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Conrad Black signs a copy of his book at the National Business Book Awards in Toronto May 28, 2012. He was one of the three finalists for the award last year, which was won by Bruce Philp. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Conrad Black signs a copy of his book at the National Business Book Awards in Toronto May 28, 2012. He was one of the three finalists for the award last year, which was won by Bruce Philp. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Reviews of National Business Book Award nominees Add to ...

The ability to survive in the Age of Plutocracy also depends on grasping that “revolution is the new global status quo.” How individuals and organizations embrace and capitalize on that reality, determines their economic future. (In the case of Canada, for example, the willingness to welcome immigrants is a cornerstone because they bring new ideas, experiences and energy to the mix.)

Plutocrats may be over-reliant on a few voices (specifically that of Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard) and its multiple strands could be woven more tightly. But it does a good job of framing our times – and those to come.

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The Power of Why
Amanda Lang
(Collins, HarperCollins)

The Power of Why is a book that confirms its own premise: the key to innovation is to re-examine things that already exist and figure out incremental ways to enhance them.

So, while the basic fabric of Ms. Lang’s book may be familiar, it derives new value from fresh combinations stitched and packaged neatly together.

What is certainly original, is the decision to tack on a self-help component to almost every chapter. Once Ms. Lang has finished examining ways that successful companies challenge themselves or display the inspiration to change, she turns it into a guide for personal lives as well.

The result is a matter of taste: Some readers will embrace the exhortations for “self-compassion” in a book about business innovation. Others, not so much.

The Power of Why begins with a meditation on innovation that, like the rest of the book, is broken up into snack-sized pieces that are easy to digest.

That’s followed by one of its strongest chapters: an overview of how our education system fails to foster the curiosity, experimentation and appetite for risk that help develop the ability for innovative thought.

One point that is especially resonant is that while the economy used to require a very standard base of skills and knowledge – and the education system was created to serve that – it’s no longer relevant. “Schools were designed at the turn of the nineteenth century to meet the needs of a completely different economy, which required workers who’d be equipped with a reliable, standardized package of knowledge.”

The author also raises the issue of the role of Canadian culture in the context of domestic innovation: “With our fortress mentality and stiff-upper-lip British heritage, we may have unintentionally created a society that in subtle ways encourages us to resist the whole notion of challenging tradition.”

Observations that humans tend to avoid risk and “prioritize security and predictability” – especially when there’s a lot of money on the line – would be even more powerful if considered in the context of public companies a little earlier on. It isn’t until the end of The Power of Why that Ms. Lang turns to the reality that experimentation and innovation are particular challenges for companies that have quarterly financial performance targets.

The book relies on a series of Canadian corporate case studies from Canadian Tire to Lululemon, Four Seasons to Gordon Capital to make the point that innovators continue to question themselves and the market and have courage to act on answers even if means radical change. They also foster a “culture of inquiry.”

The Power of Why is contingent on Who, What, When and Where for full impact.

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True North: A Life in the Music Business
Bernie Finkelstein
(McClelland and Stewart)

Rollicking is a word that should be used very sparingly – if at all. But it happens to be the exact word that captures Bernie Finkelstein’s account of his life at the heart of Canada’s music industry.

This book is about the evolution of Canadian culture in the last half of the 20th century. It’s filled with personal anecdotes that bring that history to life and famous names that add plenty of glamour. But the largest character of all is the man telling the stories: Bernie Finkelstein.

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