Book Reviews

The Arc of Ambition: Defining the Leadership Journey

By James Champy and Nitin Nohria

Perseus Books, 2000, $39.50

Ambition should have a higher purpose than making money, creating innovative products, capturing market share or winning wars. Ideally, the authors of The Arc of Ambition propose, ambition creates leaders who give back to the community and make the world a better place.

What drives ambition, and where can it go wrong? Leaders rich in purpose but weak in values will sink the ship. Others struggle to balance dreams and reality.

The book’s chapters are divided into themes, like “seize the moment” and “temper ambition”. Rather than preaching the principles, the authors demonstrate them in breezy vignettes, following business icons and social and religious leaders.

The Arc of Ambition brings few new ideas to light, and at times the profiles are more tedious than thought-provoking. Yet the book does provide a fast-paced overview of the mysteries of leadership. Its messages provide inspiration for experienced executives hoping to refresh their sense of purpose and for new execs just beginning their journey. – Polly Schneider

Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Age of Killer Competition

By Jack Trout

John Wiley & Sons, 2000, $38.95

Eminent business strategist Michael Porter doesn’t “get” competition, says Jack Trout. While Porter talks a good game about competitive advantage, he can’t teach you how to achieve it. Unlike Trout, says Trout.

First, Trout tells his readers what doesn’t work. Quality doesn’t work. Everyone expects it. Customer service doesn’t work. It’s a given.

What does work? Being first. Owning an attribute. Having a specialty. Possessing a magic ingredient.

In Differentiate or Die, Trout says that if you don’t heed his pronouncements, you will perish. Might as well pay heed. – David Rosenbaum

The Management Century: A Critical Review of 20th Century Thought & Practice

By Stuart Crainer

Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000, $42.50

In The Management Century, Stuart Crainer methodically moves the reader decade by decade through U.S. political and economic events since 1900, discussing their impact on business philosophy. Each chapter focuses on the few men (and fewer women) who helped develop American management theories and practices — corporate tycoons, scientists, engineers, academicians, writers and psychologists. Some of their mantras for success still apply today.

Peter Drucker’s assertion, for example, that the one valid purpose of business is to create a customer is as challenging now as it was in the mid-1950s. But Crainer also examines some once-accepted ways of thinking that ended up discredited. A concluding chapter summarizes the current state of management theory in a series of topics that reflect today’s uncertainty, for example, “Living and Dying by Ideas”, “In Search of Values” and “Corporate Mortality”.

So if there’s no time to get that MBA anytime soon, you can use this book to learn who’s who and what’s what in the world of business theory. – Lynne Rigolini

The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur

By Randy Komisar

Harvard Business School Press, 2000, $36.95

Komisar presents a fascinating carpe diem tale, part seminar and part philosophy, that incorporates business development advice and his own educational experiences as a central figure in the history of Claris Corp., LucasArts Entertainment, WebTV and GO Corp. Along the way, he teaches a budding entrepreneur how to stop deferring his life’s ambition and relish a gamble. – Stewart Deck