia K. West. Quorum Books / Praeger Publishers.
West provides an in-depth exploration into the impact of information technology on society, human anatomy, and more. The author describes the digital elite—those involved in creating, marketing and using information technology. West argues that the trend in human-machine interface technologies is toward merging of machines and the human body. One chapter delves into the increasing surveillance of law enforcement, at work, and in the marketplace, analyzing the discourse of biometric technologies, security techniques, and surveillance products. The thrust of the concluding chapter is philosophical; it homes in on ethical and social issues, with emphasis on social responsibilities and values. Highly recommended for those who seek to fathom information technology's impact on society and the individual. 225 pp. 2001.

What the Future Holds: Insights from Social Science, by Richard N. Cooper and Richard Layard, Eds. MIT Press.
This book considers how we might think about the future. Taking different approaches, well-known specialists forecast likely future developments and trends in human life. Tackles such questions as: how many humans will there be? Will there be enough energy? How will climate change affect our lives? What patterns of work will exist? How will government work at the local, national and world levels? Will inflation remain under control? Why have past forecasts been so poor? The book concludes with a discussion of the intellectual and historical context of futurology and an examination of the accuracy of predictions made for the year 2000. Extremely interesting. Subjects are treated in-depth. Numerous references. Strongly recommended. 285 pp. 2002.

What We Learned in the Rainforest: Business Lessons from Nature; Innovation, Profitability, Growth and Sustainability at 20 of the World's Top Companies, by Tachi Kiuchi and Bill Shireman. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Presents a new ways of understanding business. Applies core principles derived from observations of life in rainforests. The primary theme is that businesses excel when they emulate what they sought to conquer. They maximize performance when they become like a complex living system. As businesses are doing this, they are changing society's relationship with nature. Applies essential concepts concerning complex systems and to business. The book provides illustrations and offers numerous sound insights into organization and strategy. Social and environmental responsibilities are key themes; stresses that the economic, social and environmental performance of business and an economy are positively correlated. This is an excellent work. Highly recommended. 300 pp. 2002.

The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter, by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
This book can help people break out of the linear, encapsulated world of every-day life in which most are ensnared. It provides a means for engaging with many others in exploring important issues at a variety of levels: group, corporate, community, national or international. The book presents the World Cafe Process (Cafe or WCP), which generally consist of three rounds of progressive conversation, each lasting about 20 or 30 minutes, followed by a dialog among the whole group. This is the story of the discovery and evolution of the WCP, enabling people to foster constructive dialogue, access collective intelligence, and create innovate possibilities for action. The process has seven core design principles: set the context; create hospitable space; explore questions that matter; encourage everyone's contribution; cross-pollinate and connect diverse perspectives; listen together for patterns, insights, and deeper questions; and harvest and share collective discoveries. Each chapter begins with a quotation, an illustration, and a question; these give you an overview of the book's themes. Business leaders are likely to find the WCP a powerful way to increase organizational effectiveness and achieve change. One president of a pharmaceutical company, Yvon Bastien, reports how he successfully used the WCP to develop the long-range business plan. This is one a vast array of successful experiences reported by leaders in all types of organizations. Chapter 10 provides the specifics to successfully host a Cafe. Others closing chapters provide stories of how leaders are using the WCP, and its societal implications. For further information, the book concludes with a section on resources and connections. This book opens the door to learning, creativity and action through a powerful process that deserves consideration by all leaders. 254 pp. 2005.