Management books for the O-activist

Recently on NoodleFood, I recommended a book for Objectivist activists that may be helpful in designing activism campaigns for maximum effect. In response, Diana asked me: "Do you have any other books on business management that you think those of us interested in spreading ideas should definitely read?"

This is my (slightly edited) answer to her.

Although my initial recommendation of Diffusion of Innovations was from the perspective of how best to spread ideas, I thought it might be useful to suggest books about management that may be helpful when speaking or writing to/for businessmen and women. I also thought it might be useful to suggest books on how to run activism campaigns as a business. I've mixed each perspective, but hopefully you can find what you need.

In all honesty, there really are not a lot of management books I would recommend for the express purpose of spreading ideas. I had a seminar in strategic management where we read many of the classic management books. Except for the one by Peter Drucker, they were a cesspool of bad philosophy propagated as intelligent thought. Peter Selzinck, in Leadership in Administration, gives explicit credit to the pragmatists, Dewey and James. Herbert Simon (noble prize winner in economics) has a chapter in Administrative Behavior titled Fact and Value in Decision-making that would probably make Peikoff's head explode. It was pure philosophic torture getting through that seminar. Interesting enough, most of the authors were Harvard professors of business. According to the professor of our seminar (who was himself a DBA from Harvard's school of business), these books were all part of a seminar required of all Harvard DBAs back then. I'm not sure if these books are still taught at Harvard, but the influence of these authors are felt in the business schools and business research studies throughout the U.S. today. The Harvard influence over the business research has lead to few useful business books, in my opinion.

I mentioned Drucker's above as the exception. Pretty much anything he has written I would recommend. His first book, The Practice of Management, is superbly written and the one best books on management and decision-making that I have ever read. While written in the 50s, it largely defined how business evolved over the next 30 years and the best at describing businesses as they are run today. I would recommend it to any Objectivist activist that plans on speaking to business executives and/or business professionals.

I would also recommend a newer book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman. This book is about globalization and the role technology has played in changing the world workforce, particularly in the past 10 years. While not as essentialized as it could be, it does offer a good view of the changing nature of information exchange and how its effecting businesses, cultures, and personal experiences. I use parts of his book in my Introduction to Information Systems class.

For running your activism as a business, I would recommend Drucker's book as well as The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber (Chapter 1). The E-Myth (entrepreneurial myth) posits that most entrepreneurs fail because they get into business for the wrong reasons. Its been quite a few years since I read it, but my take-away was that many entrepreneurs fail because they are good technicians, but poor businessmen. They think that just because they know the skill or subject (for O-activists, read philosophy), they can be effective entrepreneurs (read activists). This book offers various ways to overcome these common failures. For example, think turn-key when designing your activism. Also, use metrics to measure effectiveness.

I don't know much about marketing, but I imagine a good introductory book on marketing may be useful to activists as well.

From other fields:
I've already mentioned Diffusion of Innovations, which is actually from the field of sociology.

Another book from sociology and psychology fields that uses many of the ideas from Diffusion of Innovations without giving it much due is a recent best seller called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. The focus again is on how ideas spread through society, from cool shoes to Sesame Street. It isn't a great book (not as good as Diffusion of Innovations), but it may be of some value.

I give a very limited recommendation of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. If you have ever heard the phrase "paradigm shift", Kuhn is the one who invented it. Philosophically, the book is way off base. Essentially, Kuhn claims scientists fail to integrate new facts of realty due to their adoption of inbred intrinsicist thinking. The only way to overcome this inbred intrinsicism is with outsiders who come up with new ideas and create scientific revolutions. This leads Kuhn to suggest the cure for intrinicism is subjectivism. That being said, the book contains a number of interesting historic examples about how radical new ideas are rejected and/or adopted by a community. If you can ignore Kuhn's philosophy and focus on the facts illustrated in the book, you may be able to take away something of value.

I've also read several other good business books, but I'm not sure how useful they'd be for O-activists, unless they plan on doing a lot of activism with businesses and business professionals. And I'm sure there are plenty of good books I haven't read. So any suggestions would be appreciated.


  1. Friedman's book is okay, but as a young product of the information age, his observations have an edge of "well, duh" to them. That in mind, I understand there is the importance of pointing out the sometimes obvious facts, because if all is assumed and not outwardly defined, confusion will multiply.

  2. Coreyo,
    Thank you for the comment. Yes and no. When I first read Rand, I had a number of "well, duh" moments. But it was matched by even more moments of "I hadn't thought about that, but yeah, that's true too."

    In some respects, the changes identify by Friedman have been known for sometime. However, the strength of the book lies in part on the number of relevant examples that demonstrate the extent of the changes and the relationship between various factors creating this change. These changes are leading to a radically different business environment.

  3. Hi John! Have you ever heard of a book called "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt? It's interesting, because Goldratt uses a fictional story to describe his operations management theory, called Theory of Constraints or Constraints Management.

    We read this in business school and it was so interesting. The best part, and I'll spoil the answer for you and your readers, is that the question "What is the goal of business?" comes up again and again. Finally, the guy figures it out: The goal is to MAKE MONEY! It was proud and unapologetically pro-making-money. I was surprised that so many of my fellow students (this was in an MBA program) took issue with this stated goal and there was a lively debate for a while during one class.

    Anyway, I recommend it! Let me know if you read it, I'd be interested in what you think.

  4. Jenn,
    No, I haven't heard of it before, but it sounds good. I'll have to add it to my reading cue.