For a long time, we didn’t have to worry about business book “classics” because there just weren’t that many business books. Today gazillions of business books are published every year. Some are great, others are horrid, and the vast majoring are mediocre. It’s the bell curve at work.
That’s why it’s worth going back to some high quality business classics. I call a business book a classic if it was first published more than twenty-five years ago and is still worth reading. High Output Management by Andy Grove.
High Output Management was published for the first time in 1983. So you’re probably wondering why it’s still worth reading. That’s next. Don’t get hung up on the distinction between “management” and “leadership.”
High Output Management is for middle managers
Andy Grove says he wrote the book for middle managers. Here’s why
“Middle managers are the muscle and bone of every sizable organization, no matter how loose or “flattened” the hierarchy, but they are largely ignored despite their immense importance to our society and economy.”
There are three big ideas in High Output Management
Middle managers should be evaluated based on their output. This was not a new insight. Peter Drucker made it almost twenty years before. But it’s still powerfully important. The measures that matter are the measures of output.
Most work is done in teams so the relevant output is the output of the team a manager is responsible for. Yep. The team is your destiny.
The way you improve the output of a team centers on helping the team members do good work consistently. This is logical as can be, but many managers forget it.
The strengths of the book
If all you look at is the key points, it’s easy to blow this book off as another one of those books that states the obvious. Don’t make that mistake. My original copy of High Output Management has highlights all the way to the last pages. There is a ton of value here.
The strength of this book is that it presents solid advice in a logical sequence. It’s just what you’d expect from a highly intelligent engineer who applied his analytical skills to making his team and company better.
The rediscovery of High Output Management
High Output Management was one of those books that got plowed under. People like me held on to their copy and dipped into it frequently. But the publishing publicity engine and the management fad machine moved on to other things. Then came Ben Horowitz.
Horowitz is a successful entrepreneur. Today he’s a partner with Marc Andreesen in the venture firm Andreesen Horowitz. He also wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, one of my top five books of 2015. In that book he praised High Output Management effusively.
Horowitz inspired me to go back and read the book all the way through again. I’d dipped into the book frequently since I first read it, but this time I read it all the way through for the first time in years. I rediscovered how much solid advice Andy Grove packed into the book.
Suggestions on how to read this book
Before you read the book itself, read the Foreword by Ben Horowitz. It will help you understand why people like me love the book and why it’s still valuable.
Then start the book with Grove’s introduction. It was updated in 1995, so there’s some discussion of the impact of email on the original book he wrote in 1983.
Then read the book from front to back. The logical order of presentation is a big reason why this is still a great book, decades after it was first written. Later, you can dip into the book to remind yourself of important points.
From personal experience I can tell you that this book is still full to the brim with good advice. Pass up the latest “hot new” business book and read High Output Management instead.