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Posted June 9, 2010 9:11 a.m. by jon
In - 800 CEO Read Blog
There are a lot of great books coming out lately, and more to follow throughout the year. It seems the current business climate is an opportunity to present new ideas, a tabula rasa, so to speak, and we're discovering some real gems of thought being introduced to the world.
One perfect example of this is the book Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth by Juliet Schor. This is not a book on how to capitalize on new business and make lots of money. It's about how to build better business, live more fulfilled lives, and survive well in the process. Simple, and it almost sounds trivial, but when you read a book like Plenitude, you realize that there are many things we're missing. Not new ideas, not technological gadgetry, but fundamental issues and practices that have gone neglected in our quest to, well, end up where we are. We can do better, and books like this talk about how.
The following is a brief Q&A I conducted with Ms. Shor after being pleasantly blown away by the book. If what you read here is at all curious, do pick up the book.
How can the economy survive based upon an emerging model of spending and using less?
The idea that the economy needs to grow in order to thrive is a widespread but increasingly outmoded one. In large part this is due to the planetary ecology. Because we are bumping up against what some scientists have called “safe planetary boundaries” economies that do not respect those boundaries will incur more costs, and be less profitable. At the moment, we have not learned how to “grow” without destroying nature and de-stabilizing the planet. Our challenge is to create a new type of economy in which profit or economic benefit does not require depleting resources. From the business side, companies who learn how to sell on-going services, rather than maximizing the number of “units” of a product will be ahead of the game as we transition to a different business model. Software and information services are a good paradigm to look at in this respect.
Time is an important asset to both companies and individuals. How does 'working less' benefit both groups?
One solution is to take more leisure time from our growing productivity. In the last 40 years, the average American has seen a substantial in the number of annual hours worked. This is paradoxical, given that our economy has become so much more productive in this period, and information technology has raised labor productivity. The successful companies of the future will reverse this trend, and enable employees to take more of their higher productivity in the form of free time. This makes employment more available to everyone and frees up employees to have healthier, less stressful and more socially connected lives. Companies can benefit as well because their employees are healthier, happier and more productive.
How can companies 'slow down' and still be profitable?
When we do things too fast we make mistakes, miss opportunities and fail to reach our maximum creativity. I think this is true for companies too, because after all, they are just groups of people. When management or labor is operating at hyper-speed, they will not live up to their potential. Creativity, which is increasingly key to success in the business world, requires time to dream, imagine, work out ideas, and think through problems.
What role does design play in economics?
Unfortunately, almost none. But it should. As a discipline, economics is surprisingly divorced from production. It came out of an exchange model, and has an under-theorized and simple theory of production. Design tends to be isolated. But in order to get an ecologically sustainable economy we’re going to need to integrate design with economic ideas. This will be one of the challenges of coming decades.
Many of the ideas you discuss address change on a personal level, but for those changes to take root, they seemingly need to be driven by companies/media. Describe how you think this process will occur, and how long will it take?
We live in a dynamic culture in which business and media respond quickly to changes that start at the individual level. I do believe that the Plenitude lifestyle, which I describe in my book, will be increasingly adopted by companies too. Not the biggest ones at first, but smaller companies and enterprises are attuned to culture change. In part it happens because the people who start those companies are mavericks, often living different kinds of lifestyles. Many are refugees from bureaucratic corporations that stifled their creativity and initiative. The sustainability revolution, which plentiude is a part of is being embraced by many small companies. There’s a
rapidly growth sector of small, green businesses, and they’re where these ideas have taken hold first. But as they grow, and this sector expands, which it will, they will influence their competitors. A great example is the organic and local food now being sold by supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, as a result of the pressure from Whole Foods Market, farmers markets and other small providers.
Juliet Schor is a Professor of sociology at Boston College. She studies trends in working time and leisure, consumerism, the relationship between work and family, women's issues and economic justice. She received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and her Ph.D in economics from the University of Massachusetts. Before joining Boston College, she taught at Harvard University for 17 years, in the Department of Economics and the Committee on Degrees in Women's Studies. In 2006 she was awarded the Leontief Prize by the Global Development and Environment Institute.
Posted June 4, 2010 10:06 a.m. by dylan
In - 800 CEO Read Blog
We have two weeks of links to catch up on, folks. So tighten up your broadband and lets get down to it.
➻ Bestselling author and current president of the author's guild, Scott Turow, Tattered Cover Lead Buyer and board member of the ABA, Cathy Langer, and President of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Jonathan Galassi, all appeared on The PBS NEWSHOUR last Thursday with Jeffrey Brown to discuss "new gadgets, new habits, and the ancient craft of storytelling." (You can watch the video, listen to the audio, or read the transcript here: Publishers, Writers Assess the Digital Frontier of the Written Word.) Speaking of eBooks, Cathy Langer offered this:
I think it's hard to say yet. It's really hard to measure what impact it's had on—on the overall sales of physical books.
I am, again, an eternal optimist. And I think it might even expand the market. We know that people are buying the physical book and the e-book. There's talk about bundling, which means you can buy both at the same time.
The fact that any record album or hardcover book is sold in this country anymore without a free (unique) download code accompanying it just baffles me. I know that the buyer of the analogue material might just give that digital version to a friend, but if so, I think the chances are pretty good that they would have shared the physical book with that friend anyway, so I don't think they're losing a sale by doing so. I think it may also draw some book lovers back into actual bookstores to pick up the physical copy of the book they want to download. Any thoughts? There are a lot of people in publishing that are much, much smarter than I am, so there has to be a good reason (or many) that they're not doing this? No?
(Another recent NEWSHOUR conversation you may enjoy is Jeffrey Brown's interview of Derek and Sissela Bok. They are intellectual giants that have been married for 55 years and will both be releasing books on the topic of happiness this year—The Politics of Happiness and Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science, respectively.)
➻ As Sue Halpern writes in The iPad Revolution, her New York Review of Books article:
You don’t have to be a technophobe or a Luddite to dismiss out of hand the idea of reading on a machine. Maybe it is muscle memory, but there is something deeply satisfying about a “real” book, a book made of pages bound between hard or soft covers, into which you can slip a bookmark, whose pages you can fan, whose binding you can crack and fold as you move from beginning to end. E-books, by contrast, whatever platform delivers them, are ephemeral. Yes, you can carry thousands of them in your pocket, but what will you have to show for it? What will fill your bookshelves? Then, one day, you find yourself housebound, and Wolf Hall has just won the Booker Prize, and you download a sample onto your iPhone, and just like with a book printed on paper you are pulled into the story and are grateful to be able to keep reading, and your resistance disappears, and you press the “buy” button—it’s so easy!—and that is how it starts.
➻ Still, one just doesn't collect codes and electronic files in the same way one does physical books. And if collecting is your thing, or you're looking for a guide to beginning a collection, Flashlight Worthy has compiled a list of The Best Books about Book Collecting, books which themselves may or may not be collectible. I highly suggest A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Brasbanes, which made the list, and would add one more recommendation:This Book Collecting Racket by Harry W. Schwartz (the man who founded the bookshop that 800-CEO-READ grew up in).
➻ Juliet Schor, author of the recently released Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal on NPR's Marketplace. She discussed some of the larger ideas in the book, including the amount of time we put into the formal economy and the beauty and economic efficiency of the many small actions occurring outside of it.
One of the things we see is that the people who have begun to live like this have more time affluence in their lives and are able to do a wide range of things that are really creative, productive kinds of things that you can do if you don't have to spend every waking hour at your formal job.
The advantages of the large scale are disappearing. [...] It used to be that you needed a giant warehouse to put a computer in, now you need a lap. A huge message of my book is small is beautiful, let's try and shift this economy in the direction of the small scale. That's going to be a more resilient economy.
I highly suggest you pick up her book. If you'd like a preview, download her ChangeThis manifesto: Plenitude: A Statement On Economics, Ecology & True Wealth.
➻ Let's now move back to the latest New York Review of Books. In At the Heart of the Crash, Jeff Madwick reviews Michael Lewis's The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, writing that "Lewis’s deep burrowing gets to the essence of Wall Street companies blinded by easy, short-term profit and uninhibited by any moral scruples or external government watchdogs." Madwick also gives a paragraph to Crisis Economics and the remedies the authors propose therein:
Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm would require that all derivatives, such as credit default swaps, be traded openly. They would consider prohibiting CDOs altogether on grounds that these derivatives are far too risky and complex. They would demand that investors pool funds to finance credit-rating agencies, removing the major conflicts of interest that derive from issuers paying for their ratings. They would also break up Goldman Sachs and the other big banks into relatively small pieces.
And in The Food Movement, Rising, Michael Pollan covers five books:
- Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin, Polyface
- All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? by Joel Berg, Seven Stories
- Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Little Brown
- Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities by Carlo Petrini, Chelsea Green
- The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society by Janet A. Flammang, University of Illinois Press
Cheap food has become an indispensable pillar of the modern economy. But it is no longer an invisible or uncontested one. One of the most interesting social movements to emerge in the last few years is the “food movement,” or perhaps I should say “movements,” since it is unified as yet by little more than the recognition that industrial food production is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high.
As Pollan states, "It's a big lumpy tent," which sounds delicious.
➻ The American Management Association has a podcast online with Scott Singer, author of How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business. Scott says "It's not so much how hard you get hit or how hard you can hit back, it's how resilient you can be ... "
One reason many of us stick with this business, if you can even call it a business (it’s more like a practice, really), is a perhaps pathological obsession with voice, with helping authors find their voices and with encouraging others to listen. But books aren’t an announcement, books are the train itself, the place where mind meets body, the moment when it doesn’t seem to matter that both will come to pass. If the train ahead of us is delayed, can we outrun it and reach the next one? Or is that a death wish?
➻ Because I love Umair Haque's writing, I want to share the concluding line of his recent article on Rebooting Prosperity in an Age of Austerity:
Seen through the Cyclopean eye of economic evolution, a great meteor crashed in 2007 — and those who can't reboot prosperity are a bit like the poor, straggling dinosaurs who survived yesterday's great meteor crash (hello, BP): they're living on borrowed time in this Age of Austerity, in a world being furiously reshaped.
His reasoning skills are as solid as his writing, and I would highly suggest you read the full article to see what he's talking about.
➻ Any Metropolis fans out there? If so, today marks the global release of the restored version of that classic film, which contains lost footage discovered in 2008 in Buenos Aires. As Roger Ebert writes:
The opening shots of the restored “Metropolis” are so crisp and clear they come as a jolt. This mistreated masterpiece has been seen until now mostly in battered prints missing footage that was, we now learn, essential.
➻ "What a life I lead in the summer."