This is the piece that the Financial Times wrote to do with the list. I thought it was oustanding and decided to include it here.
80 Books Every Manager Should Read
The last two decades have seen an explosion of interest in business and management books. They routinely feature in bestseller lists, arouse controversy, and earn some of their authors large amounts of money. Along the way, usually through a process of osmosis rather than dramatic conversion, they also alter the ways in which managers manage.
In the instant, action-oriented, pressurized world of business, books change things. They change perceptions. They change behavior. They alter expectations and aspirations. They inform. “In no other profession [besides business], not excepting the ministry and the law, is the need for wide information, broad sympathies, and directed imagination so great,” reflected Owen D. Young, then chairman of Radio Corporation and General Electric in 1929. And never has the need been greater than the present.
In no other field do books now hold such a central role in the dissemination of best practice and new concepts. Helped by the fact that business is increasingly global and the skills of management often universal, books make their way round the world, shaping the management of the future.
Since 1945 we have witnessed the inexorable “professionalization” of management (indeed, some have argued that we have witnessed the professionalization of almost every occupation). In the past, the quest for knowledge – new tools, techniques, and ideas – was part of the process of professionalization. Now, it is the route to survival.
If knowledge means survival, managers cannot be criticized for their relentless search for new skills and new approaches. But too often these resemble an indecent race to find the latest bright idea, the single-stop answer to all their business problems. Managers are addicted to the newest and brightest ideas. They buy the fashionable books of the moment and then within months, perhaps weeks, move on to the next fashion. This is good news for publishers.
For managers it means a relentless and largely impossible quest to keep up to date with the latest thinking. Books and articles are devoured and pored over. It is a losing battle, but one they must endeavor to fight. “The only thing worse than slavishly following management theory is ignoring it completely,” observes The Economist. Richard Pascale, author of Managing on the Edge [out of print], is a vehement critic of the managerial enthusiasm for fads and instant solutions. In Managing on the Edge he charts the rise and rise of fads since the 1950s. He calculates that over two dozen techniques have come and gone during this period, with a dozen arriving during the period 1985 to 1990 alone. Pascale believes that this trend is likely to continue.
Much of what is written is indigestible. Economist John Kay describes the formula for an article in the Harvard Business Review: “One idea per article, although it will not be taken seriously if expressed in less than 3,000 words. Assume no prior knowledge of anything … definitely no jokes – our audience has no sense of humor – but frequent references to exchanges with senior executives such as John Harvey-Jones and Akito Morita.”
The skeptics are right to question the practical usefulness of much that is published. “You can be very bold as a theoretician. Good theories are like good art. A practitioner has to compromise,” says Warren Bennis. Even so, the canon of management literature is full of ideas which have been implemented and which have affected the lives and performance of millions of managers. “All the great business builders we know of – from the Medici of Renaissance Florence and the founders of the Bank of England in the late 17th century down to IBM’s Thomas Watson in our day – had a clear theory of the business which informed all their actions and decisions,” observes Peter Drucker in Management. Cut through the dross and there is a broad swathe of carefully researched, well-written, insightful books on what makes managers and their organizations tick.
The Harvard Business Review may be lacking in humor and brevity, but a great deal of the material it includes is perceptive and practically useful. There are business books which stand the tests of time and usefulness. They are not placebos but vibrant cures.
And, lest it be forgotten, books and the research behind them do change things. Look at the part played by W. Edwards Deming in the renaissance of Japan. Think of the impact of Michael Porter’s work on the value chain which has been taken up by companies throughout the world, as well as his work on national competitiveness which has altered the economic perspectives of entire countries. Porter has been called in by countries as far apart as Portugal and Colombia to shed light on their competitiveness. Who thought customer service was a key competitive weapon before Peters and Waterman? In the business world, books are more than ornamental shelf-fillers. The influence of best management practice and leading-edge thinking is increasingly all pervasive. Ignore it at your peril.
- 1931 James Mooney and Alan Reiley: Onward Industry
- 1933 Elton Mayo: The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization
- 1937 Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People
- 1938 Chester Barnard: The Functions of the Executive
- 1941 Mary Parker Follett: Dynamic Administration
- 1947 Max Weber: Theory of Social and Economic Organization
- 1960 Douglas McGregor: The Human Side of Enterprise
- 1961 Rensis Likert: New Patterns of Management
- 1962 Alfred Chandler: Strategy and Structure
- 1962 Ted Levitt: Innovation in Marketing
- 1963 Alfred P. Sloan: My Years with General Motors
- 1963 Robert Cyert and James March: A Behavioral Theory of the Firm
- 1963 Thomas Watson Jr: A Business and its Beliefs
- 1964 Robert Blake and Jane Mouton: The Managerial Grid
- 1965 Igor Ansott: Corporate Strategy
- 1966 Marvin Bower: The Will to Manage
- 1967 Philip Kotler: Marketing Management
- 1969 Laurence Peter: The Peter Principle
- 1969 Peter F. Drucker: The Age of Discontinuity
- 1980 Alvin Toffler: The Third Wave
- 1980 Michael Porter: Competitive Strategy
- 1981 Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos: The Art of Japanese Management
- 1982 John Naisbitt: Megatrends
- 1982 Kenichi Ohmae: The Mind of the Strategist
- 1982 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman: In Search of Excellence
- 1982 W. Edwards Deming: Out of the Crisis
- 1983 Rosabeth Moss Kanter: Change Masters
- 1984 Meredith Belbin: Management Teams
- 1985 Edgar Schein: Organizational Culture and Leadership
- 1985 Harold Geneen: Managing
- 1985 Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus: Leaders
- 1986 Akio Morita: Made in Japan
- 1987 Jan Carlzon: Moments of Truth
- 1988 Joseph M. Juran: Planning for Quality
- 1988 Konosuke Matsushita: Quest for Prosperity
- 1989 Charles Handy: The Age of Unreason
- 1989 Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal: Managing Across Borders
- 1989 Stephen Covey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
- 1990 Kenichi Ohmae: The Borderless World
- 1990 Michael Porter: The Competitive Advantage of Nations
- 1990 Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline
- 1990 Richard Pascale: Managing on the Edge
- 1992 Tom Peters: Liberation Management
- 1993 Fons Trompenaars: Riding the Waves of Culture
- 1993 James Champy and Michael Hammer: Reengineering the Corporation
- 1993 Ricardo Semler: Maverick!
- 1994 Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad: Competing for the Future
- 1994 Henry Mintzberg: The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
- 1994 James Collins and Jerry Porras: Built to Last
- 1994 Michael Goold, Andrew Campbell and Marcus Alexander: Corporate-Level Strategy
- 1995 Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence
- 1995 David Packard: The H-P Way
- 1996 Frederick Reichheld: The Loyalty Effect
- 1996 John Kotter: Leading Change
- 1996 Robert Kaplan and David Norton: The Balanced Scorecard
- 1997 Arie de Geus: The Living Company
- 1997 Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer: Blur
- 1997 Thomas Stewart: Intellectual Capital
- 1998 Patricia Seybold: Customers.com