Books: When your life's a beach - The holiday season allows your thoughts to wander as well as your body. Ajaz Ahmed reviews a selection to broaden the manager's mind

Books: When your life's a beach - The holiday season allows your thoughts to wander as well as your body. Ajaz Ahmed reviews a selection to broaden the manager's mind - There are not many books about applying quantum physics or chaos theory to business. T

by AJAZ AHMED
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There are not many books about applying quantum physics or chaos theory to business. That's a good thing, as the market for those titles would be limited. But here's a new book that manages to apply 'universal principles' to business. The Power Laws is by Richard Koch, the writer behind 'the 80/20 principle', a theory based on economic precepts. In his new book, Koch uses thoughts from biology and physics, such as Einstein's theory of relativity and Darwin's evolution ideas.

Some of them work quite well. For example, the section about Koch's theory of business genes where he breaks down the DNA of business is interesting.

The book is a worthwhile read and it will become an academic's favourite, but the manager might need something more practical.

A useful book for managers is One Minute Manager. Co-authored by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, it remains a classic almost two decades after it was published. Dr Johnson's follow-up, Who Moved My Cheese?, I thought less good, probably because I had high expectations.

Who Moved My Cheese has the same formula as One Minute Manager - the 100-odd page length, the easy-to-read storybook format, the lesson-and-learning in each chapter. But whereas the earlier book is full of practical tips that any manager could use straight away, Who Moved My Cheese? is less focused. The most important lesson in the new book is the need for everyone to accept, anticipate and adapt to change, rather than get comfortable: 'If you do not change, you can become extinct.' Wise words.

On the subject of change, Get Big Fast by Robert Spector charts the incredible growth of amazon.com, the world's most famous e-tailer. While analysts speculate whether Amazon will run out of cash, this book looks at what the company has spent it on. It demonstrates that there is no 'secret sauce' to building a business and no short-cut to providing great customer service. Amazon.com is, we read, 'anal-retentive about customer service'. In fact, there's a whole chapter on it.

The book teaches entrepreneurs about the need for simple, scalable, effective processes. Amazon does what good businesses do (apart from making a profit) and it has done it quicker than most. Get Big Fast also highlights reasons for amazon.com's excellence as a web site: Jeff Bezos has a technical understanding, so he is able to apply that depth to his business. And he uses his own web site: he gets the same experience as a customer, so he can keep driving change and improving choice and service.

Amazon sells about dollars 700 million worth of merchandise a quarter, so it is doing something right. Whether amazon.com will survive long enough to make a profit is anyone's guess but, as this book highlights, the company is 'work in progress'.

From a modern pioneer to one whose name remains a legend almost a century on. Titan, the story of John D Rockefeller by Ron Chernow, is a compelling and demanding read. The most in-depth biography of a businessman I have read, this book's 770-odd pages offer a detailed account of the ways of the richest man of his day. Rockefeller created Standard Oil and was the petroleum refining industry's dominant figure for its first 40 years.

At their peak, his companies refined 80% of the petroleum sold in the US.

Teddy Roosevelt's government ordered the break-up of Standard Oil in 1911 - oddly, just as the company was losing its monopoly as oil was discovered outside mid-west America. It is also curious that Rockefeller became richer when he retired than he had been as president of Standard Oil.

He was an incredibly smart businessman and incredibly charitable. 'I believe it is my duty to make money,' he said, 'and still more money.

And to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.' If business is using its power to give customers higher-quality products at a lower cost and at the same time being philanthropic, what is wrong with that?

Ajaz Ahmed is chairman and chief executive of AKQA, the internet consulting company.

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