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Some Great Books from 2011

Posted by Mark Bennett on January 13, 2012

Here are some great books from last year that helped me think about Social Business, Business Strategy, Leadership, and how the way we think affects our ability to succeed with them. If you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out.


The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy by Paul Leinwand and Cesare R. Mainardi

I read this early in the year after reading the authors’ Strategy+Business article, “Do You Have the Right to Win?” (registration required.) This main point of the book is that unless your business strategy, portfolio of products and services, and your workforce capabilities are coherent, your business will suffer. This problem is very pervasive in business due to factors stemming from growth for growth’s sake without enough consideration given to whether it amplifies and leverages existing strengths or not. The book is not an epiphany on this topic by any means, but it does present a well-thought out framework for helping a business achieve this coherence in a shorter period of time. There are several interesting, real-world examples given to make the process more real and believable.

The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World by Walter Kiechel

I owe a big thanks to my colleague Craig Martell, who recommended this book, which was referenced in The Essential Advantage. Craig had read TEA on my recommendation, read Lords of Strategy and said it was a very interesting read. I agree – TloS brings a historical context to the evolution of Strategy, following the rise of Boston Consulting Group, Bain, and McKinsey as well as the major waves (Position, Process and People) of focus in thinking about gaining advantage. The history covers not only the consulting firms themselves and the way they approached making money from their models and services, but also how academia puzzled over, studied, adopted, and contributed to the thinking around business strategy.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt

I had read a McKinsey article, “Strategy’s strategist: An interview with Richard Rumelt” (free registration required) a while back and was impressed by Rumelt’s matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach to Strategy. Good Strategy Bad Strategy is written in that same style; that Strategy is key and that the problem is that many people mistake the wrong things for Strategy and/or think that since the world is changing so fast that something static like a Strategy that took two years to formulate and is now obsolete is a pointless task. Rumelt shows the error of that thinking and describes what constitutes a real and good Strategy (rather than a Mission, or Values Statement or a Financial Goal that is often mistaken for or substituted for Strategy.) He emphasizes how what really matters is the rigorous thinking that goes into developing your Strategy (at whatever level in the organization), how that thinking is tested and corrected, and then adapting your Strategy as a result. Rumelt provides a simple framework that helps guide that process.


Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

I owe a big thanks to my colleague and co-blogger Steve Hughes, who recommended this fascinating book about how we remember things and how that affects who we are and how we think. It’s written to follow the author’s year-long efforts to train his memory and learn techniques to compete in a memory championship. Along the way (which includes some very memorable characters who mentor him), he shares interesting scientific cases and studies. This includes the journalist with the real photographic memory (and the very mixed blessing that it presented) as well as the man with literally no ability to develop further memories past a particular date (and the touching story of his wife’s care of him for many years.) The book provides understanding and insights about memory (and expertise!) such as how our experiences and our malleable and sometimes faulty memory of those experiences shape how we think and vice versa (see next review.)

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman is most known for his work in behavioral economics (winning a Nobel for that work) and the notion that maybe economic models make too simplifying of an assumption when saying that participants in markets act rationally in their own self-interest. While this book has a fair amount in it that’s been published before in one form or another, nothing beats it for bringing the most important findings and their implications together in one tome. It’s a pretty big book, but you don’t have to read it from front to back. Yes, there are many other books out there that also cover this material, but having one of the foundational thinkers in this field (who also keeps working in it) reflect on how far it has come over the last few decades actually makes it fresh, since he both brings perspective as well as constantly questions what’s next to learn about the way we think. A good companion to “How We Decide” and “Nudge” (and Moonwalking, of course.)

The Jobless Recovery

Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

This is a short eBook that you can read in one (somewhat long) sitting. To oversimplify a bit, it addresses the real concern many express over whether there are ever going to be enough “middle class” jobs going forward. The book is timely in the context of another jobless recovery after the Great Recession (and its subsequent dips). The authors discuss the various arguments put forth to explain the frustratingly slow decrease in unemployment as well as the concurrent increasing disparity in the standard of living among the population. They introduce their argument that a lot of the slow recovery also has to do with the longer-term, increasing replacement of jobs that were previously thought to be safe from automation, by computers and robots. There are no pat answers, but the book does take a hopeful outlook on our ability to work through the issues; it’s whether policy makers will make it a shorter or longer period of suffering for those hit hard by these changes in the job market. It’s an important contribution to the thinking around the most crucial humanitarian crisis of our time.


The Leader’s Checklist: 15 Mission-Critical Principles by Michael Useem

Here’s another short eBook that captures well the essentials to effective leadership. Useem presents both the checklist of 15 core principles as well as three real world examples of “leadership moments” that demonstrate the application of some of these principles (“The Leadership Moment” is a well-regarded book by Useem from a while back that uses the same technique to great effect. These “moments” capture both the context within which leadership is demonstrated or not, along with the essence of either the demonstration of effective leadership or the utter lack of it.) The list contains nothing you haven’t seen in one or another book on leadership: articulating vision, thinking and acting strategically, expressing confidence in those you lead, bias for action, decisive action, simple and clear communication, appreciate the diverse and distinct motivations of those you lead, delegate authority as appropriate, build leadership in others, manage relationships, help folks understand the impact your vision and strategy will have on their work, act with integrity, be alert for and discourage unwarranted hubris and risk, build a diverse top team, and place common interest first, personal self-interest last. What Useem does in a very succinct manner is help you get your head around that list and address how some items might have higher priority depending on the situation (i.e. your role, the company, culture, or country, the current crisis, etc.) This is where examples like the Chilean mine cave-in and the bail-out of AIG help you see how that works (or didn’t, as the case may be.) There are thousands and thousands of leadership books out there, so it’s good to find ones like this that give solid, practical guidance with examples.

Social Business

The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees by Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald

This book has been getting excellent reviews for bringing together and addressing just about every question people have about how to view social media risks and benefits. It’s a great source and reference for anyone who is wrestling with issues like policy, effective use, where to apply it and how, factors to consider when doing so, etc. It’s very thorough and is again one of those books you don’t have to read from cover to cover. It’s pretty well organized to help you find the areas you want to address. Most importantly for me, while it addresses many details that matter regarding successful implementation, it emphasizes that the most important factor is to identify the purpose of your efforts. What is your objective? How will you measure the achievement of that objective?

The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media by Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran

I met co-author Ed Moran through Deloitte and picked up his book to get a better understanding of his thinking on how social tools can enable organizations to truly compete in ways they haven’t been able to before. Most importantly, this book puts the people first and recognizes that the technologies are simply what enable people to do what has been more difficult previously. It takes a forward-looking, imaginative look at how people using these tools can revolutionize your organization and your approach to doing business. A good portion of the book focuses on engaging with customers in what they characterize as “Tribes” – reflecting a sociological approach. Combined with a view of employees in the same way, it amplifies the social aspects and focuses your thinking on that perspective vs. thinking solely about how to apply the new technologies, but from a viewpoint that is closed to these new ways of thinking. Includes many useful cases.

The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

I ran into co-author Marcia Conner when we were both attending a Social Learning panel at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara. Marcia informed me she “wrote the book” on Social Learning and I have to say that she and Tony did a terrific job. This book starts off with some very intelligent observations on what really makes the “New” Social Learning so uniquely valuable to organizations. Why is it “New”? The authors emphasize that much if not all learning that truly changes you is “social”, so “new” social learning is about applying the new social tools to learning. The result is knowledge transfer and creation through natural, work-related connections (e.g. the enterprise social network), more and better-informed decision-making, and a better understanding of the context of work. I found a lot in here that reminded me of the “Flow of Knowledge” discussion in “The Power of Pull.” The best kind of knowledge transfer results in both the provider and recipient of knowledge increasing their knowledge. The “New” Social Learning helps a lot in making that happen.

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8 Responses to “Some Great Books from 2011”

  1. Stimulating list Mark, and I second your views on “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt. I finished reading this over Christmas and have started on a second run through. Never thought I’d find a book on strategy that’s a page turner but this one does it for me. Engaging and to the point, I find the case studies and examples – from Hannibal to Starbucks – really illuminate the concepts he covers. A mine of insight – Chapter 8 on chain linked systems seems to me to be particularly relevant to talent management.

    • Thanks, Steve. Glad you found Rumelt’s work engaging. He is a very interesting character in the Strategy field. When discussing Strategy, most people think of Porter, who has received a lot more notoriety from his classic books. However, as Mark Twain said, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Porter’s books, “Competitive Strategy” and “Competitive Advantage” are certainly valuable (although not without some controversy), but they are dense and require a lot of concentration and effort. “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” might not be a classic (yet), but it’s very interesting and accessible without being fluffy. As with Porter’s work, there are folks who disagree with Rumelt (some quite strongly), but the history of Strategy is pretty rife with that.

  2. Superb list Mark – now I have to get to downloading a couple of these titles for the plane rides this year!

  3. So, is there anyone not named Steve that would like to leave a comment? Did anyone else find these books useful (or not?)

  4. Anders Northeved said

    Yes, my name is not Steve 🙂

    Thank you for pointing me to “The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media”, it sounds interesting and I’m going to listen to this (not read it).

    You see, you post got me thinking: I don’t have enough time to read the books I’d like to read, and I’m having a hard time finding enough good podcasts to listen to when I’m out and about.
    I found audible.co.uk (an amazon company) with 60.000 titles (including “New Social Learning”). So now I will have time to get more new input from books I’d otherwise wouldn’t have had time for – thank you for leading me down this road.

  5. […] a 5 minute interview with Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow (which I recommended here). The interview happened to bring up the subject of how George W. Bush and Barack Obama are pretty […]

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