Those of you who have been to my office will know that I have seven feet of shelf space dedicated to business books. None of the books are dogs. Dogs don’t get saved, they get donated. But among the keepers, some are timeless core books and some are either too narrow to be used often, or so technically deep that they will expire at some point and be superseded. Technical books become obsolete fastest because our understanding is expanding so rapidly. I thought it might be interesting to decide what goes into the Lane Cannon (and thereby what is left out).
Some rules, before I begin.
1. No author should dominate. Nobody knows everything you need to know. Period.
2. Categories include: strategy, execution and innovation. More about that at the end, but suffice it to say, this is the cannon and there can be other lists.
3. No more than four books across three categories. I know if you’re actually going to read these, it can’t be the 100 most important books written on business.
So here are my thoughts on the best business books to date. Obviously, this will change as new volumes come out, but the cannon will be far more stable than the rest of the books on my shelf. Please feel free to debate me on these:
Good to Great, Jim Collins – Jim’s three legged strategic framework introduced key concepts such as the hedgehog, the flywheel, first who … then what, confronting the brutal facts and Level 5 Leadership into the business lexicon. We marry this with balanced scorecard concepts to create our Focused Scorecard Strategic Framework.
Winning, Jack Welch – This is worth getting for the GE five slide strategic framework he lays out in the chapter on strategy. Can you describe your business in 5 slides?
Gaining and Sustaining Competitive Advantage, Jay Barney – Jay’s approach to boiling down strategic decisions using four dimensions, value, rarity, imitability, and organization (VRIO) is very pragmatic and useful in determining next actions.
Control Your Own Destiny, Or Someone Else Will, Tichy and Sherman – The title pretty much says it all. What isn’t said is that the authors wrote this based on their observations of GE. How many businesses are you aware of that are counting on a particular set of, often narrow, circumstances for survival? We saw many of them disappear during the Great Recession.
The Balanced Scorecard, Kaplan and Norton – An excellent treatise on how to marry strategy to financial AND statistical performance indicators in four dimensions: financial, customer, process and innovation. We marry this with G2G concepts to create our Focused Scorecard Strategic Framework. … and Profit Priorities from Activity Base Costing, Cooper and Kaplan – this is not a book. It’s an 8 page article which is why I’m lumping it with The Balanced Scorecard. It hits profitable growth squarely on the head and explains a very simple concept that most of you are not doing. It also outlines the 20-225 rule for those of you who have been involved in our recent dialog on profitable growth.
Execution, Bossidy and Charan – As the title says, this book is about delivering on the great strategy you’ve put together in your off-site session.
Traction, Wickman – New to the list this year, this 2011 book just recently came to my attention from two different sources, and for good reason. It’s an excellent treatise, almost cookbook, particularly if you combine it with some of Wickman’s other titles, on how to operate a privately held business. If you know WHAT to do, this book will tell you how to get it done. It does miss the external financial perspective which is critical so be sure to read the Outsiders with this one.
The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, Thorndike – What makes a CEO attractive to Warren Buffet, Blowing away the market and your peers regardless of the market conditions. These eight guys, sadly they’re all men, make Jack Welch look like a junior executive! Critical is the perspective; cold financial analytics and warm people relationships.
Moneyball, Michael Lewis – Without talent, there is no execution. BUT, how much do we really know about the aspects of talent that really drive performance? In the context of baseball, Lewis challenges our preconceived biases that blind us to the truth, shows how to get fact based and go beyond gut feel and what happens when you do; Oakland, with a fraction of the budget of the Yankees creates a win record which is essentially the same, right up to the playoffs.
Winning at New Products, Robert Cooper – An excellent breakout of the Phase-Gate process, why it works and some how-to information as well.
The Game Changer, Lafley and Charan – A look inside P&G’s Searchlight program and what makes it great. I realize this makes two with Charan’s name. I just chalk that up to skill on his part for finding people with important things to say.
The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley – a look at how one of the most powerful product design and innovation houses anywhere and how they operate. Reading about how things work inside Ideo is fascinating in and of itself. But there are actionable ideas throughout the book.
I know. Now you’re asking; “where are the pricing, selling and customer satisfaction books?” The ones I like in these areas all fall into the technical/narrow focus category. They are on the shelf, just not the cannon. More on that list in another post. Also for another post are the sort of personal ones about time, bureaucracy, communications and management at the level of the leader.