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!

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