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Published: November 15, 2010

 
 

Highlights from 15 Years of s+b Book Reviews

Prahalad tallied up the 4 billion people who lived on incomes of less than US$1,400 per year, and posited the original idea that they make up a largely untapped market valued at trillions of dollars in aggregate. In their essay on the best business books on strategy, former Booz & Company Partners Chuck Lucier and Jan Dyer picked the book as “essential reading” for four reasons: the emerging market business models it described; the crucial new source of corporate growth it identified; the competitive threat that companies serving the bottom of the pyramid represented; and the likelihood that the low-cost, high-volume models would eventually migrate to developed markets. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, they wrote, provided “a rare glimpse into the future — for those with eyes to see — of the extraordinary opportunities waiting in uncharted and seemingly impassable waters.”

A third seminal book covered in s+b’s pages is one whose relevance grows along with the ecological impact of our industrial society. In Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press, 2002), William McDonough and Michael Braungart, an architect and chemist, respectively, identified the conventional “take, make, and waste” product cycle as a major contributor to our environmental problems. They proposed that human industry be redesigned to echo nature, in which every major nutrient is endlessly recycled.

“Consider this thought experiment, which appears in [the book]: What would it take to run your company the way the Menominee tribe of Michigan runs their forest?” wrote Joe Flower, a regular s+b contributor, who reviewed Cradle to Cradle in his Knowledge Review essay on sustainability in the Spring 2009 issue. “In 1870, the Menominee counted 1.3 billion board feet of standing timber on their 235,000 acres of land. Over the last 138 years, they have harvested 2.3 billion board feet, and now they have 1.7 billion board feet. Neat trick. Maybe you’re not in a resource-extraction industry; maybe your capital doesn’t grow on trees. But isn’t there an equivalent potential achievement in your sector?”

A Global Trend

If books were to morph into shallow, short-form online works, we would miss those titles that take deep dives into the new trends that are shaping and reshaping our world. One of the most far-reaching and implication-laden of these trends has been globalization, and during s+b’s publishing tenure, a library’s worth of books on the topic have appeared. Among the most influential and widely read of them was Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), which Howard Rheingold, a leading observer of the social changes stimulated by technology, chose as the best business book of 2005 in the future category.

Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, argued that globalization entered a new phase around the turn of the millennium. Whereas Globalization 1.0 was fueled by the drive for empire by nation-states beginning in 1492 and Globalization 2.0 was driven by the international expansion of enterprises starting around 1800, Globalization 3.0 was driven by “the newfound power of individuals to collaborate and compete globally.” This power derived from 10 “flatteners,” according to Friedman, which were all directly related to digital technologies and networks.

Friedman’s flat world explained many of the challenges that companies were facing in a global economy, but business readers had to wait for the publication of Pankaj Ghemawat’s Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) for a measured, strategic response. In it, the author, a professor of global strategy at IESE business school in Barcelona, takes issue with Friedman’s boundaryless “flat” world. Ghemawat points out that there are still plenty of speed bumps for companies that rush into the global fray with a one-world strategy that doesn’t account for the myriad differences between nations.

 
 
 
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