Neil Lipschutz

Calling a Halt to Mindless Change; A Plea for Commonsense Management, by British management consultant John Macdonald, is a much more traditional business book (for one thing, it's nonfiction). But it still shares with God Is My Broker a skepticism about business fads and one-stop solutions. Macdonald's beef is with the new-age management movements that have inundated us in recent years. He argues that successful companies are evolutionary, not revolutionary. The good ones don't turn themselves on their heads to re-engineer. They don't hand everything over the self-directed teams or quality circles. These and other management movements certainly have some positives to offer. Macdonald's salient point is that wise managements pick and choose aspects of these trends that seem right for their particular circumstances. They don't buy into a single program as a panacea. In Macdonald's words, companies should adapt, not adopt.

He's particularly down on downsizing. Macdonald writes: “Downsizing is driven by the god of short-term profitability rather than that of process improvement. Its primary focus is on maximum elimination of people rather than long-term delight of customers.” So what does Macdonald suggest? Long-tested concepts that align closely with common sense. He says a company's management should really live its mission statement (not just write one). He advocates working in a focused, long-term oriented, ethical way. He wants a management that really listens to its customers, that really trains and empowers employees to make important decisions and one that can see farther than the next quarter's bottom line. These are all noble goals to be sure, but notably easier to agree with than execute in the day-to-day hurly-burly of a large corporation.

Reviewed by Neil Lipschutz.

Calling a Halt to Mindless Change; A Plea for Commonsense Management, by British management consultant John Macdonald, is a much more traditional business book (for one thing, it's nonfiction). But it still shares with God Is My Broker a skepticism about business fads and one-stop solutions. Macdonald's beef is with the new-age management movements that […]

A broader critique of the American style of capitalism is offered in Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American: When the Cost of Lifestyle Overtakes the Value of Life. Six years ago, Schor, a Harvard University economist, made a big splash with the best-selling The Overworked American. In it she lent academic credence to a gut feeling shared by many but not widely articulated at the time: that Americans across a broad swath were being asked to devote more time and energy to work in a pattern that many found less rewarding and more exhausting. In this latest book, Schor takes on hyper-consumerism and less successfully (for one thing, this book's themes are more familiar) makes the case against competitive buying.

Schor writes that an upscaling of competitive consumerism has settled on the land. Many people no longer merely try to keep up with the Joneses (they lived down the street and didn't have much more money than us, anyway). Now, Schor posits, we compete with idealized “friends” we meet on television or through advertising. The lifestyle depicted and of most influence is decidedly upper middle class. This leads to buying beyond our means, leaving stress, too many possessions and too little satisfaction.

Even in an up economy, it's a no-win, circular game. Schor writes: “The more our consumer satisfaction is tied into social comparisons . . . the less we achieve when consumption grows, because the people we compare ourselves to are also experiencing rising consumption.” Schor also spends some time with “downshifters,” people who have chosen to step off the perceived work-and-spend merry-go-round. They'll accept less income and fewer things for less stress and more time to smell the flowers. Schor aptly points out that such choices aren't automatic entrees into carefree, more genuine lives. One woman, for example, frets that she can no longer spend as much as other family members on holiday presents.

Give Schor credit for swimming against the tide. The buoyancy of financial markets combined with many years of low-inflation economic growth has many Americans feeling pretty complacent about their finances. They'll happily indulge the urge for another wide-screen TV. But Schor offers a counter-argument to the recent glories of the gross domestic product. She writes that the GDP “fails to factor in pollution, parental time with children, the strength of the nation's social fabric, or the chance of being mugged while walking down the street.” But what happens to economic growth if everyone takes Schor's advice and significantly cuts consumption? After all, two-thirds of the GDP consists of consumer spending. Schor devotes a few pages near the end of the book to argue not all that convincingly that growth and much lower consumer spending can co-exist.

Reviewed by Neil Lipschutz.

A broader critique of the American style of capitalism is offered in Juliet B. Schor's The Overspent American: When the Cost of Lifestyle Overtakes the Value of Life. Six years ago, Schor, a Harvard University economist, made a big splash with the best-selling The Overworked American. In it she lent academic credence to a gut […]

Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web by business writer Evan I. Schwartz is not so much a critique of the economy as a guidepost to its possible future. In case you've been dwelling in a cave of late, the Internet is hot. Sizzling hot. The mere “.com” in a company name or announced plans by an established concern to enter the Internet fray is often enough to send a stock price skyrocketing. This despite the distinct lack of profits exhibited by many newer Internet-oriented companies.

Schwartz offers a knowledgeable guide to this new terrain. His essential point about this fledgling medium for commerce is a good one: you have to remember that the Internet is different. Start-up company and established retailer alike must deal with an audience, attitude, and set of expectations already established on the Web. Simply mimicking in cyberspace the way a company does business in the actual world is not likely to cut it.

Another key point stressed by Schwartz is that sellers of goods and services need to remember the Web is interactive. People want to participate, contribute, ask questions, and get quick answers. He writes: “Although great masses of people use it, the Web is not a mass medium and never will be. It's an interactive medium, a niche medium, and ultimately a personal medium in which every user's experience is different than every other's.” Schwartz also writes insightfully about the products and services that lend themselves most easily to the Internet (those that are “information-rich”). He talks about Web currencies, branding, consumer data, and a host of other subjects. Like all books about dynamic issues, the informed reader will know of certain developments that took place after the book was printed and bound. Still, Schwartz's vision transcends the occasional shifting detail and maintains its relevance even in the face of further technological change. This is quite a useful guide to where a lot of businesses may be headed.

Reviewed by Neil Lipschutz.

Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web by business writer Evan I. Schwartz is not so much a critique of the economy as a guidepost to its possible future. In case you've been dwelling in a cave of late, the Internet is hot. Sizzling hot. The mere “.com” in […]

Business people aren't famous for their bon mots. That didn't stop Stuart Crainer from writing The Ultimate Book of Business Quotations. Not all the quotes are from business people. There's also a wide range of athletes, politicians and poets, among others, from various eras. Here are a couple of samples of wisdom from businessmen. “Hire people cleverer than you are and delegate more than you think is good for you,” said Sir Peter Parker, former head of British Rail. Spoke Lee Iacocca: “People want economy, and they will pay any price to get it.” Reviewed by Neil Lipschutz.

Business people aren't famous for their bon mots. That didn't stop Stuart Crainer from writing The Ultimate Book of Business Quotations. Not all the quotes are from business people. There's also a wide range of athletes, politicians and poets, among others, from various eras. Here are a couple of samples of wisdom from businessmen. “Hire […]

If China is the potential economic power in Asia, then Japan is the current and long-standing champion. But this champion has been on the ropes for a number of years. The Japanese economy is stagnant, and its blend of government-industrial cooperation is under fire. It was only a decade ago that Japan's economy was the envy of the world. Many Americans openly lamented then that our system was only second best. If you're wondering what happened, The Ministry: How Japan's Most Powerful Institution Endangers World Markets will help. It's an outright indictment of Japan's powerful Ministry of Finance (called Okurasho in Japan), which influences all the key components of the Japanese economy. Author Peter Hartcher is an Australian journalist who lived in Japan for six years. He provides a detailed look at the inner workings of the Ministry of Finance. In fact, there is probably too much detail for many general readers. Hartcher opens a window on cronyism, wrongheaded policy, and a general distrust of market forces at the agency, all of which, he argues, have mightily helped Japan dig itself into a hole. This is a broad critique of Japan's once much heralded bureaucracy, though much of the reporting stops after 1995. There has been some further deregulation since then, but the nation still has many structural inefficiencies. A decade ago, Japan seemed unstoppable. Now it seems unstartable.

Reviewed by Neal Lipschutz.

If China is the potential economic power in Asia, then Japan is the current and long-standing champion. But this champion has been on the ropes for a number of years. The Japanese economy is stagnant, and its blend of government-industrial cooperation is under fire. It was only a decade ago that Japan's economy was the […]

Back in America, economic tidings have been a lot brighter. For one thing, a whole previously unknown venue for commerce seems about to blossom on the Internet. How did things change so quickly on a medium that a few short years ago seemed to have no commercial potential? You'll find some answers in the richly entertaining Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet, a first-person account of an unwitting entrepreneurial journey through the first phase of the Internet's commercialization.

Journalist Michael Wolff was an early believer in the Internet and started a company. It was the mid-1990s and the American financial machine was getting awfully excited about the Internet. (It still is.) That doesn't mean that every entrepreneurial dream is a happy one, especially in an Internet world where the rules are being made up as the companies exponentially grow. Profits don't exist and the almighty “burn rate” (the money a company spends each month that exceeds revenues) forms an ever-present cloud ready to rain on the entrepreneur's parade.

Wolff is a strong, self-deprecating, and often humorous writer. He relates his own experiences with financial backers, venture capitalists, investment bankers, and some well-known Internet names. This is interspersed with some hyperhistory of the “net,” circa 1994 through 1997. The book reads like a novel (a good thing), but in that sense the conclusion of Wolff's story is a bit of an anti-climax (I won't reveal details). Still, you won't often find a first-person account of starting a business in the fast lane that so provocatively reveals the voraciousness, duplicity, and plain old hardball tactics that are the province of the financial types who keep capitalism humming. When the sky is the limit and a company's financial reserves will only last a matter of weeks, it makes for some hectic action.

Reviewed by Neal Lipschutz.

Back in America, economic tidings have been a lot brighter. For one thing, a whole previously unknown venue for commerce seems about to blossom on the Internet. How did things change so quickly on a medium that a few short years ago seemed to have no commercial potential? You'll find some answers in the richly […]

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