Report

A Good Read

In our latest special section on books, we invite you to curl up on the beach, in a chair, in the air, or wherever you can steal some time, and explore the ideas offered in our eight reviews, excerpts and podcasts. This section looks at how networks can create value, how "Opportunity Engineering" can help companies pursue high-payoff projects, how Innovation Tournaments can identify the most promising ideas, and how managers can detect problems before they become major disasters. We also take a closer look at Warren Buffett, the Civil War, India and Africa’s 900 million consumers. Happy reading, wherever you are.


How Can You Find the Most Promising New Opportunities? Hold an Innovation Tournament

In their new book titled, Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities, Wharton professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich point out that identifying new opportunities shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but a necessity. They note that creativity and process-driven rigor can go hand in hand when it comes to vetting and managing new ideas. One way to do this, they explain, is by making new ideas compete with one another in numerous rounds of vetting — that is, by running them through "innovation tournaments" — so that the strongest and most promising ideas make it to the final round. Rich rewards await companies that make the leap.

Buffett: Rock Star of American Capitalism

Warren Buffett, arguably the most successful investor alive, inspires tens of thousands of fans to travel to Omaha, Nebraska, each year to attend the annual shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway. Little wonder that Alice Shroeder’s insightful biography, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life," has proved popular among readers. She explores the ways Buffett built his wealth, and also the reasons why he plans to give most of it away to charity.

‘Walk the Market’: Tapping into Africa’s 900 Million Consumers

When multinational companies want to tap into the massive pent-up consumer demand in emerging markets, the first countries that they usually think of are China and India. But what about Africa, asks Vijay Mahajan, author of Africa Rising: How 900 Million Consumers Offer More Than You Thin. Though often overlooked in global corporate growth strategies, Africa as a whole has enough consumer power to give China and India a run for their money, he argues. Mahajan, a marketing professor at the University of Texas in Austin and co-author of an earlier book titled, The 86% Solution: How to Succeed in the Biggest Marketing Opportunity of the 21st Century, talked with Knowledge@Wharton about Africa Rising.

The Mindset of a Problem-Finder

In What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen, author Michael A. Roberto aims to help leaders identify problems before they become major disasters. He discusses why problems go undetected for so long, how to spot patterns across an organization and how to avoid the "isolation trap" that prevents senior executives from seeing problems that are festering beyond their control, among other topics. Roberto, a management professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., wrote an earlier book entitled, Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer.

How ‘Go/No Go’ Thinking Can Stop Innovation Dead in its Tracks

In Unlocking Opportunities for Growth: How to Profit from Uncertainty While Limiting Your Risk, authors Alexander B. van Putten and Ian C. MacMillan offer a tool they call Opportunity Engineering (OE), which shows companies how to engineer the risk out of uncertain opportunities in order to pursue more high-payoff innovations. OE, the authors note, is both a tactical approach and a mindset. It provides a specific way of valuing opportunities, using proprietary software, that enables companies to plug in the parameters of a project and determine its potential quickly. In short, the authors say, OE helps inculcate a culture of innovation.

Former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani: ‘We Are on the Razor’s Edge’

When Nandan Nilekani was the CEO of Infosys, one of India’s top IT and outsourcing firms, he often found himself being forced to answer questions, not just about his company, but also his country. Sometimes, global business executives who visited the company’s sprawling campus in Bangalore would raise issues to which Nilekani had no answer — such as, "Why does Infosys have such a beautiful campus, but also large slums in other parts of the city?" So when Nilekani decided to write a book, unlike other CEOs who write about their favorite leadership or management theories, he chose India as his subject. In Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, Nilekani tackles themes ranging from education and demographics to investment and infrastructure. Nilekani, who was recently recruited by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to head a project to create a national identification card for the country, spoke with India Knowledge@Wharton about the book at the recent Wharton India Economic Forum in Philadelphia.

Harnessing Networks to Create Value and Identify New Opportunities

As the recent financial crisis has showed so dramatically, networks exist everywhere. Global inter-linkage of loans and mortgages — which were intended to distribute risk — actually ended up spreading it far and wide. Similar network-based impacts are at work in fields as diverse as information security and supply chain management. But while networks create new risks, they also generate new opportunities, write Paul R. Kleindorfer, Yoram (Jerry) Wind and Robert E. Gunther in their new book, The Network Challenge: Strategy, Profit and Risk in an Interlinked World. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Kleindorfer and Wind discuss the themes of many of the 28 essays in their book.

Sacrifice and National Service: From the Civil War to Today’s Financial Crisis

When President Barack Obama delivered his victory speech last November, he used the words "a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice" – a theme that he has continued to sound since taking office in January. But the concept of sacrifice is not new. When it comes to American history, sacrifice has long been a unifying ideal in times of crisis, and it has also long been a concept used by government to enlarge its scope, according to a recent book by Drew Gilpin Faust titled, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.