‘The Four Workarounds: Strategies from the World’s Scrappiest Organizations for Tackling Complex Problems’, by Paulo Savaget
Paulo Savaget has a soft spot for organisations that are “feisty, resourceful, and operate on the fringes of power”. His book is a hymn to deviance and “scrappiness” and a rich repository of stories about how to work round rules and norms to solve complex problems.
The book, born from a proposal that made the final of the FT’s 2019 Bracken Bower Prize, puts workarounds into four groups — piggyback, loophole, roundabout (disrupting or disturbing self-reinforcing behaviour), and next best.
Savaget illustrates his theme with wide-ranging examples, from cryptocurrencies to abortion activism. Many of the problems tackled by his heroic rule-benders are in resource-poor areas, where necessity is the mother of deviation. A typical example is how a British couple working in Zambia founded the non-profit ColaLife to piggyback on existing soft-drink distribution networks, designing diarrhoea-medicine-dispensers that slot into crates of Coca-Cola.
The book’s ambitious contention is that workarounds can be useful in all places and all situations, from the domestic to the managerial. As well as telling some entertaining tales of cunning loophole-exploitation and next-best ingenuity, the book also touches on the philosophical.
By adopting a “workaround mindset”, Savaget writes, we can “turn our ‘unknown unknowns’ into ‘known unknowns’ . . . [and] deconstruct our assumptions about what we know so that we can recombine fragments that we might never otherwise see as belonging together”.
‘Mixed Signals: How Incentives Really Work’, by Uri Gneezy
There is something humans are guilty of all the time — we say one thing but find ourselves doing another, often because certain incentives present themselves that influence our behaviour.
For example, the author, a professor of economics and strategy at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego, told his son only bad people lie. One day he took his son along to Disney World where under threes gained free entry but for those older it cost $117. The result? Gneezy was incentivised to lie about his son’s age — he had turned three not long before the visit. The result? His son noticed his father’s actions and was very confused.
This is a book about how to avoid such mixed signals — particularly within a business or work environment — which lead to conflict between what people say and what their incentives signal. The book outlines how to create what the author calls a middle ground, where these signals and incentives can be better aligned and lead to better outcomes.
Mixed signals that can cause problems include encouraging long-term goals but incentivising short-term success, or inspiring innovation and risk taking but punishing failure.
Consider the manager who tells her employees in a call centre that customer care is the most important thing. But, Gneezy asks, what if the manager sets the incentives so employees are paid by the number of calls they answer? It sends a mixed signal about what the manager is looking for. The incentive is about being fast, which means quality (ie customer care) is dispensed for quantity. And it means employees will be confused about the manager’s values versus her expectations.
Gneezy adds that any company or manager needs to make sure that what is incentivised is what they want to encourage. They can reward quantity, but how do they also make sure quality is not compromised?
The answer is not altogether straight forward. Getting the incentives balance right can be complicated. But Gneezy hopes his book provides insights that help people feel prepared to take on the concept and design better incentives.
‘Staying the Distance: The Lessons From Sport That Business Leaders Have Been Missing’, by Catherine Baker
Staying the Distance is a manual for leaders seeking a more sustainable way to achieve long-term goals and how to get the best out of those they lead.
Starting with six steps to enable managers to master key attitudes, approaches and behaviours that drive longstanding success — such as discipline and finding sustained motivation — Baker, an expert in blending business and sports expertise to drive performance, explores how to apply them to working life.
Chapters are complemented by lessons from elite sports and insights from athletes as well as top business performers. Taking discipline as an example, as with sport, developing as a leader takes determination and hard work. Focusing on small and consistent behaviours could help discipline become part of a daily routine from which, Baker writes, one may even learn to find some joy.
The second part offers guidance on how to get the best from the people you lead, drawing on stories from a variety of elite athletes and coaches, which are backed up with research and other case studies. Trust is key, writes Baker. And leaders can build it if they behave in a way that is consistent and they honour their commitments. These actions engender confidence in those around them.
Baker concludes that if you can more consistently get the best out of yourself and your people, “the greater that impact is going to be over the long term”.
‘The 24 Hour Rule and Other Secrets for Smart Organizations’, by Adrienne Bellehumeur
Some business books you can read for pleasure. Others you read to get something done. The 24 Hour Rule definitely provides the latter, but is written in an accessible way that encourages those of us who feel buried in unnecessary emails, receipts, memos and spreadsheets.
Adrienne Bellehumeur is a Canadian company owner and consultant, who developed her administration system — dynamic documentation as she calls it — to manage the information, management projects, proposal writing and communication needed to run her internal control and compliance business, Risk Oversight.
She admits she could have done with a book like this when she was starting out in her career as an accountant and analyst 15 years ago.
Essentially, the “24-Hour Rule” is about doing something with any information you receive within 24 hours. It forms one part of a six-stage process — which includes effective structuring and presenting this information — to getting your work administration in order.
This book will give heart to those that despair about their ability to get organised. The core message is that career success is built on small but significant changes in our daily routines.
It is not an earth-shattering message, but given work and life admin can be a constant headache even for those who feel they have a handle on things, the book offers advice we could all apply to ease the burden.