How by Dov SeidmanDecember 2011
Perhaps the closest thing yet to a philosophical justification of CSR, Dov Seidman’s book is, apparently, a ‘how’ rather than a ‘how-to’ book. By this he means the important question for businesses in ‘this networked global economy’ is not what is done, but how.
How’s interesting contention is that, since behaviour is now open for all to see, it can no longer be concealed behind results, commercial or otherwise. This means businesses must conduct themselves as if they were under a benign surveillance keeping their interests aligned with those of society. Such behaviour, according to Seidman, is ultimately what makes a company sustainable.
Reports of this ‘Age of Transparency’ may be premature, however. The removal of US legislation requiring firms to report their political spending is only the latest measure to curtail the demands society can make for corporate information. The idea that ‘hypertransparency’ has ‘gone global’, a central claim of How, is ludicrous: commercial confidentiality, not to mention illegal dissembling, has never been stronger, and Seidman does little to address the temptation for companies to hide behind it.
The book does well, however, to negotiate the difficult tension between abstract argumentation and real-life, day-to-day business. Aside from some idiotic and frankly chauvinistic simplifications, such as ‘technology + human passion x (false ideas + bad values) = extremism and global dysfunction’, How is at least a cogent book seeking to persuade through concrete examples.
Seidman has interesting things to say about certain trends and incidents as they relate to corporate responsibility. The problem is that his thinking is always geared toward an uncritical celebration of the notion of voluntary self-regulation. While it fails to persuade philosophically, that is, How still has the makings of a decent ‘how-to’ book.
How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything... in Business (and in Life) (An Expanded Version) by Dov Seidman. Wiley, 2011. 352 pages. $29.75