The Pile for December 21, 2009

The Pile is our weekly guide to what we’re reading to become better managers.

Last week we loaded you down with a huge tome; this week we’re back down to normal-sized clips.

economistyearendOne of the great pleasures of that last week of the year when you’re sort-of working and sort-of not-working is the holiday double issue of The Economist. It’s wider-ranging than the usual issue, including the usual elements (i.e., guesses at what the world economy will be like in the year ahead) but also more outre pieces like The joy of dirt and The Harry Potter economy. And you’ve never read a roundup of zombie films until you’ve read one from The Economist. Even if you find The Economist predictable, the year-end double is a joy.

hbrcoverThere’s a brand-new-looking Harvard Business Review this month. One article in particular suggests the magazine is on to something good: The Age of Consumer Capitalism, by Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. In recent months we’ve read his The Design of Business and seen his smart, iconoclastic talk on how business schools have to change. All the polymath does here is herald the start of a third age of capitalism (after managerial capitalism and shareholder value capitalism). His argument is that shareholder value is a flawed notion and making customer value the top priority makes the most sense. His advocacy for customer-driven capitalism includes a precise, powerful hip check against former GE head Jack Welch, which may amuse longtime HBR Kremlinologists.

gourley_nature_coverFinally, let’s take a look at Nature, a magazine we enjoy but don’t often get to cite in this blog. At last year’s TED, Sean Gourley spoke movingly and persuasively about the mathematics of war. It was a TED-style talk: heavy on engrossing story, stuffed with conclusive and unexpected evidence, and delivered with great passion. Last week Gourley’s research was published in Nature under the coma-inducing headline Common ecology quantifies human insurgency. The data and the presentation are still compelling, but it’s amazing to see such an emotionally powerful talk translated to the style of a peer-reviewed journal: exciting material presented in a decidedly unexciting manner. Grasping that many potential readers might find the Nature headline forbidding, the folks at TED have posted a new interview with Gourley, more academic than his TED talk but way more welcoming to a general audience than his Nature version. It’s a good reminder: the same material can be sliced and diced for different audiences. Gourley’s arguments are fascinating, wherever you read them. So, where do you want to read them?