Good is the New Cool, Narrative and Numbers, Rethinking Reputational Risk, The Distracted Mind

From Gaga to banking

Good is the New Cool: Market like you give a damn by Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones, Regan Arts October 2016

Efforts by companies to bring about social good can draw criticism as shallow attempts to make consumers feel good about their consumption habits. Organisations are also known to complain that their commitment to positive change is being overlooked as consumers fail to engage with corporate social responsibility reports and webpages. Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones aim to counter these complaints while also aiming at a slightly loftier goal: making the world a better place. They firmly believe private entities can solve environmental, civic and economic problems.

However, they insist this can only happen if people connect the brands of these entities with their actions, and thus, connect with the brands themselves. The key ingredient, they say, is the cool factor. It makes sense. People want organisations to do good things, but to do good business, organisations also need people to perceive their brand as attractive. It boils down to telling good stories about good deeds in an authentic way. Some are already doing this. For inspiration there are interviews with people such as Lady Gaga’s manager Bobby Campbell, who helps align her artistic voice with her social mission, or former Citibank chief marketing officer Elyssa Gray, who spearheaded the Citibike programme. To connect social consciousness to cool, communicators have a big role to play. This is the book to help.

Adding up your story

Narrative and Numbers: The value of stories in business by Aswath Damodaran, Columbia Business School, 2017

How can a company that has never turned a profit have a multibillion dollar valuation? Why do some start-ups attract large investments, while others do not? According to the argument in Narrative and Numbers, the answer lies in the power of story to drive corporate value, by adding meat to the numerical bones, substance to numbers, and persuading hesitant investors to take the risk. In a marriage between on the one hand the calculating number cruncher and on the other hand the storytelling communicator can a business deliver and sustain value, argues the books author, finance professor and investor Aswath Damodaran.

Damodaran describes the relationship between the two disciplines as a give-and-take, and draws on several headline-grabbing examples, including Uber’s debut, the public offering valuations of Twitter and Facebook, all of which helps sex up what could otherwise be a dry discourse. This book will not only be of interest to communicators working in or around investor relations, but anyone pondering the seemingly mysterious relationship between hard numbers and emotive messages.

Underlying causes of crisis

Rethinking Reputational Risk: how to manage the risks that can ruin your business, your reputation and you by Anthony Fitzsimmons and Derek Atkins, Kogan Page January 2017

Anyone working in an organisation, but especially communicators, understand that managing reputational risks is beneficial to the entire operation – everyone benefits from a good name. But, as shown by the continuous stream of business crises, there is still widespread misunderstanding of the precise nature of these risks. Anthony Fitzsimmons and Derek Atkins go against the popular idea that crises arrive quickly and unpredictably: they argue that organisations become vulnerable over a long period of time before a specific crisis is triggered. Their attribution of this vulnerability to unrecognised, often systemic causes, is what makes the book worth reading.

The authors briefly summarise the ideas of psychologist Daniel Kahneman, one of the foremost thinkers in behavioural economics. By recognising that professional people are human and can make irrational decisions, the book provides an alternative understanding of how organisations work and where reputational risks arise from. Following an outline of how this behavioural approach fills an important theoretical gap in risk management systems, we are taken on an eye-opening look through this lens at some of the most damaging crises of recent times: the collapse of AIG, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Volkswagen emissions scandal to name a few.

The book ends with a practical guide to combatting complacency in organisational culture managing risk vulnerability. Don’t expect a step-by-step guide: it’s more of an exercise in agency and discovering the realities of the workplace around you, crucial to rethinking reputational risk.

Paying attention

The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, The MIT Press, 2016

Don’t feel bad if you’re a hopeless multitasker. According to authors Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen – a neuroscientist and a psychologist – our brains are simply not wired for it. In fact, they argue that multitasking is largely a mirage – what our brains actually do is move rapidly between jobs, an ability interfered with by digital devices, bleeping and pinging and bussing away every time a message – banal, not important, low-priority – clamours for our attention and away from the goal-oriented tasks we deep down need to complete. At its heart, the reasons are a combination of boredom and anxiety: we “seem to have lost the ability to simply do nothing and endure boredom.” Luckily, The Distracted Mind offers practical solutions to fight distraction, whether you have your smartphone next to the bed-side lamp, or you’re checking your tablet at the dinner table, or answering a text message in the car. Even for the most hopeless multitasker, help is at hand.