Welcome to our annual recommended summer reading list for the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Thinking about New Zealand’s long-term future is the overarching purpose of the Institute. It is with this in mind that we have identified the following observations from 2015 that will shape our recommended reading list and our work programme for 2016.
Seven Key Observations from 2015
- The world has changed. The international community is facing human, environmental, economic, political and cultural challenges on an unprecedented scale.
- New Zealand will be impacted by these changes. The exploitation of rapidly developing technology (e.g. in terms of medicine, food production, transportation and warfare) and the mass migration of our global population in particular will put further pressure on our economy, trade partnerships and inequity.
- New Zealand has never been more closely linked to the global economy and world governance through our role on the UN Security Council (2015 and 2016) and our membership to the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation (2015 to 2018). This provides a unique opportunity to be in a position to bring about global change.
- Big data is going to be part of the problem. We need to focus on quality not quantity. We need to ensure we have useful data, data that together creates information and builds knowledge. Most importantly we need timely, complete and accurate data that informs problem definition, strategic options, strategy implementation and ideally an informed society (one that is prepared to take the pain in the short term in order to gain benefits in the long term).
- The wild card* for 2016 is defence and security. Building defence capability and strong international relationships in 2016 will become increasingly important as the likelihood of terrorist attacks and cyber-crime are on the increase. This is particularly relevant in terms of policing our ocean and building capability in the pacific.
- The black elephant** for 2016 is the future of our livestock. Given recent medical research on the effects of red meat on our health, as well as the known impacts of livestock pollution on our waterways and atmosphere, we have some serious thinking to do in terms of how we shape the future of this industry.
- The lion in the grass*** for 2016 is social unrest. New Zealand will need to work hard to create a more cohesive and connected society, building empathy and respect into the ways we do business, develop public policy and grow, attract, retain and connect talent.
* Wild cards are low-probability, high-impact events.
** A black elephant is a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one wants to address it).
*** A lion in the grass is the unwelcome surprise that we may encounter having manoeuvred around those lions that we can already see.
Last year marked ten years since we established the Institute, so it was timely for me to take a sabbatical and explore the international public policy landscape. Part of this time involved eight weeks looking at what Europe has to provide in terms of green cities and great urban design – looking at ways to create a place where talent wants to live. From this trip I have developed three principles to guide our work programme going forward:
Principle 1: Focus on Choice rather than Freedom (as a focus on choice will, over time, deliver independence and freedom)
Principle 2: Focus on Fairness rather than Equality (as working on being fair is likely to lead to a more equal and cohesive society)
Principle 3: Focus on Family rather than the Individual (as a focus on family – and more broadly, community – will make society more resilient to shocks)
Given the above, our recommended reading list for the Prime Minister in January 2016 is as follows:
1. The Joy of Tax (Richard Murphy, October 2015)
Tax is what enables governments to help build resilience and improve wellbeing. But are we taxing the poor too much and the wealthy too little? Are we policing our tax laws well enough? Are we operating in a fair way? Should we shape our tax system to put more money into the hands of those less well-off (before we tax) rather than provide benefits to those after we tax – is the balance right? Are there unintended consequences of our tax system we are not seeing? I do not know the answers, and it is timely to question the current tax system given the insights from the recent TacklingPovertyNZ workshop (held in December 2015). You can purchase the book here.
2. Superforecasting: The art and science of prediction (Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, September 2015)
I stopped thinking like an accountant when I realised that taking last year’s earnings as a basis for forecasting next year’s earnings no longer worked. Instead we need a new way of understanding and exploring the world we live in. This book focuses on something I feel we do not do enough of in New Zealand – examining the past to inform the future. It takes a mix of determination, self-reflection and a willingness to learn from one’s mistakes. The best forecasters are less interested in whether they were right or wrong but in why they were right or wrong. We need to continuously look for ways to improve our performance and this book provides some useful insights. Importantly, this book suggests that prediction is not only possible; it is teachable. This approach should be embraced by MPs and the public service, particularly given the challenges ahead. You can purchase the book here.
3. Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs (David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, April 2015)
Once you have an understanding of the future, it is time to shape the future by developing a responsive strategy. This is a simple book that aims to share some home truths. What I really like about this book is its focus on ‘look forward, reason back’ and ‘build platforms and ecosystems’. This year I have focused on building a team at the office that is not rule-based but principle-based. My vision has been an ecosystem. You can imagine how delighted I was to find a subsection in this book titled ‘Think Ecosystems, not just Platforms’ and it notes ‘Gates, Grove and Jobs all made it part of their mission to facilitate innovation and cooperation throughout their ecosystem’. It is proving an interesting read. You can purchase the book here.
4. Strategy Builder: How to Create and Communicate More Effective Strategies (Stephen Cummings and Duncan Angwin, March 2015)
Strategy Builder is co-authored by New Zealand’s own Stephen Cummings. Stephen Cummings is Professor of Strategic Management at Victoria University of Wellington. He also holds, or has held, visiting or adjunct positions at Warwick Business School, ENPC Paris, Ecole Hassania Casablanca, the University of Melbourne, Stockholm University and Trinity College Dublin. His latest book is written in such a way as to showcase the world’s best strategy frameworks and then illustrate how to combine these creatively in order to communicate and discuss the desired strategy. Developing strategy is hard but communicating strategy quickly is even harder, and the value of this book is that it addresses both of these challenges.
5. How to run a Government (Michael Barber, March 2015)
This book provides a good backdrop to understanding how principles are important for determining strategy and strategy are important for determining public policy. It also has a great section on Stewardship: The role of the centre of a service (pages 92 to 98). It identifies three functions that the system needs to consider centrally in order to leave the system better than how it was found (Barber’s definition of successful stewardship). They are (i) Strategic direction, (ii) Performance management and regulation and (iii) Capacity, capability and culture. This book will be extremely useful guide to our StrategyNZ project.
6. Thing Explainer: Complicated stuff in simple words (Randall Munroe, November 2015)
This book is included because MPs and policy analysts will need to explain lots of complicated stuff in 2016. As we move forward, trends will combine in a multitude of ways, delivering a variety of outcomes. One of the tools to manage complexity is to make things less complicated. I think the best embodiment of the difference between complex and complicated that I have ever come across is an iPhone. It is not complicated to use, but it is complex to build and even more complex to fix. I thought this book might broaden our perspective – for example, how would you explain the New Zealand tax system in simple words? You can purchase the book here.
The Institute is now closed until Tuesday, 26 January 2016. My team have worked very hard this year, especially running two workshops so close together – The Civics and Media Project and TacklingPovertyNZ. Both workshops proved fascinating, and some of the outputs are already public, but the workshop booklets will not be published until mid February 2016. If you would like to receive our twice-yearly newsletter (coming late January) please register here. If you would like to learn more about our upcoming events, you are most welcome to register here. Our work programme for the upcoming year will be explained in the late January newsletter and will be illustrated here.
A big thank you, as always, to the team at Unity Books for helping us choose this years list.
Thank you for your interest. We hope you have an excellent holiday and return to work refreshed and ready to make New Zealand the place it was destined to become – a place where talent wants to live. If you are aware of any books you would suggest for the Prime Minister of New Zealand this summer, please share them with us by commenting below.
All the best for the season,
Wendy and the team at the Institute
P.S. I particularly enjoyed the Christmas card I received from the Centre for Strategic Futures, Singapore (see below). The Centre continues to inspire, motivate and showcase best foresight practice.