Living with tax, defining power, and the perfect wave

Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2018


Life and Taxes: A Look at Life Through Tax

By Mark Chapman

CCH, 288 pages, $60, ISBN (hard copy) 9781925554380; (e-book) 9781925554410

Life and TaxesMost people don’t think about taxes much but Chapman, Director of Tax Communications with H&R Block Australia, obviously does. His aim here is to simplify a complex field by examining what taxes apply at different stages of life. This makes a great deal of sense, and Chapman walks through the processes of signing onto the tax system with that first job, as well as the issues of starting up a business. Paying tax is simpler than it used to be but nevertheless there are problems to understand and some benefits that are not immediately obvious. He also takes a look at the emerging sharing economy, with sections for Uber drivers and AirBNB participants.

He looks at the rules that apply to investments, with a careful discussion of negative gearing. Superannuation is another messy area that he explains well. He examines the tax implications of marriage, having children, and divorce, with tips on how to utilise the deductions. In the concluding sections he looks at retirement, estate planning and, of course, death (the other great inevitability).

It is hard to think of anything Chapman has missed. Specialists might argue that there is nothing new here but that is missing the point, which is to be able to answer most tax questions quickly and easily. There is also a comprehensive index and a glossary of terms, which make this book a very helpful package.


New Power

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

Doubleday, $33, 336 pages, ISBN 9780385541114

This book began life as a well-regarded article in Harvard Business Review and the authors have developed their theme across a range of sites and platforms. Fitting, since their argument is that social media is the driving force of society today. Heimans is a co-founder of the GetUp! site and Timms is involved in numerous activist causes, so they have plenty of real-world experience. And, indeed, there is an intuitive sense to the view that the nature of power is changing from institutional, leader-driven and specialised to flatter, participatory and populist. Not just political power but commercial structures as well, illustrated by the growth of sharing-economy platforms.

Heimans and Timms are clearly enthusiastic about their subject but they leave many questions New Powerunanswered. Yes, groups like Black Lives Matter are organised by social media but they only have effect by putting pressure on traditional institutions. Likewise, a number of politicians and companies have proven adept at using social media mechanisms but it is often the case that those mechanisms are controlled by professional operators. Heimans and Timms never quite explain these connections, preferring to focus on the large numbers of people who participate in campaigns. In fact, the book would have been better with fewer case studies and more analysis. It is an interesting ride, and there are plenty of ideas, but it is not as convincing as the authors believe.


 Outside Insight: Navigating a World Drowning in Data

By Jorn Lyseggen

Portfolio, $35, 336 pages, ISBN 9780241288269

Lyseggen is the founder of Meltwater, a global consulting firm that specialises in media intelligence. He argues that most companies focus on internal data such as KPIs and quarterly sales. This tendency to look backwards can easily separate a company from what is happening in the industry, with its competitors, and to its customers. New thinking that looks outwards and to the future is needed.

This is much easier to say than do, but there are ‘breadcrumbs’: little pieces of data that, when taken together, can reveal a much bigger picture. Social media sites offer a staggering amount of information on customer trends but there are also important nuggets (particularly when looking at what competitors are doing) in job hires, acquisitions, and patent applications. Usefully, Lyseggen looks at ‘outside insights’ for marketing, product development, investment and risk assessment, and explains where the most useful data can be found.

Of course, finding the raw material is the easy part: organising it into useful information is much harder. Algorithms and AI can be a great help, but analysis of all these crumbs is (at present, at least) as much an art form as a science. Indeed, there is a feeling that this field is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, it is sure to grow, and this book is a useful signpost to what is coming next.   


The Big Wave Method

By Mark Visser

HayHouse, $23, 200 pages, ISBN 9781401953201Big Wave Method

Elite athletes often see a mystical quality in their chosen sport, and riding big waves has a certain spiritual aspect in any case. Pro surfer Visser loves what he does but he is also remarkably clear-headed about how you get from good to great. Overcome the fears that hold you back, he says. That’s about it, really.

Fears are where you find them, and for some people giving a speech is as frightening as jumping out of an airplane. The way to overcome fear, Visser says, is to work at it. Generating a positive mindset is done by constantly telling yourself that you can achieve your goal. Visser notes that it took him nine months, and included placing written notes to himself everywhere. Then there is the research. You have to break the problem into component pieces to understand the possible solutions. And, of course, practice … and more practice … and still more practice. By the time you confront the challenge, you know exactly what to do and how to do it. 

This might seem simplistic, except that it is coming from someone who has been there and done it – a surfer who was once afraid of the water. Is winning the big championship guaranteed? Of course not, says Visser. But just getting out there can be an even more important type of victory.


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