• 10 Brilliant Business Books of 2017

    December 11, 2017
    • 10 Brilliant Business Books of 2017

    The list includes a candid story of sex discrimination in Silicon Valley and a big chewy book about scaling.

    Among the best business books of 2017 are some excellent new titles by journalists; a candid, lived-it story of sex discrimination in Silicon Valley; and a big chewy book about scaling that is mind-blowing if not necessarily practical. Many new releases--including several mentioned here--make compelling reading for non-business audiences as well. Here are our picks for 2017:

    1. Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
    By Tim Harford (Riverhead Books)

    Among the best books of 2006 was The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, an unexpectedly captivating tale about a simple idea that changed everything. That book, by Marc Levinson, was epic and full of detail. The new release from journalist and economist Harford--reimagined from a 2016 podcast--comprises quicker hits. But for innovation aficionados, there's a satisfying accretive effect to this parade of origin stories for stuff we take for granted, ranging from management consulting (government regulation played a surprising role) to chemical fertilizer (the backstory includes the Battle of Ypres and a brilliant woman's suicide). Fifty Inventions also demonstrates that some innovations produce fateful secondary consequences: For example, the bar code tilted the playing field away from mom-and-pops and toward big boxes. While not a deep book, Fifty Inventions is a provocative one, reminding aspiring disrupters of the many, many ways to make their marks.

    2. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
    By Derek Thompson (Penguin Press)

    Two ideas underlie this entertaining look at the creation of blockbusters, by a senior editor at The Atlantic. First, people like things that are at once boldly different and comfortingly familiar. Second, the popularity of hits begins with a single source that reaches many people at once. Thompson's research-based treatise takes on many creators' and marketers' assumptions: among them that quality is sufficient (exposure matters more) and that anything actually goes viral, in the way we understand that word. And luck, he concedes, can never be discounted. "Rock Around the Clock" debuted in 1954 to relative crickets. A year later, serendipity landed the song in the movie Blackboard Jungle and theatergoers were dancing in the aisles. Hit Makers coats science in compelling story, a device so common in this genre that it is itself an example of the familiarity theory. Thompson confesses as much. And he warns: Don't put too much stock in a great yarn.

    3. If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat: Strategies for Long-Term Growth
    By Leonard Sherman (Columbia Business School Publishing)

    Among the better strategy books of recent years, Dogfight, by a professor at Columbia University, argues that costly battles in mature marketplaces are not inevitable. Rather, smart companies that compete on their own terms instead of locking horns can sustain profitable growth over time. In-N-Out Burger's less-is-more approach, for example, has allowed it to sidestep McDonald's new-menu-item proficiency. Yellow Tail thrived by taking the mystique out of wine to win over those who don't drink the stuff rather than those who do. The obligatory analysis of Apple is unusually thoughtful: Sherman explains how that company might combat the law of large numbers and outgrow the market in the long term. For young entrepreneurs without MBAs, Dogfight offers a quick master class in recent business history (gurus, concepts, iconic companies) along with its high-level guidance on strategy and product.

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