Appearing in In The Black magazine, March 2018
By Andrew Johnson
CCH, 232 pages, $120, ISBN (hard copy) 9781925554564; (e-book) 9781925554571
The Australian Taxation Office looms large in the lives of many finance professionals but despite its importance it is not particularly well-known. Johnson sets out to remedy this, focusing on the ATO’s dispute resolution procedures, the area in which he mainly worked in the organisation. He notes that the ATO has seen a huge cultural shift in the past two decades, moving from heavy-handed compliance functions towards customer experience. The key factor has been data-matching technology but there has also been a legislative push toward greater transparency and accountability.
This is not to say that the ATO has given up its enforcement powers. Instead, as Johnson emphasises, they are mainly reserved for those who are determined to do the wrong thing. Where there is genuine disagreement or error, the ATO first seeks facilitative and administrative remedies. Johnson explains the procedures with authority and clarity, outlining the main policy documents and discussing the “accountant’s concession”. He deals in detail with the ATO’s settlement processes, an area where there is a great deal of misunderstanding – he even provides a list of ‘myths’, and looks at some sample formulae for settlements.
ATO Disputes adds up at a comprehensive, solid package. You might hope that you will never need to know how to handle disputes with the ATO, but the reality is that one day you probably will.
A World of Three Zeroes
By Muhammad Yunus
Scribe, $33, 304 pages, ISBN 9781925322477
Yunus is an unusual creature: an economist with a firm sense of the practical. His Grameen Bank, through offering micro-loans to entrepreneurs, has done a huge amount to help poor people in developing countries work their way out of poverty. So when he takes a look at the Big Picture it is worthwhile listening to him.
The time is right, he says, to re-think capitalism. The central idea is of hybrid enterprises that blend the best of for-profit and non-profit organisations, either standing alone or as off-shoots of traditional companies. He believes that most people are natural entrepreneurs, and the remedy to poverty is to focus not on job creation but start-up opportunities. Entrepreneurship aimed at the mass market is likely to prove more sustainable than high-end goods, and more likely to spread the economic benefits, including employment.
Yunus sees important opportunities in renewable energy, especially in emerging economies which do not have large legacy investments. He provides several case studies of new energy systems but his argument here is not entirely convincing. Still, you have to start somewhere, and the intention is good (if perhaps premature).
There is a lot to like in this book, and Yunus’ faith in the entrepreneurial spirit is uplifting. His focus is on developing countries but there are plenty of lessons for everyone, and a wealth of ideas to think about.
Beta: Quiet Girls Can Run the World
By Rebecca Holman
Coronet, $33, 240 pages, ISBN 9781473656192
What constitutes successful performance? It depends on what you mean by success, says Holman. We have become conditioned to think it in ‘alpha’ terms: the loudest voice, the heftiest paycheck, the most decisive executive on the block. But it doesn’t have to be that way: it can equally be about quietly getting the job done, communal leadership, and emotional intelligence – ‘beta’ style, in other words. Holman (who is editor of the women’s digital magazine Debrief) believes that many women in the corporate world have bought into the alpha idea, and that has made the rest feel insecure and unsure about their own work style. Her advice is to work and live in the way that allows you to be comfortable, and if that means not going to the gym at 5am and foregoing the late-night conference calls, then so be it. Performing effectively does not have to mean making other people afraid of you.
This is an interesting approach but sometimes Holman gets a bit lost in her argument. She admits that even beta leaders have some alpha traits, and she is hard-pressed to come up with examples of successful beta leaders. Nevertheless, her core message – take the energy you might waste questioning yourself and put it into productive use elsewhere – has an undeniable and positive resonance.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
By Daniel Pink
Riverhead, $33, 256 pages, ISBN 9780735210622
Pink has written several books on self-motivation and personal organisation, and in When he takes his theme a step further by looking at new research on the best – and worst – time of day to make critical decisions and start new projects.
He unearths a wealth of data showing that people, regardless of culture and upbringing, perform best in the morning and early evening. This holds true for everyone from surgeons to judges, students to CEOs. He delves into the specific reasons, which turn out to mainly relate to biological rhythms and inherent limitations on attention spans.
There is fascinating research on the interaction between neuroscience and decision-making, a growing field in management theory. Endorphin flows and the immune system play crucial roles, and Pink suggests ways they can be strengthened. Regular exercise is beneficial but one of the best things turns out to be singing with other people. Something to remember for the next promotion interview, perhaps.
As it happens, afternoons are not a total waste. They are good for solid, practical work, where attention to detail is more important than creativity. Organised breaks can do much to lift productivity.
The aim here is to help business readers use this information to perform more effectively. The case studies are instructive, and Pink provides a useful summary at the end of each section.