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A mighty spark

This is a book that will make experts and laymen alike look afresh at sustainable development.

Arnab Mitra | Print Edition: August 24, 2008

The necessary revolution
Peter Senge, Bryan
Smith, Nina Kruschwitz,
Joe Laur and
Sara Schley
Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Pages: 406
Price: Rs 995

At last, a book on sustainable development that doesn’t read like a professor’s notebook. That the issue is crying out for attention is a given. But most tomes on the subject are so pedantic that they put off everyone but the most committed, when the need of the hour is to win new converts.

The Necessary Revolution, How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World by Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley sets out to do just that. Most importantly, they don’t preach down to the readers. Instead, the book engages people, with inspiring real life examples of companies and individuals across the world who are tackling social and environmental problems that will make a difference to the way we produce, consume, discard and, indeed, live.

It has important lessons for Indian planners as well. The authors point out that the belief that economic growth alone can solve the problems of poverty and deprivation is not borne out by empirical evidence. But more than this, they make a strong case for the fact that our responses to these two inter-related problems— of individual deprivation and environmental degradation—are totally inadequate. This obviously points to a global system that is out of balance—“the result of a way of thinking whose time has passed”.

The new way of thinking, the book says, must incorporate the following three basic tenets: there is no viable path that does not take into account the needs of future generations; the network of businesses, governmental and non-governmental institutions that influence what we make, what we eat, what and how much energy we use and our response to the problems that arise from these choices must play a very important role in the transformation that we must undertake; and, to quote Albert Einstein as the authors have done, “we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used to create them.” The Necessary Revolution talks of the challenges the world faces in the areas of “energy and transportation, food and water and waste and toxicity—and the consequent imbalances that result when too many resources are concentrated in too few hands”.

The Industrial Revolution didn’t take place following a clarion call from James Watt, though he is widely credited with having sparked it off. Several large and small innovations, mostly independent of each other, coalesced together to offer first Britain, then Europe and later the world at large the means of making a paradigm—and, in hindsight, scary and potentially self-destructive—shift into the industrial age. Similar large and small innovations are now taking place around the world that can, given the right impetus, join together to undo the saga of ecological recklessness that it spawned.

Sony vs Samsung
Sea-Jin Chang
John Wiley & Sons
Pages: 200
Price: Rs 559

This is a book that was begging to be written, and it took a professor at Korea University to write. Sea-Jin Chang’s Sony vs Samsung is a fascinating account of why the one-time electronics giant (Sony) lost so miserably to an upstart from South Korea, Samsung.

Apparently, that had a lot to do with the choice of strategies at the two giants. While Sony decided to seek synergies between its hardware and software businesses, Samsung single-mindedly focused on producing well-designed hardware.

However, what’s interesting is Chang’s conclusion that the divergent strategies alone don’t explain their divergent fortunes. Indeed, organisational processes and leadership may have aided or impeded their success. For example, Chang says, Sony’s independent business units quickly became silos when the company’s top leadership was challenged. In contrast, Samsung responded to the digitalisation of electronics with speed and militaristic organisation of resources and efforts.

However, Chang makes it clear that Samsung faces several challenges on the road ahead. For instance, Chang says that Samsung is facing “organisational fatigue, which has been induced by ‘fear-based management’”. Moral of the story: corporations had better not take success for granted.

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