Friday, July 12, 2013

2013 Top 20 Business Books List (Part II)

Q&A Section
  • Question: Can you Recommend Any Good Business Books for Executives?
  • Answer: Absolutely (Part 2)! 
This is part two of my 2013 Top 20 Business Books List. If you missed the first installment, you may prefer to start there. In part one, I discussed ten books under the categories of Economics, the Environment, Human Resources, Leadership, Marketing and Operations. Today, we will end the list by going over the books on Strategy. Yes, half of the books in the list resided in just this one category. By using trader lingo, we could say that I am overweight Strategy.
Picture of Brown book over golden marble table with 2013 Top 20 Business Books List on cover
2013 Top 20 Business Books List
Why so many Strategy books? A reason could be that Strategy is important in business. Another more mundane reason may be that bookstores offer many more books dealing with Strategy than any other business subject; something I didn't test.
The real reason why my list is overweight Strategy is that it includes three series. There are three books by Clayton Christensen, three more by Peter Drucker and two additional ones by Jim Collins. Think of it this way: if each author was represented by a single book the total number of books under this section would be five; half as many.
While there is a high risk of repetition when suggesting various books from a single author, I did not make the choices lightly. Each book series was highly influential in my professional life. In all cases, every book was needed to get a complete message from the author.
Enjoy this the second part of my 2013 Top 20 Business Books List.


Clayton Christensen
Beauty shot picture of book by Clayton Christensen, "The Innovator's Dilemma", "When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail"
When New Technologies 
Cause Great Firms to Fail;
Clayton Christensen
We start with a trilogy that offers the latest in strategic thinking. Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, created three fantastically insightful books. Each builds on the previous.
Thus, I suggest to start with The Innovator's Dilemma, then follow with The Innovator's Solution and end with Seeing What's Next. While each book offers new and independent ideas, they are all elegantly interconnected. Christensen's concepts are effective either way, in isolation or grouped together. It is this balance between individuality and unity that makes me think so highly of his books.
Through three three books, Christensen gives structure to a series of concepts; all tremendously important for business.
Beauty shot picture of book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor, "The Innovator's Solution", "Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth"
Creating and Sustaining 
Successful Growth;
Clayton Christensen
Through his work, he suggests that strategic decisions made by businesses are binary in nature. There are just right or wrong choices. Right decisions propel the business far ahead of competitors and industry standards. Wrong decisions, on the other hand, hold the business back in mediocrity. The implied message is that all organizations continuously make the wrong choices.
His logical frame begins with an analysis of what happens when innovation disrupts an industry. How do market participants respond? What do market leaders do? What are the available alternative routes? What happens when each of such routes is selected?
Beauty shot picture of book by Clayton Christensen and Scott Anthony, "Seeing What's Next", "Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change
Using Theories of Innovation 
to Predict Industry Change;
Clayton Christensen
Next, he identifies and explains the common patterns he found. With superior insight, he disproves generally accepted business beliefs that will inevitably take a company to its perish. He breaks with tradition. From there, he studies the predictability of future performance based on corporate action.
Is your head spinning yet? Yes, all that I just wrote is quite cryptic. To me, everything makes sense. But to someone who has not read the books, these words probably sound like gibberish. If I am being a little ornery, it's because I want to make sure that you read these books and discover on your own. I don't want to give too much away.
From all that I have learned over the years, I have come across many neat techniques and ideas. But I found it almost impossible to discover new fundamentally based concepts. That's why these three may be the most important books I own today. In the future, as their prescriptions evolve from strategic advantages to best practices, there may be other more important books. But for now these three are the best in this list. As you read them, try to prevent the natural tendency to simply follow the text. Instead, I recommend that you stop periodically to make an inventory of what the book just described. Along that way, you will get the best from the them.
These three books are too valuable. As an executive, you can't afford not to read them. Start now.

Beauty shot picture of book by Peter Drucker, "Managing for the Future", "The 1990's and Beyond"
The 1990's and Beyond;
Peter Drucker
Born right after the turn of the 20th century, Peter Drucker had a front row seat to the nation's evolution from an aspiring and disorderly bunch, to leaders of the economic and military worlds.
From his great perspective, he was able to discern distinct macro patterns from the otherwise noisy global picture. Peter Drucker used insights from such patterns throughout his professional life. He became the most prodigious business thinker of the century.
The three books included here describes these patterns in an extensive fashion.
He notes, for example, that coal and the steam engine had a similar effect on the economy as today's computers. Coal and the steam engine gave birth to the locomotive. Likewise, computers gave birth to the internet. Both locomotives and the internet reduced distances and opened new markets. Just like locomotives created a global economic boom, so would the internet.
Beauty shot picture of book by Peter Drucker, "Managing in a Time of Great Change"
Managing in a Time 
of Great Change;
Peter Drucker
Early in his career, he recognized the impact that knowledge would have on productivity. Along the way, he coined the term knowledge worker. Later he would dedicate much of his effort to further develop his understanding of knowledge workers, the elements that drove their productivity and their emotional makeup.
Some have recognized Drucker as the father of modern business. During most of the first half of the 20th century, corporate managers studied law rather than business. At the time, there was no such thing as a business school.
Drucker has also been credited with applying strategy to business. Prior to such change, strategy was exclusively associated with war.
Beauty shot picture of book by Peter Drucker, "Managing in the Next Society"
Peter Drucker
As if these accolades weren't enough, Drucker was too the personal adviser to Jack Welch. Much of what Jack describes in his books were originally conceived during meetings between the two giants.
It should be evident by now that a collection of books that does not contain Drucker is simply incomplete. He has greatly impacted what we now know as business. He can't be missed.
It is incredible to think that his books are full of new and relevant ideas, even by today's standards. Just imagine how much of a revelation were his innovations 40 years ago.
Yes, there are a couple of repetitions within the three books. The idea of a knowledge worker, for example, is mentioned in all of the books. But Drucker is too important of an erudite for lazy research. Besides, each book covers a broad selection of different topics. So I had to include them all. I enjoyed these books greatly and so should you.

Jim Collins
Beauty shot picture of book by Jim Collins, "Good to Great", "Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't"
Why Some Companies Make 
the Leap...and Others Don't;
Jim Collins
Everyone has a theory of what makes a good company. These beliefs are clearly visible in the way we conduct business.  But the reality is that no one really knows with a high degree of scientific certainty whether what they think is valuable or just voo-doo.
No one, that is, except Jim Collins. His first book, Good to Great, became a sensation precisely because it offered strong evidence that contradicted many widely held beliefs. Collins conducted an exhaustive study of public company data that lead him to many important conclusions. He framed these conclusions with the question: what makes a Good company become Great?
And that is how it all started. Collins applied regression analysis to determine how Good companies became much better than their peers. His first book documents the methodology he used and the results obtained.
Beauty shot picture of book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, "Built to Last", "Successful Habits of Visionary Companies"
Successful Habits of 
Visionary Companies;
Jim Collins
Very impressive is the fact that he was able to turn a scholarly document of such data-rich nature into a narrative that any manager could follow.
How do great companies set goals? What do they do or stop doing? What are the characteristics of their employees and leaders?
After dominating such a beast of a project, it occurred to Jim and his team that they should try to conquer an even greater challenge; their aim was to transcend time. They wanted to know what does it take to create a company that could outlast all other? Where there any special kind of founding principles? What about culture and practices? Was the leader's vision important?
I hope that by now you are excited with anticipation. The two books are fantastic and should be read in order, to get the most out of them. Jim is clear in his delivery. The ideas are all actionable on their own or as part of a complete restructuring effort. Best of all, his findings fit nicely with results from many other great researchers.
They are so good that you will want to share these books with everybody in your team.

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman, multiple Pulitzer Prize winner for The New York Times, offers one of the most relevant geo-economic insights of our time.
Beauty shot picture of book by Thomas Friedman, "The World Is Flat", "A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century"
A Brief History of the 
Twenty-First Century;
Thomas Friedman
During one his many travels abroad, he noticed a pattern. The international playing field was beginning to level. The gaps in information, market transparency and access to resources between people in advanced nation, like the US, and those living in places like India begun to converge. It was this leveling that inspired the name of the book. The World is Flat describes how, for the first time and thanks to the internet and the digital age, people in faraway places are beginning to participate at a more equal level in our markets.
When I hear employees complain that the Chinese are taking their jobs, I reply that the Chinese are also fighting for my job. Even business owner's risk losing their job to business owners abroad. You see, the Chinese have a deeper commitment to becoming educated than most Americans. While we are trying to stop schools from giving homework to our children, Asians are often upset when homework is too easy or when there isn't science work for students to do at home. Now that many great colleges are offering free education online, it is a real shame that the only ones taking advantage of it are foreigners.
Then add the fact that Asians have a solid work ethic and you now can see the challenge. They are willing to learn more, work harder and get paid less. Even Steve Jobs once said that it was difficult for Americans to compete with the Chinese to make the iPhone. But the problem is not limited to factory workers and other forms of skilled labor. There is an incredible amount of new patents being created by Chinese divisions of companies like Microsoft. In no time, China will graduate more engineers than the US and the pressure on knowledge workers will increase. This should be a warning to doctors who think that they will always be able to charge as much as they want. Many X-ray charts are already being evaluated by experts in India overnight, for example.
A hungry and aggressive manager in China with such an educated and dedicated team, could easily push an American company into failure; ending all future-wealth dreams of the North American business owner.
For the first time, this book made me realize that we have now extended the major leagues to include additional and very competitive teams and players from abroad. Competition will therefore get tougher rather than easier.
The change is inevitable. We should stop complaining and start working faster and more effectively. It is time to stop the leisure that so many people in this country feel entitled to.
Always do remember that all these new comers don't want us to fail. They just want to drive the same BMW's. You will enjoy this book very much.

Kenneth Gronbach
Would you like to know what the future holds for your industry? How about any other industry? There is a method that renders a future economic forecasts of unbelievable accuracy.
Beauty shot picture of book by Kenneth Gronbach, "The Age Curve", "How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm"
How to Profit from the Coming 
Demographic Storm;
Kenneth Gronbach
Births are the only event that takes place in the past that can also offer a window into the future. While Harry Dent is perhaps the best known of the practitioners of demographic based analysis, it wasn't until Gronbach's book that I came across the concept. I therefore credit Gronbach with helping me understand it. The book is easy to read and his examples are clear and relevant.
Why did the number of Honda motorcycle dealers decline after Top GunThe movie hit theaters everywhere and created a great image for the products. Why did sales decline despite Honda's better engineering, better products and more competitive prices? Even the extensive marketing campaigns couldn't prevent revenue losses.
The reason behind this tragic business tail is that new wives do not approve of street rockets for their new husbands. Want to understand more? Read the book.
I will warn you that it'll be too easy to dismiss any ideas as being nice but unimportant for daily use. Bad managers keep their schedule busy by running from fire to fire. They are chaos experts. Like five-year-old's playing soccer, these leaders are data-dependent. They cluster together chasing the ball rather than running to where the ball will be. Like with soccer, it takes maturity to get a manager to see beyond the short term. This is why I believe that a great manager has the ability to compartmentalize short, medium and long term goals in a way that none is ignored. We should always keep an eye on all three of these periods regardless of the number of emergencies at hand.
The information contained in this book will fit nicely in the long term compartment. This is not because demographic-driven events never take place. No. It is because the long term eventually turns into medium and then short term. All demographic considerations thus transform from data into actionable strategy.

2013 Top 20 Business Books List
While it is difficult to recall every important fact in so many books, especially those I read over ten years ago, I aimed at creating a comprehensive list that could serve as a great informational foundation for any executive. Now that the list of complete, I hope that you find it relevant and valuable. 


  1. Have a look at recently published book "Advantage" "A roadmap for entrepreneurs and Leaders in the Digital Age" Its written by a practitioner out there doing it and draws from academia while introducing a more agile, organic model centered on Advantage

  2. I will check it out. Thanks.