11 Fascinating Books on Harvard Business School's Required Reading List

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Lauren Hintz
Lauren Hintz




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There's no better time to revamp your reading list. The question is ... what should you read?

With so many business books out there to choose from, sifting through all those online descriptions and reviews could take months. We figured you'd rather spend that time actually, you know, reading.

To help you narrow down your search for the best business books out there, we combed through a plethora of online syllabi from Harvard Business School. Much to my surprise, most of the books centered around leadership rather than economics, marketing, or general business best practices. It really does take a fearless leader to build a truly remarkable organization.

Below, you'll find a list of 11 of the most intriguing books on Harvard Business School courses' required reading lists. If you're looking for a few great reads, then this is just the list for you.

1) True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

This book explains how and why becoming a genuine leader is possible for anyone and everyone. True North is based on research and first-person interviews with 125 of today’s top leaders. In this book, former Medtronic CEO Bill George shares the wisdom for being an authentic leader by outlining five key steps: 1) knowing your authentic self; 2) defining your values and leadership principles; 3) understanding your motivations; 4) building your support team; and 5) staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life.

2) Talent on Demand

Peter Cappelli wrote this book to examine common talent management issues. It includes a slew of supply chain company examples and reveals four management principles for ensuring that your employees have the skills they need, exactly when they need them. After reading this book, you'll know how to balance developing talent in-house with hiring external employees, improve the accuracy of your talent-need forecasts, maximize productivity of your employees, and replicate an external job board by creating an internal one for current employees.

3) The Money of Invention: How Venture Capital Creates New Wealth

This practical guide is written by two industry experts (Paul A. Gompers and Josh Lerner) about the problems entrepreneurs encounter when securing financing, and how the venture capital model can help businesspeople to resolve those issues. It also includes details on how corporations, government institutions and non-profits can (and should) harness the power of the venture capital model when applying it in their own industries. Whether your industry is riding the way of massive growth or holding on during an economic slowdown, this book is a tactical guide for leveraging venture captial to begin or grow your business.

4) Many Unhappy Returns: One Man's Quest To Turn Around The Most Unpopular Organization In America

In 1997, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had the largest customer base in America -- but also the lowest approval rating of any government agency. At the time, congressional hearings revealed that IRS agents were being pressured to meet quotas for back taxes and penalties. Some agents admitted anonymously that, in order to hit these quotas, tax collectors would squeeze taxpayers for money they didn’t really owe. Charles O. Rossotti became commissioner of the IRS in 1997 and was tasked with rebuilding the organization. He was the first businessperson to head the IRS, and in this book, he tells the remarkable story of leadership and transformation of this organization.

5) The Arc of Ambition: Defining the Leadership Journey

Can you guess what separates the average from from the hugely successful? Two internationally renowned management experts (Jim Champy and Nitin Nohria) say the key ingredient is ambition. Their book The Arc of Ambition is a practical guide to harnessing your personal and professional ambition and leaving a legacy of accomplishment. It details examples from dozens of modern and also historical successful people from a multitude of industries.

6) Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

I've gotta come clean and reveal this book wasn't actually on any of the syllabi I researched. But case studies about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz were basically plastered all over them, which is why I'm including this in here. Schultz an exceptional and highly respected leader, and his book details one of the most triumphant business stories in decades. Starbucks started as a single coffee shop in Seattle and has grown into a worldwide corporation. In the book, Schultz illustratres the founding principles that defined Starbucks and shares the wisdom he's learned along the way.

7) Unleasing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry

Unleashing Innovation tells the inside story of one of the most successful innovation turnarounds in American history, including reducing margins while also expanding internationally. Nancy Tennant Snyder is VP of innovation and margin realization at Whirlpool and the author of this book. In it, she reveals how Whirlpool undertook one of the largest change efforts in the company's history. It demonstrates how transformation and innovation became a core component of the organization, which ultimately lead to bottom-line results.

8) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Why do some ideas thrive while others seem like they never even had a chance to survive? And how the heck can we boost ideas to give them a fighting chance? In this book, written by accomplished educators and brothers Chip and Dan Heath, they tackle head-on perplexing questions related to how ideas take off. Research is revealed to explain ways to make ideas stickier.

9) Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant

This book is based on a study of more than 150 strategic moves, including companies that have spanned more than a hundred years and thirty industries. Authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne attempt to persuade readers that building a true successful business comes from creating "blue oceans," i.e. untapped new markets that are hyper-ripe from growth. More than one million copies of this business book have sold world wide, and it's a "must-read" for business readers.

10) Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less

In Scaling Up Excellence, bestselling author Robert Sutton and Stanford colleague Huggy Rao tackle a challenge every growing organization faces at one time of another: Scaling. It's about building your company larger, faster, and more efficiently than ever before. Sutton and Rao devoted nearly ten years of researching to uncovering what it takes to build employees for exemplary performance and keep recharging organizations with ever better workplaces. This book features both case studies and academic research from a wealth of industries, including startups, pharmaceuticals, retail, financial services, high-tech, education, non-profits, government, and healthcare.

11) Data Science for Business

Written by two world-renowned data science experts Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett, this book explains the foundational principles of data science. Step-by-step, it walks readers through the "data-analytic thinking" necessary for extracting real business value from the any data an organization collects. You can use it as a guide to understand the many data-mining techniques in use today. It's based on an MBA course one of the authors taught at New York University for over a decade, and is chock-full of real-world business problems.

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