In 2001, when strategy+business published its first Best Business Books section, an irrationally exuberant investment bubble had recently popped and the business world was coping with a global recession. Now, as this feature enters its second decade, another irrationally exuberant investment bubble has popped and the global recession is back with greater ferocity. Apparently there is some truth to the loosely translated epigram of French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Although they cover a wide variety of topics and fields, just about all of the books featured in the seven essays ahead are rife with dissatisfaction. Many of their authors have tracked down root causes of the destruction of economic value and prescribed radical solutions for them. Judging by the fact that the expert essayists we recruited to cull this year’s stack of business books chose these particular titles, it’s fair to assume that they too would welcome change that alters the status quo.
Professor of business ethics James O’Toole, who has contributed an unbroken chain of insightful annual essays since 2001, leads off with books that illuminate the social role of business. Karr-like, he finds that for all the change we experience, the defining characteristics of “good” companies remain the same over time — as does the inability of leaders to sustain them.
Next, IMD professor Phil Rosenzweig brings his sharp eye for flaws in business logic to his survey of this year’s books on strategy. He chooses three books that eschew formulaic strategic approaches to focus on the fundamental questions executives must consider as they decide the direction of their company.
David K. Hurst, author and our regular Books in Brief reviewer, takes on the always-packed shelves of new books on management. His picks illuminate the struggle for the future of Western management practice and thought — and suggest the kinds of changes, and their magnitude, that may be needed to ensure that we move beyond business as usual.
Award-winning financial journalist David Warsh picks the year’s best books on economics. He discovers many worthy forward-looking books, and focuses on one in particular that describes the oncoming mash-up of national economies, providing what may prove to be a durable framework for making sense of a global economy that will soon be four times its current size.
Journalist Catharine P. Taylor brings two decades of perspective to her roundup of the year’s best books on marketing. She finds a trio of compelling books that reject conventional marketing “window dressing” for more socially responsible and engaging approaches, but adopting such approaches would clearly require some corporate reinvention.
We placed this year’s choices for best leadership books in the capable hands of Barbara Kellerman, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In her first best business books essay, Kellerman bypasses leadership theory for leaders’ lives, picking two biographies of American presidents and a presidential memoir that illuminate four lessons for better understanding executive effectiveness.
Finally, strategy+business contributing editor Michael Schrage of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and London’s Imperial College returns to our pages with an essay on the best books on technology. His choices broaden our understanding of how people and technology interact and coevolve, creating innovation ecosystems in the process.
Here are the year’s best business books. I hope you find them as worthy as we do and take some of their ideas to heart. If you do, we might not be reliving this same cyclical chaos 10 years hence.
Ethics and Aspirations
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