Shift Forum Reads


The books we’re reading at NewCo as we prepare for the conversation at the Shift Forum this February

NewCo Shift is committed to identifying and exploring the most pressing issues in business and society through a new Shift Reads program. At the NewCo Shift Forum this coming February, we plan to discuss and debate solutions to those issues — even if the conversation is at times uncomfortable. If you’re interested in Shift Forum’s new Reads program, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

Fake News, Information Warfare and the Modern State: How Did We Get Here?

It took me longer than I expected to read Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and longer still to write up this review (I began reading the book when it came out this past summer). That’s not necessarily the best way to open an essay on an important topic, but at least it’s honest. While its title promises a popular history of the kind of social media activism that sparked movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the Arab Spring, the book is in fact a far more nuanced, and often academic study of the impact digital platforms have had on political change over the past two decades. But if we are to understand more recent developments such as information warfare and fake news, we must bend into the work of scholars like Tufekci.

Hers is the kind of writing our democratic society desperately needs more of, at a time when it seems our leaders are determined to ignore the reasoned, methodical thinking Tufecki advances in her work. That’s frustrating, especially, I imagine, to the author, but then again, a sense of injustice is always at the heart of political protest. Read the full review here.

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Pretty Sure That Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google Are Bad.

Scott Galloway has to be pleased with the timing of his recent book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Published just three weeks before Facebook and Google’s highly anticipated Congressional testimony, the book feels as timely as a New York Times OpEd calling for more regulatory scrutiny of our tech overlords. (There have been a lot of those lately).

But Galloway is no johnny-come-lately to the genre — he’s been dining out on “the Four” for years. He’s one of a very few consistent critics of tech whose arguments are based on principles of economics and business, rather than cultural (Foer) or social objections (Tufecki). In this his first book, he’s polished his arguments to a brilliant sheen. If you’re already skeptical of these companies’ power, you’ll come away from The Fourconvinced of the danger they represent to society. But if you’re not, it’s likely you’ll be more angry than won over by his arguments. Read our full review here.

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Hit Refresh

Satya Nadella’s book displays a disarming honesty about the intent behind it. He wants to write “from the fog of war” — it’s as if the process of thinking through the book helped him in his personal mission to shift Microsoft’s culture. Since his ascension in 2014, Microsoft has been in the midst of a historic turnaround, and while Nadella has gotten ample credit for the journey so far, he admits it’s premature to declare victory, often the purpose of corporate tomes. Instead, Nadella explains that the process of framing and writing Hit Reset helped him to codify the work yet to do. A less subtle rationale becomes apparent in the reading — the book is a rallying cry to Nadella’s 100,000+ employees, and of course the extended ecosystem that determines the company’s fate — the capital markets, the partners, the customers.* And in this, you have to give Nadella credit for both courage and vulnerability: If this book bombs, so too, most likely, will his tenure. Read our full review here.

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Homo Deus

One of Shift Forum’s overarching goals is to present today’s most pressing business issues in a framework of the long view. Yuval Noah Harari lives in that view — his earlier Sapiens presented a sweeping history of humankind’s impact on the world, and Homo Deus continues that sweep into the near future. Harari posits that humanity’s prevailing philosophy — Humanism — is yielding to “Dataism”, a reductive religion of algorithms, both biological and digital, driven by intelligence but decoupled from consciousness. It is therefore unconcerned with experience, the very bread which feeds humanist mythos. Harari’s money quote? “Homo sapiens is an obsolete algorithm.” For big picture thinking around the impact of technology and business on society, Homo Deus is a Shift Forum must read. Read our review.

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Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Given Shift Forum convenes in the heart of Silicon Valley (and yes, its producer has made his career as a journalist and entrepreneur there), it’s important to read deeply the work of those who criticize the Valley’s sacred cows. Douglas Rushkoff has made a career of just that. Throwing Rocks is at its heart an economic teardown of capitalism, in particular the brand of capitalism practiced by our most revered technology giants. Rushkoff critiques western economic thinking as in love with growth for growth’s sake, and urges us to consider more collaborative, community-driven approaches. Our interview with Rushkoff.

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Hillbilly Elegy

Many leaders in business, tech, and policy were confounded by Trump’s march to the White House, but those who had already read Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy were likely less surprised. That’s because Vance, a product of the “hillbilly” culture he profiles, incisively details the values and biases of what has become Trump’s most stubborn base. “These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance — the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach,” he writes. “This is deep skepticism of the very institutions of our society. And it’s becoming more and more mainstream.” To understand America divided, and chart a path forward that might include healing, business leaders need to read Vance’s work.

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Makers and Takers

A Pillar of the first Shift Forum, the role of Capital in our society is deeply scrutinized in Rana Foroohar’s masterful takedown of the US financial system. A columnist for the Financial Times, Foroohar pulls no punches in her reporting of how most of the capital in our economy serves those who are already rich, and fails to support true job or wealth creation. Makers and Takers is that rare work of journalism that both appears at a fortuitous moment in history, and captures the essence of that moment’s core narrative. Read our review and watch an interview with Foroohar.

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American Girls

In this seminal work that reads like real time cultural anthropology, Sales notes that today’s adolescents are the very first generation living nearly their entire social life through the mediated platform of social media. This is a very new phenomenon — literally less than five years has passed since this new reality has taken root. And it’s painfully clear society hasn’t thought through the implications of such a shift. Given the central role our most highly valued companies play in this phenomenon, it only makes sense we’ll discuss these crucial issues at Shift Forum. Our review of American Girls.

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The New Urban Crisis

Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, first published in 2002, predicted a resurgence in city centers due to a new class of creative “knowledge workers.” Hailed as a far-reaching seer for predicting the tech and arts-driven boom in American cities, Florida’s work has recently been called into question for the unexpected consequences of urban renewal, in particular gentrification and its attendant income inequality. Instead of ducking those consequences, Florida embraces them in his most recent work, The New Urban Crisis. In his book, a must read for our Policy pillar, Florida has some choice words for the tech industry, and posits a new approach to local government that he admits would be challenging to implement. Our interview with Florida.

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Looking Backward 2000 to 1887

When Looking Backward debuted in 1887, few predicted the book’s long-term impact. In fact, the novel was topped only by Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur for the best selling book of the entire 19th century. As the Valley and DC debate issues like income inequality and policy solutions like Universal Basic Income, Bellamy’s book provides context and a much needed context from more than a century ago. It forces us to think about our current day in new terms, and to think broadly about solutions, even if they challenge our most cherished assumptions. Read our review is here.

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The Retreat of Western Liberalism

The United States was built on any number of optimistic assumptions, including the idea that western democracy was the natural state of the world, and that capitalism is the best economic prescription toward democracy’s ultimate victory over totalitarian systems of government. Both those ideas are challenged in Luce’s harrowing history, which both contextualizes Trump’s rise and refuses to blame the man or his voters for what Luce argues is a far more systemic breakdown. Required reading for both our Capital and Policy Pillars, Luce’s work offers a dark view of the present, informed by a deep knowledge of the past. It offers few prescriptions for how we move forward, but then again, that’s why we’re gathering at the Forum this February — to discuss that path forward together.

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After On

Look, this list has been a bit heavy so far (we’ll be adding more soon), so it’s always a good idea to leaven the darkness with an ability to laugh at ourselves. Plus, Reid’s romp of a read focuses on the impact of artificial intelligence on society, mixing a reporter’s eye for truth with a novelist’s turn of phrase and laugh-out-loud narrative twists. The story turns on the emergence of machine-native super intelligence (laced with a heavy dose of biotech), in the form of an pervasive social network called Phluttr. We won’t spoil it for you — but at the NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year, Reid outlined some of the deep thinking that went into his latest creation. A perfect companion to our Intelligences Pillar.

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World Without Mind

Throughout the book, Franklin Foer casually takes the pantheon of tech’s favorite intellectuals — Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, Larry Lessig, Chris Anderson, even chef Alice Waters — and summarily woodsheds them. Most of these folks are colleagues, and certainly their points of view are worthy of debate. But dismissal? That just looks like whining. Read our full review.

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