Here you'll find reviews on books I've recently read. If you have a suggestion for a book you'd like me to review, please contact me.
Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change by Chris Zook and James Allen. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012.
Zook and Allen argue persuasively that "Complexity has become the silent killer of growth strategies." This complexity creeps up on organizations, and is found in many forms: an unending flow of new initiatives, complex messages that serve to confuse rather than inform employees, and complex IT systems to track everything. Their antidote to this debilitating complexity is what they term 'the great repeatable model,' which is characterized by three principles: a strong differentiated core (strategy), a set of clear non-negotiables (core values used to make trade-offs in decision making), and systems for closed loop learning (feedback and continuous improvement). The book isn't perfect; at times I felt they were stretching their theories to fit current business narratives, but overall I found the advice practical and informative.
Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner. Virgin Books, 2008.
I love books that have a provocative premise, and this one doesn't disappoint. Very early on Gardner declares: "We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid." He spends the next three hundred pages of this insightful and revealing book dissecting that statement. Along the way we discover that our brains often lead us to miscalculate risk, how anecdotes are too often substituted for hard data in the media, why our perception of crime rarely matches reality, and many other fascinating topics. This is not a business book per se, but given the ever-increasing significance of risk management in the organizational world, executives and managers would do well to study Gardner's findings to ensure they are accurately gauging the true risks they face.
Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy by Joan Magretta. Harvard Business School Press, 2012.
As a student of strategy I've read Porter's work and it can be a daunting task. He is a scholar of the highest order and his work, while ultimately rewarding, can be challenging for the practitioner. In this book, Magretta, who enjoyed unfettered access to Porter throughout the writing process, provides a concise yet thorough synthesis of the strategy guru's principal theories, and supplies the reader with numerous examples of his ideas in action. I found myself peppering the margins with notes and am certain any organization would benefit from applying the models presented to their own strategic planning process.
Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity by Mario Morino. Venture Philanthropy Partners in partnership with McKinsey & Company, 2011.
In this lively volume, supported by numerous case studies, Morino convincingly argues his case for why nonprofit organizations must invest in Performance Management and rigorously measure outcomes. His reasons are many, varied, and always compelling, but in the end he asserts outcome measurement is a must for any nonprofit because it ultimately improves the quality of services for clients. In a refreshing twist, Morino avoids the mechanics of number crunching and analytics, and instead focuses much attention on the vital culture change necessary within most nonprofits to make this important transition to outcome measurement. Another reason to love this book, the Kindle version is free at Amazon.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain Crown, 2012
I found this while strolling in a bookstore and was intrigued enough by the title to buy it. Am I glad I did - it proved to be one of the most enjoyable and insightful books I've read in a long time. Cain tackles the subjects of introversion and extroversion from a multitude of fascinating perspectives: neurological, psychological, and sociological to name a few. Whether you're an introvert or a gregarious extrovert, the book provides a roadmap for understanding why you are the way you are. Of interest to business readers, she also examines how introverts and extroverts navigate the world of commerce, providing insights on brainstorming, office design (I got the idea for this month's tip from her book), and leadership among a number of captivating topics.
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin Portfolio, 2010
Like many people, I've been a fan of Seth Godin's for years, and continue to find his work relevant and often inspiring. In this book, as with his many previous bestsellers (Tribes, Purple Cow...), he writes passionately throughout and never pulls his punches. At its core, this book is about a choice we all need to make: will we follow or will we lead; becoming 'linchpins,' and indispensable. If you want to lead, you should read this book. Godin shares many stories of those who have made this choice and how they overcame fear and resistance along the way.
The War of Art
war of artby Steven Pressfield
Rugged Land, 2002
This little book, just 165 pages, is one of the most powerful I've ever had the privilege to read. Steven Pressfield identifies, describes, and ultimately provides the tools for overcoming one of the most insidious forces known to mankind: Resistance. If you've ever set about to create something (a special project at work, a book, a painting, a sculpture, anything!) you've undoubtedly come up against the force of resistance. It's that little voice in your head that says you're not good enough, the procrastination that leads you to thinking that at this moment sorting your socks is more important than starting that novel you'd like to write, the fear of the great unknown. But recognizing resistance is the first step in conquering it, and Pressfield provides the tools for both recognizing and combating this powerful enemy. This is a book I've read and re-read several times and would recommend to anyone pursuing creative goals, and really isn't that every one of us?
Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work
by Dan Roam
The three main components of my job are writing, speaking, and facilitating, all of which involve a lot of words. Fortunately for me, I love words, but as Dan Roam reminds us we can sometimes use words that unintentionally obscure our true meanings, and thereby impair our ability to communicate effectively. In this practical book he instructs readers to employ "Vivid Thinking," a method of combining both the verbal and visual elements of an idea. Basically, if you can draw it (and it could be anything!), you are in a better position to share your ideas and have your audience be receptive to your message. In addition to teaching us about the power of visualizing our ideas, Roam fills his pages with interesting historical anecdotes and informative lessons on the latest brain science.
Here are some of my favorite business books. Most are not new, but the advice and wisdom they contain is timeless
Process Consultation – Edgar Schein: Maybe one of the best books I've ever read. It's only about 150 pages but I highlighted something on each and every one. Extremely beneficial advice for anyone who facilitates or consults with groups.
Strategy Safari – Mintzberg et. al. Thorough review of the field of strategic planning that presents ten "schools" of strategic thought. A useful book to familiarize yourself with the field.
The Halo Effect - Phil Rosenzweig. It's ironic that I should list Good to Great just below this book because it is one of many that Rosenzweig critically examines (to put it euphemistically) in this entertaining and informative book. He debunks many management philosophies and does so with cogent analysis and cold hard facts. Very illuminating.
Good to Great – Jim Collins: One of the top selling business books of all time. Features the "hedgehog concept." Collins is a fine storyteller, and keeps the book breezy while also distilling many useful lessons.
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Not a business book per se, but one that has many lessons for business leaders. The author deconstructs the process of 'flow,' or optimal experience and shares how we can enhance our lives (including our working lives) by tapping into its power.
Execution – Bossidy & Charan: Another favorite. Bossidy is a former General Electric VP and Charan is a career consultant. This book, as the title implies, focuses on the simple, rigorous steps necessary for organizational success.
Leading Change – John Kotter. Kotter is a Harvard professor and well-known change guru. The book offers eight steps to follow in any organizational change effort.
The Capitalist Philosophers – Andrea Gabor. The author profiles several guiding lights in the world of organizations: Chandler, Drucker, and Taylor just to name a few. This text will provide you with a solid grounding in the development of the management discipline over the past hundred years.