In a year that saw almost unprecedented turmoil in the financial markets, it was apt that the effects of random or unpredictable change were themes in business publishing throughout 2008.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Random House) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb criticised the common perception that trends can usually be anticipated, suggesting that pure luck is a more important factor in success and failure than is usually acknowledged by trend-spotters.
The title comes from the once-common conviction that all swans were white, a contention that merely reflected limited experience at the time. But as Taleb notes, the rise of unforeseen changes such as the PC, the Web or the September 11 attacks can create massive change that stymies classical ‘what if’ analysis. ‘Experts’ should be interrogated more thoroughly and the idea that some people ‘know’ should be dismissed as unscientific, he writes. These insights seem even sharper in the wake of the largely unpredicted credit crunch.
The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means (Public Affairs) George Soros
Veteran financier George Soros would argue that he saw it coming. In The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means (Public Affairs) he argues for a new perception of boom and bust cycles, and suggests that free markets are not as simple as supply/demand waves suggest.
The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers and the Great Credit Crunch (Public Affairs)
Charles R. Morris
Another view is offered by Charles R. Morris in Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers and the Great Credit Crunchblic Affairs) – ideal for those afraid to say ‘I don’t quite understand what’s going on here’.
Mastering the Hype Cycle: How To Choose The Right Innovation At The Right Time (Harvard Business Press)
A bit like the credit crunch, a lot of people have a vague idea of what a ‘hype cycle’ is but couldn’t explain it very well. In Mastering the Hype Cycle: How To Choose The Right Innovation At The Right Time (Harvard Business Press), Gartner analysts Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino take a deep dive into this methodology for describing when to get on board with new technologies and when to leave well alone.
Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t (Little, Brown)
Malcolm Gladwell is arguably the father of books about chance and business. His new book Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t (Little, Brown) takes its title from those far-flung, hard to explain dots on charts that many people merely dismiss as rogue data points. Gladwell argues that many very successful people are themselves, on the face of it, ‘outliers’ who are unlikely to be among the most-likely-to-succeed crew, but comes back to the conservative conclusion that hard work and the right community will take you far.
Groundswell: Living in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (Harvard Business Press)
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Another theme of the year’s books was social networking and what’s going on among the explosion of networking sites, blogs and wikis that would interest marketers. The best effort to crack the code was Groundswell: Living in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (Harvard Business Press) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. They take an in-depth view of what is happening and support their theory with case studies based on name-brands. The examples of how Dell tapped into user demand for new types of PCs, and Procter & Gamble’s community website to market tampons are particularly illuminating.
Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman has become one of the most important writers on globalisation since The World Is Flat was published in 2005 (although he might be as well known for his ‘golden arches’ theory that countries with a McDonalds will not go to war with each other). This year he addressed the environment with Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). This appeal to capitalism to address the energy crisis, climate change and population growth is US-centric but well argued.
World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers To The Global Economy David M. Smick
Friedman also influenced another book that sold well this year. The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers To The Global Economy by David M. Smick (Portfolio) argues that central banks can no longer bail out failures on distant shores.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Bantam) Alice Schroeder
In the US, hugely wealthy investor Warren Buffett is regarded as a saintly voice in the nasty world of stock picking. But Buffett is a mass of opposites. He is rich yet lives in a modest home, eats hamburgers and drinks Coke; he is close to Bill Gates yet shuns technology shares. In The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (Bantam), author Alice Schroeder lets his homespun wisdom show through without looking too hard for skeletons lurking in closets.
Confessions of an Ex-Enterprise Salesperson: What I Really Meant When I Said... Doug Mitchell
One of the more unusual books of the year was Confessions of an Ex-Enterprise Salesperson: What I Really Meant When I Said... by Doug Mitchell (Rental Metrics e-book), which goes behind the scenes of software sales tactics. It’s not pretty but it is required reading and, for a book that could save you millions, it’s free.