Like most entrepreneurs, I am fundamentally an optimist. However, optimism is only effective when grounded in reality. Rose-colored glasses lead you astray; far better to see the world as it is before trying to make it better.
Subtitle: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
Authors: Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
Why it's important: If the authors are correct, we're about to face massive disruption as technology (particularly artificial intelligence) is going to render many jobs and professions obsolete. Entrepreneurs will need to build business that either create more of this disruption or take advantage of the disruption elsewhere.
Best Quote: "Rapid and accelerating digitalization is likely to bring economic rather than environmental disruption stemming from the fact that as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. There's never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there's never been a worse time to be a worker with only ordinary skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate."
Subtitle: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business
Author: Rana Foroohar
Why it's important: Rather than helping small businesses and entrepreneurs by creating a reliable source of capital, the financial sector in the United States is cycling wealth into itself and into large companies that put smaller firms out of business. As I've worked with entrepreneurs on their business and marketing plans, I've learned how hard they are struggling to compete against a rigged game. If you're an entrepreneur, you need to understand how and why the game is rigged in order to find a way to transcend it.
Best Quote: "Eight years on from the financial crisis of 2008, we are finally in a recovery, but it has been the longest and weakest recovery of the postwar era. The reason? Our financial system has stopped serving the real economy and now serves mainly itself... Our system of market capitalism is sick, and the big picture symptoms-slower than average growth, higher income inequality, stagnant wages, greater market fragility, the inability of many people to afford middle-class basics like a home, retirement, and education-are being felt throughout our entire economy and, indeed, our society."
Subtitle: The World of Post-Truth Politics
Author: Ari Rabin-Havt
Why it's important: For the past 150 years, science rather than religion has largely driven politics and government policy. While sometimes the science was bogus (social Darwinism comes to mind), it was widely believed that decisions should be based upon facts rather than fantasy. While that's still true in business, a disconnect has taken place in politics, where special interest groups have been able to disconnect policy from reality. Decisions are now being made based upon what vested interests want people to believe is true rather than upon what is actually true.
Best quote: "Stories about political corruption in Washington often in hinge on the simplest explanation and most easily available data: lobbying disclosures, campaign contributions, and independent expenditure reports. This creates a tendency to simplify problems in our political system, whittling down failures of our democracy to unchecked political contributions, bloated lobbying budgets, super PACs, and other forms of direct and indirect graft. Each of these factors obviously pollutes our political process. Yet focusing solely on them obscures a fundamental truth: our democracy has been hacked, manipulated by political practitioners who recognize that as long as there is no truth, there can be no progress."
Subtitle: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers
Author: Steven Hill
Why it's important: The "sharing economy" has been packaged to the public as if it were a way for people to create their own businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Participating in the sharing economy lowers the economic value of your work and strips away hard-won worker protections. From from creating entrepreneurs, the sharing economy impoverishes infrastructure, destroys small businesses and helps destroy the purchasing power of the middle class, who are the customers for most entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Best quote: "In a sense, employers and employees used to be married to each other, and there was a sense of commitment and a joint destiny. Now, employers just want a bunch of one-night stands with their employees, a promiscuousness that promises to be not only fleeting but destabilizing to the broader macroeconomy. Set to replace the crumbling New Deal society is a darker world in which wealthy and powerful economic elites are collaborating with their political cronies to erect the policy edifice that allows them to mold their proprietary workforce into one composed of a disjointed collection of 1099 employees. Employers have called off the marriage with their employees, preferring a series of on-again, off-again affairs. This is a direct threat to the nation's future, as well as to what has been lionized around the world has the 'American Dream.'"
Subtitle: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
Author: Evgeny Morozov
Why it's important: It's easy to get excited about the technology like the "Internet of Things," but if you're going to prosper in the new environment, you'll need to solve problems. Therefore, it's important to understand that the new technology is creating as many or more problems than its solving, thereby creating opportunities, either for more technology or for products and services that subvert technology.
Best quote: "Silicon Valley's quest to fit us all into a digital straitjacket by promoting efficiency, transparency, searching to, and perfection-and, by extension, eliminating their twin evils of affection, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection -will prove to be prohibitively expensive in the long run. This high cost remains hidden from public view and remains so as long as we, in our mindless pursuit of this silicon Eden, fail to radically question our infatuation with a set of technologies that are often lumped together under the deceptive label of the 'Internet.'"
Subtitle: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Author: Jared Diamond
Why it's important: By examining the collapse of previous societies and civilizations, this book points out the fragility of our global business culture and details the challenges that it's created. While Diamond lays out some large ideas for ameliorating the danger, for entrepreneurs the slow lurching towards collapse represents a series of opportunities to create new businesses.
Best quote: "We shouldn't be so naïve has to think that the study of the past will yield simple solutions, directly transferable to our societies today. We differ from past societies in some respects that put us at lower risk than them; some of those respects often mentioned include our powerful technology (i.e., its beneficial effects), globalization, modern medicine, and greater knowledge of past societies and of distant modern societies. We also differ from past societies in some respects that put us at greater risk than them: mentioned in that connection are, again, our potent technology (i.e., its unintended destructive effect), the dependence of millions (and, soon, billions) of us on modern medicine for our survival, and our much larger human population. Perhaps we can still learn from the past, but only if we think carefully about its lessons."
Subtitle: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Author: Michelle Alexander
Why it's important: Based upon what I've observed, the entrepreneur class (which is primarily but not exclusively white) believes that we live in a post-racial society and that the civil rights movement essentially solved the problem of racism. This book explains how the public policy, especially the War on Drugs, was specifically crafted by white legislators to continue the disenfranchisement of African Americans.
Best quote: "The fate of millions of people-indeed the future of the black community in itself-may depend upon the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society. The fact that more than half of the young black men in any large American city are currently under the control of the criminal justice system (or saddled with criminal records) is not-as many argue-just a symptom of poverty or poor choices, but rather evidence of a new racial caste system at work."