Reading blog

In 2018, I am making a conscious effort to try and increase my reading outside of PhD work. I’ve mainly been drawn to non-fiction books and wanted to write a short review on the top 3 books I’ve read so far in 2018.

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back [link]

By Elisabeth Rosenthal

Much is written about the ways in which the health system of the United States of America compares unfavourably to similar nations in terms of costs of care and life expectancy and this books seeks to shed light on how the US got there. Moving through the different players in the health care system from hospitals to pharmaceutical companies to insurers, this book takes a historical perspective explaining how the American health system has ended up in its current position. For someone like me, who knows a lot about health system organisation but less about the US system specifically, I found this part of the book fascinating and somewhat unsettling (particularly as I will be relocating to the United States in six months). It really highlighted the important influence of cultural and political factors on the operation of health systems around the world. However rather than end here, the book moves forward with practical recommendations that aim to provide patients with resources to empower them to get a better deal.

The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business [link]

By Erin Meyer

Easy to read with lots of anecdotes and examples, this book aims to help people to navigate cultural differences in the workplace and build skills in anticipating and resolving issues that may arise due to cultural differences in teams. While pitched at people who are working in international relations or in global companies, I think there are broader messages about the way we communicate with people in a variety of settings.

As someone from a mixed cultural background with Anglo-Australian and Malaysian heritage, who has lived in both Europe and Asia, I’ve always been interested in social and cultural norms. This book helped to put a framework around some of the things I’ve experienced in both professional and personal situations.

A key point of reflection for me when reading this book is that we view the world through our own cultural biases. When we interpret someone as polite, rude, friendly or aggressive in our daily interactions, it is not an objective statement of truth but a reflection of our own background. This book highlighted to me some of the dangers of promulgating a dominant, ‘majority’ cultural view and how people that are working outside of their traditional context need to adapt on many different levels to ‘fit in’. This is something that is rarely acknowledged by the dominant culture.

Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI [link]

By Paul R. Daugherty & H. James Wilson

I think there is a lot of hype surrounding AI with daily reports of machines and robots taking over jobs in certain sectors. I do not think this is true but I realised that I didn’t know a lot about real-world applications of AI. This book was a really interesting read and I particularly liked the depth that the authors went into in exploring the range of work options in which humans and AI can work in more complementary roles.

For me the value of this book is the discussion of the ‘missing middle,’ which is the space of hybrid human and machine activities in which humans and machines work together and enhance each others strengths. Humans complement machines through training and explaining and AI can amplify human abilities. The book then describes the type of  fusion skills required for humans and machines to successfully work together, and they are not talking about coding. This sort of nuanced discussion is missing from a lot of commentary on AI and the future of work. Although designed for senior managers, I think the book is suitable for all people wanting to understand how future organisations may look with the emergence of new roles in which humans and machines work more closely together.

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