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Theresa Sull (Cambridge MA)

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Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results
Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results
by Morten T Hansen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book on collaboration, 28 May 2009
Increasing collaboration sits at or near the top of most executives' to-do list, and much has been wrttten about it. A search of amazon's business and investing books for the keyword "collaboration" turns up nearly 37,000 books. Why, you might ask, do we need another one? Hansen has not written "a" book about collaboration, he has written "the" book on the topic. Hansen's "Collaboration" makes a bold promise--to provide the definitive treatment of the topic. It delivers on that promise.

Hansen starts with fundamentals. Firms exist to create economic value (as well as to capture and sustain value into the future). In most business books, collaboration is unmoored from any consideration of economic value creation and treated as an inherent good. Hansen, in contrast, anchors his analysis in a hard-nosed economic analysis of when collaboration creates value, that includes not only a project's benefits, but also the costs of collaboration and the opportunity cost of foregoing alternatives. The author's analysis leads to counter-intuitive findings--not all collaboration is good and more is not better. His analysis slices through the fluff of so many books on collaboration and brings readers to the hard edges of value creation.

The book follows a clear structure. After framing collaboration in terms of its benefits, Hansen provides a systematic list of obstacles that inhibit cooperation in many firms. His list is the closest to a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive taxonomy of barriers that I have seen. Hansen also includes a diagnostic to help managers assess the specific barriers to cooperation that they face. The book then provides extremely practical steps to enhance coordination within a firm. It closes with reflections on the leadership traits required to foster collaboration. The writing is clear, and the examples--a mix of familiar and novel--illustrate Hansen's points to a tee.

Many business books fall short in the solutionons they offer, veering at one extreme into a long laundry list of superficial or obvious actions or at the other into a "one size fits all" solution ill-suited to the complexity of real world organizations. Hansen strikes just the right balance. He introduces three actions, that are non-obvious and eminently practical. Among his many useful suggestions, I found T-shaped management and the simple rules for nimble networks to be particularly powerful. Hansen clearly spends a great deal of time with managers in the trenches, and his deep knowledge of the real world shines through in the recommendations.

This book is "academic" in the best sense of the word. Hansen does not conjure up his conclusions based on superficial observation or war stories. Rather, he draws on a rich body of scholarly research on collaboration that stretches back over decades. This firm grounding in research gives the book a solidity and credibility that many business books lack. Although the author is too humble to trumpet his own achievements, much of the best research is his own. The book achieves both academic rigor and practical relevance.

Born to Run: The Rise of Ultra-running and the Super-athlete Tribe
Born to Run: The Rise of Ultra-running and the Super-athlete Tribe
by Christopher McDougall
Edition: Hardcover

261 of 271 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story, and much more, 16 May 2009
Born to Run succeeds at three levels. First, it is a page turner. The build up to a fifty-mile foot race over some of the world's least hospitable terrain drives the narrative forward. Along the way McDougall introduces a cast of characters worthy of Dickens, including an almost superhuman ultramarathoner, Jenn and the Bonehead--a couple who down bottles of booze to warm up for a race, Barefoot Ted, Mexican drug dealers, a ghostly ex-boxer, a heartbroken father, and of course the Tarahumara, arguably the greatest runners in the world.

Born to Run is such a rip-roaring yarn, that it is easy to miss the book's deeper achievements. At a second level, McDougall introduces and explores a powerful thesis--that human beings are literally born to run. Recreational running did not begin with the 1966 publication of "Jogging" by the co-founder of Nike. Instead, McDougall argues, running is at the heart of what it means to be human. In the course of elaborating his thesis, McDougall answers some big questions: Why did our ancestors outlive the stronger, smarter Neanderthals? Why do expensive running shoes increase the odds of injury? The author's modesty keeps him from trumpeting the novelty and importance of this thesis, but it merits attention.

Finally, Born to Run presents a philosophy of exercise. The ethos that pervades recreational and competitive running--"no pain, no gain," is fundamentally flawed, McDougall argues. The essence of running should not be grim determination, but sheer joy. Many of the conventions of modern running--the thick-soled shoes, mechanical treadmills, take no prisoners competition, and heads-down powering through pain dull our appreciation of what running can be--a sociable activity, more game than chore, that can lead to adventure. McDougall's narrative moves the book forward, his thesis provides a solid intellectual support, but this philosophy of joy animates Born to Run. I hope this book finds the wide audience it deserves
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