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.

Categories
Book Review Culture Ethics Fiction Global International Development Moral dilemmas Societal value

Review: “The satanic verses” by Salman Rushdie

Literature is an art. In art, there is no right or wrong answers. There is only the impact, the resulting inspiration, the feelings and emotions created by the art. In terms of impact, this book created a storm.

If you’re looking for a technical review that sheds light on that storm, your reading the wrong review. If you want to know why Muslims considered it insulting you can read this post from the Islamic Centre. Be warned, it’s hardly objective.   This review on  Goodreads by Riku Sayuji probably does a better job of saying what I’m trying to say but you need to know a little Shakespeare to understand it, and probably to have read the book already!

Enough caveats. This book is hard to read, yet strangely hard to let go. Even if it is a struggle it seems many people try, try and try again to read it. It is compelling and rewarding. Once I got past about pg 60 it become hard to ignore. The mix of dark and light, evil and goodness is obvious enough after a while for a layperson like me to understand. And yet, that same battle of hero and villain is sufficiently convoluted and complicated by the doubts, transformations and schizophrenia in its characters to represent reality, to have application in today’s morally complicated world. This is one of my favorite topics and has been covered before in the travel blog in such posts as a Guiding Light and the Genealogy of morals.

There was once a time that I thought it was possible to keep light and dark separate in this world. No doubt the definition of naïve. No doubt also, at that point, when on the moral high horse, we all have the capacity to be  “the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze?”. The kind of notion that would not permit integration, that would never be grey.

Rushdie goes on to show us that we need to accept that everyone, including ourselves, has the capacity for evil inside them. It is one of our challenges as conscious, empathetic beings to recognise when “Something [is] badly amiss with the spiritual life of the planet…Too many demons inside people claiming to believe in God.” Where God represents strict moral righteousness. The 10+ commandments of your choice, your cultures choice, your societies choice.

Whats the message for sustainability and development? Societal values and morals are influenced by culture. When working in unfamiliar cultures we need to take care to ensure our programs benefit from values that are consistent with the local societal values, where appropriate. And they wont always be appropriate – there are lots of grey areas out there and change is just as certain as death and taxes.