Five Great BooksHopefully, you will have some time to abandon work for awhile this summer, get away and get some well-earned rest. When I get the chance to do that, I usually bring with me a few good books, to fill the time on a slow-moving summer day.

And while I am always open to a “hot, new” bestseller, I have always looked forward to bringing with me some “old friends” as well, books that I enjoyed so much that I want to read and reflect on them again. Here are the printed friends I’m planning to carry this year. Perhaps you’ll take a look at one or more of these; and, if you do, please send me a note or post a comment here so others can gain from your own opinions and insights.

Please don’t take the order of the books as an order of preference. My list is in alpha order by the author’s last name. These are all winners in my (ahem!) book. Read. Think. But, mostly, enjoy!

Mary Parker Follett Prophet of Management: A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s
Edited by Paulina Graham (Beard Books, 1995) [view on]

Mary Parker Follett died in 1933. So what has she to say to someone in 2013? Plenty. Follett published a wide range of avant garde articles and books. And it is amazing how she seemed to predict how organisations would evolve — and how managers would skew toward bossing instead of managing workers. She was one of the first women to address the London School of Economics, and she was a consultant to US President Theodore Roosevelt. I especially like her timeless advice on the importance of constructive conflict of the intellectual (not interpersonal) nature: when ideas clash constructively, better ideas often emerge.

The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business
Umair Haque (Harvard Business School Press, 2011) [view on]

Sometimes the summary information provided by the publisher is helpful is determining the attractiveness of a book. Here’s the blurb on this book:

“In this manifesto-style book, radical economist and strategist Umair Haque calls for the end of the corrupt business ideals that exemplify business as usual. His passionate vision for ‘Capitalism 2.0’, or ‘constructive capitalism’, is one in which old paradigms of wasteful growth, inefficient competition, and self-destructive ideals are left far behind at this reset moment. … Haque details a holistic five-step plan for both reducing the negative and exploitive nature of the current system and ensuring positive social and economic growth for the future.”

Enticing, no? My own high estimate of the book comes from Haque pushing me to reconsider what the fundamentals of capitalism really are and what they should be.

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman (Penguin, 2012) [view on]

When Kahneman, a Nobel prizewinner, published this book, he also had to stand the test of approval by readers on Happily, almost 60 per cent of them gave it 5-stars. So I thought I would scan some of these reader reviews and really took a shine to one by a reader only idetified as “Le Grand”. Here it is:

“What a piece of work this is! Love, devotion, insight into the human mind and how it works and a compassion for the pressures endured by us all in our daily lives; it is all there for us lesser mortals to come to grips with the follies and foibles of our decision making processes. It also takes into account our natural laziness, which I must hold my hands up and say, yes; mea culpa, usually to my own detriment.”

My guess is that Le Grand and I both share an appreciation for what Kahneman does in this book: he makes a convincing argument for “thinking differently” by discussing the different ways we think. I really started to think differently after reading this book, and I promise that you’ll find the author far from a stuffy academic. Enthusiastic? Yes. Engaging? Yes. Worth your time? Absolutely.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
Gordon MacKenzie (Viking/Allen Lane, 1998) [view on]

I don’t think this book will ever go out-of-print. It’s published in a creative format to befit the creative ideas of the author. And you may be wondering what the “hairball” is? Per Amazon’s review: “Creativity is crucial to business success. But too often, even the most innovative organisation quickly becomes a ‘giant hairball’ — a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, traditions and systems, all based on what worked in the past–that exercises an inexorable pull into mediocrity.”

Sadly, MacKenzie died not that long after he retired from a 30-year career at Hallmark. And the Internet has many encomiums to this truly original thinker. If you want a feel for this book, take a look at Eric Barton’s fine summary on Pitch. Or you may enjoy Dawn Lennon’s tribute on her blog.

MacKenzie’s legacy can be reduced to these few words: his book tells all of us how to be creative and innovative in the hostile environment of a large ongoing enterprise. And while the legacy may be that short, read the book and see if you don’t find his wisdom boundless.

The End of Competitive Advantage
Rita McGrath (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) [view on]

This is the newest book on my list and caught my eye because even my initial quick scan indicated that it promised to be a provocative look at strategy at a critical moment — right now! You can find out more about the author at her website.

For now, let it suffice to say that, for all the great books on strategy that have been published over the years, the subject seems to be one that defies a single point of view, a one-size-fits-all approach. To make a contribution, a book must be right for the times. McGrath has a special interest: how to create a strategy that works in “uncertain and volatile environments”. I’m not sure about where you work, but all the managers in all the companies I encounter seem to feel that the marketplace has never been more uncertain nor more volatile. I just may read this book first once I get the time. It sounds that good!