InReview – Issue 56

Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace by John Médaille; New York, Continuum, 2007; xiv, 359 pp.

John Médaille is a real estate agent in Irving, Texas, who teaches “Social Justice for Business Students” at the University of Dallas. In The Vocation of Business, he argues that the principles of fair distribution of common goods (distributive justice) and fair economic exchange (corrective justice) were of equal importance until the late 17th century. At that time, the rise of “individualistic” capitalism placed such an emphasis on corrective justice that distributive justice became less important. To this day, distributive justices is largely ignored by our society.

This book includes valuable insights from philosophers, economists, and theologians throughout history. Some of the content is technical and dense. It appears to be aimed at academic readers; those not familiar with Catholic social thought may get lost at points.

But for those with the time and energy, it is a worthwhile read. Médaille’s views are not easily categorized. Though supportive of free-market economics, he says we must “break the bonds of autonomous individualism.” He makes the case that social justice and economics cannot be separated. An economy that does not value fair distribution of material goods eventually becomes inherently unstable.

He cites Adam Smith’s notion that the nation that ignores justice is “fast going to ruin.” Paradoxically, a nation can go to ruin while individual businesspeople profit enormously, albeit through unjust means. Thus we are all faced with a choice of how we will live. Médaille’s contends that “business is a vocation, a calling to live life in a certain way, a way that contributes not only to one’s own well-being, but to the well-being of all other members of society.”

A helpful index and table of contents makes this a valuable resource for those serious about living justly in business. I recommend this book.

Reviewed by Mark Russell

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Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. Knopf Publishing Group, 2007. 247 pp.

David Shipley is the deputy editorial page editor and op-ed editor for the New York Times, and former national enterprise and senior editor for The New York Times Magazine. Will Schwalbe is senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books.

This book begins by asking a simple question: Why do we email so badly? The authors posit several causes including the relative newness of email, the difficulty of conveying tone or context in written messages, and the speed of email transmissions, which can lead to hasty or unconsidered responses.

The book begins with a consideration of when to use email. The authors weigh the relative merits of email against fax, phone, face to face conversation, and even text or instant messaging. Next they describe the anatomy of an email, from BCC lines to signature blocks. They discuss appropriate uses and common misuses for each of these tools. The middle of the book describes how to write the perfect email, a chapter that anyone who struggles with written communication, electronic or otherwise, may find useful. The authors then describe six essential functional types of email, and finish with two in-depth chapters on serious email stumbling blocks — including emotional emails and emails that create legal or ethical problems for senders.

The authors use sample correspondence of their own to highlight how a simple decision making process broke down on email, taking more time and effort than it should have. Shipley and Schwalbe keep the rest of the pages turning by providing a multitude of example emails from people well-known (Michael Brown of FEMA) and not so well known (12-year-old student Ming Lee). These examples are alternately horrifying, hilarious, and sometimes a little too close to home.

Considering the prevalence of email,it is surprising there are not more books like Shipley and Schwalbe’s on the shelves already. Then again, like driving a car, most of us believe we have mastered the skill already. Even the most proficient and eloquent writer may find nuggets of wisdom here. I recommend this book.

Reviewed by Mark Oppenlander

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The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2007. x, 259 pp.

Patrick Lencioni is founder and president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm. He is the author of six other books including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

There is a difference between a bad job (i.e., a poor fit between job requirements and your skills, a job involving high risk activities) and a miserable job (i.e., where the environment is so difficult you get a knot in your stomach just thinking about work). In a miserable job, you know you are not appreciated or valued, and may wonder if the work you do has any importance at all. This book is about signs of a miserable job and what a leader can do to create a positive, more enjoyable environment.

Readers familiar with Lencione’s style will not be surprised that the key ideas are developed in a fable about how a manager creates a great working environment in several companies. In the course of the fable, the manager works out how to make almost any job less miserable by treating the person as a whole person (the response to anonymity), making progress on the job more obvious with useful measures (the response to immeasurement), and making the job more meaningful by clarifying its relevance to something bigger (the response to irrelevance).

The ideas are simple and clearly developed. Surprisingly, they are also profound. I admit I was prepared not to like this book. I tend to reject books that are a bit contrived (through a fable) and a formula (his other books follow a similar script). Yet I found this one very well done. The fable was engaging and the ideas were well thought out. A minor quibble:

The title of the book is terrible. I believe many would ignore it, assuming it is a downer offering criticism without constructive solutions. This is far from the case. I recommend this book to anyone in a leadership position.

Reviewed by Al Erisman