Monday, March 16, 2009


I have on my shelf a book called THE BEST BUSINESS BOOKS EVER and another called THE 100 BEST BUSINESS BOOKS OF ALL TIME. The lists have quite a bit of overlap, as you would expect, and I've read 18 on each list. If I had to recommend just five personal favorites, and using a broad definition of "business book," I'd start here (with main takeaways, from memory):

a. The only thing you can measure is results. And the only thing you should measure is results.
b. Results exist only on the outside.
c. Know thy time. Most people don't have a very good idea of how they actually spend their time.
d. Time is an utterly non-renewable resource (unlike money, capital, workers) and must be invested purposefully.
e. Make strengths productive.
f. Do not spend valuable time trying to turn weaknesses into mediocrities.

a. Timeless principles of industry, frugality, self-management, enterprise and leadership.
b. Lessons in technology transfer from a renowned inventor-capitalist.
c. A useful history lesson.
d. A useful model for writing anything in terms of structure and style.

a. The object of war is to win.
b. You gain decisive advantage by hitting your enemy decisively at their point of greatest vulnerabilty.
c. Moral considerations trump direct orders.
d. Some prefer THE ART OF WAR by Sun Tzu or ON WAR by von Clausewitz. I like this one.

4. GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins.
a. First get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.
b. Don't worry about where you're driving the bus until you have the right people on and the wrong people off.
c. You don't have to worry about how to motivate people when you get the right people on the bus.
d. Get people in the right seats.
e. Then decide where to steer the bus.
f. Great leaders have a paradoxical combination of humility and professional will.
g. Great organizations commit to doing just a couple of things relentlessly well.

5. THE KNOWING-DOING GAP by Pfeffer and Sutton.
a. Something has to get done, and somebody has to do it.
b. If you do it, then you will know.
c. In America you get ahead more by sounding smart than by being smart. You sound smarter when you are critical than when you agree.
d. Successful problem solvers think when they've had the discussion and solved the problem, they're done. But nothing actually changes until something happens next.
e. Good strategy is obvious. What separates winners from losers is disciplined implementation of the obvious.
f. Disciplined implementation isn't sexy, just successful.

Honorable Mention:
6. MANAGING TRANSITIONS by William Bridges. Managing organizational change is about dealing with the emotions people have around letting go.
7. THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE by Stephen Covey. Because we are humans not Pavlovian dogs, we can choose how we respond to stimuli. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
8. THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE by Peter Senge. Every system is perfectly designed to produce the outcomes it produces. Whoa.
9. THE VISUAL DISPLAY OF QUANTITATIVE INFORMATION by Edward Tufte. The higher the information-to-ink ratio, the more effective your communication.
10. PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME by Kiersey and Bates. Understanding personality types is critical to working effectively with others. Understanding your own personality and temperament will set you up for success rather than failure.

1. "Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey?" by William Oncken. Don't let others' monkeys jump from their shoulders to yours for care and feeding.
2. "Leadership That Gets Results" by Daniel Goleman. Discusses six main leadership styles, when to use each, and which ones generally work best.

I would love to hear your favorite books in this or any genre.


Tom said...

This is fantastic, E. I wish you had broken down all 36.

Tom said...

I liked Franklin quite a bit and reading your list I realize I need to read more than I have. The stuff that I read growing up was all entrepreneurial.

Sir Saunders said...

I was delighted by how many of these I had read. I used to run psycho-educational groups using 7 Habits with the inmates at the Fed prison and it was always a delight. I also gave the "Effective Executive" to my old boss at the Prison, but I think it was over her head as she wasn't able to discuss it nor did she apply it. I loved the Fifth Displine and try to apply the principles to the hospitals I do contract work with. I also like "the Third Wave" which prepared me for the WWW/Internet revolution. But My all time favorites are "The 48 Laws of Power" and "The Art of Seduction" which on the surface do not seem like business books, but their principles are the keys to getting ahead in the business world. I got 48 laws on CD and listen to it in the car sometimes just so I can stay sharp.

Dude said...

This is a great list, E. Your #4 book makes me think of my job w/Annenberg. I am no longer the new guy and everyone who has come on since is a perfect fit. The bus is filling up with all the right people which is good because the driver has no idea where we're going, but is confident that it's going somewhere manageable.

5c reminds me specifically about my role with the Foundation. Apparently I am the only person who knows I'm faking it. Everyone else thinks I'm doing a whiz bang job.

5e is a succinct maxim for my former life as a poker player. I'd read all the books and knew all the strategies, but I still kept trying to outsmart the game rather than just play it the right way and take the winnings. I would go into zones where I was very disciplined, and when you stay on the right side of the percentages, you really can't help but to win. But invariably, my focus would wane, my discipline would disappear and I'd start hacking at every pitch. That's why my long-term result was closer to breaking even despite my numerous short-term successes.

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