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June’s top business books

Friday, 10 February | by Alan Hargreaves

 

It’s hardly a new idea. Most product launches fail initially, but if the process is handled effectively, it can lead to success.

 

It is still argued that the introduction of “new” Coke wasn’t a failure. The problem was addressed and in the end Coca Cola market share was lifted.

 

Harford says failure is endemic in modern business and society, not because people are more prone to failure, but simply because everything is more complex.

 

Management is overwhelmed with information and ideas to the extent that no one person could be expected to make consistently correct decisions.

 

He also makes the point that no one ever did, including some of history’s acknowledged leaders. Winston Churchill, widely seen as a great wartime leader in the Second World War, was responsible for the ill-fated and ill-planned Gallipoli campaign in the First World War.

 

It was a major failure and presumably one from which Churchill learned a great deal, even if at great cost.

 

That’s essentially the theme of this book. We are going to have failures, so how do we limit their impact and use them to move forward to success.

 

The author puts forward three simple principles. One, expect failure. Don’t see it as a reason not to try new ideas. Second, make it survivable. Don’t bet the farm.

 

Take incremental steps in the right scale – not so small as to have no significant impact, but not so big as to cripple the organisation if the result turns out to badly. Lastly, learn how to know you have failed.

 

Acknowledge it, accept it and examine how you can either rework it so that success is possible, or move on altogether.

 

It’s a little like learning to sell stocks that have tanked rather than holding on with your head in the sand hoping for a recovery that may never arrive. What needs to change is your investment strategy, not just your portfolio.

 

In some ways this is a dense book. Harford draws on detailed histories of failure at work, from the prosecution of the Iraq war to the meltdown on Wall Street.

 

What comes through loud and clear however is that it’s often the people at the coalface that can see what’s going wrong.

 

Giving them the permission to try something different can be the difference between sticking to the wrong strategy and finding a way out of the hole.

 

Give them the right to adapt to conditions.

 

Adapt is an interesting, if not easy, read that uses modern examples to drive home some old-fashioned truths.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

3.5 out of 5 stars


The Procrastination Equation

$17.15

Piers Steel

Murdoch Books

 

How many students perform well in the structure of school only to drop out in their first year of university? It’s not a matter of intelligence.

 

Often they left school on a high of academic achievement. Then suddenly they are confronted with an array of choices – not all of them good ones – in an environment where the structure is all up to them.

 

Lots muddle through; many don’t. Even those who succeed remember the stress they put themselves through.

 

You may not be one of them, but you may have to manage them. This book will help.

 

Steel distills this tendency into an equation then works through it, examining each of the variables and what you can do about them.

 

On the plus side, there is expectancy and value. We have certain expectations that drive us to achieve things.

 

In turn we put a value on the result. The stronger your expectations and the greater the value you put on it, the more likely you’ll get on with the task at hand.

 

Working against you are impulsiveness and delay. The former will shift your attention to other activities where the expectation and value is more immediate.

 

That in turn leads to delay, which generates stress and even more delay.

 

Steel sees impulsiveness as the core culprit. We are hard-wired for it.

 

Thousands of years ago, people went off to hunt when they were hungry. Why bother tilling the fields for six months when you can get food when you want it?

 

Nothing new there. How often do we see impulsive action neutralise planned production today?

 

One trick is to bring forward the targets. Break your plans into short sprints with short-term deadlines.

 

Give yourself rewards. Celebrate success at each step. The same impulsiveness that ultimately motivates people to cram when the hour is near can be utilised more often.

 

Lower the daily bar to a level where you can jump over it. Get some value now.

 

This book won’t eliminate procrastination, but you’ll be more self-aware for reading it, and you’ll understand more about how to handle it in others.

 

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

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Alan Hargreaves   Business Book Club
Coca Cola
Winston Churchill   Piers Steel Murdoch