No, this isn’t going to be some thoughtful list of great business and product focused tomes intended to make you a better product manager.
Far from it, the Dude wants to explain why he never was tempted to get an MBA.
Do you know any MBA’s? Work with any of them? Interact tangentially with them on Twitter or other vehicles? If you do, the odds are good that you have learnt what they are reading, what they recommend. And it is always the latest business leader’s deep insider expose, or the latest on Lean Startup, or Agile, or Financial Engineering. In fact it is likely that they not only read it, but that the audiobook and claim that they listen to it over and over on their commute.
Look, the Dude has read many of the essentials. Crossing the Chasm, The Innovators Dilemma, The Marketing Imagination, Lean Startup, Positioning: The Battle for your mind, and many others. He has internalized the lessons, and applies them, adapted for his situation, with aplomb.
But he also learnt that many business essential books are just slap-dash bullshit thrown together. The one that really grinds his gears is “Good to Great”. Early in his career, his boss forced that down his throat, and in the early 2000’s it seemed prophetic. Unlike many of the similar volumes, it seemed well researched, and made poignant points. In particular, it highlighted General Electric (GE) as an exemplar of building generational greatness, and lavished praise on Jack Welsh as a singularly great manager of that behemoth.
But Jack Welsh was instrumental in the trend to stack ranking, firing the lower 5% of your org every year, and now it seems that he put in motion the end game scenario for GE which has now been whittled into three separate businesses. By doubling down on the financial services arm that in the late 1990’s and the aughts was generating literal buckets full of profit, far more than the rest of GE combined, it also was the catalyst of its undoing starting with the global financial crisis.
The Dude can pick apart a lot of the popular business books.
So, what does the Dude read?
This is a long post to get to the fact that he mostly reads fiction, or hard history books. Lately he has been deeply engrossed in the original The Shadow pulp classics, having discovered a trove of them.
On the history front, he went through several phases, diving deeply into the realm of US History (the three books by Daniel Boorstin are fantastic reads), the history of mathematics (fascinating how intertwined physics and mathematics are at its core), and lately the history of Rome.
He probably clocks 50+ books a year, and probably 2 of them are hot “business” books. That feels like the right ratio. The MBA’s that the Dude knows probably read 10 of the business press best sellers, the flavor of the day.
It is not that the Dude doesn’t appreciate the insightful business books. But, at his stage of his career (late 50’s, 23+ years in role) that major mindshare shifts are unlikely.
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