50 Business Classics: A book review by Bob Morris

50 Business Classics: Your shortcut to the most important ideas on innovation, management and strategy
Tom Butler-Bowdon
Nicholas Brealey (April 2018)

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”  Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer)

This is one of the latest in a series of volumes in the 50 Classics series, each of which focuses on a subject category (e.g. economics,  philosophy, politics, psychology, self-help, success, and spiritual) and those books Tom Butler-Bowdon considers to be seminal in each category.

I think “precis” is the best term to describe his commentaries’ primary purpose: to explain the essential significance and value of each work. Butler devotes almost 400 pages to serving that purpose. On average, that’s about eight pages per work in the Business volume.

He  has a target on his back because many people will question selections and omissions. For example, I would never include The Art of the Deal because Donald Trump did not write it or even read the drafts that Tony Schwartz asked him to review. Also, I would have had IT, innovation, and creativity categories as well as one devoted entirely to Entrepreneurship. Adding or revising categories would obviously affect the selections. Currently, there are none of Dave Ulrich’s major works (e.g. The Leadership Capital Index) or Keith Sawyer’s (e.g. Group Genius) or Charles Handy’s (e.g.The Age of Paradox) nor individual works such as Anders Ericsson’s Peak, Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, co-authored by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson. I think all are “must include” but so what? This is Butler-Bowdon’s book, not mine. He could have discussed 100 books and there would still be quibbles, if not complaints.

Unlike authors of so many other books of this nature, Butler-Bowdon does not slavishly follow a template when organizing his material. To the extent possible, he customizes his approach to each after two representative quotations and two reader-friendly devices, “In a nutshell” and “In a similar vein.” Yes, he concludes each commentary with two other reader-friendly devices, “Final comments” and a mini-bio. However, the four devices serve as bookends to his insightful comments. For example, here are three brief examples from his discussion of Ben Horowitz and his international bestseller,  The Hard Thing About Hard Things. These comments suggest the thrust and flavor of Butler-Bowdon’s lively narrative:

Quotation from Horowitz’s book: “The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place. The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer. The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.”

Excerpt from Build a Good Company commentary: “There are two reasons why people quit their jobs. Horowitz observes: (1) they ‘hated their manager,’ and were appalled by the lack of guidance, career development, and feedback they were receiving’; and (2) ‘They weren’t learning anything: The company wasn’t investing resources in helping employees develop new skills.'”

The value of this book will be determined almost entirely by the nature and extent of its material’s relevance to each reader’s needs and interests. That said, I am convinced that each reader will gain knowledge and wisdom that far exceed the cost of cost purchase. Moreover, if this book is a permanent reference work to be consulted when an important question needs to be answered or a serious problem needs to be solved, its ROI will continue to increase exponentially.

Hearty congratulations to Tom Butler-Bowdon on this substantial contribution to thought leadership. Bravo!

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