Is your boss a psycho?

NEVIL GIBSON
Last updated 05:00 20/08/2014
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Nevil Gibson reviews The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab, Shamubeel Eaqub's Growing Apart and The Economics of Just About Everything by Andrew Leigh.

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REVIEW: The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success 
Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab
Bantam Press trade paperback $38

This is the joint effort of a Special Air Service hero-turned-thriller writer and a neurologist wanting to eliminate the pejorative meaning of “psycho”, by emphasising the positive qualities of personalities that are usually attributed to the criminal or antisocial.

These qualities include ruthlessness, coolness under pressure, focus and charisma. Qualities that may be lacking are conscience and empathy.

The collaborators met when McNab, author of the bestselling Bravo Two Zero, was put through a psychological test by Dutton, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London.

The result is a wildly variable account of why positive psychopathology is a boon to surgeons and the military. It’s hard to summarise but one anecdote will do.

When challenged by a Texas oil millionaire about what made Kerry Packer so special as a gambler, the Australian quickly responded to the Texan’s claim of having a $100 million fortune.

“That’s great,” Packer said, “Tell you what – I’ll toss you for it.”

 In a few words, Packer revealed the value he was prepared to put on a single emotional reaction to what he considered a slight.

This book won’t turn you into a good psychopath or even turn you on about them – if you aren’t one – but it has plenty of explanations for the Packers of this world. 

Growing Apart
Shamubeel Eaqub
BWB Texts, paperback $15; e-book $US4 (Amazon)

Publisher Bridget Williams Books provides a valuable service with its pocket-sized polemics in which experts tackle their specific areas of expertise. 

NZIER economist Shamubeel Eaqub says the decline of the regions reflects the failure of public policy to face realities such as the impact of modern technology on the job market, particularly on those without skills. 

He writes with deep concern about the regions’ collective failure to grasp their plight. This has led to the downward spiral of reduced services – be they transportation, education or even health – through a lack of adaptation. 

Other studies, both here and overseas, have showed successful regional development needs a mix of entrepreneurship, tertiary-level education and strong transport links.

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Only a committed local community can provide these, with businesses taking the lead. Councils are mainly passive or inhibitory, generally acting more as a brake on development than as a spur.

 Eaqub provides examples – such as air fares. He cites the cost of travel for each of his clients on two recent trips as $300 for Southland and $50 for Auckland from a base in Wellington.

“A negative spiral threatens with low demand putting more pressure on carriers and prices, further reducing accessibility for provincial businesses,” he writes.

Slow pickup of technology – which in many cases lowers the cost of remoteness – is another inhibition, though the biggest is lack of scale when competing with large urban concentrations.

 Most of all, Eaqub implies a change of mindset; one that is sadly lacking in the offerings of political parties, who say they have the answers but think this involves subsidies to hold back the pace of change.

The Economics of Just About Everything
Andrew Leigh
Allen & Unwin paperback $33

If your library of Freakonomics and similar volumes of popular economics is looking a little tired, this will help out.

Andrew Leigh, a former professor of economics at Australian National University and now federal Labor politician, is erudite and has a popular touch in his writing. While of the left, he knows the value of incentives and trade-offs in explaining people’s behaviour.

 He backs this up with examples from dieting and dating, firearms and forecasting, poverty and painting, all underpinned by wide reading and research.

He is remarkably sanguine about the failure of economics itself, mainly because while it can explain the present and make it seem commonsense, predicting the future is much harder.

The reason: the big drivers of change are disruptive technologies and sudden shifts in society. Whether this will make Leigh a successful politician remains to be seen.

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