10 Books you should read…the following collection comprises the Steele Group’s “short list” for works that we believe to be “must reads”.
The Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith, 1776
A clearly articulated work centered on laissez-faire capitalism at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and considered by many to be the first modern work in the field of economics. Smith’s magnum opus is also the first comprehensive defense of free market policies. Two important themes still taught to this day in economics is the concept of the invisible hand which has two important features. First, Smith was not advocating a social policy (that people should act in their own self interest), but rather was describing an observed economic reality (that people do act in their own interest). Second, Smith was not claiming that all self-interest has beneficial effects on the community. He did not argue that self-interest is always good; he merely argued against the view that self-interest is necessarily bad. It is worth noting that, upon his death, Smith left much of his personal wealth to charity. Another important theme is Meritocracy. Smith emphasizes the advancement that one can take based on their will to better themselves. People would want to do things with a strong mindset without the interference of the outside norms. Smith also points out the fact that the outside forces lead to infancy in the division of labor, therefore slowing the economic growth. Because the idea of self-improvement is very strong, meritocracy efficiently moves the outcomes of the division of labor, ultimately leading to more efficiency in the economy.
The Gospel of Wealth – Andrew Carnegie, 1889
Carnegie’s philosophy rests upon the premise that the heirs of large fortunes frequently squandered them in righteous living rather than nurturing and growing them. He further believe that bequeathing one’s fortune to charity was no guarantee that it would be used wisely, since there was no guarantee that a charitable organization not under one’s direction would use the money in accordance with one’s wishes. Carnegie disapproved of charitable giving that merely maintained the poor in their impoverished state, and urged a movement toward the creation of a new mode of giving which would create opportunities for the beneficiaries of the gift to better themselves. As a result, the gift would not be merely consumed, but would be productive of even greater wealth throughout the society. Carnegie put his philosophy into practice through a program of gifts to endow public libraries in cities and towns throughout the United States, with the idea that he was thus providing people with the tools to better themselves. When it became obvious that Carnegie could not give away his entire fortune within his lifetime, he established the Carnegie Foundation to continue his program of giving.
In Search of Excellence – Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., 1982
The most widely held library book in the United States from 1989 to 2006; this work explores the art and science of management used by leading 1980s companies with records of long‐term profitability and continuing innovation. The authors found eight common themes which they argued were responsible for the success of the chosen corporations. The book devotes one chapter to each theme: 1) A bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it’. 2) Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business. 3) Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’. 4) Productivity through people – treating rank and file employees as a source of quality. 5) Hands‐on, value‐driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment. 6) Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know. 7) Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff. 8) Simultaneous loose‐tight properties – autonomy in shop–floor activities plus centralized values. The book started out as a study of 62 companies and was trimmed to 43. In a 2001 Fast Company interview, Peters responded to this question: “Were there companies that, in retrospect, didn’t belong on the list of 43? I only have one word to say: Atari.”
Out of the Crisis – Dr. W. Edwards Deming, 1982, 1986
W. Edwards Deming, the American statistician credited with the rise of Japan as a manufacturing nation, and the invention of Total Quality Management (TQM) articulates what has become his most important work throughout this book. Deming went to Japan just after the War to help set up a census of the Japanese population. While there, he taught ‘statistical process control’ to Japanese engineers – a set of techniques which allowed them to manufacture high-quality goods without expensive machinery. In 1960 he was awarded a distinguished service medal by the Prime Minister, Order of the Sacred Treasure, on behalf of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, for his services to that country's industry. Deming returned to the US and spent some years in obscurity before the publication of his book “Out of the Crisis”, first copy write in 1982, with the second in 1986. Deming’s roadmap to help American companies achieve competitiveness, quality, and long term sustainability centered around a complete transformation of management style and of governmental relations with industry. Deming offers a theory of management based on his famous 14 Points for Management. Management’s failure to plan for the future, he claims, brings about loss of market, which brings about loss of jobs. Management must be judged not only by the quarterly dividend, but by innovative plans to stay in business, protect investment, ensure future dividends, and provide more jobs through improved product and service. In simple, direct language, he explains the principles of management transformation and how to apply them. He says “Long‐term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey, 1989
Before you can adopt the seven habits, Covey suggests you first need to accomplish a “paradigm shift” – a change in perception and interpretation of how the world works. Covey takes you through this change, which affects how you perceive and act regarding productivity, time management, positive thinking, developing your “proactive muscles” (acting with initiative rather than reacting). The seven principles, if established as habits, are supposed to help a person achieve true interdependent effectiveness. Covey argues this is achieved by aligning oneself to what he calls “true north” principles of a character ethic that he believes to be universal and timeless. The seven habits are: 1) Be Proactive 2) Begin with the End In Mind 3) Put First Things First 4) Think Win/Win 5) Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood 6) Synergize 7) Sharpen the Saw.
Being Digital – Nicholas Negroponte, 1995
From his unique perspective as founder and director of MIT’s famed Media Lab and as monthly columnist for Wired magazine, Nicholas Negroponte examines the startling implications for us all of the digital revolution that is transforming the way we live. He describes the evolution of CD‐ROMs, multimedia, hypermedia, and HDTV (high-definition television), as well as informative description of interfaces which offers up-to-date history on visual interfaces, graphics, virtual reality (VR), holograms, teleconferencing hardware, the mouse and touch-sensitive interfaces, and speech recognition. He debunks the hype surrounding bandwidth, multimedia, virtual reality, and the Internet, and explains why such touted innovations as the fax and the CD‐ROM are likely to go the way of the BetaMax. Negroponte analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of the technologies (such as his belief that high-definition television wastes broadcasting power), and tries to predict how the technologies will evolve. Negroponte presents a strong belief that humanity is inevitably headed towards a future where everything that can will be digitalized (e.g. newspapers, entertainment). The author closes with an epilogue offering visionary insight on what “being digital” means for our future. He praises computers for their educational value while recognizing certain dangers of technological advances, such as increased software and data piracy and huge shifts in our job market that will require workers to transfer their skills to the digital medium.
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 1994
This work outlines the results of a six-year research project entailing what makes enduring great companies. Two primary objectives for the authors’ research were: “to identify underlying characteristics are common to highly visionary companies” and “to effectively communicate findings so they can influence management.” The research conducted and articulated by Collins and Porras is presented with examples based on stories and validated by research data. Each company identified has taken a leadership role in their industries, offering innovative products and services and consistently outsmarting rivals. What make this research particularly distinguished, useful and interesting is that Collins and Porras compared and contrasted these visionary companies with a control set of rivals, e.g. Boeing is compared and contrasted with Douglas Aircraft, Marriott is compared and contrasted with Howard Johnson, and Merck is compared and contrasted with Pfizer. The findings are based on what the visionary companies do differentially than close competitors who have achieved a high level of success, but not to the extent of the visionary companies. Of particular note is from 1926 through 1990 the comparison companies outperformed the general stock market 2 times, whereas the visionary companies outperformed the market by 15 times. The companies are: 3M, American Express, Boeing, Citicorp (now Citigroup), Disney, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Merck, Motorola, Nordstrom, Phillip Morris (now Altria), Proctor & Gamble, Sony, Wal-Mart.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t – James C. Collins, 2001
Collins’ recent work, a five year research study of 28 companies, details how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning. The author also provides a thesis of how companies that are not born with great DNA, and may be viewed as a bad company or mediocre company can achieve “greatness”, and what are the distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from “good to great”. The findings present five characteristics that Collins postulates some companies to make the leap when others don’t are: 1) Level 5 Leadership: A surprising style, required for greatness. 2) The Hedgehog Concept: Finding your three circles, to transcend the curse of competence. 3) A Culture of Discipline: The alchemy of great results. 4) Technology Accelerators: How good-to-great companies think differently about technology. 5) The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Why those who do radical restructuring fail to make the leap. The 11 Good to Great companies are: Abbott, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Phillip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo.
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty‐First Century – Thomas L. Friedman, 2005
In his international bestselling book, New York Times foreign affairs columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Freidman analyzes globalization primarily in the early 21st century. The title, a metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field, suggests the new economy and commercial progress includes a world where all competitors have equal opportunity. The title also alludes to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant. First released in 2005, the book was later released as an “updated and expanded” edition in 2006, and again released with additional updates in 2007 as “further updated and expanded: Release 3.0.” The title was derived from a statement by Nandan Nilekani, the former CEO of Infosys. The book is popular in high school and college courses alike. The 10 flatteners are: 1) Collapse of Berlin Wall, 2) Netscape, 3) Workflow Software, 4) Open Sourcing, 5) Outsourcing, 6) Offshoring, 7) Supply Chaining, 8) Insourcing, 9) In-forming, 10) “The Steroids”.
Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies – Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, 2008
This important and defining work examines the dramatic and emerging impact of social technologies on business. Customers are now writing about products on blogs, editing and cutting commercials on YouTube, defining companies and individuals on Wikipedia, and championing or berating products, services and companies on the Facebook “walls” of friends and associates. Authors Li and Bernoff of Forrester Research, study this phenomenon they call groundswell, and believe it to be a permanent and long-lasting shift in the way the world works. Most importantly, the authors help the reader understand how to use this force of “customers connecting with one another” to a company’s advantage. Groundswell is based on hard consumer data and experience with dozens of companies, both large and small, from giants like Procter and Gamble to Ernst & Young to a tiny but remarkably successful small winery in South Africa.