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The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It

By: Joshua Ramo: Little, Brown, 2009.

While it’s not strictly a business book, this is the best book for business that I’ve reviewed this year. It is, in fact, a whole new way of facing the future of any endeavor: Ramo suggests that the only way to deal with uncertainty is to accept that you can’t possibly predict anything.

He begins with an analogy from physics. When you methodically add single grains of sand to a pile, there is absolutely no way to tell which grain will cause an avalanche. Then, using examples from Google to Hizb’allah, he explains that no successful organization has a vision or strategic plan that can anticipate all the changes in a global and interconnected world.  The successful ones, he says, are those that constantly adapt to change.

For most businesses, that attitude is too frightening to contemplate. Strategic planning, quarterly earnings projections, and overpaid executives are not guarantees of anything. Instead, he recommends that organizations think long-term, holistically and flexibly.  It’s not innovation as a growth or survival strategy—it’s innovation as an organizational structure, a product and a philosophy.

This one gets a 9.8 on the LL innovation meter. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to be part of a viable organization in the next few decades.  And if any of our nation’s political leaders have the time, it should be on their reading lists as well.

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About Lynda Lawrence

Lynda Lawrence is an innovation consultant with Ideaworks Consulting. She teaches Strategic Innovation and Design Management at the Merage School at UCI, and is an advisor to the Beall Center.