Appearing in In The Black magazine, May 2017-05-01
It’s Who You Know: How a Network of 12 Key People Can Fast-Track Your Success
By Janine Garner
Wiley, $28, 256 pages, ISBN 9780730336846
The idea of networking is hardly new but Garner believes it has to move beyond the exchange of business cards and phone numbers. She believes that having the right people is more important than having a long list of contacts, and she defines the four core categories of people as promoter (to inspire you and identify your potential), pit crew (to keep you focused), teacher (to help you develop knowledge and wisdom) and butt-kicker (to push you to do more). Each of these categories has sub-divisions but the point is about knowing where each person fits into a broader system.
The aim is to move beyond a transactional model to a transformational vehicle. This requires going beyond the social events usually associated with networking, seeking out people of different backgrounds and personalities who can broaden your own views. At the same time, you have to be aware of what you bring to the relationship, which means understanding the role you can play for others. Networking is an investment, and you have to be ready to put in as well as take out.
Garner devotes several chapters to building relationships for the long term, underlining the importance of value exchange and strategic thinking. A network, she says, is about life management rather than business growth, although if you get the former right the latter is very likely to follow.
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
By Derek Thompson
Penguin, $50, 352 pages, ISBN 9781101980323
There is a point where art intersects with commerce, where imagination can turn an astounding profit. Some massive cultural hits, whether a song or a phone, seem to come out of nowhere but Thompson sees the reality as much more complex. In fact, big-hit products nearly always combine the radically new with a streak of the comforting old. This concept was developed and refined by the remarkable designer Raymond Loewy, a man who was responsible for the look of much of the modern world. He called it MAYA, the idea that consumers want the “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” version of any product or design. It is the sort of thing that is strikingly obvious, once someone has thought of it.
Good design, however, is not enough. There also has to be a solid method of distribution and a supporting infrastructure. In the past this meant not only physical transportation but the migration of people. These days it has more to do with the cultural mechanics of the Net. Thompson does not believe that the digital age has changed much of the underlying science of popularity although the attention span of some people has shortened. Managing that is a key issue for marketers.
Hit Makers does not provide an infallible formula for successful products but nevertheless offers a wealth of useful suggestions. It adds up to an insightful, entertaining package.
Stop Fixing Women: Why Building Fairer Workplaces is Everybody’s Business
By Catherine Fox
NewSouth, $30, 272 pages, ISBN 9781742235165
Despite forty years of good intentions and equity statements, gender imbalance remains a seemingly intractable problem in the world of work. In Stop Fixing Women, Fox examines the structural issues that underlie the problem, using a depth of journalistic experience. She is particularly scathing about the view that women should act more like men, with greater levels of assertiveness and risk-taking. This is missing the point, she says. Gender imbalance is something that happens to women, not because of them.
She accepts that there are many male leaders who are aware of the issue in their companies but the problem is that they have not thought enough about innovative solutions. A crucial way forward is to accept that this is a matter for the highest levels of executive thinking, and should inform decisions ranging from recruitment to flexibility of working hours.
She looks at several organisations that are moving in this direction and puts forward some important ideas, such as ensuring that promotion criteria are clearly defined to avoid subjective ideas about merit, trying gender-free recruiting methods, auditing pay systems to identify gender-based gaps, and analysing career paths to ensure that women have access to the same training and experience as men.
These are good ideas, but Fox makes clear that they will only work if backed up by cultural change in the organisation. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change
By Bharat Anand
Penguin, $45, 464 pages, ISBN 9780812995381
The two essential questions for companies these days are how to get attention, and then how to turn that attention into profit. Anand, Professor of Strategy at Harvard Business School, believes that many companies are looking in the wrong direction, focusing on creating the best content when they should be taking a wider view of the marketplace. Good products are important, says Anand, but competitive advantages now lie in recognising how content enables customers’ connectivity and knowing how to take advantage of opportunities related to the existing offerings.
He looks at a wide range of cases to illustrate his points, including Chinese Net giant Tencent and Scandinavian media conglomerate Schibsted. He also draws on the latest research in economics, innovation, and marketing, and along the way provides a good summary of how e-commerce evolved to its current state. Looking for economies of scale is not a great strategy these days, although there are still industries where it is essential. Differentiating digital products in a “network effects strategy” is more likely to lead to a dominant position in a market segment.
In the final chapter, Anand recounts his own experiences with the online education platform of Harvard Business School, known as HBX. This is interesting stuff, and it lends a real-world tone to a book which could easily have become over-academic.