December 13, 2006

News & Opinion: Todd's Best of Business Books 2006

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 8:08 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

I started with a list of 22 books that I thought deserved year-end honors. The narrowing of the list was the hard part. I quickly marked the ones I knew should be on my list and looked to see if they had something in common. What I saw was each of the books changed the way I looked at the world. I went through the list again with that criterea and found three more books.

Here are my six favorite books of 2006:

*The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker

This is my favorite book of the year and you will not have seen me talk about it anywhere on the site. How is that possible? It is a hard book to talk about in 100 words. Beinhocker has taken all of the literature on complexity theory and put it into one book. The information is accessible and the research explained through extended stories. More importantly, Origin of Wealth is written for a business audience. What many are going to find daunting is the book is 512 pages. My solution: take three books off your night stand and replace them with Origin of Wealth.

What I Learned: The complex nature of the universe makes it impossible to predict. What makes it worse is that our brains are not wired to see the complexity in the world and we often make poor decisions because of it. The only thing you can do to survive is keep trying new things (and understand that most will fail). I know that sounds obvious, but are you doing it?!

*The Number by Lee Eisenberg

The book was released with high hopes from Free Press and the book never meet the expectations of the publisher. Adrian Zackheim, the publisher at Portfolio, said that people don't want to read about how they are not going to have enough money when they retire. I agree with him. Eisenberg takes you on a emotional roaster coaster ride through what it is going to take to deal with the second half of your life. It has been a long time as since I have been that depressed from reading a book. My reaction came from his vivid storytelling and the stark realities he forced me to face.

What I Learned: The magnitude of your number is driven by future lifestyle. People struggle is how they are going to spend their post-workforce years. Your life needs purpose and meaning whether you are 38 or 88. Calculate accordingly.

*The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld

Fred has been talking about customer loyalty for years. I remember when The One Number You Need to Grow ran in Harvard Business Review in 2003. Kate says it was a part of her coursework. I felt Net Promoter Scores (NPS) finally put some numbers to the power of word of mouth. Companies like GE and American Express have created corporate initiatives while others question if NPS really predicts corporate growth [WSJ - sub. needed].

What I Learned: In one question, I could find out the most important thing I need to know about my customers - would they recommend me to friend. This is not the sort of thing that can be corrupted. 800ceoread adopted the NPS philosophy when the book came out and believe wholeheartedly its effectiveness. We found out (and continue to find out) what matters to our customers. All you have to do it ask.

*The Change Function by Pip Coburn

Pip advises the investment community on technology. For him, technology is not about earnings per share and software release dates. It is about whether people will adopt it. It is about change. The book is a quick read with great examples. If you are in IT and you want to know why the functional groups around you are implementing their own solutions, this book is for you.

What I Learned: All you have to think about is whether the crisis greater than the pain of adoption. If the answer is no then nobody is going to buy. And this applies to all sorts of change like moving from PC to Mac or lowering your cholesterol. Simple, but powerful.

*Purpose by Nikos Mourkogiannis

I wrote my love letter to this book yesterday.

*D.I.Y. (Design It Yourself) by Ellen Lupton (editor)

I saw this book showing up on a number of design websites in the last year, and it piqued my interest. The book gives you some thoughts on the craft of design, but the cool part is Ellen and her students showing you how to make stuff. D.I.Y has instructions on how to make t-shirts, books, business cards, wall-graphics and more. Knowing what is possible help you be more creative.

What I Learned: You can make it yourself. You don't need to go to the store and choose the least worst. I made a batch of t-shirts for a side project that turned out great. My annual Christmas CD turned out wicked cool with some pre-silkscreened CDRs and slick jewel cases. I am already plotting my D.I.Y. projects for next year.


I was going to stop there, but I think there are some others titles that our dear readers need to make sure they considered. Consider these my honorable mentions.

-Firecracker Category (everyone needs a little inspiration):

Small Is The New Big by Seth Godin (best of his short writings)
Radical Edge by Steve Farber (another killer business novella)
Mavericks At Work by Bill Taylor and Polly LaBarre (the energy of Fast Company returns)

-The Company Books (read about the companies shaping how business is done):

The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman (best book on the company. Period.)
The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation by Matthew May (spent time inside to find out what makes them tick)

-Thinking Cap Category (time to start thinking differently):

More Than You Know by Michael Mauboussin (this one is really about making better decisions)
One Great Insight Is Worth A Thousand Good Ideas by Phil Dunesberry (describes and illustrates the power of insights)
Are You Ready To Succeed? by Srikumar Rao (self-help for business people)
Undercover Economist by Tim Harford (economics are all around you, Tim show you where)
Questions of Character by Joe Badaracco (uses fiction to teach lessons in leadership)

-Nuts and Bolts Category (things to help run the organization better)

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense by Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton (based your decisions on evidence, not conjecture)
The Prepared Mind of A Leader by Bill Welter and Jean Egmon (matches my view of leadership)
Setting The Table by Danny Meyer (the NYC resturanteer share his brand of managing)
12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James Harter (ten million Gallup interviews can't be wrong)