November 1, 2008


Forward reviews the latest books on business, economics and trade.

By Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
Harvard Business Press, 2008


If you would like a do-it-yourself MBA course on strategy, buy the five books by these two authors, creators of the famous Balanced Scorecard approach to performance management. That 1996 book allowed them to begin to follow organizations as they implemented the Scorecard’s five principles and to write subsequent books on each.

This, the fifth in the series, began as an investigation of No. 5: “Govern to make strategy a continual process.” What happened was the discovery of “a self-contained and comprehensive management system that links strategy and operations.” If Michael Treacy’s book, Double-Digit Growth, is all about strategy (and how, all too often, strategies are so flawed as to be unworkable), and Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy’s book, Execution, is about, obviously, execution, this book intends to bridge the two.

What the authors come up with is almost a textbook with liberal use of case studies that holds your hand through the nuts and bolts of developing a strategy and moving it to operations. The charts are worthy of any classroom, and the prose is equally lecture-like.

The final chapter, a call for creation of an Office of Strategy Management in organizations, does make you wonder: What is it CEOs should be doing if not exactly that?


By David M. Smick
Portfolio, 2008


It was interesting to read this book as policymakers in Washington wrangled over the bailout of the nation’s financial markets—interesting because David M. Smick is prescient enough to write things such as the Bear Stearns rescue in March “appears to have provided a government guarantee of the investments of the entire financial sector, not just the banks.”

The book’s title comes from a conversation the author had with John Despres, former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley. In an exchange that depicts the author as entirely too eloquent to be believed, Despres says that, given the “unforeseen discontinuities” of the global financial markets, the world cannot be flat as in Thomas Friedman’s description, but curved. “We can’t see the horizon,” he writes.

Susan Webber’s review of this book in The Conference Board Review claims that Smick is, in fact, not to be believed. She charges that the book is riddled with inaccuracies. For instance, Smick says that gains in U.S. gross domestic product from open trade are 10% annually, which is almost impossible when the entire trade sector is less than 15% of total GDP. Smick is rather selective about what to include and especially fond of his phrase, “a dangerous ocean of money.” He is also fond of name dropping and secondhand quotes of the “I couldn’t have said it better” sort, which allow him to drop the names of people he doesn’t know.

Regardless of the accuracy, the book is chilling in its outline of what Tadashi Nakamae, president of Nakamae International Economic Research, calls the “Chinese Crash.” State-controlled economies will push the world into over-production. This will result in an ever-greater shortage of natural resources, pushing prices up and reducing the profitability of the manufacturing sector. These countries then will switch to building service economies, resulting in an over-capacity there as well. Industrialized nations then will struggle to absorb the “huge stockpiles of commodities and finished goods that China … would off-load onto world markets.” The result will be protectionism on all fronts.

Not pretty, but less dire than what we’re actually facing. Smick concludes with a completely accurate statement: “A second Great Depression seems unlikely, but the thought is no longer a complete absurdity. The world is dangerously curved.”


By Patrizia Porrini, Ph.D., Lorene Hiris and Gina Poncini, Ph.D.,
McGraw-Hill, 2008


Corporate ethics are serious stuff. The regulations that have come in the face of repeated corporate scandals in recent years only force compliance, say these authors. And “this is not enough to reliably inspire public confidence or encourage a culture of ethics.” That is, unfortunately, the most insightful and interesting bit of information in this book.

The secret to creating an honest corporation is, not surprisingly, to not be a crook in the first place, to not hire crooks and to communicate that crookedness will not be tolerated.

At only 256 pages, the book manages to seem much longer, wordy and simplistic. Any book that aims to attract a C-level audience should not end with, “Imagine a world …” and then a three-line homily.

Corporate ethics are serious stuff, but the likelihood of this book being taken seriously is slim.