Best Business Books: Jim Collins's Picks
Jim Collins, author, Good to Great and Built to Last
In Love and War: The Story of a Family's Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years by Jim and Sybil Stockdale (1984)
The wartime memoirs of the highest-ranking prisoner of war in Vietnam
Why it's a must-read: "Jim Stockdale stood as truly one of the great human beings I ever had the privilege to meet. Here's Stockdale thrown into a prison camp in 1965not only does he have to endure his own solitude; he's the highest-ranking military officer, so he has the burden of leadership in the camp! He figures out how to still exercise leadership: He writes about how he helps people deal with torture by giving them goals to shoot for. He recognizes no human can endure anything forever. After a certain amount of time, he says, you can give up this, and then at a certain point you can give up that. When everybody could have disintegrated and fallen into despair, there was this person saying we still have this responsibility to act as soldiers. He shows that no matter what level of character you think there might be, there's a higher one."
The Second World War (six volumes) by Winston Churchill (19481953)
Churchill's day-by-day account
Why it's a must-read: "About two decades ago, I sat down and wanted to learn about the modern era. I felt a good starting point would be the Second World War. So I bought an atlas, and I bought Churchill's six volumes. To me, there are so many lessons that come from this. The big one that stuck with me: Here's Churchill standing on the island in 1940 and everybody is wondering when Britain's going to sue for peace, and Churchill essentially says, it's the wrong question. Our goal is not to survive. Our aim is to prevail. And that very simple shift in the most brutal, turbulent, terrifying eraChurchill reframing the questionI absorbed that way of looking at the world. I think learning from Churchill is about as good as you can get."
Personal History by Katharine Graham (1997)
The memoirs of the late publisher of the Washington Post
Why it's a must-read: "I've had to read lots of CEO memoirs, and I think Personal History is the best of the bunch. I see Katharine Graham as the consummate 'Level 5' leader. She wasn't really even planning to have a leadership role. She rose to it at a time when very few women were running major companies. She was in charge when the Post went from a regional paper to a paper in the same league as the New York Times, and she took very courageous stands on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. She describes being terrified, though, quaking in her boots and feeling inadequatethings all of us can relate toand yet despite all of that, she was such a remarkable force."
Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers (1962)
Rogers, a communications professor, grapples with why and how new technologies spread through the market, from "early adopters," a term he coined, to full acceptance.
Why it's a must-read: "Everett Rogers was the person who first put out the concept of innovation adoption cycles. His essential insight is very profound: Innovation adoption is a social process. Innovations don't necessarily win because they're better; they have to be adopted. It had a huge influence on my own thinking about the evolution of ideas."
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Stephen J. Gould (1980)
The Harvard paleontologist tackles the notion that less-than-perfect designe.g., a panda's thumbis a better argument for evolution than perfect design.
Why it's a must-read: "It's very hard to understand the world without understanding the fundamental concept of evolutionary processes. I don't mean just natural evolution. It's important to realize that the inputs that cause something to lead to a particular outcome may not always be deliberate. The whole idea that something that works beautifully wasn't necessarily planned to work that way is a very important concept that applies to any kind of system."