FT business books: March edition

‘The first, the few, the only: how women of color can redefine power in corporate America’, by Deepa Purushothaman

Despite the promises that came out of the Black Lives Matter movement nearly two years ago, many non-white professionals still see business as a good old boys’ club.

This book is a poignant look at what it’s like to navigate what the unwitting law school friend calls a “twofer” — a woman who also happens to be a person of color. The book argues that women of color possess the multifaceted perspective to solve all kinds of work riddles, but many of their achievements are attributed solely to positive action.

Deepa Purushothaman uses her personal experience as one of the first Indian women to skyrocket at professional services firm Deloitte and anonymized interviews with other female professionals to help readers see their own business through this lens and understand that both social and career implications.

This book is not so much a handbook on diversity, equality and inclusion—though it certainly provides food for thought on the latest initiatives—as a critique of the American view of itself as pure meritocracy.

Purushothaman uses a seemingly endless supply of vivid metaphors to bring to life abstract and politically charged concepts of race. It’s the rare book that makes professionals of color feel seen and white male colleagues receive comprehensive education.

Connectable: How leaders can move teams from isolated to all-in, by Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen

After two years of pandemic-induced isolation, social distancing rules, loneliness is topical. This latest book looks at its impact on work and well-being and how to combat it.

Authors Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen, who advise companies on reducing workplace loneliness and fostering connections, argue that technologies such as ATMs, Alexa and automated checkouts are not only replacing jobs, but also abolishing essential human interactions. In doing so, they follow the work of professors Noreena Hertz and Jean Twenge, who have focused on loneliness.

They are most concerned about young people – Generation Z – entering the labor market and complaining of isolation. But everyone is prone to attacks of loneliness, for example being the sole parent of young children on a team, or someone who is more likely to be pushed into a leadership role than their peers. The implication for business is that the workforce is less engaged and productive.

The authors provide guidance in areas such as creating psychological safety for employees and cultivating connections between teams (personal or remote).

But while the advice to create a sense of belonging seems sensible, the statistics they cite — there has been a 7 percent increase in loneliness among Americans since 2018 — actually seem a testament to the endurance of human connectedness.

‘Take Charge of You: How Self-Coaching Can Transform Your Life and Career’, by David Novak and Jason Goldsmith

Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, the market is becoming more and more competitive and dynamic. When lifelong learning becomes a skill in itself, you can fall behind if you don’t know how to develop.

Here coaching can help and you can learn how to coach yourself. With decades of experience, David Novak and Jason Goldsmith present an easy method for readers to take personal growth and professional development into their own hands.

The book is divided into five sections: The Self-Coaching Conversation, Mindset, Plan, Journey, and Habit. It offers an interactive experience with exercises, tips, questions and tools to take you from where you are now to where you want to go.

Each coaching session starts with a conversation and in the first chapter the authors guide the reader through a dialogue with themselves. The goal is to better understand how to best coach the unique person you are. The first question: “What stands in the way of my joy?”

The book contains practical examples and suggestions to build your self-knowledge, start a coaching routine and turn guidance into an action plan.

Some strategies seem obvious, but it ends with a good takeaway: “You never really know what you’re capable of until you’re tested. Things are going to happen during your journey that will make you question some of your ideas or rethink your path. That’s okay.”

‘From Breakthrough to Blockbuster: The Business of Biotechnology’, by Donald L Drakeman, Lisa Natale Drakeman and Nektarios Oraiopoulos

Medtech, pharmatech and biotech are firmly established in the start-up lexicon thanks to more than 50 years of innovation and risk-taking by pharmaceutical entrepreneurs. The most obvious example of late is BioNTech, which partnered with the pharmaceutical multinational Pfizer to generate a groundbreaking Covid vaccine. But this kind of innovative start-up behavior was not always self-evident in healthcare.

This 208-page book, written by husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Donald and Lisa Drakeman and Nektarios Oraiopoulos, associate professor of operations management at Cambridge Judge Business School, tells the stories of a diverse group of start-ups, some of which grew out of to international companies — though others failed — and outperformed Big Pharma in bringing innovative new drugs to market.

The authors explain why this happened, through a biotech ecosystem of academic research, venture capital groups, contract research organizations, capital markets and founding teams.

They write with authority, as two of them have built successful biotech ventures in the US and Europe, raised billions of dollars, and developed several new FDA-approved treatments for cancer and other diseases. Their co-author, who has spent years analyzing the innovation process, is an advisor to start-up entrepreneurs and has worked closely on research projects with numerous executives from the biopharmaceutical industry.

This book has a subtext: that innovative drug development is most effectively delivered by a large collection of small businesses, fueled by an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The authors conclude with a manifesto, in which they propose government policies and market structures necessary to support and nurture the innovation of start-ups in medtech.

Stress-Free Productivity: A Personalized Toolkit for Becoming Your Most Efficient and Creative Self, by Dr. Alice Boyes

The story goes that Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for his hit musical Hamilton during a much-needed vacation, when he read a book about Alexander Hamilton. We know the rest.

In Stress-Free Productivity, Alice Boyes provides a guide to rethinking and achieving productivity in a different way, encouraging the reader to explore new strategies for being creative and producing work of greater value. According to the author, who has a PhD in psychology, modern productivity culture preaches strict habits and efficiency. But to be our most productive, she believes we really need to make time to be unfocused and let our minds wander.

In order to do this, however, we must rely on our distancing from our work. We should be comfortable letting our minds wander and exploring other realms—whether it’s just for half an hour or a fortnight’s vacation—because we’re going to end up somewhere with a lot of insight.

With quizzes and other exercises, Boyes, formerly a clinical psychologist, has designed a book that, through three sections, offers ways to help develop the tools to get rid of the guilt that comes with distance and those little voices that tell us we’re wasting. time. “It is an art to let your mind wander productively, and a science,” she writes.

The first part is about being a self-scientist – becoming a better observer of yourself, which she says is “the most important productivity tool you underuse”. The second part — improving your repeatable systems — is about being effective and efficient.

The third part – how to be a more creative visionary – looks at how different interests can increase our creative capacity, how we can be bolder in terms of where we go when exploring our minds, and how we can put mental energy into projects for the longer term.

In essence, Boyes encourages the reader to see what they To elect doing will affect what is accomplished much more than how quickly they work.

‘Going digital: what it takes for smoother transformations’, by Lyndsey Jones and Balvinder Singh Powar

This is a quick guide to achieving digital transformation. Today we live in a world of almost permanent uncertainty and change. Companies large and small are grappling with changing consumer habits, new technologies and agile digital competitors entering their territory.

The authors write that “as a manager in this environment . † † You may need to transform one or more departments. You may need to change the way you operate or work at a legacy company. Or maybe you’re trying to change customer behavior to embrace digitization and increase revenue.”

Drawing on insights from a large cross-section of companies and sectors, from Google to asset manager BlackRock, it seems that regardless of the challenge of digital transformation, the problem must first be identified. When solving the problem and implementing the solution, a systematic approach to planning is essential. The authors emphasize how the best-drafted plans will help you sell your idea and such a framework will also help you track progress.

The book also addresses the resistance any ‘changer’ is likely to encounter: referred to by the authors as the ‘dark side’ because leading change is ‘exhausting’. “Dealing with transformation can take a lot of your time and mental energy, so you’ll need to weigh the project carefully to make sure it’s worth it,” they write.

But for all the talk about digital, the authors emphasize that some of the most essential attributes to succeed in this field are soft skills: understanding your team; build trust; be able to influence and convince; and actually take care of yourself.

Overall, this is the ideal introduction for those who may be new executives and need to quickly get to grips with digital transformation, what it is, what to expect in the process, and how to turn it into a valuable — and potentially profitable — opportunity for your organization.

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