The 100 Best Business Books of All Time


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There are ten thousand business books published each year and way over a hundred thousand in print. Most business books are worthless drivel, some are a good article fluffed out into a thin book, and maybe 100 out of those hundred thousand are worth reading. Out of those 100 best, only 10 might have something to say to you.

But how to find those few? Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten, two guys who sell biz books, seem to have read all of the ones in print, and they have done the world a favor by selecting the 100 best business books ever, and then packing summaries of them all into one meta-book. If all you want is their list, you can go to their website and check it out.

But their book is much better than a simple list, and their list is better than most. The two have reviewed, abstracted, and compared all the best 100 in the context of thousands of similar books, unlike say your average Amazon reviewer who may have only read one other business book in his or her life. You get context instead of content. Reading Covert and Sattersten’s summaries of these classics is often better than reading the book itself, and the review is always useful in pointing you to the few books or authors you might actually want to read in full.

In addition to including the expected gems like Good to Great, The Effective Executive, and Purple Cow, the 100 Best list also includes many lesser-known titles, some of them oldies-but-goodies, like Up the Organization, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and Flow. Not everything is new in business; the wisdom of the past is often surprisingly relevant.

Finally, this book itself is one of the best business books, and can be read alone as a pretty good education in business in its broadest sense, even if you don’t read any of the references.

A couple of caveats. One, the authors has included one of my books (Out of Control) in their list, which tickles me greatly but might have warped my perspective. Two, they sell business books (at 800CeoRead) and so their book can be seen as a sales tool. On the other hand, the authors have great incentive to sell and include only the best, and so their list is pretty persuasive. Three, in a slip of bad design each of the 100 books featured on their website does not appear with the review as found in their book, but is featured with the standard publisher verbiage; the author’s fantastic summaries and analysis are only found in their printed book. (They sell books, see?)

All in all, this is a great business resource at a modest price. If you took their list and read all 100 books you’d get a better MBA than any university would give you, at a fraction of the cost.

New ideas and opportunities, evaluated on the ability to serve existing customers and earn the necessary margins to support the company, are called sustaining innovations and are always successful ventures for existing (and dominant) firms.

But sometimes, innovation creates a new technology or reveals a new way to organize a firm's resources. This disruptive innovation does not offer the performance needed in the existing market, and entrant companies are forced to find a new set of customers who value innovation on a different set of metrics than those of the traditional market. Existing companies disregard the disruptive innovation because of its lower margins, and the newcomers find a small beachhead outside the existing market, using that market space to develop further. As the performance of disruptive innovations outpaces the sustaining innovations, entrants move into established markets and their lower cost structure forces incumbents further up-market, forfeiting existing profitable markets.

-from the summary of Clayton M. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma


Researchers at Marquette University studied over two thousand companies and found that 94 percent of "hyper-growth" companies were started by two or more people. Individual owners made up only 6 percent of the hypergrowth segment and almost one-half of the slow-growth companies.

Despite the evidence that a partnership can lead to success, the thought of taking on a partner makes most budding entrepreneurs cringe.

-sfrom the summary of David Gage's The Partnership Charter


In the past, access to water or other natural resources determined the economic potential of a region. But Florida believes that the Creative Class is the new resource for economic growth. When choosing where to live, the Creative Class looks for "thick labor markets" that allow for easy horizontal moves from one company to another. Some choose cities with easy access to outdoor recreation, allowing daily engagement to match unpredictable work schedules. As a result of Florida's conclusions and with the publication of The Rise of the Creative Class, regional economic development has been turned on its ear. Spending by state and city governments to attract corporations or finance professional sports arenas was proved useless by Florida's research. Instead, his 3T's--technology, talent, and tolerance--are the new blueprint many areas are using to grow creative capital.

-from the summary of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class


Titles Are Handy Tools: There is a trade-off here. In one way, titles are a form of psychic compensation, and if too many titles are distributed, the currency is depreciated. But a title is also a tool. If our salesman is a vice president and yours is a sales rep, and both are in a waiting room, guess who goes in first and gets the most attention…If you find you can't get applicants for menial jobs, maybe your titles are obsolete. A restaurant cured a chronic busboy shortage by changing the title to 'logistics engineer.'

-from Robert Townsend's Up the Organization

03/19/10 -- KK