30th April 2012 Films As Alternative Investments

Film Freezer


New York Times journalist Paul Sullivan examines film as an alternative investment: budget control, non-completion guarantees, state tax credits, portfolio approaches, and direct marketing.


I was once keenly interested in film as an alternative investment class. In the early 1990s, I looked at Australia’s Film Finance Corporation as a government-run investment bank. I worked for and invested in straight-to-video films by Bendigo’s Fatal Impact Productions, which in 2010 became embroiled in a controversy about The Book of Eli‘s origination. The same year, Ben Eltham and I looked at Australia’s film industry and international tax arbitrage. But my undergraduate studies in film were just on the cusp of digital film and editing innovations. I went into freelance journalism rather than finish the feature film scripts I was working on.


Today, I am more likely to read about films as alternative investments in a CFA Institute exam question.


Photo: Agfapan-25/Flickr.

24th April 2012: How ECRs Can Fast-Track Their Institutional Capital

Early Career Researchers


RMIT University’s excellent Research Whisperer blog has a guest post by me on Early Career Researchers (the first 5 years after PhD completion):


ECRs should cultivate university administrators as potential allies who can help you to understand the institution’s unwritten rules. In addition, university administrators see and often review hundreds of curriculum vitae, grant applications and rejoinders, and publishing track-records. They’ve already developed the rapid cognition and intuitive judgment about what is needed to increase the quality of the document and its probability of success. They don’t need to be experts in your specific field or discipline.


I also respond to Melissa Gregg‘s recent call for ‘strategic complacency’ in universities.


Thanks to Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell for the editing expertise, and the awesome Rosie X for the academic photo.


Image: Australian Academy of Science.

23rd April 2012: The TED Effect

TED (2008)


I first encountered the TED Effect whilst on a university research team in 2004-05. A research consortium had tasked the team to consider what the internet of 2010 might resemble. We struggled to develop a methodological framework. The team eventually settled on covering trends that could already be read in Businessweek, Fast Company or The Economist. Interviewees were often taken at face value rather than probed or contrasted with contestable viewpoints. Presentation sound-bites replaced theoretical frameworks. The team’s rising academic star subsequently left to pursue a more lucrative career as a Web 2.0 consultant.


Richard Saul Wurman‘s Technology, Entertainment, Design conference is now the benchmark for academic presentations. TED has turned academic researchers and public intellectuals into internet superstars and social media phenomenons. It rivals Austin’s SXSW conference and John Brockman’s Edge salon in promoting the Faustian creative dynamism of culture, science, and technology. Ridley Scott tapped TED 2023 to promote his science fiction film Prometheus. Yet the influential conference also has critics. Hip-hop and cultural media theorist Roy Christopher observed, “A once visionary site of Big-Idea exchange has become the Starbucksification of public intellectualism.”


TED originally aimed to strengthen viewers’ “understanding of the world” beyond their personal experiences. It echoed the utopian CNN effect which media theorists postulated after the 1990-91 Gulf War: Ted Turner’s television network could positively influence political decision-makers about international humanitarian events. A decade later University of Manchester’s Piers Robinson carefully evaluated the CNN effect’s record during humanitarian crises in Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. Robinson’s book The CNN Effect (London: Routledge, 2002) concluded that, “the media coverage manufactured consent for official policy” (p. 121). The original media theory sound-bite hid a darker institutional truth.


Christopher suggests that TED now suffers from a “gate-keeping function” failure and an obsession with “Big Names”. “One person spends years developing idea X and then one of The Chosen mentions X in a TED Talk™, and then it’s their idea. That is a problem,” he writes. This was in part one of the problems that the research team I was on failed to confront in 2004-05. ‘Hot topics’ and ‘hype cycle’ events were an easier sell during TED-style public talks than rigorous research designs. The debate made for lively internal meetings. Christopher points to the reality that the ‘winner-takes-all’ pressure for aspiring, emerging academics to become a Big Name can create its own perverse incentives and moral hazards.


There’s a place for cross-pollinators and boundary-spanners in academia. The Conversation blog now fills the gap for Australian academics who want to promote their expertise in the research sector. Many more people will learn about 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers (New York: Penguin, 2008) than who will read K. Anders Ericsson‘s original research on expertise and deliberative practice. Popularisers like James Gleick, Steven Johnson, Kevin Kelly and Douglas Rushkoff can bring engagement, fresh insight, and a narrative arc to academic research that is dry and boring in its original form. But many like Seth Godin or Timothy Ferriss are also closer to effective self-marketers than academic researchers.


TED’s success blurs this distinction between effective self-marketers and academic researchers. This is the TED Effect in a more negative form. Academics now need to treat each published journal article as a major release event like a film or a music album. They need to create buzz around their research to attract external competitive grants and partner organisations. They should have a social media presence – at least on Academia.edu and Google Scholar. But this doesn’t replace the craft and journeyman facets of academic research. Citation, communities of practice, constructive yet critical peer review, and other scholarly practices remain important.


Christopher cites Alex Reid and Ian Bogost that many academics write in order to get tenure and to satisfy promotions committees. Perhaps these academics now write to get on the TED talks circuit. I have pointed out elsewhere that this establishes the wrong institutional conditions to become a self-motivated, productive, intrinsic writer. Over time this subtly destroys ‘the edge’ that an academic may have cultivated and impacts negatively on their original, authorial voice.


Universities provide selection pressures which provide varied solutions to different academics who don’t get to give profile-raising TED talks. Some have a productive period during and initially after their PhD and then settle into a mid-career plateau of administrative and overseas teaching work. Some discover the pedagogical joy of teaching-based research. A small core gain institutional incentives and resources to get promoted to Associate Professor or Professor. They may then get promoted into university senior management. However, this also means that Christopher’s problems about academic publishing are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, in the absence of a coordinated institutional response. The conservativeness of promotions and tenure committees will likely trump individual boycotts of academic journal publishers.


I reached a similar conclusion to Christopher about post-TED academic life which we jointly discussed during lunch a month ago at SXSW. It involves a self-funded research program, conference travel and resources modelled on self-managed artists. I have the freedom to choose who to collaborate with; what institution to publish with; and where to publicly archive research outputs. Although there are financial limitations it also means I can side-step the institutional mechanisms that take up a lot of potential research time for others. Robert Fripp‘s experience with Discipline Global Mobile was one important influence on my decisions. Trent Reznor‘s experience with The Null Corporation was another.


I don’t expect to hear from TED anytime soon: I’m not a Big Name yet.

19th April 2012: Lies of the Academic World/Myths of the Real Degree



I recently re-read Don Webb’s essay ‘Lies of the World/Myths of the Real’ on the criterion for initiatory systems and schools. Webb identified six important aspects of initiatory systems from his study of the anthropological literature.


Below are some initial comments in the context of a PhD program:


1. Process. Each field or discipline has its unique PhD process. It can range from creative work and historical archives to scientific laboratory research. The PhD is also an unfolding process: research classes; identifying initial research questions that identify a knowledge gap; writing literature reviews; doing interviews and field studies; write-up and editing; and oral defence. The goal is to make an original scholarly contribution to a field of knowledge.


2. Exchange. This can occur in several contexts. The PhD committee can act as a mentor-mentee exchange in which the PhD candidate is socialised into the norms and practices of particular disciplines. Many programs now encourage cohort-based peer learning. Conferences and symposia may create the suitable conditions for Exchange to occur.


3. Real-world testable. Universities and other employers have different expectations of the PhD graduate. For instance, out-of-work physicists ended up on Wall Street in the 1980s as quants and financial engineers. Knowledge transfer across different domains and contexts — such as from universities to policy work, or into business consulting — can provide unexpected medial and daemonic outcomes of PhD research. This is also the domain of research management and collaborative research consortia. Knowledge use has unexpected generative, real-world and self-transformative consequences — why it is useful to read the intellectual histories of a discipline or the anthropology and sociology of its knowledge.


4. Transmission. The PhD committee acts as a locus for initiatory Transmission between academics and the PhD candidate. The quality and specifics of this Transmission depends on the initiatory depth of the committee and how they approach their tasks. One secret of PhD work is to give oneself the self-permission to engage with the best quality academic research that you can find, irrespective of your current life circumstances, or the local conditions at your university. Hence, Transmission can also occur when the PhD candidate immerses herself in reading the best journals in their field; examines past PhDs that have made a significant impact; or uses award-winning work as the model to begin their own research design. Transmission can fail if the PhD committee is unfamiliar with the areas that the PhD will explore, and is just supervising the candidate to get workload points.


5. Troth/Truth. One of the PhD’s goals is to show that the PhD candidate can conduct independent, high-quality, original academic research. The PhD is thus a truth process, a discovery process involving Runa (that extends the Unknown in a field as new questions arise — usually discussed in the ‘further research’ section of the final chapter), and as a vehicle for Self-change and initiatory growth. It is also the PhD candidate’s major encounter with Troth in an academic context and it may dramatically shape their subsequent career trajectory. Through exploring a topic in-depth, the PhD candidate grows as a researcher and is able to network nationally and internationally with a community of practice. They are able to engage in Socratic dialogue with other senior and emerging scholars, and to join the relevant professional associations.


6. Specialisation. The PhD topic enables the PhD candidate to specialise in a particular field, discipline or sub-field. People who embark on academic careers may start with wide-ranging interests but they usually specialise in specific topics that make their worldly reputation. It is common for project scope and focus to change as the project unfolds, and as new insights emerge. It provides a launching pad for the PhD candidate to further develop their career and emerging research program. There may be initiatory or quest-like aspects to the specialisation in which the PhD candidate learns and embodies particular epistemes and norms. The PhD’s goal is in part to advance specialised knowledge in a field or discipline.


Photo: willg/Flickr.

19th April 2012: PhD Proofreading Tips

Alastair Iain Johnston’s Cultural Realism (1998)


1. Have a couple of PhDs in your area as writing models. These may have been published by a university press; may be on an academic’s home-page; or can be obtained through databases like Proquest’s Dissertations & Theses.


For example, for my in-progress PhD, I am using Alastair Iain Johnston’s PhD ‘An Inquiry Into Strategic Culture’ (University of Michigan, 1993), later published as Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton University Press, 1998). For a model of paragraph structure and condensed writing that conveys a lot and uses historical sources, Bruce Kuklick’s Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton University Press, 2007). You will find different examples in your own area. Also look at A* and A-level academic journals in your field or discipline.


2. Early on, talk with your PhD committee about the thesis format they want; the possible chapter structure and sequence; and the particular referencing system that you will use (e.g. Chicago, Harvard, MLA). Also use the PhD committee meetings to discuss exploratory ideas and tentative hypotheses that will contribute to the originality of your dissertation.


3. Before writing up a chapter, do an outline of the key points and possible sections. Keep a separate file for chapter notes – or have some other way to capture rough ideas as they spontaneously emerge. You will find that a sequence of ideas will emerge that will form paragraph and section structure. This will also identify potential problems before you write, so you won’t get stuck. It will minimise scope creep which can add time and complexity to your candidature. And it will mean you don’t over-write when drafting.


4. Approach each chapter or section in a series of write-ups or progressive drafts. The first write-up may be to get specific ideas down on paper: just speed-write and don’t self-censor. The second may be to look at argumentation – use a book like Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking (Essex: FT Prentice Hall, 2002) or Austhink’s Rationale (www.austhink.com) to map out your arguments, counter-arguments, deductive and inductive logic, and evidence. The third may address the specifics of your research design and methods. The fourth may deal with referencing. The fifth may deal with overall flow and ensuring that your conclusions follow from the earlier parts of the chapter. Do a final edit for clarity: try to condense and rewrite over-wordy sentences to convey your key points in a more succinct manner.


5. Pay close attention to editing paragraphs. Does the opening sentence establish the paragraph context? Do the subsequent sentences develop the argumentation and evidence in an analytical rather than in a descriptive way? Does the paragraph explore an idea in an elegant and clear way, or are there several, muddled ideas in it? Does the final sentence transition effectively to the next paragraph? Do the paragraphs provide a narrative arc or flow for the reader?


6. Define and explain all key terms. Define all abbreviations the first time you use them. Clarify any field or discipline-specific terms so that the reader can understand them. Read your chapter out aloud so that you can find sentence fragments and unfinished arguments. Check that your sentences have verb-tense agreement and that they do not have dangling modifiers.


7. Invest in a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (2011 edition) and perhaps Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb’s Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (New York: Longman, 2010). Check out the creative non-fiction and investigative writing on Longreads.com and Longform.org and see how writers for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair approach these issues. Do a forensic analysis of a journal article that has made a significant impact on your field or discipline, and look closely at how all of these issues are dealt with. Academic writing does not have to be dull and boring.


8. Get others outside your PhD committee to read your drafts including ‘naïve’ readers who are non-experts in your field or discipline. Circulate your draft chapters at conferences and student colloquia. Your colleagues will have fresh eyes and are more likely to pick up proofreading and copy errors. Approach experts in your field or discipline to read sections that deal with their work – this can lead to you chairing conference symposia and to potential collaborations with their students. It also increases your research visibility.


9. Consider keeping a public writing blog of your unfolding research journey, and using it to draft initial ideas and to review the relevant literature in your field or discipline. This can attract readers who will proofread your work. Also set up Academia.edu, Google Scholar and Twitter accounts to increase the probability that your academic work will get publicly cited. Schedule time to write and edit/proofread your work.


10. The best academic work goes through several redrafts. Jeremi Suri spent seven years researching and writing his PhD ‘Convergent Responses to Disorder’ (Yale University, 2001). His PhD supervisor, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, who won the 2012 Biography Pulitzer, made Suri proofread and redraft some of his sections up to 12 times. Gaddis would question sentences, ask for more clarity, and seek clarification on the theoretical constructs and arguments that Suri was developing.

18th April 2012: John Lewis Gaddis Receives Biography Pulitzer Prize

John Lewis Gaddis


Congratulations to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis who received the Biography Pulitzer for George F. Kennan: An American Life (New York: Penguin Books, 2011). Gaddis spent over 5 years writing and almost 30 years researching the diplomat and grand strategist’s life, influences and impact. The chapters on Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram‘ and ‘X’ article are a real education in policy work. You can read the recent H-Diplo discussion of Gaddis’s book here.  Louis Menand’s New Yorker review is here. I’ll miss Gaddis’s talk on Kennan at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual conference. Gaddis’s books on the Cold War and history have given me some informative insights as I work on my PhD about counterterrorism studies and strategic culture.


Here’s a 2012 video of Gaddis discussing George F. Kennan: An American Life:



Photo: Strauss Center/Flickr.

17th April 2012: Is Wall Street Inefficient?

Wall Street


New York University’s Thomas Phillippon has a new paper that reaches counterintuitive conclusions about Wall Street:


Historically, the unit cost of intermediation has been somewhere between 1.3% and 2.3% of assets. However, this unit cost has been trending upward since 1970 and is now significantly higher than in the past. In other words, the finance industry of 1900 was just as able as the finance industry of 2010 to produce loans, bonds and stocks, and it was certainly doing it more cheaply. This is counter-intuitive, to say the least. How is it possible for today’s finance industry not to be significantly more efficient than the finance industry of John Pierpont Morgan? [emphasis added]


Phillippon’s study of financial intermediation costs emphasises debt growth, hidden systemic risks and the growth in trading as a secondary market activity. The New Republic‘s Timothy Noah also emphasised trading in his write-up of Phillippon’s results. The paper’s problem is Phillippon’s reliance on the “neo-classical growth model” which argues that information technology, trading, and risk management should lead to lower costs and superior information about future prices. A second problem is that Phillippon explains growth in ‘informativeness’ as a key criterion variable but he does not adequately define it. A third problem is that the paper examines two key data points – 1900-1910 and 1980-2011 – without considering how the innovation pathways in financial intermediation have also changed (both in-period and across-period). For instance, Value at Risk looked like a great innovation in 1992 but it was re-evaluated in 2007-08 during the global financial crisis. A fourth problem is that prices in trading are not always about future prices, or even the fair market value of firms, but they can reflect the market-moving tactics of hedge funds and other firms. A fifth problem is that the inefficiencies that Phillippon identifies lie partly in the fees and incentives that the mutual industry charges investors as revenue generation (and Wall Street’s incentivisation through end-of-year bonuses). Thus, any evaluation of financial intermediation efficiencies should take current market practices into account.


If Phillippon had used a market microstructure framework then he might have reached different conclusions about the paper’s aggregate data. Specific firms are able to leverage information technology, trading, and risk management to gain an edge on other market participants. They extract alpha (returns made from active management above and beyond the market index returns or beta). This creates a ‘winner takes all’ dynamic in which a small group of efficient firms do exceedingly well. However, the Schumpeterian dynamics of inter-firm competition means that factors like information technology do not simply lead over time to greater efficiencies and lower costs, as they did with Wal-Mart. Quantitative finance firms like Jim Simon’s Renaissance Technologies, Clifford Asness’s AQR Capital and David Shaw’s D.E. Shaw & Company spend millions on infrastructure and proprietary research to outpace their competitors. This creates ‘informativeness’ in the form of private knowledge that Phillippon’s models probably could not measure. Is this really a misallocation of capital?


Photo: apertu/Flickr.

15th April 2012: Should Unproductive Academics Be Made Redundant?



The Age surveyed four people on the ‘publish or perish’ debate unfolding at the University of Sydney and Australian National University (ANU). You can read my December 2011 reaction to Sydney’s announcement here. In part, the Sydney debate has been about the use of retrospective and volume-based publication metrics; university management’s handling of cases judged borderline; and perceptions of a lack of administrative fairness and transparency.


University of Sydney’s Nick Riemer argued:


Like other workplaces, universities have performance management processes. These, not redundancy, are the answer to underperformance. But how to respond to a failure of management? . . . Universities, apparently, just don’t need academics. [emphasis added]


University of Exeter’s Andrew McRae countered:


Although the root cause of the cuts may be a sorry story of financial mismanagement, the university’s response looks right. For the first time in  memory, its managers are  systematically  tackling underperformance. [emphasis added]


Grattan Institute‘s Andrew Norton observed:


Most job changes are, as university leaders like to say, “strategic”. They are aimed at achieving a better return on the money and effort invested in research. [emphasis added]


Sydney’s administrators appear to be following a strategy similar to GE’s WorkOut process. GE’s former chief executive officer Jack Welch was dubbed ‘Neutron Jack’ for his willingness to divest businesses that he deemed uncompetitive and to fire underperformers (the bottom 10% each year). Welch’s managerial approach contrasts with Riemer’s suggestion and is closer to McRae’s position and Norton’s investment-driven analysis. University performance systems can reward academic superstars in a ‘winner-takes-all’ dynamic that may also marginalise others. Already, some academics engage in self-policing and the strategic selection of journal articles and research programs, in order to meet this performance criteria and to convince promotions committees.


At the blog Core Economics, University of Queensland’s Rabee Tourky suggests the “culture of tenure” is under attack. The reaction to Sydney and ANU’s announcements usually calls for a return to a past Golden Age of protected academic scholarship. But Welch’s record at GE suggests why this strategy is unlikely to work: he would have definitely fired ‘unproductive’ academics. McRae and Norton note the higher education sector’s competitiveness and the role of international rankings and research performance. Welch believed that GE faced a similar commercial environment. The decision to grant tenure imposes a long-term, variable liability of wages and superannuation on the university: the cash flow that Welch and today’s consultants and financial engineers now target. It is one reason why many universities employ casual staff and set hiring barriers – such as PhD and teaching degree requirements – which act as screening mechanisms for entry-level academic positions. For managers, flexible asset use and cash flows are key.


Riemer blames university bureaucrats: “It is the managers who are unproductive. Systemic managerial failures are compromising quality.” However, many of these managers are professor-level academics who are promoted into university senior management. Riemer’s “systemic managerial failures” relate to university budget processes, and how different assets – buildings, matching competitive grants, people – are valued. “University technocrats are the equivalent of the regulators whose negligence caused the GFC,” Riemer argued. The problem is this analogy sounds convincing until you consider pre-GFC warnings and how the US Treasury and Federal Reserve had to improvise policy during the collapses of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. The “executives hostile to the principles that should govern academic communities” are in fact following in the MBA tradition of GE’s Welch, and today’s asset management and private equity firms.


Riemer singled out senior managers but university administrators may also evaluate the current debate on different terms. Many university administrators are degree qualified and have professional expertise. They are treated like a different caste to academics: HEW salaries are lower than the academic equivalents; they work regular business hours instead of the academics’ flexible schedules with months off (the mid-year and late November-mid January periods are used at some universities for summer schools, offshore teaching, and writing time for competitive grants and research publications – but I have seen some academics also effectively take this time off); administrators may have to do the ‘grunt work’ that academics should do on competitive grant applications but often don’t; they have performance criteria and semi-annual reviews; and administrators don’t usually get discretionary funding like conference travel and research publications (even if they produce them and include them in university research audits). Short-term three-year contracts are the norm rather than the entitlement of academic tenure. ANU and University of Sydney’s decisions suggest that tenured academics now face a GE Welch-like performance culture. University administrators have had this for a decade already. (The outplacement services contract may be lucrative.)


Universities still need academics. Preferably, highly performing teacher-researchers.


Photo: Theo Williams Photography/Flickr.

13th April 2012: PhD Books

PhD Candidates


Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. A landmark study in the positive psychology of ‘flow’ or experiencing optimal, creative psychological states. Csikzentmihalyi’s subsequent books including Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996) are also highly recommended.


Kim Etherington. Becoming a Reflexive Researcher: Using Our Selves in Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004. A guide to auto-ethnographic research and journaling.


David Evans, Paul Gruba, & Justin Zobel. How to Write a Better Thesis (3rd ed). Melbourne: Text, 2011. Has insights on the chapter structure and how to establish and to articulate your original scholarly contribution.


Valerie J. Janesick. “Stretching” Exercises for Qualitative Researchers (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, 2004. A collection of exercises on observation, analysis, interviews, and the personal development of researchers.


David R. Krathwohl & Nick L. Smith. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education & the Social and Behavioural Sciences. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005. An advanced guide to dissertation proposals, with an emphasis on mixed methods research.


Patrick Dunleavy. Authoring a PhD Thesis. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. One of the best guides available to the PhD process.


Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. KKV lays the groundwork for mixed methods research design and causal inference in social science research. It includes discussion of hypothesis testing, defining variables, selection bias, and measurement error. For the subsequent KKV debate see Henry Brady and David Collier’s Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards (2nd ed) (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010).


Alexander L. George & Andrew Bennett. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Boston MA: The MIT Press, 2005. George and Bennett present a structured approach to case study research. They discuss the philosophy of science, theory development, process tracing, and the differences of within case and comparative case analysis. This book has a useful appendix of case study exemplars in sociology and political science research, and why each is successful.


Writing & Editing


Wendy Laura Belcher. Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009. Belcher is a Princeton University academic who also teaches writing and editing skills. This book demystifies and provides a step-by-step plan for the writing and publishing process. I use this book in academic writing syndicates.


Commonwealth of Australia. Style Manual: For Authors, Editors, and Printers (6th ed). Milton: John Wiley & Sons Australia, 2002. The Australian Government’s guide to editing and publishing.


Elizabeth Flann & Beryl Hill. The Australian Editing Handbook (2nd ed). Milton: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. A guide to Australian publishing and editing.


Dixie Elise Hickman & Sid Jacobsen. The Power Process: An NLP Approach to Writing. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 1997. A neuro-linguistic programming model of writing, editing, different writing genres, and psychological state management.


Anne Sigismund Huff. Designing Research for Publication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2008. An advanced guide to methodological, research design, epistemology, and creative issues to consider when developing journal articles. Useful to meet the criteria for original scholarly contributions.


Sanford Kaye. Writing Under Pressure: The Quick Writing Process. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Kaye is a teacher and consultant at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This book outlines Kaye’s Quick Writing Process to edit text during time constraints.


Scott Norton. Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Norton is director of editing, design and production at the University of California Press. Provides a glimpse of how developmental editors select and develop academic manuscripts for publication.


Joseph M. Williams. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. An excellent guide to prose and composition.


Barbara Minto. The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking (3rd ed). Essex: Edinburgh Gate, 2002. Minto originally created this guidebook for McKinsey strategy executives. This book deals with patterns of deductive and inductive logic, argumentation, grouping, and problem-solving.


 Academic Careers


Steven M. Cahn. 2008. From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor. New York: Columbia University Press. A pragmatic guide to navigating academic politics, from finishing your dissertation to handling academic interviews and promotions committees.


John M. Darley, Mark P. Zanna, & Henry L. Roediger. The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2003. Although oriented towards psychologists, this is one of the best guides available to successful academic careers, publishing, competitive grants, and teaching.


Career Development


David Allen. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin, 2001. A guide to Allen’s popular GTD method for personal time and workflow management.


Peter Block. Flawless Consulting: A Guide To Getting Your Expertise Used (3rd edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Block was a student of the organizational theorist Chris Argyris who popularized ‘double loop’ learning. This is the classic, influential guide to consulting and the steps usually taken in organizational contexts. Block reaches parallel conclusions to Senge on the role of humanistic philosophy and systems thinking in consulting engagements.


Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha. The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career. New York: Crown Business, 2012. Hoffman is cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn. A career guide to developing a competitive advantage; strengthening professional networks; and leveraging breakout opportunities.


Jim Hopkinson. Salary Tutor: Learn The Salary Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You. New York: Business Plus, 2011. A Silicon Valley guide to salary negotiation and defeating the ‘evil HR lady’.


Gayle Laakmann McDowell. The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google or Any Top Tech Company. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Whilst aimed at programmers, this guide has excellent advice on resumes, cover letters, referees, and handling interviews. For senior roles, see Marshall A. Brown and Annabelle Reitman’s High Level Resumes: High-Powered Tactics For High-Earning Professionals (Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2005).


Jack Welch & Suzy Welch. Winning. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Winning can be read in several ways. It provides a snapshot of Welch’s coaching advice to potential corporate leaders. It is a guidebook to the psychological attitudes that some MBA executives adopt (and thus what you are likely to encounter in the corporate jungle in Lean Six Sigma and Workout projects, which are both worth mastering). It is a publishing exercise that diverted attention from Welch’s divorce to his first wife. For a more skeptical view of Jack Welch’s GE tenure see Thomas F. Boyle’s At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) and the Welch/Tom Peters chapter in Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Knopf, 2011).




James Macgregor Burns. Leadership. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. The classic study on charismatic, transformational and transactional styles of leadership which shaped research agendas over the next two decades. The meme of transformational leadership came from Burns’ study.


Robert Dallek. Nixon and Kissinger: Partners In Power. New York: Penguin Books, 2007. Based on extensive, declassified documents, Dallek captures the dysfunctional leadership in the White House and the effects of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal on Nixon and Kissinger. A case study in the abuse of executive power.


Sydney Finkelstein. Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn From Their Mistakes. New York: Portfolio, 2003. If you aim to climb the corporate ladder then Finkelstein’s accessible study is mandatory reading on the common patterns of failure. Finkelstein conducted 197 interviews and examined 51 US and international companies on corporate failure. He provides diagnostic tools to recognize failure and suggests early warning signals in the common situations in which corporate failure occurs.


Richard D. Hames. The Five Literacies of Global Leadership: What Authentic Leaders Know and You Need to Find Out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. A contemporary approach to leadership that draws on strategic foresight and other domains for insight.


Robert D. Kaplan. Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands A Pagan Ethos. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Kaplan contends that classicist sources can inform decision-makers about contemporary events. He revisits Churchill, Livy, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Tiberius and others for insights about the catalysts for war. In early 2012, Kaplan joined the Austin-based geopolitical publisher Stratfor as a writer.


Joe R. Katzenbach & Douglas K. Smith. The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1993. In the early 1990s companies such as 3M, Motorola and Apple focused on innovation through teamwork. This is the classic study that influenced the next decade’s research on knowledge management. It occurred just as American managers experimented with business process reengineering and quality circles.


Robert N. Lussier & Christopher F. Achua. Leadership: Theory, Application, Skill Development (5th ed.). New York: South-Western/Thomson, 2012. A best-selling university textbook on leadership frameworks and business applications. For current practices also see Jay A. Conger and Ronald E. Riggio’s anthology The Practice of Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).


David Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford. The Trusted Advisor. New York: The Free Press, 2000. A professional service firm model of building trusted, personal relationships. Also see Maister’s True Professionalism: The Courage To Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career (New York: Touchstone, 1997).


Paul C. Nutt. Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding the Blunders and Traps That Lead to Debacles. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc, 2002. A collection of case studies from the Ford Pinto to the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas in 1993. Nutt identifies 10 different categories of blunders, decision errors and traps across his case study cohort. His solutions include understanding the ‘arena of action’, developing an ethical sense, insisting on learning, and identifying a range of options.


Peter M. Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organisation (revised edition). London: Random House, 2006. Senge popularized MIT research into systems thinking and his framework for the ‘learning organisation’ helped to shape knowledge management and organizational psychology. The other disciplines include ‘personal mastery’, ‘mental models’, ‘shared vision’ and ‘team learning’.




Alistair Cockburn. Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2007. This is a guidebook to agile software development that elaborates further on themes explored by David Allen, Jeffrey K. Liker, and Peter M. Senge. Cockburn reinterprets many different theorists and frameworks, notably Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. Filled with insights on strategy, collaborative teams, and methodology design and implementation.


Avinash K. Dixit & Barry J. Nalebuff. The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. A primer on game theory and how it can inform decision-making. Dixit and Nalebuff explore how to think ahead in competitive situations and outline decision trees and other methods. On game theorist John Nash, see Ron Howard’s film A Beautiful Mind (2001).


Gary Klein. Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Klein (Sources of Power) identifies ten common mistakes about decision-making. He examines the role of understanding and experience, using insights from behavioural psychology.


Bruce Kuklick. Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Kuklick is a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Blind Oracles shows how policymakers misuse and reshape the ideas of war intellectuals for their own Machiavellian agendas. Kuklick reassesses George Kennan’s grand strategy; the RAND think-tank; Henry Kissinger; Robert McNamara; Daniel Ellsberg; and the Harvard School of Government (Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and Richard Neustadt & Ernest May’s Thinking In Time on analogical reasoning).


Jeffrey K. Liker. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From The World’s Greatest Manufacturer. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. The first in Liker’s management book series on the Toyota Production System and lean management frameworks. This book bridges corporate strategy, operations and project management on how to avoid ‘muda’ or waste. Liker also adopted Peter Senge’s ‘learning organisation’ framework. Subsequent books in Liker’s series have dealt with culture, teams, innovation, and similar topics.


Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand & Joseph Lampel. Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management. New York: The Free Press, 1998. Mintzberg is a provocative thinker who has influenced the craft of corporate strategy. Strategy Safari details ten different schools of thought and how they shape strategic thinking. If you plan to work in corporate strategy, all of Mintzberg’s books are highly recommended.


Peter Schwartz. The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. New York: Currency Doubleday, 1991. The classic guide to the Global Business Network’s methodology for scenario planning. Provides insights on generating scenarios and having strategic conversations. Schwartz’s follow-up book Inevitable Surprises (London: The Free Press, 2003) distilled his insights on global trends. For a comparator, on strategic inflection points, see Andrew S. Grove’s Only The Paranoid Survive (revised edition) (New York: Currency, 1999).


Sun Tzu. The Art of Warfare. Trans. Roger Ames. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. This translation of Sun Tzu’s classic (The Art of War) incorporates the Yin-ch’ueh-shan texts. Ames’ commentary situates the recently discovered texts in their archaeological and historical context.