strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 62

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / S T R AT E G Y 62 as owner-operated businesses), to the antifragile, which actually benefit from a few knocks (the human body, if the blows aren’t too heavy; a writer’s work as it’s exposed to criticism). For a strategist looking to develop an antifragile business, the point would be not to sit there with indus-try analyses and economic forecasts—almost inevitably incorrect or irrelevant, according to Taleb. Instead, a strategist should go look-ing for the opportunities hidden in the knocks and bumps presented by the on-the-ground realities of ever-changing markets. He tells the secondhand but hi-larious tale of an acute stu-dent of market movements who did very well for years trading in “green lumber,” all the while thinking he was dealing in boards painted green rather than in freshly harvested timber. For more than a decade, scholars have been advo-cating and explaining the use of real options in strat-egy—valuable work, but pretty tough going for the average strategist. Given Taleb’s sense of ever-looming uncertainty, his discussion of options and the necessity of acquiring them can be downright thrilling. His anal-ysis traces their use back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales, and he buttresses his advocacy with arguments from classic Stoic philosophers, particularly Seneca. Anyone who sends us back to read Seneca can’t be all bad. (What other book have you encountered re-cently that left you wondering, “Gee, I wonder what the author would have had to say about Diogenes?”) And therein lies the third reason for recommending Anti-fragile. Although maddeningly opinionated, at least a third too long, and freighted with 70 pages of relatively unreadable appendices and bibliography, the book is full of refreshing, in-your-face challenges to what we think we know, put-downs of the otherwise celebrated (Glenn Hubbard, Joseph Stiglitz, and Tom Friedman, to name just a few), and practical insights useful even in daily life. Taleb notes, for example, that most of the foods he enjoys—wine, cheese, some fruits, veg-etables, meat, and fish—have been around a long time, and that nowadays all the most delicious varieties seem to come from small producers, not large industrial en-terprises. Perhaps not a shockingly original observation, but useful to ask your waiter about the next time you’re contemplating a menu. Toward the end of Antifragile, there’s a lovely con-fessional passage about how Taleb temporarily lost his soul when he suddenly became a famous author, per-mitted himself to be courted by journalists, and went around trying to explain his ideas to audiences who had little interest in trying to understand them. He found his way back to sanity by returning to his prior routine A strategist should go looking for the opportunities hidden in the knocks and bumps presented by the on-the-ground realities of changing markets. of spending most days reading and writing. Maybe the biggest surprise of all in the book is that despite the au-thor’s best efforts to persuade you to the contrary, by the time you’re through reading, you almost kind of like the guy. What might the redesigned Temple Mount of Great Management Ideas look like? Perhaps its central feature should be a multi-faced, possibly rotating edi-fice dedicated to the proposition that “business strategy is change as led by relentless innovators” and linking the systemic elements called out by McGrath, the au-thor of the year’s best business book on strategy. It could have a few pillars, classical-strategy style, courtesy of Lafley and Martin. And on its roof, driven by gusts of useful paranoia from Taleb, wind turbines would continually turn. + Walter Kiechel III w.kiechel@gmail.com has served as the managing editor of Fortune and the editorial director of Harvard Business Publishing. His most recent book is The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World (Harvard Business Press, 2010). strategy+business strategy+business issue issue 73 73 best books 2013 strategy

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