Oct 15 2006

Book Short: You’d Never Run Your Business This Way…

Book Short:  You’d Never Run Your Business This Way…

I am an unabashed conservative, so you might wonder what I was doing reading  A Country That Works, by union chief Andy Stern, the President of SEIU (Service Workers International Union) this weekend.  Well, part of it is that my mother-in-law Carmen works for him.  Part was that he was quite inspiring during his recent appearance on the Colbert Report a week or two ago.  And part was that I always like reading about different points of view, especially with the current, somewhat dismal state of the Republican leadership in Washington.

The book was very short and a worthwhile read.  I may not agree with Stern on some of his illustrations of the problems — his statistical presentations were a bit apples-to-oranges at times — and some of his solutions, which were a bit high on the big-government-tax-and-spend side for me, but the book was very plain-speak, apolitical, and solution-oriented, all of which I found refreshing.

He certainly had at least one underlying premise about “labor as electricity ” (compete on something else other than forcing wages to go lower) that is making me think hard about my long-standing philosophical opposition to federally-mandated minimum wages.  His notion of the importance of a global labor movement to act as a check/balance on corporate globalization both make sense.  Actually, now that I think about it, those two things put together start working well as one plank in a solution to global poverty.

But the best part of the book was the fact that Stern is clear that, like his ideas or hate them,  he is at least proposing that we DEAL with them.  America is missing serious debate about some critical issues facing our society.  Anyone who doesn’t think we have serious problems facing our future around retirement savings, education, and health care is not facing reality.  The debate happening in Washington today is weak at best, and over-politicized.

The bottom line is that I think we’re in danger as a country of boiling the frog when it comes to some major structural issues in our society, and, most important to me, You’d Never Run Your Business This Way.  Any good entrepreneur knows that when danger lurks around the corner, you have to reinvent yourself, and we as a country aren’t doing that at this moment when we’d benefit from it greatly for the long term.  Stern displays that mix of optimism for the future and serious reality check today known as the Stockdale Paradox and revered by Jim Collins in his two books on corporate leadership, Good to Great and Built to Last.

My biggest criticism of the book was that it was too short.  It was basically 1/3 Andy’s story, 1/3 SEIU’s story, and 1/3 labor’s story — and it could have been at least twice as long and gone into more detail on Stern’s points, especially in the last chapter where he starts spelling out his plan to get America back on track.  But presumably when Stern runs for national office or gets a cabinet appointment someday (no inside knowledge here, but the book certainly reads that way), he’ll flesh things out a bit!