In this week's reviews of great business books: a challenge to the belief that we design our own futures; and the argument for building a family-friendly world. Also: how to get people to do what you want.

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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge
Matt Ridley
HarperCollins (2015)

Fans of the leadership genre won't love Matt Ridley's new book, The Evolution of Everything. Those who enjoy a good worldview-shake will. Ridley, a science writer, argues that much of the manmade world develops in the same way as the natural world: without design, from the bottom-up. Changes in religion, government, science, and many other fields are the products of human and other forces acting over time rather than of individuals making declarations. "Evolution follows a narrative, going from one stage to the next," writes Ridley. "It creeps rather than jumps; it has its own spontaneous momentum, rather than being driven from outside; it has no goal or end in mind; and it largely happens by trial and error--a version of natural selection." No one decreed the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Asia, or the ubiquity of mobile phones: even revered inventors merely build on innovations that came before (and more than one "inventor" often comes up with the same idea at the same time). For entrepreneurs dismayed by how much their companies deviate from their original visions, there's a message here. You must do everything necessary to achieve your objective. But success is not something you ultimately control.

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Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Random House (2015)

In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter created a firestorm with an article in The Atlantic titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." At the time Slaughter had left a position at the State Department to return to a career at Princeton, which allowed her to spend more time with her family. The disappointed reaction of former colleagues and others propelled Slaughter to examine why decades after women flooded into the workforce employers still don't accommodate the needs of parents of both genders, and what can be done to restore the status of child-rearing in society. While Sheryl Sandburg urges women to control their own professional advancement by "leaning in," Slaughter in her new book Unfinished Business (an expansion and--in some parts-a rethinking of the Atlantic article) focuses more on the social and corporate structures and expectations that hold women down. "The majority of Americans are mired in a 1950s mindset when it comes to assumptions about when and how we work, what an ideal worker looks like, and when to expect that ideal worker to peak in his career," she writes. "Men who came up through the old system and succeeded in it simply find it very hard to believe that their businesses could flourish any other way."

And from the Backlist

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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini
HarperBusiness (1984)

If you are a marketer, a manager, or a negotiator, chances are you employ Cialdini's principles daily, even if you don't know his name. In this seminal book Cialdini, then a professor at Arizona State University, explained how to get people to do what you want: whether that's to buy a product or obey a rule or honor a commitment. His six principles are reciprocity (people return favors); commitment and consistency (people honor their agreements); social proof (people tend to do what other people do); authority (people do what powerful people or experts tell them to do); liking (people do things for people they like); and scarcity (people want something they believe is in short supply). Even seismic changes to marketing such as social media haven't altered the profound psychological insights on which this book is based.