Upstream, by Dan Heath, Leading with Gratitude, Gostick & Elton, Grow The Pie, by Edmans
© Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, Cambridge University Press

Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit, by Alex Edmans

The crisis in capitalism is in part caused by policymakers considering the free market as a zero-sum game, according to Edmans. If we want to build responsible capitalism, we do not just have to create the conditions for businesses to act better, but to enable them to grow their pie through more effective leadership.

Edmans, a professor of finance at London Business School, has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, testified to the UK parliament and given Ted talks on the need for social responsibility in business. Here, in his first book, he sets out how this can be achieved through a radical rethink of how companies operate.

He presents a mixture of case studies and charts about executive pay, shareholder activism and share buybacks to put the case that both investors and society benefiting from business is not too good to be true, but realistic and achievable.

He ends with a set of action plans, with separate to-do lists for leaders, investors and policymakers, creating a theory that together they can restore the reputation of business as a force for good as well as furthering the generation of wealth.

Leading With Gratitude, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Managers and leaders routinely overlook the single quickest and most effective way to help their businesses by boosting employee engagement: praise. That is the contention of executive coach Adrian Gostick and leadership consultant Chester Elton. They believe we are all far too stingy with gratitude to employees — and there is no such thing as giving too much praise.

Regular feedback (at least once a week) and thanks for a job well done is a bare minimum, but the authors suggest a rethink of the purpose of praise. “We must reverse that dynamic and understand that gratitude actually inspires actions rather than responds to them.”

It can be hard to change a lifetime of restricting praise or being a “hard” boss, but the book suggests practical steps, including ways to get started and a reminder to use positive language. At its most basic, gratitude fills a vital role, as it “helps people to know they are on the right track”. And even the most reluctant praise-giver can surely get behind that.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath

How can we prioritise prevention over cure? By looking further “upstream” where the impact of any action could be more profound. A burglary, for instance, could be tackled just upstream with an alarm, or, way upstream, with a community programme that provides opportunities that make theft seem pointless.

Heath, brother of Chip, with whom he has co-authored bestsellers such as 2017’s The Power of Moments, lays out the forces that push us “downstream”, such as a lack of ownership — “that problem’s not mine to fix” — and tackles the questions that upstream leaders must answer. Who, for instance, will pay for “what does not happen”, in other words, for successful prevention, the effect of which is, by definition, harder to measure than downstream interventions?

Like many such books, Upstream draws on examples from across the spectrum, from sport to business. But Heath is clever enough to focus on significant societal issues, such as sexual harassment, climate change, and school shootings, which gives the book a substantial feel that some more superficial problem-solving manuals lack. His aim is to convince the reader that “we should shift more of our energies upstream: personally, organisationally, nationally, and globally. We can — and we should — stop dealing with the symptoms of problems . . . and start fixing them”.

The Freelance Bible: Everything You Need to Go Solo in Any Industry, by Alison Grade

The Freelance Bible: Everything You Need to Go Solo in Any Industry, by Alison Grade
© Penguin Books Ltd

This is a very useful one-stop book for people who are, or are thinking of becoming freelancers. Grade has been a freelancer in the creative industries for 25 years and coaches others. She points out in the introduction that there are aspects of freelancing that work across all sectors: “For me it’s about the balance of working in and on your business”. Freelancers have to complete the work they have been assigned, but they also need to look for more work and price their services for the market.

There is skill in getting the balance right between day-to-day workload and thinking ahead, as well as finding time to make sure the administration and smooth running of cash flow and accounts, for example.

Grade is sharing knowledge she has gained over her time as a freelancer, including lots of practical worksheets and charts covering topics such as costs and the personal vision of success. It’s a practical and useful volume for any current — or aspiring — freelancer.

Shorter: How Working Less Will Revolutionise the Way Your Company Gets Things Done, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Shorter: How Working Less Will Revolutionise the Way Your Company Gets Things Done, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
© Penguin Books Ltd

The shorter week is the modern work utopia. Unless, you are one of those people (predominantly women) who are working part-time when full-time hours are the norm, and find themselves trying to crowbar the same work into less time. One solution to such inequalities might be for the whole company to work reduced hours.

In Shorter, Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rest, looks at companies who have done just that — got their entire workforce to cut their working weeks. The result was an increase in productivity and often, profit. The practical study looks at what works and what doesn’t. Do you want to hear the best news? Most companies that reduce their hours tend to cut meetings right back. If that isn’t an incentive to read this book, I don’t know what is.

The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work, by Michelle P King

In her first book, which started as a podcast, King offers a road map for identifying invisible yet persistent barriers women face at work and what can be done about it. The director of inclusion at Netflix believes advice is too focused on trying to “fix” women — “lean in”, “negotiate like a man”, go the mantras. But she writes that we don’t need to fix women, we need to fix the workplace.

Some of the patriarchal structures and attitudes that still pervade include conditioned expectations, having to conform to fit in, managing the conflict between being a manager and a mother, and simply being paid less.

The fixes? Be transparent about pay and promotion decisions, and practice family friendly behaviours at work. An employer may have policies in place, but do workers (both men and women) feel empowered enough to take up the benefits on offer? The barriers faced by women differ between workplaces, so it is important to identify them and call them out.

While the focus is on women in this book, King is not blind to others facing barriers too — men themselves who deviate from the Don Draper model, for example, and others who are perceived as not fitting in. Fixing the workplace to help women will lead to fixing the workplace for all because, King concludes, “it is the only way companies will survive the inevitable changes to come”.

The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time, by Jim McKelvey

The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time, by Jim McKelvey
© Random House USA

Jim McKelvey was a glassblowing artist in St Louis, US, who lost a sale because he could not accept American Express cards. So he teamed up with his friend and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey to start Square, a start-up allowing small businesses to accept card payments on their mobile phones.

This book is inspired by Square’s success in seeing off Amazon through a process called the innovation stack, which, McKelvey writes, is not something you bring home from “some management retreat”. Nor is it a plan. The innovation stack is a series of reactions to existential threats in an attempt to solve an unsolved problem, or bring fairness to a previously unfair system or marketplace. He also believes it forces you to be creative even if you don’t want to be.

When a problem is solved, it often creates new problems that need a solution, which in turn creates its own problems. McKelvey argues this problem-solution-problem chain continues until you either fail, or you succeed in solving all problems “with a collection of both interlocking and independent innovation”.

The snag is that innovation stacks are hard to see in the present. Through Square’s story, and that of three other companies — Southwest Airlines, Ikea and Bank of Italy — McKelvey shows people how to see them while also dispelling the myth that entrepreneurs are “uniquely gifted”. However, this is not a point by point guide. McKelvey warns early on there are no checklists or maps — “maps are for tourists not explorers”, he says.

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