With Amazon celebrating its 20th anniversary, it seems appropriate to post a list of the business books that Jeff Bezos strongly recommends… providing, of course, that you don’t buy them at Barnes & Noble.

Bezos's recommendations seem a bit more mainstream than those of the other entrepreneur icons.  All solid choices but no big surprises. 

Subtitle: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

Author: Jim Collins

Summary: In his first book, Built to Last, Jim Collins proved that long-lasting companies have “successful DNA.” In this, his third book, Collins provides a recipe for companies that lack “successful DNA.”

My Comment: The publication of this book is a perfect example of the No. 1 rule of management consulting, which is that no business theory is complete until it’s been monetized.

Best Quote: "Our findings do not represent a quick fix, or the next fashion statement in a long string of management fads, or the next buzzword of the day, or a new 'program' to introduce. No! The only way to make any company visionary is through a long-term commitment to an eternal process of building the organization to preserve the core and stimulate progress."

Subtitle: The 15 Metrics Everyone in Marketing Should Know

Author: Mark Jeffery

Summary: This book announces itself as "a clear and convincing guide to using a more rigorous, data-driven strategic approach to deliver significant performance gains from your marketing." 

My Comment: The summary above sometimes is interpreted to mean "we’re going to measure ourselves 15 different ways so that no matter what happens, at least one metric will justify an increase in the marketing budget."

Best Quote: "These statistics are symptomatic of why data-driven marketing and marketing measurement are so difficult for many organizations: the internal processes do not support a culture of measurement, and they also do not have an infrastructure to support data-driven marketing and marketing metrics. But beyond these high-level processes, my experience is that most marketers are overwhelmed with data and do not know where to start in terms of measuring the right things to drive real results."

Subtitle: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation

Authors: James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

Summary: This book examines the problem of unnecessary spending throughout the corporation and how to turn it into the generation of new revenue. 

My Comment: This book’s prescription for success appears to be the exact recipe that The Innovator’s Dilemma (see below) says will put you out of business.

Best Quote: "Lean thinking therefore must start with a conscious attempt to precisely define value in terms of specific products with specific capabilities offered at specific prices through a dialog with specific customers. The way to do this is to ignore existing assets and technologies and to rethink firms on a product-line basis with strong, dedicated product teams."

Author: Alan Greenberg

Summary: A collection of common sense wisdom expressed in the form of sometimes hilariously wry memos  but always succinct interoffice memos. 

My Comment: Apparently Bear Stearns was a fairly nice place to work before the Glass Steagall Act was repealed.

Best Quote: "Bear Stearns is moving forward at an accelerated rate and everybody is contributing. It is absolutely essential for us to be able to talk to our partners at all times. All of us are entitled to eat lunch, play golf, and go on vacation. But, you must leave word with your secretary or associates where you can be reached at all times. Decision have to be made and your input can be important. I conducted a study of the 200 firms that have disappeared from Wall Street over the last few years, and I discovered that 62.349 percent went out of business because the important people did not leave word where they went when they left their desk if even for 10 minutes. That idiocy will not occur here."

Subtitle: Made in America

Authors: Sam Walton with John Huey

Summary: The memoir (as Amazon puts it) of a “genuine American folk hero cut from the homespun cloth of America’s heartland.”

My Comment: As a read this book, it seemed to me that Walton was pretty self-absorbed.  Homespun, yes, but without a shred of noblesse oblige, a lack he seems to have passed down to his heirs.

Best Quote: "Here’s the thing: money never has meant that much to me, not even in the sense of keeping score. If we had enough groceries, and a nice place to live, plenty of room to keep and feed my bird dogs, a place to hunt, a place to play tennis, and the means to get the kids good educations -- that’s rich. No question about it. And we have it. We’re not crazy. We don’t live like paupers, the way some people depict us. We all love to fly, and we have nice airplanes, but I’ve owned about eighteen airplanes over the years and I never bought one of them new."

Subtitle: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Authors: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Summary: A “black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences.” The author sees such events as pivotal in history and therefore require more attention and forethought.

My Comment: I couldn't help thinking that the gist of the book is that unexpected things happen when we don’t expect them.

Best Quote: "Our world is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable (improbable according to our current knowledge) -- and all the while we spend out timer engaged in small talk, focusing on the known, and the repeated."

Subtitle: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business

Author: Clayton M. Christensen

Summary: As Amazon blithely puts it, this book is “based on a truly radical idea -- that great companies can fail precisely because they do everything right.”

My Comment: If the premise of this book is correct, wouldn't the opposite be true as well -- that crappy companies can succeed precisely because they do everything wrong? 

Best Quote: "Because these firms listened to their customers, invested aggressively in new technologies that would provide their customers more and better products of the sort they wanted, and because they carefully studied market trends and systematically allocated investment capital to innovations that promised the best returns, they lost their positions of leadership."

Author: Fredrick P. Brooks Jr.

Summary: The classic text on how to manage complex software projects and, by extension, any other large and complicated business effort.

My Comment: The book’s key revelation -- that adding people to a late project delays the project further -- is a timeless business truth that is invariably honored in the breach than in the observance.

Best Quote: "Systems program building is an entropy-decreasing process, hence inherently metastable. Program maintenance is an entropy-increasing process, and even its most skillful execution only delays the subsidence of the system into unfixable obsolescence.”