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Many years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have observed, "I wouldn't give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity." I recalled that observation as I began to read Roger Martin's latest book. With consummate skill, he enables an economics neophyte such as I to complete a journey that began in almost total ignorance and eventually reached a point at which a sound (albeit basic) understanding of key economic issues has been developed. The "game" to which the book's title refers is an economic system that based on theories that assume that "focusing on shareholder value maximization using stock-based compensation" will give shareholders a better deal when, in fact, these theories "have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism."

The repairs that are urgently needed (i.e. the "fixing" of that system), Martin asserts, require that the "expectations game" end, replaced by the re-establishment of a real market. Why? "The real market produces a positive-sum game for society. Everyone can be better off as more and more value is created for customers. In contrast, the expectations market produces a gigantic zero-sum game." The real market also produces meani9ng and motivation for organizations and their leaders, cobtri9butes to a sense of authenticity for individuals, and in general, Martin submits, "a real market orientation creates individual and societal good, while the expectations orientation creates a downward spiral that threatens both individual well-being and the health of our economy."

Martin provides a brief but remarkably insightful review of economic history that helps to create a frame of reference, a context, for his criticism of the focus on creating value for shareholders rather than for customers. It also helps to introduce the five action steps he proposes:

1. Shift companies' focus back to the customer.
2. Restore authenticity to the lives of executives.
3. Address the deficiencies of board governance
4. Regulate and manage expectations players more effectively, "most notably hedge funds. Net, hedge funds create no value for society."
5. Finally, business executives "need to take on a more expansive and positive view of the role of for-profit companies in society."

With characteristic precision and clarity, Martin explains (a) what must be done as well as what must not be done, (b) why changes must be made, and (c) how to proceed. His is a "bold vision" for companies and executives, to be sure, but he obviously agrees with Thomas Edison that "vision without execution is hallucination." As indicated in all of his articles and books, Martin is a results-driven visionary. Consider these comments in the final chapter:

"There is a superior option, one that only a fraction of senior executives choose to embrace. It is to contribute to strengthening the civil foundation, going beyond the laws and regulations already in place and the norms and conventions already prevailing. This means venturing into the frontier of initiatives that have not yet been attempted but that hold the promise of making the world a better place. It means truly taking the lead on initiatives that mean more than profits."

That brief excerpt helps to suggest the bold vision to which I referred earlier. Roger Martin is convinced that the core of business and capitalism can be restored but he is well-aware of all the perils that await those who aspire to achieve that worthy objective. Some of the rules of the "game" must be changed, others preserved, and all of them enforced. The competition must be located in a real market rather than one whose results are determined by expectations. Throughout the narrative, Martin cites lessons to be learned from the N.F.L., such as "keeping players from betting on the games they play" (i.e. executive compensation with stock-based incentives and rewards). At least some of what Roger Martin recommends can be accomplished by individuals but, as he fully understands, the institutional transformations needed can only be accomplished by a public-private coalition whose nature and extent would be unprecedented.
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le 23 avril 2011
In this book Roger Martin has challenged me to rethink and adjust how I behave when I sit on Corporate Boards and deal with compensation issues.
It's an easy, enjoyable and important read.
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le 21 novembre 2011
This is an important book for everyone who thinks the Occupy Wall Street movement (as I write the outcome of the movement is undecided) have at least some legitimate gripes against the recent performance of corporate CEOs - including but not limited to the Wall Street Financiers.

Unlike many of the Occupiers, Mr. Martin does not think the root of the problem lies with capitalism or with the "1%" even though he readily acknowledges longer more tenacious difficulties than just the recent financial collapse which has spawned the Occupiers. Rather, he proposes the problem, or at least a good portion of it, can be traced back to a few critical errors initiated in the mid 1970s on compensating CEOs and senior corporate management. Exhibiting that rare commodity, common sense, he goes on to observe such errors can reasonably be expected from time to time (after all, CEOs, corporate board members and even academics like Mr. Martin are only human) and we should, therefore, have mechanisms in place to correct them - and not just the patchwork band-aid approach taken by recent governments. Not exactly earth shaking, is it?

In his short, easily read book Mr. Martin deftly analyzes the corporate crisis from development to present day and puts forward several concrete solutions. Just in case we have difficulty following, he uses the National Football League and, to a lesser extent, major league baseball as nifty easy to understand models. In fact, the book is so plainly written it is tempting to dismiss it as just too simple to be meaningful in today's complex world. That would be a mistake.

Mr. Martin does not and cannot solve everything in one small book but he does make a serious contribution. Whether or not you support the Occupiers, his book is worth a read.
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le 13 mars 2014
Roger Martin is a rare business leader of significant repute to call out our economic system as it is, and then offer tangible solutions that need to be taken very seriously. Anyone involved in capital markets needs to read this book. Seriously.
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le 26 mars 2015
A very insightful book on what's wrong with executive compensation and how it affects markets.
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le 26 août 2013
This book was extremely disappointing. I read it after I saw Martin interviewed on TV talking about the problems with the current structure of executive compensation and how it needs to be reformed. I was intrigued by the ideas he was discussing, so I decided to read this book. However, in the book, I thought Martin took far too many extreme positions with very little evidence. He points to the occasional accounting scandals like Enron or Worldcom to broadly conclude that most corporate executives are crooks. He paints the hedge fund industry as holistically unhelpful to society when this is clearly erroneous when you look at what some activist hedge fund investors have done to improve business performance in many industries. For a Dean of a well-respected business school to make such superficial claims was extremely disappointing to me.

On the other hand, he does make some very interesting points about issues with executive compensation and incentives in modern business culture which are definitely valid. Nevertheless, I was extremely disappointed with a substantial portion of the book and wouldn't recommend this book to others.
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