The horrors of 2008 are thankfully behind us, but this is still a very timely book. The world economies are still turbulent, and given their interConnectivity, that's increasingly likely to continue.

Kotier and Caslione, business advisers and consultants who teach at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, posit that companies need to build early warning systems and quick-response scenarios to danger — a concept they attribute to Intel Corp.'s legendary CEO Andy Gove.

Of course, they note, the American business landscape is littered with the bones of those who had no such systems, often out of hubris. After building a case for an expectation of lasting turbulence, the authors take managements to task for wrong responses to bad times. It's a litany of classic mistakes, they write, most centered on ill-considered cost-cutting (often across the board), quick fixes to preserve cash flow, cutting marketing and brand-building, price discounting and crimping suppliers and distributors.

An excellent case of counterintuitive thinking, they note, was Apple Inc.'s spending much of 2001 working on the iPod and iTunes, "and was perfectly positioned to roll over its competition once growth returned." Chaotics also offers a thoughtful set of tables and charts for managers to assess their state of readiness and how to structure for both offense and defense. It's a well-written, lucid treatise on surviving the new state of capitalism.


The Design of Business:

Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage. By Roger Martin. Harvard Business Press, 204 pages. $26.95. Imagine if McDonald's Corp. founder Roy Kroc was transported in time and asked to take on the challenge of running Apple. Or if Apple's Steve Jobs, was asked to take McDonald's to further heights. Could either transplant work?

The fundamental business approaches the pair has taken are diametrically opposed — one, creating a cookie-cutter system that thrives on exact replication of
formula; the other, basing strategy on intuition, insight and moments of inspiration. Yet, author Martin strives to reconcile these two opposites, arguing that analytical and intuitive thought are both needed for optimal business performance.

The interplay of these two, he writes, is design thinking, "and the firms that master it will gain a nearly inexhaustible, long-term business advantage." Martin, a noted business consultant and dean of the University of Toronto's business school, introduces a central concept: The "knowledge funnel," which narrows a mystery to something that can be explored and eventually formulated.

He describes business design at firms such as Research in Motion (creator of the BlackBerry), Procter & Gamble Co. and furniture maker Herman Miller Inc. Too much of the book, arguably, is consumed with theory about the knowledge funnel, "heuristics" and philosophies of organizational behavior Still, the case studies present important ideas about strategy in a highly insightful way.

The Leap:

How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great. By Rick Smith. Portfolio, 209 pages. $24.95.

From the title, you might imagine that "the leap" requires a launch into the void, perhaps with little or no safety net. Actually, author Smith's advice is far more cautious: He argues that big career gains can come from mitigating and not accelerating risk.

In this anecdote-driven book, entrepreneur and author Smith writes about ordinary people who transformed themselves from obscurity to acclaim in their fields by following a few transformational steps. While the book explains them in detail, the three "simple changes" can be reduced to: You don't need to change who you are; you don't need to go it alone; and you don't need to take dramatic risks.

In researching hundreds of people in fields including retailing, community service and health care. Smith found that success was often a matter of finding and leveraging their core strengths. "These success stories," he writes, "are not cases of people who 'fixed' their weaknesses. Rather, the people who made the leap are the ones who became more completely themselves." This slim, clearly written and digestible book suffers occasionally from jargon and an almost-giddy sense of optimism that's seemingly out of place for the workplace atlarge.

If career gains were as easy as he makes them to be, we'd have far more chiefs and fewer Indians. In researching hundreds of people. Smith found that success was often a matter of finding and leveraging their core strengths.

Jeffrey Marshall is a writer and reviewer and former editor-in-chief of Financial Executive.12 financial executive I december 2009

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