The best books to understand what modern governments can and should do for their citizens

Who am I?

A professor of business at the University of Cambridge, I've spent over two decades studying innovation. I've been particularly interested in “frugal innovation”: how small teams now use ubiquitous tools and technologies to achieve what only large corporations or governments could a decade ago. I've written two books about this phenomenon: Jugaad Innovation and Frugal Innovation about the private sector. Whenever I gave talks about them, there was always the question: What does this mean for governments? I began to study how the state could use new technologies and ways of organizing to deliver services to its citizens better, faster and cheaper, and how governments should regulate and cultivate such tools used by the private sector.

I wrote...

How Should a Government Be?: The New Levers of State Power

By Jaideep Prabhu,

Book cover of How Should a Government Be?: The New Levers of State Power

What is my book about?

For over a century, the most divisive question in political thought has been about the size of the state. This dilemma might have made sense in earlier decades. Now, with a world transformed by Covid-19 and a revolution unfolding in the technologies of organization, a great upheaval is also coming in the essential business of government.

In How Should a Government Be? The New Levers of State Power I examine: how governments around the world are using technology and organization to transform how they deliver for their citizens; the challenges and opportunities that these new technologies and forms of organization pose; and how all this is even more imperative in a post-Covid-19 world of mass support schemes and unprecedented levels of surveillance.

The books I picked & why

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The Road to Serfdom

By F.A. Hayek,

Book cover of The Road to Serfdom

Why this book?

This book was written during the height of World War II and published in 1944 by Friedrich von Hayek, one of the giants of 20th century economic and political thought. His book lays out in stark terms the key issues concerning the size and role of the state in a modern economy. As such, it was a major inspiration for my own book. I take some of his arguments seriously and show which ones are still relevant in the 21st century and which ones no longer are.

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

By John Micklethwait, Adrian Wooldridge,

Book cover of The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

Why this book?

The authors of this book were stalwarts of The Economist for many years. They bring to this book all their considerable powers as writers and analysts of contemporary politics and economics. Again, this book was a major source of inspiration for my own book. After discussing prior revolutions in the scale and scope of the state over the last two centuries, The Fourth Revolution argues that: 1) reform of the state is essential, and 2) this reform is possible because it is already happening all over the world thanks to new technology. This book, therefore, served for me as the launching point for my own book which looks at a great number of these actual changes in governments around the world that are taking place on the back of new technologies and forms of organization. 

Innovative State

By Aneesh Chopra,

Book cover of Innovative State

Why this book?

The author of this book, Aneesh Chopra, became the first chief technology officer of the United States government in 2009. Prior to that, he was the Secretary of Technology for Virginia and managing director for a health care think tank. As CTO for the US government, Chopra led the administration’s attempts to create a more open, tech-savvy government. In this book, he draws on his experience and interviews with policy experts and tech insiders to show how government can establish a new paradigm for the internet era, one that allows us to tackle the most challenging problems, from economic development to veteran affairs. Once again, it was a source of inspiration for me. My own book extends his discussion of the US federal government to the state and city level, as well as looks at many other countries around the world, both developed and developing.

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Book cover of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

Why this book?

Mariana Mazzucato is a heterodox economist who writes about and advises global policymakers on innovation-driven inclusive growth. In this provocative book, she seeks to dispel the notion that governments are sluggish and inept, and that only the private sector can innovate. Through cases of companies like Apple and sectors like biotechnology she seeks to show that the state is, and has often been, our boldest and most valuable innovator. Moreover, believing that the state is inept results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. It leads governments to disinvest from innovation, which in turn results in them playing less of a role in driving innovation. While I don’t agree with much she says, her book is nevertheless a source of inspiration for my own book. In my book, I do not view the public and private sectors as adversarial (as Mazzucato does). Instead, I look at how governments can partner with the private sector to create better and more vibrant innovation ecosystems by building on their respective strengths.

Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

By Frederic Laloux,

Book cover of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

Why this book?

Frederic Laloux is a Belgian management consultant, coach, and organizational theorist. In this book, he argues that every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness, it has created a new way to structure and run its organizations. He then argues that a new shift in consciousness and organizational innovation is currently underway. These new organizations are collaborative, decentralized, and adaptive, and operate on trust rather than fear. Packed with examples of such organizations the book shows how their founders are questioning many tenets of 20th-century management to come up with entirely new organizational forms and approaches. Even though they operate in different industries and geographies and do not know of each other's experiments, the structures and practices these organizations have developed are remarkably similar. This book was a major source of inspiration for me in my own thinking about how governments can reinvent themselves to be more citizen-centric and responsive in the 21st century.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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