Saturday, December 31, 2005

My Bookshelf - 2005

I read quite a few books in 2005 - as I mentioned in a previous post, this was one of my new year resolutions for 2005 - which somehow stuck.

As we head into the last day of the year, I thought I'd share my adventures into the printed world over the past 12 months. Here's my reading list 2005:

Built to Last by James C. Collins & Jerry I Porras.

A Classic. James Collins looks at companies that have stood the test of time and identifies traits that make them stand out from everyone else. What keeps companies like 3M, Citicorp, IBM, Motorola, Sony, Wal-Mart and many others going? Built to Last attempts to answer this question.

No management jargon here, just a lot of insights based on directly studying and thoroughly researching successful companies. You'll find simple yet powerful ideas like the art of clock building vs. time telling, setting big hairy audacious goals, and many more.

PS: By the way, you will also want to read Good To Great by the same author, which is only missing from here since I read it a few years ago and so its not part of the 2005 list.

Inside Intuit by Suzanne Taylor and Kathy Schroeder
Intuit rose from an idea that one man had as he watched his wife do the bills, and became a company that took-on Microsoft and gave it a run for its Money (pun intended!)

This is the story of that company. Detailed, blow-by-blow account of how the company started off on sheer energy and passion, raised money, went through growing pains, matured into a large corporate - and just kept going. We meet all the characters in the story and follow their personal struggles and sacrifices towards making Intuit what it is today.

The book is written like a narrative. The authors do not impose any opinions, they just recount what happened and let you draw your own conclusions.

If you have ever harbored dreams of doing a technology start-up, this is one book you cannot afford to miss. Besides, its just plain fun to read.

Pour your Heart into it by Howard Schultz (CEO Starbucks)Here's another autobiographical account of the birth and growth of a company. This time written by the founder himself.

Howard Schultz "left a well-paying prestigious job in 1982 to join what was then a small Seattle retailer with five store". The rest, of course, is history. Starbucks today is a global brand that has become synonymous with quality coffee everywhere. This is the story of how it happened. It is a story of passion, of belief, of sheer hard work, of disillusionment, and of perseverance. Its beautiful!

Here's a quote from the opening page:

Care more than others think wise
Risk more than others think safe
Dream more than others think practical
Expect more than others think possible

Enough said.

Straight from the Gut - Jack WelchThis is the first book I finished this year, and the one that revived my reading addiction.

What can I say. Jack Welch built perhaps one of the greatest companies ever in the history of business. You don't achieve that kind of success by pure luck -you have to be doing a lot of things right. And Jack tells all.

This is long book - over 450 pages. And Jack goes into details of everything, telling us about all the people who worked with him. It actually gets a bit hard to keep track of all the details and names at times, but it's well worth the effort. In the end you come away with a great perspective on what it takes to build and run a world-scale enterprise.

Its a book that will make you dream big and want to do something insanely great.

Winning by Jack WelchIf you are not up to the autobiography, you can still get Jack's unique insights through this book. Winning is almost like a cookbook. It covers all the topics you will likely face in the course of a business career: mission statement, people management, leadership, change management, strategy, personal career management. Jack holds forth on every topic with strong opinions and solid advice. You might not always agree with him, but again, given the sheer scale of his success, you need to at least read what he has to say.

The thing that struck me most about this book is the amount of common sense advice it contains. We often get carried away with elaborate strategies and scenarios and analysis paralysis - Jack brings us back to earth and tells it like it is. Powerful stuff.

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

Here's another book written by a CEO who turned around his company, bringing it from the brink of collapse back into a leadership role. Gerstner probably faced one of the biggest change management challenges in history - and lived to tell the tale.

And what a tale he tells! It's amazing to see how much red-tape and hubris IBM had right into the 90's. And it is fascinating to see how a new culture and strategy was born even as the company continued to operate in a highly competitive field.

Unlike Jack Welch's "From the Gut", this is not an autobiography - we don't get personal details. What we get to do is to go inside the mind of the CEO and discover the thought process and the execution that gave birth to today's IBM.

The Art of Innovation by Tom KelleyTom Kelley is the GM of IDEO, a company well-know for it's design prowess. They designed, among other things, the Apple mouse, the Palm V handheld, and many other products across a range of industries. They have taken industrial design to a whole new level.

And here Tom tells us how they do it. From how to have a brainstorm, to how to build your office for creativity - its all here.

The book is full of anecdotes and examples. It can be a bit distracting at times as Tom tells his story in a fast-paced lively way and jumps from ideas to stories and back again. But it is in tune with the message he is delivering - innovation is not a linear process that goes from point 'A' to point 'B'. It is a lively, fun process that proceeds in fits and starts, but which can be facilitated (though never forced) by having the right people, and putting them in the right environment.

A fun book - well worth the read for people interested in innovation.

Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. GroveAndy Grove is the Intel CEO who lived through the Pentium-bug meltdown. And he has a simple message for us- you can never get complacent. Success will make you think you have it all figured out - but just then an "inflection point" will hit you that will change the terms of business.

Your only defense against it, as Andy tells it, is to be paranoid. To always looks around the corners and to keep challenging your assumptions about how the world works. If you don't, someone else will - and they will eat your lunch.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel

If you are going to read just one book about the stock market - may I suggest that you read this one.

Burton has a highly entertaining style of talking about a somewhat dry subject. He starts by recounting some of the biggest stock market bubbles in history (you just have to read about the Tulip Bulb bubble of 1593 - it puts the dot-com bubble of the 1990s to shame!!). He then goes on to tell us how these bubbles happen, the theories that have been put forward to predict stock market phenomena, and why most of them are wrong.

The book ends with Burton's own take on what makes stock markets behave the way they do and how to make the best of it. The style is entertaining but authoritative and I came away with a much clearer head on what makes markets tick.

Tipping Point by Malcolm GladwellEveryone read the Tipping Point this year, right ?!

Well, its a very entertaining book. Its basic thesis being that new ideas take time to grow, building up slowly at first until they reach a "tipping point" - after that then can explode.

For those who have been through a marketing course, this notion will sound very familiar - it is the adoption curve for new products. But what Gladwell does is to try and analyze the first part of the curve and discover tools which can be used to influence the curve and make it happen faster.

Written by a journalist, the book is very readable. Gladwell keeps a brisk pace and sprinkles the book with anecdotes that make for a good read. He also coins some interesting terminology. Apart from "tipping point" itself, we learn of "connectors", "mavens","stickiness" and more.

In the end, this book will make you take a good hard look around yourself and make you think about the spread of many social phenomena.

The Google Story by David A. ViseGoogle is truly unique. It is probably one of the fastest growing companies of all times, and despite its young age, it is already a universal brand - without even having spent anything significant on branding. It's a social phenomena that has transformed the way we retrieve information and even live our lives.

This is the story of how all this happened. From a PhD project at Stanford, to the IPO and beyond.

This is a journalist's account of the story - not a business guru's analysis. This will leave you a bit unsatisfied at times as the author doesn't really go into sufficient details in many areas - he just states the publicly known facts and moves on.

I'll wait for a more in-depth account of the Google phenomena. That will take time, since Google is still growing at breakneck pace and the story is nowhere near complete. But in the meanwhile, the Google Story is still worth reading and it's one of the few books that I finished cover to cover in a single weekend.

The Economist Style Guide This is the English language style guide for editors of the Economist magazine. Arranged alphabetically (from Abbreviations to World Wars), the books weighs in on several common dilemmas that writers of the English language are faced with. How and when to use apostrophes, what to do with metaphors, how to use the word Warn (its transitive so you must either give waning or warn somebody). True to its editorial style, the Economist has an opinion on everything - and it's always fun to read.

This is a delightful book for language lovers. You can dip-in at random and pick up gems whichever page you turn to. Belongs on every bookshelf.

The Economist Numbers GuideThis is a slim volume that covers a remarkable span of numeracy topics in a very short space.

Perhaps not for a cover-to-cover read, this is more of a quick reference and refresher for those of us who could use a quick review of the basics now and then. It covers forecasting, sampling, distributions, probabilities, finance terms and many other topics. The style is again pure Economist - subtle, simple, and informative.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark HaddonThis is the only fiction book in my list this year. A short novel about a boy who has Asperger's Syndrome - told from his point of view.

We are taken into the mind of the hero and learn to see things in a very different way.

Things that appear normal to us appear very difficult to our hero, while he finds solace in events that do not, at first brush, make sense to us. But as you read through the story, you start to appreciate how much of the world around us is a function of the context in which we see it. And you start to appreciate that while our hero's point of view might be different from us, it is highly logical and indeed superior in many ways.

Thoroughly enjoyable.


  1. Salman Danish1:49 PM

    Dear Farid,

    Thanks for sharing. If nothing else, you at least reminded some of us who had similar resolutions but were not as steadfast!

    Keep Sharing,


  2. Anonymous10:09 PM

    Wow, Farid you read all this in 365 days!! Now I have to agree more with 'THE FARID' :)

    Keep up the good work and keep pushing others into it...

    Nauman Khawaja.

  3. Anonymous3:27 AM

    Cool Farid, I didn't know that you were an Avid reader as well. We need to start exchanging some good book titles.

    Bryce Barrows