Best Business Books: Robert Joss's Picks
Robert Joss, dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business
The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder (1981)
The story of a team of engineers at Data General who developed a new minicomputer in the 1970s and whose work styleswith 35-year-old "veterans" hiring college grads and inspiring them to do mammoth, 24-hour work sessions in informal workplacesbecame models for a new industry
Why it's a must-read: "I read it while I was at Wells Fargo [where he was an executive vice president in the 1980s]. I wasn't very technical, but I found the book fantastic about teamsit was one of the early books about teams and motivation. It didn't turn out to be a great company or a great computer, but the description of how they worked together on this project and set goals was really inspiring, and it preordained a lot of the modern notions about start-ups and entrepreneurship. The culture there was all very radical at that time. I don't know if it changed my work habits, though. I was at a bank! We didn't exactly go to casual dress."
The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker (1954)
In this book, the dean of management thinkers was the first to depict management as a distinct function, a separate responsibility in the workplace.
Why it's a must-read: "When you become a manager for the first time, you begin to realize it really is a different kind of work. Drucker really nailed that conceptthat management is a kind of work just like every other kind of work. It's not like management and labor, where labor does the work and management does nothing. It's the work of getting work done through and with other people."
My Years With General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan Jr. (1963)
The autobiography of the longtime chairman of the automaker
Why it's a must-read: "Sloan is an interesting case study: Here was Ford dominating the market, and here's GM struggling, and this guy takes over in the early 1920s and comes up with a different idea and approach and just blows them away. Sloan, being an engineer, is very different from Drucker. He was one of very first people as practitioner to reflect about technical issuesorganizational design and decentralization. He said GM wasn't just competing with cars: We've got our cars, and Ford's got theirs. GM was competing with a whole policyannual model changes and consumer credit and the like. Nowadays we'd call it a business model."
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jerry Porras and Jim Collins (1994)
A classic look at 18 corporations that have stood the test of timefrom Disney to Merckand why they succeeded
Why it's a must-read: "They popularized this notion that business wasn't just about economics and engineering or even organization. It also had psychological and emotional dimensions about mission and vision and values, that you could really motivate the troops and get commitment and performance and focus and alignmentall of these things we take for granted now."
Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society by John Gardner (1964)
For Gardner, longtime head of the Carnegie Corp. and one of the architects of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, exploration and renewalendless learningare the keys to success.
Why it's a must-read: "Gardner had this tremendous ability to write and think about why it is that some people continue to grow and develop and increase their effectiveness as people in the world, while other people sort of atrophy. He had this concept of self-renewal and personal renewal, which is so critical for leaders today. You've got to keep continually reinventing yourself. To succeed, you have to keep growing, as a company or as an individual."