Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices , by Peter Ferdinand
Drucker. Heinemann: 1974. 839 pages.
This book stands as Drucker’s comprehensive masterpiece. Much of the rest of his writing seems anticlimactic if one has read and absorbed this classic.
Clausewitz on Strategy : Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist
by Tiha von Ghyczy, Christopher Bassford, Bolko von Oetinger. Wiley: April 23, 2001. 208 pages.
Clausewitz is a “must read” in the area of strategy, but somewhat inaccessible. This compendium/extract fits the bill nicely. Heavily promoted by BCG around the turn of the century as part of the rediscovery of Clausewitz’s insights.
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors
by Michael E. Porter. Free Press: June 1, 1998. 397 pages.
Porter’s classic brought years of work of industrial economists to center stage, ushering in “strategy” as we know it today in business. A foundation text for all who work in this space.
The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers
by Philip M. Rosenzweig. Free Press: Feb. 6, 2007. 256 pages.
If you have often found books on management to turn your stomach, this is the book for you. It may also be the first book on management you should read. Rosenzweig convincingly demonstrates what we have all suspected all along – that most books on management are bunk. But by showing us how bunk gets recycled into bucks by guru after guru, he gives us added fortitude in standing up to the fads that sweep the world of business year after year after year.
The Mind Of The Strategist: The Art of Japanese Business
by Kenechi Ohmae. McGraw-Hill: August 1, 1991. 304 pages.
This great text on business strategy has little to do with “Japanese Business”. It is more an excellent expository piece on the fundamentals of McKinsey’s corporate approach to business strategy as of the date of publication. Ohmae was at the time the Managing Director of McKinsey’s Tokyo office and a leader in the firm’s strategy practice.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
by Thomas S. Kuhn. Books LLC: May 18, 2009. 188 pages.
The landmark book that explains how our predilection for explaining the unknown based on what we think we know leads us further and further from the truth until a “paradigm shift” brings us back on course. Sobering reading for anyone involved in technological innovation.
Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting
by Thomas H. Johnson and Robert S. Kaplan. Harvard Business Press, Mar. 1, 1991)
If you have ever been frustrated by the apparent mis-information generated by modern accounting, this is the book for you. Johnson and Kaplan paint a chilling picture of how the legal need for internal consistency overwhelmed the managerial need for useful information, and the accounting profession went over to the dark side. It is staggering to realize how much of our modern maco-economic pain, including our current financial crisis, connects back to the use of accounting by lawyers, regulators, and politicians who understand neither the real economics of our economy nor the flaws of the accounting’s systems used to report on that activity.
Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, Fourth Edition
by Tim Koller, Marc Goedhart and David Wessels. Wiley, February 25, 2002.
This work sponsored by McKinsey remains the basic reference on approaches to corporate valuation.
The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking, & Problem Solving
by Barbara Minto. Minto International: 1981. 162 pages.
Perhaps the finest text on business writing ever produced. A standard in McKinsey training for years, but now more widely available to the public.
The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business
by Afred D. Chandler, Jr. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: January 1, 1993. 624 pages.
The seminal work on American business history against which all others are measured. How we evolved from the one-man shop and family farm where the owner was the manager and the worker to organizations of unprecedented scale where the work of management is a unique craft and the owner need not be present.
In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (Collins Business Essentials)
by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman. Harper Paperbacks (March 2, 2004). 400 pages.
A groundbreaking piece of work, less for its proscriptive power than for its rigorous deconstruction of the various elements that make organizations what they are, and how they interact.
Administrative Behavior, 4th Edition
by Herbert Simon. Free Press: March 1, 1997. 384 pages.
Simon, who taught at Carnegie Mellon, received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his concept of “satisficing” the idea that “good enough” is a more apt description of economic decision making than “optimal solution”. These two concepts converge as one understands the costs of decision-making itself (when the marginal cost of finding the optimal solution is expected to exceed the marginal benefit of finding it). For those seeking a logical explanation of the illogical actions of corporations, there is no better piece of foundational reading.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond . Penguin: Dec. 27, 2005. 575 pages.
Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)
Epictetus and Robert Dobbin. Penguin Classics: Nov. 25, 2008. 304 pages.
A thoughtful scientist walks us through a dozen tales of human societal self-destruction, some of them in process as you read this. Want to get away from it all and move to Montana? Forget it, the place has already been trashed perhaps beyond repair. A very sobering tale of how our political systems frequently fail us when faced with the tragedy of the commons.
Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown & Company: Nov. 18, 2008. 309 pages.
A book so insightful as to be almost frightening. Shows how the structures of everyday life have profound affects on the world we live in to which we are oblivious, while “fate” has far more to do with outcomes than we would like to believe. Yet at the same time, the data shows that hard work pays off – again,and again, and again.
by Jean Edward Smith. Simon & Schuster (April 9, 2009), 784 pages.
This extraordinary biography of Grant has much to teach to the modern executive. Grant’s focus on the essential, calmness in delegation, and insistence of looking at each new day as a new opportunity are simply stunning.
The maritime history of Massachusetts: 1783-1860
by Samuel Eliot Morison. Nabu Press: May 14, 2010. 524 pages.
Clearly I am not the only one who finds this book remarkable. It was first printed in 1941, but was recently reprinted for the first time in over twenty years. As a young scholar, Morison painstakingly examines the inner workings of the Massachusetts maritime economy. In the process, he reveals the modern American economy in its infancy. How did early ship owners accumulate capital and diversify risk – and establish “corporate governance” over an asset they might not see for three years running? How was a seaman paid, and how did his family survive in his absence? What was the “profit sharing model” that governed the relationship among ship owner, captain, officers, and crew? There is much insight we can gain about these modern issues from seeing how New England addressed them two hundred years ago.
The Revolutionary War Memoirs Of General Henry Lee
by Henry Lee. Da Capo Press: Mar. 22, 1998. 652 pages.
This book, I will confess, is the hardest read of all the books listed here. And it may only be appropriate for those with a special interest in history. But consider this extraordinary fact. The father of Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from 1862-1865, was eventually a general with George Washington during the War of Independence eighty years earlier. Even more extraordinary, this Lee wrote his memoirs while in confinement in a debtor’s prison. (It is in fact astounding to learn how many prominent participants in the Revolution passed through – or died – in such institutions.) When one reads the amazing reflections that Henry Lee has upon his experiences during the Revolutionary War, it is no longer difficult to imagine how his son could have been such an amazing general. The dinner time discussions he must have had with his father! From a managerial perspective, Lee’s ability to think strategically and his proclivity to act is matched only by his good natured acceptance of how even the best laid plan can be thwarted by the simplest of human errors. And rather than dwell on such indicidents of bad luck, he simply moves on. Time and time again.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Simon & Schuster: 2005. 944 pages.
Not a day goes by that we are not reminded of our hopeless fantasizing that someone is actually in charge. As anyone who has sat in the corner office knows, there is a world of difference between “being in charge” and “getting things done”. In Goodwin’s portrait of Lincoln, we see a leader who understands better than anyone around him the severe limitations of “legitimate” power, and how things get done only by figuring out how to work through others – even others who may have coveted the very chair in which you sit. It matters not if you have more money, more people, more weapons, more factories, better transportation, and world opinion behind you. One still must organize the effort and get things done, overcoming all the pettiness that defines us as a species. Essential reading for the myopic. Highly recommended for everyone else!
Washington: The Indispensible Man
by James Thomas Flexner. Back Bay Books: February 22, 1994). 448 pages.
There has been so much good work on Washington of late, it is impossible to pick “the best” biography on this extraordinary person. But anyone seeking to understand the American “system” without a solid grounding in Washington’s biography is wandering in the dark. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and the rest all made intellectual and political contributions. But it was Washington who created substance from this collective imagination. Along the way, he shows the importance of keeping day to day events in the perspective of the greater plan, and how resiliency trumps strategic brilliance time and again.
James Fenimore Cooper: The Leatherstocking Tales I; The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie (Library of America)
by James Fenimore Cooper. The Library of America: July 1, 1985. Two volumes.
This five book series includes Cooper’s most famous work, The Last of the Mohicans. Curiously, Mohicans is perhaps the least truly informative of the works. One cannot read the entire saga of Natty Bumppo without coming away with a profound appreciation for the interactions between economic development, competing cultures, and the environment. Cooper’s matter-of-fact portrayal of the destruction of the American Wilderness is simply heart-wrenching. His two books on life at sea – The Red Rover and The Pilot are also great reads from the perspective of reflecting on the art of managerial decision making and leadership.
by Jame Clavell. Dell; 2nd edition edition (September 1, 1986). 1210 pages.
A masterful work of fiction in which we see the thoughtful strategies of multiple protagonists play out, often confounded by the discovery that what they did not know about the motives of their adversaries – and allies. We see in the character of the would-be Shogun the extraordinary power of planning ahead and being prepared – the dividends paid by investing in capabilities that create critical strategic options in situations that could be anticipated but not predicted.
The Three Musketeers (Oxford World’s Classics)
by Alexander Dumas. Good luck on a print edition! Amazon Kindle offers a file with all six books, dated December 29, 2007.
The six volumes (all of which are available separately) are: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, Louise de la Valiiere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. (The Count of Monte Crisco, my favorite book, is not part of this series). Dumas’s other works of historical fiction (once generally unavailable in English) are also simply wonderful examples of the art of story-telling and the exploration of human character. [Note: It has been asserted that Dumas was as gifted at developing male characters as he was inept at developing female characters. Nolo contendere.]
Those who have read only the first volume have no idea what they are missing. While there are plenty of books out there that purport to address the problem of how to be “the boss”, the Three Musketeers series doubles as a great piece of literature and as a guide to navigating the rocky passages of middle management. D’Artagnan, the hero of these tales, rises from being effectively the son of a serf (though a former Musketeer) to, well, that would be spoiling the ending… Along the way, he encounters all of the conflicts of “followership” that so define the world of middle management, including soul wrenching conflicts of loyalties and the classic conflict between family and career. All the while, he reminds us that being able to laugh and have fun, even in the direst of circumstances, is one of the keys to psychological survival.