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Best Management Books
(Updated 2022)

Sven Woltmann
Sven Woltmann
March 4, 2022

In this article, you'll find recommendations and short reviews on some of the best books on running a business: business management books, business strategy books, and leadership books.

As a business manager, you may also be interested in books about digital marketing and product design books.

Are you still in the early stages of entrepreneurship, or are you just thinking about becoming self-employed, you can find books for self-employed, founders and start-ups here.

(Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't

Good to Great - Jim Collins

by Jim Collins

Link to the book at Amazon

How can good and mediocre organizations be permanently transformed into those that achieve extraordinary and sustainable results

To answer this question, Jim Collins and his team identified and analyzed eleven companies that initially had average (or below average) results over at least ten years compared to the general stock market – and over the next 15 years, exceeded the average return by at least three times.

This book presents the results of this study.

In essence, great companies have a culture of discipline: disciplined people engaging in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action.

At the heart of this culture are level five leaders characterized by humility, selflessness, motivation, hard work, and willpower – not by a strong ego and constant media presence. They first put together excellent people and then consider what the company will do ("first who then what"). Employees are selected primarily based on character traits such as willingness to take responsibility and perseverance, not professional competence.

Great companies have confidence that they will prevail in the end, but always face the brutal facts of their current reality.

They focus on one product or one service that they are deeply passionate about, that they can be the best in the world, and that customers are willing to pay for ("hedgehog concept") ... instead of diluting their time and passion in a variety of areas.

A great company is not created overnight. Like a flywheel, it continuously builds momentum until it is unstoppable. There is no such thing as the one miraculous moment, the one great breakthrough.

It is fascinating how entertaining the book is written despite its scientific basis. It is filled with numerous examples and anecdotes and opens your eyes to how great things can be achieved, even outside of business.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

the hard thing about hard things - ben horowitz

by Ben Horowitz

Link to the book at Amazon

The first part of this book is a kind of autobiography. Ben Horowitz, now one of Silicon Valley's best-known founders and venture capitalists, recounts his turbulent career. Starting with his childhood, his first management position at Netscape, his first company Loudcloud, its near-bankruptcy during the DotCom crash in 2000, its transformation into the software company Opsware, and its sale in 2007 to HP (for $1.6 billion), all the way to the founding of the prestigious investment firm Andreessen Horowitz.

In the second part, he describes the strategies he used to guide his company through the crisis period of the early 2000s. He gives concrete advice, e.g., how to hire the right people, how important it is to train them well, how important regular (crisis) communication is, how to keep your employees motivated despite hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime (without which the company would not have survived), and how to demote or fire your employees in the "right" way, should that be necessary - for instance, when the company (and thus the demands on the position) have changed faster than the employee could grow with it.

The book's first part is exciting, humorous, and worth reading for anyone who worked in the IT industry during the DotCom crash.

The second part focuses on managing rather large, publicly traded companies with supervisory boards and multiple levels of management. Small business owners can certainly take away a piece of advice or two, for example, about the "right" way to terminate an employee, but they will wonder for most of the chapters how much this should ever be relevant to them.

In any case, the reader does not receive dry management theory, but pragmatic tips from hard-core practice and the most unpleasant management situations.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity inc - ed catmull

by Ed Catmull

Link to the book at Amazon

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and four-time Academy Award winner, has profoundly changed the animation industry – both as a pioneer of computer graphics and as a longtime executive of Pixar and Disney Animation.

In Creativity Inc., he shares his personal story – beginning with his research on computer graphics at the University of Utah in the early 1970s, the development of the Pixar Image Computer at Lucasfilm in the early 1980s, the founding of Pixar with John Lancester and Steve Jobs in 1986, the release of the first fully computer-animated film, Toy Story, nine years later, and the acquisition of Pixar by Disney in 2006.

A quarter of a century after Pixar's founding, he not only shares his personal journey but also provides fascinating insights into the management of one of the most creative companies of recent decades.

He reveals how Pixar fosters sustained excellence, creativity, and innovation: through an atmosphere of trust and openness, through the freedom to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, and through the constant questioning of its processes combined with a willingness to adapt them to changing circumstances constantly.

The book is enjoyable to read. In the historical part, you can literally feel the author's enthusiasm for computer animation, and you root for him on his way to a breakthrough.

I found it interesting that Steve Jobs is shown in a completely different light than usual: not as an "autocrat" but as a companion and supporter who knows his limits and learns from his mistakes.

I can recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of computer animation and those who want to promote creativity in their own business.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations

accelerate - the science of devops book

by Dr. Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim

Link to the book at Amazon

To find out how agile methods of software development and delivery, e.g., DevOps and Continuous Delivery, affect the performance and satisfaction of IT teams, Dr. Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim developed the so-called "DevOps Survey", conducted it for three years and analyzed the responses using statistical methods.

The results are clear as well as impressive. The bottom line is that the authors have empirically proven that numerous modern agile practices lead to IT teams completing features many times faster, deploying more frequently, making significantly fewer mistakes, and fixing them more quickly.

In addition to the results, the authors explain their research methods in detail and justify their validity. Finally, they present a short case study describing the agile transformation of ING Netherlands.

However, this part turns out to be very short; the focus is clearly on the scientific proof of the effectiveness of agile methods rather than on their description.

The book is well-structured and written understandably. However, it is also quite dry: there are no entertaining anecdotes as in popular science literature.

I recommend the book to IT managers at all levels – especially those who still have doubts about the sustainable positive effects of agile transformation. It is also worth reading for programmers, as it provides scientifically sound arguments to make agile practices appealing to their superiors.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, insofar as all referenced diagrams are included as PDFs. However, I find Dr. Forsgren (one of the authors) rather unsuitable as a narrator due to her monotone manner.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

No Rules Rules - Reed Hastings

by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

Link to the book at Amazon

Netflix is one of the most innovative and successful companies in the world. What is the secret behind this success?

In their bestseller, founder and CEO Reed Hastings and author Erin Meyer write about the unique corporate culture accountable for Netflix's success. The unprecedented flexibility it fosters has transformed the company from a DVD shipper to a streaming service to an international film producer.

The cornerstones of Netflix's corporate culture are excellent employees, transparency, and minimal control at all levels:

  1. Netflix hires only the best employees, pays them top salaries, and adjusts them on its own initiative. Salary increases of 30% or more are not uncommon. In this way, the company retains its top talent, and employees are motivated to achieve creative excellence.
  2. Absolute honesty, regular feedback – also to superiors (direct and indirect) – and a consequently high level of ability to accept and adopt criticism are expected from all employees.
  3. Leadership takes place through "context" instead of control. Instead of controlling the number of working hours or vacation days, travel budgets, or working methods of employees, the only guideline is: Act in the company's interest! Within this framework, employees have maximum freedom to make decisions.

The fact that these freedoms encourage errors is generally accepted. Innovation and flexibility always take precedence over error prevention.

Among the numerous anecdotes from the company's history, many deal with mistakes at all company levels (up to the CEO) – and the lessons the company has learned from them.

The book is easily written, well structured, and highly entertaining – a must-read for every entrepreneur and those who want to become one.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Built to Last - Jim Collins

by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

Link to the book at Amazon

What distinguishes long-standing, decade-long successful companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney, Walmart from their less successful competitors who were in the market at the same time and under the same conditions and opportunities, and who are also well-known, but only succeeded in phases?

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras spent years of research on this question. In this book, they present their results.

The lastingly successful companies have one thing in common: a core ideology that they preserve over decades, around which they constantly stimulate progress and change.

The core ideology consists of authentic core values which the founders believe and which are rigorously protected, such as innovation, quality, and decency. As well as a purpose, a "guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached" (David Packard) – such as "bringing happiness to millions of people" or "improving the lives of people around the world".

Progress is driven by "big hairy audacious goals" – BHAGs: goals that inspire and motivate people; goals that are formulated in simple terms and require no explanation, such as "we will bring a man to the moon and safely back to earth before the end of the decade". Employees of successful ventures have absolute confidence in achieving their goals – failure is unimaginable for them. Lasting companies never rest on their accomplishments – once they have reached a goal, they set new ones.

The book is very entertaining, thanks to the many illustrative and lively examples – a recommendation for all interested in lasting success. The findings are not only applicable in professional but also in private life.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change)

innovators dilemma clayton m christensen

by Clayton M. Christensen

Link to the book at Amazon

Why do large, established companies falter or are even driven out of business entirely by rapidly growing start-ups as soon as groundbreaking innovations make their way into the market?

And how can large companies prevent this?

In "Innovator's Dilemma," business professor Clayton M. Christensen gets to the bottom of these questions:

Established companies have optimized their culture and processes to continuously improve their products along evolutionary paths according to the wishes of their regular customers.

Disruptive products often initially have poorer quality, reliability, and performance than established products (think of the first digital cameras, for example). As a result, they target small market niches that are insignificant to large companies, consisting of customers who care about other features (e.g., sending the captured image instantly via email). Sales that can be generated with these products in their initial phase are uninteresting for large companies and cannot cover their cost structures.

Thus, they leave the market to start-ups (often founded by former employees), for whom the revenues are very interesting and who are betting on the enormous growth potential of the new technology.

Meanwhile, the big companies keep evolving their products so that at some point, they over-fulfill their customers' needs (who needs 1,500 features in Word?). One day, the disruptive technology (Google Docs in this example) has evolved to the point where it meets the needs of the big companies' customers – now at a much lower price – and they replace the existing product with the disruptive one in droves.

The start-up grows and builds structures – until, at some point, it is itself the established company that is displaced by the next disruptive innovation.

How can companies resolve this dilemma?

The only way for a large company to get a piece of the pie (or to survive) is to create its own start-up (or other entity entirely separate from the main company) that develops the disruptive product, builds a separate customer base, and operates and grows independently with lower margins and revenues.

The book is excellently organized, written in an easy-to-understand manner, and has not lost its relevance more than twenty years after its publication. Numerous impressive case studies from various industries illustrate the dilemma and the ways out.

A book every entrepreneur should have read.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

Great by Choice - Jim Collins

by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen

Link to the book at Amazon

Ten years after his best-selling book "Good to Great," Jim Collins has published the results of another comprehensive study. His question was:

What did successful companies do differently than comparable companies in the same industry during turbulent times, i.e., in an environment that executives could not predict or control?

Specifically, Collins and his team studied so-called "10Xers": companies whose stock market value outperformed their respective industry index by at least a factor of ten over fifteen years.

The surprising result: the 10X companies had neither adapted particularly to changing circumstances nor were they more visionary or more willing to take risks than their competitors. On the contrary: they were more disciplined, extremely empirical in their approach, and hedged against a wide range of potential risks.

Collins and his team identified the following three core behaviors:

  1. Fanatical Discipline: Act steadily and consistently, not erratically. Push hard and ambitiously in bad times – and hold back in good times. Growing too fast often overwhelms companies.
  2. Empirical Creativity: Don't act on opinions, wisdom, or untested ideas. Instead, explore small steps in different directions, and deploy more resources only when empirical data justifies it.
  3. Productive Paranoia: Constantly identify potential threats, analyze their impact, and develop mitigation plans.

The authors also examined the extent to which luck played a role in success. The result: 10X companies were no luckier than their peers, but they made more out of it.

Like its two predecessors, the book is based on empirical research yet is entertaining, inspiring, full of compelling anecdotes, and directly actionable for entrepreneurs.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.