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8 Must-Read Books for MBA Students

Studying for a career in business management has the potential to lead to fulfilling developments on both a personal and professional level. Those considering business management may wish to learn business skills by studying the experiences of successful professionals as told through their books and essays can provide much value in this regard. The below writings feature alternative ideas and real-life experiences which can help all business professionals diversify their perspective and boost their potential for success in their careers.

The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, has been a key influencer in the entrepreneurial space for almost two decades. On his path to becoming an expert consultant and entrepreneur, Horowitz has been exposed to many lessons that have helped develop the practical wisdom required to successfully lead a growing business. Using his background of founding, running, selling, buying, managing, and investing in technology companies, Horowitz uses The Hard Things About Hard Things to provide advice for professionals on topics and content that most CEOs don’t speak about. By focusing on the harder parts of business, The Hard Things About Hard Things builds a unique perspective on issues relating to the private details of business, like firing friends, poaching clients or employees, how to sell a company, and even how to decide whether or not you should sell your company. Horowitz’s practical advice offers helpful insights for professionals aspiring for success in leadership roles.

Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao

When Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao decided to collaborate on Scaling Up Excellence, they established the main goal of tackling a major obstacle that most organizations face at some point: scaling up further, faster, and more efficiently as the organization continues to evolve. For a decade, Sutton and Rao have worked together to unearth the ideas that are most capable of creating a high-performance culture within a business, and how to spread it throughout the organization. Scaling Up Excellence uses data drawn from onside accounts, case studies, and academic research to identify the most critical challenges that organizations in industries like pharmaceuticals, airlines, retail, financial services, education, and government consistently face. A major point Sutton and Rao make is whether to encourage an approach that remains flexible as the organization expands or to stay stagnant, replicating all practices and customs as growth occurs. Books like Scaling Up Excellence can help MBA students advance their business skills while also enhancing their educational experience by providing additional context to the learnings of the classroom.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

First published in 1998, Orbiting the Giant Hairball combines creativity, humor, and genuine business knowledge to illuminate the huge challenge that even the most innovative businesses eventually face as they grow to what author Gordon MacKenzie calls a “giant hairball.”

Specifically, MacKenzie states that a “giant hairball” is a tightly wound knot of rules, traditions, and restrictive systems that may not be entirely navigable. Putting the focus on escaping the restricting culture that often comes with the administrative mindset is MacKenzie’s primary objective, and he accomplishes it using his strong sense of humor combined with skillfully illustrated stories. As MacKenzie shows, pursuing an MBA doesn’t have to mean only reading textbooks, for Orbiting the Giant Hairball allows students to study real-world experiences and learn how to integrate creativity into the base level of their business.

Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

Marty Cagan is currently the head of the Silicon Valley Product Group, an organization geared toward helping companies create successful products. He wrote Inspired to help future business leaders understand what it is that causes some products to fail or stagnate, while others grow explosively as they continue to evolve. Cagan expands on his notion that the first step to creating a successful product is finding an idea that is not only valuable, but also usable and feasible with organizational circumstances in mind. There are many questions that could be asked in regard to discovering a successful product, and Inspired covers the most important ones, some of which include how to decide which product opportunities to pursue, how to determine if prototypes will be successful, and how to balance the complex relationships that exist between customers, management, and third-party groups. Cargan’s expertise and experience working for and with several of the most successful companies in the high-tech industry can help expand students understanding of product management and how the best companies are able to consistently create winning products.

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore

High-tech industries are different from most in that they often serve very specific niches that have a need for cutting-edge products. Geoffrey Moore, author, speaker, advisor, and consultant to major high-tech enterprises like Salesforce, Microsoft, Intel, Cognizant, and Rackspace, has focused much of his work on disruptive innovation. Crossing the Chasm builds on that concept and incorporates Moore’s insights on what it takes to market high-tech firms so that they are able to engage with their progressively larger markets. Moore explains that growing tech firms must tap into multiple channels for their marketing strategy, but exceptional outreach through the Internet is easily the most critical component of successfully marketing high-tech products. As MBA students should understand how to effectively market within the expanding digital environment, they can benefit greatly in their careers by drawing on the descriptive breakdown Moore presents in this essential guide.

When Genius Failed: The Rise & Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein

Considered a business classic, Roger Lowenstein’s When Genius Failed captures several key observations about the hedge fund management company, Long-Term Capital Management. Building the story from many compelling sources, including confidential internal memos and interviews with top members of the company, Lowenstein highlights the many financial predictions that were seemingly made blindly, leading to the impressive growth, yet inevitably catastrophic failure of the company’s infrastructure that stunned Wall Street. Management professionals are likely to encounter situations where sound decisions must be made with the long-term in mind, and When Genius Failed provides valuable insight for what can happen if the organization’s focus is only on short-term gain.

On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership by Alison Levine

On the Edge takes a distinctive approach to business advice by drawing connections between the natural environment and today’s business environment. Alison Levine’s publication is unique in that she is an expert mountain climber, sportswoman, explorer, and leadership consultant, and she leverages her experience of taking risks to inspire management professionals and entrepreneurs to adopt the leadership principles of extreme adventure sports to their own leadership skills. Using her unorthodox methods, Levine can help students and professionals understand how they can tackle seemingly insurmountable extremes.

The Risk-Driven Business Model by Karan Girotra

Karan Girotra’s background in entrepreneurship has sharpened his understanding of risk and its value to organizations aiming to grow and expand. The Risk-Driven Business Model is designed to help readers understand the two characteristic types of risk and leverage this insight to better manage current or future risks. The two types of risk that Girotra highlights are information risk, which involves making decisions without all of the information, and incentive-alignment risk, which highlights decision-makers’ incentives conflicting with the grand scheme of company goals. Girotra believes that understanding how to structure a business model with risk in mind allows for greater control of the organization and higher potential for increased wealth and innovation. Current and future business professionals can greatly benefit from Girotra’s perspective as a future in business leadership requires an understanding of taking risks and how to make key decisions that don’t negatively impact their organizations.

As the business industry continues to expand and evolve, management professionals need to develop more diverse perspectives to advance beyond the creativity and innovation of their competitors. Business leaders will also need to maintain a firm focus on constant skill development, and combining the practical knowledge offered by these books alongside the educational foundation of an MBA program is a great way for students and professionals to develop the skills needed to remain highly valued and competitive.

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As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program helps create strong leaders well-versed in business management practices. Students can customize their MBA by choosing a concentration in construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management & logistics, or energy management.

Recommended Readings
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The Hard Thing About Hard Things, The New York Times

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, Stanford Graduate School of Business

How Is Your Company Like a Giant Hairball?, Fast Company

INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love – 2nd Edition, Silicon Valle Product Group

Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition, HarperCollins Publishers

When Genius Failed - The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, The New York Times

Book review – On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership, World Economic Forum

The Risk-Driven Business Model: Four Questions That Will Define Your Company, Harvard Business Review

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