Business 101: A reading list for lifelong learners

Sep 18, 2014

Ready to level up your working knowledge of business? Here’s what to read now — and next. 

Business 101, with Nilofer Merchant

First, read these 2 foundational books…
1. The Change Masters
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Free Press, 1985

“A foundational book for your collection. When a colleague recently switched careers, I lent her this incredibly dog-eared book from college days. Rosabeth Moss Kanter helped coined the idea and term ’empowerment’ in the 1970s, a sure sign she was ahead of her time. Even though The Change Masters was published forty years ago, it’s relevant. Why? Because all progress is made by those that are change masters. Become one.”

2. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations
Clay Shirky
Penguin, 2008

“A few years back, I took out Clay Shirky’s book and found it filled with scribbles. While it’s almost passé now to talk of how Obama organized a large community to sweep into the presidency, Shirky’s book is textbook quality for what will happen next. It points to a new truth: Today, connected individuals can do what once only large organizations could. So look past the timeliness of his stories to see the timeless.”

Then, try these 4 to understand current needs…

1. Opposable Mind: Winning through Integrative Thinking
Roger Martin
Harvard Business Review, 2009

“I’m convinced that the way we create an abundant future of prosperity will require a global redesign of what is possible. And I think Roger Martin’s idea here could be key. When you hold two ideas as opposites, you’ll never find a way for both things to be true. But to go forward and reconcile some deep divides we have, we’re going to have to find new solutions to old problems through new thinking. Martin’s book is like yoga for the mind.”

2. Redesigning Leadership (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)
John Maeda
MIT Press, 2011

“The real question is: How will we reinvent the world around us? Well, fundamentally, it will involve having folks take the big step away from just being themselves (the thing we all know best) and join in doing something with others (the people we fear may let us down). John Maeda’s book captures a modern leader’s challenge to switch gears and become a social, collaborative leader.”

3. The Difference
Scott E. Page
Princeton University Press, 2010

“Complex systems turn out to be adaptive and resilient, and therefore thriving, systems. Sounds like something our world needs more of, right? See how a math theorist argues for including difference –- that is, cognitive difference — into our lives, our workplaces and ultimately what we create. The value of this difference is a proven truth, not a feel-good mantra, for how you shape both better ideas and new solutions. It’s going to be central to what happens next.”

4. Finite and Infinite Games
James Carse
Free Press, 1986

“Most of the ways people think of business, politics or economics assume that if you win, others lose. I’ve done thirteen years of schooling and realize that’s how people teach this stuff. Those people view the world as a finite game. But there’s another choice. After you read Finite and Infinite Games, you may never look at any relationship or power dynamic the same way again.”

Then, read this book to understand what comes next…

The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business
Umair Haque
Harvard Business Review, 2011

“Here’s one theory of what comes next in our economy, written by a sharp mind and cultural critic. His book doesn’t get everything right (How could it?), but it’s an incredibly powerful read on the right questions all of us ought to be asking.”

Last, one personal love worth sharing.

The Illuminated Rumi
Jelaluddin Rumi, with translation by Coleman Barks and illustrations by Michael Green
Broadway Books, 1997

“Because I believe all of us need to be grounded in eternal wisdom, I’d want you to have this book by your bedside with a prescription: Read daily.”

Featured image via iStock.

(Note: This blog post was corrected on June 10, 2015, to include Scott Page’s book The Difference. Thanks to @pjlamberson for the heads-up.)