The best business book of the year echoes the work of powerhouse author Jim Collins (Good to Great), although it lacked the same buzz. But it went one better than Mr. Collins, boiling down success to just three rules. And, oh yeah, like Mr. Collins's work, it turns some of our cherished management rules topsy-turvy.
This was a surprisingly good year for business books, with a deluge of works about innovation and social media, as well as an array of insights on various topics of interest to managers. Here are my top 10 picks:
1. The Three Rules by Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed
The two colleagues at Deloitte analyzed 45 years of data about more than 25,000 companies, delineating three types of companies: Miracle Workers, the top performers; Long Runners, which were still exceptional but at a lower level; and Average Joes, which trailed far behind. The authors teased out three rules: better before cheaper (companies should seek higher quality before lower cost ); revenue before cost (seek profitability through higher prices rather than lower costs); and no other rules apply. The book is well-written, has lots of examples and a reasonable methodology, and deserves executives' attention.
2. Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The brothers who co-wrote two of my previous top 10 selections (Switch and Made to Stick) tackle decision making, looking at four villains that derail us. Their methods – widen your options, reality test them, attain distance before you decide, and prepare to be wrong – are not unusual, but through appealing storytelling and oodles of research, they offer a memorable approach you are likely to embrace, at least in part, to improve your own decisions.
3. Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath
As I am writing this, I am taking two-minute exercise breaks every 20 minutes, thanks to the Gallup researcher's trenchant argument in favour of lacing the office worker's day with movement rather than just squeezing exercise into one chunk in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening. I also bought a treadmill to keep moving while reading books. For managers to be successful, this book on eating, moving, and sleeping is essential.
4. To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink
When this author kept track of his time over a two-week period, he realized that a hefty portion was spent selling. The result was a book arguing that most of us spend the day persuading and otherwise selling our ideas and services, and outlining some methods we might employ to improve our efforts. The ABC mantra – Always Be Closing – from the movie and play Glengarry Glen Ross becomes, under his rewriting, attunement, buoyancy and clarity.
5. Beyond the Idea by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Two business school professors celebrated for their writing on innovation boil it down to a short guide for practitioners, explaining the three approaches to innovation and then offering detailed methods for tackling the most difficult, customized initiatives.
6. Playing to Win by A. G. Lafley and Roger Martin
The formerly retired and now restored chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley, and his longtime counsellor Roger Martin, who recently stepped down as dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, offer an excellent look at strategy, framed around five questions used to guide P&G: What is your winning aspiration? Where should you play? How can you win there? What capabilities do you need? What management system would support it?
7. Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
This expert on women's careers demolishes the notion that mentors are the key to propelling us in the workplace. In fact, she says, we need sponsors. There's a big difference, as this book outlines, explaining how to go about your search for sponsors.
8. Global Tilt by Ram Charan
The counsellor to CEOs around the globe, whose roots can be traced back to the family shoe shop in India, offers another of his clear-sighted analyses of business. This time, he argues that the rise of entrepreneurs in China, Singapore, India, Brazil and Malaysia will transform our economy in the same way that industrialists J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford did more than a century ago.
9. I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company by Karen Phelan
In this hilariously sardonic book, a management consultant apologizes for buying into the failed management practices touted by consultants over the past two decades and inflicting them on companies like yours. After detailing why those ideas were wrong, she explains that good management is not rocket science: You just have to manage yourself and build good relationships with others.
10. The Viral Video Manifesto by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe
I was prepared to dislike this effort by the two guys who concocted the YouTube geyser experiment that involved placing 523 Mentos candies in 101 Diet Coke two-litre bottles. But they provide a level-headed assessment of what works and what doesn't in the increasingly enticing field of viral videos.
In 2009, I placed McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg's book Managing in the second spot in my roundup of that year's best business books. One of the things working against it was its massive scope and academic approach.
This year, he has come back with a streamlined version, Simply Managing, aimed at managers, but because I don't review revised editions and haven't fully read it, I was uncomfortable slotting it into this year's best books list.
Given its pedigree, however, it must be mentioned.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter