This book is almost a must read. It has such a great approach and such poor, but interesting, execution. If you are interested in how companies can make an important contribution to society you will not find very much here. If you want to read a lot of big words about important trends and the need to think global this is the perfect book. It is hard not to get really frustrated with this book as it is so close to something very meaningful, while instead it is the kind of “Silicon-Valley-Self-Celebrating-Arm-Waiving-TED-ism” (should be a good acronym there somewhere for a TED-talk…) that the world has too much of already.
I should stress that I judge this book harder than many other books, as most books lack the ambition and global focus that this book has. When you read something that you know could have been a groundbreaking book, that could have set the standard for a new generation of business literature, it feels frustrating that they could not let go of the simplicity that we already have so much of.
The basic idea is interesting. Instead of approaching smart solutions as something that you do on the margin the focus should be on how companies, with relevant solutions, can grow really fast and have a global impact. Unfortunately the book does not have any filter to determine if the global impact is positive, relevant and long-term sustainable. So the book does not really talk about what is needed, what kind of companies need to grow, how companies can deliver sustainable impact/wealth or provide any really interesting cases.
Still there is a lot to like about the book and while I’m giving it a hard time I again want to make clear that I really recommend anyone interested in global challenges to read it. Everything from a bold approach where the general idea is to think in the billions (in terms of customers and revenue), transformative instead of incremental and the importance of innovation are included in the book.
The main challenge is that the book represents so much of the problems we have in society today. I’ve gathered my frustration under five headings and I do look forward to a book with a similar approach, but with focus on the major important challenges/ opportunities of our time.
1. No framework for assessing the important from the meaningless and destructive 2. Lack of intellectual coherence and focus 3. Market rather then value 4. American/western perspective 5. Sensationalism rather than substantial facts
1. No framework for assessing the important from the meaningless and destructive This is probably the biggest surprise and flaw with the book. I was not expecting a groundbreaking framework in this book, but it really has no structure at all. If you want to talk about “go big” and “impact in the world” in the 21st century you would expect attention to be spent on poverty, climate change, bio diversity, digital rights, etc. that are the main challenges facing humanity. Even if you do not have a sophisticated framework there are UN targets, list of the greatest challenges of our time, the key issues for major think tanks, etc. Just anything that would help them to identify important issues. Then the book would not include robots doing camel racing (not the most important issue on the planet) or 3-d printed fuel nozzle for airplanes that reduces fuel use by 15 percent (yes 15%, close to irrelevant in a sector that needs to think about virtual meetins and solar planes).
2. Lack of intellectual coherence and focus The fact that the book does not have any significant intellectual coherence and focus might be less surprising, but still very frustrating. Many books today, by the kind of TED-speakers that the author are, seem to be more like a transcript of different brainstorm sessions about different things than a result of a reflected attempt to provide thoughtful ideas to a reader. The levels of knowledge and sources seem to be what turns up on a Google search and newsfeed when you look for the issues discussed. It does not feel as if any real effort or thought has gone into the book.
3. Market rather than value There are a lot of discussions about money/markets in the book, but not a lot of discussion about what values that are delivered, neither what values that drive companies/employees. It is as if we live in a world where only customers exist and no citizens.
4. American/western perspective This is so common in books that I seldom even mention it, but when the title talk about “impact the world” you would expect something about the most important needs around the world and what happens in countries around the world, including China and India. If you include these countries the key global challenges also becomes close to impossible to ignore.
I would even argue that this is more of Silicon Valley perspective than a global perspective.
5. Sensationalism rather than substantial facts I understand the need to simplify key messages to get them through the noise today, but here they have fallen for the seduction of sensationalism. It is hard to find any parts of the book where the authors discuss pros and cons, or difficult issues that needs to be balanced. Still by the end of the day they might have done more good than bad by changing the discussion from incremental and local, to transformative and global.
With these five consideration in mind I think the book will inspire and frustrate anyone who is interested in moving beyond the incremental focus that dominate the current work to address the greatest challenges of our time, while also making it clear that many of those who claim a leadership role when it comes to new thinking have very little substantive to offer.
Still, any book that ends with a chapter “how to take action” has the heart in the right place. Hopefully a new generation can pick up the good parts of this book (ambition, understanding of the potential of technology and networking, as well as a focus on opportunity) and put in a 21st century framework where the focus on the important challenges not the trivial.