‘The Man who Mistook his Job for his Life’, by Naomi Shragai

Naomi Shragai is a psychotherapist whose practice includes a lot of workplace therapy, both inside companies in an official capacity, and in her private practice. Her name may be familiar to FT readers as she has written many articles about the ways in which our unconscious motivations influence our behaviour and relationships, at work and beyond.

Now she’s bringing all her insights together in a fascinating book. The Man who Mistook his Job for his Life is for anyone who is curious about human behaviour — our own, and that of our colleagues and bosses. By learning how our early experiences may be influencing the way we react to tricky situations — chapters include “In fear of conflict — or why there is no such thing as a perfect childhood” — we can take the right action to solve our workplace problems.

The book is much more than a practical guide, though. It is a guide to all human life and there is a fair amount of personal anecdote from Shragai’s own life. We may all claim rationality, but that is rarely evident in our workplaces.

Shragai is not just telling us why we behave as we do (it is because “the pull towards the familiar is strong and it is often powerful enough to overtake our conscious desires”). She shows us how to get past these patterns and find a different way of reacting.

‘Woke, Inc: Inside the Social Justice Scam’, by Vivek Ramaswamy

“Wokeness”, or the idea of being alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice, is contentiously sitting at the centre of the so-called “culture wars” that dominate much of public politics.

But when “woke” ideas are sponsored by big corporations, Vivek Ramaswamy argues we risk turning democracies into the autocracy of the elite. In Woke, Inc., the founder and former chief executive of biotech group Roivant Sciences examines the ways in which stakeholder capitalism and woke culture have developed over the past decade, and how this evolution has put the legitimacy of democratic processes on the line.

The book was written following the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, when Ramaswamy penned an article arguing against the censorship of individual accounts on Twitter and Facebook. The backlash to the piece was such that the author felt compelled to step down as CEO and focus on defending his political ideas.

Ramaswamy argues that stakeholder capitalism has become a means for top level corporations to increase their profit while dictating moral and social values that should rather be voted on by the electorate.

He presents a clear argument filled with entertaining professional and personal anecdotes and claims that wokeness is used as a “hollow excuse” for companies to assume their place in a “moral pantheon”.

In contrast with other forms of lobbying, “woke” moral principles are, he writes, comparable to a religion that is being imposed without the consent of the majority. However, most policies lobbied by large corporations have an equal impact on voters’ day-to-day lives.

While the author’s criticism of the infiltration of politics in the boardroom is valid, he fails to explain who, exactly, is behind the turn to “woke” capitalism.

But as the political cleavages of American (and to a certain extent, British) society become more entrenched in cultural and identity issues, Woke, Inc. is a reminder of the power of overcoming group think centred around identity labels, and facing challenges with a more equanimous mindset.

‘Friday is the New Saturday: How a Four-day Working Week Will Save the Economy’, by Pedro Gomes

The concept of working four days a week started decades ago and has divided opinions.

But as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, the conversation around the idea is gaining force. Pedro Gomes presents a compelling approach to the topic, rooting his arguments in a range of economic theories, history and data — focused on the improvement of society.

The narrative is constructed around the ideas of influential economists John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek. The book is thoroughly researched, providing substantial analysis of both the benefits and drawbacks of changing the status quo of the five-day week.

The book examines arguments from both the left and right of the political spectrum. The first part explains the historical panorama of the four-day working movement, with statistics, facts and initial thoughts on how the economic activities could be reorganised to influence a healthy societal change.

Moving on, the author blends economic theory, opinions of brilliant minds, stories of successful companies, anecdotal evidence and examples based on data to persuade readers from different ideological preferences. He uses eight economic statements to explore different scenarios of what people would do with their extra day off work.

In one of the statements — “Because it will give people more freedom to choose how to spend their time” — Gomes comments that under the four-day week, workers would have more freedom to decide how much and when to work, leveraging productivity and a better work-life balance.

The final part examines the practical details of implementing the four-day working week, in both the private and public sectors, how it could propel innovation and remodel our idea of freedom. After all, Keynes believes “the biggest problem is not to let people accept new ideas, but to let them forget the old ones”.

‘Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It’s Everyone’s Business’, by Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro

‘Power for All’ is an attempt to reclaim the idea of power as a good thing and explain how to increase it in your life © Little, Brown Book Group

The concept of power is a difficult one. Most people would like more of it in their lives, but we also see the problems caused by those few who have a lot of it. This book is an attempt to reclaim the idea of power as a good thing and explain how to increase the power in your life, while noting that this is only good if society shares power around more. It is a difficult sell but takes the reader through some interesting examples of how to use power and how not to.

The authors — both professors of organisational behaviour — frame their subject in economic terms. Power can manifest itself in various forms: a skill; access to certain people; or an understanding of how to act in certain circumstances. But like other scarce resources, it is only valuable if someone else wants what you have to offer.

Battilana and Casciaro include insightful anecdotes about how power is gained by those we know as powerful. But many of the examples the authors give are purposefully everyday to illustrate both the importance of power for all of us in order to have a good life and how we can all obtain it.

This is a guide to how people can build power over their lives, and those of others. It is also a call to arms. The way to counter the devious enterprises of the powerful is not to turn our back on power, but to understand how we can use our own portion of it to fight unjust hierarchies and to ensure individual rights.

‘Undiversified: The Big Gender Short in Investment Management’, by Ellen Carr and Katrina Dudley

‘Undiversified’ is aimed at those who might be considering a career in investment management or those already in the industry © Columbia University Press

When you think of someone who manages money, do you think of a man or a woman? This is the opening line to Ellen Carr and Katrina Dudley’s deep dive into investment management, its gender problem and how to fix it.

It has a broad appeal in terms of the issues it deals with, but it is aimed at those who might be considering an IM career or those already in the industry. The authors, both successful portfolio managers, highlight the contradiction between the mantra that “diversification is investing 101”, yet why is this not reflected among practitioners?

Split into three parts, the first gives an overview of the industry, the jobs, and the gender imbalance. The second looks at why women are not choosing to go into the industry both at a graduate and MBA level, and identifies the barriers to women’s advancement (80-hour weeks don’t work so well with family life). It also provides insights from other women who have succeeded in developing a successful career and the different paths they have taken.

Part three looks at solutions; how to recruit more women by increasing the visibility of the IM career and how to improve its “image problem”. Less Gordon Gekko and the more troublesome activist investors and more a focus on IMs’ role “as stewards of capital”.

Carr and Dudley also make a case for changing the entry-level recruiting process and improving retention by applying data driven approaches to both promotions and pay. And they ask that readers demand to know who exactly manages their money, as “you will shine a brighter light on our problem”.