Authored by: Jonathan Haskel, Stian Westlake

Reviewed by: Kevin Miller

Keyword: Investment; Capital; Intangible Assets; Intangibles; Economics; Technology; Management; Leadership; Capitalism

The Essence of the Book:

Authors Haskel and Westlake compactly address where organizational value is truly being built in most if not all significant enterprises: intangibles. Just what are “intangibles”…? Those are the assets that accountants often can’t easily count and measure like they can for buildings, trucks, and office desks. Intangibles include branding, software, data collected, business processes improvements, and strategy.

Therefore, such valuable intangible dimensions of the organization don’t directly appear on the financial statements you give your banker. But intangibles are such a huge factor in actual performance and results. This is not only true for Amazon, Facebook, and Google, it’s true for your business, nonprofit, or church.

The authors address both macroeconomics (e.g., national government public policy) and microeconomics (i.e., individual enterprises and customers) using a very readable approach. (In contrast, most books in this important area of intangibles are highly technical throughout and much less readable.) This book can help the leader break free from a “traditional banker or accountant mentality,” often unwittingly imposed on leaders by accountants and bankers themselves (!), in order to drive the value of the enterprise to real greatness.

Whitestone Commentary:

The authors have put together an unusual book, very useful (in parts, at least) to many, all the way from an alert young manager desiring superb stewardship results to the seasoned veteran looking to sharpen thinking and challenge existing organizational and leadership assumptions.

Very few readers are macro-focused public policymakers or political pundits, so the recommended navigation to pursue is the micro-focused content. This means that Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 10, which are substantially macro-focused, can be skipped by the enterprise leader focused on his or her “controllables”…that is, issues substantially under the control of the local decision maker. Read those macro chapters at another time.

First, go to the straightforward table on page 22 “Examples of Tangible and Intangible Business Investments” (note that the authors use “business” in the title; this is more a “microeconomic” label to distinguish from “macroeconomic” usage…so this table applies to nonprofits and your church just as much as your business).

Ponder the depth of what initially looks simple on the table: “training,” for example, sounds simple and routine. But which national fast-food enterprise has trained thousands of teenagers to constantly respond “my pleasure” to patrons, and actually act like they mean it!?!

Little wonder that Chick-fil-A is currently ranked very highly in quality-service perception in national consumer polls—so why haven’t competitors like McDonalds duplicated this famous service differentiation in their own way? That’s meaningful training and business process, valuable intangibles, and you will look in vain for these assets being listed on a Chick-fil-A financial statement. By the way, these Chick-fil-A value-builders are the same teenagers who won’t keep their bedrooms at home uncluttered—for months on end!

So, intangibles are important—no, they are absolutely key—for every business, for every nonprofit, for every church.

Next, go to the table on page 44 “Categories of Intangible Investment.” It is essential to understand these two tables of innocent-looking words with regard to their potential impact on your organization is essential—the “upside” is amazing. Likewise, the “downside” for your organization is significant, because your multiple competitors are moving ahead on these priorities right now.

With these foundations established, read Chapters 1 and 2. These are excellent chapters to lay a foundation of understanding. Note the first four graphs (lose any phobia you may have for graphs, the key ones here are easy to understand). The evidence is for increasing macro-investment in intangibles in relation to macro-investment in tangibles. Key point: your survival and thriving are dependent on intangible investments in the 21st century economy.

This is actually old news for Jesus-followers. That’s because the most important asset you hold close is intangible—the Good News that the Kingdom of God is at hand!

But the local churches don’t always act like that—or at least sustain it. Have you been to (or internet-browsed) some of the most famous churches in Europe, massive structures of tangible beauty and intricate physical workmanship? Yet, people today don’t visit these churches for the intangibles that God actually values and that cause millions each day to become believers—instead, people visit those churches for what can be called the “museum value.”

In contrast, in homely little houses and churches around the world this very day, intangibles are working to help transfer people into the Kingdom (Col 1:13 ESV): intangibles like the presence of God; trained, anointed priesthood-believers; authentic community; and meaningful ministry. You see, the true value of Kingdom membership has almost nothing to do with the church’s local tangibles—it’s the intangibles! Once again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were two-millennia ahead of cutting-edge 21st century practices, ones that this very book is trying to impart to its readers!

Next, be sure to absorb and ponder the four S’s of intangibles that the authors identify in Chapter 4 beginning on page 65: scalability, sunkenness, spillovers, and synergies—all four very important, real-world, interwoven practicalities. You should be gelling just how each of these could or should contextualize the future of your organizations—your business, your church, and your nonprofit leadership spots.

Now, go to Chapter 11 “Summary, Conclusion, and the Way Ahead” to review where the authors pull it all together. The final outline in this brief chapter is exceedingly helpful.

Finally, go back to Chapters 8 and 9 for some key takeaways on the financing, competition, and management of intangibles.

In this book, the authors have laid out a very valuable knowledge set for you to absorb—that knowledge set is an intangible in itself! This very fact smartly validates the authors’ theme: the intangibles you glean from this book (or valuable podcasts or seminars or mentors or disciplers in general) can propel your organization much further than the $29.95 list-price tangible investment in paper, glue, and binding that the accountant acknowledges as the financial statement “value.”

Happy reading! You will acquire essential new tools or at least sharpen your thinking, smoothly advanced by the efforts of these two gifted authors. Otherwise, you simply risk being left behind.

Your choice.


Reviewed by Kevin Miller