Five Business Books That Defined the Decade

Matthew May writes a post yesterday listing his five selections for Books That Defined The Decade. He describes his list as “big idea” books [that] stand out because not only did they help us better understand the world, they gave us a new lens through which to view it.”

His choices included:

Matthew is directionally correct, but let me offer a different list for consideration.

  1. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell was published in February 2000. This American Life Host Ira Glass has said that we are living in the Golden Age of non-Fiction writing. I don’t think Tipping Point marked the arrival of this Golden Age, but the publication of his first book surely heralded the work and growing popularity of many writers including Michael Lewis, Susan Orlean, Chuck Klosterman, and Michael Pollan.
  2. Good To Great was published in Oct. 2001. Jim Collins certainly had the momentum of Built To Last, but the book could have just as easily gotten lost in the aftermath of 9/11. Collins provides the management algorithm for the 21st century and his research hasn’t been without question, but Good To Great is hands down the business book of the decade.
  3. Thomas Friedman belongs on the list, but I would choose his 2005 book The World Is Flat as the book of note. Lexus and The Olive Tree was certainly important in reporting the developments from the field, but The World Is Flat marked the arrival of a new state; the description for how the planet would operate going forward. The World Is Flat might also be the title of the decade (Never Eat Alone is a close second). Interesting that Freakonomics and Gladwell’s second book Blink also arrive in 2005.
  4. Dan Pink described the trend in Free Agent Nation, but more importantly identified the work we should be doing in A Whole New Mind. Design, Symphony, Story, Empathy, Play and Meaning. When Oprah says “Last spring I read a book I just couldn’t put down,” you have hit on something. Interestingly, A Whole New Mind also came out in 2005.
  5. The final spot I would give to the folks at Gallup. Now, Discover Your Strengths and StrengthFinders 2.0 have created a cultural conversation around the need to pursue and enhance strengths while minimizing the criticism of weaknesses. The robust tools for identifying those strengths have made the meme that much more powerful. Marcus Buckingham deserves credit for driving that message as well during his time at Gallup and in his recent projects..

A couple final points…My list doesn’t exactly overlap with May’s given my emphasis on books that impacted business and his on big ideas.

Freakonomics is a great read and has plenty of stories to talk about at a cocktail party, but little we can take with us into our daily lives.

James Surowiecki certainly identified what Web 2.0 would bring and I loved the book, but still missed creating a greater cultural wake after The Wisdom of Crowds published in (again) 2005. I remember James say at SXSW in 2006 that Malcolm had outsold him 10 to 1. It could be that we like reading about individuals that we can mirror ourselves in versus amorphous collectives and group phenomenon that we have a hard time identifying with.

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