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George Barbee’s Required Reading

A veteran executive calls out the books that most influenced him in a career driven by innovation.

George Barbee brings a perspective to the subject of innovation that is both expert and unusually diverse. His 45-year career includes stints with large companies, entrepreneurial ventures, consulting firms, and educational institutions.

Barbee’s innovation career began in the product realm while he was serving as an executive with Wilkinson Sword and, later, with Noxell and Gillette, now divisions of Procter & Gamble. In the 1980s, he launched into service innovation and founded three companies. One of them, the Consumer Financial Institute, became the largest independent provider of financial planning in the U.S. and was acquired by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 1986. He joined PwC as a partner, creating and leading a new strategy named the Global Client Service Partner, which generated several hundred million dollars in new revenue for the firm.

In 2000, Barbee (along with authors Jim Collins and Malcolm Gladwell and former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore) was named a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Since then, he has served as senior lecturer at the school, teaching service innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing.

Most recently, Barbee wrote and published 63 Innovation Nuggets (for Aspiring Innovators) (Innovation Etc., 2015), which contends that innovation is both a learnable and teachable skill. In the book, he offers concise, practical strategies and tactics, as well as reading recommendations, for those who want to bolster their personal and organizational creativity.

When I asked Barbee to share a short list of books that most influenced the development of his capacity for innovation, he called out the following three books.

What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 2015). “Bolles self-published the first 100 copies of Parachute in 1970, and he has revised and updated it annually ever since. Surely the most popular handbook for job hunters ever written, it has sold more than 10 million copies. But I love it not because it helped me find a new job, but because it helped me better understand myself.

Parachute showed me how to chart and assess the various phases of my career. I’ve done the exercises in the book’s appendix more than 20 times over the years, and I kept my notes and used them to evaluate where I was, where I was going, and where I wanted to go in my life.

“Bolles’s manual taught me to appreciate my own strengths and weaknesses. It also helped me understand the importance of embracing diversity and identify the types of people I needed around me to maximize my ability to innovate in both personal and organizational settings. I think you should grab a copy of Parachute every time a new edition appears. Read it, do the exercises, make notes, and chart your growth. Use it to evolve and enhance your ability to innovate.”

How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Lakein (P.H. Wyden, 1973). “Lakein is one of the pioneers of modern personal time management. He opened my eyes to the importance of setting priorities, keeping to-do lists, and regularly assessing my progress, as well as reassessing my goals.

Alan Lakein’s ABC method of prioritization has wormed its way into my life in conscious and unconscious ways.

“Alan Lakein’s ABC method of prioritization has wormed its way into my life in conscious and unconscious ways. His book also helped me balance my business and personal lives — and it enabled me to reach that very special nirvana that can result if you can integrate the two. By showing you how to manage your time in a disciplined way, this undeservedly out-of-print book helps you generate insights and focus on what is truly important, which really pays off when you are trying to launch and manage innovation efforts.”

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Friedman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). “I worked in 40 countries in my career, but I’ve never been able to verbalize the trends and phenomena that I witnessed as insightfully as Friedman does in this book. That’s why I’ve been assigning it in the MBA class I teach at Darden since it was first published.

“There are some who feel that Friedman exaggerated the progress of globalization, but his thesis that the cultural and geographical barriers between nations are becoming lower and lower is certainly true with regard to business. And it jives with my experiences working with global companies. You should become familiar with the 10 ‘flatteners,’ seven ‘company rules,’ and three ‘convergences’ described in the book — some of the names have changed over the past decade, but they remain as relevant as ever.”

Theodore Kinni
Ted Kinni

Theodore Kinni is a contributing editor of strategy+business. He also blogs at Reading, Writing re: Management.



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