Business books are a big part of my life. I help my clients write their books and I evaluate business book manuscripts for publishers. I also read them because I love the learning and insight. Here is a list of the five best books that I read for the first time in 2015. They’re listed in the order that I read them.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
This book is full of great insights into how people and teams work. Because of what I read I’ve made changes in my own work pattern that make me more productive. I’ve also used what I learned here to make changes in the way I deal with clients and estimate projects.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Horowitz tells his own story realistically and humbly and uses it as the framework for most of the book. The discussions of things like firing and laying people off are worth the price of the book. They remind me of conversations bosses and mentors had with me. Later, I had similar conversations with protégés. You can dip into this book and the sections on specific topics when you need to. Here’s a quote from the book that describes it for me.
“While most management books focus on how to do things correctly, so you don’t screw up, these lessons provide insight into what you must do after you have screwed up.”
Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
Google is the current “company everyone wants to be like” and this book is about how Google does things. The first chapter or so is a “first the earth cooled and then the dinosaurs came” story of Laszlo and Google. It might be interesting, but it’s not actionable and you don’t need it to read it in order to benefit from the later chapters.
There are lots of good things in the book, but they may not all be interesting to you at any one time. That’s OK. There’s enough value in the individual pieces that they’re worth the price of the book.
Read the table of contents. Check out the “Work Rules” summaries at the end of chapters. Determine which chapters you want to read right away. Save the others for later. You can dip into this book for specific topics.
The Ten Commandments for Business Failure by Donald R. Keough
This book has been out for a few years and I never got around to reading it, despite recommendations from several people I whose judgment I respect. There’s a lot of business history in this book. Keough uses examples from a variety of companies and industries to illustrate his points. I like the fact that he owns up to his mistakes, especially in the New Coke debacle, and uses his experience to teach some great lessons.
Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin
The key insight of this book is that human brains evolved for social interaction. What Colvin does is spin out the implications of that insight, with excellent real life examples. This book is a wonderful counterpoint to the books which attempt to predict the future and also to the ones who claim that computers will never be able to do what humans do. The strength of the analysis is that you will get an idea of how you might adapt effectively to a rapidly changing business/technology landscape.
I do a lot of re-reading, going back to books I found valuable before. Almost every year I also re-discover a book I haven’t read for decades. This year there were two of them.
High Output Management by Andy Grove
I haven’t read this book in over twenty years. I picked it up again because Ben Horowitz recommended it. This is a solid, simple (but not simplistic) look at how a business works and what good management looks like. Some of the examples are dated, but you can easily adapt the insights to the present day.
Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
I picked up this book to check my memory on some facts. Two hours later I was still reading. I think this is Collins’ best book.
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