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Just from the title alone, you can tell that Masters of Management is a bit softer in tone than the book it revised and updated—a classic, The Witch Doctors by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, released in 1996. Micklethwait, now the editor-in-chief at The Economist, bowed out of this updated version, but Wooldridge carries the torch forward to cover the rise of the Internet, globalization, the explosion in entrepreneurship, and the ever-expanding field of management and leadership literature.
It is also the first comprehensive documentation of how the management field has transformed civil society and government—for better and for worse—in the last few decades. For instance, attempting to reward public servants whose initial motivation is working for the public good with incentive-based pay has proved to be somewhat disastrous in its results, while devolving power from central governments to local public servants has been a boon for efficiency.
Though its title emphasizes the positive over negative, Masters does not pull its punches and its critiques of management theory and its “gurus” are as fair and sober as you’ll find anywhere. When Wooldridge does go negative, he does so through surrogates by quoting prominent thinkers on the less savory characters in the field, such as:
The late Peter Drucker liked to quip that people use the word “guru” only because they cannot spell “charlatan.”
“Never have so many labored for so long to say so little,” was [Warren] Bennis’s waspish verdict on the leadership literature.
This book is such an even-handed look at management theories and literature, and their implementation in the real world, that we couldn’t pass it by, though it almost does our work for us in sifting through the genre. It is a guide to everything management theory has produced—the good and the bad, the whirlwind of theories, jargon, and gurus that propagate the literature—and it comes out of that mineshaft holding a glittering handful of gold nuggets that will make your decisions about where to look for guidance much wiser and more refined. Masters of Management belongs on the shelf of every manager in the country.
By the time you get to page four of Richard Branson’s Screw Business as Usual, you will have already been treated to stories of Kate Winslett saving his mother from his burning home on Necker Island—literally carrying her soot-faced down the stairs as the fire rages behind them—and discussing the state of the world over dinner with the Queen and Barack Obama at Buckingham Palace. (And, to apologize for name-dropping, he shares a joke told to him by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.) So, right away, you’re under no illusion that Richard Branson lives a life similar to yours, but the book makes it very clear that we all live on the same planet.
Though he’s far from what most of us would find to be ordinary, Branson’s message in the book reinforces the sometimes-overlooked knowledge that we can each contribute to, create, and hasten change, and that “doing good is good for business.” In doing so, he champions the everyday:
[The] power of the ordinary, everyday person to become entrepreneurs and change-makers to set up their own businesses, to seek their own fortune and be in control of their own lives, to say—screw business as usual, we can do it! We can turn things upside down and make a huge difference.
There have been many monikers for this idea, but Branson has come up with his own, Capitalism 24902, explaining:
Every single business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village, all 24,902 circumferential miles of it.
Screw Business as Usual is a chronicle of those who have done just that, and there’s a lot of good news to proselytize. Instead of ignoring the bad news, he shares stories of small enterprises like food retailer Jempson’s and Finisterre clothing company—excellent examples in terms of what they’re doing in local food sourcing and fabric innovation, but also because most of us have never heard of them, which makes the stories fresh, accessible, and their successes seemingly achievable. The book is chock-full of these small business victories and the successes of acting responsibility, stories of doing well by doing good, and demonstrates once again that Branson has a firm finger on the pulse of the entrepreneurial world.
It is raining out, and you are in a rush. You back into the only open parallel parking space you can find on your third trip around the block. You misjudge the distance between your bumper and that of the car behind you. You nudge the other car, but think little of it because, after all, that is what bumpers are for. You finish parking, get out of your car, and make a dash toward the store. To your surprise, the owner of the vehicle, who was still behind the wheel, chases after you, says you damaged her car, demands restitution. What do you do?
Sam Sommers, author of Situations Matter, would tell you it depends. What kind of day did you have at work that day? Is there anyone witnessing your interaction? Are you a man or a woman? Our emotions and personalities change within very complex, high-demand, and high-stress situations. Often, the times we’re really called to the test, when we need to be thinking, deciding, and reacting with the best of our ability, we give in to elements within (and outside of) the situation and instead show our weaknesses. While this may seem obvious, Sommers’ book will show you why you do what you do.
As the book’s prologue states:
This book will take you down a less-traveled, often surprising, and sometimes disconcerting road of human experience, refocusing your attention on the ordinary situations that have extraordinary effects on how we think and act. Research shows us that the context impacts even the most intimate aspects of our lives, and this conclusion offers to those who embrace it insight as well as competitive advantage.
Although, as Sommers asserts, this isn’t a self-help book, with this insight into human nature, we might be able to think about situational factors in advance, and mold our reaction to them, or even control their occurrence, before we do or say something we wish we’d done differently in hindsight.
As much Seinfeld as science, Situations Matter is a great book to start a new year on, when we look to make improvements in our lives, our work, and our treatment of those around us.