Ten years after its publication, the late anthropologist’s deconstruction of economics is more valuable than ever

In the beginning was debt. In David Graeber’s sprawling epic on the history of money, he charts its shape-shifting from credit to coinage, to credit again, then bullion and finally to virtual currencies. Throughout, debt is the constant and Graeber makes a ferocious case that it is the lens through which economics might be better defined.

Debt has recently been re-issued, ten years after its original publication in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. That event prompted much soul searching about money and a raft of books purporting to explain how we got into such a mess. Most were…

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 bestseller was naive about the dark side of the ideas it championed, but taught readers that books about ideas could be cool

When The Tipping Point was published in 2000, it marked a sea change in the world of books. Selling over a million copies, Malcolm Gladwell’s “biography of an idea” convinced publishers that, told well, readers could and would read serious books about economics and social change and history and science and business. A new genre of silo-busting, multi-disciplinary non-fiction was born. And even though it drew largely from academic research, it wasn’t stodgy, it was fun. And its central thesis — “there is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible” was broad…

Six members of the group Extinction Rebellion were cleared of all charges by a jury. Here’s what they said and why it matters.

The six people up in court for the last week, on trial for criminal damage to the London headquarters of Shell, have been found not guilty. This was not foreseen; indeed the Judge Gregory Perrins said that even if their actions were “morally justified”, that did not provide a lawful excuse.. The defendants defended themselves. There was no doubt that damage had been done. There was no doubt about who had done it. The defendants never denied their action. What they did was explain what they believed they had done.

Environmental activists are on trial in London for vandalizing Shell headquarters

On the face of it, the court case of the Shell 7, taking place in London this week, is simple. Two years ago, in April 2019, seven supporters of Extinction Rebellion smashed the front doors of Shell’s headquarters on the South Bank, painted the building with graffiti and hung a banner charging the oil company with ecocide. The event went on for two days before the 7 activists were arrested.

But much more is at stake than a case of criminal damage. The Shell defendants argue that broken windows and graffiti were necessary to avoid the far greater crime of…

Two decades after Jim Collins’ business bestseller was published, what lessons does it really hold?

The book cover for Good to Great by Jim Collins
The book cover for Good to Great by Jim Collins

“I’m a Level 5 leader.” It’s a phrase I hear frequently from CEOs and senior executives, each assuming familiarity with Jim Collins’ Good to Great. It’s a safe bet; with sales of over four million copies, Collins’ 2001 work is one of the most widely read business books of the last 20 years. Its simple recipe was part of its allure. …

Problem 3: Distance and Dehumanization

When CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld was driven from his home to a heliport, then helicoptered into Manhattan, driven in another limo to the bank’s offices where a private elevator sent him up to his office. This ornate commute ensconced him in a physical bubble that no weak signals or accidental encounters could penetrate. This physical manifestation of power may look like luxury but it comes at a cost. The bubble of power seals off bad news, inconvenient detail, hostile opinion and messy reality, leaving leaders free to inhale the rarefied air of pure…

Best Business Books of 2020

Three economists started competing forecasting businesses in the early 20th century. They all got the Great Depression wrong.

Roger W. Babson points to a graph titled “Physical Volume of Business”
Roger W. Babson points to a graph titled “Physical Volume of Business”
Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Author’s note: I regularly find myself assailed by questions about the future from business leaders, colleagues, and friends. They ask about companies, elections, technology, their own lives. Their questions imply that the future is knowable, hidden like the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain that only the fearless or gifted can pull aside. This strikes me as magical thinking, not least because research shows that the time horizon for accurate forecasting is shrinking: 400 days if you’re rigorous, closer to 150 days if you’re not.

This is a huge change whose impact few individuals or organizations have fully absorbed or…

Problem Two: Silence and Blindness

by Margaret Heffernan

Richard was keen, intelligent, curious, well read and overflowing with good intentions. Ask him about his direct reports, he could provide a fulsome picture of each one, and he demonstrated real insight and nuance about their strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams. He didn’t show it much, but he respected and cared for the people who worked for him.

Because Richard was so brilliant, he could solve just about any gnarly problem. But doing so implied that he didn’t believe anyone else could. So one day I suggested that he attend his next…

by Margaret Heffernan

The language says it all. ‘Working your way up’, ‘climbing the ladder’ are ways of describing successful careers: emerging from the dank basement to the wide bright vistas atop a hierarchy. Like Beethoven’s prisoners in Fidelio, the journey is from dark to light, from confinement to freedom: “up here alone is light.”

This narrative is so alluring that many who follow it fail to see its pitfalls. The climb changes what you do, what you can see and who you are. So compelling is the story that it’s easy to see such evolution as all positive. …


How to make trusted decisions in the face of uncertainty

The obvious answer is oft repeated: why would you trust someone who won’t say how many children he has and who has twice been fired for lying? But the electorate knew that when they voted for him; it doesn’t explain why such deep skepticism remains and appears intractable. So there’s a lesson here for anyone in a position of power who wants to be credible.

Epidemics create particularly challenging circumstances. Each one is different, or as the joke goes: if you’ve seen on…

Margaret Heffernan

CEO of 5 businesses, her book WILFUL BLINDNESS was called a classic; her TED talks have been seen by over 12 million people. UNCHARTED is her new book.

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