Friday, April 12, 2013

Great Business Books = Great Books

A Geoffrey James article in the "Sales Source" column of Inc. lists his top ten motivational books. I was not surprised to find there classics like Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich (1937), Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), and Stephen R. Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).  They offer especially timeless advice for people moving from academic life to the business world, as they focus on practical ideas that students will not learn in the schoolroom. 

What impressed me even more is James's article on his top ten influential business books of all time in the same column. There he lists Sun Tzu's The Art of War (circa 500 BCE), Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince (1532), Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776), and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1957). He decided well to stretch from the usual places to find truly influential books from which readers can draw business lessons. His choice reminds me of a friend, Clark, a wise training and development professional, who invited to his New York City apartment Mike, the company president. After reviewing the expansive book collection in Clark's bookcase, Mike said, "I'm surprised that a training director doesn't have a single business book. Everything here is on history and literature." Clark replied, "And where do you think the business books get their ideas from? Why not go to the source?"

With that brilliant observation in mind, I want to add eight more must-read books that will inspire executives, managers, technicians, and support staff in their daily thinking and communicating:

  1. Plato's Dialogues (circa 400 BCE) proves that the Socratic approach is timeless and that the method is just as important, if not more so, than the result.
  2. Marcus Fabius Quintilianus's Institutes of Oratory (95 CE) remains the premier book on the philosophy and practice of educating a young mind and body.
  3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile, or, On Education (1762), whose irresistible first sentence, "Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man" establishes a great prelude for this inquiry into how to educate a person to survive the corruption inherent in society.
  4. Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) lays out the immutable distinctions of social strata in economics to suggest that little changed between the feudal system and industrialized society--and his theory mostly holds true more than a century later in our electronic world.
  5. Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book (1940), revised in 1972 with Carl Van Doren, lives up to its title by teaching how to get the most from any book-reading experience.
  6. Edward T. Hall's The Hidden Dimension (1990) reminds potently about how understanding cultural differences is essential to communication.
  7. William Isaacs's Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (1999) expounds on David Bohm's dialogue theory with practical workplace and daily living applications.
  8. Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power (2000) offers history as credible evidence for how fundamental tenets of power can be used to strengthen one's position or abused to destroy it.
Happy reading!