Customer Reviews: Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single)
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VINE VOICEon December 22, 2011
At the start of the workweek when you walk in the door how do you feel about your job - jazzed, satisfied, thinking that there's some sort of purpose to what you do.

You do? You're in the woeful minority.

More likely, says Umair Haque, you're like two-thirds of your co-workers who are feeling uninspired, frustrated, and maybe even a little suffocated. You're the flip side of engaged. Haque would like that to change.

He wants to initiate a paradigm shift from negative to positive - in the way you feel about work but more importantly in the way business works. That's a big, heady challenge but Haque thinks there's much to gain if we say goodbye to the industrial age and focus instead on a new day that emphasizes the value of human capital.

It's a new paradigm that challenges companies to focus on achieving their own potential instead of engaging in competition to defeat rivals. The engine of business needs to recalibrate and begin striving for and measuring growth in human potential rather than financial profit, Haque argues.

"What if the future of commerce and enterprise is as different as its present is from its past? . . . I believe it can do so - and more vitally, that we must make it do so."

The new paradigm involves a shift to what Haque labels "Betterness." That's a place where instead of pursuing return for shareholders, business looks more at investing in human potential and concentrates on providing the essentials that enrich life - relationships, fulfillment, accomplishment and enduring achievement. These are emotional rather than financial rewards. And they're intrinsically more important, Haque asserts.

He has a list of companies he's watching that may be in the vanguard of change. He likes Wal-Mart's Strategy for Sustainability for its simplicity and concern for the common good. Wal-Mart has a stated goal "To reach a day where there are no dumpsters behind our stores and clubs, and no landfill containing our throwaways. We want to create zero waste."

The Whole Foods value statement is also simple and altruistic: "We feature foods that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated fats."

Whole Foods and Wal-Mart are taking steps to focus on long-term outcomes that enrich all of us rather than provide a short-term return for investors. They're part of what the new paradigm should look like.

Haque is at his most persuasive when he asserts that the way we do business and measure corporate success today is obsolete. Companies are spending billions on "engagement," "change management," "training." They're wasting money, according to the author. By almost any financial measure, the last several decades have been stagnant at best.

When he presents his argument for the new paradigm of Betterness, he's less persuasive. He left me wanting more specifics on how that might be done and how his concepts might be added to the corporate agenda. I work at a Fortune 500 and like most other companies, we're fiercely resistant to change and certainly don't like being labeled obsolete. If he expects corporations to travel down the road to Betterness, Hague needs to give the business world a better roadmap.
[3.5 stars]
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on December 26, 2011
It is very difficult to find anything wrong with this gem...besides it being too short.

As noted in my headline it is:

Fascinating: Although I am somewhat conversant in broad economic theory, I learned a tremendous amount in a short time. Even if you don't agree with everything that Umair says, I would be shocked if anyone without an advanced economics degree or background in Classical Greek would not learn something useful. (As well as some new vocabulary.)

Entertaining: The book is written with style, as well as a great bit of wit and humor for such a serious and grand subject. However, the language with which the book is constructed is beautiful. I felt as if I was reading fine literature much of the time as much as a business treatise.

Motivating: I suppose this would depend much on your view of what Umair is expressing here. If you agree, you will likely find yourself motivated to do something about it. If you don't agree...well, see point number 1. It's not a "meh" scenario.

Prior to my reading this book I was not a fan of Umair, mainly I suppose as I had very little awareness of him. That has certainly changed on both counts.

Highly recommended.
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on December 29, 2011
What if we stopped thinking of economics as a negative paradigm - the art of removing problems such as barriers to commerce - and started thinking of it as a positive paradigm, involving maximizing potential? That is a question which Umair Haque asks at the start of this book. What if commerce can make us better off in bigger and more human ways than simply "having"?

The fundamental assumptions of business as we know it include shareholder value creation, mass production, hierarchical management, and disposable goods made for consumers. The jobs that most organizations offer most people seem unfulfilling. The "visions" that companies have are typically unexciting. We measure a country's prosperity in terms of industrial output, GDP, but we ignore more important things like the emotional, social, intellectual, physical and ethical growth of humans.

The book goes on to suggest a better path to future prosperity, consisting of:

* Eudaimonia: a good life, which is meaningfully rich - with relationships, ideas, emotion, health, fulfilment, great accomplishment and enduring achievement.
* Poeisis: generating new wealth, and multiplying the Common Wealth, as opposed to net-destructive forms of competition such as rent seeking.
* Arête: virtue - habits and patterns of behaviour that seed and nurture eudaimonia, replacing "vision-mission-strategy-objectives" with "ambition-intention-constraints-imperatives".
* Kairos: critical junctures, when opportunities emerge and unexpected, unimagined, transformative new paths can be chosen.

The author's enthusiasm for his vision of the new future probably exceeds that of his average reader, but his diagnosis of the malaise of the present certainly resonates. Something is definitely wrong when people need to be encouraged to consume more useless stuff quickly to help governments balance their books. The author's entertaining writing style makes this a pleasant starting point for the reader in imagining his or her own vision of a better future.
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on December 23, 2011
For such a short read, Umair Haque's second book offers up more of this profound thinker's forward-looking ideas on reimagining the way we do business. Not an anti-business screed, Haque is perfectly happy for us all to make money. But what else is there? Where is the real, tangible, actual good for humanity in the way we do things

Haque's vision of changed business will make me sit down and articulate how my business behaves in a world where we conduct "betterness" instead. So too, to evaluate who I do business with.

How are you doing "betterness"?
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on January 11, 2013
I follow @umairhaque on Twitter & he is a tonic! We are living through a sobering Economic creak and groan period... usually signalling a desperate need for a new Paradigm as the old one is flagging toward failure.
This essay is so well written... it's got an upbeat tempo but presents considerable evidence that superglue and duck tape on the Economy as we know it... will never achieve a place we desire to live ... in the future.
Reading this essay...about 60pp... will get you thinking outside the box and asking WHY NOT? and seeing more clearly.
Don't mistake Haque for a visionary with no feet on the ground. As he asks: Can we do it? He answers: It's been done before.
Critical Paradigm Shift ... for a better future... a betterness future.
This book is a small masterpiece and all the better for its brevity.
You need to be asking questions and thinking about the many areas Haque presents. He cites brilliant thinkers. His grasp of the Economics & History of Economics is impressive. At the end...most importantly, you know that a light at the end of the tunnel is a distinct possibility.
I read this book when it first came out. It gets even better upon RE-reading. Perhaps I've grown some in the past year.
Take it all in... because it's a game changer. And yes, I kept repeating BETTER...for good reason! Betterness rocks.
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on January 22, 2014
The book spends most of the time discussing that mere profits and GDP growth are not enough and that an economy that empowers humans should be the aspiration...these are subjects that are well covered elsewhere, and with much more discipline than this book...the author fails to translate the "shoulds" of how the economy should operate to actual concrete actionable proposals. The last third of the book is more actionable, though bland in lambasting corporate mission statements (this is shooting fish in a barrel!), but then offers concrete examples of how some corporations articulate their intentions and commitment in consumer-relevant ways. Even this section suffers from appearing to be just he author's disciplined structure nor statistical correlations to corporate success. Unfortunately, my recommendation is to spend your money and time on another book.
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on April 1, 2013
We all know that money isn't everything . . . or do we? Mr. Haque suggests that because our economies are based solely on money, we (oftentimes unwittingly) sacrifice happiness for money. Companies advertise products that damage our health and the environment to maximize profits, convincing us and our children that we can't be happy without them. In turn, we "need" to make more money to buy these products, and to make more money, we reject more personally meaningful employment and work longer hours. We're sacrificing everything else for money. Or as Mr. Haque puts it, we're exchanging all other forms of capital (natural, social, etc.) for financial capital. It's time for a broader economic basis that more naturally fosters happiness.
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on April 21, 2012
As a business person who is about to retire, this book is very much needed in our winner-take-all society and business culture. While most of my time has been spent in smaller corporations ($35M or less), it is amazing how the golden rule is considered anti-profit. Companies often get into trouble, or fail to live up to their potential, simply because their only focus is what is best for the bottom line and/or their leader(s).

Having served as a CFO and COO at various times, it is amazing how petty business can be, and yet how the individuals in an organization wish their lives to be worth so much more. But it wasn't always that way in business, and this book gives a preview of how we can regain the higher ground.

Yes, a business must always be profitable. But any business that wants to be more than profitable has got to have a higher calling than just dollars. This author shares with us a paradigm that can again be worthy of the people and the organizations they work for.

This book is highly recommened reading!!
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on December 31, 2011
The author provokes us all to pursue metamorphosis in our lives, businesses and societies. I applaud his sharp observations and his thoughtful, compelling advocacy of the merits of "betterness" versus our status quo.
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on September 23, 2013
It shows one potential way the world may direct itself to get out of the current instability. It may be considered as an hypothesis explaining many current phenomena, that are now marginal, but could be the seeds of major change. A very good read.
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