Elon Musk’s startup xAI looks to raise $1 billion, filing showsDecember 7, 2023
The Scaleup Report: DNA of successful startupsDecember 20, 2023
By Verne Harnish
The speed of business is increasing exponentially, thanks to AI and other technologies, and the only way to stay a few steps ahead is to make learning a priority. With that in mind, here are my top five business books for 2023, along with very worthy runners-up (and an earlier book I missed – my favorite book of them all).
Foolproof Hiring: Powerful, Proven Keys to Hiring HIGH Performers by Brad Smart and Chris Mursau
Think AI can replace interviewing? Think again. While AI can help you source and whittle your candidate list to your top three candidates, the human element is still important. In Foolproof Hiring, Topgrading guru Brad Smart reveals his latest refinements to the Job Scorecard (his much-better alternative to a job description), a process he has refined over five decades. You’ll also get a crash course in tandem interviewing and a reference check process that will ensure you inevitably choose the best of those top three.
At half the length of Smart’s classic book Topgrading, Foolproof Hiring is easier to navigate—and chock full of new information. And if you need more support, check out the inexpensive SaaS tools Smart’s firm has created to streamline the pre-screening process and the virtual Topgrading Master Class to take your hiring leaders thru the process step-by-step. Topgrading is still the #1 approach to selecting A-players, and Foolproof Hiring makes it easier to create buy-in and learn.
Runner Up – Made Without Managers: One company’s story of creating a self-managing workplace by Team Mayden
I fell in love with this book the moment I read the Foreword by Margaret Heffernan, one of the most insightful CEOs and writers of our time. It is the real-world story of how UK-based Mayden, with 112 employees, has scaled in a truly self-managed, flat organization. Everyone is doing work that matters vs. managing the people doing the work!
2023–based on Gary Hamel’s interview with Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton–is the year the term “manager” should be retired from all organizations–and replaced with leader or coach. Place this book on your desk so you see the cover 24/7 as a reminder to think twice before adding managers to your workplace.
Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Argrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb
Meta’s focus on a “Year of Efficiency” in 2023 added a half trillion dollars to its market cap, and one key strategic contributor has been the implementation of AI in all aspects of the organization. Whereas traditional AI has yet to return much on the billions invested – think self-driving cars – generative AI (the type that refers to machine learning systems that can create content such as text, images and code) is immediately disrupting the economics of every industry.
Helping business leaders navigate the use of AI are these three Rotman School of Management professors, authors of AI guide Prediction Machines. They have written another practical and easy-to-read book in Power and Prediction. As the title implies, generative AI gives everyone in the organization more power to get things done and helps guide decisions by providing better ways to predict what to do next. Wherever you need more power and prediction, that’s where you apply generative AI first. Let this book be your guide.
Runner-Up – What a Unicorn Knows: How Leading Entrepreneurs Use Lean Principles to Drive Sustainable Growth by Matthew May and Pablo Dominquez
Four primary forces work against any object in motion (including a growing firm): drag, inertia, friction, and waste. To counter each are five principles of lean the authors outline in this book. Other books on my 2023 list address these principles individually, in depth, starting with Principle 1: Strategic Speed (see Move Fast & Fix Things).
The other principles are Constant Experimentation (see Right Kind of Wrong below); Accelerated Value, focused on the customer experience; Lean Process, emphasizing how less is more; and Esprit De Corps, representing the need for an experienced and inspired team to make all this happen – and underlining why Foolproof Hiring is so critical. Read this book to build on what you’ve learned from Scaling Up.
Move Fast & Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems by Frances Frei & Anne Morriss
You can move fast without breaking people or things in the process, according to Harvard strategy professor Frances Frei and partner and co-author Anne Morriss, also co-authors of my favorite strategy book Uncommon Service. Emphasizing the need for speed, which is critical to scaling they write: “Speed unleashes your organization’s energy and reveals where you’re going. Trust convinces your stakeholders to come along for the ride. Think about whatever you’re building as a plane taking off for a new destination: no one’s getting on board without confidence in the aircraft, and without enough speed, you’re not even getting airborne.”
Complete with a requisite four-box model they call the FIX map (Fast, Iterative Excellence), Move Fast & Fix Things will show you how to operate in the “Accelerating Excellence” box. Their book provides a practical approach to make this happen.
Runner Up – Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well by Amy Edmondson
There are experiments and then there are mistakes – and it’s important to distinguish between the two! Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, best known for her psychological safety research (so critical to team effectiveness), tackles the topic of failure in Right Kind of Wrong. We often learn more from our failures than our successes, but there are many nuances to that statement, which Edmondson uncovers.
Notes Edmondson in this HBR interview, leaders should do a thorough post-mortem after every failure, whether it was productive or not, to ensure that it does not repeat itself. “A failure, even an intelligent failure, in new territory, new discovery, is no longer intelligent the second time it happens,” she writes.
CASH (best business biography)
Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson
10xing goals is for wimps! Elon Musk has figured out how to put more things and people into space the past five years than all countries combined before him – and for 1/30th the overrun costs of NASA. No matter how you feel about him, there is no doubt he’s the quintessential entrepreneur alive today. Anyone organizing people to get things done will learn valuable insights on how to scale a vision and business from every page in this 600+ page book.
What is most impressive is how Musk goes back to first principles in all aspects of his businesses – questioning and challenging the way everything has been done in the past. And he stays purpose-focused throughout his journey, pushing hard for the sake of something bigger than making money, which is precisely why he’s the richest person on the planet. That seems not to matter to him – he has no big toys or homes, etc. If you only read one 2023 book, this is the one.
Runner-up – No other business biography in 2023 comes close to matching Elon Musk.
Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things by Adam Grant
“What look like differences in natural ability are often differences in opportunity and motivation,” notes Adam Grant in his latest runaway best-seller Hidden Potential. From the opening story of how a Harlem high school chess team tied for first up against elite teams with prodigies trained from an early age, the book details how anyone can succeed at anything if they know how.
One key finding: Your kindergarten teacher matters. And if you didn’t get the right teacher, you and your children can do other things to make up for lost time! One clue in your search for a guide: Character. Notes Grant, “Character is more than just having principles. It’s a learned capacity to live by your principles.” Please read Grant’s latest book and everything else he authors.
Runner Up – Emotional Intelligence Habits: A Powerful New Way to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry
The #1 predictor of personal excellence, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), is an important skill to master. In this follow-on book to the multi-million copy bestseller Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry outlines the micro-behaviors, and habits that support them, in improving your EQ in four areas: (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness and (4) relationship management.
As Bradberry notes, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” He’s spent the last decade better understanding the “how” of EQ and shares his insights in this easy-to-read book.
THE ONE I MISSED
The Captain Class by Sam Walker
The Jim Collins of pro sports, Sam Walker compiled a list of all the sports teams in the world and looked for those which significantly dominated their sport for a sustained period of time. Winnowing the list to 17 iconic teams, including a women’s volleyball team in Cuba to my F.C. Barcelona soccer team during the years of Lionel Messi, Walker sought the factors which created these dynasties.
Thinking he would find multiple factors including the coach, A-players, size of budget, etc., he instead found only one factor that correlated to sustained success – the team captain!! The captain, like Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun Maverick, is willing to take on the senior leadership; is first in and last out; isn’t loud and boisterous; knows each person on the team and how to nudge/encourage them in one-on-one conversations, and leads the team by example. Identify the right team captains and the senior team can relax, knowing the team can sustain success.