BOOKCASE Caring and Karaoke

On Value and Values:
Thinking Differently about We in an Age of Me
By: Douglas K Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: $45.00

The meaning gap that has opened up between singular and plural versions of the word “value” could be dismissed as semantic oddity – but for Douglas Smith it represents an ideological schism that all of us must bridge in order to make sense of our fragmented world.
As he puts it, the two have strayed so far apart that we behave as if ‘value’ were different species from ‘values’ – like deer versus shrimp. When it’s singular, ‘value’ is to do with finance, economics, shopping, business. In the plural, it refers to whole sets of beliefs and behaviours that give our lives meaning.
While the first is hooked into the everyday realities of what we do, the latter has split off to take refuge around the fringes of market-driven world in families, church, among friends or in environmental movements. We’re left largely pursing value without reference to values. And down that track lies meaningless, unhappy and dangerous world.
In this dense and passionately reasoned book, Smith considers how the two can be re-connected and why each of us must take responsibility for doing this through worlds of shared purpose rather than shared place, because in today’s world we’re defined more by what we do than where we live.
He devotes six chapters to organisations because more than the towns and villages of the past, these are the “mid-level social formations in which we share fates and pursue common good with other people not necessarily family or friends”.
Smith explores why values led companies work and asks these shared communities to hold themselves accountable for connecting how their common good contributes to the greater good of markets, nations, networks, organisations, friends and families.
His book also includes bundle of specific illustrations for how value and values can be reintegrated into these worlds. How about an “annual report to the people of the enterprise” for instance?
It’s all good meaty stuff that merits lengthy chewing over the Christmas break. VJ

Karaoke Capitalism – management for mankind
By: Jonas Ridderstrale & Kjell Nordstrom
FT Prentice Hall
Price: $69.95

Messages can get bit lost in the telling. This book is full of messages and the telling is, well, bit weird. It is the second offering of the leather jacketed, shaven headed PhDs from Stockholm’s School of Economics who brought us Funky Business four years ago.
The essential message is don’t karaoke – compose your own version of capitalist nirvana. Don’t copycat. Creators thrive and get the most from the wonderful opportunities creative capitalism has to offer. This hip – oops, my generation gap is showing – funky duo are smart operators and creative performers but it takes some effort to string together the points and the connections they try to make about the ingredients essential to successfully understanding and then managing life, career and organisation.
The karaoke economy in which we apparently live is dominated by individuals with endless choice. The trouble for business is that the karaoke club is also home to institutionalised imitation. Only imagination and innovation place societies, organisations and individuals centre-stage.
The book raises host of valid issues but I couldn’t help feeling the clever terminology, short mind bite messages and quick flicks from thought to theory, anecdote to quote, fact to opinion weren’t heavier on effect than meaningful message.
The book has been called “hitchhikers guide” to the new galaxies of business but while it presents some interesting new slants on variety of organisational and career approach options, I had the feeling that much of it had already been discovered and this wasn’t really case of going where no management writers had ever gone before.
It was easy to agree with the hypothesis that business schools’ pre-occupation with benchmarking as practice on which to base future thinking is generally pointless. Looking back, they reason, simply creates super group of karaoke copying companies and imitation will never get organisations or individuals to the top, only, at best, to the middle.
Our societies, the authors argue, are now shaped by technologies, institutions and values. Changes have made the abnormal the new normal and success is about exploring the extremes. Talent and consumers rule, and clever corporations understand that wisdom creates wealth. Nothing very new about that.
Karaoke Capitalism is pacey, racy trip through trends and texts, delivering fast fix account of where management, organisational culture and capitalism seem headed. To that extent it is worth adding to your portfolio of summer reading. It’s unquestionably more in the holiday reading category than the heavy stuff of management learning. RB

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