19 Dec 2014
Not Your Basic Business Books

What books would guests on The Business give as holiday gifts? Listen for what Mitch Weiss, Dan Koh, Nancy Koehn, Max Bazerman, Frank Cespedes, and host Brian Kenny would recommend for the bookworm in your life.

The Business is a podcast from Harvard Business School that ran through 2015 and took a unique look at the business world through conversations with HBS faculty and entrepreneurs. It has since been replaced by Cold Call, a new podcast that distills the legendary HBS case method into digital form. Subscribe to “Cold Call” on iTunes, and iTunesU or follow us on SoundCloud.



Brian Kenny: Okay, romance, mystery, and suspense may be the best-selling genres of books these days. But for our podcast? We're all business.

Welcome to "The Business," the official podcast of Harvard Business School. I'm Brian Kenny, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at HBS. And we're all about books for this holiday edition. We've asked each of our podcast guests over the past few months to recommend a book, especially a book about business, to anyone in search of a good read or anyone looking to give someone else a good read!

We got recommendations for books old and new. I'll make my own recommendation at the end.

So here is "The Business's" 2014 list of holiday book picks:

We're starting off with Harvard Business School professor and historian Nancy Koehn, who we featured on our most recent podcast about the leadership skills of renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton. For her holiday book pick, she chose a book written about another leader in history:

NK: So, I love a book that’s in print, but an old book. It’s called The Lincoln Reader. It’s by a grand old man, now deceased, of Lincoln scholarship, named Paul Angle. And what it is, is a compilation ordered in chronological form, so you can read it as a biography of Lincoln, but it’s a compilation of first-hand observers, friends, colleagues of Lincoln throughout his life, framed with Angle's commentary. So he introduces the person to you, tells you how they knew Lincoln as a boy, as a young man in New Salem, as a lawyer in Springfield, running for office, getting married. And so he gives you these brilliant, if you will, again, introductions and conclusions, but then you read as if you’re sitting there with these people that knew Lincoln talking to them about what they said. And what you emerge with are these wonderful slices of the making of Abraham Lincoln, whose life and journey and challenges and weaknesses have as many lessons for our time as Ernest Shackleton. It makes for absolutely compelling, gripping reading, and it’s not very long, it’s not very dense, and yet it’s unforgettable in terms of what it offers to each of us trying to craft our own journey of worth and purpose in a turbulent moment.

BK: Now that would be something different under the tree--a copy of The Lincoln Reader by Paul Angle. By the way, you can find links to each of these books on our website: hbs.edu/thebusiness.

Right around election day in November, we featured two Harvard Business School graduates who both chose a path-less-travelled by grads... the one that led to City Hall. First, Dan Koh. He's chief of staff under the new Boston mayor, Marty Walsh.

DK: Yeah, it's pretty typical response, I'd guess, but I'm a big sports fan and when Moneyball first came out, I was a religious disciple of the practice. And I think what is most compelling about that book, and something that I keep top-of-mind as chief of staff today, is that when you first come up with a really game-changing idea, people think you're crazy, right? And it's very easy to lose faith in an idea because one or two people who you trust and who historically have had very good judgment on ideas have said that's not, there's a reason why this hasn't happened, etcetera, etcetera. And so, when I think about, you know, the story of Billy Beane as a GM, coming up with basically a new rubric to evaluate players and gaining a huge advantage from it, what excites me about my job every day is that there are those ideas out there for government. There are those ideas for cities that other people may have dismissed, that other, that may have not made it up the chain fast enough in other places, that as chief of staff you have a chance to enable them and excite them. Not just ideas you have, but the ideas that people bring to you. That's what's really, really exciting for me, and what's really exciting about this role and being in city government and in this position is that when there's a crazy idea, you have the ability to push that forward, and you don't have to worry about getting lost in bureaucracy, because if that's the case, it's really on you for not pushing it forward enough.

BK: The Red Sox should've reread Moneyball this year.


BK: Yeah, let’s hope it’s not too late! Mitchell Weiss is also an HBS alum. And he's now a senior lecturer here and he also served as chief of staff to a Boston Mayor. In his case, it was to long-time Mayor Tom Menino. We spoke to Mitch just a few weeks before Menino died this fall. As you're going to hear, he was devoted to his old boss.

MW: One thing you should know about chiefs of staff is that their job, in part, is to be loyal to their mayors or their CEOs or whomever. Mayor Menino has a new book out, Mayor for a New American City. And it's a great story of what he accomplished over his 20-year career and, as well, how far Boston has come in terms of opening up, both along racial lines--we're now a majority-minority city-- its economy to be a much more innovative city. And I think people will find it interesting here but also across the country and across the world as cities have become kind of the new nation states. This is an amazing story about what one place went through over the course of the last two decades.

BK: And the loyalty knows no boundaries there.

MW: No boundaries.

BK: No boundaries.

MW: Job for life.

BK: Any leader, in city hall or on the C-suite, has to determine their values and their own code of ethics. HBS Professor Max Bazerman has spent much of his life studying strong leadership. We asked him which book he recommends for gift-giving this year.

MB: So there's lots of great books out there including Happy Money by Mike Norton at HBS, and Joshua Green wrote his recent book on morality [Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them, 2013, Penguin Press]. But in terms of something connected to my current work on the power of noticing, I certainly think of Warren Bennis's work, because he's the one who first said that a key leadership attribute is to be a first-class noticer. And that's been an inspiration for me. Warren Bennis is somebody who I knew, not well, but I read much of his work, and his work is of a very different style than my own. But I think he was a truly insightful leadership expert. He recently passed away and before that had been the head of the advisory council at the Center for Public Leadership, where I'm fortunate to be the co-director. So I think of his work, his book with Bob Thomas, Geeks and Geezers is a book that talks about this idea of the first-class noticer.

BK: First-class noticers are more agile because they see things others may overlook. What HBS Professor Frank Cespedes sees in major corporations is that sales and marketing should strategize together, but often don't. He had that in mind when we asked him to pick a book to give.

FC: Let me cite two. One a golden oldie by my mentor here at Harvard Business School, Ted Levitt. Some of our podcast listeners may have been lucky enough to know Ted and work with him. But his collection of essays titled The Marketing Imagination I think are still among the best. Ted understood there was a difference between marketing and sales, but he did not look down his nose at sales. And still has some of the wiser things to say about that.

More recently, there’s a new book by Nate Silver called The Signal and the Noise. It’s essentially about forecasting. But I think that if you’re in a position in a company where you’re making investments in big data, and you don’t want those investments to be yet another cycle of garbage in, garbage out, as we say, you’ve really got to read Silver’s book and understand what’s important in trying to use data in an actionable, managerial manner. It’s a smart book, and it’s written in a wonderfully engaging manner.

BK: Okay, now it’s my turn. Since I am, by obligation, bound to read books that Harvard Business School professors write, I will recuse myself from choosing any book written by a Harvard Business School professor, and I will step outside that box.

The book that I chose to recommend is by Walter Isaacson, and it’s a book that he wrote about Ben Franklin. It’s a bio of Ben Franklin, and if anybody wants to see the many, many contributions that Ben Franklin made both in business and beyond, this is the best bio I think that you can find. It’s very comprehensive, and I think you’ll be amazed at the things Ben Franklin did that affect us to this very day. The book is called Ben Franklin, and it’s by Walter Isaacson.

I'm Brian Kenny of Harvard Business School. We've got links to each of the books mentioned in this edition of "The Business" on our website, hbs.edu/thebusiness. And we're still interested to know what book you think is holiday gift-worthy. Tweet your suggestions to our Twitter handle @HarvardHBS And give us any feedback about our podcast, including guests you’d like to hear from in 2015, and what question you would have for them. Once again, it's @HarvardHBS.

Since this is our last podcast in 2014, we’d love for you to make us a regular thing for 2015. You can subscribe to "The Business" on iTunesU and follow us on SoundCloud. We'll bring you another edition of "The Business" in January.

Looking forward to having you back with us then. From all of us at "The Business," have a great holiday.

Read the Books

The Lincoln Reader by Paul Angle

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Mayor for a New American City by Mayor Tom Menino

Happy Money by Michael Norton

Geeks and Geezers by Warren Bennis and Bob Thomas

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don't by Nate Silver

The Marketing Imagination by Theodore Levitt

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

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