Books to Watch | September 15, 2020
September 15, 2020
Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights five new books we are most excited about.
This week, our choices are:
Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism by Christopher Marquis, Yale University Press
In It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson explain how they stopped setting sales goals, because, as they put it, “let’s face it: Goals are fake. Nearly all of them are artificial targets set for the sake of setting targets.” Not only do such goals induce unnecessary stress, they can compel individuals to act unethically to meet them—can compromise real values to meet those fake numbers. From sales targets at Wells Fargo to the valuations of startups in Silicon Valley, we are awash in numbers that are mostly made up, but that have a very real effect on people’s behavior inside of corporations, and corporations’ effect on society.
What goals do you set as a business? What numbers do you look at, and how do they direct your company? How do those numbers reflect your values—not just shareholder value, but the values of the human beings that lead and work in them, the consumers that they serve, and the communities they exist in? What if there was a different set of metrics that gave corporations a set of goals that compel them to live by their stated values, that made them more transparent to consumers and more accountable to their communities? Well, there is, and it has become a global movement for better business practices. It is the B Corp movement, and it is the subject of a hopeful new book by Christopher Marquis. As he writes:
B Lab created a new corporate form—the benefit corporation—that encodes social and environmental benefits into corporations’ DNA. This innovative and world-changing initiative is being supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle in the United States and around the world.
B Corporations go beyond marketing initiatives and greenwashing activities and make themselves accountable for the underlying effects of their business practices long written off as externalities. They recognize the fundamental truth of our interdependence and interconnectedness. The assessments B Corps use give them a set of numbers and analytics that allow them to set goals on social and environmental effects, and to meet goals that make a difference beyond the bottom line. They may just provide a model to make our economic system more resilient and fair.
While businesses can’t solve every problem we face, they have a big role to play in a capitalist society; they can continue to tip the scales toward the benefit of the few, with toxic side effects for all, or they can guide us toward better, more equitable long-term solutions. In today’s political and social environment, such a shift is more important than ever, and it is happening.
As the world literally burns, reading about a better way to do business beginning to take hold can be a refreshing break—one that provides steps for real action at a time it is desperately needed. (DJJS)
Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit by Mary-Frances Winters, Berrett-Koehler
Exhausted. We all are. Partially from the past six months of quarantine and coronavirus concerns and navigating our new lives at home and online. But also, there are a significant number of Americans exhausted from not just months, nor just years, but generations of injustices and death due to these injustices. The resurgence in demands to stop racism and violence against Black people was, as Winters writes, "inevitable because history has taught us that oppressed people will rebel when they just cannot take it anymore."
But how did we reach this breaking point? In this day and age of the seemingly endless spread of information and the diversity in our cities, why are we still remaining so ignorant of the difficulties that others mere blocks from us are facing every day of their lives? Because it makes us uncomfortable, to put it plainly. But it should be easy to understand that saving human lives is worth that hard work.
Winters writes Black Fatigue as a history book for those who need to be better educated on racism and motivated to engage in anti-racism, but also as a book for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) to become educated and refer others to. Because, even when white people admit they do not understand what it is like to experience life as a Black person, it is unfair to ask your Black friend or colleague or neighbor to explain what their Black Fatigue is like on top of living it.
In Winters's words:
"[Black Fatigue] is about the fatigue that comes from the pain and anguish of living with racism every single day of your life. It is about being fatigued by those who are surprised and express outrage (with no action) that such inequities still exist. It is about the constant fatigue of not knowing if you or a loved one will come home alive. It is about enduring the ravages of intergenerational racism."
Black Fatigue grounds us in the reality that it is time to tackle the past in order to learn what we can do to support rather than exhaust each other even more. (GMC)
Further reading found in our ChangeThis series where we're hosting a few pages from Mary Frances-Winters about Black Fatigue.
Evolving Vegan: Deliciously Diverse Recipes from North America's Best Plant-Based Eateries—for Anyone Who Loves Food by Mena Massoud, Tiller Press
As we get older, it becomes harder and harder to shake up our routines unless we are forced to (see: March 2020). This wonderful article I read over the weekend reminded me that making a habit of changing our habits is exactly what will help us to effectively handle the uninvited curveballs that life throws at us (see: everything after March 2020). And when we are making ourselves vulnerable in a new-to-us space, it helps to have a fully supportive environment in which to stretch our wings. This brings us to Mena Massoud, the Egyptian-Canadian actor who starred in the titular role of Disney’s 2019 live-action Aladdin. After learning more about the perils of the animal agriculture industry, Massoud decided to start moving towards veganism, a little bit at a time. What he found disheartening was the reaction he faced from strict vegans who had little patience with his gradual movement towards a plant-only diet, insisting you were either 100% vegan or you were “out.” But he found that flipping a switch did not fit his life, and thought it might not fit the lives of others. Thus, “Evolving Vegan” was born as a way to support people in their journeys—no matter how slow—towards a more plant-based life. “I wanted to create a community and lifestyle brand that encouraged people to evolve vegan. To move in that direction. To try their hardest and do their best to eliminate animal products from their life. To begin the process.” What started as an IGTV show has since grown into a website, a podcast, and now a cookbook. Evolving Vegan features recipes from vegan restaurants up and down the coasts of Canada and the United States, along with recipes from his own kitchen and his mother’s. The recipes represent a wide range of cuisines, from Tokyo Turnips and Cairo Falafel Salad to Giambotta Stew and a full Ethiopian Dinner. What I love most about this book, however, are the veganized Egyptian recipes from his mom’s kitchen like Shorbit Adts (Split Pea Soup), Moussaka (Eggplant Stew), and of course Koshare, Egypt’s national dish, which prove we don’t have to give up the things we love in order to be a healthier version of ourselves. (BRM)
How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I have to admit, the first pleasure I got from picking up this book was showing my kids what Guy Raz looks like. At six and seven years old, they have grown up on the podcast he built with Mindy Thomas, Wow in the World, and were adorably bemused about his being on the back cover of a book for adults. So, I explained how he has also created and produced other podcasts, for adults, most notably the TED Radio Hour and How I Built This and, the latter of which forms the basis for this new book.
But, the pleasure didn’t end there. The great part of Raz’s storytelling is that the founders and entrepreneurs he profiles feel like people we all know, because he seems to get to know them as people. The book isn’t just about their successes in business, but about how the companies they founded and built are a part of their life story—sometimes growing to a scale that they touch a very real, often intimate, part of our own lives—with all the bumps and bruises they earned along the way. It is about their ideas, their aha moments, and the ambition that led them to build something that is larger than themselves. Added to their stories is Guy Raz’s own unexpected tale of entrepreneurship, and his journey from war correspondent to building his own production company.
A lot of podcast hosts would simply take the transcripts of interviews they’ve done and arrange them thematically for publication. But Guy Raz is having none of that. He uses his book to retell the stories he’s gathered over the years anew, and to highlight some of the common elements among them, in a way that makes them accessible to anyone. Rather than putting the interviews he has conducted, and the people he has interviewed, on a pedestal, he brings them down to earth, places them in the communities and contexts and families that formed them, before showing how they used those experiences to inform what they wanted to build—most importantly perhaps, not a business, but a life they felt was well-lived and worth the effort and the worries it takes to be an entrepreneur. (DJJS)
The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health--And How We Must Adapt by Sinan Aral, Currency
The digital world seems to have expanded since the first days of quarantine in order to make room for all the companies who have started working from home, the families that have not been able to visit each other, the artists hoping to continue collaborating, and so on. Human-to-human communication has become human-to-internet-to-human, and while we're making that work, we also need to be conscious of the internet as an intermediary stranger.
Author Sinan Aral is director of MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy as well as head of MIT's Social Analytics Lab, working with social media for 20 years, and he shares his experiences in this field that will both enlighten and frighten any internet user. For example, he describes collaborating with Facebook to use its mobile app data from anonymous users to examine the effect of social distancing orders on users' real-life social distancing. This data was used to further investigate if the stay-at-home orders were working and why or why not. It's a worthy cause, of course, but I often forget how easily companies can access and share data about my exact location.
The “Hype Machine" is defined as "the real-time communications ecosystem created by social media," which is something that's being fed every day by humans like you and me who are using it for both the most mundane of tasks and the most important ones too. And in the process, the Hype Machine is getting smarter. And Aral argues it is not just the social media platforms' faults nor the government’s fault. It's each of our responsibility to take the blame for the past but also to steer the digital world in the right direction for the future using:
the four levers available to us: the code that governs social platforms, the money (or financial incentives) created by their business models, the norms we develop in using these systems, and the laws we write to regulate their market failures.
Aral has also worked on an investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections as well as a social media project to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS (and later, COVID) in South Africa. Like I said: they're worthy causes, but it's impossible not to feel the creep of social media's place in the research. As Aral summarizes: "[S]ocial media's impact on the world is not determined by intention alone." We cannot let our relationship with social media be one of reliance or blind trust, no matter how temporary it may be.
Aral answers questions about social media both moral and scientific in this eye-opening and easy-to-follow investigation that all of us digitally-connected humans need to read. If you or your company have also realized how important social media has become in this time of social-distancing, The Hype Machine will help you maintain control over these digital outlets rather than letting them control you. (GMC)
What we're reading away from work:
"My Life on the Line by Ryan O'Callaghan is about drug abuse, suicide, religion, coming out, politics, it's quite a ride - I'm in the middle of it and while it's very dark at times, the writing is very honest and the voice is hopeful. This is about a man who just thought after his career in football, his life would be over - either by the sport itself or his own hand. It gives the reader a glimpse of what it means to be different and the need to cover up at all costs. Eerie and compelling."
— Roy Normington, Senior Customer Service Specialist