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S+B's Top 25 Business Books for 2000-2001

(originally published by Booz & Company)

1. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don't, by Jim Collins, HarperBusiness, 2001

Many business books start by asserting that some new precept or technique will lead to success. Then they try to prove their point. This book started from a different direction: It studied only companies whose stock performance, over a 15-year period, went from being nondescript to outpacing the general market. Collins and his team of researchers found only 11 companies that achieved this out of the 1,435 they examined; the many counterintuitive findings on why these companies made the leap from good to great are sure to spur dialogue for decades to come.

2. The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, Harvard Business School Press, 2000

Failed or low-impact knowledge-management efforts within companies make the practice easy to dismiss. But, in The Social Life of Information, authors Seely Brown and Duguid go beyond mere criticism to explain what really went wrong with knowledge management. They argue that information acquires its value only within a social context; they give us a theory that adeptly links information, knowledge, and learning, while keeping humans squarely in the middle.

3. Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People, by Charles A. O'Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer, Harvard Business School Press, 2000

This inspirational book challenges the conventional wisdom that companies are engaged in a “war” for talent. Instead, the authors argue the challenge is hiring people you know you want to keep and cultivating their talent. You won’t get vague prescriptions here; O’Reilly and Pfeffer make their case with compelling stories of maverick companies, from Southwest Airlines, AES, and Cisco Systems to Men’s Wearhouse and New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI).

4. The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment, by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, Harvard Business School Press, 2001

In the latest entry in their series on the Balanced Scorecard (BSC), Kaplan and Norton describe in detail how private- and public-sector organizations have used the BSC to translate strategy into operational terms and align the organization with it. This is much more than a performance-measurement tool — the authors show how the BSC is an essential communications tool.

5. The Essential Drucker: In One Volume the Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, by Peter F. Drucker, HarperBusiness, 2001

A collection of 26 excerpts organized in three sections (Individual, Management, and Society) from 10 of the management master's 30-plus books. The book may not be quite as comprehensive as the subtitle suggests, but it is a single volume packed with useful insights.

6. Strategic Thinking for the Next Economy, edited by Michael A. Cusumano and Constantinos C. Markides, Jossey-Bass, 2001

A first-rate collection of essays from a new MIT Sloan Management Review-sponsored series, commendable for its diversity of subject matter and consistent brilliance. Contributors C.K. Prahalad, Sumantra Ghoshal, Christopher Bartlett, Henry Mintzberg, and other business thought leaders examine the fundamentals of strategy and value creation, strategic flexibility in a volatile world, strategy marketing in uncertain times, and strategies for growth in fast-paced markets.

7. Corporate Boards: New Strategies for Adding Value at the Top, by Jay A. Conger, Edward E. Lawler III, and David L. Finegold, Jossey-Bass, 2001

A comprehensive look at the evolution of corporate governance reforms in the United States over the past 20 years, with practical recommendations for making the corporate board a more effective resource for companies.

8. The End of Shareholder Value: Corporations at the Crossroads, by Allan A. Kennedy, Perseus Publishing, 2000

Kennedy argues that the corporate boardroom's preoccupation with shareholder value has led companies to mortgage their futures for today's higher stock price. It also created a class of entrepreneurs who, for a brief time, were able to sell companies to a gullible investing public at unsupportable prices. The author offers a host of boardroom reforms, with an eye on making this body more responsive to multiple stakeholder interests.

9. The Sum of Our Discontent: Why Numbers Make Us Irrational, by David Boyle, Texere, 2001

The obsession with quantification, especially in the business world, makes it all the more difficult to discern the measures that matter and the ones we can trust. Boyle argues that our trouble in understanding complex economic and sociological problems is linked to our over reliance on simple statistical explanations.

10. Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, Basic Books, 2001

This is a penetrating exploration of the challenge of business ethics — free of preachy prescriptions — from three of today's most influential psychologists. The book, based on a five-year study of multiple professions, examines the kinds of changes that would probably need to occur in business management for ethics-oriented systems to take root.

11. Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How Managers Can Know When They're Getting Good Advice and When They're Not, by Chris Argyris, Oxford University Press USA, 2000
Chris Argyris, professor emeritus of education and organizational behavior at Harvard University, argues that most business advice given to managers by experts is impossible to execute. By becoming better judges of the limitations and value in business advice, managers can get more value from it. This book is not easy reading, but is well worth the effort.

12. The Mystery of Capitalism: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, by Hernando de Soto, Basic Books, 2000

The world-renowned Peruvian economist explains why the capitalist system has failed the poor in developing countries. He posits that the key to reform lies in the legal systems governing property ownership. His recommendations are simple but revolutionary for the development field — and they represent important new ideas for executives of multinational corporations. 

13. Living on the Faultline: Managing for Shareholder Value in the Age of the Internet, by Geoffrey A. Moore, HarperBusiness, 2000

Geoff Moore's trademark metaphor's and frameworks are not just tools for a New Economy. They force managers to focus on enduring fundamentals of business — what drives and undermines shareholder value. In particular, Moore’s Core/Context model is a critical resource to examine the relationship between value creation and human capital.

14. Power Plays: Shakespeare's Lessons in Leadership and Management, by John O. Whitney and Tina Packer, Simon and Schuster, 2000

The authors present scenes that revolve around fundamental human themes: power, communication, trust, decision making, hierarchy, and women in management. This book is an enjoyable read, and gives us a clever and memorable way to think about leadership dilemmas that executives and managers face every day in the contemporary world of business.

15. Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist, edited by Tiha von Ghyczy, Bolko von Oetinger, and Christopher Bassford, Jossey-Bass, 2001

It is a tribute to the durability and universality of the ideas of Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz that his famous work On War has been excerpted in this 2001 book for business readers. The authors have done a fine job of condensing Clausewitz’s massive, unfinished tome and have coupled it with an excellent commentary.

16. Inventing the Electronic Century: The Epic Story of the Consumer Electronics and Computer Industries, by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Free Press, 2001

Harvard Business School professor Alfred Chandler continues the story of the modern corporation in his sequel to The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. In this history we find much about the past that can teach us about the future.

17. Unchained Value: The New Logic of Digital Business, by Mary J. Cronin, Harvard Business School Press, 2000

Cronin breaks the “new value system of the digital economy” into a set of discernible processes. Her thesis: Centralized information systems are giving way to disaggregated modular systems in which information flow is controlled by competitors and partners who must share information to maximize the value of the network.

18. Digital Capital: Harnessing the Power of Business Webs, by Don Tapscott, David Ticoll, and Alex Lowy, Harvard Business School Press, 2000

Offering ideas similar to those presented in Mary Cronin's Unchained Value, Digital Capital presents the concept of the b-web, a new organizing principle for business that is based on the value created from a web of relationships among companies. The authors offer new and enduring ways of looking at organizational structure and competition.

19. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm, by Tom Kelley, Doubleday Currency, 2001

Kelley, the general manager of IDEO, offers a wealth of observations to help establish and then develop a workplace within which creative thinking is not only nourished but sustained and enhanced.

20. Evaluation in Organizations: A Systematic Approach to Enhancing Learning, Performance, and Change, by Darlene Russ-Eft and Hallie Preskill, Perseus Publishing, 2001

There are others who are stronger on the individual subjects mentioned in the title — Peter Senge and Bill Isaacs on learning, Jac Fitz-enz on performance measurement, James O'Toole on change management. But no other single volume offers more and better information and guidance on those three subjects than this one.

21. Taking Technical Risks: How Innovators, Executives, and Investors Manage High-Tech Risks, by Lewis M. Branscomb and Philip E. Auerswald, MIT Press, 2001

Most (if not all) of the issues addressed by various contributors to this volume are directly relevant to companies outside high tech that are now struggling to become more innovative while managing rapid change with finite resources.

22. Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live, by Daniel H. Pink, Warner Books, 2001

A somewhat controversial book that, as Pink himself points out, offers neither the first nor the last word on the subject. The author suggests some plausible but by no means definitive answers. Still, his exploration is engaging.

23. The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business — Their Lives, Times, and Ideas, by Andrea Gabor, Crown Business, 2000

This book skillfully portrays 13 important American business thinkers and how their ideas have influenced large corporations. It’s another substantive look back at the roots of American business that helps us better understand where we are headed.

24. The Six Sigma Revolution: How General Electric and Others Turned Process into Profits, by George Eckes, Jossey-Bass, 2000

A book for non-technicians among the executive ranks who want to get an in-depth look at Six Sigma. This book is a major achievement that can be expected to have enduring value for years to come.

25. Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000

These Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists from the New York Times present unusual perspective on the lives of ordinary people in Asian countries. This is an outstanding overview of the state of the region for executives wanting to understand how Asia will evolve in the 21st century.

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