Categories
Book Review Decision making Ethics International Development Moral dilemmas Risk

Book Review: “The age of reason” by Jean-Paul Sartre

“The age of reason” is a haunting account of Philosophy professor Mathieu’s own battle with identity and freedom when he learns that his girlfriend, of whom he had no intention of marrying, is pregnant.

The story follows Mathieu over two days of anguish as he tries to raise the money needed for an abortion and debates if an abortion is the right thing to do, if it will really bring him his strongest desire – freedom. During these two days Mathieu juggles a bourgeois background, strong moral convictions and opinions upholding his bohemian personal philosophy, a streak of cowardice, love, poverty and mostly narcissistic friends. Eventually balls begin to fall and at the end of the story, Mathieu is left with nothing, not a single commitment and also no freedom.

Sartre somehow fills the pages with surreal characters that can still be admired, despised and empathised with, sometimes on successive pages. For example the indecisiveness of Mathieu is pathetic yet his dedication to making the right decision is admirable. In the introduction to the version I read David Caute describes Sartre as a ‘master cartographer of the landscape of evasion, the flight from responsibility’ and this is very evident in Mathieu and this story.

Much of the book is beyond me, indeed the introduction itself reminded me far to much of high-school English class, but despite this and the warnings in the introduction, I found “The age of reason” a pleasant, compelling read. it is a book that you can think about a lot, or a little and still enjoy.

One of the lessons I take from this book that be applied to development is the need for adaptability and decisiveness in dealing with difficult, morally challenging situations. Mathieu was a rigid character, jailed by his ideals and reasoning into a life of nothing. In development, the outcome is rarely questionable, it is the process that is debated, as it should be.  Mathieu failed to make a choice, he lost nothing and gained nothing. In development, this would be considered a failure. Adaptation to the situation and finding the best possible outcome is necessary, but as “Poor Economics” taught us, we should be careful where possible to test the assumptions we make in determining the best possible outcome.

Categories
Base of the Pyramid (BOP) Market Book Review Decision making Emerging Markets International Development Micro-Finance Non-Fiction Psychology

Book review: “Poor Economics”

“Poor Economics” is a pertinent reminder that our assumptions and preconceived perceptions are often wrong and frequently create unintended and undesirable consequences*.  However, “Poor Economics” is not a nagging, accusatory reminder, it is a pleading reminder, a reminder that seeks cooperation and cohesion within the development field. It is also a reminder backed by random sampling and behavioral economics – the two biggest introductions to financial academia since regression analysis.

If you read the same books I do (Or Liesbeth Geerligs honours thesis!), than you will know a good story will actually be more persuasive then a set of statistics**. Thankfully Abhjit Banerjee and Esther Duflo know that, and they have peppered “Poor Economics” with examples and anecdotes to help communicate their message, their reminder.  Here is hoping that the reminder is heard and the small arsenal of positive examples they have documented in the book and on www.PoorEconomics.com helps convince the development world that they need to continue evolving, adapting and improving, especially by discarding preconceived assumptions and perceptions about what poor people need, want and what is best for them.

Adaptation and change is always necessary. Without it, we would still be carbon molecules. Perhaps the change is not the hard part, and as one infamous organisation puts it, perhaps the hard part is recognising there is a problem.

 

Notes:

*Interestingly, on a side note a few smart people at Yale have found that the erroneous use of preconceived ideas in economic policy extends beyond development and developing countries. Their paper discusses the preconceived ideas conceptualised in Japanese economic policy and is available here. Whilst it is an interesting paper, don’t ask me how they determined that the ideas were preconceived or erroneous as my reading of the article failed to find an explanation.

** For example, books such as:

“27 Powers of persuasion” by Christ St Hilaire. Undoubtedly not the original source and original source not cited. Review coming soon, in the mean-time don’t bother buying it.

“Mindfield” by Lone Frank will have cited the original source, as it was one of the first books to make brain science understandable for common folk. Read it if you haven’t already, even though some of the science is probably outdated now.

*** Many thanks to Scott for the extended loan on this book – it shall be returned. Whilst the book is an interesting read it is not exactly cover-cover reading. It requires a little dedication, which I have been lacking.

Categories
Based on a true story Biographical Book Review Business Development Change Management Decision making Disruption Market Entry People management Product Development Risk Strategy

Book review: “Rigged”

“Rigged” is a wild ride of strategy, oil, energy, ambition, girls and money based on the true story of John D’Agostino, written by Ben Mezrich.

The story relates a very brief period in Johns life when, at 26 he became the youngest ever vice president of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), which at the time was the US leading energy (mostly oil) trading exchange. The Mercantile is also the focus of other wall-street pop-fiction such as the Eddie Murphy / Dan Akroyd movie “Trading places”.

John was sponsored by the then chairmen of the NYMEX to work directly with the chairman and CEO of the NYMEX. John establishes the trust of the trading floor by demonstrating he is ‘one of the boys’ and also the trust of the chairman and CEO by delivering high quality work under pressure. This lands him the VP of Strategy position in an environment where the traders and the management are pitted against each other in a race against the clock to modernize the trading floor. The traders like what they have and do not want to change, the management face globalisation and increasing competition and know they need to modernize to survive.

With one foot on the trading floor and one foot in management, a very serendipitous meeting with some very wealthy and influential people in Dubai takes place. In that meeting, John is matched with an equally ambitious, young and well supported protege who proposes a partnership scheme between the NYMEX and a future Dubai Mercantile Exchange. John and his Dubai ally face down the opposition to the merger and manage to swing the board into supporting the deal by showing them all that Dubai has to offer.

A great story that demonstrates how ambition, a desire to make a change and wealthy strategic supporters can up-end established institutions. Recommended reading for anyone that desires to make a change.

Incidentally, in 2006 the board of the NYMEX agreed to sell-off the NYMEX, with an IPO on the NY stock exchange and independent sales to private equity and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, garnering significant wealth for themselves. The pit traders, who were mostly independent operators, were left with little to show for their time with NYMEX, which is now a shadow of its former self . No doubt that management won that round too. The Dubai mercantile exchange is going from strength to strength.

Categories
Book Review Decision making Dignity Fiction Forgiveness People management Psychology

Review: “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time”

“The curious incident of the dog in the night time” is written by Mark Haddon and helped changed my opinion on fiction books.

For a while now I have been reading more and more non-fiction books. Autobiography, biography, essay dissertations, DIY and other books that defy categorisation such as “Mind-Field” by Lone Frank and “Purple Cows” by Sascha Dichter. I found these books more stimulating, they challenged me to think about concepts and ideas that novels did not.

I was wrong to apply that assumption to all fiction novels. In this book Haddon re-awakened me to the world of fiction and how important story-telling is in defining history, education and society. The story is told through the diary of Christopher John Francis Boone, a mildly autistic 15 year old who is attempting to sit his A-Lvel maths exam. His regulated and orderly world is threatened by the messy, emotional and seemingly illogical events of life in his small village. Especially his parents struggle to support him as best they can whilst dealing with their own problems.

Haddons story telling had me empathizing with Chistopher and really understanding what life in his situation might be like. I think of it as learned empathy. Plus it served as a reminder to just how silly humans can be some times.

Thanks to the Timor crew for putting me onto this book.