The Books You Always Find Yourself Recommending Open Thread (updated)

On building the Panama Canal. This is a great story of how creativity happens at a really big scale. It is messy. Things go wrong. People get hurt. But they also triumph and do astounding things. I also like this book because it is the antidote to those who believe that great innovations all come from start-ups and little companies (although there are some wild examples of entrepreneurship in the story — especially the French guy who designs Panama's revolution — including a new flag and declaration of independence as I recall — from his suite in the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and successfully sells the idea to Teddy Roosevelt).

As my Stanford colleague Jim Adams points out, the Panama Canal, the Pyramids, and putting a man on moon are just a few examples of great human innovations that were led by governments. If you want to learn about what world class scaling "clusterfug" looks like, read about how the French messed things up — and if you want to learn about skilled scaling (with some horrible side-effects) and the amazing U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, find the time to read this rather massive masterpiece.

In addition to these twelve, I was tempted to add 'Collaboration' by Morten Hansen, the best book on the topic ever written and 'The Silo Effect' by Gillian Tett, which is stunning analysis of why — once organizations are broken into specialized groups — all sorts of bad things that undermine the greater good, along with some mighty thoughtful ideas about how to overcome these problems and make the best use of such specialized and isolated "stovepipes." And while I removed 'Who Says That Elephants Can't Dance,' by former IBM Lou Gerstner from my top 12 a couple years ago, it remains the best book on the transformation of a large company that I know of — the first half is especially strong.

Bob Sutton is a> Stanford Professor who studies and writes about leadership, organizational change, and navigating organizational life. His latest book is >The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt.

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