David MacGregor on radical business and Mike Hutcheson on the oneupmanship between east and west

Magazine Layout

biz insight

Practically Radical
by William C. Taylor (Harper Collins imprint, The Book Depository, 2011) $60

If I had a dollar for every business book I’ve bought, I’d still be tens of thousands in the red. That said, there are a handful that have been genuinely useful. Some because they reinforce ideas that have been fermenting in the swampy recesses of my mind, and some because they break through a wall. The authors I owe the greatest debt to include Chris Locke and Tom Peters—both iconoclastic, both clamorous. Among the voices of reason are Jim Collins and William C. Taylor.

Taylor put a ‘dent in my universe’ with Fast Company magazine—he was one of the founders of the most original business magazine I had ever seen. His book Mavericks at Work was a good read (written with Fast Company alumni Polly Labarre) but Practically Radical—Not- So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry and Challenge Yourself gave me the shakes.

Maybe it’s just one of those ‘right thing at the right time’ occurrences but I’m going to recommend you read this book as your next project. It is filled with right-for-the-moment ideas—the global financial meltdown is accounted for in the text (and there are fascinating insights from the early 20th century— Taylor relays the ideas of Keynes in a way that makes perfect sense today).

As a journalist Taylor has that easygoing, intelligent style of storytelling. His case studies of companies like the much-admired Zappos and the curiously named Umpqua Bank are fluid and perfect illustrations of the thesis of the book.

Get your hands on a copy and keep your hands off mine. Top shelf stuff.

David Macgregor

Magazine Layout

power play

Why the West Rules—For Now
By Ian Morris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) $60

I have a mate who only travels to parts of the world that produce wine, reasoning that the denizens of those parts are bound to also have interesting cuisine, good restaurants and are more likely speak a language he understands. On a wider scale, according to Ian Morris, over many hundreds of years similar underlying patterns of human migration and development see populations flow to where conditions are most propitious—with cultural, economic and social success or failure following these movements.

Why the West Rules—For Now tells us that the lead between East and West has changed a number of times. Morris argues convincingly that it is climatic and geographic influences that trigger social and economic dominance, rather than intellectual or cultural superiority.

Looking to the East, 2000 years ago the Han Dynasty signaled Chinese superiority with a purple period of growth and invention. Conversely, says Morris, the Roman Empire fell because temperatures and rainfall were declining. But in the east, migration produced a move into fertile areas where new ways of growing rice allowed a rise in living standards and led to a new possibility for political advance. Morris’s thesis is that these over- arching shifts in environmental conditions will continue to drive mega-movements in human behaviour.

Morris has an easy writing style and uses plenty of anecdotes to illustrate his points—he explains how examination of fossilised animal bones tells stories about the societies that bred, killed and consumed them. He even makes dry archaeological arguments interesting with the analysis of plant remains that reflect the impact of climatic change, and of how tracking human DNA shows migrations that occurred over millennia.

It’s a very readable and well-researched book, with a cautionary tale at the end. It tells us it doesn’t matter much who is on top at any given time: East or West— nature will have the last laugh and make a mockery of humankind’s smug dominance of the planet.

Mike Hutcheson

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