Walker Smith on Average is over
The best book of 2013 is Tyler Cowen’s view of the unfolding U.S. economy, workforce and technology entitled Average is Over. This book has sparked a lot of critical reaction, including a NYT column by David Brooks on the skillsets and mindsets we should expect to see in the future envisioned by Cowen. The foundational idea of Cowen’s book is that the ability to work with intelligent machines will be the major economic and social divide of tomorrow. Those who can will thrive; those who cannot will struggle. Cowen then fleshes out the micro implications of this macro dynamic, including the ways in which it will influence how people spend and save. Cowen’s ideas are original and provocative, so whether you agree with him or not, you can’t help but be smarter after spending time with this book. Give it your full-time focus for three nights, and I’m sure that after that, you’ll be Googling to see the ideas and critiques it has inspired in others. Average is Over is far from average. It’s a five-star read, and indeed, a must-read for anyone interested in trends, futures and strategy.
Kristy Evans on Delta Boys
This year, I finally made it beyond the confines of the few walled hotels approved for foreigners in Lagos, Nigeria to the Eastern part of the country. After being warned about the risks of being kidnapped for ransom, I wanted to learn more about the security threat in the region. I came across Delta Boys, a documentary about militia groups in the Niger Delta. I felt in debt to this filmmaker for staying in the region for eight months to tell this story. I had to stay clear of the delta, but I strongly felt the tension caused by what people feel is a hopeless situation (I wasn’t allowed to blink without an armed guard). On the one hand, people desperately wanted me there, as I represented all the multinationals that have pulled out of the local economy in the last year. On the other hand, I represent the core source of demand for the oil that causes so much strife. Ultimately, people talk of disappointment, that resources are their ultimate curse, and why they feel that the presence of oil will always hold them back.
Eleanor Cooksey on Everybody’s Business
Though doing this makes me like a badly behaved guest on a chat show, I would like to talk about a book, ‘Everybody’s Business’, that I was involved in this year (I helped with background research). As it says in the blurb, ‘Start a conversation about the role of big business in the world and, often even before you reach the end of your first sentence, you’ll find you’ve unleashed a furious response.’ Well, though you might be bursting with outrage, let me suggest big companies can use their scale to do more than some lovely little charities might ever achieve. Smallholder mango farmers in Uganda used to let their fruit rot; now Coca Cola is working with them to improve productivity and offers guaranteed orders, and guaranteed incomes. It’s not all great, but it’s worth seeing the good bits too.