One-Minute Book Reviews

April 30, 2009

The ‘Common Sense’ of Shogun Yoritomo-Tashi — A Japanese Warrior’s Wisdom for the Modern World of Business

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“Happiness is above all a combination of harmony and the absence of sorrow.”
From Yoritomo-Tashi’s Common Sense

Not long ago I stumbled on an out-of-print edition of Common Sense: How to Exercise It (Funk & Wagnalls, 1916), written by the Japanese shogun Yoritomo-Tashi and translated by Mme. Léon J. Berthelot de la Boileverie. I hadn’t heard of the book, intended to help people succeed in business. But common sense has been scarce enough on Wall Street that I read it to see if a 12th-century warrior knew something Lehman Brothers didn’t.

The book (or maybe just the translation) is abstruse enough that it’s hard to say. By modern standards, some of its advice lacks the quality it encourages people to cultivate. “Persons who have no common sense are the only ones to revolt against the laws of the country where they live,” Yoritomo-Tashi says. “The wise man will recognize that they have been enacted to protect him and that to be opposed to their observance would be acting as an enemy to oneself.” So much for the Boston Tea Party and the civil-rights movement.

But I liked Yoritomo-Tashi’s definition of happiness — “a combination of harmony and the absence of sorrow” (which, unlike so much psychobabble, allows that happiness can be affected by external factors). And his book makes a couple of other good points:

“Superstition is the enemy of common sense, for … it is the product of a personal impression, associating two ideas absolutely unconnected.”

Sentimentality works against common sense when it involves “mental exaggeration” that “transforms true pity into a false sensibility, the exaggeration of which deteriorates the true value of things.”

Critics often deplore books – such as Mitch Albom’s novels – that are sentimental, and Common Sense suggests why they dislike they quality: Sentimentality tends to overvalue certain feelings and, in that way, to devalue others that are more important.

You can download Common Sense for free on the Project Gutenberg site .

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda and www.janiceharayda.com

December 6, 2007

Gift Books for Leaders, Managers, Executives and Others Who Want to Succeed in Business

The books in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series include authoritative articles on topics from “Managing Yourself” and “Motivating People” to “Green Business Strategy”

Harvard Business Review on Change: Ideas With Impact Series. By John P. Kotter, James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, Jeanie Daniel Duck, Tracy Goss, Richard Pascale, and Anthony Athos, Roger Martin, Paul Strebel, Norman R. Augustine, and Robert H. Schaffer and Harvey A. Thomson. Harvard Business School Press, 228 pp., $19.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Is the phrase “business books” an oxymoron? So many titles in the category read like Power Point presentations in hardcover or exercises in spin control by ousted chief executives who are trying to recast their legacies.

Not the more than 50 paperbacks in the “Harvard Business Review On …” series, each of which includes reprints from the magazine on a theme such as “Leadership,” “Managing Yourself,” or “Motivating People.” I picked up the Harvard Business Review on Change at an airport Borders, looking for an alternative to The Almost Moon, which I’d packed in my carry-on bag in the irrational belief that a novel about a woman who kills her mother and stuffs her in a freezer might improve with altitude. It was perfect.

This installment in the series collects eight articles published between 1992 and 1997 on why change succeeds or fails in organizations, and most of the essays have as much to say today as they did ten years ago. Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson argue in “Successful Change Programs Begin With Results” that sirens like total quality management lure corporations onto the rocks because they are “activitiy-centered” rather than “results-driven.” Other articles explore the failures of rightsizing, reeingineering and cultural change. The best is John Kotter’s “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which argues persuasively that organizational change fails for eight reasons from not creating a great enough sense of urgency at the outset to declaring victory too soon.

“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time,” writes Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

The authors of these essays draw most of their examples from major corporations. But their advice would also apply to or could be adapted for many smaller entrepreneurial ventures or departments or even for individuals wondering why they never keep their New Year’s resolutions. And because the series covers such a wide range of topics, you could probably find one for anyone on your gift list who is facing a challenge in business. How many of us wouldn’t benefit from being reminded at times of a remark by the novelist Rita Mae Brown, quoted in one essay, that “insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results”?

Best line: Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine in “Reshaping an Industry: Lockheed Martin’s Survival Story”: “Financial wizard Warren Buffet once cautioned, ‘Beware of past performance ‘proofs’ in finance. If history books were they key to riches, the Forbes 400 would consist of librarians.’”

Worst line: A chart on page 194 listing the differences between “results-driven” and “activity-centered programs” appears to have the qualities of each program reversed.

Published: 1998

Furthermore: The titles in the “Harvard Business Review on …” series include books the follwing topics: Leadership, Marketing, Managing Projects, Managing Yourself, Motivating People, Effective Communication, Teams That Succeed, Women in Business, and the new Green Business Strategy. A complete list of titles appears on the Harvard Business School Press site www.hbsp.harvard.edu. Harvard Business School Publishing also has an IdeaCast series, a free podcast from “leading thinkers in management” at www.hbrideacast.org.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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