Rules of Engagement
“Low key feel like books r making a comeback,” the Grammy-nominated R&B star SZA tweeted earlier this fall. She’s right. The more digital media pervades our lives, the more currency people seem to place on one of the oldest forms of media.
According to PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2018–2022, books are the only form of physical media whose sales are growing — and are expected to continue to grow. The big-box bookstores that dominated the retail chain in the 1990s may be contracting, but the ranks of independent bookshops are growing. All of which serves to ratify the attention we lavish on books at strategy+business.
Books require those who produce them to think deeply about their subject matter, to construct arguments and analytic frameworks carefully, and to muster mountains of data and evidence to support a contention. In short, books force their producers and readers to build and exercise their intellectual muscles.
Of course, it’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer volume of new volumes. Fortunately, in this, our 18th annual Best Business Books collection, a series of learned guides have taken the time to identify the three most compelling reads in seven core genres. Bethany McLean, an ace narrative writer herself (a Vanity Fair contributor and author of Saudi America), kicks off this year’s edition with a look at a narrative of historical folly (the crash of 1987), an impactful tale about the contemporary struggles of a factory town in Wisconsin, and a voyage into the minds of the billionaires forging new commercial realities in space. Sally Helgesen, an s+b contributing editor and coauthor of How Women Rise, finds truly useful lessons on leadership from a book on historical figures, as well as inspiration from two authors who provide grounded, helpful instruction on how to inculcate more mindfulness and meaning in our work. S+b contributing editor Theodore Kinni finds that this year’s best management books offer conflicting (though not necessarily contradictory) advice on how to get the most out of employees — whether it is building a relationship-based managerial culture, mimicking high-performance organizations, or just making a habit of asking for help. Ryan Avent, a columnist at the Economist, looks back at deeply researched economic accounts of the fall of financial empires, from Rome to the humbling of the Davos crowd in the post-2008 environment. David Lancefield, an s+b contributing writer and a partner with PwC UK, sheds light on three books that each highlight a vital component of strategy: measurement, encouragement of creativity and rebel talent, and the leap from innovation to innovation. James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, concludes that this year’s best books on innovation separate the wheat from the chaff on the trifecta of buzzwords that dominate so much of our conversation: AI, blockchain, and big data. Finally, Catharine P. Taylor spotlights a field that is being upended by advances in big data and technology: marketing. The best books in this genre this year offer concrete, sensible advice on how to integrate brand and culture, how to turn marketing costs into profits, and, perhaps most significantly, how more companies can pursue a profitable subscription model. We hope these features encourage you to subscribe — to our magazine and newsletter, to be sure, but also to our belief in the power of books.
s+b’s Top Shelf
Our picks for the best business books of 2018 in seven categories.