Best New Books for MBAs

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A variety of authorities recommended the best new business books of 2018 listed below. Our picks encompass award-winning blockbuster bestsellers such as Bad Blood. Others offer tips especially useful to MBAs, including Measure What Matters and The Formula.

Authorities include:

Perhaps most importantly, all these books won rave reviews from the ultimate authorities: their readers.

Bad Blood, By John Carreyrou

This is the one business bestseller that seems to be on everybody’s best of 2018 list. Bad Blood won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, as well as Amazon’s best business and leadership book of the year award. Bad Blood also was named one of the best books of 2018 by the New York Times, TIME Magazine, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and the Wall Street Journal. The book has received over ten times as many reviews as its nearest competitor on Amazon’s best business book list, and most of those ratings were for five stars.

Calling the CEO and founder of Theranos, Inc. “a female Steve Jobs” seemed like an understatement. After dropping out of Stanford, charismatic Elizabeth Holmes started a biotechnology firm. That firm’s product offered a purported miracle in blood testing designed to expedite and simplify the process. After Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and venture capitalist Tim Draper funded Theranos, the firm turned into a unicorn virtually overnight, suddenly putting it in the same class as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. The firm went public, raising $9 billion, with Holmes’s stake almost $5 billion.

Everything might have worked out well for Holmes, except for the inconvenient detail that Theranos couldn’t sell a testing system that produced inaccurate results; in other words, the product never worked. As this Business Insider retrospective explains, author and Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou learned that the Theranos device “couldn’t give accurate results, so Theranos was running its samples through the same machines used by traditional blood-testing companies.”

In March 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the firm and Holmes with massive fraud. She agreed to relinquish control of Theranos, return almost 19 million stock shares, and pay a $500,000 fine. The SEC also prohibited her from serving as an officer or director of any publicly traded firm for the next decade.

On June 15, a federal grand jury indicted Homes and her partner on eleven counts relating to wire fraud and conspiracy charges, and the company shut down weeks later. Instead of becoming the next Apple, her firm turned into the biggest corporate fraud since Enron—the company for whom her father worked.

In the New York Times Book Review, Roger Lowenstein wrote “Prizewinning Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou tells [this story] virtually to perfection. . .[His] description of Holmes as a manic leader who turned coolly hostile when challenged is ripe material for a psychologist. . .His recounting of his efforts to track down sources—many of whom were being intimidated by Theranos’s bullying lawyer, David Boies—reads like a West Coast version of All the President’s Men.”

Measure What Matters, By John Doerr

Measure What Matters is probably the most important new book released in 2018 for MBAs to read. Why? It explains the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) management system for setting and achieving goals, and MBAs need to understand how OKR represents a more effective method over its predecessor.

OKR offers an updated, more robust extension of the renowned Management by Objectives (MBO) leadership process first popularized by business theorist Peter Drucker in 1954. MBO was widely credited with driving the success of Hewlett-Packard as a core component of “The HP Way”—the firm’s broadly acclaimed management style. In the 1970s, and largely because of HP’s rapid growth, MBO gained widespread acceptance in the United States. Since then, MBO has endured under various names as the standard planning method still practiced at many companies.

Nevertheless, MBO has fallen out of favor, particularly with managers at tech firms facing fierce challenges from volatile market conditions. In particular, the annual performance review—a cornerstone of MBO as originally implemented at firms like HP—has drawn criticism as antiquated. Many tech firms have shifted to quarterly or even monthly evaluations. Other firms killed performance reviews altogether because employees had perceived them as punitive and demoralizing, especially when supervisors tied the assessments to salary adjustments—a key tenet of MBO.

Moreover, MBO emphasizes individual performance, with objectives and accomplishments shared in confidence between employees and supervisors. But with increasingly collaborative, team-oriented workplaces, and with employees connected through social media, many view MBO’s lack of transparency as a drag on group performance.

Developed by Intel Corporation’s Andrew Grove in the 1970s, OKR isn’t new, but in Measure What Matters, VC legend John Doerr explains its contemporary applications, including how Google and other Silicon Valley firms have used OKR’s methods to drive superior performance and fuel explosive growth.

Behind-the-scenes, first-person case studies with narrators (e.g., U2’s Bono) demonstrate the effectiveness of this management process in a variety of contexts. Plus, as demonstrated by this provocative TED talk, Doerr argues a compelling case in support of more widespread adoption of OKR’s goal-setting approach beyond corporations—extending to governments, schools, and even families.

Avid reader Bill Gates recommended this book as one of the best books of the year, and Amazon ranked it third on its 2018 best business book list. Also, as reported by Business Insider, the Goodreads community voted Dorr’s work the fifth-best business book in 2018.

Dare to Lead, By Brené Brown

Bloomberg named Dare to Lead one of their best books of the year, and Amazon ranked it second on their list of best business books of the year. This exploration of courage in leadership follows author Brené Brown’s pioneering work on vulnerability that garnered the Houston professor massive global media coverage after her TED talk went viral on YouTube, now with almost 38 million views.

Brown’s research found that leaders in a wide variety of contexts all wondered how it might be possible to cultivate braver, more daring leaders, as well as embed courage as a value throughout their organizations’ cultures. She writes:

One of the most important findings of my career is that daring leadership is a collection of four skill sets that are 100 percent teachable, observable, and measurable. It’s learning and unlearning that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with your whole heart. Easy? No. Because choosing courage over comfort is not always our default. Worth it? Always. We want to be brave with our lives and our work. It’s why we’re here.

New Power, By Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

New Power earned runner-up honors for the Financial Times and McKinsey business book of the year award; made Inc. Magazine’s ten best books list of 2018; and drew endorsements from both Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates.

Ubiquitous connectivity has enabled a new and dramatically different kind of power, according to the authors. They argue this power functions like currents instead of currencies, is created by huge numbers of people, and in uncanny respects resembles characteristics of the internet—participatory, open, and peer-driven.

They further argue that this new power’s battle against the old power that relatively few have jealously guarded throughout history is altering political control over us, the ways we work, and even our thoughts and feelings.

The authors devote much of the book to explanations of how to successfully amass and channel this form of power. Featured examples include Uber, Facebook, Airbnb, NASA, Lego, TED, and Reddit.

Billion Dollar Whale, By Tom Wright and Bradley Hope

Like Bad Blood, Billion Dollar Whale exposes a corporate swindle of massive proportions. Unprecedented in its audacity and sheer scale, this $5 billion fraud was perpetrated by one of the financial world’s own—an alumnus of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, an institution with which many BSchools readers are quite familiar.

Helped by Goldman Sachs and many others (and under the nose of global financial regulators around the world), Wharton alum Jho Low siphoned off billions of dollars. The authors report that at one point he may have controlled more financial resources than any private individual in history.

Low’s lavish spending bought luxury estates, bankrolled political campaigns—and ironically even paid for the production of films such as The Wolf of Wall Street. And although Low is still on the run as of January 2019, neither Low nor any of this saga’s principal characters have been charged with any crimes and all have denied wrongdoing of any kind.

Like New Power, this New York Times bestseller also earned runner-up honors for the Financial Times and McKinsey business book of the year award. Fortune Magazine also named Billion Dollar Whale one of the best books of 2018.

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, By Rand Fishkin

Anybody who works with internet marketing is familiar with the search engine optimization firm Moz. That firm, now profitable and worth about $45 million, was started by the author of this book, Rand Fishkin. Yet all the trauma that Fishkin went through to turn a profit bears little resemblance to the stories of wildly successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Fishkin’s tale makes for a gripping page-turner, one loaded with indictments of traditional Silicon Valley business “wisdom.” This exposé reveals secrets most CEOs would never discuss. The book recounts hard-won lessons that can help MBAs avoid a lot of problems—or at least feel less alone once they encounter them.

Inc. Magazine named Lost and Founder to the publication’s ten best books of 2018 list, and the Goodreads community also voted Fishkin’s narrative one of the best business books of the year.

Rebel Talent, By Francesca Gino

The most successful among us break plenty of rules, according to behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, a professor at the Harvard Business School. She’s studied these rebels in organizations for over a decade, documenting the lessons she learned from them in Rebel Talent.

She argues that we live in turbulent times, a world more divided than ever where reputations are trashed easily on social media, and competition seems savage. And in an environment so vicious and cutthroat, the one advantage enabling businesses to evolve and prosper involves cultivating rebel talent. Yet she also celebrates the advantages of rebellion outside of work by promoting a more vital, fulfilling, engaged life.

PwC’s strategy+business named Rebel Talent one of the top seven business books of the year, and best book of the year in their strategy category.

The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success, By Albert-László Barabási

The study presented by this distinguished professor at Northeastern University in Boston used big data analytics to explore the striking disconnect that often manifests between performance and success.

This book didn’t win any awards or wind up on any “best of” lists for 2018, but Amazon’s reviewers rave about it, and the book appears here because MBAs who truly want to be successful would be wise to familiarize themselves with the laws of success presented by this book. People who fully appreciate the significance of these laws may never think about success, their careers, their long-term objectives, or their life pursuits in the same way ever again.

Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark
Writer

While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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