Episode #174: Best Business Books for 2017

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for.” --Franz Kafka

Ron and Ed’s Best Business Books Read in 2017

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, Garry Kasparov

  • “Deep Blue was intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better.”
  • “It was a human achievement, after all, so while a human lost the match, humans also won.”
  • “Being remembered as the first world champion to lose a match to a computer cannot be worse than being remembered as the first world champion to run away from a computer.”

The Grid: The Decision-Making Tool for Every Business (Including Yours), Matt Watkinson

  • “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” --George E. P. Box, mathematician
  • A good model that illustrates that organizations are interdependent, and you can’t change or optimize one aspect of a firm without changing—sometimes for the worse—other areas.

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, Tim Harford

"The Luddites didn’t smash machine looms because they wrongly feared that machines would make England poorer. They smashed the looms because they rightly feared that machines would make them poorer."

The Gramophone

"The top 1 percent of musical artists take more than five times more money from concerts than the bottom 95 percent put together."

The Welfare State (and passports)

"These two massive government endeavors—the welfare state and passport control—go hand in hand, but often in a clunky way. We need to design our welfare states to fit snugly with our border controls, but we usually don’t. "

Passports were designed more to keep people IN by not allowing them out!

The Dynamo

"Until around 1910, plenty of entrepreneurs looked at the old steam-engine system, and the new electrical drive system, and opted for good old-fashioned steam. Why? The answer was that to take advantage of electricity, factory owners had to think in a very different way."

"What explained the difference? Why did computers help some companies but not others? It was a puzzle. Brynjolfsson and Hitt revealed their solution: What mattered, they argued, was whether the companies had also been willing to reorganize as they installed the new computers, taking advantage of their potential."

Double Entry Bookkeeping

"Someone would be charged to take care of a particular part of the estate and would give a verbal “account” of how things were going and what expenses had been incurred. This account would be heard by witnesses—the “auditors,” literally “those who hear.” In English the very language of accountancy harks back to a purely oral tradition.
So what, a century later, did the much-lauded Luca Pacioli add to the discipline of bookkeeping? Quite simply, in 1494, he wrote the book.10 And what a book it was: Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita was an enormous survey of everything that was known about mathematics—615 large and densely typeset pages. Amid this colossal textbook, Pacioli included twenty-seven pages that are regarded by many as the most influential work in the history of capitalism. It was the first description of double-entry bookkeeping to be set out clearly, in detail, and with plenty of examples."

Microslices: The Death Of Consulting And What It Means For Executives, John M. Dillard


John M. Dillard started his career at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and has dedicated every working hour since to helping organizations, private and public, uncover secrets to stay ahead of future threats— whether those threats are competitive, operational, or security related. His 15-year career in management consulting has benefited everyone from large players such as Deloitte Consulting to smaller companies such as the one he cofounded, Big Sky Associates. His consulting experience runs the gamut: from commercial strategy to government security operations and large scale IT, from banking administrative flows to analyzing operations at the 9/ 11 recovery site at New York City’s Ground Zero.

  • Huge proponent if value-led pricing. Mentions Alan Weiss.
  • Mentions “knowledge workers” ten times!
  • Ed started creating a list of sentences that could have been written by Ron Baker, but I stopped after I the first dozen of so.
  • The new model is a shift away from David Maister’s Trusted Advisor model.

Microslices Defined: The accelerating specialization, compression, and automation of consulting activities. Fully realized it will be the dominant business model of professional services.

Makes major points about big data and data science:

  • Collecting lots of data is mostly useless without the ability to design techniques, predictive analytics, machine learning tools, and visualization techniques that provide insight into what it means.
  • Data science and technology are not the same thing. Technology enables advanced data science, but data science is not hardware. In some cases, data science is enabled by software, but data science will not be performed by the IT guy in your company.
  • Data scientists are not another flavor of computer scientist or technology consultant.
  • Data science is just as concerned with masterful inquiry as it is with technical mastery. The art of asking incredible questions, testing hypotheses, validating results, and using the scientific method is at the heart of data science.
  • Data science is more about creating the right questions to ask the data than about the technology of how to access the data.

Why is it important:

  • First, data science facilitates faster delivery of professional services.
  • Second, data science allows deeper specialization of professional service providers.
  • Finally, data science is going to provide the basis for the automation of consulting tasks.

From Dillard's Company Manefesto

  1. Time and value are not equivalent. We will provide maximum value in as little time as possible. The old model of charging on the basis of time is broken. We will never take longer than necessary to deliver a result. 
  2. Work is something you do, not a place you go. Our work culture rejects “presentee-ism” (a belief system based on people being physically present) in favor of presenting killer results. 
  3. Do unto ourselves as we would have our clients do unto us. Big Sky’s relationship with its employees should mirror our relationship with our clients. In other words, we expect our clients to respect us and focus on results, so we should do the same to each other. 
  4. Greatness isn’t for everyone. Some executives really want to pay to see someone sitting in a cube at their facility, no matter how good or bad the work is. Some executives really want to pay to direct the details of how the work is done instead of for a specific result, which requires them to be charged by the hour. We believe that we should prove that our way is better—but that requires clients who accept proof.

Other good ideas:

  • "Professional services executives, like executives in previously disrupted industries, make claims that they are “different,” that their model is based on trust, or that their hundred-year-old brand is impregnable. In law, consulting, accounting, and similar businesses that have traditionally been dominated by brand and reputation, executives may claim that too many functions could never be commoditized. They are wrong."
  • Every company is becoming a tech company; some just haven’t realized it yet.
  • "In my own company, we have moved away from enterprise systems that “do everything” to a collection of connected, niche products like Slack (for communications), Google Drive (for storage), Hubspot (for marketing), Asana (for project management), and Harvest (for expenses). Professional services is evolving in a similar pattern. Instead of hiring a behemoth firm to do everything, you’ll have a “user interface layer” that may be a firm or a tool. And the specialized work—from organizational structure analysis, to strategy, to pricing, to demand forecasting, to process optimization—will be completed by a network of niche specialists delivering together."
  • "By using the term “millennial attitude” I am not referring to a specific age range but about cultural norms typified by an age range."
  • "Don’t ask general counsel for permission. They’re good people, really. But they are heavily incentivized to insulate you from new ideas."

There are risks and costs to a program of actions. But they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. —John F. Kennedy

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull

  • “What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view…we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable.”
  • “My goal is to create a culture at Pixar that will outlast its founding leading—Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and me.”
  • “We start from the presumption our people are talented and want to contribute. …our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways.”
  • If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.
  •  People trump process!
  •  [Chefs say: Technique trumps ingredients].
  •  “Process and efficiency are not the goals. Making something great is the goal.”

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, Phil Knight

  • A shoe dog is someone devoted to making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes.
  • His Dad asked him: “Buck, how long do you think you’re going to keep jackassing around with these shoes?” “I don’t know, Dad.”
  • “The world is made up of crazy ideas. History is one long processional of crazy ideas. The things I loved most—books, sports, democracy, free enterprise—started as crazy ideas.”
  • One point of disagreement: Knight writes that “business is war without bullets.” We couldn’t disagree more with this analogy. Business is not war!

Other Resources Mentioned

Basics of Theory of Constraints, by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, author of The Goal. He criticizes cost accounting in the lecture, with compelling logic.

Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk, interviews Tim Harford on his book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy


Ed Kless

Ed Kless joined Sage in July of 2003 and is currently the senior director of partner development and strategy. He develops and delivers curriculum for Sage business partners on the art and practice of small business consulting. Courses include: Sage Consulting Academy, Business Strategy and Customer Experience Workshops. Ed is the author of The Soul of Enterprise: Dialogues on Business in the Knowledge Economy, a compendium of a few of the episodes of his VoiceAmerica talk-show The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy with Ron Baker, founder of the VeraSage Institute where Ed is also a senior fellow.