Appearing in In The Black, September 2016
The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
By Kevin Kelly
Penguin, $50, 336 pages, ISBN 9780525428084
Kelly has the title of ‘Senior Maverick’ at Wired Magazine, of which he is a co-founder. Pretentious much? That depends on one’s perspective: some people see him as a visionary who has forecast many of the techno-trends of the Digital Age. In The Inevitable he looks at the next thirty years, driven by forces that he sees as already in train. He takes a more innovative approach than many futurologists, stepping past the usual recitation of technologies or global shifts to examine a more elemental level.
The twelve trends are:
- Becoming: Continual upgrading of products through services and subscriptions
- Cognifying: Using Cloud-based AI to re-model manufacturing
- Flowing: Utilising real-time streaming
- Screening: Transforming a vast range of surfaces into screens
- Accessing: Shifting from owning assets to accessing them
- Sharing: Using collaboration to drive innovation
- Filtering: Building huge databases for personalised marketing
- Remixing: Recombining existing products, and designing them for unbundling
- Interacting: IT becoming the central means of human engagement
- Tracking: 24/7 monitoring by governments and corporations
- Questioning: Promoting inquiry over answers, especially in the education system
- Beginning: Developing a global system of communication.
Many of these raise as many questions as they answer but that is of little concern to Kelly, whose focus is always on the upside. There are times, in fact, when it gets a bit silly. Equally, much of the writing seems designed for instant tweetability, and in many cases he seems to base complex arguments on a few magazine factoids. Nevertheless, Kelly’s techno-optimism is contagious and there is no shortage of interesting ideas. The Inevitable should be read with a dose of salt, but it should be read.
The Founder’s Mentality
By Chris Zook and James Allen
Harvard Business Review Press, $45, 224 pages, ISBN 9781633691162
Many companies begin a slide into decline when the founder departs. Zook and James touched on this in their previous book Profit from the Core and here they go into it in depth, utilising a comprehensive base of data. They believe that most of the challenges to continued profitability are internal, such as increasing distance from the front lines, loss of accountability, and proliferating processes and bureaucracy. All of these problems have solutions, and the common thread is that they require a ‘founder’s mentality’ – a sense of purpose, an unambiguous owner mindset, and a relentless focus on the front line connection. There also has to be a from-the-top effort to avoid complexity, and the authors reiterate the importance of concentrating on core activities. None of this is easy but all of it is essential for solid, sustained growth.
A World of Difference: Leading in Global Markets with Cultural Intelligence
By Felicity Menzies
Major Street, $30, 234 pages, ISBN 9780994542434
Menzies worked for Westpac in Singapore but has since established her own consulting firm specialising in cross-cultural management. She is clear about the value of cultural diversity in companies and teams but readily acknowledges that it presents a host of challenges for managers, especially when they have been educated in business schools that emphasise participation and give-and-take communication. Asian business culture is based on respect for hierarchy, and managers are seen as experts who provide direction and authority. Status relationships and informal connections are crucial. In Asian cultures bosses are also expected to be aware of the personal lives of their reports, to a degree that might seem intrusive to Westerners. Even issues such as the role of smiling can throw relationships off-balance. Menzies offers a series of anecdotes to illustrate her points, and what she has to say about performance reviews and providing criticism is especially interesting.
These insights are helpful but the real value of the book lies in the way Menzies cross-references management styles with cultural patterns. She also delves into European management attributes, with a focus on empowerment vs supervision. The final section of the book deals with the application of cultural intelligence, including advice on managing groups with a number of cultural groups represented.
Along the way Menzies cites data indicating that in Australian companies employees of Asian background are under-represented in senior positions, compared to graduate numbers. A wasted opportunity, she says, especially given the importance of Asian markets. Too many senior executives take the view that the Western way of management is the only effective way. Think again and understand the alternatives, says Menzies.
Strategy+business, Summer 2016
The trend towards the appointment of outsiders as CEOs continues to grow, according to the annual Strategy& CEO Success study conducted by PwC. In the 2012-15 period boards chose outsiders in 22 percent of cases, up from 14 percent in 2004-07.
Examining the findings, DeAnne Aguirre, Per-Ola Karlsson, and Gary Neilson suggest that the key reason is because boards are looking for CEOs whose backgrounds, perspectives, and skills are different from those of in-house candidates. The telecommunication services sector had the highest level of outsider appointments, at 38 percent.
The study examined 2,500 large companies around the world. Looking at CEO turnover in general, Brazil, Russia, and India had a level of 24 percent in 2015. The lowest rate was in North America, where only 14 percent of companies changed their CEO.
Related to the article is a multimedia quiz, ‘Are You a Likely CEO?’ .The quiz, based on survey data, allows readers to assess their chances of becoming a CEO in their chosen industry.