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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.

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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.