People have often asked me to name ten of my favorite books. I have thought about it and realized that it might be an almost impossible task to undertake. I have been a voracious reader since I was in high school and I have read very widely. So to bring together a list of ten books across topics is hard. But I can share the ten books that shaped my thinking on management.
Do You Know Which Books Shaped Your Thinking?
Very rarely do people have an opportunity to examine how their thinking evolved. Reflection is not helpful as you develop hindsight bias and our episodic and temporal memories are not reliable. Episodic memory refers to the memory of an event, and temporal memory relates to the sequence of events.
My Podcast Helped Me See The Impact Of These Books
But recently, I had an opportunity to see how my thinking has evolved. I started a new podcast season on management research. In this season, I decided to bring some of the most interesting management research to busy managers. As I have spanned both the corporate and the academic world, I understand that there is almost no traditional way to connect these two worlds. I thought my podcast would be one such way to help busy managers garner insights from a vast literature that otherwise managers would not bother to read.
But as I began to go back and pick literature on management to talk about in my podcast, I had an epiphany. I realized that the deep thinking that I did during my doctoral education at Duke, and my readings, definitively shaped my mind.
Until this podcast, I had not realized how much a role the work of giants in the field of management had played in shaping my day to day thinking. I could see the collective invisible hand of these giants in my books the Dark Side of Innovation and A Sixty Minute Guide to Disruption.
The Top Ten List
I thought it would be cool to make a list of the top ten books that shaped my thinking on management. Here is the list of those books.
1. Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
I had read this book as an MBA student, and I was probably most impressed by it as an MBA student. It is only during my doctoral education that I got acquainted with the entire field from which this book arose. Porter synthesized a vast field of Industrial Organization economics and did a masterful job in doing so. It remains one of my favorite.
2. The Demography of Corporations and Industries by Glenn R. Carroll and Michael T. Hannan.
This book synthesizes the vast literature on population ecology that studies the birth, change, and death of organizations. Hannan and Freeman singlehandedly gave birth to this field of study, and hundreds of scholars have followed their path in researching this area. I recently covered this research in my podcast.
Most managers will never come across this literature and may spend an entire lifetime not knowing about population ecology. But if you want to understand the change of organizations, this is one of the best works on organizational change ever.
I spent six months reading every paper written by population ecologists, and it left an undeniable mark on my thinking about organizations and the world as a whole.
3. Organizations Evolving by Howard Aldrich
During my doctoral days, I had the opportunity to learn from Howard, who is not only an amazing researcher and teacher but also a great person. He does a fantastic job of synthesizing the broad area of sociology of organizations.
If there is one book you want to read about the sociology of organizations, this is the one. For most managers, this will change the way you think about the world.
4. Organizations by James March and Herbert Simon
For the longest time, economist informed us about business, organizations, and industries. It was March and Simon who paved the way for us to understand what organizations are all about. Work by these authors helped the world know that managers are not rational as economics informed us.
5. An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change By Nelson and Winter
This work by Nelson and Winter significantly enhanced our understanding of organizations. As I had an extensive business background before I went for my doctoral education, I took to this work like fish to water. Intuitively I could connect everything in this book with what I had seen in the business world.
6. Mastering The Dynamics of Innovation by James Utterback
If I have to pick one book on innovation, it would be this. The concepts like dominant design, technological cycle, types of innovations were significant ones in our understanding of innovation in general.
7. Thinking Slow and Fast by Daniel Kahneman
If you have never known about cognitive biases, this will transform how you think about yourself and the human species in general. If I look back to my evolution, this work helped me make a massive jump in my understanding of people and organizations. Eventually, when I wrote the dark side of innovation, this work dominated the first chapter. I can still recall when the first time I connected prospect theory with the problem of innovation.
8. Markets and Hierarchies by Oliver Williamson
This is an amazing book that explains the reason behind transactions within firms and between firms elegantly. It explains why firms do some things in-house but outsource others. Other than the theory of transaction cost economics, it also provides a model of what an elegant theory should be.
9. Essence Of Decision by Graham T. Ellison
This is unlike any of the above books. It is probably the easiest to read for any business manager too. It takes you through the Cuban Missile crisis and analyzes how and why the decisions unfolded. By analyzing the same decision through three lenses, it left an indelible mark on my mind.
10. Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings in Social Judgement by Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross
My top ten list cannot be complete without referring any work in social psychology. Most of us think about others and ourselves in terms of personality traits. I used to do the same until I came across the field of social psychology. This book and related literature changed my thinking about the power of context. I recently covered some work by Nisbett and his colleagues in my podcast.
So this was the top ten list for me. These books changed and shaped my thinking on business and organizations. To me, each of them represents not just the book but also the literature that accompanied each. So when I think of population ecology book by Hannan and Carroll, I recall the hundreds of papers that I read along with it.
This list represents one of the most valuable treasures in the world. But it comes with a word of caution. All these books are fairly serious works. You cannot hope to go through them within 2 hours the way you can go through most books these days.