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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – Company Culture Books

 

Good business, Steve Hilton & Giles Gibbons South western Education 2004
This was a book I really wanted to like but in the end got very frustrated with. It is all about how to run your business to benefit society. The problem I had with it was that it became an exercise in levitation. All businesses would like in principle to be run for the good of society, to be carbon neutral, to sponsor the arts, to put their staff on secondment the list goes on. But..... where's the catch. The catch as far as this book is concerned is that there isn't a catch. Its a no brainer. Good business really is more profitable. I wanted this book to show me how good business is worth the effort by eliminating the downsides - getting hammered by the politically correct for not going far enough, by the banks and shareholders for not maximising profits, by management for thinking too much about the long term and not next quarters results. But as the downsides were smilingly brushed aside I decided regretfully that this was preaching to the converted - cosy but not convincing. Pity.
 
 
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Willing Slaves, Madeleine Bunting 2005
I have Marco Rimini of JWt to thank for directing my attention to this one. She's a journalist for the Guardian and ran a column on work issues which seems to have been the foundation for this book. The Guardian review calls it 'Brilliantly thorough and thoroughly brilliant' (surely somewhat tongue in cheek). With which I can only agree - how she managed to write it and keep her day job I can't imagine. It documents the phenomeonon of overwork culture in Briain in colossal detail. If you feel strongly about the subject and you're looking for ammunition here's the book for you. All of the examples are UK based. Her conclusion is that the government needs to actively intervene not to turn us into a bunch of Parisian half timers (if you'll pardon my French) but to enable to economy to work properly. The tragedy of the commons isn't just about companies polluting the environment and complaining that environmenal concerns are increasing their costs. It's also about companies extracting the last ounce from their employees without recognising that children growing up in day care centres become employees eventually and that declining educational standards may actually be connected to a culture of overwork. Employees for whom life balance is working may actually be better employees. But clearly employers are unlikely to recognise this hence the need for government intervention. It also gave me the idea for a campaign to disenfranchise those whose working hourse exceed EC guidelines on the grounds that if they're so busy working then they can't have time to participate in a democratic society. Since this would exclude most MPs and journalists it is a debate I'd love soemone to run.
 
 
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Working Wounded, Bob Rosner Harper Collins Business 1998
Yes It has been out a while. But even though I bought it in a remainder bookshop it is still well worth the read and there's even a website of the same name which for this month I've nominated as site of the month. This is really a book all about how to stop work screwing you up. It has lots of hard luck stories showing how crap so many workplaces can be and inevitably it's US origin is very evident. But because it has been assembled from a column which the author has been writing for years and also from the website the advice is very practical. If you're finding your workplace a struggle this could be very helpful and it might even restore your sense of humour.
 
 
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Cross-Cultural Busines, John Mattock 1999 Pocketbook
I've reviewed pocketbooks before and really like them. This I was sent by the author who I got talking to at Zagreb airport. I saw it on the shelves of an agency in the Middle East so it seems to be well known as it deserves to be. It neatly summarises using several of the current pundits what makes one culture different from another. There are scales so you can plot the culture your are considering or entering and how your own cultural background varies from it, there's a checklist of 18 polarities, a very abbreviated summary of the differences in some major world business cultures and a guide to clear communication across cultural boundaries. Very easy to assimilate and very useful. But it got me thinking. As brand iconography has become more elaborate - (for the very best brands - I'm not talking about the chaos of the worst!) how useful would these scales be for defining much more minutely ways of analysing and orchestrating behaviours in a particular corporate and brand culture? Definitely worth a look. As of 2007 I'm using it as a way to think about how and where analysis and interpretation takes place on multi language studies for an international market research agency.
 
 
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Fish Tales, Danny Wallace 2002 Hodder Mobius
More tales of transformed workplaces from the purveyors of Fish inspired by the fishmarket on the quay in Seattle right where Starbucks opened it's first store (small world eh?)This is a follow up providing more casestudies and a practical how to course about how to transform your workplace. I tend to be a bit blase about books like this because working in agencies you are used to a collaborative form of working - a lot of what you are doing is very playlike anyway. But I enjoyed this book. If it could make other work environments more creative and playful customer focused (like agencies (but without the childishness and lack of discipline!) then I daresay the world would be a better place. Good stuff.
 
 
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Join Me, Danny Wallace 2003 Ebury Press
What a classic. Dunno how I managed to miss this when it came out a year ago. This book made me laugh (a lot) and brought on a midlife crisis all in one. Danny Wallace friend of Dave Gorman (yes of Google Wacker fame) for obscure reasons decides to start a movement. Which at the start has no objective. But is apparently no barrier to people joining and creating their own reasons for belonging. By the end of the book there are over 1000 joinees as they are known, and at the time of this review over 6,000. Which made me think a number of things. Firstly how important belonging and recognition are and how extraordinary it is that brands with vast promotional budgets are on the whole crap at it. Secondly how adept people are at creating narratives including yours truly when I work on projects and what status this narrative actually has. Thirdly what an extraordinary narrative a research group is and why people come and what they expect to get out of it. Fourthly how largely irrelevant the validity of the purpose - the important thing is to have one. Fifthly human beings are inconsistent and so very funny.
 
 
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Saving the Corporate Soul, David Batstone 2003 Jossey Bass
I heard the writer of this book Dave Batstone give a seminar at Greenbelt Festival this year so thought I'd check out the book. I have to confess that I have huge suspicions about people who write books about business ethics- worrying that they're a lot more interested in fair play than whether there is any money to be made whether by fair means or foul. Which is not at all to say that the only business measure that matters is profit (he appended hastily).But ethics has until relatively recently been a hygiene factore - a necessary but not a sufficient condition for trading. After all if everyone assumes you lie and cheat no one will do business with you. The interesting development is where ways of doing business becomes points of difference which create value - in other words they become part of the brand. And this book does provide a lot of ammunition for what these differentials might be. It is written around a 8 point manifesto - which begins with financial transparency and goes on through valuing customers, employees, and the environment. For example he points out very sensibly that treating labour as a disposable commodity is stupid - if you could retrain. And companies (agencies) regularly kick out the expertise in their organisations with every economic downturn. What is more difficult of course is how to reduce costs without in the end reducing wages or workers. The book provides lots of examples though it is as likely to draw on credit unions as plcs and it is inclined to demonise plcs. But considering that it is written by an American talking about American plcs quite right too... Dave Batstone approaches the topic as someone who has worked in business in consultancy and financial services. But he's more inclined to play the journalism card - another hat he wears. It's easier to write about than to do it Dave.. It transpires that he worked his butt off as CEO for a startup, finally got finance from Michael Milken (junkbond king and now ex-con) but quit because he wasn't prepared to make the business his life - well doing a startup isn't unlike having babies - they do take over your life - that doesn't make it wrong does it? Ben (of Ben and Jerrys) and Robert Reich think it's a cool book. I'd take it as work in progress. You have to show that in a straight fight the good guys have a better than even chance without legislation. And that monopoly, price fixing and product dumping strategies can be outmanoevered.
 
 
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The Pirate Inside, Adam Morgan 2004 Wiley
Review and Interview with author In their own words.
 
 
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The spirited business, Georganne Lamont 2004 Hodder and Stoughton
Oh dear - maybe it's just me. There are times when the opinionated reviewer starts to lose his nerve. I really wanted to like this book - spirituality in the workplace is an important enough topic - and the author isn't short of courage. I suspect that HR pros will love it too. Which is why I'm probably not HR material. But this uncritical regurgitation of corporate blahspeak doesn't do spirituality any favours. The book devotes a chapter to each 'soul friendly' company. And what makes each so special. Want to know who they are? Microsoft UK, Nat West, IMG, Bayer UK. Excuse me? There are a series of interviews with key executives and line workers from inside the organisation. But no attempt is made to align the 'spirituality' of each organisation with it's commercial goals and what customers and other stakeholders might think. The book is full of howlers - because the extravagant claims of soulful employees are never put to the test. Take Microsoft (a client of mine which I know and love) which is described as practicing worklife balance - this is followed by a quote from the HR director who says "Microsoft isn't a place where you can do a 9 to 5 and walk away. It's more embracing than that it just grabs hold of you." Precisely. And apparently Microsoft practices valuing and supporting the marginalised. Ignoring 10 years of antitrust which any engagement with the soul of Microsoft would have to answer. The only chapter which worked for me was the one with the Nat West regional director whose style of management entailed one on one mentoring and who apparently moved his division from the bottom to the top of the league. But while he was doing it of course he had to make drastic rationalisations in the workforce. And the book totally fails to address this. And to make it's case it really has to show that 'soul friendly' companies behave differently from other companies - I couldn't see any sign that they did.
 
 
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How to move minds and influence people, Iain Carruthers Pearson 2003 Orion
A rapid easy read about how to persuade people in the workplace. The book is thoroughly focussed on the world of work. And I found it interesting because it made heavy use of story telling. With lots of advice on how to deconstruct stories to be sure you are telling the right kind of story. However in the end I wasn't particularly wowed. It proved too difficult to make the link between the story "strategy" and the business of persuading people. Though perhaps I read it too fast and need read it again
 
 
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NUTS! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, Kevin & Jacquelyn Freiburg Tom Peters Orion Business 1997
Provocative book about how to energise your employees to live out the brand. All about Southwester Airlines which has trounced it's rivals for years with low prices and the can do attitude of it's staff who have been known to use their own credit cards to get customers out of a jam. Written by management consultants so could have been half the length but challenging stuff. Apparently mandatory reading if you get a job at Easyjet.
 
 
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Open minds, Andy Law 1999 Orion Business Books
The gospel according to St Lukes, the radical ad agency. Another reviewer recently reckoned when you've read it you'll either write them off as a bunch of tree huggers or want to work there. Which about sums it. Explains how they got there and how well they've done. A really interesting book about a really interesting company that have really tried to turn the norms of company life on their heads. The postscript is a scream: a debate in the canteen at breakfast time on how rewarding work should be. The MD quotes Aristotle, the FD quotes Plato and the Planning Director quotes Wittgenstein. As you do first thing in the morning. Part of me finds this intriguing. Part of me is very afraid...
 
 
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The Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine Christopher Locke et al 2000 Perseus
I can save you money. Go to the links page and to Cluetrain.com. It is wonderful. The book is OK but a bit of a ramble - it has been written by committee. But the website is the best bit. Markets are smarter than companies. Unless companies empower their employees to talk on their behalf wired consumers will route around them. Terrific. On second thoughts I don't regret buying the book. The site is free but worth the cover price. They deserve it
 
 
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Maverick, Ricardo Semmler 1993 Arrow
This book is a tonic. Ricardo Semmler took over a company in Brazil at a time when ordinary companies were going out of business because there was no alternative. He ran the company such an extraordinary way that the company survived and even made money. Employees fire themselves. All salaries public. Staff vote for who they want to promote. Lunatic. Wonderful!
 
 
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Powered by Honda - Developing Excellence in the Global Enterprise, Dave Nelson 1998 John Wiley
This is a rather specialised taste. I worked on Honda cars between 1997-99 and there will always be bits of Honda inside me as a result (metaphorically speaking I mean - that sounded like Barry Sheene). This is an analysis of how they get Hondas so damm reliable. The focus is on a Japanese production guru who transformed manufacturing in the USA. This gets down to making the tables too small so to find space to leave an oily rag on. These people choreograph hand movements! This is the joy of sex applied to manufacturing - pure functionality eliminating the possibility of failure. Very impressive. And in case you're wondering, my office doesn't look like a Honda plant. (and no I don't keep a copy of Alex Comfort in the bedroom). The opposite in fact - which is why I admire the plodding diligence that goes into making supremely reliable cars.
 
 
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