Explore the ethics of owning an iPhone with Brian Merchant’s sobering read ©UPI/PA Images
Explore the ethics of owning an iPhone with Brian Merchant’s sobering read ©UPI/PA Images

Books of 2017 to broaden your mind

21 December 2017

The end of a year is a good time to pause, reflect and think anew – especially in the world of supply chain and procurement where leaders are under growing pressure to broaden and deepen their knowledge.

To that end, here are seven books that may help stimulate, in the words of Agatha Christie’s fictional detective Hercule Poirot, the “little grey cells”. (In reality, if Poirot’s brain cells were grey, he would actually be dead but you get the point.)

1. Too many CPOs still spend their working lives in a silo. This doesn’t do them or their companies any good, as Heidi K. Gardner illustrates in Smart Collaboration: How Professionals And Their Firms Succeed By Breaking Down Silos. Making a compelling business case for collaboration, she also explores the barriers that must be overcome – lack of trust, the costs of coordination, and company politics. Yet the best line in the book belongs to Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”

2. Don’t let the corny acronym LIVING (Live, Intelligent, Velocity, Interactive, Networked, and Good) in the title of The Living Supply Chain: The Evolving Imperative Of Operating In Real Time (2017) put you off. Robert Handfield and Tom Linton’s book is an entertaining, wide-ranging and provocative exploration of the future of supply chains that dwells on blockchain, inventory and wildebeests. The book’s core message, Linton says, can be distilled into two words: “Speed wins”.

3. Kevin Kelly, who revels in the job title of senior maverick at Wired magazine, is just as forthright as Linton in The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, but is fond of soaring rhetorical sentences such as: “People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems.” Kelly has been working his beat so long that his insights into everything from the cognification of our surroundings (where the physical world responds and adapts to our wishes) and the rise of AI are always enlightening.

4. Brian Merchant’s The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone is more grounded than Kelly’s narrative, suggesting that this apparently game-changing product was actually a collection of previous developments united in one cool, convenient package. Exploring the morality of owning an iPhone, Merchant tracks the gadget’s global supply chain from tin mines in Bolivia to the dumps in Kenya where discarded phones end up. A sobering read, Merchant’s book effectively reframes the question once asked by folk singer Pete Seeger: Is the life of a child worth less than the price of a pair of shoes?

5. Whether technology is moral or not, it is still changing the world – and business – in ways we are barely aware of, as Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson show in fascinating detail in Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. As James Surowiecki, who covers finance for New Yorker, noted: “The authors raise an especially interesting question – if so-called sharing platforms massively increase the degree to which assets, such as cars, are shared (thereby reducing the number of cars that are individually owned) what happens to the companies that make the cars and have built entire business models around the idea of individuals owning them?”

6. Exploring a future that never quite materialised, John Grindrod’s book Concretopia: A Journey Around The Rebuilding Of Britain does two things brilliantly: it details the failure of urban post-war planning to create a new Britain and sheds light on the factors that have made public sector procurement in this country so difficult. Time after time in Grindrod’s narrative, visionary schemes are undermined by budget cuts, changing political priorities and the hubris of ministers, council leaders and architects. Ironically, a more participatory, consultative approach to urban development has made it harder to innovate.

7. Consultation played no part in the US government’s botched reconstruction of Iraq and, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life In the Emerald City (2008) makes horrifically clear, procurement must share the blame. At one point, six young American volunteers, with no relevant management experience, controlled the Coalition Provisional Authority’s $13bn budget to rebuild the war-torn country. The aide in charge of drafting the Iraqi capital’s new traffic code simply downloaded Maryland’s regulations and copied them. Chandrasekaran captures how badly awry procurement goes when those in charge are so completely disconnected from their customers – in this case, the Iraqi people.

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