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April 5, 2006

News & Opinion: Footnotes

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:59 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

As noted yesterday, the second year of the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs business book awards was formally announced. Be sure to check out the website for the contest, which has a handful of excellent articles on business booksespecially one exploring why too many current business books are so dull. See also our Q&A last year with the author of that piece, FT financial editor Andrew Hill. By the way, Simon London, who, as an FT writer was a voice of unsurpassed wit and intelligence about business books, has sadly left the salmon (pink?) pages to work for McKinsey. At a time when fewer publications cover business books with any depth, chalk this up as a real loss. But I digress. The contest is good news for business books. Not only does it really help raise awareness (and aspirations) about the range, depth, and quality of business books today, but it should also, in the words of Andrew Hill, motivate authors to raise their game. My wish for year two: that the winning title be lesser-known than the first years winner, Thomas Friedmans The World is Flat. Speaking of conteststhis week marks the conference celebrating the 2006 Shingo Prizes for Excellence in Manufacturing. Not to toot ones horn, but two books that I worked on won in the research category. Both Lean Solutions by James Womack and Daniel Jones, and The Gold Mine: A Novel of Lean Transformation by Michael and Freddy Balle, were winners. Please, gentle readers, if youre interested in lean manufacturing check out The Gold Mine. Since we published the book last summer it has sold more than 13,000 copies, and continues to chug along. Much more at the Lean Enterprise Institute web page. There you can find many oher lean resources, and an invitaion to register for a free webinar with the authors next month. Speaking of the dwindling number of writers covering business books with respect and intelligence. Exhibit A would be Paul Browns coverage in the New York Times: this week a nice review of three managerial books dealing with stories. Exhibit B is certainly Richard Pachters terrific weekly column for the Miami Herald. And C is the sporadic though worthy columns by Michael Hopkins in Inc. (By the way, this list is NOT meant to be exclusive. Please nominate your favorites!) Newt Gingrich continues to thump the Drucker pulpit. Go Newt, you effective executive you. Hes been touting the works of the master for many years now. Speaking of Drucker, the new Classic Drucker, a collection of essays from HBR introduced by Tom Stewart, is excellentproof that many great business ideas are just as potent (and possibly more so!) as rigorous articles than full-blown books. This calls to mind another fantastic reissue: the new and very much improved (annotated to be precise) The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor. The updated version of this monumental book, which represented a real watershed in managerial thinking, contains incisive commentary by MITs Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. This was clearly a labor of love, for Cutcher-Gershenfeld has rounded up a good 100 extra pages of resources detailing the impact of McGregors ideas on managerial thinking today. The reissue is a sharp, informed explanation of what McGregor said and why it matters so very much today. Kudos to McGraw-Hill for keeping this classic not just alive, but meaningful. And speaking of classics revisited.Ive now had the opportunity to read some of the revised edition of Peter Senges The Fifth Discipline. Highly recommended, folks. Senge and his colleagues have developed terrific complementary material that provides context and implementation strategies for his big ideas. If you were one of the many book buyers who didnt complete the book then this new version will give you more points of entry. You can read the introduction (which itself justifies the price of the new book) at the website for the Society for Organizational Learning. Heres just one great quote from Senge. Reflecting on the lessons of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Senge concludes his introduction with the following passage: I believe that, the prevailing system of management is, at its core, dedicated to mediocrity. It forces people to work harder and harder to compensate for failing to tap the spirit and collective intelligence that characterizes working together at their best. Deming saw this clearly, and I believe that now, so do a growing number of leaders committed to growing organizations capable of thriving in and contributing to the extraordinary challenges and possibilities of the world we are living into. Ive enjoyed the first half of Billy, Alfred, and General Motors. What is it about certain companies that makes them spawn so many great books? Weve posted on this phenomena before, talking about IBM. In re: GM Ill just mention one tragically unheralded title, A Ghosts Memoir. This companion book to Alfred Sloans epic My Years With General Motors, written by ghostwriter John MacDonald, describes the epic 6-year struggle to publish Sloans book once it was written. Intriguingly, the book notes that the great Peter Druckers famed introduction to the reissue of Sloans tome contained a handful of errors. This thoroughly engaging read represents the one business book that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman would adapt if he wrote about business.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.