Having highlighted my top 10 operations books and their antidote, I thought I’d post an update on the more generalist management books that have influenced my thinking over the last 25 years or so.

Some of these books I have read only once but they have left a very deep impression on me and how I approach my work. Others I have read and re-read many times, each time finding something new.

Trying to reduce the list to just 10 is extraordinarily difficult given the volume of work published over the last 80 years or so (plus one or two much older). The more perceptive of you will notice that I have cheated. There are many notable absences, such as the more academic tomes of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, Michael Porter and Charles Handy, as well as more populist works such as “In Search of Excellence”, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “Competing for the Future”.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve also enjoyed more cynical works, such as Matthew Stewart’s “The Management Myth”, Micklethwait and Woolridge’s “The Witch Doctors” and McAlpine’s “The New Machiavelli” – all of which have helped deepen my understanding of the corporate world and balanced my perspective.

However, this is a very personal choice and these are the books that have most influenced me, the choices and decisions I have made in my career and in some cases my personal life.


No. 10: The Decision Book; Mikael Krogerus
Relatively new but I’ve found this a simple and practical summary of a diverse range of tools and frameworks for improved decision making that I’ve used over the years. It provides a 1-2 page description of 50 models to help you understand and improve yourself as well as others. Great as a reminder and a prompt for further reading.

No. 9: The Checklist Manifesto – How To Get Things Right; Atul Gawande
As the title suggests, this is all about how to use checklists as a means for improvement. The results from the medical world and air safety speak for themselves. The core concepts could be conveyed far more succinctly but the anecdotes and examples are both interesting and entertaining.

No. 8: The Toyota Trilogy; various
Taiichi Ohno’s “Toyota Production System“, Womack’s “The Machine That Changed the World” and Liker’s “The Toyota Way” bring an operational mindset into a far wider philosophy on what it takes for an organisation to be truly excellent.

No. 7: The Black Swan; Nasim Taleb
Published just when the global financial crisis was really kicking in to gear, this is a must read for anyone trying to understand the nature of risk. Whilst somewhat abstract and oblique, I love how this book explains the limitations to understanding risk and our futile attempts to simplify and explain randomness and uncertainty.

No. 6: Emotional Intelligence; Daniel Goleman
Having grown-up with the notion that the key to success was to be smart, work hard and hope for a little bit of luck, this book was a complete revelation. It opened my eyes to how I and others navigated the complexities of the corporate world.

No. 5: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Stephen Covey
One of the best selling management books of all time and probably needs little introduction. I love the sequencing of the habits and it’s probably no surprise that “Sharpen the Saw”, with its focus on continuous improvement, is my favourite chapter.

No. 4: A Brace of Kaplan and Norton
The Balanced Scorecard” and “Strategy Maps” are two of the most well-thumbed texts in my library, having spent several years consulting in this area. The focus on cause and effect chains, identifying the linkages, the four perspectives and the approach to selecting the right metrics has become an intuitive way for me to think through what to do with a business.

No. 3: Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices; Peter Drucker
Any generic list wouldn’t be complete without Peter Drucker. Whilst there appears to be more emphasis on leadership on the airport bookshop shelves these days, good management never goes out of fashion and Drucker makes it clear there is still a lot to learn.

No. 2: Exploring Corporate Strategy; Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes
This book brings together many of the underlying concepts and tools frequently used in corporate strategy – how to analyse the operating environment, generate strategic options, evaluate them and then execute. A very effective process, both the tools and approach are clearly articulated. Above all, it is very pragmatic.

No. 1: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
Given the overall theme for this blog site, it’s hardly surprising that this is my number one choice. I have been fortunate enough to work in two high-performing teams and, putting humility to one side, believe I have led at least one. This book gets to the heart of what I believe prevents so many organisations from achieving their vision. It’s compelling and, if you need any convincing that a champion team will outperform a team of champions, this should do it!

My current backlog and most recent readings include: The Lean Startup and the $100 Startup and, for those interested in the alternative view, my list includes “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, Philip Pullman’s “The Book of Dust”, Bill Bowder’s “Red Notice”, Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power”, “The English” by Jeremy Paxman and, to keep me smiling, I think it’s time to re-read some PG Wodehouse.

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