PICK These Books

Best Business Books: Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Picks
Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad (1994)


Two management consultants argue that too many leaders are mired in day-to-day details of running their businesses—and fail to prepare their companies for the future.

Why it’s a must-read: “I think it’s the best book on strategy. Period. The traditional view, the Michael Porter view, is way too static. Porter comes from industrial organization economics, which has a very simple premise: Industry structure dictates industry conduct and performance. Basically if your structure sucks, this is what you’re going to get. Hamel and Prahalad argue that life isn’t quite as fixed as that.

Clever organizations have been able to reinvent, repurpose, reinvigorate their industries: Whole Foods Market would be a perfect example, where you have a competitive industry where companies have been able to redo things and reconceptualize the industry in ways that create a different future. The traditional view of strategy is almost like a Sun Tzu, Art of War , approach: How do I compete given the conditions of the battlefield? Hamel and Prahalad are saying change the rules, change the battlefield, change the game.”

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor (1960)
McGregor, the first full-time psychologist on the faculty at mit, argued that managers tend to view people in one of two ways—as lazy and unwilling to work or as motivated and basically honest.

Why it’s a must-read: “He was one of the first to have this idea of self-fulfilling prophecy–that if you have a Theory X view of workers, you’ll manage them in a Theory X way and produce a Theory X behavior. Whereas if you had a Theory Y view, you’d manage them in a Theory Y way. It’s the first time I know of that this basic point was made that you get the behavior you manage to. Managers always say, ‘I’ve treated these employees as though they can’t be trusted and used other controls on them and look, they’ve now behaved as if they can’t be trusted.’ You’ve just created the behavior. People still don’t see that.”

Influence: How and Why People Agree to Things by Robert Cialdini (1984)

Cialdini, a professor of social psychology, spent three years “undercover,” applying for jobs as a telemarketer or car dealer, observing how managers went about persuading employees to do things. He condensed his findings into a list of six “weapons of influence.”

Why it’s a must-read: “Management is about getting people to do things you want them to do. This is a very readable, scientifically grounded, accessible overview of several techniques of interpersonal relations–how you can use commitment or reciprocation to get people to do things. Influencing other people is the job of management. This book tells you how to do it a nice, accessible way.”
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (1946)

Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived five years in Nazi concentration camps, where his parents, brother, and wife were all killed, wrote this book when the war ended. In it, he argued that meaning—not pleasure—is the purpose of life.

Why it’s a must-read: “As the baby boomers face mortality, there are a lot of people who have made a lot of money and have figured out that the correlation between money and happiness is not very high. They’re looking for something else; they’re looking for a legacy, for meaning in their lives. Franklexamines how to we make sense out of our lives, how to find out how we as human beings are going to relate to the world, one that doesn’t ever come filled with roses.”

Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets by Robert Kuttner (1997)

Kuttner, one of the founders of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, makes the case that market-based approaches to everything from healthcare to education hurt the economy.
Why it’s a must-read: “Kuttner’s argument is that we’ve made a mockery of economic theory, that people have really paid no attention to the conditions under which markets work and when they don’t. We now say markets for everything. We’re gotten so wrapped up in competitive market dynamic, without acknowledging that the market has its own set of problems and issues. Somebody needs to talk about that, and Kuttner does the best job I’ve seen.”

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