The AICD summer reading list features the books that are setting the agenda for business, performance, innovation and professional development as we head into 2018.
Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson
Authors of 2014's influential and prescient Second Machine Age, a study of the far-reaching impact of technology on society, the two MIT professors return with their second examination of the forces driving wide-scale macro and micro-economic reform (spoiler: they’re digital). The book is a tri-partite manifesto, based on a premise that technology has rewritten the business playbook, whether businesses like it or not.
Machine Platform Crowd is structured around three features, summarised in the title, of the technology landscape: artificial intelligence or “generative design”, the emergence of platforms as opposed to products (comparing ClassPass’s failure to PostMate’s success) and the shift away from institutions and toward uncontrolled (but not disorganised) consumption.
McAffee and Brynjolfsson draw on work from economists like Brian Arthur’s evocation of the “second economy” where transactions happen with no human involvement in a “vast, silent, connected, unseen and autonomous fashion” to map out the new marketplace. Where the economics is dense, the professors revert to their pedagogical instincts, summarising the key lessons of each chapter succinctly at their conclusion.
Experienced director Elizabeth Jameson FAICD has written the go-to guide on how to become a director in what she describes as the modern 'selection jungle'. Gone are the days where organisations would reach out to a select network of executives, lawyers and accountants. The processes used for recruitment are becoming more sophisticated and rigorous. Boards are looking for greater diversity in terms of skills, backgrounds, demographics and styles of thinking, Jameson writes. Emerging directors need to 'get fit' if they are going to stand out.
Like any good personal trainer, Jameson sets out a meticulous regime that will help new directors meet their goals and find a board that they can bring the most value to. From how to create a strong social media profile to what to look out for when doing due diligence on a board, the book touches on every step of the process in finding a board. This practical and thorough guide is an important contribution to broadening the director community by giving aspiring directors the tools they need to get on board.
Hailed as a companion piece to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's bestselling Lean In, the former Reddit CEO’s witty and acerbic autobiography starts in mainland China and ends with searing advice for the startup industry on how it can become more inclusive. Infamous for taking Silicon Valley venture capital giant Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers to court over gender discrimination, which is covered in the book, Pao’s account of her life takes its time to get to its critique of Silicon Valley, which in 2017 has come in for heavy criticism for being hostile towards women.
It’s worth the wait though for its insight into the culture and how it has become reinforced. Pao ensconces the reader in the wide-eyed idealism that characterised Silicon Valley’s hey-day, replete with encounters with heavy-hitters like Jim Barksdale (former CEO of Netscape & AT&T Wireless) and Nina Zagat (cofounder of Zagat Restaurant Surveys). She then traces the gradual but steady descent into a toxic culture, the kind that forces women to constantly question themselves: “Is it possible that I am really too ambitious while being too quiet while being too aggressive while being unlikable?” or “Is it just me?”
Australian organisations are increasingly looking to Silicon Valley for lessons on how to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. Pao's book is a reminder that the pursuit of these goals is and has been harmed by the sidelining and devaluing of talented women.
In 2017, the Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey that tracks faith and confidence in institutions, registered the largest ever drop in trust in government, business, media and NGOs in the 17 years the survey has existed. Botsman MAICD, a non-executive director of the NRMA and an expert on the collaborative economy, uses the loss of faith in society's core institutions as the jumping off point for a wide-ranging exploration of why we have reached this point and how the mechanisms of trust are evolving.
Taking the Freakonomics approach of blending spiky anecdotes with a survey of the latest thinking in the field, Botsman argues that as we lose faith in brands, leaders and systems, technological change like blockchain and peer-to-peer platforms are ushering in an age of distributed trust.
With trust becoming one of the core challenges faced by boards, Botsman's book will serve as a provocation to organisations to change the way they go about building trust with their stakeholders.
The business blockbuster of 2017 was tech journalist Brian Merchant's One Device, which tells the origin story of this world altering device at its tenth anniversary. The book documents the obsessive secrecy of Apple as its team went bit by bit about solving the manifold technical, design and logistical challenges in creating the iPhone.
Merchant tracks the confluence of technological developments that brought the device into existence, painting a canvas of the collective effort required to produce a ground-breaking innovation. He also devotes energy to following its supply chain, illuminating the governance challenges of global manufacturing.
The book above all shows that innovation is not a simple process and requires deep problem solving, contra the common bromides on the subject.
Enrich's rollicking account of the Libor-fixing scandal that rocked the financial world in 2012 has been compared to the work of legendary finance reporter Michael Lewis. Enrich pieces together the story from the messages and emails of traders and access to one of the key figures Tom Hayes, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for his role in the scandal.
Central to the book are important questions about how organisations, industries and sometimes even regulators can turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.
Understanding how culture is transmitted through complex financial institutions is crucial for the good governance of an economy, given the pivotal role they play. The Spider Network is an engaging cautionary tale from overseas on how such cultures can sometimes turn bad.
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