Five Books Every Strategy Consultant Should Read: 2018 Edition

Ruby Yeats 28.02.2018

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

This blog may seem vaguely familiar. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that a reboot of an old classic can be just as entertaining as any fresh idea (except in the case of Jumanji, obviously). And thus, to keep pace with the ever expanding range of educational materials, and to celebrate Amazon’s arrival in the Australian market - an updated version of my last blog, which designated my pick of books for busy strategy consultants.

For those who read the last version, you will know that I set myself the (some might say) lofty goal of reading one book per week for an entire year. Turns out, I am not alone in my decision to prioritise leisure reading as a vitally important daily activity; Reader’s Digest research suggests a link between regular reading and longevity (and sources of the study seem to check out, despite the potentially suspicious ulterior motives of the publisher..)

In fact, reading for pleasure has become synonymous with most modern billionaires - think Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Gates averages 50 books per calendar year, but - before I hold myself out to be a more scholarly individual than the world’s richest man - I should point out that these are largely intellectual, theological, financial or strategic books (and I will admit that at least a few of the novels I devoured bore a “NY Times Bestseller” sticker!)

But, amid the sea of Sparks and Grisham, I uncovered a few business-oriented gems, which I believe could help many strategy consultants in the pursuit of greater knowledge, and greater professional success. So, here they are - my pick of 2017’s top strategy books:

1. Getting to "Yes And": The Art of Business Improv, Bob Kulhan

Not often does one find the words “improv performer”, “CEO” and “business advisor” in the same sentence, but they certainly describe the well-rounded professional that is Bob Kulhan. The mental agility required to succeed in all of these pursuits comes from one key source: improvisation. 

Infinitely entertaining yet more instructive than watching back-to-back episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway, Getting to Yes draws on a variety of principles from cognitive and social psychology, behavioral economics, and communication. If you are looking to become more agile, more strategic, and more flexible in the face of challenge, this one is for you. From a single individual right through to major organisations, Getting to Yes And will help you harness improvisation techniques to skyrocket your professional career.

2. Irresistible, Adam Alter

Research demonstrates that at least 50% of the US population is addicted to at least one behaviour - from iPhone to instagram, facebook feeds to LinkedIn leads, we are all hooked into something addictive pretty much 24/7. Alter, in his capacity as professor of marketing and psychology at NYU, explains why these new products and technologies have such a hold over us - and explores how we can mitigate the effects of the social media revolution.

If you ever find yourself obsessing over your phone, your computer screen, or your brand new smart watch, this one’s for you. If your colleagues irk you with their constant connection ‘to the grid’, this one’s for you. Read it, and discover how to reverse engineer your behavioural addiction.

3. Wild Ride: Inside Uber’s Quest for Domination, Adam Lashinky

If I had a dollar for every time a strategy consultant told me they were looking for a role “somewhere like uber”, or that they had a startup that is “basically the uber of …[x]”, I would be giving Travis Kalanick a run for his money in the wealth stakes. But how much do we actually know about the world’s eighth largest internet company, by revenue?

Enter Lashinsky. Tracing Kalanick’s rough roots and humble origins, through Uber’s murky beginning and continued global domination, Lashinsky explores how Uber continues to exert pressure on the worldwide taxi industry and unpacks its global empire. With in depth interviews and close to the action sources, there is no better window into the strategic soul of the business that has become synonymous with the age of digital disruption.

4. Strategy: Beyond the Hockey Stick, Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt and Sven Smit

McKinsey Partners Bradley, Hirt and Smit have deep tenure as trusted business advisors, and for good reason - having built business plans for some of the world’s most respected organisations, they have business insight most strategy consultants can only dream of. Bradley, Hirt and Smit have compiled their years’ of commercial acumen with extensive data from thousands of organisations, delineating three distinct groups of organisations: roughly speaking, the very poor performers, the broad band of flatliners, and the small top echelon (around 20%) which accrue all the value.

It is possible to move from the middle banding to the top tier - but only 1 in 12 managed it over a 10 year period, and the authors explore the various reasons behind this. If you’re starting out in strategy consulting, there is no better source of knowledge than Partners at the top of the profession. And if you’re not currently working in strategy? Gaining an understanding of why certain organisations are more successful, and accrue more value over time, has got to be worthwhile from a much broader perspective.

More than just another generic-approach-to-strategy book, this far surpasses the usual boring delineation of frameworks and data driven decision making - it’s a humorous, insightful and illuminating view into the real world of strategic decision making. 

5. Hit Makers, Derek Thompson

Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no such thing as “viral”. Every blockbuster has a secret backstory of influence, power, and passionate support - even the most brilliant of ideas will fade to obscurity without the right backing. So where does popularity stem from?

In this fresh and modern take on popularity, Thompson delves into the psychology behind why we like the things we like, explaining how we accrue this century’s most valuable currency: attention. 

If you want to understand the strategic art of gaining popularity, or simply understand how Bieber manages to consistently top the charts and advertising critics predicted the rise of Donald Trump, this one’s for you.

To discuss any of the books in this list, share your strategic reading picks, or talk about the next step in your strategy career, please reach out to me on the details below.

 

 

Ruby Yeats's picture
Senior Consultant | Strategy
ryeats@morganmckinley.com.au