Challenge your mind amid challenging times: Our 2020 summer reading list

The first half of 2020 has been a tumultuous year for the world. The coronavirus pandemic has tragically claimed the lives of nearly half a million individuals and afflicted countless more, upending daily life as we know it. In addition, widespread protests against racial injustice have brought the ugly truth of systemic racism to the surface, highlighting the need for fundamental change.

In light of today’s difficult times, there are no easy reads on this year’s summer reading list, Rather, each of the books detailed below, compiled from recommendations from our associates, tackles an important issue confronting the globe in the here-and-now. Our hope is that in broadening our minds to better understand the problems of today, we can all help contribute to a brighter tomorrow.

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do
Jennifer Eberhardt
Viking

In Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, writes about her decades of experience studying race and our everyday interactions - and suggests that in order to overcome our own racial biases, we must first acknowledge them.

Eberhardt is an African-American Stanford University psychology professor, and her research occurs not just in her laboratory, but in boardrooms, police departments and on the street. Data analysis is woven together with Eberhardt’s own stories from her personal life and family. She offers practical suggestions for reform and takes the reader behind the scenes to the Oakland Police Department, which implemented her suggestions with lifesaving results. She never shies away from the tragic consequences of prejudice. Eberhardt addresses how racial bias is not just a few bad apples in corporations, police departments or other institutions, but is systemic. The response to it, she says, should also be systemic.

So how do we see past racial bias? Eberhardt says that a more realistic goal is constant vigilance. In an NPR interview, the author stated, “It's hard to teach people to be colour blind in a world that's not. Everything from birth emphasises racial divides, from where we live to where we attend school, to where we work, how much money we make, to what ailments we face, to how we die. So you can't just will yourself to see past it. And, in fact, when we try not to see colour, we don't see discrimination, so ironically an attempt at colour blindness can lead to more racial inequality, rather than less.”

This was a tough book to read, with more than a few heartbreaking moments, but this is all the more reason to address the issue now. As Dr. Eberhart says, “Take a gamble, keep trying to connect and keep trying to work on this, because the minute we turn away, the worse it gets for everybody.”

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
John M. Barry
Penguin Books

Bill Gates recommended this book recently on his personal blog, saying, “I’m glad I read it. It’s one of several books that made it clear to me that the world needed to do a better job of preparing for novel pathogens. Writing roughly 16 years ago, Barry was clear and persuasive that ‘another pandemic not only can happen…. It almost certainly will happen.’” At the height of World War I, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease.

Reading the book now provides a fascinating contrast of devastation and response. As Barry concludes, “The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that…those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”   

 

 

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
Chip and Dan Heath
Random House

We’ve all made that hasty decision, that choice in the heat of the moment that we later come to regret. As brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, we often make the wrong call because our brains are flawed instruments for decision-making. So how can we work around these flaws to make better choices in our daily lives?

In this book, the Heath brothers unveil their four-step process for making better decisions, both on and off the clock. The first step is to widen your set of options. No decision, they stress, should be limited to just two choices. I can’t help but think of how true this is in light of the remote work environment many of us find ourselves in today, amid the ongoing pandemic. How each of us structures our work days at home varies wildly. Some of us look after our kids in the morning and work at night. Others work early and attend to their personal lives in the evening. For many, it’s a bit of both, and it fluctuates on a daily basis. Can you imagine if our work schedules had been limited to just two choices?

The brothers’ second step is to reality-test your assumptions. As human beings, we’re often plagued by a confirmation bias when we turn to research and data, because we look for the specific research and data that supports our biases. As investors, we’re all-too familiar with this problem, which often leads to herd-like behaviour and the mistake of buying high and selling low. The best way around this, the authors write, is to comb through all types of data - particularly data from the opposite side - in order to truly vet our assumptions.

Step number three in their process is to attain distance before deciding. The Heath brothers stress that decisions should not be made in impulsive fashion or guided by short-term emotions. Rather, when contemplating an action, it’s imperative to step back - and often times, away. Ask yourself, what will the ramifications of this decision be in 10 minutes? In 10 months? In 10 years? It’s well-documented in our industry how short-term emotions can lead to ill-advised decisions - especially when panic sets in, which is why I see this step from the Heath brothers as particularly important.

The book concludes with their fourth and final step, which is to prepare to be wrong. As human beings, once we’ve arrived at a decision, we’re often convinced it’s the right one. As investors, we see this often, whether it’s in trying to successfully time the market or attempting to identify the next outperforming security. Preparing for our inevitable failings, the authors argue, allows us to set tripwires that will force us to adjust our plans when conditions change.

In a world grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racial injustice, making better, more informed choices arguably matters more than ever before. Reading this book will help equip you with the right set of tools to do so.

Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change

Derrick Feldmann
Wiley

 

In this book, Derrick Feldmann looks back at some of the most pivotal social movements of our time and addresses why certain movements succeed at catalysing change and raising lasting social awareness, while others struggle to gain ground. Extrapolating insights from case studies on charities and companies, personal interviews with individual changemakers and his own extensive experiences in cause engagement, Feldmann provides a roadmap to help build and maintain a social movement. Using anecdotes as well as data, Feldmann shares strategies and tactics on how organisations can better engage with volunteers, donors, activists and employees, and spark public interest in social issues.

 

Through these stories, Feldmann illustrates that effective modern social movements don’t arise spontaneously - they are deliberate, thoughtful efforts. With the need for a judicious use of technology and digital engagement, this book also highlights the role of the influential millennial generation, a group that Feldmann has studied extensively, in making social movements thrive.

 

Notably, while driving social change, giving and serving has traditionally been seen as the exclusive province of the non-profit sector, this book explores how companies are increasingly getting involved through corporate social responsibility initiatives, triple-bottom-line approaches to business and cause marketing campaigns. Notable examples that Feldmann discusses include Patagonia and Panera, pioneers in combining environmental purpose and social-policy change with entrepreneurship. Other companies, such as Unilever with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, are raising social-issue awareness campaigns and establishing new paradigms in personal beliefs altogether. Ultimately, these stories hammer home Feldmann’s point that empathy - an ability we all possess regardless of our age, gender, background, or nationality - lies at the heart of all social movements for good.

 

This book resonates as we continue to hone our responsible investing practices and tools to help our clients align their financial return objectives and desired ESG (environmental, social, and governance) outcomes. It also aligns well with our mission to increase inclusivity at our firm in order to advance our company, clients and communities. In this era, doing well and doing good go hand-in-hand.

Any opinion expressed is that of Russell Investments, is not a statement of fact, is subject to change and does not constitute investment advice.

 

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