I have been teaching graduate-level MBA courses since 1987. My classes focus on strategic planning and alignment. I've witnessed many changes in MBA programs over the years and believe that a self-taught student can be just as well educated as one who follows the core curriculum. Here are 12 books you can use to build your own MBA program.

I must warn you, this list is not a conventional one filled with the same old tired titles we see on every business reader list. Rather, these books are intended to offer a different point of view -- one that will make you think while providing exposure to a subject area that every DIY MBA student and business owner needs to grasp in order to become well-rounded and ready for today's ever-changing business landscape:

1. Leadership: The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs (2012)

Written by Harvard professor Cynthia Montgomery, this book sets the tone for your DIY MBA. It's not about learning about how to define a strategy. Rather, it's about learning to think like a strategist. So, your advanced business education begins by creating a framework for thinking and learning. This is a concept that I promote in my graduate classes and it is the intention of most of the books on this list.

2. Entrepreneurship: The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (2014)

Based on his blog, Ben Horowitz's book provides solid advice for those of us who want to create the next Apple. What I really like is his use of song lyrics to illustrate key points. A nice read to give your MBA an essential entrepreneurial component.

3. Globalization: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization (2010) 

I know that I'm reaching back a few years for this one, but Franklin Foer's book is a lasting contribution on the subject. While not a business book in the true sense, this one covers what you need to know in order to forge an understanding of how business is being reshaped by world politics.

4. Competitive Dynamics: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2014)

Malcom Gladwell's latest is a social psychology book that presents a contrarian view that MBA-types and business owners should consider as they go about conquering their little piece of the business world.

5. Innovation Management: Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation (2013)

Debra Kaye's book provides a wonderful framework for linking disparate ideas and observations into a method for breakthrough thinking and innovation.

6. Marketing: The Marketing Plan Handbook (2011) 

This book by Alexander Chernev is all you need to learn how to create a marketing plan that can launch your new product or service. It's marketing strategy 101, and a nice complement for your DIY MBA.

7. Organizational Behavior: It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best (2014)

Here, Claudio Fernndez-Aroz argues that to thrive, you need to identify those with the highest potential, hire them, and help them grow. Makes sense to me!

8. Finance: CFO Techniques: A Hands-on Guide to Keeping Your Business Solvent and Successful (2011) 

This one may be a bit unexpected. Written for smaller- to mid-market businesses, Marina Guzikwill's book tells you what you need to know about finance for your MBA.

9. Technology: Technical Impact: Making Your Information Technology Effective and Keeping It That Way (2014) 

There are tons of books that do an excellent job of explaining the central elements of business technology management. I like Al Kuebler's book because it cuts to the chase and suggests how an IT department can be developed to become a partner with the business it supports.

10. Communication: Marketing Communications (2014)

Written by Lynne Eagle et al, this book has plenty of great examples from industry that show how today's businesses must understand and leverage social media and related emerging communication apparatus.

11. Change Management: Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change (2015) 

Esther Cameron and Mike Green's book just came out, and it contains all of the formal methods and practices needed to drive and manage change. Far more technical than the other books on the list, this one presents a discussion of change management's basic tools and how to use them.

12. Strategic Planning and Business Alignment: The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change (2014) 

This recommendation may appear self-serving, but my most recent book deserves to make the list. I use it while teaching my own graduate classes because it demystifies the major elements of strategic planning and business alignment. Indeed, its many stories from business make it a nice way to tie together all the other subjects covered here in just one title.

So, there you have it -- all the books you'll need to establish a solid foundation for becoming a 2020 leader and for launching a lifetime of future business learning. Be sure to let me know how you are enjoying the ride as you pursue your DIY MBA.

Published on: Apr 20, 2015