InReview – Issue 3

Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy by Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer; Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1998; xiii, 265 pp.

The authors are consultants at the Ernst & Young center for business and innovation and write with authority on the meaning of the information technology revolution. “Blur” has multiple meanings speaking of either speed (the pace of the technology), or the blurring of traditional distinctions.

The blurring line between product and service is one such example. Traditional products, such as an automobile, can take advantage of technology to perform service functions. Alerting the driver of a pending flat, helping the driver find a location through use of navigation devices, or even alerting the dealer of a problem. Services, on the other hand become packaged together in “offerings” which look much like products.

A second example is the blurring distinction between buyer and seller. The authors give a number of examples where the buyer has something of value for the seller, so the exchange is much more complex than the simple purchase of a product or service. Grocery stores, for example, now sell strategic shelf locations to the suppliers they buy from.

They also talk of the blurring of geography through electronic connectivity, and the blurring of life through the mixture of home and work. The authors are enthusiastic about this trend and urge their readers to “blur everything.” In fact, the book is written in high speed short sentences that borders on frantic. Though their ideas are both interesting and important, and the book is well written, I wonder if they truly believe themselves. Writing a book takes time for contemplation, and there seems to be little room for that in their world.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business by Tom Morris; New York, Henry Holt, 1997; xvii, 216 pp.

Morris was professor of philosophy for fifteen years at Notre Dame before launching his own Wilmington, North Carolina, consulting firm in 1994. As Morris acknowledges, you won’t learn much about Aristotle or General Motors in this book (like most classical philosophers, Aristotle was a bit contemptuous of the business of manufacturing things). But Morris’s project is an important one, a sort of thought experiment: what if we used the concepts and categories of philosophy as a lens through which to examine our business practices?

In particular, what would it mean for today’s corporations to make truth, beauty, and goodness (a familiar trinity in classical thought) central to their mission and values? (Morris is less clear and persuasive in trying to promote spirituality and unity as a fourth core concern). This book is valuable for providing an alternative and insightful perspective to management issues. His book is dotted with wonderful quotations from the great philosophers. But the book lacks enough concrete examples to show how these ideas could realistically affect daily business practice and it is frustrating not to have any footnotes or citations of sources to assist further study.

Actually, to extend Morris’s metaphor a little, Aristotle will not be running GM anytime soon; his most famous pupil, Alexander the Great, an empire builder rather than a philosopher, took over and has no plans to give it up.

Reviewed by David W. Gill

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Ethics in an Age of Technology by Ian G. Barbour; San Francisco, Harper, 1993; xix, 312 pp.

Barbour has been for many years a distinguished professor of science, technology, and society at Carlton College in Minnesota, and is the author of several books. Ethics in an Age of Technology originated as the famous Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen, Scotland. Barbour provides a very fair, even-handed account of various positive and negative views of technology and then explores ethical values that grow out of science, philosophy, and religion.

He devotes major sections of his book to agricultural, energy, and computer technologies, and shorter sections to genetic and nuclear technologies. He asks how technology might best be directed and assessed as we move into a future full of both risk and promise. Ethics in an Age of Technology has become the standard textbook introduction to its subject for many.

Reviewed by David W. Gill