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Summer reading 2020

This year, perhaps more than ever, we need to take time away from our laptops and videoconferences and try to clear our minds. Here are s+b’s suggestions for recent business reads that can help you slow down and still keep up with the most compelling new ideas and insights. (They won’t hurt your RoomRater score, either).

Humankind: A Hopeful History

by Rutger Bregman (Little, Brown, 2020)

In his new book, historian Bregman assembles impressive evidence in support of his contrarian take — that “most people, deep down, are pretty decent.” He writes that it is “a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic.” Like all myths, this one has little basis in fact, but it remains extremely powerful.


The Power of Experiments: Decision-Making in a Data Driven World

by Michael Luca and Max H. Bazerman (MIT Press, 2020)

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Career advice for a changing world

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and people’s lives have been devastating. Unemployment on a massive scale will go hand in hand with an exponential rise in national debts, which in turn will constrain government relief for the unemployed and will increase the tax burden for businesses and most citizens. The challenge across generations will be to find ways to improve individuals’ prospect of employability in this environment. The good news is that there are courses to chart that will help.

Identifying and nurturing the right skills for this new world will be key. Even before COVID-19, CEOs were concerned about finding, keeping, and developing the talent needed for the modern world. This concern is unlikely to abate even as we enter an economic downturn. That’s why many organizations, including PwC, are committing to upskilling and reskilling all their employees.

Changes in the nature of work

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What COVID-19 is revealing about your customers and employees

The coronavirus pandemic is not simply a crisis to be endured until it’s over. True, lockdown restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world. But as people venture cautiously out, they are encountering not just a world interrupted, but a world changed. We have all been part of an ongoing and extraordinary — if involuntary — experiment. Companies have had to scramble, improvise, and invent with no time to lose or second-guess, and customers have had to rethink priorities and loyalties.

The pandemic has changed the way businesses of all stripes are operating. Many retailers have had to abandon or completely redesign some sales and distribution channels while ramping up others. Stores that relied on foot traffic and in-store browsing now hope that online shopping and curbside pickup will suffice. Other companies have had to look for new markets as their customary ones disappeared. (One of us is now

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A dramatic example of adopting best practices

Why do Japanese family businesses manage to survive for so long? One reason may be that, when they lack a suitable hereditary successor, Japanese families will adopt a promising young adult to groom for the role. Almost always men, these outsiders marry into the family and even take the family name. Suzuki Motor’s leadership is a famous example of this tradition, with the company having been run by four generations of adopted sons.

Adoption of this kind — known as mukoyoshi — is virtually unknown in Western business. But it was well established at Undershaft and Lazarus, the explosive fictional enterprise at the heart of George Bernard Shaw’s bracingly funny play Major Barbara. For business leaders, the play is dynamite.

Why should we concern themselves with this long-ago stage comedy? Because there has never been a more important play about business, and many of its central concerns remain contentious

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Three capabilities will help retailers “win the trip” through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 has changed the way people shop and what they care about most — possibly for the long term — so retailers’ strategies must also change. Whether the trip they’re looking to win is inside a store, curbside, or at a customer’s front door, emerging from the crisis on a strong footing will require retailers to plan around this new normal. Those that are best at sensing demand and responding quickly with engaging and brand-defining experiences will “win the trip” and see the highest return on their investments in those experiences, or return on experience (ROX).

For example, if your business is groceries, you’ve probably seen growth in demand for certain categories, including food and beverage, personal care and wellness, home improvement, and pet care, as most of life’s activity has shifted to the home. You now have an opportunity to compete for trips — real and virtual — and

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