Selbey Labs - Books of the Month (September 2023)

Selbey Labs - Books of the Month (September 2023)

Selbey LabsForesight & Innovation
Selbey Labs - Books of the Month (September 2023)

In our Books of the Month recommendations for September, we’ve chosen some fascinating books that cover issues ranging from tech dystopia to the principles of success, from the geopolitical impact of commodity-control to issues around prediction and risk, and from the power of philosophy to the mystery of insurance… So, hopefully something for anyone and everyone, covering various polarities of interest! We hope you enjoy the list, and as always, we welcome your feedback.

‘Your Face Belongs to Us’ by Kashmir Hill

Starting on a low-note, the author (an award-winning tech reporter at the NY Times) warns that the dystopian future portrayed in various sci-fi films is already upon us. Whether you like it or not, your face (yes, yours) has already been scraped from the internet, stored in a giant database, and made available to law enforcement agencies, private corporations, and authoritarian governments to track and surveil you. Kashmir Hill’s fascinating book brings home the scary implications of this new reality.

‘How Big Things Get Done’ by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner

On a happier note, nothing is more inspiring than a big vision that becomes a triumphant new reality. Think of how Apple’s iPod went from a project with a single employee to an enormously successful product launch in eleven months. But such successes are the exception. Oxford professor and ‘Megaproject Expert’ (BTW, that would look superb on a business card) Bent Flyvbjerg, along with best-selling author Dan Gardner, reveal the secrets to successfully planning and delivering ambitious projects on any scale. Most endeavours, whether launching a small business, organizing a conference, or just finishing a work project on time, commonly fail. Why? This book identifies the errors that lead projects to fail and the principles that can make others succeed.

‘Power & Progress’ by Simon Johnson & Daron Acemoglu

A thousand years of history and contemporary evidence make one thing clear: progress is not automatic but depends on the choices we make about technology. The authors propose that new ways of organizing production and communication can either serve the narrow interests of an elite or become the foundation for widespread prosperity. The tremendous computing advances of the last half-century can become empowering and democratizing tools, but not if all major decisions remain in the hands of a few hubristic tech leaders striving to build a society that elevates their own power and prestige… 

‘Material World’ by Ed Conway

Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium built our world, and will transform our future. They’re the six most crucial substances in human history and took us from the Dark Ages to the present day, but most of us take them completely for granted. In Material World, Ed Conway travels the globe to uncover a secret world we rarely see. Revealing the true marvel of these substances, he follows the mind-boggling journeys, miraculous processes and little-known companies that turn the raw materials we all need into products of astonishing complexity. As we wrestle with climate change, energy crises and the threat of new global conflict, Conway shows why these substances matter more than ever before, and how the hidden battle to control them will shape our geopolitical future.

‘The Age of Prediction’ by Igor Tulchinsky & Chris Mason

The Age of Prediction is about the rapid development and use of AI and big data to enhance prediction, as well as the often-paradoxical effects of these better predictions on our understanding of risk and the ways we live. The book explores how predictive technology is quietly reshaping our world in fundamental ways, from crime fighting and warfare to monitoring individual health and elections. As prediction grows more robust, it also alters the nature of the accompanying risk, setting up unintended and unexpected consequences. Can we ever reduce risk to zero? Should we even try? (Which sounds like an ice-breaker at a dinner for MBA students).

‘Risky Business: Why Insurance Markets Fail and What to Do About It’ by Amy Finkelstein

This book is an examination of what ails insurance markets―and what to do about it―by three leading economists. Why is pet insurance so expensive? Why does your car insurer ask for your credit score? The answer lies in understanding how insurance works. Unlike the market for other goods and services―for instance, a grocer who doesn’t care who buys the store’s vegetables ―insurance providers are more careful in choosing their customers, because some are more expensive than others. With insurance at the centre of divisive debates about privacy, equity, and the appropriate role of Govt, this book offers clear explanations for some of the critical business and policy issues you’ve often wondered about, as well as for others you haven’t yet considered.

‘Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing my Mind’ by Andy Dunn

At twenty-eight, fresh from Stanford’s MBA program and steeped in the move-fast-and-break-things ethos of Silicon Valley, Andy Dunn was on top of the world. He was building a new kind of startup—a digitally native, direct-to-consumer brand—out of his Manhattan apartment. Against all odds, business was booming. As Dunn’s business began to take off, however, some of the very traits that powered his success as a founder—relentless drive, confidence bordering on hubris, and ambition verging on delusion—were now threatening to undo him. Burn Rate is an unconventional entrepreneurial memoir, a parable for the twenty-first-century economy, and a revelatory look at the prevalence of mental illness in the startup community. 

‘Good Power: Leading Positive Change in Our Lives, Work, and World’ by Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty led one of the world's most iconic companies, and in Good Power she recounts her groundbreaking path from a challenging childhood to becoming the CEO of IBM and one of the world's most influential business leaders. Rometty redefines power as a way to drive meaningful change in positive ways for ourselves, our organizations, and for the many, not just the few—a concept she calls "good power." Her "memoir with purpose" combines the experiences that defined her life—personal hurdles, high-stakes decisions, passionate advocacy—with the actionable advice of a coaching session to highlight lessons that shape authentic leadership. Behind-the-scenes stories and practical guidance offer us a blueprint for how we can all use good power to advance our careers, inspire teams, improve companies, and create healthier societies.

‘The Solutionists: How Businesses Can Fix the Future’ by Solitaire Townsend

In this book, author Solitaire Townsend sets out what it takes to join the new generation of entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders transforming business to create a more sustainable society. Using a ‘change blueprint’ this book coaches you through the steps, mindsets and strategies that will put your organization at the forefront of sustainability solutions. In doing do, it illustrates how ‘sustainability solutionists’ are paving the way to solving the biggest crisis our planet has ever faced whilst driving business innovation and growth. Including plant-based food sources, net-zero technologies and circular platforms, these stories demonstrate how sustainable disruption can transform your business, regardless of size or industry.

‘The Visionaries: Arendt, Beavoir, Rand, Weil and the Power of Philosophy in Dark Times’ by Wolfram Eilenberger

‘What use is philosophy in the middle of a war?'  That’s the question Eilenberger sets out to answer in this ambitious, enthralling book. The year is 1933: Hannah Arendt escapes Berlin, seeking refuge among the stateless gathering in Paris. Meanwhile, Simone de Beauvoir reimagines the world outside a Rouen café, Ayn Rand labours in Hollywood exile on a novel to reignite liberty in her adoptive nation, whilst Simone Weil, disenchanted with the revolution's course in Russia, devotes herself to the plight of the oppressed. Over the next decade, one of the darkest in Europe's history, these four philosophers will conceive ideas that would circle the globe in the second half of the century. In this book, the author distils their radical philosophies, all testament to the redemptive power of thought.

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Selbey Labs, part of the Selbey Anderson Group, is a foresight and innovation practice focused on helping brands see and respond to opportunities and threats.

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